Haosu Cong reflects on how insects were woven into his life and eventually became a career focus

Graduate student Haosu Cong has found a real connection between insects and himself and is proud to have become an entomologist.

Haosu Cong

Name: Haosu Cong

Hometown: China, Shijiazhuang

Previous education: B.S. in plant protection in Northwest A&F University, China

Major professor: Henry Chung

What are you researching?

I am mainly interested in insects’ mating behavior, mate choice and underlying physiological and molecular mechanisms. I am now using Drosophila species, which are known as fruit flies, as a model system to investigate some questions about mating. Drosophila have a wax layer on their cuticle, working as contact pheromones to convey specific information for mating. Since I know the main composition of this wax layer is some hydrocarbons, which may contribute to sex recognition and species discrimination, I want to understand what kind of role these cuticular hydrocarbons would play in Drosophila’s mate choice across different species. I hope my study will give us a better understanding about the evolution of chemical communication and mating systems, especially when the chemicals are crucial for possible reproductive isolation.

Why study entomology?

I was pretty interested in biology during high school, but I did not have many chances to get in touch with insects at that time. Then I chose to enroll in a plant protection program because my personality is more like a protector. I thought I would become a botanist or plant pathologist at first, but things changed so dramatically. Much to my surprise, I was totally messed up in diagnosing the plants just based on their leaves because they are all green! So, I finally selected another minor subject, pest control, in my program when I was a senior undergraduate. Gradually, I found real connections between insects and myself. Now I feel proud of myself to have become an entomologist.

What or who inspired your interest in entomology?

I cannot point out one specific thing arising my interest in entomology. Besides the key point I mentioned above about my transition, I found insects are hidden in every stage of my life. I guess all these stories have been shaping me. When I was a young kid, I usually had cricket battles with my friends. My mom also bought me a grasshopper as a gift during summer, whose “song” is my childhood memory.

When I went into education, that was my first time to get surprised in a science class because of the various type of mouthparts in insects. During Chinese lessons, I found insects are very popular in Chinese ancient articles and poems. For example, one of the most popular Chinese ancient loving stories, like Romeo and Juliet, tells about the loving couple who missed each other and died, and their ghosts became butterflies flying away freely together.

When I truly started to learn fundamental entomology in college, I was impressed by the diversity of insects and entomology. The diversity in insect morphology, behavior and living environment reminds me of different adaptation stories in nature. The branches of entomological study are also very diverse, so I feel entomology is diversity itself. This value keeps giving me confidence about the inclusive study of the environment because I believe anyone with different values would find their own interests in insects.

What is your favorite activity or responsibility as part of your graduate studies?

I am enjoying my role as a teaching assistant. When faced with some undergraduate students, especially non-science major students, it is nice to share basic scientific definitions with them. I feel the most effective way to tell them about science is to show my own passions towards my science and tell them about my own stories. I also enjoy telling them about insects.

What is your favorite thing about MSU?

The people. As an international student, I can always feel supported in the MSU community because people here are nice and friendly. Everyone is trying hard to earn a life and be nice to each other. If there are ever problems like COVID-19 or some international student issues, the president, our college and department would stand out to protect our rights and benefits. MSU Spartans create a nice environment, a great study and research environment, making me feel less homesick and experience less culture shock.

What is your favorite insect?

Harmonia axyridis, also known as the Asian multicolored ladybeetle or harlequin ladybeetle. This was my first research objective in entomology studies. It has various spot pattern on the elytra, which can change as a response to the environmental temperature. The cooler the temperature, the more dark spots it will have. It is just like a bug magician, changing its costume. I usually observed different behaviors of it, like after flipping it upside down, which was fun to watch during the wait time for molecular experiment results.

What is your favorite way to spend your time outside of your studies?

I like to sing and record my songs to post on my social media. I also like cooking new dishes, especially during this lockdown period, although most of them were in vain. Normally, I like hanging out with my friends and travelling and chatting with different people. I believe getting to know other’s life will help me to know my life better. It will be a long journey in my life to explore myself, fulfilled with challenges and adventures, tests and errors. But I love life, love nature with my enthusiastic heart.

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