These lovebugs also happen to love bugs


Lyle Buss, a senior biological scientist at the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology, and his wife Eileen Buss, associate professor and extension specialist at the UF Department of Entomology and Nematology, recreate a traditional marriage proposal with an ox beetle, from Eileen's personal collection, in a cinch bug rearing room at her lab Wednesday, February 12, 2014.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 7:18 p.m.

For entomologists Eileen and Lyle Buss, it wasn't love at first sight.

Lyle had a long ponytail and a strong Minnesota accent that kind of scared Eileen, she recalled.

But the two shared an unusual passion — bugs — and their courtship began with them collecting bugs together.

While to most people that might not sound very romantic, if you're an entomologist, this is love at the deep end.

The Busses met at Michigan State University as master's students specializing in forest entomology.

"I was working with Christmas tree pests, and Lyle was working with gypsy moths," Eileen recalled.

On dates, they would take the entomology department's six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle into the forest and net bugs in the air.

"We'd go for walks in the woods and find fallen pine trees," Eileen said. "We could hear chewing going on and see piles of dust underneath the logs, so we would tear open the bark" looking for beetles.

"We had an informal competition to see who could find the coolest sandfly," she added. "I think I won."

Unusual as these dates might sound, the Busses are in good company in Gainesville. They are one of many entomologist couples — several of them at the University of Florida, which boasts one of the country's largest university entomology departments.

Gainesville is also home to state and federal Department of Agriculture laboratories, along with large bug collections that lure retired entomologists.

The city has one of the highest numbers of entomologists per capita in the U.S.

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And bug lovers tend to find each other.

"Not everyone is meant to love bugs, so we just got blessed or cursed with it," Eileen said.

Last spring during "Bug Week" at UF, entomologists were discussing the statewide problem of love bugs when Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman, who is married to fellow faculty member Phil Kaufman, said, "Well, we have a lot of love bugs here," referring to the city's entomologist couples.

Ironically, love bugs, the coupled creatures that congregate on your windshield in spring and fall during their mating season, are not studied at UF — because they aren't actually pests.

Although a shared love of bugs drew the entomology couples together, they rarely share the same sub-specialty in the field.

Eileen is an extension specialist and associate professor who studies pest management and insects' behavioral ecology in urban areas. Lyle, who calls himself a bug identifier, is a senior biological scientist. He also takes pictures of bugs.

In shorthand, Eileen is expert in how to kill bugs, Lyle in what they are.

The two specialized in different areas early on in their careers.

"I kind of suspected he was the one, so I branched out and did landscape entomology," Eileen said. That also was because of a hiring freeze in forestry, a male-dominated field, she added.

So while Eileen pursued her doctorate in landscape entomology at the University of Kentucky, Lyle worked with the forest entomologist there.

"Lyle was sweet enough to help me collect samples (of gall wasps)," Eileen said. "I still get goose bumps when I think about gall wasps."

Lyle said their professional interest was "good common ground." He said he also was happy to find a girl who wasn't put off by his longstanding passion of building a bug collection.

Today that collection, mostly in 24 drawers at their home in Kanapaha Pines, includes thousands of bugs. Some are in the fridge, next to the milk, Eileen said.

"We have a dedicated saute pan at home for boiling caterpillars," she added.

Their two daughters, 10-year-old Heather and 7-year-old Holly, put up with their parents' passion without sharing it.

"They're embarrassed about us looking for bugs in public, which for us is second nature," Eileen said. "We're embarrassed by them screaming at spiders."

"We're still working on them," Lyle added.

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While many entomology couples like the Busses got hitched in graduate school, others met further along in their careers. Gillett-Kaufman, a Gainesville native, met Phil shortly after he joined the UF faculty in 2005. They started dating about a year later and wed in 2008.

"If you're a girl that likes bugs, it's probably not something that a lot of other men would find endearing," Gillett-Kaufman said, adding that men sometimes find it to be a "creepy" passion.

So when she meet Phil, "I felt fortunate that there was another weirdo in the building."

The two have offices around the corner from each other but work in different areas. Kaufman is a veterinary entomologist, studying pests on domesticated animals. Gillett-Kaufman is an extension scientist who develops documents for the general public about entomology.

"We have different skill sets. It's a good balance," Kaufman said. They bounce ideas off each other and understand the demands of grant writing, which often mean that workdays end at midnight and weekends are cut in half.

"We do our best to keep Sundays free," Gillett-Kaufman said. They love gardening and cooking food from their garden in their down time.

The Busses also enjoy gardening — especially so they can see what kind of bugs live in the garden.

"I planted some oleander to get oleander caterpillars," Eileen said.

They let weeds grow in order to study the bugs.

"Our neighbors are tolerant," Eileen said, perhaps owing to the fact that among them are an aphid expert, a nematologist and a master gardener coordinator.

"Sometimes they'll let us go in (their yards) and collect bugs," she said.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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