Bugs 101: free online U of A course teaches why insects matter

The University of Alberta is offering an opportunity for people to explore why insects matter, said Maya Evenden, biological sciences professor at the U of A.
The University of Alberta wants online students to develop an appreciation for the diversity and importance of insects to human society, says biology professor Maya Evenden. (Submitted by Maya Evenden)

Summer in Alberta includes plenty of ants, mosquitoes and wasps.

But instead of letting the bugs bug you, the University of Alberta is offering an opportunity for people to explore why insects matter.

"We really want learners to take away a new appreciation for the diversity and importance of insects to human society," said Maya Evenden, a biological sciences professor.

The university has just launched Bugs 101, a free online entomology course available to anyone anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

The first-year-level course should be accessible to anyone with an interest in learning about insects, Evenden told CBC Thursday.

"The terminology that we present is all in a friendly manner and there's lots of animation," she said.

The course is made up of 12 modules broken down into three major groupings. The first grouping introduces people to insect diversity, basic insect biology and how insects get around, she said.

The middle section focuses on insects and their ecosystems and how insects interact with plants.

The final grouping highlights how people interact with insects, pest management, benefits of conserving insects and the benefits of insects to human culture.

Insects tend to get attention for their negative activity, Evenden said, pointing to the mountain pine beetle and mosquitoes.

Most insects aren't pests

"The focus of the general public is generally on those small number of species that we consider to be pests," Evenden said. "The vast majority of insect species out there are not considered to be pests."

Throughout the course students will hear from Canadian experts in different insect-related fields such as forest management and insects in Indigenous cultures.

These experts, along with the course instructors, will also talk about their favourite insects, Evenden said.

Her favourite insect is the forest tent caterpillar.

It's native to the boreal forest and "causes lots of defoliation and there are thousands and thousands of larvae that people tend to get upset about," she said. "On the other hand, it's extremely beautiful."

The online course includes virtual tours of locations such as the Royal Alberta Museum, an Alberta honey farm and an insect cafe.

A new on-campus version of the course will be available to University of Alberta students in the fall and winter semesters.


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