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As part of an International Field Trip in Biology class through the Study Abroad Program at Iowa State University, we had as a goal to impress university students of various academic backgrounds with the insects of the Serengeti region in east Africa. The Matthiessen quote hints at our a priori expectation and main obstacle—wondrous distraction. The promoted goal of the field trip was to educate and expose students to the natural history of northern Tanzania, with a focus on the mammalian and avian fauna, the varied grassland-bushland-montane forest ecosystems, Rift Valley geology, and Maasai culture. The course, conducted during 2005, consisted of 16 weekly, in-class lectures followed by a three-week safari in northern Tanzania to Serengeti, Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Arusha national parks, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, and Lake Natron. The class demography included an instructor (MER), a teaching assistant (JDB), and 16 students representing seven majors (Table 1). We expected that students would be so amazed at experiencing an environment with such a diverse and abundant charismatic megafauna that introducing insects to them (none of the students was an entomology major) would prove an interesting challenge. We established a hypothesis that the relative desirability or appreciation of insects (or arthropods broadly) to non-entomology students would not be changed substantially by a biology field trip to Tanzania.
During the first semester lecture, the 16 students were given a written survey consisting of 25 Tanzanian animal species (listed in alphabetical order) likely to be observed during the field trip (Table 2). Students were asked to rank the species based on their expected desirability (i.e., those species they wanted to observe and experience). At the conclusion of the three-week field trip, the survey was given again and the pre- and post-field trip ranks compared. We were surprised by what the surveys revealed; however, we did not leave the students’ entomological experiences to chance while we were on safari.