Bizarre insects face off in March Bug Madness

Cason Hunwick

Bugs can’t play basketball but nature sure makes them weird.

Escape the busted brackets and basketball mayhem, and vote for your favorite bizarre bug on Texas Science’s Instagram story now through March 29.

March Bug Madness is a bracket-style tournament that faces off insects in a bid to find the strangest. Users can select which insect they decide is ‘weirder’ out of a pair of bugs in a series of single-elimination rounds that narrow contestants until only one remains.

Colorful, high-quality images come from the UT-Austin Biodiversity Center’s very own Insects Unlocked catalog. The photos mark an effort to photograph the vast collection and make the images free for public use.

The detailed photos appear on the page along with descriptions of each insect’s outlandish traits, off of which people can make their decisions. The bugs’ traits range from producing sounds over 100 decibels to packing a painful bite with unassuming pinsors, and the grand winner is crowned as most bizarre out of the starting sixteen species.

This bizarre bug tournament is the brainchild of Marc Airhart, a coordinator in the College of Natural Science’s, CNS, communications office.

“(The images) are other-wordly,” Airhart said. “They come in every color of the rainbow.”

Marc works with a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and videographers who publish content for CNS. The team creates research announcements, posters, logos and flyers for various events and organizations. They also collaborate on multimedia projects like this competition.

The team enjoys a break from normal projects to focus on special efforts that target public engagement, Airhart said.

At a huge research institution like UT, there’s a lot of activity that the public does not see.

“If you walk around on campus there’s a lot of stuff that’s hidden,” Airhart said. “It’s hard to know this building has one of the world’s most powerful lasers, or at another spot some great discovery was made decades ago. We want to try and tell the story of research at UT in that way and reveal to people what’s hidden right in front of them.”

Collections of insects hide in research labs. Researchers often lack the tools to share such vast storages of knowledge with the public, which is where the communications office comes in.

“(The team) is making this hidden collection that the public doesn’t interact with — millions of bugs in little drawers in a field lab off campus — accessible and interesting,” Airhart said.

Graphic designer Jenna Luecke created the visual elements for March Bug Madness, including its lively logo and clever NCAA-reminiscent bracket. Luecke said it is an outside perspective as an artist that helps her distill information in a way that’s accessible to non-scientists in a public audience.

One of the unique challenges of Luecke’s position is taking the time to ensure that enough information is there to get the point across but not so much that it scares away social media goers.

In all, the project joins a larger trend the communications office hopes to continue and create more interactive pieces that communicate science.

March Bug Madness features new competitors every day at 9 a.m. on the Texas Science Instagram story where users can enter votes for 24 hours until voting closes. The winner will be announced on March 30 at 9 a.m.

Browse the rest of the bug collection on the Insects Unlocked online gallery.