Andy Lima aka “The Bug Guy”

Haymarket entomologist’s contributions to science and public health awareness

Self-proclaimed bug nerd Andy Lima of Haymarket urges kids and teens who have an interest in something a little bit unique to “embrace it,” because you never know if that hobby will turn into something bigger. That’s exactly what happened to the kid who, as far back as he could remember, collected and observed any creatures he could find in nature, something his parents fostered from an early age. “From the time that Andy could walk, he would stop, squat down, and observe insects and other critters in nature. His curiosity and interest made every walk in the woods an adventure,” his mom Dulcey says.

Photo courtesy of Andy Lima
From an early age, Andy was fascinated by insects and other critters in nature.

While he’s always been a naturalist at heart, a few particular experiences serve as fond memories of when a childhood curiosity turned more academic. One was in fifth grade, when Andy accepted the challenge from his teacher, Mr. Roth, to find a click beetle or mole cricket in the field behind the school. Dulcey also remembers this teacher giving every student a butterfly net as part of an insect-collection unit — one that rarely left Andy’s side. To this day, a butterfly net accompanies Andy’s golf bag when he occasionally visits local courses with friends.

Another influence was a high school biology teacher who tasked his students with creating and observing habitats. Andy says this experience began his collection and curation of insects. Andy also recalls being fascinated by the monarch butterfly migrations each fall in the Chicago suburbs, catching them in Quaker Oats cylinders with the next door neighbors.

These early memories turned out to be glimpses into Andy’s future career. Throughout college while he was studying environmental management, he continued studying insects while also honing his collecting skills and the craft of mounting specimens for display. He says that as he became known as the “bug guy” around campus, people would bring him pictures and specimens.  He truly enjoyed this because it allowed him to impart his knowledge — but also add to his own internal encyclopedia if he had to look up an insect unknown to him.

After graduating with a B.S. in Environmental Management from Indiana University, he worked first for Clarke Mosquito Control as an intern doing pesticide trials around the eastern U.S. He moved to Virginia to work full time for Clarke, and while there he completed his M.S. in Entomology from the University of Florida. More recently, he secured a position as a Senior Biologist with the Fairfax County Health Department’s Disease Carrying Insects Program, where he has been for more than three years. A typical day for Andy may involve working in the field trapping insects, inspecting yards, or identifying and testing mosquitoes and ticks.  He looks for vector-borne diseases like West Nile virus, Zika, and Lyme disease. This part of the job uses his education and knowledge.

Kara Thorpe

But Andy Lima’s personality lends itself to a completely different side of the job: outreach to the community — a talent he excels in at work as well as in his free time. While his position entails coordinating and participating in events to help the community reduce their exposure to these diseases, he has attained national media attention for his music videos that combine public health topics with a hip-hop sound.

Andy’s claim to fame began in 2011, on a visit to a friend’s home in DC while in the city to attend a hip-hop show. Realizing that having a “bug nerd” as your friend can have its advantages, the friend asked Andy to take a look at some mosquitoes in his Capitol Hill basement apartment. A glimpse of the insect piqued Andy’s interest because he identified the species as one not native to our area. Although unusual, it wasn’t unheard of. Each time he visited, he observed this same species (the Aedes aegypti) and then even some larvae. For six straight summers, Andy observed and collected the species, taking samples from other areas such as bird baths, trash cans, and sewers in the blocks surrounding the original “hot zone.” His find proved that this particular species, one that usually lives in tropical climates, was somehow surviving the winters.

Andy contacted the University of Notre Dame, where genetic testing was conducted to conclude that the collected samples were related to one another. “There was no new gene flow — this was a resident population,” Andy explains. He had found the northernmost known population in the United States. In January of 2016, Andy co-authored his first scientific publication Evidence for an Overwintering Population Aedes Aegypti in Capitol Hill Neighborhood, Washington, DC, which was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

But what may have been most important about this study was the timing. It coincided with the World Health Organization’s declaration of Zika as a public health emergency, something that rarely happens. Other examples of public health emergencies are H1N1 and Ebola. The story about Andy’s findings was picked up by the media, and a photo of him holding a bag of collected mosquitoes made its rounds through social media.

Courtesy of Andy Lima
Lima poses with a photo of himself during an event for the Discovery Channel documentary “MOSQUITO” he was featured in.

That was just the beginning of Andy’s social media star status. Six months later, combining his professional expertise, enthusiasm for educating others, and love for hip-hop, Andy wrote and recorded his first publicly released music video entitled “Zika 101.”  His video gained more than 11,000 views on YouTube in less than a year. MC Bugg-Z became a local sensation. Andy was interviewed on NPR, and articles have been published by the Washington Post, CNN, WTOP, and many other news outlets and associations.

This video wasn’t his first foray into music, though. Since 2004, he had been rapping as a way to share information with others about his love for all things nature, and especially public health. One of his first recordings focused on the 17-year cicada brood back in Indiana where he was living at the time. “No one else is doing this,” he says about his songs. “I rap what I know… and I know insects very well.” With the goal of being short, concise, and understandable, he puts a positive spin on his lyrics and shares them with the masses, especially younger audiences who receive most of their information from YouTube and social media.

The success led to Fairfax County asking him to produce a new rap video to commemorate 100 years of public health. The Centennial Rap, released this April, took roughly 100 hours with the assistance of a camera crew. On top of all that, Andy landed a small speaking role in Mosquito, a Discovery Channel documentary released in July to highlight the global burden of mosquitoes and create a call to action to humanity to combat mosquitoes.

Andy no doubt revels in these professional achievements. Each of them pales in comparison to the wonderful accomplishments in his personal life. He’s been married for seven years to his wife Stephanie, who he met on Halloween when she was dressed as a bee. Since the birth of his daughters Olivia, who is now almost four, and 18-month-old Emma, Andy’s priorities have shifted.

His hobby has gone from collecting insects to pushing a stroller while finding and releasing bugs with his girls. And while he suspects the fate of their social lives may suffer if dubbed a “bug girl” too early on, he is finding the balance between educating them about his passion and letting them decide their own interests. Either way, Andy will follow his parents’ lead in offering them the opportunities to nurture those interests, no matter how unique.

Andy’s message to fellow geeks of the world

“If you have an interest, embrace it. As focused as it may seem, there are others who are also interested in the same things. Your passion will be contagious. If you believe in something and you are excited about it, it catches on when you share it with others. You can affect that change. There is likely to be a niche for you somewhere to use that skill. You might not even know it’s a dream yet, but sometimes an interest becomes your dream. I didn’t say I wanted to be an entomologist when I was 5 and finding bugs. Some of it is luck but a lot is sharing your interest. Focus in and connect. No doubt whether it’s a career or not — you will get great rewards either way.”

Zika 101 (rap song written by Andy)

Don’t get sick with Zika / from the bite of a mosquit-a

Prevention is easy / relax and I’ll teach ‘ya

Empty water from containers / and dress to protect

when ya feed ’em ya breed ’em / so wear approved repellents

The genus Aedes / has some ladies / with importance, indeed

Yellow Fever / Chikungunya / Zika / or Dengue

Beware of Aedes albopictus / and aegyp-tee

These are some species you should care about / most definitely

Short flight / small size / jet black with bands white

Asian tiger mosquitoes / are universally disliked

And known for daytime bites / frequent flights inside

To tame the tiger / tip and toss and apply a pesticide

Fever, rash, joint pain / and conjunctivitis

Are common symptoms of infection / with the Zika virus

Most of the people who get it / will never know that they have it

The illness lasts about a week / for those who are symptomatic

Tip and Toss / standing water / from around the yard

Flip over containers / and when you can / discard

Birdbaths, buckets, tires, and downspout extensions

Anything that’s small and holds water / is suspect

Don’t get sick with Zika / from the bite of a mosquit-a

Prevention is easy / relax and I’ll teach ‘ya

Empty water from containers / and dress to protect

when ya feed ’em ya breed ’em / so wear approved repellents

Whether it’s evening or daytime / it’s best to stay covered

Dress in long clothing / that’s loose, and light-colored

Avoid peak feeding times / around dawn and dusk

If the windows are open / intact screens are a must

And please apply repellents / that are CDC-recommended

Be sure to read and follow all / of the label directions

Use active ingredients / like DEET and Picaridin

IR3535 and Oil of lemon eucalyptus

Questions?

If you have a question or problem with mosquitoes in Prince William County, contact the Mosquito and Forest Pest Management program.

14879 Dumfries Road

Manassas, VA 20112

Phone: 703-792-6279

Fax: 703-791-3092

Email: gypsymothmosquito@pwcgov.org

 

Christine Craddock
About Christine Craddock 27 Articles
Christine Craddock is a writer, editor, photographer, wife, and mother of two adorable children. She is a faithful contributing writer for Haymarket Lifestyle magazine and has resided in Haymarket since 2006.

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