Hi everyone! My name is Aaron Rodriques and I am a PhD student in Entomology at Purdue University. I'm doing this AMA with some help from Atlas Obscura, who's written about the live shows I do with my pet insects. I have both a Master’s degree in Biology and a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies from New York University. My research experiences include studying bee ecology, mosquito developmental biology, brown rat behavior, oncology and tobacco hornworm defense systems. I currently study proteins in German cockroaches that cause asthma in humans, and my long-term career goal is to create a vaccine against cockroach-derived asthma.

I’ve always had a passion for insects and other animals, dating back from when I was 2. They’re absolutely amazing in their diversity of appearances, abilities and the roles that they play in different ecosystems. In the spirit of celebrating animals I regularly do animal shows for art venues, elementary schools and universities. My presentation is an informal show-and-tell, a Q A session where guests can touch and hold the animals under my supervision while I inform them about the animals and answer whatever questions they may have.

My interview with the New York Times can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/nyregion/cockroaches-are-his-friends.html

Proof: https://twitter.com/atlasobscura/status/1024370198697127936

EDIT: Signing off for now. Thanks for the questions!

Comments: 842 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

ShaneTheCreep735 karma

Yesterday a saw a bee drowning in a little pool, so I got a leaf and let him crawl on it and let him out. While I was waiting for him to dry and fly off (which he thankfully did), I saw a wasp end up in the pool also, but didn't save him. Does this make me a bad person?

atlasobscura669 karma

It doesn’t. Some wasps can be really defensive and give a nasty sting, so I’d understand if you didn’t want to interact with one!

everythingisopposite583 karma

Why do spiders sit in my bathroom for days on end, not moving at all?

atlasobscura855 karma

Many spiders are sit-and-wait predators, they prefer to remain still and wait for an insect to get caught in their web. This conserves energy and fools alot of insects into thinking there isn’t a predator nearby!

DiamondTroutShoe353 karma

Hi Aaron, Do you think a bug can have a personality? Thanks for doing the AMA :)

atlasobscura609 karma

Thank you! Yes I do believe insects can have personalities. My madagascar hissing cockroaches, for example, have personalities- some are more irritable than others, while some are quite shy and docile. Insects have consciousness, so it isn’t surprising that they differ from one another mentally.

livbkk305 karma

Has there ever been a bug you’ve come across that was too creepy to handle?

atlasobscura301 karma

Surprisingly, there hasn’t been!

petertmcqueeny275 karma

I recently read that mosquitoes prefer people with type O blood, and as an O-, I find this to be very true. Hanging out with me is better than bug repellent.

My question is, do mosquitoes really have a preference, and of so, why?

atlasobscura376 karma

Mosquitoes do prefer type O blood, although I’m not quite sure why! It could be that type O lacks certain proteins that would be harder or unnecessary to digest! This lack of certain proteins is why type O blood can be accepted by everyone.

Snowbank_Lake198 karma

Which insect do you think deserves more appreciation than it gets?

atlasobscura413 karma

I think fruit flies are massively underrated- a lot of people don’t realize how important they have been in teaching humans about basic biology, including mutations, protein interactions and circadian rhythms. They also make great food for small insect pets!

Hubble-Gum197 karma

What is the most dangerous insect you handled?

atlasobscura292 karma

A european honeybee! Most of the insects I handle are scary-looking yet harmless :)

Kiu_98157 karma

Hello Aaron, first of all, thank you for doing this ☺️

As for my question: What's the most unusual thing that you've witnessed while working with insects?

atlasobscura286 karma

Thank you! The most unusual thing I’ve seen is firefly courtship on a large scale. It’s amazing how beautiful those flashes look when you have thousands of fireflies in a field. It almost looked like a view of a major city, with lights

FeepFeepOG156 karma

What’s the most interesting insect you’ve had the opportunity to see ? By the way I love following you on Facebook, lots of informative and great posts from you!

-Michael

FeepFeepOG86 karma

I also have another question, what advice would you have for someone currently living with bed bugs ? And does their history interest you at all ? (I heard they were almost entirely wiped out in the 1800s but have since came back more resilient than ever!)

atlasobscura290 karma

Thank you! The most interesting insect would have to be the jungle nymph, a giant, green stick insect that has prickly legs. It looks so alien! For bedbugs, I’d say eliminate furniture and put whatever you can in a freezer for a couple of days to destroy bedbugs and their eggs. Fumigation is a decent action to help eliminate any bedbugs in the house, along with other insecticide treatment methods. Their history doesn’t interest me very much, I prefer insects that don’t suck!

paleshelterr155 karma

Hi! I've never had an insect pet and always wanted to own a roach. Last year I decided to educate myself and get one but still need to learn more. What species do you recommend for a beginner? I was thinking of the Madagascar hissing cockroach, should I get only one in my first time, or a couple? Thank you!

atlasobscura232 karma

Thank you! The Madagascar hissing cockroach is a great first choice for a pet- I’d say get a couple, they enjoy each other’s company!

PrimaryAccident117 karma

And what is your best bug related joke?

atlasobscura414 karma

How many moths does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two.

okaybutfirstcoffee114 karma

My dog is named Bug, so my question is: which bugs are most like dogs?

atlasobscura184 karma

I’d say madagascar hissing cockroaches- research suggests that they can tell their owner apart from other people.

okaybutfirstcoffee70 karma

That’s crazy!! Are regular house cockroaches as intelligent, or should I go on smashing them as usual?

Actually, follow up to my follow up: what the heck is the point of a cockroach?

atlasobscura79 karma

Regular house cockroaches are not as intelligent, but they do serve as prey for a number of animals and help to break down organic matter in the environment. Nature’s recyclers!

HazeHendrix111 karma

Dealing with animals, do you have any experience where animal or insect you work with attacked you?

atlasobscura327 karma

I’ve had an experience where my chaco golden knee tarantula bit me. It taught me that I need to be more wary of sick animals and give them their space, instead of trying to interact with them. My tarantula was very old, and he bit my hand to try to balance himself more while I was holding him. The encounter could have been avoided if I was more diligent!

HELLOPLTAYPUS95 karma

What’s your opinion of house centipedes and can you give me a reason to be happy that they’re all over my walls?

atlasobscura97 karma

I love them, they eat insect pests!

bimbam2192 karma

What’s your stance on the debate of humans wiping out mosquitoes?

atlasobscura207 karma

As annoying as they are, I think we should make more of an effort to prevent the transmission of mosquito diseases rather than eradicating them as a whole. Mosquitoes serve as food for a number of predators, and they also pollinate and control the populations of animals that they feed on. They’re crucial for a number of ecosystems and elnating them can disrupt several natural ecosystems.

Fernxtwo77 karma

What's your favorite potato based dish?

atlasobscura103 karma

I love the potato knish!

BadDadWhy74 karma

I am developing a bed bug detector. The scientists say that BB give off the most pheromone after feeding and mating. They also give off the panic/alarm pheromone when trapped or stuck. Is there anyway to tell the difference between a happy mating pheromone release and a panic release?

atlasobscura91 karma

Male bedbugs attempt courtship with each other in the presence of alarm pheromone, interestingly enough!

FuglytheBear65 karma

Hi Aaron, what is your favorite unsolved entomological mystery? ...either a phenomenon or specific event that you would love to see answered/resolved?

atlasobscura106 karma

Great question! I’d like to know what a bug’s vision looks like. What do they see? How different is their vision from ours? Scientists have done a great job of deducing the types of light insects can see and the level of detail with which they can visualize surfaces, but we still don’t have a definitive idea of how an insect views the world!

proofwishbone5ever64 karma

What's the most surprising thing you've learned doing your shows, and what's the best question someone has asked?

atlasobscura141 karma

I didn’t realize how many people had tattoos of invertebrates! I meet someone at almost every show that has a tattoo of a moth, spider or scorpion. I think it’s amazing that people would have enough appreciation for an animal to wear its image on their skin permanently. The best question anyone’s ever asked is if the genes that allow insects to be so resilient can be applied to humans. The idea of humans undergoing insect gene therapy just seems so very cool!

Cheesecake5evar59 karma

Few questions.

High oxygen environments, have you witnessed anything like the university of Arizona experiments where they caused insects to grow larger or have any interesting tidbits on this?

Activating old genes in chickens - it caused them to regrow dinosaur parts. Any kind of research into this area with insects?

Grasshoppers have been known to switch on their locust behavior when scientists pet them because it simulates lots of them around each other. (due to dopamine release I believe). Any other insects you know of that exhibit behavioral changes with similar type actions?

Last question. In a sterile environment, if you inject a big old fat caterpillar with more grow nutrients or grow juice do you think a bigger butterfly/moth will come out?

atlasobscura45 karma

Activating old genes in chickens - it caused them to regrow dinosaur parts. Any kind of research into this area with insects? I have not! I don’t know of anyone working with regrowing parts from ancient insects.
Grasshoppers have been known to switch on their locust behavior when scientists pet them because it simulates lots of them around each other. (due to dopamine release I believe). Any other insects you know of that exhibit behavioral changes with similar type actions? So far, grasshoppers are the only insects I know of that exhibit this behavior. There are some parallels with Japanese beetles, but that is due to the Japanese bettle’s release of aggregation pheromone, which will attract a large amount of beetles to the site for eating and mating.
Last question. In a sterile environment, if you inject a big old fat caterpillar with more grow nutrients or grow juice do you think a bigger butterfly/moth will come out? Yes- specifically, if you inject it with juvenile hormone that allows it to molt once more, rather than pupate. The resulting moth will be a bit larger than one that wasn’t given juvenile hormone. There is a limit to this, however, and it’s unlikely we’ll get giant insects using this method!

PrimaryAccident35 karma

There's a huge difference between East Asian Studies and Entomology. Firstly, how/why did you go about making a subject change like that, and secondly what was it like becoming a PhD candidate?

atlasobscura84 karma

The difference is smaller than you’d think! I chose East Asian studies because I was fascinated by the way insects are revered in different Japanese cultures. I always knew I wanted to study insects, but in college I thought I would learn more about them by experiencing cultures that embraced them more than my own culture does. I still did zoological research and took science courses as part of a premed program during college, so I was able to get a better understanding of animals on both a cultural level and a scientific level. Becoming a PhD was amazing because it taught me that you can achieve a goal or get to a place using unconventional means. Like, for example, being a premed East asian studies major who eventually goes on to study bugs for a living :)

poop-machine32 karma

What do you think about the trend of eating bugs instead of meat?

atlasobscura58 karma

I think entomophagy is a great substitute for current traditions and is overall better for the environment, the economy and human health.

zmbiegblinshark32 karma

Hi Aaron! Thank you for doing this AMA!

What are the effects of climate change on insect populations?

atlasobscura48 karma

It really depends on the insect. Climate change can lead to increases and decreases in populations of other species, and this can indirectly affect insects. For example, a plant species declining because of climate change could cause a decrease in the amount of insects that rely on the plant as a food source. Climate change could lead to increases in temperature that trigger the proliferation of fungi that prey on insects. Generally speaking insects mature and reproduce faster with increasing temperature, as is the case with mosquitos. However, it is bad for insects and their ecosystems overall, and proper care should be taken to ensure that man-made climate change doesn’t impact our natural habitats.

fiveceps26 karma

What is the coolest symbiotic relationship involving insects that you know of?

atlasobscura51 karma

Ants taking care of aphids is still in my opinion the coolest symbiotic relationship to date!

ZenSalmon24 karma

What, in your opinion, is the best number of legs for a bug to have?

atlasobscura44 karma

Six!

spinakkus23 karma

As a student of biology considering a masters degree within entomology myself, which areas would you say are looking the most promising? Are there certain groups of insects desperately in need of further research?

atlasobscura36 karma

Urban entomology! Recent discoveries in cockroach genomes and the genomes of other pests have given us insight into how these insects develop insecticidal resistance. German cockroaches need to be studied further these pests produce allergenic proteins that cause asthma, and learning more about the mechanisms behind these proteins would allow for the development of better medication and pesticides.

mortavius252521 karma

You mentioned insects having personalities. Does this apply equally to all types of insects, or are some more "gifted" with personality than others? And why are wasps such jerks?

atlasobscura37 karma

Some are more gifted than others, especially when you consider more intelligent species like wasps! Wasps are defensive because they need to protect their vulnerable young and also secure enough food to provide their young with sufficient protein. It’s a hard life for insects!

Gurpee66620 karma

Have you seen the movie Bug 1975? I think it was the 2nd showing at the drive-in theater LOL! Basically there's a crack in the Earth's core and these bugs come out and ravage a small town. They can catch things on fire and blowup cars by going through their tailpipes. They look suspiciously like Madagascar hissing cockroaches!

atlasobscura19 karma

That sounds so interesting! I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll be sure to check it out!

tavomcdouglas16 karma

I am a huge fan of insects and Entomology. I have tried to read everything that May R. Berenbaum has written. I got into her books because my wife has a degree in Biology and had one of her books from one of her bio classes. I read it and couldn't get enough so I went and purchased her other books. Do you have any other suggestions for books that cover a wide range of insect topics or just really interesting Entomological topics?

atlasobscura12 karma

The Insects: An Outline of Entomology by P.J. Gullan!

abigillygal15 karma

What's the best reaction anyone has ever had to your bugs? What was the worst? Why do you think people so often have an automatic ICK reaction to bugs??

atlasobscura35 karma

The best was when they put my caterpillars on their face. Brave souls they were! The worst was when someone dropped the insects they were holding because they got spooked! I think a combination of human instinct, xenophobia and poor media coverage of insects contributes to the ick reaction.

crenz15 karma

Is there any evidence that suggests that bees avoid stinging because they know it will kill them?

atlasobscura21 karma

Not that I know of, no!

Neetox11 karma

Do you yourself have any insect pets? and if so, what?

atlasobscura15 karma

Yes! Madagascar hissing cockroaches, blue death feigning beetles, eastern lubber grasshoppers, Dubia cockroaches, ants, mealworms, superworms, crickets, chinese praying mantids, and many, many more!

Charmadillo11 karma

What's the best way to get a spider or other insect out of a house unharmed? The cup/paper trick never seems to work for me.

atlasobscura13 karma

Critter catchers seem to work well!

ScienceLabTech10 karma

Very cool AMA! My question: I have a spider (no idea what kind, I live in PA) that has taken up residence in my favorite deck chair. It's got this huge awesome web across the front... I don't mind having him/her around to eat other bugs, but I'd like my chair back! What's the best way to encourage him to move along without hurting him? Thanks!

atlasobscura15 karma

Thanks! You could gently remove them with a container or commercial Critter catcher for relocation elsewhere- they’ll build a new web!

fiveceps9 karma

I remember being told that scientists don’t understand how bumblebees fly because they are non-aerodynamic (or something like that). I later had a prof. say that they could fly because of spiricles. Do you know if it has been figured out, if this is a myth, or what?

atlasobscura16 karma

We’ve finally discovered the physics that goes into bumblebee flight. They produce little drag and the rapid beating of their wing muscles is enough for them to become airborne. What we had before was simply a lack of scientific data on how their wings propel their weight.

Carda_momo9 karma

Hi Aaron. I have a few species of arachnids that I keep at home as pets. The social behavior of the Emperor scorpion (Pandinus Imperator) particularly intrigues me. I remember one occasion in which an adult female pushed away a juvenile with her tail while she was eating, rather than displaying defensive behavior like I would have assumed she might do. Anyway, my question is: what are the known theories regarding fluorescence in scorpions?

atlasobscura16 karma

Most scorpions glow blue-green under UV light because proteins in their hyaline layer absorb UV light and re-emit the light at a lower wavelength.

The hyaline layer, which is a section of the cuticle included in a scorpion's exoskeleton, is so durable that even scorpion fossils glow in UV light! It may allow scorpions to recognize each other or discourage predators!

Picksee7 karma

The other day I had come across a small wasp nest in the fence and questioned out loud how they all fit in the galvanized pipe... to which they all flew into the pipe.

Another inncodent of this had been sitting on or near an ants nest when a shiny soldier ant with two stripes had crawled on me beating it's back legs to the music we had been playing while others were almost moving digitally fast and jumping off of me and I mean quite literally, jump. That soldier ant also got agressive with my finger when I got too close to it and stood on it's back legs as if to punch me.

What sort of experiences do you have like this?

atlasobscura15 karma

I’ve had experiences of beehives in wooden posts. They seem to prefer tight spaces and are especially defensive against incoming strangers. I’ve also noticed quite a few soldiers outside of the hives, “keeping watch.”

McJumbos7 karma

your thoughts on ant-man?

atlasobscura11 karma

Great character! I wish I could work with ants like he does!

el_sattar7 karma

Hi!

Cockroaches seem to be much faster than any other insect on their feet. What's up with that? Did they evolve to outrun the slipper?

Thanks!

atlasobscura30 karma

Thanks! Cockroaches have ganglia not only in their head, but also throughout their thorax and abdomen. This is partly why they can live without a head. A cockroach will start running before it realizes it is running or knows what it is running from, and this is because a stimulus can tell the ganglia throughout its body to initiate running- the signal doesn’t have to go all the way to the head.

lilshawn6 karma

Please tell me how to tell ants to get out of my house and leave me alone! Can they or do they understand? How can I tell them there is a whole yard they can play in? and that they can just walk in the other direction? I understand they use scents and pheromones to "talk to each other... is there a "scent" I can use that portrays my feelings towards them and direct them properly?

atlasobscura10 karma

Sealing cracks and crevices in your home as well as eliminating food waste and water really helps! They’ll be more likely to feel attracted to stimuli from the outside. You can also use gel baits.

Burchling3 karma

How is the research of peptides from various theraphosidae progressing in terms of finding some sort of new treatment for MD? I haven’t read anything new in it in a while. Last I had heard they were doing research on G. Rosea. Why not something that has more of an observable myotoxin like effect such as a poecilotheria ornata or p. Murinus? Seems like they picked a weak contestant for research.

atlasobscura5 karma

I haven’t seen much progress in this area either. In my experience, a lot of arbitrary decisions in terms of what species to use have to do with funding, time, availability and knowledge. It may just boil down to what specimens are available, how much they cost, the implications of importing specimens and what species the researchers are familiar with. It isn’t a perfect system for discovering the utility of different species, but that’s oftentimes how scientists operate.

Steeze_Irwin3 karma

How difficult is beetle keeping? Specifically the bigger ones like Hercules.

atlasobscura5 karma

I’d say it’s simple once you have the right substrate (soil, wood). It just takes a long time to grow them to adulthood!

loujay3 karma

What is the best book on fly fishing?

atlasobscura4 karma

The Orvis fly-fishing guide seems promising!

MasterofTag1 karma

Did you ever do a show for a school camp in Pennsylvania? I'm 90% sure that you taught my school at camp!

atlasobscura1 karma

I might have! I’ve only done one show in pennsylvania.

Mantisbog1 karma

I have a small 10 foot by 5 foot balcony. What happens if I release 100 baby praying mantises on it during the summer when I have my container garden going?

atlasobscura1 karma

They’re really good at controlling insect pests! You’d likely see them eating a number of flies, crickets and beetles. You’d have way less adults than babies when they finally mature, and a few of them may mate and produce ootheca.

skudgee1 karma

Hi Aaron!

Is it true that Mosquito's truly serve no purpose in the Ecosystem and we wouldn't be at a loss if they were to go extinct?

atlasobscura2 karma

Hi! This isn’t true because mosquitoes pollinate, control certain animal populations through infection and serve as prey for quite a number of insectivores!

TextileWasp1 karma

Any chance that you would consider crossing over to the software bugs world? :|

atlasobscura1 karma

Sure! I’d love to study whatever I can!

assortedothers1 karma

As the Bug Whisperer, are there any insects that you dislike, and if so, why?

atlasobscura2 karma

Bot flies- their larva burrow into human flesh!

SSB_2Face1 karma

Are you aware of island gigantism, and have you ever interacted with an insect affected by it? If so, did they act differently than normal?

atlasobscura4 karma

Yes, and I interact regularly with madagascar hissing cockroaches. They’re way less frightened of humans than normal insects are and seem very relaxed.

King_Solomon_Doge1 karma

Hi! Few days ago I bought myself new pet - tarantula (caribena versicolor). I didn't come up with the name yet, any ideas? :)

atlasobscura4 karma

I make up the silliest names- how about Sparkly?!

StickyAddams1 karma

Two-part, really. What's your opinion on the movie "Mimic"? Even remotely based on any science? (Not the insect vs insect, but the adaptation part.)

What's your opinion on entomophagy? I support it, but I'm curious how you feel.

atlasobscura2 karma

I think the film is a beautiful exaggeration of what is already an amazing display of wasp adaptation. That is, certain wasps that feed on spiders are programmed to know where exactly to bite or sting the spider to best immobilize it without killing it. These wasps are an interesting example of animals learning certain behaviors versus animals exhibiting certain behaviors that they’re not altogether conscious of. I think entomophagy is an amazing and innovative concept that will help the economy as well as various ecosystems. Insects require only a fraction of the resources needed for animals like cows and pigs.

Sire7771 karma

I always wanted to be an Entomologist ever since I saw Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyme) on Bones using insects/bugs of all types forensically to solve murders.

Have you seen Bones? And if so how accurate is it in regards to the use of Forensic Entomology?

Can bugs found at a crime scene show time of death or where the body or a person has been?

atlasobscura2 karma

I’ve sene bones, and it’s surprisingly accurate in portraying forensic entomology! Bugs found at a crime scene can show the time of death or where the body or a person has been, and this is evident by the type of bug and the developmental stage it is in at the time of the body’s discovery.

twothumbs1 karma

Is it true that honeybees aren't native to north America and only came when the Europeans carried them over?

Is it also true that we have no idea how bumblebees fly?

atlasobscura3 karma

There used to be a native honey bee, as evidence in fossil records, but not anymore. We’ve recently learned the physics behind bumblebee flight!