BOSTON — Imagine discovering a new insect species and getting to name it. Biologists say there may be 80 million kinds of insects - but only 1 million are named.
Nina Zitani, a graduate entomology student at the University of Wyoming at Laramie, travels to Costa Rica in the summer. There she studies nonstinging parasitic wasps. These wasps are important to agriculture, because they kill caterpillars that destroy farmers' crops. So far, Ms. Zitani has discovered 15 new insect species.
One of the names she chose was Meteorus megalops. Meteorus is the scientific genus (major group it belongs to) of the insect, but megalops is Greek for "large eyes," which Zitani thought fit the big, bulging eyes of this new insect.
"I spent a lot of time looking for critters when I was growing up in New Jersey," Zitani says.
When she went to college, though, she studied art. After graduation, she became an exhibit designer for a science museum. There she met well-known entomologist Betty Faber, who talked her into switching careers.
For three years, Zitani has spent two months each summer in tropical Costa Rica studying the life cycles of nonstinging wasps.
When she's finished with her doctorate, she says, she wants to do research, teach, and help with conservation efforts. She knows there are new insect species to be discovered, and she wants to share them with nonscientists.
"Kids either love insects or are afraid," she says. "I want to encourage them to know that bugs may be ugly, but they're cool!"