Friday, September 12, 2014

The Insects and Arachnids of College Sports

As fall begins to take a hold of the year, many folks turn to college football for some seasonal entertainment. I personally am a big fan, but I may actually be a bigger fan of the mascots. Ever since I saw Purdue Pete beat up Bucky Badger at the 1997 Purdue-Wisconsin tilt I have had an interest in memorizing the mascots of our nation's institutes of higher learning. I do have my favorites (don't you go changing Bethany College or Washburn University), but of course as an entomologist I am particularly interested in the buggy ones.

So today, I present unto you a list of all the different insect and arachnid themed mascots I could find. The general trend seems to favor insects that can sting you and inject you with venom. You know, for the kids. There is a surprising lack of representatives from the orders of Lepidoptera and Hemiptera. I urge any school seeking a new mascot to consider maybe something along the lines of say... the Mighty Moths?


Bees of course represent teamwork and have a fierce reputation thanks to their potent stingers. Therefore it's a little surprising that only three schools have chosen this noble insect as their heraldic symbol. Of the three, I have to say I am partial to the University of Baltimore's Super Bee. What can I say, I like comfy looking sweaters. 

Boll weevils:

The biggest surprise to me when compiling this list was that the cotton boll weevil is the chosen symbol for not one, but two different universities. This choice is distinct as it is the only herbivorous insect utilized as a mascot and for the fact that the boll weevil was once the bane of the cotton producing South. Of the two representatives, I have to say I like the Enterprise version better for the accurate placement of the antennae. Although, its dead eyes do haunt my dreams now. 

Fire ants:

I am surprised at the dearth of ants on the list of insectoid mascot representatives. Known for industriousness and teamwork, one would assume coaches would love for their players to be like ants. But, only the University of South Carolina-Sumter has chosen the noble ant to represent their athletics. They even took it a step further and picked the fire ants, some of the orneriest stinging insects in the US. I think as a move in psychological warfare the Fire Ants' main rivals should change their mascot name to the Phorid Flies


Coming in at second place in terms of number of representatives, we have the hornets. Hornet is a bit of a nebulous term as it could mean a whole host of different large, sting-y, social wasps. I would imagine most of these schools are referring to the European hornet, the most common hornet in the States. Of note in the hornet group is Emporia State University's mascot "Corky". who is the brain child of Paul Edwards, a former Disney Studios animator. 


Admittedly, this one is a bit of a cheat. The University of Texas at Brownsville was formerly known as the scorpions but they have since changed their mascot to the Ocelots. In my humble opinion, some feline with a weird name that has too many vowels just doesn't compare to the sheer metal awesomeness of having a scorpion as a mascot. 


Next, the University of Richmond Spiders. They are currently the only college sports team named after spiders and the arachnid group as a whole. They are pretty proud of their eight legged emblem, which is surprising given that spiders seem to be universally hated.


Concordia University is a school in the great country of Canada. While their chosen icon appears to be a yellow jacket, I like the choice here to dispense with formality and just name your teams after the scariest part of the insect. Plus, check our those biceps! Although, he does seem to have forgotten leg day at the gym since his other ambulatory organs appear to be missing. 


In what I can only describe as the letdown of the year, Emory & Henry College's Wasps are represented by an actual insect rather than just a couple of White Anglo Saxon Protestants standing around on the sidelines. 

Yellow jackets:

Finally we come to our final and most popular hexapod mascot, the yellow jacket. These ferocious stinging insects are often the bane of our existence at this time of year. Since they are so aggressive and colorful, it's easy to see why they have been a popular choice for universities to pick. The most famous yellow jacket in America is probably Georgia Tech's favorite son, Buzz.

I feel it would be remiss not to point out some entomological mistakes among these insect mascots. First, insects have six legs, not two well muscled arms. Second, they definitely don't have teeth that they can grit in a most menacing fashion. Finally, I have seen a lot of wasps in my time and none of them have ever had white dinner gloves on.  

With that, let's end by handing out some awards. 

Best overall presentation: The Richmond Spiders. Scientifically accurate, cool color scheme, plus they have this thing roaming the sidelines:

Why would you make his eyes glow red?!
Arachnophobia must be an epidemic in Richmond, VA. 

Most Scientifically Accurate: Alabama State Hornets. Six legs, four wings, two antennae and eyes and even mostly right colors. Honestly, they didn't have a lot of competition. 

Award for Adorableness: The Baltimore Super Bee. Again, just look at that sweater.