Sunday, December 12, 2010
Read the article online here:
And read more about the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid at our reference page:
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Last weekend, the Society of Kentucky Lepidopterists hosted their annual meeting here on the University of Kentucky campus. Although I am not a member (and I am definitely not a lepidopterist!) I had a chance to visit a part of their meeting. It was very cool!
A lepidopterist is someone who spends time collecting, studying, or observing insects in the scientific order Lepidoptera, which includes the butterflies and moths. The Society of Kentucky Lepidopterists has been around since 1974 when Dr. Charles Covell (moth expert and Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Louisville) founded the organization to "provide communication among those interested in any aspect of lepidopterology, and to foster research on the Lepidoptera fauna of Kentucky." The group has been going strong ever since.
Last weekend, the group met at the University of Kentucky's insect museum. The museum is home to thousands of pinned insect specimens (not just butterflies). Unfortunately, though, it is currently not open to the public. There are a few reasons why it's not open. For one thing, it is currently housed in a very small space: There were about ten lepidopterists in the museum last week, and there was not enough room for all of them to sit, and they had to take turns moving up and down the main corridor because it was so small. Another reason: the insects in the museum are still being organized and sorted! A few years ago, Dr. Covell donated a big part of the University of Louisville's moth and butterfly collection to our museum. We're talking about thousands of specimens, all of which need to be resorted into our collection.
Since the museum is not open, I had never seen it before. It was amazing. The insects are stored in boxes that are about the size of a completed jigsaw puzzle. Those boxes are then kept in a special type of cabinet system called a "compactor." (You may have seen compactors before in libraries: they collapse on themselves and are used to increase storage space). I was able to take a look at several boxes of insects, many of which were from the 1800s. I hope to see more of the collection in the future.
I was also amazed by some of the boxes of insects that the individual lepidopertists brought with them. The meeting is a time when members can bring specimens to show to one another. The purpose of this is to get help with identification... and just to show off! I was certainly impressed.
I was also impressed to see that a coleopterist was in attendance at the meeting. A coleopterist is someone who specializes in beetles (order Coleoptera). For some reason, coleopterists and lepidopterists don't always get along. In this case, though, the coleopterist has found an advantage to hanging out with the lepidopterists. He explained it to me like this: when someone hunts for beetles, they almost always find butterflies and moths. And vice-versa. So the coleopterist gives the lepidoptersits all of the moths and butterflies that he catches, and in turn he gets all of the beetles that the lepidopterists don't want. It seems that the coleopterist's scheme is starting to backfire, though. Thanks to his influence, several of the lepidopterists are now becoming interested in tiger beetles, so they aren't giving the coleopterist all of their specimens anymore!
And even though founder Covell has since moved to Florida, he still participates in the society. He actually presented at last-weekend's meeting.
The society is always looking for new members. So if you are interested in butterflies and moths and if you live nearby (you don't have to live in Kentucky, though--several of the current memebers are from nearby states), take a look at their webpage and think about becoming a member.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
As any gardener knows, squash bugs are very common pests in the summer vegetable patch. They attack a variety of cucurbit crops, and they cause damage by removing sap and by transmitting Yellow Vine Decline.
See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFMDcGDQOTY
And you can read more about squash bugs and their control on our online factsheet, ENT-314: Squash vine borer and squash bug.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to help with a very cool event in Muhlenberg County. It was called Bugging Out, and it happened during the school day at Muhlenberg South Worksheet School. The goals of the event were to reinforce 4th grade science content and to introduce 4-H Entomology projects.
The event was organized by Judy McGehee. She's a part of the 4-H staff in the Muhlenberg Co. Extension Office. Her vision was to give kids an entire day of entomology. This is very rare: a typical student will see only a few minutes of entomology instruction during an entire elementary-school career!
The day started with classroom instruction, where students learned the basics of insect collecting (which is what the 4-H Entomology project is all about) and some fun stuff about the insect world. Then the students got to spend time collecting insects in the fields next to the school. Our hope is that some of these kids will go on to make 4-H Entomology collections and enter them in the County and State Fairs: one of the students from last year's Bugging Out event won the county contest and placed at the St. Fair.
Our thanks go out to the 4th-grade teachers at Muhlenberg South. They were willing to rearrange their entire schedule to accommodate our ento-activities. Also, prior to the event, the teachers used classroom time to teach their kids some of the entomology basics. They weren't just donating their time, though: one of the things that Judy was able to show the teachers is that insects can be used to teach several different KERA science concepts, including: structure and function, classification, and ecosystems.
We also had a surprise guest at the event. Ryan, one of the contributors to this blog, came to work with the students. He is a high-school senior from Muhlenberg County, and we first met him at our week-long Entomology Leadership Program last June. When he heard about the Bugging Out event, he received permission from his high-school to spend the second half of the day with us.
Jeff Franklin and Katie Pratt from UK's College of Ag Communications Service were also on-hand to cover the event. There is a written article here, and you can see a video on the College of Ag's YouTube Channel here:
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Last week, it was announced that Howard Stern had become a victim of the bed bug epidemic that is sweeping through New York City. Signs of bed bug infestation were detected in his Sirius Radio studio and also in the limo that he uses to get to and from work everyday.
So, Howard Stern Has Bed Bugs! That, at least, was the headline. Actually, here are some of the real headlines: "Stern Gets Bed Bugs" (New York Post); "Bedbugs Bite Howard Stern...Watch Those Private Parts!" (E! Online); "Howard Stern's NYC Office and Limousine Infested with Bed Bugs" (TheCelebrityCafe.com).
But... is that what really happened? Did Howard Stern really get bed bugs? I'm not so sure. Let's take a quick look at all of the evidence!
The infestation was originally detected on the 37th floor of the building where Sirius is located: Sirius operates out of the 36th floor. From what I understand, Howard (who, like lots of New Yorkers, has bed bugs on the brain these days) decided to have his studio checked for bed bugs proactively, perhaps because he has heard that bed bugs can easily spread through buildings. To do this, he brought in one or more bed bug-sniffing dogs. The dog(s) registered a "positive" sniff in the studio (specifically, I believe on the couch where the guests sit). There was also a positive reading in Howard's limo. Following these readings, the studio was treated for bed bugs over the weekend of Sept. 25. The limo was supposed to be treated the following week, but the last I heard the treatment was pending.
This story has some problems. Most importantly, bed-bug sniffing dogs can deliver "false-positives." This means that it is possible for a trained dog to indicate that bed bugs are present when they are not. In fact, no one seems to be quite sure how often they give false positives. I don't want to knock bed bug dogs: they will be an essential tool in our new war against bed bugs. But it is usually a good idea to follow a dog-based inspection with an inspection by a human pest-control professional.
I don't know if Howard and Sirius relied only on bed bug dogs. Perhaps they had a follow-up inspection to confirm the presence of bed bugs. But here is something else that is known about Howard Stern: he is a self-described victim of obsessive-compulsive behavior. (some OCD evidence: the protective anti-bed bug suit that Howard was wearing last week).
And here's something that Howard's listeners know: possibly due to his self-described obsessive and phobic nature, Howard has been bringing bed bug dogs to his home(s) and he's been doing this for a while--before any of the current headlines broke. I DON'T believe that he was doing this because he really thought that he had bed bugs. Instead, I think (this is pure speculation!) that it was because he'd been hearing a lot about bed bugs in the news and he wanted to make sure that he didn't have them. I'm not sure how often he brought the dogs to his home, or when he started doing it, but he mentioned it several times on the air well before the recent headlines broke. Sounds to me like Howard's brain was just waiting for those dogs to give a false positive!
So, did Stern have his studio and his limo treated for bed bugs, even though a positive reading from a dog was his only evidence? I don't know. But I think that the statement "Howard Stern Gets Bed Bugs" may be an uncertain one. "Howard Stern Treats Studio for Bed Bugs," yes. "Howard Stern Freaks Out About Bed Bugs," probably. But that's all we know right now.
Bed bugs really are a growing threat, and they are showing up in lots of places. There is a very good chance that Stern's studio and limo really did have bed bugs. But I'm starting to wonder if the fear of bed bugs is causing almost as many problems as the creatures themselves!
Monday, October 4, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
On Saturday, Sept 25, 2010, the University of Kentucky Department of entomology will be at the UKLFCUG Arboretum to find and tag Monarch butterflies. At this free event, kids and their parents will get a chance to meet real entomologists and learn all about Monarch butterflies. More importantly, they can help tag butterflies--this is a chance to get involved in real science. Scientists tag Monarchs (it's harmless to the butterflies, by the way) so that they can monitor their migratory patterns. Monarch butterflies fly each year from Mexico to the United States and back. Because some of their overwintering sites in Mexico are disappearing, scientists are interesting in leaning everything they can about how these insects travel and what is happening to their populations.
For directions to the arboretum, visit thier website:
And read more about the national effort to study Monarch butterflies:
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Dr. Mike Potter from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology is scheduled to appear on this evening's episode of NPR's Fresh Air. Dr. Potter is recognized as one of the world experts on bed bugs and other urban pests.
The Fresh Air interview is now available here as an audio clip and in transcript form:
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Although I was a big fan of modern rock in the 1980s and 1990s, I never fell in love with Nine Inch Nails. Whenever I listened to NIИ I usually wanted to say, "yes, yes, Trent, your suburban life sounds very tormented and stuff, but please get to a catchy distorted riff, and you might want to consult Ministry if you need some help with that." I must say, though, that I really dig "Head Like a Hole," especially the chord change in the middle of the chorus. I wish all NIИ sounded like that!
So after I bought and was disappointed by Pretty Hate Machine (I think I sold it so that I could buy a Skinny Puppy album for some properly scary industrial sludge) in 1990, I gave up on NIИ. Which means that I never got around to seeing the sleeve for their "Closer" single (1994) until just a couple of minutes ago. (By the way, if you are not familiar with "Closer," it is absolutely Rated R and NSFW, so beware before you go hunting for it!)
I'm not an expert on millipede identification, but I think that this might be Narceus americanus, sometimes called the North American Millipede. This is the largest millipede that lives in Kentucky, and as far as I know it is the largest millipede in North America. The ones that I have seen haven't been *quite* nine inches long, but I've seen them in the 4-5 inch range. There are also anecdotal/unconfirmed accounts of much larger specimens in the 12 inch range--maybe someone will find a footprint and make a plaster cast of it!
Of course, there are lots of other millipedes in the world, and the millipede that appears on "Closer" could be a foreign species (a good candidate would be one of the large African species that are often kept as pets in the U.S.) that I am not familiar with, or perhaps a close-up of a smaller species from North America. Maybe if the photographer is reading this, they could share with us where they took the picture? More likely: is there a Myriapodologist reading this who can confirm the I.D. of this critter?
Read more about the North American Millipede and its relatives in the KY Critter Files: Millipedes.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Do you love hornets' nests, but hate the hornets? Or: do you love paper lanterns, but wish they were less-illuminated? A product has been developed just for you!
I just saw it on the Home & Garden Network this morning: it's a fake hornet nest that you can hang from a tree in your yard. It is supposed to repel hornets. The guy on the segment said that hornets are very territorial and won't build a nest within so-many meters of an existing nest. I don't know if this is true or not, but in an advertisement that I found for the product I read that "research has demonstrated that wasps are territorial and avoid other nests." Well, it certainly looks a lot like a hornet nest. It also must be made of the same kind of stuff (paper), because the guy on H&G said that you can't leave the fake nest in the rain or else it will disintegrate! On the other hand, real hornets' nests don't disintegrate in the rain (how do hornets make their paper water-proof?).
I'm not sure if there is just one brand of Fake Hornet Nest, or several, but here is an online ad that I found for one (it's sold out!).
Well, does anyone have any experience with these things? Do they work? Has anyone seen any research?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Here are the details:
Annual Night Insect Walk
Friday, July 30, 2010 | 8:30pm - 10:30pm
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
5888 Jacks Creek Road, Lexington, KY
Here is a recent news article about the event:
And here is the official webpage for the event:
We hope to see you there!
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Today, I found a beetle native to Kentucky that the government is considering putting on the endangered species list. The beetle is called the Icebox Cave Beetle. Here is a link to where I found the information:
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I know a little bit about this large species of scorpions (pandinus imperator), and specifically, that the babies cling to the mother, who feeds them. From birth, they change from a ghostly white to the deep black of their parents. When they grow to adulthood I will have to break them up in to groups of two and keep them separated, or else risk cannibalism. Emperors have a 9 month gestation period (or 7 to 12 months depending upon temperature and humidity), which is a fact I find very interesting.For an aspiring entomologist such as myself, this is a great opportunity and I look forward to watching these amazing arthropods grow and flourish from tiny scorplings to adult scorpions.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I am the kind of person who pathologically clicks on CNN.com several times a day. I'm not sure what I expect to find there; all I get is reiterations of horrible news. My CNN fix: a habit that I would like to break. Except when they post one of their semi-monthly slideshows of newly discovered critters! I love these!
Usually, no matter where on earth these discoveries occur, there are some arthropods involved. This makes sense, since there are more kinds of arthropods on earth than all other organisms combined. And this time is no exception.
The geographic area: the deep ocean below the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Here's the slideshow:
There are several marine arthropods on the list, including some isopods and amphipods. My favorite is a very unusual isopod that has a typical pillbug-type body, but is also equipped with long spider-like legs. Isopods, by the way, also live in Kentucky: the familiar roly-polies that live around homes are examples of isopods. We also have amphipods in Kentucky: they are sometimes called "scuds" and they live in freshwater streams and ponds.
Thanks for the good news, CNN.com!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Float like a butterfly, don't sting like a bee
the lep-i-DOP-ter-A is easy to see
Butterflies, moths, caterpillars too
there's all kinds of colors, they could even be blue
Plants love caterpillars and moths galore,
make sure to listen up, and we'll rap some more
Coiled sucking mouthparts, scales on their wing,
they flyin' all around as me and Joe sing.
Thread-like antennae, knobbed at the end,
this rap is dope, we're sure to win
The Annotated Lepidoptera Rap: This rap was written by Megan for a contest that occurred during Water Pioneers. During the contest, each team was assigned one of three insect orders: Coleoptera (beetles), Hymenoptera (wasps, ants, bees), or Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Each of three teams was responsible for capturing three members of their order. They also had to become experts on their order and prepare and deliver a brief presentation to the other students. For their presentation, the kids could use almost any means of communication, including drawings, sculptures, skits, posters, and, of course, hip-hop. So this was another opportunity for Megan to write some lyrics for her MCs.
This rap does a good job of reminding the audience about some of the key Lepidoptera characteristics. Such as this key line: "coiled sucking mouthparts, scales on their wings." These are two of the most important features that distinguish butterflies and moths from other insects. And "they can even be blue" is a reference to a whole group butterflies commonly known as "blues" (one of them is pictured on the logo for this blog in the upper right-hand corner).
This activity is a good way to introduce students to the concept of scientific orders, by the way.
Oh, and Megan's group won the contest!
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
In Kentucky, annual cicadas are currently singing. For me, cicada-song is the sound of heat, humidity, and summer and I love it. Annual cicadas also mean the return of one of Kentucky's most amazing insects, the Cicada Killer Wasp. I just saw two of them this week. We are bound to see more of them as July progresses.
With a body length of about 1.5", the cicada killer is one of the largest wasps that live in Kentucky. They are easily confused with one of our other large wasps, the European Hornet. Cicada Killers do not live in colonies, though, like hornets do. Cicada Killers are solitary and they are much less likely to sting humans than a hornet. Generally, colony-dwelling bees and wasps (like honey bees, bumble bees, paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets) are much more likely to sting humans than solitary wasps and bees. So if you see these huge cicada killer wasps flying around in your yard, don't worry about them: they will only sting if provoked.
Cicada killer wasps don't actually kill cicadas: their larvae do. A female cicada killer will catch and sting an adult cicada (paralyzing it, but typically not killing it) and return it to her underground burrow. Their, she will lay an egg on the paralyzed cicada. The larva hatches from the egg and then devours the cicada.
I suppose it is ironic, but cicada killer wasps tend to miss-out on the mass periodical cicada emergences that occur in the United States. Periodical cicadas emerge every few years, and they tend to emerge in huge numbers. But they emerge early in the summer, before cicada killer wasps are flying. Because of this, at least in Kentucky, cicada killers specialize on annual cicadas--these are the slightly larger cicada species that emerge every year, typically later in the summer.
Read more about cicada killers and their relatives in our Critter Files section, Narrow-Waisted Solitary Wasps. And: Cicadas.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
As I mentioned in a previous blog post (Arts & Sciences), I love it when entomology and the plastic arts collide!
Beverly Pearce let us know about a project that she is working on which takes a close (and artistic) look at the amazing intricacy of insect wings. In particular, she is interested in dragonfly wings. Dragonflies have incredibly complicated wing-venation, so there is a LOT to look at. Vein patterns in insect wings are also important for insect identification, as you can see in our Critter Files entry about Green-Eyed Skimmers (which are a type of dragonfly).
You can take a look at Beverly's project here:
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Dissolved oxygen's what we're talkin' about
we're testin' the water before it comes out the spout
Tap the cap to make sure there's no bubbles
'cause if there is you could be in big troubles!
Next add the drops of Manganous sulfate
but you better be careful, 'cause you only need eight
Add in the drops of Alkaline Potassium
it's gotta be clean before you can get some
Add in sulfuric acid and take a look,
you won't see this in a science book
You better watch out if the water is cloudy,
you might get sick--not feelin' so rowdy!
The Annotated Dissolved Oxygen Rap:
Megan wrote these lyrics to describe the process of testing a stream for its dissolved oxygen content. It's a demanding test, and the rap contains some helpful hints! The 2nd stanza (tap the cap to make sure there's no bubbles, 'cause if there is you could be in big troubles), for instance, contains one of the most important reminders: when you take the water sample, the bottle must be totally free of air bubbles, or else the test will be compromised.
By the way, there is a very important relationship between dissolved oxygen and entomology. Aquatic insects (like immature mayflies, stoneflies, and dragonflies) require lots of dissolved oxygen to breathe. The dissolved oxygen content frequently drops to lethal levels in wild streams, especially when trees are removed from streamside areas: trees provide shade which reduce water temperatures, and dissolved oxygen leaves the water at higher temps.
Kudos, again, to Megan, the queen of water-investigation hip-hop!
Friday, June 18, 2010
We all smell bad, we're covered in ticks
in case you couldn't guess, we're straight-up hicks
It's a hundred degrees, with the sun beatin' down,
You may have a heat stroke and fall to the ground
We testin' the water and playin' in dirt
you better be careful or you might get hurt
Identifying trees, we're good--that's no joke,
Pine, dogwood, even red and white oak
We lookin' for beetles, salamanders, and bugs,
we wearin' our waders, we rollin' like thugs
You get stuck in the mud, so you might get wet,
but with this scholarship our futures are set
This rap was written by Megan Parker from Laurel County, one of the Robinson Scholars that I am working with this week at the Water Pioneers program. The scholars are learning about water quality, insects, forestry, and other fun stuff. At this very moment (9:38am at the Kentucky Leadership Center in Jabez, KY), they are getting ready to present their community action plans!!
Watch for MORE water-quality raps written by Megan.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
We decided to get our two-year-old up to see them (he hadn't yet fallen asleep, anyway). I got out my net and a jar, and Lyn got out the camera. Lyn showed him all the fireflies, and I put some in a jar to let him see them up close.
Then, he said he wanted to go back inside and go to bed. My two-year-old would rather go to bed than see the fireflies.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Here is an interesting article from today's New York Times on Caterpillars disguising themselves as predators to scare away potential predators.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Millipedes! They’re a very cool and often neglected class of arthropod. People often think of them in the same way they do about their fast-moving aggressive cousin the centipede who, although interesting, does not hold the same place in the heart of this writer. I have found that for some reason people are quick to say they are “creeped-out” or disgusted by these creatures without really getting to know one. Millipedes are slow moving decomposers or herbivores, not like the fast carnivorous centipede. Millipedes don’t bite. Their only defense is to curl up in a ball and excrete a foul liquid. But that is not to say they can’t be handled if you are gentle. Millipedes make wonderful pets because they are fun to watch and easy to keep healthy. Another interesting fact about our friendly diplopods is that they are very old. In fact, the oldest fossil of an animal with organs specifically for breathing on land is a millipede. In conclusion, next time you find yourself confronted with a millipede reserve your judgment for after you become properly acquainted with it.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
You may find it odd that my first post on this blog dedicated primarily to insects is about something that is most decidedly NOT an insect. However, I think anyone reading about biology will find the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis nutricula) extremely interesting. Their common name is no hyperbole – they are the only example that this writer knows of true biological immortality. The jellyfish starts life as a “polyp” kind of a larva that lives on the ocean floor and develops. It then transforms into an adult jellyfish. This is completely normal in many species of jellyfish but after this one reproduces, it goes back to it’s polyp stage via “transdifferation”. This is when a non-stem cell turns into a different type of cell. This process could go on indefinitely if not for predation and other factors. One could speculate as to why exactly these animals perform this amazing biological feat. I don’t know that answer this one can only ponder it.
Here is an article from today's New York Times on grasshopper infestation. Here is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/us/10grasshopper.html?ref=us
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The Neocurtilla hexadactyla, also known as the Mole Cricket in English, is an insect that is a nocturnal herbivore, native to the Eastern part of North America. This insect is a member of the order Orthoptera. The Northern Mole Cricket is also my favorite insect because of their ability to cross most terrains. They have a life expectancy of two years except in central Florida where they live for only one year.
You may ask, how do I know what a Northern Mole Cricket looks like, so I can observe it in natural habitat? Well, they have short wings and their average size is 19 to 33mm. Their front legs are enlarged, shovel-like, and modified for digging. They are capable of flying for up to five miles during mating season, and can run quickly, yet they are poor jumpers. They can also swim if they land in a body of water. The nymphs resemble the adults but are smaller and do not have fully developed wings. The Northern Mole Cricket is completely harmless to humans.
Their habitat is usually wet, sandy, or muddy soil near streams, ponds, or agricultural fields. To mate, the male calls from its burrow. Then after mating, the female lays eggs in a chamber at the end of the burrow. The female guards the nymphs until the nymph’s forth-molting stage. The nymphs acquire food by feeding on the nutritious roots of plants. In Iowa, they are considered beneficial for the soil, since their tunnels loosen the soil to improve the drainage and aeration of the soil. Their predators include birds, assassin bugs, ground beetles, tiger beetles, and wolf spiders.
The Neocurtilla hexadactyla, or Northern Mole Cricket is a very mobile creature because it can swim, jump, run, fly, or dig across any terrain. They also have an interesting call that is like a cicada’s but weaker and less loud. In my opinion, the Neocurtilla hexadactyla, or Northern Mole Cricket is a wonderful insect.
Sources: bugguide.net/node/view/8789/bgimage, www.orkin.com/other/crickets/mole-cricket, www.ent.iastate.edu › Insect Diagnostic Laboratory, www.museum.state.il.us/muslink/prairie/htmls/popups/ins...
Saturday, June 5, 2010
I have now returned from the Kentucky Forestry and Entomology Leadership Program (KFELP). It was an intense week, and we got a lot accomplished. All of the entomologists completed their insect collections with specimens to spare. I was also happy to see that one of the program attendees learned about the program via this blog. I am planning to add him as an author for this blog as soon as I get his email address. I think one of the other campers is interested as well. Hey Ryan and Devin: send your email address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you to the list.
We have a similar week-long camp coming up in one week. Maybe I will meet some more potential bloggers there!
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I'm leaving today for a a week in Jabez, Kentucky. There, I work with Doug McLaren from UK's Forestry Department to present the Kentucky Forest and Entomology Leadership Program (KFELP). This is an intense, week-long, overnight, residential program that immerses students in the world of natural-resource management. We will be working with about 30 high-school kids, and about 1/4 of them have signed up to be "entomology specialists" for the week. The entomologists will learn how to observe, study, collect, and preserve insects that are important in the forest ecosystem. They will also see how entomologists and foresters depend upon one another to solve problems. This is one of the best weeks of the year for me, because it is one of the few times that I get to work with students for an extended period of time. Also, we spend almost the whole week outdoors in the woods!
Learn more about the entomology component of KFELP.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
This is a pretty neat news article that came my way and I thought I would share it. A quick summary is that a group of researchers have made a robotic swallowtail butterfly that flies. The link has a video of the "Ornithopter" in flight and a brief description of what this is all about.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
I recently figured out that I can upload high definition videos to YouTube, so I just added our first one. It's a short clip of Kentucky's only native scorpion, Vejovis (a.k.a. Vaejovis) carolinianus . The nice thing about HD is that it fills the YouTube viewing frame better than standard-def.
Here's the video:
These are cool little scorpions. They are found in wooded areas in southern Kentucky, and they sometimes wander into cabins. They have a very mild sting, so they are not considered dangerous. You can read more about them in our Kentucky Critter Files: Kentucky Scorpions.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
If you read this blog, you know that we in the Entomology Department at U.K. are concerned about exotic and invasive organisms. Lots of other people are, too. Michael Russell, Scotland's Environmental Minister, believes that "the invasion of non-native species now constitutes the biggest threat to our native biodiversity after climate change." At a recent seminar here in our department Dr. David Wagner (University of Connecticut) showed that invasive species are the second biggest threat to insect diversity after development.
So, we know that invasives are a problem. But what can we do? There are lots of government programs and volunteer efforts that are working to eradicate these organisms, but most take a military approach: they try to spray, cut, infect, and generally shock-and-awe these organisms to death. But what about a more subtle approach? How about... a culinary approach?
I've been reading more and more about efforts to put invasive species on the menu. It's a perfect solution: if invasive species are eating our stuff, let's eat them instead. It doesn't work in all cases (don't try to eat an invasive thistle!), but here are some examples that I've seen recently:
-kudzu. Kudzu is a nasty invasive weed that has been taking over the southern U.S. You can make jelly from it.
-garlic mustard can be used in pesto
-Japanese knotweed is another pest in our area. It has a number of uses.
-an invasive Ray species in the Northeast has shown up on sushi menus. I saw this on a CNN video a few weeks ago, but I can't find it again. Can anyone send me this link? UPDATE: Here is the CNN video. This is a related story in text form. "Eat a Ray and Save the Bay."
And here are some invasive edibles that we've been consuming for years:
-honey bees. Okay, we don't eat the bees, but we eat their secretions (honey). Many people don't realize that honey bees are not native to the U.S. And although they provide a lot of benefits, they also cause problems: they out-compete native bees and their stings send lots of people to the hospital
-pork. Domestic pigs probably originated in Asia. These days, they are delicious right here in the U.S. They cause lots of problems when they become feral, though, so they "count" as an invasive species.
Of course, turning invasives into edible products has a risk: if a demand is created, it's possible that the invasive species will become raised/farmed for profit, and spread even more. So the key is to eat an invasive species until it's gone, and then find a new one to whet our appetites!
Can anyone think of any other "edible invasives?"
UPDATE: I just found a new article from the Louisville Courier-Jounral about an attempt to turn consumers and fishermen onto Asian carp, an invasive fish that is found in Kentucky (and lots of other places). Hey, serve it up. I'll eat it.
Also, another important edible invasive that I forgot: dandelions. They've been in salad mixes and regional/traditional cuisine for years.
Monday, April 26, 2010
We've added another video to our YouTube channel. This one is a clip from our recent (4/24/2010) Bugs-All-Day event at the Explorium of Lexington, and shows Tom Myers from All-Rite Pest Control. Tom Myers is an experienced collector of insects, and he always brings his amazing collection of preserved insects to the annual Bugs-All-Day event. Tom is also a professional nature photographer!
See the video here:
Thursday, April 22, 2010
It's Earth Day! That means it's Insect Day!!
There are approximately 1 million named species of insects. That's more than ALL OTHER ORGANISMS COMBINED. There are merely 5,000 species of mammals. 300,000 species of plants--a pittance. One species of human. Feh. Insects are the most diverse, the most important, and the best and the coolest organisms on earth (hey, it's Insect Day, so I get to say that).
New insect species are discovered every year (a few thousand). Others go extinct every year.
Kentucky has approximately 15,000 species of insects. Each has a crucial role in its ecosystem. Many plants could not survive without insects to pollinate their flowers and spread their seeds. Of the thousands of species in KY, only a few dozen (mostly wasps and mosquitoes) are dangerous to people.
Many of the fruits that humans eat are pollinated by insects. Many types of apples, pears, peaches, and other fruits would not exist without insect pollination.
Insects are found on every continent and in every ocean (check out Halobates, a genus of water strider that lives on the surface of the open ocean and preys on plankton and other small critters).
Here are some things that you can do to help Kentucky insects:
-install native flowers, trees, and other plants in your yard or garden
-remove exotic plants from your property
-protect our water! Insects need clean water (and the fish eat the insects!)
-support sustainable agriculture
-support legislation that protects our climate
-support legislation that protects diverse habitats from development
Most Important: learn which insects can harm you and your possessions. If an insect is trying to harm you or your stuff, kill it. With extreme prejudice. Protect the other ones.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
We have added our second video to our YouTube Channel. It is a short clip showing a praying mantis feeding on an adult mealworm. It is a little gruesome: the beetle is still alive. But it is a great way to see the mantid's mouthparts in action.
See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/user/UKEntomology?feature=mhw5
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I don't have much patience for chain restaurants, but Red Lobster is cool. For one thing, you can buy a live lobster there. In Lexington, Ky, this is absolutely the freshest seafood that you can get. Red Lobster: committed to fresh ingredients. My wife and I ate there the other night, and I realized that Red Lobster is committed to education as well. Using my wife's camera phone, I snapped this picture:
This is a photo of the fabric that lined the booth where we sat. As you can see, even the upholstery at Red Lobster is anatomically correct: the lobster has 4 antennae (2 pair) and 10 legs (5 pair). By the way, these are 2 of the characteristics which distinguish insects from crustaceans: insects always have 1 pair of antennae and 3 pairs of legs.
So the next time you are eating a live lobster, take a moment to study its anatomy while you're eating it. Get your learn on while you're taking its shell off. (There's meat at the base of the larger pair of antennae, by the way, especially on Florida Lobsters).
Monday, April 12, 2010
Entomophagy = the eatin' of insects.
You've probably heard of this phenomenon before, especially if you've watched shows like Fear Factor or Survivor, where cockroaches or tarantulas are often served during the "crazy foods" challenge (they usually show up in a semi-final round somewhere between hundred-year-eggs and sheep's rectum). Here's a video highlight from Fear Factor showing Teller (from Penn & Teller) eating a roach. Or is he?
Yes, insects can be eaten under some circumstances. It's tricky, though, because even if you can get past the ick factor, you also have to consider the danger factor: if you misidentify an insect and eat the wrong species (or prepare it incorrectly), you might have an unpleasant experience. For instance: some caterpillars are edible, while others have stinging hairs and nauseating defensive juices. Also, a tarantula can be eaten, but only if all of the creature's urticating (=sharp) hairs are removed or destroyed. If not, eating a tarantula would be very similar to eating a wad of fiber glass. And here's a cute story: a long time ago, I was watching one of those exotic-foods challenges on Fear Factor (I think...), and the two competitors were trying to see who could eat a live hissing cockroach the fastest. Well, some blond guy won, but he ate the roach so fast that he sliced his tongue open. Cockroaches have really sharp exoskeletons, it turns out. Eating one would be kind of like eating a television remote control, especially if you didn't chew it properly.
As a potential food source, though, insects have a lot to offer. They breed/grow quickly. And as long as they don't have dangerous spines, stingers, or chemicals, they can be nutritious. In fact, edible insects have the potential to be a food-source in hunger-stricken regions of the world. Unfortunately, there has not been much scientific research on the subject of entomophagy.
Currently, a group of international scientists are working together to learn more about entomophagy and its possible role in the fight against world hunger. This month, there is a conference on the subject in Lineville, Alabama. In addition to several talks, there will be a bugfood tasting! Read more about the conference in this PDF. And at the upcoming 2010 ESA (Entomological Society of America) National Meeting, a symposia on entomophagy is being organized. If you are a scientist who is currently working in this area, let us know here on the blog and we will get you in touch with the organizers of the ESA symposia.
And you can read more about edible insects on our website here:
Saturday, April 10, 2010
After all these years, I'm still a big fan of Survivor. One of my favorite things about the show is the nature footage used to segway between scenes: I often get to see interesting arthropods from exotic locations. This season (Heroes vs Villains) is being filmed on Samoa, and on the most recent episode I saw a couple of cool things, including a very large orb-weaver spider that may have been the Golden Silk Orb Weaver (or a close relative), a spider that is common in the southern U.S. But this episode was all about the hermit crabs! I learned that hermit crabs will hunt for and kill live insects: the one on this episode captured a confused cicada. Also: a hermit crab can apparently be eaten. The villains were cooking one in their firepit. I didn't see them actually eating it, though.
Well, I've written another post about crustaceans. That's three in about a month. Maybe this blog should be called the Daily Carcinologist?
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Well, I have shot, edited, and posted to Youtube my very first video. I really enjoyed learning how to use the camera; a Kodak Zi8. Editing was also fun and pretty easy (with the simple Arcsoft video maker that came with the camera), but very time consuming. The video shows highlights from the recent mosquito-education event that UK Entomology co-hosted with AMCA (American Mosquito Control Association) at the Lexington Explorium. You can see the video at our new UK Department of Entomology Youtube channel here.
Now that I know how to make simple videos, I would like to make a series of shorts that show how to assemble a 4-H insect collection from beginning to end. Now, all I need is a few hundred hours of extra time, and 1 full-time employee to help me!
UPDATE: Because Youtube wouldn't allow me to change our channel profile name from "blaken" (abbreviation of my name) to "UK Entomology," I deleted our channel and started over. The channel, and the AMCA video, are now located at: http://www.youtube.com/user/UKEntomology?feature=mhw5. I thought that it was better to make this change now while the channel is still in its infancy.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Here is a wikipedia entry with lots of info about giant isopods.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Read more about this event at the Explorium's webpage:
For parking info and other questions, call the Explorium at (859) 258-3253 or visit the Explorium's homepage at:
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
More insects at Cute Overload!
This image from Cute Overload shows a bunch of butterflies pestering a turtle. The reason: butterflies often flock around sources of salt and other minerals (this is why you often see butteflies hanging around mud puddles, a phenomenon known as "puddling"). The mineral/salt source here is... turtle tears!
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Outreach and youth education are important aspects of many of the entomology departments around the United States. Certainly, this is true of our department here at U.K. Kids love to learn about insects, and we are always trying to figure out new and better ways to reach an audience and to make a positive, lasting impact. This week at the North Central Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), we conducted a half-day symposium on outreach and youth entomology. Speakers came from the entomology departments at the University of Illinois, Michigan State University, and Purdue. I heard a lot of great ideas!
Here's what some of my fellow entomologists are up to:
Michigan State University, Department of Entomology: MSU has a very nice facility on campus called the Bug House. The Bug House has been around for about ten years, and it is a museum/zoo/classroom filled with mounted insects, live insects, games, and lots of other cool stuff. Schools bring their students to the Bug House as a field trip, and pay a small fee (the fee covers operation costs for the facility). The public is also able to visit the Bug House during certain hours. The kids stay for about an hour and experience a ton of entomology. I've always wanted something like this on UK's campus, but I'm not sure about the logistics. For one thing, parking is a major problem on our campus, so there really isn't a good place to install a facility that could accommodate bus parking and public parking. Staffing the Bug House would also be a problem: finding money for workers would be tough, although MSU seems to generate funds from the small fee that they charge.
Michigan State also runs a bug camp for kids. We have an entomology camp here at U.K. also (the Entomology Leadership Program), but our program is for high-school students. MSU runs their camp for elementary and middle-school kids, and it has been very successful. We get a lot of requests here at UK for a camp for younger kids, so maybe this is something that we should look into.
Purdue Entomology: The Department of Entomology at Purdue University also runs a very successful outreach program. In fact, they may interact with more kids each year than any other entomology program in the U.S. Each year, they have an event on Purdue's campus called Bug Bowl. 30,000 people attend this event every year! One of the reasons that this event is so successful is because it is a part of a larger program called "Spring Fest Weekend," an annual Purdue tradition. Maybe that's something that we should find here in Lexington: a large, pre-existing annual event that would accept us as a featured attraction. Some things come to mind: the Woodland Art Fair, 2nd Sunday, the Midsummer Night's Run. Lexingtonians who are reading this: any other suggestions??
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The University of Illinois has come up with a very interesting and high-tech outreach program called BeeSpotter, a collaboration between the Department of Entomology at U of I and another program at the university called the Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education. This presentation was one of the highlights of the symposium because BeeSpotter is a great piece of technology and because the presentation was interactive. BeeSpotter is a web-interface that allows citizens (kids, gardeners, hikers, or anybody with a digital camera) to upload pictures of bees into a database. The database is then used to track the occurrences of rare and threatened bee species, especially bumble bees and honey bees in Illinois. The presenters from U of I brought about a dozen notebook computers and passed them out to the audience. With the laptops, we were able to quickly create an account and upload a mock image into the database. It was easy to do! Currently, the database is only being used for bees photographed in Illinois, but UK is planning to work with the BeeSpotter program to extend its applicability into Kentucky.
So we have a lot to do, including building an insect zoo and creating an annual insect event that draws 30,000 people. In the meantime, I am going to learn more about the rare and threatened bumble bees of Kentucky!
Saturday, March 6, 2010
I was just listening to Joy Division's "The Eternal." This is one of the bleakest, creepiest songs of all time. It opens with a sustained sound that might be from some kind of a shaker, like a cabassa. Or I guess it could be a synthesized or sampled sound, too. I wonder if this sound is supposed to represent a locust swarm? Here's a lyric from the song: "Watching them pass like clouds in the sky." So, maybe. A locust swarm would certainly fit right in with the apocalyptic mood of the song. *Shiver*
You can hear the sound a little bit on Amazon's mp3 preview page here.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
A recent write-up of forest pests from the Charleston Gazette can be found here.
I'm always glad to see some press coverage of invasive species. Of course, I wish it wasn't an issue that needed to be covered! Unfortunately, Kentucky will soon be/already is plagued by many of these same organisms. Hemlock woolly adelgid has been found in 12 Kentucky counties, and is likely more abundant and widespread in eastern Kentucky than we realize. Emerald ash borer has been found in 11 counties in the Commonwealth. Our dogwoods, which add so much color and beauty to the Spring landscape in Kentucky, are threatened by dogwood anthracnose just like those in WV.
Come on, Lexington Herald-Leader, there's a story in the forests of eastern Kentucky that needs some coverage!
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
From a news article at CNN: A new study shows that Atrazine can change male frogs to females.
Atrazine is an active ingredient in many commonly-used herbicides. Tens-of-millions of pounds of Atrazine are used in the United States each year, mostly on field crops (like corn). According to the study, it takes only 2.5 parts of Atrazine per billion parts of water to turn male frogs into female frogs. Although this is a new study, it has actually been know for quite a while that Atrazine causes problems for frogs.
But who cares about frogs? Frogs don't help people, right? They don't make any energy for us. They can't operate machinery or edit a document. Not very many people even eat frog-legs anymore. Anyway, you can eat a frog leg whether it's from a male OR a female.
Of course, we care about frogs because they are a part of our ecosystem. Their tadpoles are eaten by aquatic insects, which are then eaten by game-fish and birds. Tadpoles graze on algae, which can take over farm pounds. Frogs also eat lots of insects--and nobody likes those guys! :)
Also, we don't always like to admit it, but people are related to frogs. Not very closely related. But humans are mammals, and mammals evolved from reptiles which evolved from primitive tetrapods--early tetrapods were basically the same thing as amphibians. So people and frogs have a lot in common physiologically. Because of this, scientists are concerned that Atrazine could potentially cause problems to humans, and the EPA has a launched a new investigation to study Atrazine and its effects on human health.
So let's ban Atrazine! Problem solved.
But it's not that easy. Atrazine is a very important herbicide, especially for corn production. It controls weeds very well, and it is relatively inexpensive (and relatively safe to use, and least in the short-term) compared to some of the non-Atrazine options. If Atrazine were banned tomorrow, the economy of corn production would be disrupted, at least temporarily.
Sounds to me like it's a complicated issue with no clear solutions. How come I can't solve any of these problems on this blog???
Visit this PDF from the Minnesota Deparment of Agriculture for a list of many of the brand-name herbicides that contain Atrazine.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
People are starting to hear more and more about the so-called Great Garbage Patch of the North Pacific Gyre. This is a massive, swirling cesspool of garbage located in the Pacific ocean north of Hawaii. It is said to be as large as the state of Texas! Whoa. Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry for the garbage patch.
The size-estimate may end up being an exaggeration, but the garbage patch is certainly big, and it looks like this phenomenon could be one of the greatest environmental disasters of all time. Much of the garbage consists of non-biodegradable post-consumer plastics, and there is concern that this stuff is turning this part of the ocean into a dead zone. It's interesting to see, though, that some life is still able to thrive in this environment, including crabs--close relatives of insects. I saw one of these crabs while watching this video about the garbage patch on CNN. You can also see a picture of some crabs crawling around on the garbage at this blog entry from Seaplex, an ocean expedition that is studying the garbage patch.
I suspect that as we learn more about the garbage patch, we will find several organisms that are able to live there.
UPDATE: Miriam Goldstein sent us an interesting message about this post in the comments-section below, but I thought I'd highlight the message here:
"There are several organisms that can make a living right on the plastic. They're part of what in the ocean is termed the "fouling community" - the macro-organisms that grow on artificial surfaces like ships and docks and little bits of plastic. By having all that debris floating around, these species (like pigeons and rats) grow much more abundant than they would have been without plastic debris to live on.
"It's not necessarily a good thing to have a huge fouling community - it's thought that many might be invasive species, or that they might alter the natural planktonic food web. Those crabs are part of the fouling community - they are what's known as epipelagic crabs, crabs adapted to living on floating wood or pumice in the open ocean, and now plastic. There are a LOT of them in the gyre, and we don't know what impact adding all those crabs has on the ecosystem."
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
UK men's basketball head coach John Calipari always says that UK's fans are crazy. He's right! And the entomology department is no exception. We were thrilled to see that our department was mentioned in two recent newspaper articles just INCHES from pictures of Coach Cal.
From the Winchester Sun (9/29/09):
And from the Kentucky Kernel (2/19/10):
We know that UK's Entomology Department is successful (the 2nd article mentions our Top 10 Ranking), but to be mentioned on the same piece of copy as Coach Cal?!? Unbelievable.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
"Harmful Beetle Found in UPS Package"
Just another way that invasive pests can travel worldwide! The Khapra beetle is a serious pest of stored grains, so its introduction in the US could be very harmful. Here's a link to more information on this beetle:
We should say thanks to all the customs, USDA, and other regulatory agents who search imported products to catch tiny little invasives like this guy!
Dr. Tammy Horn,
author of Bees in America:
How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation
& member of EKU’s
Environmental Research Institute.
with Thomas Webster, apiculturalist, Kentucky State University
Feb. 24, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
UK Student Center Room 230
Free and open to the public
Reception with refreshments to follow
Presented by: The Gaines Humanities Fellowship Program, the
UK Department of Entomology, the UK Honors Program,
& the University Press of Kentucky
For more information contact the Gaines Center at (859) 257-1537
Thursday, February 11, 2010
The first step was to determine the type of spider. Janine was looking for a circular, symmetrical spider web--not a messy cobweb. In other words, she wanted a "classic" spider web. This narrowed our search down quite a bit: the only commonly occurring spiders in the U.S. that build these types of webs are orb weavers. There are many species of orb weavers in the U.S., and none of them are dangerous. Great! So... how does one acquire an orb-weaver spider? While it is possible to buy tarantulas and other types of spiders from pet stores and online suppliers, this is usually not the case for orb-weaver spiders: most orb weavers live for only a few months, so it is impractical to raise and sell them as pets. We suggested that she find one locally, and that's what she did. She found an orb weaver in her backyard last summer (it had made a web between the ropes on a swing-set).
The spider was also a part of this larger piece called Inhabit (2009):
A quote from Janine in a 2009 article from Art in America:
"As I started to research the process of actualizing this image, things became complicated. Would a spider actually cooperate? How would I remain still in order to facilitate its weaving? After speaking with several entomologists, and learning about the extreme sensitivity of spiders to motion, I looked into getting a harness that would immobilize me. That led me to the world of harnesses, where I found a particular design that enabled me to be attached to a structure from many points on my torso. I realized that my body could be suspended in a way similar to a spider in its web. But I would need to build a cage around my legs in order to keep the spider in that particular area of my body. And it also became apparent that the spider would be too sensitive to build directly on my body due to body heat."
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Now, having a species named after you is a great honor; but $40,000 is a lot of money, even though, in this case, it was for a good cause (funding butterfly research in Mexico). Remember that this is a butterfly: an ant or tiger beetle would be considerably cheaper. You could probably get a blow fly or stink bug for two digits.
How much would you pay for the right to name a favorite type of insect or other arthropod?
I would rather become a taxonomist: they actually make money to name things.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
They’re coming. They search for you in the night. Whether you are relaxing by the pool or you are innocently sleeping, they will find you. They are cruel assassins armed with sharp weapons they plan to use for one purpose and one purpose alone.
Who are these terrorists? Although they go by several aliases, such as Culex pipiens, Aedes albopictus, and Anopheles quadrimaculatus, they are collectively known to us as the mosquitoes. That’s right, the wicked thieves who steal so many summer evenings to their persistent vexation of anyone who dares to venture outdoors.
While mosquito season might seem as far away as the dog-days of summer, the beginning is just around the corner, and the time to make preparations is now!
During the final week of March, the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) will be meeting in Lexington, KY for their annual conference where scientists and vector control officials from all over North and South America will share insight and ideas on managing these adversaries of humans and animals. As part of the conference, volunteers from the AMCA and the University of Kentucky’s Department of Entomology will provide an opportunity to learn more about these and other insects to the people of Lexington.
The event will take place at the Lexington Explorium, located on Short Street in downtown Lexington, from 10 am – 3 pm on Tuesday, March 30th. This is during the spring break for Fayette County and several other local schools and will provided a great opportunity for kids to learn some fun and cool facts about mosquitoes and other insects. Students who attend will also learn about life cycles, food chains, and other aspects of ecology which are components of the State of Kentucky’s Life Science learning outcomes for many grade levels. Admission to the Explorium is only $6.00 Parking is available nearby and your ticket can be validated with the Explorium.
Kentucky is home to nearly 60 different types of mosquitoes which have a variety of lifestyles and habitats. However, all mosquitoes must have water to develop as young.
In the spring, snow-melt or rain waters refill the area where the eggs were laid, which coupled with warmer temperatures and longer day lengths, triggers the mosquito eggs to hatch.
Homeowners can also help to do their part by eliminating breeding areas on their property, such as neglected containers, dented or damaged gutters, rain barrels, untreated swimming pools, and ruts in soil.