Sharing a passion in entomology

Michael Oberg is expecting a quiet flurry of wings as monarch butterflies flit through the bushes at Brushy Creek Recreational Area near Lehigh, stirred by the scientists and volunteers taking part in the butterfly tagging and educational presentations planned for Saturday at the Prairie Resource Center.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Oberg, a young insect and butterfly collector from Fort Dodge.

The 15-year-old sophomore at St. Edmond High School has taken part in the annual tagging before and even shared his collection with the past groups gathered to track and count the monarchs migrating through the county. In fact, his interest in insects, moths and butterflies has led him to five other states so far to study and gather specimens -Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Florida and South Dakota.

“One day, I would like to go to the Amazon,” he said.

Oberg’s fascination with bugs began when he was just a child. His mother, Mary Oberg, said he would come home with roly-polies stuffed in his jeans pockets, and the poor pill bugs went through the wash. But that was just the beginning.

“We always have cocoons, wings and caterpillars all over the place,” she said, “but it’s OK. Big things are coming for him. I always say kids need to have some interest, passion or hobby, and it’s then up to us as parents to support it.”

Someone who was particularly encouraging of Michael Oberg’s interest in life sciences was his grandfather, Dennis Kech. Kech is a retired science teacher who taught at Phillips Middle School for several years.

“I grew up with him teaching me about animals,” Michael Oberg said. “It’s all from him.”

Oberg grew serious about his passion to identify the various kinds of insects found in the area about four years ago, he said. Soon thereafter he began pinning, preserving and keeping them in cases.

He currently has approximately 400 pieces in his collection which includes a variety of things that crawl, hop and fly.

“I really like the diversity and differences between all the species,” he said.

Perhaps his favorite, though, are the moths, especially the large Luna, or Giant Silkworm moth; the Polyphemus with its large, purplish eyespots on its two hind wings; and Imperial moths with their yellow undersides and pinkish- brown to purple-brown spots.

“People think moths are duller and not as vibrant as butterflies,” Oberg said, “but I tend to like moths better.”

One of the moths he found in Colorado caught the attention of an entomologist with the natural history museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a hybrid, a combination between the Polyphemus and the Oculea. It turns out Colorado is where the two species’ ranges cross, Oberg said, and the different populations can mingle there. Since such a specimen is unusual on the East Coast, the entomologist told Oberg if he found any more of them to send some along to the museum.

Sharing knowledge and specimens is common among butterfly and bug enthusiasts, Oberg said. In fact, he recently met a woman in Missouri whose samples of a number of butterflies had faded so he put together a case of new specimens from his collection to send to her as replacements.

This enthusiasm isn’t shared just among collectors. An appreciation for insects is contagious even among those who may have an aversion to bugs.

“My sisters hated bugs,” he said, “but now when they go places, they look for bugs for me. My friends at school do it, too. When they go traveling, they bring me back bugs.”

Mary Oberg said her son’s enjoyment of entomology is something so intriguing and enjoyable for him that his zeal for the subject draws his family and friends closer to him.

“It’s just something fun we can all enjoy,” she said. “It’s something we can all share.”