10 Insects We Love to Study

European Corn Borer
The destructive caterpillar of the European corn borer demonstrates what it's capable of. © Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

The moth-like European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) is one of the most heavily studied insects you never heard of. First identified in Boston in 1917, the European corn borer came to the United States as it hitched a ride on corn from Hungary and Italy. Since then, it established itself as a pest in the eastern United States and Canada. Colored yellow and tan, the European corn borer has a wingspan of about an inch. Its larvae like to feed on the leaves of different crops, especially corn.

The cost of controlling the corn borer and the damage it causes is roughly $1 billion a year. Scientists mostly want to know how to stop or manage the bug's spread. They look at the bug's mating habits and diet, as well as how it spreads. Some of their research focuses on using genetically modified corn that produces an insecticidal protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. That protein protects the plants from the insect [sources: Penn State, Bessin].