Entomologist Answers Commonly Googled Questions About Entomology and Entomologists

Written by Nancy Miorelli

I’ve been rehauling my YouTube channel and I thought – that as member of the Ask an Entomologist team – what better way to spread the bug love than to answer questions that are commonly Googled! This week – I started just by tackling some questions about entomology and entomologists.

The Questions

What Do Entomologists Study?
Why Do Entomologists Study Insects?
What Does Entomology Mean?
What Do Entomologists Do?
What Do Entomologists Make?
What Do Entomologists Do Every Day?
What Do Entomologists Wear?
Why Do Entomologists Use Dichotomous Keys?
What Do Entomologists Use To Catch Insects?
What Do Entomologists Do at a Crime Scene?
How Do Entomologists Help Solve Crimes?

What Do Entomologists Study?

Entomologists study insects. They’re a group of arthropods that have three body segments, two compound eyes, six legs, unmusculated antennae, and a Johnston’s organ. The Johnston’s organ is found in the antennae and is responsible for detecting movement.

PC: Nancy Miorelli











Why Do Entomologists Study Insects?

Generally, insects are our major competitors for our food, our space, and our health. Not only is there a decent amount of money being invested in studying pest species but many people are interested in tackling these larger problems of food shortage and world health. Insects are a means to be able to do that.

Aedes mosquito.
PC: Public Domain


However, I think insect biology is fascinating and that they’re underrepresented in our school systems and misrepresented in society. So I’m just trying to spread the #buglove. But there as as many reasons to study insects as there are entomologists themselves. Some are interested in genetics, others evolutionary relationships, some ecosystem health, others communication, and some are interested in using insects to improve our own technology. The reasons vary dramatically between entomologists. If you ever meet an entomologist, ask! I’m sure they’d love to tell  you about it.

What Does Entomology Mean?

Entomology comes from the Greek worked “Entomos” which means segmented. So it’s the study of segmented things. Studying words is etymology.

Wrong Superhero

This XKCD comic sums it up perfectly.

What Do Entomologists Do?

Similar to what I stated before entomologists can work in a wide variety of jobs that range from everything to outreach, teaching, research, industry, or even be working in the military. I think entomology is unique in the fact that you can study something specific but apply it to a wide variety of jobs.

What Do Entomologists Make?

I’m assuming this is in terms of salary. Grad students can make between $15,000-30,000 a year. Some pest control agents are making minimum wage. Freelance entomologists are all over the place depending on exactly what their doing and how their business is going – but pretty generally I’d say $20,000-50,000 would be a reasonable guess. Same might be true for contractors in industry. Researchers at universities that have tenure might be making $100,000 or more. CEOs of pest control companies might be making in the millions. Again – it’s varied.

What Do Entomologists Do Every Day?

You can be in a lab coast testing genes or go into someone’s house looking for termites. You can be doing school presentations or setting out traps in a potato field. You can be entering data to learn about complex evolutionary relationships, or you can be staring through a microscope counting the toes of a beetle you’re trying to identify.

What Do Entomologists Wear?

Entomologists are people! So we wear normal things depending on the circumstance. Every day you’re likely to see me in jeans and a t-shirt but I like getting dressed up too. As for their job – again it varies because entomologists have varying jobs. Sometimes entomologists have to wear lab coats because they’re working with chemicals, sometimes they have to wear field clothes because they’re out setting out traps. Sometimes they have to wear uniforms. Really depends but more often than not we’re dressed casually. Also check out the hashtag #Entofashion to see entomologists rockin’ their favorite bug merch!

Why Do Entomologists Use Dichotomous Keys?

Dichotomous keys are a systematic way to identify organisms – but in this case Insects. Entomologists need to use these to ID insects
1) because of the sheer amount of insects [1.2 million described species] and
2) because characteristics like color or shape are not very useful when trying to ID insects as many are mimics of each other and belong to vastly different groups.

One can hurt you, and one can’t.

What Do Entomologists Use to Catch Insects?

Entomologists have an arsenal of equipment to trap insects. The most basic of which is a simple butterfly or sweep net.

Sometimes with limited success













D-nets and white pans are mainly used in Aquatic collecting. Pan traps, Berlese Funnels, Pheromone Traps, Light Traps, and Sticky Traps are also all used to collect various arthropods in varios habitats. If you’re interested in collecting – check out our other article to help get you started.

1) Pit Fall Trap (Mnolf CC BY SA 3.0)
2) Berlese Funnel (Self CC By SA 4.0)
3) Pheromone / Funnel Trap (Public Domain)
4) Sticky Trap (Forest & Kim Starr CC BY SA  3.0)
5) Pan Trap (Frost Museum CC BY SA 2.0)

What Do Entomologists Do At a Crime Scene?

Entomologists usually can’t be at a crime scene which is why it’s important for local police forces to be trained in how to collect and preserve entomological evidence (call me!). But if an entomologist can be on scene she will fill in death scene forms which includes information abut open wounds on the body and maggot aggregates. She’ll also collect insects from on, in, and under the body. She’ll then rear some of the collected insects to adulthood to be able to make accurate identifications (with the help of a dichotomous key😉)

How Does a Forensic Entomologist Help Solve Crimes?

Forensic entomologists examine insect evidence in relation to crime scenes. Insect growth and development is strictly dependent on the amount of time and the temperature at which they were exposed. By knowing both of these factors, you can calculate how long a body has been exposed to the elements using the  species of insects you’ve found, the life stage in which you found the insects and temperature at which they were exposed. This calculation gives you a PMI or Post Mordem Interval. The PMI gives you a rough estimate (days – weeks – months – years) as to how long the body has been exposed. It is not a time of death but is used as an estimate.

A forensic entomologist looks at a lot of these.
PC: Tae Young


Nancy Miorelli, @SciBugs, is living in Quito Ecuador. To help fund her stay she sells eco-friendly, bug jewelry featuring jewel beetle shells and an Ecuadorian nut called Tagua! Check out her shop SciBugsCollections!

About SciBugs

Entomologist, Science Communicator, and Crafter Twitter: @SciBugs
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