Rare Specimens: An Unusual Match-Up In Entomology

Sep 23, 2012
Originally published on September 23, 2012 4:16 pm

Alma Solis, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Systematic Entomology Lab, and her husband, Jason Hall, a researcher with the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, are, at first blush, a natural match.

Both are entomologists, a career that requires long hours, field work and travel for months at time — all without huge pay. But the couple soon learned that though they shared a passion, they did not share a specialty.

Hers: moths.

His: butterflies.

In the world of entomology, Solis explains, that makes rare specimens.

"Butterfly people usually stick with butterfly people and moth people usually stick with moth people," she says. "We were the only moth-butterfly couple up until about a month ago, when we had some colleagues in Finland get married. But we were it until then."

"It's a very unusual shared passion," Hall adds.

She collects specimens at night, with a huge, lighted sheet in the forests of northern Mexico. He scales Ecuadorian mountains with giant nets, braving mosquitoes and waist-deep mud. Ecuador, in fact, was something of a first date for the couple.

"He took me out into the field, I think, because he wanted to make sure I could do this before he could even think about marrying me," Solis says.

When they're not traveling, the couple relax in a vast butterfly garden they've built surrounding their suburban Maryland home.

"It's very quaint," Hall says. "But that's part of the reason to have a little butterfly garden. When you're not in the field, it keeps the butterflies close — keeps them in sight. Reminds you of what you enjoy doing."

To hear more of the couple's interview with NPR's Jacki Lyden, click the audio link above.

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