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“Insect Idol” contest a big hit for entomology

To most people, the sight of oversized, spindly-legged insects perched on a hallway wall might cause a case of the shivers. But around Russell Laboratories, the home of UW-Madison’s entomology department, they’re creating a welcome buzz.

Three larger-than-life photographs of bugs in action, all taken by entomology students and professors, will soon hang in the halls around the department’s offices as part of its “Insect Idol” contest. The competition asked UW’s insect-researching community to capture the beauty, color and diversity of the critters they study – partly to spice up the drab, sparsely decorated halls around their offices, and partly to celebrate the work of the department, which celebrates its centennial next year.

Department chair Walter Goodman says students and faculty embraced the idea of a “bug beauty contest,” submitting 115 original images that depicted insects in every stage of life, including flying, mating and dining, sometimes on other bugs. The whole department voted on winners.

“Judging these photos was fun,” Goodman says. “I think it was a really great way to bring all of us together.”

View a 16-image slideshow…

The three photographs selected for display are:
“Celebrate Diversity,” by professor Dan Mahr, which displays four differently colored Costa Rican leafhoppers walking on a plant stem. Mahr snapped a picture of a single leafhopper, a bright red bug with bands of cobalt blue and white, while teaching in Costa Rica. He then used Photoshop to duplicate the insect and create new, bright color patterns, creating an artistic impression of varied colors.

“Beetle Bath,” by graduate student David Dyer, which captures a beetle taking a bath under a water spout.

“Tumbling Flower Beetle,” by graduate student Mike Hillstrom, which depicts a tumbling flower beetle feeding on a flower.