Friday, July 30, 2010

Bee vacuuming

I went out this morning to one of cooperator's pumpkin fields with the piece of equipment above to collect bees during their morning rounds at pumpkin flowers. The "aftsman" was fashioned from a handheld shop vacuum by an inventive man out in California. It works really well, but those squash bees are incredibly fast, and my reaction time needed honing! You wouldn't believe it, but the squash bees are also incredibly loud; much louder than bumblebees. If I closed my eyes it sounded like I was at a miniature raceway. It was 6 AM, and closing my eyes on the job wasn't a good idea. Thank goodness for their ruckus!

I also stopped by my 2010 field site today to discover the very first male flowers of the season. Other than the striped cucumber beetles, I felt like I was the first one to witness their bloom. No pollinators had yet discovered the tasty treat hidden under the large leaves. In a couple of weeks female buds will begin to bloom, and my experiment will be underway.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A hectic and yet interesting week

A clip cage in Chelsea's alfalfa field site

Another hectic fieldwork week is coming to an end. Weather-wise, it was a perfect week, except for the high humidity that hung like a thick blanket on Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday were egg predation set-up days in alfalfa, soybean, and CRP field sites, which went great. Wednesday and Thursday were take-down days, which went great as well.

A calm lake near Chelsea's CRP field site

One interesting aspect during the whole exercise involved visiting one of the CRP sites. The CRP site in question has a resident population of 8-legged inhabitants. I'm not talking about spiders here...but ticks! I'm not about to speculate on the actual figures of this population, but all I can say is that the population is huge, and the individuals are waiting to pounce on any non-tick creature that enters their habitat. Anyway, as soon as one arrives at the site it becomes a case of playing "hide and seek" with the 8-legged guys...rather it is more like "catch me if you can". To cut a long one short, the 8-legs almost always won in my case because on each trip day I returned home to find at least one tucked away on the inside of my t-shirt.

Anyhow, aside from the tick adventure, all else was great. Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Crazy Week

Due to some stormy weather last week we are conducting two experiments this week, making for a crazy field schedule. Chelsea is in the midst of her second lady beetle egg experiment. To conduct this, she places eggs of native and exotic lady beetles in soybean, alfalfa and grassland sites and returns 48 h later to measure predation rates. I am headed to Cleveland today with Kojo and Ian to set out eggs of an insect pest in community gardens and vacant lots across the city. We are running this experiment to determine if the activity of predatory arthropods is influenced by the conversion of vacant land to food production.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


While Bethany and I have been observing lady beetles for parasitoids we noticed something very interesting on many of the Multicolored Lady Beetles (Harmonia axyridis).

Hesperomyces virescens
Fungal infection on Lady Beetle (J. Harwood, 2004)

This is a fairly well documented fungus, and it seems like it doesn't affect the behavior of the lady beetle much unless the fungus is grows too thick around the mouth parts, antennae, or legs of the beetle. We haven't observed this fungus on any other lady beetle species in the lab.

Just another exciting observation! :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Closing in

My pollination experiment is finally drawing near and it's making me antsy! Here is the graphically-enhanced field layout. Out of over 300 plants we will be choosing 36 to observe for pollinators in two different locations. Before the experiment gets underway I need to make lists, check them twice and gather up many odds and ends for a successful day in the field. Bags and flags? Check. Labeled containers? Check. Vacuums? Check. Ice? Check. Video cameras? Big super-huge check. It's important that everything is accounted for and ready to go, because we will be in the field before first light, when everyone is at their crankiest.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Egg hunting!

Today was another nice day to be outdoors. Ben and I went egg hunting for his project in Wayne county. And no this wasn't Easter egg kinda hunting...this was insect egg hunting, specifically squash bug egg hunting.

Ben looking for squash bug eggs

Squash bug egg mass (brownish mass) near edge of leaf

Another egg mass (brownish red mass) on leaf

Squash bug nymphs (grayish specks) on a damaged squash leaf

Squash bug adult on squash leaf

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I found this wasp digging her nest outside of our building, and I decided to call her Brian. I took this video with my phone, so it's a little shaky, but you can see all the hard work it takes for ground dwelling insects to excavate their homes.

As the majority of solitary bees live in the ground as well, I thought I'd look for some similar examples of bees digging their nests. Here are a couple I came up with: and

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Family Farm Field Day

Last Saturday, Loren Rivera (middle), Lucia Orantes (right) and I set up a table called the "Farm Bug Blast!" in Fredericksburg for the annual Family Farm Field Day. The field day was aimed at pastoral producers, with workshops and booths like tincture-making, rug-weaving, sheepdog-running, dung beetle conservation and traditional cooking. As a result, there was heavy buggy and bicycle traffic, and profuse usage of Pennsylvania Dutch!
The highlight of the day was when the kids pictured above taught Lucia and I how to name insects in Pennsylvania Dutch. It started as a good give and take of information: we quizzed them bugs on different types, and then they taught us the words. But, for some reason they had yard sticks, and eventually they weren't afraid to give us a good poke or a wack until our pronunciation was right. Though their vocabulary was extensive, most of them were too young to know how to spell. So, here is my best attempt...If all else fails, "kafer" (pronounced KAH-feh) is used to describe just about anything that has a shiny shell and wings.

Schpin = spider
Schmetterling = butterfly
Millogh = moth
Humel = large hairy bee
Eam = small bee
Vaschp = wasp
Blitz kafer = lighting bug
Moch = fly

Monday, July 19, 2010

ALE research featured in Columbus Dispatch

A few weeks back reporter Mark Ferenchik and photographer Will Figg accompanyed us on a sampling trip to our urban garden and vacant lot sites in Cleveland OH. Below is a link to an article published on the study that ran in the Sunday July 18 Columbus Dispatch.

OSU researcher studies effects of urban gardens

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sorting finally done!

Sorting through pan trap samples is finally complete. Sorting involved separating aphids from other insects, and storing the samples in vials containing ethanol. The next step is to perform a genetic analysis of the aphids. Whole plant sampling for aphids and lady beetles in soybeans fields is still on-going. So far, no we haven't come across soybean aphids in any of our fields.

While I'm on the subject of whole plant counts, Ian and I got a good interrogation-style quizzing today while we were out sampling. We had just completed sampling our second field and were ready to head to the third one when a man on an ATV pulled-up alongside us. He began throwing questions in rapid succession at us. Here are some samples questions...Who are you?...Who do you represent?...Did you seek permission from the farmer to do what you are doing?...What is his name? etc, etc. As soon as he was satisfied with our answers, he introduced himself to us as the owner of the land. He is currently leasing it to the farmer. He told us that there had been some theft and other undesirable happenings in there area, and that got concerned when he saw us out in the soybean field. Anyway, the point I want to make here is that it is always a good idea to have the contacts of the farmer whose fields you are using at your fingertips just in case a concerned neighbor or passerby wants to make sure you are in the right field.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Good Luck Nita!

Nita Chavez is a chemistry student at the College of Wooster, and we were lucky enough to have her join the ALE Lab this summer. Nita has been a tremendous help both in the lab and in the field, and is interested in pursuing a career in biological sciences in the future. Hopefully entomology, as we would love to have her back! Unfortunately for us, Nita has a wonderful opportunity to study in India this summer. We hope she has fun, takes cool pics of Indian insects, and comes back soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Insect of the week!

Bean Leaf Beetle

Cerotoma trifurcata

We have been finding these throughout many of our soybean sites lately! They are interesting because they come in different color morphs. Most I have been seeing resemble the beetle pictured above, but they can range in color from deep red to gray, and they can also be found with variations in their patterns.

Note: This is NOT a lady is a member of the leaf beetle family (Chrysomelidae)

What's Eating Your Garden?

Scott and I traveled up to Cleveland last Saturday to meet with members of the Michael R. White Community Garden. We discussed biological control of key garden pests by enhancing natural enemy populations. Above, we examined squash plants for pests and natural enemies with the gardeners. Scott discussed the diversity of bees which provide pollination to garden crops. During our tour of the garden we saw several bees including squash bees, carpenter bees, honey bees and sweat bees. The garden is nearly 2 acres in size and was packed with a large diversity of crop plants and flowers!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pumpkin Sites

^Click to make bigger^

Here is a map of my pumpkin sites! After much wheeling and dealing, they are all finally locked in. Reds mark our floral strip farms, and greens mark our control farms. Each shape corresponds to a general surrounding landscape: squares are high agriculture, open circles are semi-wooded and X's are densely wooded. In time, I hope to post a little about each of them.

Carmella's farm is the red X in the NW corner of Wayne County. We also have another preliminary pumpkin site this year at the OSU South Center at the red X in Pike County. Why are six of my sites so far away you ask? Well, that's because the middle and western parts of Ohio are full of monocultured soybean, hay, corn and other commercial grasses like wheat. Due to certain glacial deposits and ancient fertile streambeds these are the most heavily producing areas, and producing heavily has been the tradition there for a long time. The growers we were looking for for this study were ideally smaller-scaled, and more diversified. As a result, some of these farmers work in far-off places, and so that's where we had to go. Extension agent, Brad Bergerfurd, helped us snag 5/6 cooperators in South Ohio who have participated in different studies before.

Interesting fact, two of my collaborators in South Ohio can be located on the front cover of the most recent Delorme's Gazetteer for Ohio. They are both on the same road; one north of Cynthiana and one just north of Rainsboro. I don't even have to open the book!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fresh goodies at the market

Fresh vegetables at one of the stands at the OARDC mid-week farmers market.

Did anyone get a chance to visit the OARDC farmers market this week? I stopped by on my way home yesterday. I like the "open-air" atmosphere of the market and the diversity of goods they usually have there. There were quite a few stands offering fresh farm produce ranging from tomatoes to sweet corn. My taste buds had a craving for some fresh strawberries yesterday, but too bad I missed out on them. Hopefully I can be there in time more next week. Besides farm produce, there were some delicious cookies and other treats as well.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pollinator Habitat Management Course

I recently attended a pollinator habitat management short course in East Lansing, MI. It was held at the Rose Lake Plant Materials Center, which is part of the NRCS Plant Materials Program ( At Rose Lake, plants are cultivated to solve conservation problems, including how to increase habitat for beneficial insects. Above is a trial of pollinator habitat that was just getting going this year.

While I was there I caught up with some old friends (Brett Blaauw, Julianna Tuell, Rufus Isaacs) who work with pollinator conservation and pollination ecology at Michigan State University (

We drove to one of the biofuel sites that the Isaacs lab is studying so I could check out the bumblebee hives. Many growers and gardeners buy bumblebee hives like this to increase pollination of their crops ( They are very easy to use, as they don't require maintenance like honey bee hives. You simply place a hive near your crops in the shade, and let them do their work! In the Fall, queens will emerge and overwinter alone, hopefully somewhere near your field. The rest of the bumblebees die in the winter, and you can remove the hive. This hive probably has about 200 bees inside. The lunch tray on top is a makeshift roof to protect the bees from rain and sun.

Here Brett is checking out some beneficial insect habitat that is further along. It's important for bees to have habitat to nest in and to forage in throughout the growing season. So it's always a good idea to have flowers blooming in your garden from early Spring into Fall. Be sure to keep up with Ben's posts for some info on how he's using floral strips in pumpkin.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Flower power!

Here in the Thorne Hall greenhouses I'm growing 10 pumpkin plants. They have just started producing about seven big showy male flowers every day! I have to wait until female flowers start blooming before I can do any experiments, so what have I been doing with continual supply of pollen-producing males? I've been eating them. Here is the recipe I have been using:

Fresh flowers (pumpkin, zucchini, squash, etc)
1 egg
Italian bread crumbs
Cooking oil
White cheese (optional)

Collect the flowers in the afternoon sometime after they have collapsed. These are dead flowers and they will never reopen. Refrigerate them until you're ready to cook, but they generally will not keep for more than one day because they are so moist. Rinse the flowers and make sure no bugs are inside! Crack the egg and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Start heating the oil in a pan. Beat the egg into a uniform orange color and dip each flower individually. Cover the flowers in breadcrumbs one-by-one and put them all on the pan at the same time. Quickly flip them until golden brown on both sides. Add a layer of cheese to them as they cool and eat! You won't believe how much sweet summery flavor comes from the flowers.

This would be a great thing to do with kids because you can each man a station: dipper, breader, fryer and cheese-layer. Only adults and trained professionals should be the fryers, though! Next time I'm going to try putting the cheese inside the flower before dipping and breading.

Have a flower power weekend!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Food for thought!

I know only a handful of people, myself included, who have it rough with environmental allergens, be it in-door or out-door. I'm told people who suffer a lot from allergies often have a sensitive immune response. Why do I bring this up? Here's why...

About two nights ago I was watching Jay Leno's "Late Night Show" on NBC. One of his guests that day is a host of some show on Animal Planet. Anyway, one of the topics they discussed caught my attention...sensitivity to allergens. Leno's guest told a story about a friend who was a serial sufferer of allergies, and was told by his doctor that he had a sensitive immune response, which was why he had all that trouble with allergens. One solution to fight that sensitivity, he was told, was to have tapeworms (Taenea spp) (yes you read that right...tapeworms!!) in his digestive tract. The logic behind it is that an infection of one's gut by tapeworms suppresses the overall immunune system of the host, thereby lowering the sensitivity to allergens. So, the friend of Leno's guest requested his doctor to deliberately infect him with tapeworms, which his doctor refused of course, because it would be unethical on the doctor's part. To cut a long story short, the guy found a way to infect himself. He doesn't suffer from allergies now according to the story.

The story got me thinking... I wouldn't want a tapeworm living in my digestive tract (albeit it can be seen as a mutualistic association in the story above). For the most part it is parasitic, not to mention it is a gross looking thing. I'm quite sure there a some healthier remedies once can find that can help. Does anyone know any good ones out there?

Sunflowers Version 2.0

So after our first debacle with our sunflowers (aka massive death), our second round is growing up nicely. With the help of Kojo, Nita, Bethany, Mark, Chelsea, Carolyn, and AJ (basically the entire lab), all 400 sunflowers have been successfully transplanted into pots where they will live out the rest of their lives as sentinel plants for our pollination study. We are really excited that they are healthy and will help us determine if pollination services are sufficient in the urban gardens and vacant lots of Cleveland. When they are starting to bloom I will be sure to share the view.