2017-08-01 / Front Page

SPINELESS WONDERS

The transition
BY TIM GIBB PROFESSOR OF ENTOMOLOGY PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Tom: So Tim, you are going to take over writing this column now that I am retired?

Tim: Yeah, looks like it.

Tom: Any idea what you are going to call it?

Tim: “On Six Legs” was your column, and I can’t fill those shoes. I thought maybe “Small Things Considered” would be pretty original given that “All Things Considered” seems to be going strong. That would be cool.

Tom: Interesting. You might want to have the lawyers look into that.

Tim: Yeah, you’re probably right. I think I will call it “Dr. Tim’s Spineless Wonders.” I used to have a personal website with that title, but I took it down.

Tom: So you don’t have your Spineless Wonders website up anymore? What happened?

Tim: Nobody read it anyway. They thought Spineless Wonders was my family history or genealogy or something like that. Kind of boring.

Tom: “Dr. Tim’s Spineless Wonders” sounds good. What would you write about?

Tim: Well, that might be the catch. I don’t know nearly as much as you do about the intellectual things you wrote about: insect poetry, history and curiosities. The only thing I know anything about is bugs.

Tom Turpin and Tim Gibb study a model of a grasshopper head

Tom: But you know a lot about bugs. You have been Purdue’s insect diagnostician for many years. You have been quite successful. I bet you have a lot of good stories.

Tim: I have been successful in some ways, I guess. Hey, remember a few years back when you and I launched our award-winning radio talk show called the “Tim and Tom Show”? That was one of my biggest claims to fame - highest achievement of my career.

Tom: Oh really? I do vaguely remember it, ... and it was called the “TOM and Tim Show,” by the way. You were kind of like - just the add-on.

If I remember correctly, it was pretty short-lived. They cut the show after the very first episode. How could that be award-winning?

Tim: Yeah, we only got to do it once, but it was a highly successful episode. The record, though unofficial, is that it may be the shortest-running radio talk show ever. I think Guinness World Records gives awards for stuff like that.

Tom: You are right about that, and something to be proud of, I guess. How is it that you became an entomologist anyway? Have you always been interested in insect science? Maybe that would be a good story to start with.

Tim: Well, not much to tell, really. I was never a very good student in school. In third grade, my teacher told my mother that I was not really good at learnin’, so as to not get her hopes too high for me.

Things got worse in fourth grade ‘cause Mrs. Kessler was the teacher then.

Tom: Mrs. Kessler?

Tim: We called her “Fossil-Face” Kessler. I credit her class with my first desire to become an antomologist.

Tom: You mean entomologist, don’t you? There is no such thing as an antomologist.

Tim: Nope. I told my teacher and my whole class that I would be an antomologist, and that is what I did.

Tom: Oh really. How did that happen?

Tim: Well, it was a homework assignment in science class. Each student was to bring in an object having to do with science, and report to the class about what it was and what kind of a scientist studies it. Kind of like show and tell.

I remember there were some really neat things brought in. Larry brought in a toy dinosaur and said he wanted to become a paleontologist. Another kid brought in a real stethoscope ‘cause he wanted to be a doctor. Eleanor wanted to be a psychologist so she could help people with mental problems (she should have brought in her brother ‘cause he needed some treatments), and there were others - lots of “ologist” types.

Well, I forgot when it was my turn. I only remembered when the teacher announced that Timmy would be presenting right after recess. I was a bit dejected, felt like a bit of a loser, except that during recess when I was feeling down, a life-changing moment happened - right there on the playground during recess.

Tom: Oh really. What happened?

Tim: With my head hanging low, worrying how I was going to face the class without a project to report on, I happened to spy a dead ant on the sidewalk. Somebody had stepped on it and it was flattened. I reached down and peeled it up off the concrete and saw that it still had most of its legs and even one of its feelers still attached, although they were poking up and out in all sorts of unnatural ways.

I also happened to have a small matchbox in my pocket, left over from recess games (we had already used up all of the matches). So I flicked the flat ant into the box, and then after recess, I presented it to my class.

Tom: What did you say?

Tim: I told them that it was a dead ant and I wanted to become an antomologist so as I could study it. All the kids in the class wanted to come and see it, even though they had probably seen dead ants a hundred times. They stood in line to come to the front and have a peek in my matchbox. They all thought it was pretty cool.

By the time that all the kids had paraded past, and said something like “Yeah, I have seen one of those before,” or “I might have even been the one who stepped on it. I got like three of them during recess,” my 15 minutes was up, and so I did not have to give much more of a report.

Tom: What did your teacher think?

Tim: Well, I got a check mark from Mrs. Kessler. There were no grades given for this assignment, only check marks, so I scored just as high as the smart kids who wanted to be doctors, engineers, astronauts or psychologists. It was my first real success.

Mrs. Kessler’s note on my next report card was “Tim is making progress.” My mother was thrilled and encouraged me to continue. So I did.

Tom: So that was your start in entomology?

Tim: Yup. I soon filled the whole box with flattened ants and was looking to expand. Later, I found a bigger display case and some pins to hold the insects in place, and that was my start.

Tom: I’m not sure I believe all of your stories, but there is probably a particle of truth in there somewhere. Do you still have that collection?

Tim: No. While I was away visiting my cousin, my mother found my collection, wanted her sewing pins and makeup case back, and so she tossed my collection in the trash.

I was devastated. Set my learning back quite a bit. There were psychological consequences. I even found myself talking to Eleanor about it at recess.

Tom Turpin pushes entomology books off onto Tim Gibb

Tom: Maybe, come to think about it, that may not be the best story to tell in your opening column after all. How about you stick to insects. You can tell some interesting facts about their behavior and biology. Readers would like to hear that kind of thing.

Tim: Can I make stuff up, like you do?

Tom: Sure, not many fact-checkers in my audience, so you pretty much have free rein. A lot of readers will also help by sending in questions or photographs of insect they have seen or bumped into. That would also be a good place to start.

Tim: OK. I guess if things get really dull, I could look for some flattened ants. That worked for me once before.

Tom: OK, best of luck with that.

Tim: Thanks, and if you are ever in the mood to write a column or a story about bugs you have found during your retirement, it will be most welcome. You could ask me a question about it and I will give the answer - kind of like the old award-winning “Tim and Tom Show.”

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2017-08-01 digital edition