It’s a Bug’s Life

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for the Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!

The San Diego Zoo is full of a variety of different creatures of all shapes and sizes. Normally people look at the diverse animals on exhibit and are amazed by how many kinds of animals there are. In reality, those creatures, the ones well-known and equipped with a backbone, only make up one to four percent of the world’s biodiversity! Zoos are dedicated to this very small representation of the life on Earth, but Paige Howorth is working to change that. She has created an Insect House at the San Diego Zoo and works to show people the value of these diverse and important invertebrates.

Her goal is to help the public see the importance of insects and the necessary jobs that they do. She hopes to gain more support and appreciation for these little workers, as well as erase their unfair reputations as nuisances. As an Animal Care Manager, Mrs. Howorth has many responsibilities including curatorial work. Mrs. Howorth organizes the living collection of many insects at the Zoo. She classifies the bugs in the Insect House by their roles as decomposers, gardeners, pollinators, predators, or a combination of these. She pushes for diversity and the inclusion of some of her favorite insects: aquatic bugs, beetles, and ants, especially leaf-cutter ants. Mrs. Howorth oversees the staff, works to reach out to other entomologists in other zoos, brings in, and ships out insects. She even works with the Horticulture department to help raise plants for naturalistic and beneficial environments for the bugs.

Mrs. Howorth is a woman who has inspired firsts. She worked up through the ranks starting as a Keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and then becoming a Keeper at the San Diego Zoo in 2003. Now she is the Animal Care Manager of the newly established Entomology department. This department was created in 2009 with Mrs. Howorth’s help. Now the San Diego Zoo is one of the few who have this department dedicated to helping educate people about how to conserve the welfare of insects. In addition to the new Insect House, the Zoo also maintains a new pollinator exhibit. This garden is full of native plants that feed and aid in the breeding of local pollinators. Butterflies, bees, and other insects flock to this garden as a safe haven. So far this is the only conservation work being done directly for native insects. The first and only true insect conservation project is dedicated to helping conserve a butterfly species in Australia. In the future more of these important projects will become more prominent and publicized as Mrs. Howorth continues to pave the way for more work in the Entomology field.

Anyone wanting to follow in this woman’s footsteps has their work cut out for them. She says her job is unique in that she cares for a living collection, where the complicated rearing process of the insects must be done carefully and skillfully. Her job is hard to get because it is so specialized and currently rare. These small hurdles are worth overcoming for anyone like Mrs. Howorth. She loves her job. Many people have asked her if she got stuck with her job because the majority of people cannot understand her passion for insects. Her true calling toward Entomology came when she was taught zoology from an Entomologist during her completion of a Biology degree at the University of Kansas. This teacher of hers introduced her to the wonder and complexity of insects and inspired her to focus on them. She volunteered at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles and spent six months abroad in Costa Rica on a trip for tropical studies. She encourages anyone who has the opportunity to take a trip such as hers, to do so. Her advice is to go through with the opportunity that scares you, since it has definitely worked out for her. Currently Mrs. Howorth is perusing her Master’s in Entomology and enjoying her pet pink-toed tarantula. She is working hard to introduce insects to people and is truly living a bug’s life.

Denae, Career Team
Fall 2012, week five