Department of
Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior

Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior News

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Have you become obsessed with bugs or hummingbirds? In the pandemic, you’re not alone.

In the midst of the grief, confusion and anger of the past few months, many Americans have developed a new obsession with the creepy little things in life, by which I mean bugs.

I’ve never heard so many people talking about bugs as I have through this spring and summer, never seen so many social media posts dedicated to tiny critters that buzz and crawl and sting.

I have a friend who routinely posts about the spider who entertains her through the window of her home office. Another recently posted about a cicada that landed on her computer keyboard while she worked on her deck. In the infested world of Facebook, I’ve seen dragonflies, butterflies, praying mantises, roly-polys, caterpillars, bulbous beetles and nameless bugs so weird their photos stir comments like “Ewww” and “Yuck” and “Yikes!” and “What is THIS???!”

In this same period, I’ve noticed a similar, if less creepy, phenomenon with birds, most notably hummingbirds. During the pandemic, one of every three Americans, by my totally unscientific count, has developed a hummingbird fetish.

But are there really more birds and bugs than usual? Or are we just noticing them more because we’re cooped up? Or maybe this whole birds-and-bugs phenomenon is the invention of my pandemic-addled imagination. I decided to take my questions to the experts.

“We might have a metric to help you,” said May Berenbaum, who heads the department of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Berenbaum — who, incidentally, inspired an “X-Files” character named Dr. Bambi Berenbaum — runs BeeSpotters, a website that encourages “citizen-scientists” to take and submit photos of bees. The goal is to document the population of these important and threatened pollinators.

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Publication Date: 09/14/2020
Photo credits: Andrew Johnston / Chicago Tribune
Editor: Mary Schmich