Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University


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Check out these books by Tom Turpin:

Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?





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A fond farewell

Photo credit: John Obermeyer

Saying goodbye is a difficult thing to do. It doesn’t matter if that goodbye is to an old friend, a house we have lived in for some time, or activities that have been part and parcel of our lives.

So today, it is with some sadness and a bit of a lump in my throat that I must say goodbye to the readers of “On 6 Legs.” In a couple of weeks, I am retiring from Purdue, and this is my last column.

It was almost 30 years ago when I introduced this newspaper column. I really wasn’t a writer. I was a corn insect researcher, but our entomology department wanted to produce a regular news release about insects, and I agreed to give it a try. So with the help of Steve Cain of Purdue’s Agricultural Communication Department – the unit was called Ag Information back in those days – I began the column. We titled it “On 6 Legs” to reflect the number of legs on adult insects.

The first column, “The Case of the Winter Wasp,” on Jan. 8, 1988, was about my recollection as a high school boy of a wasp flying during the winter months in my little hometown church in Kansas. Needless to say, that flying wasp caught the attention of the folks in the pews on that Sunday years ago.

There have been many columns since then – 683, to be exact. All were original except for my favorite Christmas column that ran five times. It was called “Twelve Buggy Days of Christmas,” and as you have probably guessed, it is a parody of a popular carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

In the early days of the column, I would also present the material as a 5-minute commentary on WBAA, Purdue’s public radio station. That eventually became a monthly call-in radio show at WBAA. In May 2008, I started recording a podcast of the column that was distributed by Agricultural Communication at Purdue.

Inspiration for the columns came from a number of sources, including material from courses I was teaching at Purdue. One of those courses was called “Insects in Prose and Poetry,” and that explains why some of the columns dealt with insect use by literary figures, including Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Indiana’s own James Whitcomb Riley.

Other times, the column would focus on some insect situation that I had observed – singing cicadas in the trees in the lawn, tomato hornworms or Colorado potato beetles in my garden. Vacation trips sometimes provided material, as was the case when black moths were smacking the windshield while we drove along cactus-lined roads in Arizona. A recent trip to Costa Rica resulted in two columns – one on giant grasshoppers and one on leaf-cutter ants.

Some columns would address an issue based on a question that folks – including readers of this column – would ask. For instance, what is the difference between a butterfly and a moth? Where did ladybugs get their name, or what is a honeybee swarm?

National events sparked columns: a presidential inauguration, the baseball World Series, or the NCAA basketball tournament. Holidays always got special attention: Christmas events and decorations, Thanksgiving food, and flowers on Valentine’s Day were opportunities to make a connection with the insect world.

In many ways, the problems that insects face in their lives are not that much different from the problems humans face. Thus, there were several columns under the heading of “Dear Miss Ladybug,” where the realities of life for insects were addressed by the insect version of “Dear Abby.”

In spite of my original reluctance to take on the task of producing a column, I admit that I have enjoyed the opportunity to share, in a lighthearted way, the “joy of insects.” I hope that all of you who have read the column or listened to the podcasts have learned a few things along the way. But if I have accomplished nothing more than, as one of my former students stated: “I saw a smashed bug on the sidewalk today and thought of you,” then I am going into retirement a happy camper!

P.S. - Subscribers are invited to stay tuned for a new column by Tim Gibb, professor and insect diagnostician of Purdue Entomology. Be watching for more details to follow.


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Cindie Gosnell