Felicia Shechtman is easily bugged. The incoming senior at the University of Maryland is minoring in entomology, the study of insects. Shechtman, 21, is also a member of the university’s Israeli dance group, Avirah, a part-time Hebrew school teacher at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda and the vice president of Hamsa, U-Md.’s queer Jewish group.
What got you into entomology?
I never really disliked bugs while growing up. I’d see a bee and everyone would run away while I’d be like, “Oh, that’s cool.”
I didn’t really know what I wanted to study coming into college and then I found the beekeeping club. I was like, “That sounds really cool, maybe a little bit scary. But you know, let’s try something new. It’s college.”
I went to the first couple meetings. This is during COVID, so there weren’t a lot of communities on campus, but I found a nice community there. We were able to meet in person, just a couple of us. Everyone there was really passionate about bees and beekeeping and the cicadas, it being that year. All the passion of others was a big part of what drew me to the field.
What research are you working on?
I’m working in an entomology lab this summer, researching agricultural insect diversity. We have these sticky traps, basically like sticky paper, the same stuff you might use for bugs in your house. We place that on farms and bring them back to the lab and look at what bugs are on there. We’re looking at the diversity of insects and the roles of those insects. Are they a pest? Are they a pollinator or are they a decomposer?
I’m specifically [looking at] the diversity of those roles. Do we have a lot of pests or pollinators? What is going on with the diversity? How many of each thing do we have? What’s affecting [those numbers]?
These traps are replaced during the summer, once a month. I can look at how insects are changing throughout the months.
I’m looking at how the month affects the weather — we have temperature and humidity data that we get from NOAA.
We also look at how the different crops and farms affect what we find. We’re comparing the two farms. We’re working at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Clarksville and the Western Maryland Research and Education Center in Keedysville.
Do you have any Jewish entomology fun facts?
Locusts are the only kosher insect, but locusts are really interesting, because grasshoppers are actually the same being as a locust. If there are a lot of grasshoppers in the same area in close relation, they’ll rub against each other and release chemicals, including serotonin.
Those chemicals will change the behavior, the look and the morphology of that grasshopper and it will create a locust. That’s why we call a locust a modified grasshopper.
So are grasshoppers kosher?
Grasshoppers being kosher is a bit of a debate. I’ve talked to some rabbis who say, “Sure, sure, because it’s the same thing as a locust.” Some rabbis say, “No, and we’re only really eating locusts.”
What are you doing when you’re not researching?
I’m part of Avirah, Israeli dance group on campus, and that’s really, really fun. We’ve performed in Boston and at a [Washington] Wizards [game] and I hope I’ll continue that.
I’m also in a number of queer groups. I’m the vice president of Hamsa, which is the queer Jewish organization on campus. So we host lots of fun events — we had a Purim drag show this past semester. I also teach at a Hebrew school part time, running a group called Tzelem [based on B’tzelem Elohim: in God’s image], which is for queer teenagers. I teach life skills and I’m a mentor for them in general. I love playing cards and doing art. ■
Molly Zatman is a freelance writer.