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Campus & Community

Fighting the ‘Insect Apocalypse’ With Knowledge

Entomology Grad Student’s Campus Displays Show Bug Loss’ Costs

By Clare Gallagher ’24

Butterflies, bees and other insects pinned on a board

Three insect displays installed across campus this semester, designed to teach UMD community members about their importance, were created by master's student Helen Craig '22 and supported by a $7,000 grant from the Sustainability Fund.

Photos courtesy of the Office of Sustainability

A world without the hum of bees, the marching line of ants, the fluttering of butterflies? It’s hard to imagine, so a University of Maryland graduate student has given the campus a window—or at least a glass display—into that endangered world.

Supported by a $7,000 grant from the Sustainability Fund, Helen Craig ’22 led the creation of three insect displays installed this semester in the STEM Library in Kirwan Hall, on the first floor of the Plant Sciences building and in McKeldin Library.

Each features a glass-covered box filled with pinned specimens. Around and above are informational posters explaining why insects are vital to a healthy environment and how they shape our lives. To help students understand this connection, the displays offer a QR code that links to a website prompting students to select their major, then provide additional articles and videos about how insects play a role in that field.

“I hope students consider how their field of study or future career is tied to insects and how they can be an advocate or ally,” said Craig.

[A Bug Club’s Life: Bio Major’s New Student Org Gives Undergrads Chance to Explore Entomology]

Research indicates that insect populations are declining at a rate of 1-2% each year, an impending “insect apocalypse” that she’s been passionate about since taking a freshwater biology course. After graduating with a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, Craig spent the following year as lab manager for entomology Professor William Lamp before beginning her studies as a master’s student in entomology.

She noticed across campus a general lack of knowledge about insects and their ecosystem services, prompting her to apply for a grant to produce a public project on them.

Posters about insects

With the help of students Yasmine Helbling, Felicia Shechtman, the UMD Bug Club and others, Craig collected beetles, butterflies, bees and other bugs from on-campus locations like the Bee Wall and the Community Learning Garden, and off-campus ones including Lake Artemesia and even the students’ own homes. The group then spent more than 100 hours over the course of a few months to preserve them, pin them, label them, and sort them into different ecosystem services.

Fiona Török ’24, a graphic design major, created the information posters. “I immediately knew I wanted to apply because it combines my two biggest passions - design and sustainability,” said Török, who spent six months designing the three main posters and six informational cards in each display case.

Each is also adorned with intricate paper insects made by students in the Origami Club.

Török hopes that students will take the time to learn something new as they pass the displays throughout their day, “Perhaps it will make them think about how the smallest things can have the biggest impact,” she said.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.