Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This is not an insect of the week!

Order Opiliones (Harvestmen)
aka: Daddy Long Legs

With two of my camera experiments completed, here at the Gardiner Lab we have been busy watching hours of video focused on lady beetle egg masses, eagerly waiting to see what would appear in the screen and start munching on the egg masses. We have been surprised to find that the top predator, in the video we have watched, has been Harvestmen. This was unexpected, and we still have tons of video to watch!

I have yet to find any literature that discusses harvest men as a predator of lady beetle eggs. They primarily prey on small insects, but they also scavenge, and feed on plant material.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Students Help with BLBB Survey

Students from across Ohio help out with our annual lady beetle survey.

Top Picture: Student's participating in the Youth Garden display their sticky card. This garden is sponsored by the Men's Garden Club of Youngstown.

Bottom Picture: Students from Wilson Elementary School show off their school garden which also participated in the survey.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Breaking ground

This is Carmela Massaro, of Twin Parks Farms with her new puppy, Adelle. Her and her partner, Dean, farm over 800 acres of tillable land south of West Salem, and have been certified organic for 20 years. Their major crops are corn, soybeans and spelt (a low gluten relative of wheat). Her favorite part about farming is getting up in the morning before the rest of the world does. Raising row crops organically is all about mechanical weed control, and she says having equipment problems can be a major setback. Despite the busy row cropping, she is my most enthusiastic and open-minded collaborator. She's never grown pumpkins before, but has a small amount of acreage detached from the rest of her farm that she has generously donated for our experiment. Not only is she planting our pumpkins, but her secluded patch of land will be one of our floral strip sites as well.
This Thursday, Carmella, her farmhand, Mike, and I hand-planted about 400 seeds across 7 rows for our 2010 pollination experiment. Twin Parks is the first of two sites that we will be using this summer to polish our skills in the field before the large-scale experiments take place in 2011 and 2012. This is officially my first research site, ever. I hope it goes well!

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Windstorms, thunderstorms, rainstorns, etc

Overcast skies in Ashland that eventually became a wind/thunderstorm mid-afternoon.

Unpredictable - that's what the weather forecast was like this past week. For instance, the forecast for this past Wednesday called for a high of 82 degrees Farenheit, with a 50% chance of rain...nothing about a storm of any sort to say the least. We were out taking down soybean pan traps and the weather in the Ashland/Richland area seemed perfect, only for it to turn completely upside down.

First, it felt like the temperature and humidity spiked up unbelievably around 1-ish. Then the sky became overcast in less than an hour. After a while strong winds picked up. I'm told that when wind blows and one is able to see the undersides of leaves then there is a likelihood of a storm. Anyway, this wind was strong, so strong that I had to use both hands to close the car door. No sooner had we pulled the last pan trap than the skies let loose! The storm that followed was so "thick"--one could hardly see five feet ahead--with tree branches flying in every direction. We had to pull over and sit in the vehicle for about 5 minutes to wait for adequate visibility to return before we could get back on the road.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trial Run

Sarcophaga pupae (light spots are paint added for visibility)

Flesh fly adult

We are getting ready to start our biocontrol service studies in the urban gardens of Cleveland. As part of these studies we will use Sarcophaga sp. pupae (above) as prey that ground predators such as ants and spiders will consume. Mary and I did a trial run yesterday outside the OARDC, and although I saw some ant activity, all the pupae are intact today. I guess we are lacking some biocontrol here at the entomology building!
If the pupae had been allowed to mature, they would become flesh fly adults. Flesh flies (Sarcophagidae) are very common and easily identified. Many have these characteristic gray and black stripes on the thorax, as well as a checkerboard pattern on the abdomen. Eggs are laid in dung, decaying animals, or sometimes in open mammal wounds. These flies provide valuable biocontrol services of their own, as the pupae decompose animal carcasses. Make sure you thank them for the lack of dead animals lying around!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Insect of the Week!

Karner blue butterfly
Lycaeides melissa samuelis
(Left: Female, Right: Male)

The Karner blue butterfly (KBB) is one of the few federally endangered insects in the United States. It's range used to stretch from New York to Wisconsin, and just reached into the Toledo area. The population of this species has now been scattered into small pockets, mainly due to the loss of their natural habitat (Oak Savannah).

The reason I decided to showcase this species this week is because it is the reason I decided to get into the field of entomology. I was lucky enough to have an internship with the Detroit Zoo which involved re-establishing populations of the KBB in Southern Michigan.

Programs such as this would greatly benefit disappearing native lady beetle species, such as the convergent, but there are currently no lady beetles on the endangered species list.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Urban Vacant Land Reserach

Our vacant land research project is underway! Cleveland has over 3,300 acres of vacant land and local citizen groups are looking at ways to re-purpose these former residential and commercial areas of the city. Several vacant lots have been transformed into community gardens. Our research is examining how the insect community changes when vacant lots are converted to urban farms. We are working on this project with a group of OSU and Cleveland State University scientists as part of an NSF-funded Urban Long Term Ecological Research Project Grant, awarded to our collaborator Mike Walton, CSU. Below are some photos from our first trip to the vacant lot and community garden sites.

Students arrive and collect data from a vacant lot site

Our community garden sites are managed by the Cleveland Botanical Gardens

At the end of the day, insect collecting traps were installed at 16 sites across the city. Kojo and Mark are carrying golf cup diggers, which they used to install pitfall cups. These cups are buried at the soil surface to survey for ground dwelling arthropods.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ohio Garden Tour

The Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz survey is underway. The goal of this project is to monitor lady beetle populations annually across Ohio. Below is a collection of some of the gardens participating across the state. If you are a BLBB volunteer send us a picture of your collection site!

Dan Burns is collecting data from an OSUE Phenology Garden

Cathy Roe's Garden

Volunteer Madelyn Verhoff in her Veggie Garden

Nancy Grandillo's Garden

Friday, June 18, 2010


So this whole week I've been working with this computer program to help me count pumpkin pollen grains super fast. In a few seconds I can process the image of a pollen slide from our microscope camera and get a count. This is compared to 1 hour for 1 slide when counting by hand. The program creates a high contrast image, which makes the darker pollen stand out against the lighter background and then it turns the image into binary black and white to count the number of black blobs against a uniform white backdrop. Here is an example of a before and after image. Right now, the program over-estimates because it picks up debris and shadows, but I'm trying to figure out the best process for setting up the microscope slides so that we can reduce all of the mess and clumping.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Soybean fields

The week has been good weather-wise for fieldwork. Finally we've got the 10 soybean field sites needed for the soybean aphid - buckthorn project. Lady beetles are beginning to move into some of the fields.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Question: Who cares?

Answer: Everyone!

It's wonderful to come up with interesting research and data, but it is way more awesome to share what we learn at the ALE lab with others who benefit from our work. Extension does just that, and is an important part of the research process. Whether through a pamphlet, a YouTube video, a seminar, or even this blog, extension allows us to give targeted, relevant entomological info to the people who need it most.
Mary is preparing herself to teach an entomology seminar class to graduate students interested in extension, and you can see she is hard at work. The seminar will introduce future researchers to the roles of extension in the community and the different tools they can use to share data with growers, gardeners, children, adults...everyone!
If you haven't seen some of the ALE lab's extension activities, check out our website.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Insect of the Week!

Syrphid Fly!

Family Syrphidae

As I am starting to go though my samples, I am finding these flies stuck all over my sticky cards. These organisms are incredibly important when it comes to providing biological and ecosystem services. Not only are the adults important pollinators in agricultural settings, but their larvae provide a valuable bio-control service by preying on aphids.

They may look like bees, and even buzz like bees, but they are flies (notice the single pair of wings), and they do not bite or sting.

Monday, June 14, 2010

BLBB Featured in Columbus Dispatch

The Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz Survey got underway last Sunday (June 13) and the program was featured in the Columbus Dispatch. Reporter Vince Bond visited us in Wooster and also spoke with Master Gardener Coordinator Pam Bennett (Springfield OH) and BLBB volunteer Kate Wilson. Kate is a fifth grader at the Columbus School for Girls and plans
to continue to be active in insect research as a future Entomologist! If you would like to read the article in the Dispatch click on the "share me" link below.

Share me
Picture of Mary in the Dispatch
Yellow sticky card trap in BLBB volunteer Sandra Longenecker's perennial garden

Friday, June 11, 2010

Farm Equipment

Hey everyone,

I am fascinated with farm equipment, and it all started with the piece pictured above. It's a hay rake, and if you see one on a farmer's property that probably means they grow alfalfa, clover or timothy. Every piece of farm equipment is very specifically designed to carry out one task, and some are designed to be attached to different parts of a tractor so that multiple things can happen in one pass. Most can function just fine when rusty, and all of them are basically skeletonized for making easy repairs to the moving parts. What you see is what you get. Next time you're driving around the country, see if you can spot a rotary hoe throwing dirt everywhere, a cultivator digging deep, or a seed planter with its discs and bins. Farming is a 7-day/week job, so you can see these cool machines in the field on weekends too!

Speaking of weekends, have a good one!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sampling underway!

Standing water in a soybean field following a heavy downpour (Top picture). A sampling quadrat (Bottom picture).

Finally the golden rays of the sun were in full view and could be felt today following a few days of thunderstorms. It was good warm and breezy day to be out sampling. As expected following days of rain, some fields had waterlogged areas (see picture). Fortunately, most of the fields that I visited today were quite in good condition to be sampled.

The highlight of my day happened around high noon. I had just arrived at my 4th field site, and was walking into the field when I noticed an undesirable thumb-thick brown rope approximately 3 ft long, about 3.5 ft to my left among stubs of grass. Two thoughts crossed my mind simultaneously at that point: was this rope what I thought it was or was my mind playing tricks on me at high noon? Well, out of curiosity I turned and faced it. Lo and behold the rope turned out to be what I thought it was...one of my most dreaded creatures...a SNAKE! We both froze for a moment waiting to see which one of us would blink first. Of course I lost (On this day I was not keen on finding out if it blinked or not. I'm told snakes don't have eyelids. In any case I was not ready to confirm that on a LIVE one!). I took a few steps backwards, but all it moved was its head. I tried to snap a few pictures of it, but my camera phone wasn't that powerful enough to zoom in for good one. Anyway, I let it be and went about my business. When I was done I took a different route to the vehicle for fear of running into it again.

Which brings me to this: I believe it is a good idea to were long pants and closed shoes for protection when entering field sites that are about knee-high. A stitch in time...so to speak! You never know what may be lurking in there.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sunflowers 2.0

We are conducting an experiment later in the summer where we will measure the pollination service supplied to vacant lots and urban farms in Cleveland. We are measuring pollination by placing dwarf sunflowers in these sites, allowing bees to visit them, then collecting them to determine how many seeds are produced. This protocol was developed by Pollination Ecologist Julianna Tuell at Michigan State University.

The first step in the process was to plant the sunflowers, which Scott and A.J. did shortly before Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately while we were away the greenhouse decided to shut down and bake the sunflower seedlings... So we are starting over, planting seed trays this week.

The student planting is Kojo Quaye. This is Kojo's second summer working in the lab. He just graduated from high school last week and has some very exciting college plans. I'll let Kojo fill everyone in on his future plans in an upcoming post. We are really happy he is back this summer and I hope the greenhouse gives us a break!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Grant Submitted!

Today I submitted a grant to the USDA Pest and Beneficial Insects in Plant Systems Program in collaboration with Dr. Andy Michel, who is also an Assistant Professor here at OSU. Our proposal is titled: The Loss of Native Coccinellidae: Quantifying the Extent and Evaluating Mechanisms to Explain Native Lady Beetle Decline in Agricultural Landscapes. We have been working on the grant for a few months now,and I am really happy with the way it came together. If awarded the funding we will examine multiple hypotheses to explain native lady beetle decline and expand our Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz program.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What does it mean to be a land-grant school?

When I was deciding on whether to go to grad school or not, my major requirement was that the school had to be a land-grant college. Unless directly affect by its implications, I don't think many people understand the concept of land-grant schools, and many fewer would consider it a deal-breaker.

The first Morrill Act was passed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and it set forth an important governmental funding program for universities. As a general rule, most "State" colleges are land-grant schools receiving money from the US Department of Agriculture, and land from the respective state, to conduct research on agriculture. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a catch: in order to sustain this funding, and use of land, these schools needed to establish an extension program. This is still in effect today, and requires that the results of agricultural research are immediately packaged and translated to the public in a way that is easy to understand and use.

Most times this readily affects major food producers, like farmers. However, recent conservation biology research has also used extension to educate the public on ways to restore species diversity in wetlands and grasslands. In fact, the Gardiner lab has a heavy extension component, and some of our current projects revolve around conserving bugs in home gardens and urban centers. Talk about public!

The classic image of the scientist is of one a reclusive and quirky person in a lab coat, but the extension component built into land-grant schools requires those same people to also enter the public eye. If you find this as important as I do, hit the books on which schools work this way. And, if agriculture isn't your thing, then keep an eye out for these types of schools as well:

Sea-grant (aquatic research)
Space-grant (space research)
Sun-grant (alternative energy research)

Science should never be a secret operation, and should never be feared when done correctly. Well...unless it has to do with robots and alien biopsies!

Friday, June 4, 2010

A sweep for pizza-boxes!

Debris?...check. Dirt/soil?...check. Pebbles?...check. These are some of the stuff that you can accumulate over a week's worth of field trips if you are pizza-boxes. Oh by the way pizza-boxes is the lab's field van. The origin of the name is a story for another day.

Anyway, pizza-boxes was due for a much needed interior cleanup. And so following the day's trip, to the campus shop we went. Long story short...the interior is now CLEAN (though not as a whistle) and ready for another round of trips.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Insect of the Week!

Moth Fly
Subfamily: Psychodinae

I found one of these today in a bathroom here at OARDC...so naturally, I collected it so I could add it to my insect collection.

According the bugguide.net: the adults are often found around sewage installations, in public bathrooms and bathrooms in homes. The larvae live in the organic sludge that forms on the inner surfaces of drains and pipes.