By Rachel Bruner
Brad Hiatt describes his personal philosophy as “pura vida.” It’s a Spanish phrase he learned in Costa Rica, which translates as “pure life.”
“As a concept, it can mean many things,” he said, “but I take it to mean that life is good. I love life.”
And it just might be that attitude – a passion for seeing the good in things – that makes him especially suited for his job as an entomologist.
Yes, Hiatt works with bugs. And yes, he loves it.
His path to this unique (read: creepy-crawly) career started with a course in animal behavior taught by MSU Denver Associate Professor of Biology Robert “Bob” Hancock, Ph.D. Hiatt got hooked on the subject and his professor’s enthusiasm, so followed it up with an entomology course also taught by Hancock.
Hiatt soon realized he wanted to take what he was learning in school to the next level through intensive research. Hancock suggested several topics and Hiatt took the bait.
He began to study mosquitos, which he says “turned him into a lab rat his entire senior year.” But the hard work also came with travel benefits – he presented his research at mosquito control conferences in Moab, Utah, and New Orleans.
At the Moab conference, Hiatt made an important connection – Michael Weissmann, Ph.D., chief entomologist at Colorado Mosquito Control.
Weissmann was so impressed by Hiatt’s presentation, he offered the then-college student a summer job. Of course, a recommendation from Hancock didn’t hurt either.
Hiatt graduated in 2015 with a degree in biology and afterwards traveled to Costa Rica for a nine-month internship. While there, he studied moths and led insect identification activities.
He got back from Costa Rica in time for mosquito season and returned to work at Colorado Mosquito Control. As the end of the season approached, Weissmann recommended him for a job at Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in Louisiana.
Today, Hiatt works as an entomologist at the “bug zoo,” teaching visitors about insects such as butterflies, beetles and cockroaches and vertebrates like fish, birds and alligators.
He also takes care of the creatures. And while handling bug guts and weird animal secretions can be gross, he hardly notices. Instead, he chooses to focus on the beauty of each insect.
“Maybe that’s why I study them, because they’re such small, beautiful creatures,” he said. “For example, mosquitos are very beautiful in their coloration. They can be an incredible purple and gold, but no one ever sees that because they say, ‘Ah, mosquitos bite me!’ It’s all one thing. No. You take a moment to look at some of the smallest things, and you can find beauty and happiness, even in the ugliest and craziest parts of life. That’s 'pura vida.'”
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