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Big on bugs, Fujian group sparks public interest

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-05-29

Cradling a stag beetle specimen in one hand, Liu Pengyu meticulously brushed the dust off it with delicate strokes, fully immersed in the captivating world of insects in his quiet, dimly lit studio.

According to the 43-year-old, the stag beetle, with its sharp, distinctive mandibles, is a symbol of wilderness, vigor and indomitable spirit and was precisely why he chose the insect as the logo for his studio, which houses thousands of well-preserved specimens.

Liu was born and raised in Fujian province, which has the most extensive forest coverage in China and is a treasure trove of biodiversity. As an only child, he often explored the forest near his home and developed a fascination for the small creatures that lived there, treating them as his companions. His interest in these tiny inhabitants continued to grow over time. "Fujian is sometimes referred to as 'Min' for short, and interestingly, the Chinese character for 'Min' includes the symbol for 'bug'." Liu said. "So I believe it's our responsibility to explore the rich trove of insects here and make more people aware of them."

Liu sees understanding as the basis for enhancing awareness of the need to protect insects. "Some look normal but are actually as precious as giant pandas," he said.

Driven by his passion, Liu quit his job in 2017 and rallied a dozen people with similar interests to open a studio in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian. Ever since, they have been venturing into mountains, forests and islands across China in search of insect species they have never seen before. "Some bugs are so rare that you can't even find a picture of them. In those cases, we have to rely entirely on limited descriptions in books," Liu said.

After years of expeditions into the wilderness, the team has become accustomed to encountering poisonous snakes and navigating mudslides. They frequently travel across challenging terrain in pursuit of insects as tiny as 2 millimeters in size, and happily adjust their sleep schedules to align with the nocturnal habits of a particular species.

Despite these obstacles, the team has frequent rewarding moments that keep them going. For instance, team member Guo Liang still vividly recalls his first encounter with a rare golden Kaiser-i-Hind butterfly in pristine forests.

"It fluttered its wings gracefully above us, its distinctive markings glistening in the sunlight," Guo said. "At that moment, we were breathless and in awe."

For a long time, the study and documentation of insect species in China was primarily conducted by foreign entomologists. Today, that trend is reversing as experts like Liu and Guo have insects they discovered that are now named after them. In their spare time, team members give lectures on school campuses to share their knowledge of insects, organize study tours and teach students to make specimens. They have also produced hundreds of videos that are available online, covering a broad range of topics related to insects.

The team's Douyin account has amassed over 130,000 followers and occasionally, unusual questions pop up in the comment section, such as "Do cockroaches bite?".

"This made us realize the significance of educating the public about insects," Liu said. "Regardless of the progress we've made so far, we're still at the beginning of a long journey."

The team's dedication has undoubtedly had an impact as more and more of their social media followers have expressed a keen interest in learning about the legal protection of insects. In recent years, the rise of short-form video platforms has been helpful in introducing nature enthusiasts to the public eye.

According to a report by Douyin, nature and science-related short videos raked in 1.1 billion "likes" on the platform last year, with Generation Z exhibiting a particular interest in this kind of content.

According to Liu, children tend to spend more time on gadgets than on experiencing the outdoors in person, so he wants to enrich their childhoods by inviting them into his world of insects.

Over a century ago, French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre devoted his life to studying the anatomy and behavior of insects, which he compiled in Souvenirs Entomologiques, or Fabre's Book of Insects. Fabre is an inspiration for nature enthusiasts like Liu and his teammates, who aspire to leave their own mark in the field. "It's like our slogan says: 'The road ahead is rugged and long. We can only achieve our goals through constant effort,'" Liu said.

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