Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bug Day at the Lexington Explorium: March 30, 2010

A reminder: be sure to join the University of Kentucky's Department of Entomology and the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) TOMORROW (Tuesday, March 30, 2010, 10:00am-3:00pm), for the AMCA Youth Education Day at the Lexington Explorium (formerly the Lexington Children's Museum; 440 W. Short Street, Lexington, KY 40507). Be there for: live insects, mosquito-control tips, insect temporary tattoos, games, and more. This event is a free addition to the Explorium's regular admission fee of $6 (that means you'll get to see all of the other cool stuff at the Explorium, too!).

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

Big Cuz's Spider Tattoo, We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, the Kentucky Wildcats lost last night in the Regional Final of the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. This means that Demarcus Cousins (Big Cuz, our extraordinary center), will likely be moving on to the NBA. That's bad news for UK basketball fans, and for this blog: our post about Demarcus and his spider-web tattoo was by far the most popular entry since the blog's debut, with 848 total pageviews since December '09. So, as the association between Cousins and the University of Kentucky fades from the nation's collective memory, I imagine that the blog entry will entertain fewer and fewer visitors. We hate to see you go, Demarcus, and not just because you were good for our blog metrics. :(

Friday, March 26, 2010

Amphibious Insects?!

Not a lot of time to wax on about this National Geographic article but I wanted to share it. I wonder about the ties between this genus of caterpillar and caddisflies. Really cool stuff!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Butterflies ♥ Turtles

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

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

Youth Entomology, Around the Midwest

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

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

Joy Division: Locusts?

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

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

More Invasives

by Josh Adkins, UK Graduate Research Assistant

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

Atrazine vs. Frogs

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

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.