Love Makes the World--and the Bugs--Go 'Round

Consider the lovestruck praying mantis.

If you've ever watched a mating pair of mantids and seen the male lose his head, or seen other insect mating rituals, then you ought to read entomologist Emily Bick's review of the play, An Entomologist's Love Story, which showing at the San Francisco Playhouse through June 23.

And see the play.

Emily Bick, a doctoral candidate in the Christian Nansen lab, University of California, Davis, recently attended a world premiere showing and penned a review published by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in its Entomology Today.

Her review is drawing high praise. San Francisco Playhouse tweeted: “Quite possibly the coolest review we've ever received.”

Bick, who holds a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University and a master's degree from UC Davis, is a board-certified entomologist and a member of the 2016 UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the ESA national championship for expertise in answering questions about insects and entomologists. Bick also will compete in the 2018 national championships, scheduled in November in Vancouver, B.C., as a member of the UC Berkeley-UC Davis Linnaean Games Team.

An Entomologist's Love Story, written by Melissa Ross (a former volunteer at the Museum of Natural History) and directed by Giovanna Sardelli, centers on entomologists Betty and Jeff, who work at the Museum of Natural History. The gist of it: As they research the mating rituals of bugs, they find their own complicated relationships increasingly under the microscope.

In her review, Bick wrote that the play “shows that life imitates art and art imitates life, with insect mating rituals serving as a proxy for human dating behavior.”

“The well-known antagonistic insect mating behavior of bed bugs' traumatic insemination, praying mantids' sexual cannibalism, and honey bees' mating plugs are all accurately described and then used to represent adversarial (human) dating behavior. Fireflies' bioluminescence, meanwhile, is cast in a romantic light.”

“The play brims with entomological humor, from anthropomorphizing bed bugs to a running joke that sometimes volunteers actually make life harder for researchers,” Bick noted. “While the public will be entertained by the gross descriptions of entomological behavior (pun intended), only we insect scientists will know that the “Lou” the protagonists keep referring to is actually Dr. Louis Sorkin of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (and that, yes, he does keep a bed bug colony there). Or, for those of us who have been lucky enough to take a tour, you know the Museum's offices really are that difficult to get to.”

The production team consulted with entomologists at the American Museum of Natural History and the California Academy of Sciences.

“Overall, An Entomologist's Love Story,” Bick wrote, “juxtaposes a range of complex human dating behaviors with a humorous yet biologically accurate description of example insect species' mating behavior. From an entomologist's perspective, I highly recommend seeing An Entomologist's Love Story if you are or will be in the San Francisco area before June 23.”

Bick, who is delighted that Entomology Today published her piece, says she can now list “published theater critic” to her resume.

(Editor's Note: Bick will compete in the Linnaean Games National Championships with the UC Berkeley-UC Team team at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C.  The UC Berkeley-UC Davis team is captained by Ralph Washington Jr., a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a former graduate student at UC Davis. Other members are Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab. The UC Berkeley-UC Davis team won the Linnaean Games hosted in mid-June by the Pacific Branch, ESA. For a look at the kinds of questions asked, watch the 2016 National Linnaean Games Championship Round (won by UC Davis), posted on YouTube.)