San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Journal September 2021

Page 8




Briefly describe your job with SDZWA.

I work with a fantastic team of wildlife care specialists, and together we strive to raise awareness about the wonder of invertebrates, while also creating best practices for invertebrate animal welfare and participating in conservation solutions through ex-situ rearing of endangered insects.


Paige Howorth

SDZWA’s McKinney Family Curator of Invertebrates is a rock-solid supporter of the spineless majority.

What drew you to the field of entomology?

As a pre-med undergraduate, I ended up taking a zoology course from an entomologist. I liked her so much that I took entomology and parasitology from her too, and I never looked back! Invertebrates are such a huge frontier in science: we know so little, even now, about so few of them. I love the endless possibilities of discovery.

is one of greater collaboration and inclusion, with a focus on restoring sustainable ecosystems.

How do you think the new McKinney Family Spineless Marvels habitats connect explorers to wildlife?

We have put so much thought into explorers being able to FEEL like insects in the space and to connect to how they navigate their world; I am very excited to see their responses in real time! There are several immersive experiences where it will be easy to understand that alongside insects and other wildlife, they are part of nature, too.



My hope for the “ future of conservation


Hopkin’s rose nudibranch


What is the biggest misapprehension about invertebrates and insects?

That they have no purpose— “pest” insects get a lot of bad press, but there is so much more to the story. Invertebrates make up the vast majority of animal life on Earth: at least 96 percent of described species. Still, their vital roles in almost every ecosystem often go unnoticed until they start to disappear, and other processes break down as a result. The truth is that invertebrates, paradoxically, are the backbones of functioning ecosystems. We can’t survive without them! What is your favorite animal? Why?

This is a difficult question! Although I may have been a curlyhair tarantula Tlilocatl albopilosum in a former life, this distinction currently goes to the Hopkin’s rose nudibranch Okenia rosecea. It’s an ostentatiously pink, frilly, Muppet-looking Southern California sea slug that eats pink animals and lays pink eggs in a truly artistic formation! They are notable not only for being fabulous, but also for what they signal about climate change. These pink “nudis” are expanding their range north to colonize nowwarmer waters in Northern California and even Oregon. In so many ways, they say, “Are you paying attention?”

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