People Are Bugging Out About QU Biology Professor’s Findings

By Ashlynn Worley

When you walk in the office of Dr. Joseph Coelho, the first thing you notice is bugs.

Not just any bugs, but insects that the biology professor accredits for his most recent accomplishment.

As a cultural entomologist, Coelho studies the relationship between insects and humans.

Coelho earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California at Riverside and a doctorate degree from the University of Colorado.

During the interviewfor this story, Coelho noticed a bug crawling on his arm and gently placed it on his desk.

He casually continued explaining how he wanted to study something that had not been done before.

“Well, it has been a long strange trip. I started working on insects because they are so diverse,” Coelho said.

The first paper Coelho published focused on insects and rock and roll.

He said after his first publication people literally laughed at him and told him that was not even science and he could not do that.

“Then after I did it, it ended up being really huge and I’m probably known for that more than anything else I’ve ever done,” Coelho said.

After that, he knew he could not stop there.

The professors most recent work, “Insects in Fireworks,” focuses on the representation of insects on fireworks in relation to society.

“It’s definitely weird. I mean nobody else would have thought to do something like that but you know when you live in Missouri and there’s a firework stand every few miles down the highway it kind of hits you in the face,” Coelho said.

His research began in 2004, the same year he started teaching all courses in the field of biology at Quincy University.

Coelho bought every firework in a store that depicted an image of an insect on the packaging.

He then lit off the fireworks and recorded them.

After extensive research and writing, roughly fourteen years later, Coelho’s paper is published in Ethnoentomology, an international peer-reviewed journal.

Associate Professor of Biochemistry Lee Enger said having research published in a journal is one of the pinnacles of scientific research.

“Dr. Coelho is a dedicated professor. He is invested in teaching students how to think like a scientist and report information in a scientific way. This helps the entire department by preparing students and therefore how they perceive science in their other science courses,” Enger said.

The conclusion Coelho drew from his research is simple.

“Our preconceptions about what insects are like and what we are exposed to really influences our pop culture,” Coelho said.

In the meantime, the professor is working on another paper he co-authored with a QU alum who recently passed away.

Coelho’s latest paper is set to publish in the American Entomologists journal this winter which is sent to around 6,000 members of the Entomological Society of America.

“It is evident that Dr. Coelho has a love of nature which all biologists share and is a unifying quality of all who teach biology at QU,” Enger said.

The professor even hinted at the possibility of future publications.

“You have to not be afraid to change gears, change disciplines because that’s where you get into some really fun stuff. I have a couple more ideas that I’m bouncing around right now… it’s not over yet,” Coelho said.

When asked what his favorite insect was, Coelho simply lifted his pant leg revealing a worn tattoo.

“You just had to ask! When you ask you get the tattoo! It is an eastern cicada killer wasp and I’ve done most of my research on that,” Coelho explained.

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