Apr 182012

Another week, another Monday night blog challenge from the Bug Geek! Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is explain your research in 250 words or less in a way that a 10-year-old could understand. Instead of banging my head against the wall on a manuscript (see earlier challenge) I tried my hand at explaining Diptera taxonomy.

What do I do for a living? I collect bugs! Not just any bugs though; I like to catch flies from around the world, bring them back to my laboratory, and figure out what their names are. Just like your parents gave you a name that’s special to you, scientists like me have given names to a lot of the flies around us. Many flies have long complicated names, like Drosophila melanogaster or Taeniaptera trivittata, but these names tell us who the fly is related to, just like your name.

Sometimes when I’m out collecting flies, I find one that has never been seen by a scientist before. That’s when my job gets really exciting, because I get to give that fly a new name! I can name a fly because of how it looks or how it lives, but sometimes I name the fly after someone important. As long as I know who it’s related to, I have lots of flexibility in naming!

There is so much about flies that we don’t know, which means plenty for me to learn.  Most people think you need to travel to faraway jungles to find something exciting, but there are amazing new discoveries waiting for you in your own backyard. There may even be a new fly waiting to be discovered! Learning about flies at home and abroad helps us understand how they live their lives and why they look the way they do.

Not really knowing any 10-year-old children, I hope my explanation isn’t too simplified (I think it’d be ok for my 7-year-old nephew though). Clearly I didn’t really get into the other aspects of my job, like phylogenetics, systematics and disseminating biodiversity knowledge through identification aids (and blogging of course). While I think I could do it, these topics would need another 250 words, and it was already 2am when I finished this bit…

This was a great challenge, and has applications far beyond inquisitive school children. I have family and friends ask what I do and why it matters fairly frequently, and in the past I’ve sometimes felt self-conscious trying to explain it (but that’s a much larger topic for another day). After this exercise, I think I’ve got a few new tricks up my sleeve for the next family reunion!

Toxomerus marginatus Syrphidae on flower

Toxomerus marginatus

  8 Responses to “Taxonomy for 10-year-olds”

  1. Well done, Morgan! I think it’s great! :)
    Also, gorgeous photo!

  2. I will probably use a variation of what you said above the next time a child asks. Because, in terms of taxonomy, I don’t think it can really be improved upon. :)

  3. Nice. It’s great to see you “next geners” taking up the outreach flag right from the start – ensuring there’s a gen after depends upon it.

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