Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another surprise from the video!

First I saw a bird, now I don't know what I saw!
To me it looks like the nose of a mammal...raccoon maybe?

Any guesses?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Assistant Professor's Life in Academia

At this year's Entomological Society of America Conference I was asked to present a talk to undergraduates titled "An Assistant Professor's Life in Academia". The purpose of the symposium is to give undergraduates some background about what it is like to be a new Assistant Professor. I want to make this as useful to the audience as possible. I need some help from students who are thinking about a career as a professor. What should I cover in a talk like this? What questions do you have? For graduate students, what questions do you have now, and what are some things you wondered about as an undergraduate student that I could include? You can either leave questions in the feedback section or email them to me at gardiner.29@osu.edu.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Entomologists of the past

I signed up a few months ago to write short biographies about Entomological Society of America fellows (can you tell I'm just getting around to them?). As a resident of Ohio, I am a member of the North Central Branch, but I also joined the Eastern Branch so I could attend their conference when I was considering going to the University of Maryland. So, now that I'm in the system that way I was assigned two fellows to write about.

This has actually been a cool experience researching both because of how different their careers were. My first biography is about Donald Borror from Ohio State. For those of you not familiar with the big names of entomology, Borror is definitely up there. He helped write and edit many of the widely used textbooks and field guides, such as An Introduction to the Study of Insects and A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico. He also was an avid ornithologist, and studied the bioacoustics of both birds and insects. The Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics at OSU contains one of the largest collections of animal recorded sounds. He died in 1988, and many mourning colleagues wrote memorials. As you can expect, putting together his short biography is quite easy with the information I can find online and exploring the Borror lab.

Donald Borror

The other ESA fellow I am writing about, Fred P. Ide, is comparably a little guy in the Ent world. Like Borror, he continued to research and teach at his alma mater, the University of Toronto. Ide was an expert mayfly taxonomist and aquatic biologist and did a lot of research throughout his years on streams, weather, and the effects of DDT. But I have had to dig really deep to piece together this man's life. The fellow biography is to follow a template, so I need the basic information on birth, death, graduation years, career moves, and society memberships and service. There is no other biography on Ide's life, and his death notice in the The Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Canada was very short, the only new piece of information being the date of his passing. I could only find his birth date listed on an ancestry site, and still don't know the exact year he entered the University of Toronto. However, going through old journals and their occasional directly has helped. I now know who he worked with for the Canadian National Collection before attending Toronto, and a few societies he joined. But that took a lot of work going through old, scanned articles (also I want to include a shout out to anyone who is scanning old articles for online use - thank you!!)

An ironic twist is that Ide was an undergrad with a famous fisheries scientist, William Ricker, who had put together his own very detailed autobiography. I've gotten a lot of information mostly from Ricker's personal accounts, and even a picture.

Frederick Ide (from W.E. Ricker, 2006. Environmental Biology of Fishes 75: 7-37)

Of course, I could probably contact his old department (which has since split), and will once I figure out what is still missing. But what's been so interesting has been reading his work and thinking about how most entomologists will have a career such as his: doing careful, meticulous work, attending many conferences, adding to the scientific process, and having no long biography written about their work. Most of us won't make it to the big leagues, but in my opinion that doesn't make our careers any less important.

New Student in ALE Lab

Hello everyone, my name is Ian McIlvaine and I will be joining the ALE Lab in January. In June I graduated from The Ohio University with a B.S. in Plant Biology and have been working in the ALE lab as a lab assistant since July. While working in the lab I have become interested in the Common buckthorn, an invasive species of shrub. This shrub may have potentially negative effects on the environment such as supporting invasive pests and reducing light availability for native understory plants. I'm excited to be given the opportunity to work as a graduate student in the ALE lab and continue my work with the Common buckthorn.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


We've been building an irrigation system in our greenhouse here in Wooster. This way when we grow our sunflowers next year I won't hear any griping about watering the plants! It's a little slow going at first, but I think I have the hang of it now. Now if I could only automate the planting...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Men's Garden Club of Youngstown...Avid Lady Beetle Watchers!

Here are some pics sent by the Men's Garden Club of Youngstown this summer. All of these smiling youths helped out the BLBB by putting up sticky card traps in the youth gardens. Thanks for all the help, I think I see a few budding entomologists in there!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Unexpected visitor at Scott's place

While trying to figure out what to write about for this weeks blog post I got a call from ALE lab's Scott Prajzner who asked if I knew how to catch a bat? It seems his house has a new and somewhat unwanted guest. Several of the establishments where I have resided over the years have hosted bats from time to time as well yet I could not offer much other than "do you have an insect net?" Maybe some of our readers can offer some methods to safely remove bats from the house?

According to Marne Titchenell, a wildlife specialist with Ohio State University Extension, Ohio is home to 13 species of bats, all of which feed on insects. In a single night a bat can consume between 200 to 300 insects. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that bats’ ability to prey on agricultural pest insects save farmers and estimated $1 billion on pest control each year! So although they can be a little frightning they offer a significant ecosystem service for farmers and gardeners.

To learn more about bats, including information on how to make your own bat house (this could be useful to Scott) check out http://www.batcon.org/. If you live in Ohio, Marne Titchenell may offer a program about bats near you in the future, check out http://www.woodlandstewards.osu.edu/ for more information County Extension offices may also request a bat class.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Down in Columbus the grad students have all been doing a lot of reading and some writing. Soon we will be doing more writing than reading, and we will need to do A LOT of citing of references. Recently in our Entomology Seminar we were taught how to use EndNote to build a reference database and help us cite as we write. It's a great program with a great history and a lot of support by the scientific community. I use Zotero, a free program that can do most of the same things, and has the potential to be even more powerful than EndNote. So here is my explanation of the features that Zotero brings to the table.

You need to use Mozilla Firefox as a browser in order to use Zotero, but you do not need an internet connection for it to run. Within this three-paned program that attaches to your browser you can manually add references by filling in the fields like Author, Title, Date and Journal. Alternatively, by visiting a journal database like JSTOR or Google Scholar, your Zotero program will notify you with a little symbol in the address bar that it can automatically add all pertinent information to your library for you. It can also add multiple references at a time based off of a list of search results. When Zotero makes the reference in your library it will automatically link it to the internet database page where the document can be downloaded. You have to download the .pdf separately and link it to the reference yourself if you want full access to your references without internet. The references are easy to organize into sublibraries, but a downside here is that the program has no way to automatically detect and prevent duplicate references.

Once you have a library set up you can link the entire library to your word processor with a simple plug-in for adding citations on the fly. This will simultaneously build your bibliography for you. Zotero comes with a set of basic citation formats, but you can download and install many other styles from an ever-growing list on their website. For example, you can write an entire paper with Nature style numerical citations and decide to change it to Harvard style (Name date) parenthetical citations with a couple of clicks. Deleting a reference from your database will not automatically delete it from your Word document, but changing misspellings in your library will be reflected in your in-text citations by clicking a "refresh" button on your Zotero plug-in.

Additionally, if you use Google Scholar you can set your Bibliography Manager preference to "Show links to import citations into EndNote" and Zotero will interpret the information. For ISI Web of Science it is a bit trickier because you have to build an EndNote Web library and export that to your computer as a .txt file, and then import it to Zotero. In this case it is dependent on EndNote Web, but does not require a subscription to the stand alone program. Doing it this way will not link the references to their internet location, but the reference information will be complete and you can link .pdfs manually as usual.

Where the program really shines is in its community. It's called an "open-source" program, which means anyone can submit changes and build to the program with proper know-how. Similar to Wikipedia, this program is always getting new information from its users and the creators make sure that the good ideas get in the updated versions. All downloads and updates are free. If you decide to try it out, or make the switch you can readily import/export library information to most other major database programs, including EndNote. One of my favorite features is that you can have one Firefox window open to browse the web and have another window with Zotero up and running. The program won't take over both windows. Finally, because Zotero isn't a for-profit company, their website and forums function as their "getting started wizard" and tech support unit. Since the typical Zotero users are people in higher-education with a knack for problem solving, their discussions are very helpful.

I recognize that to some, it may seem unreliable or uncomfortable to try and complete research using an "unfinished" program, but I would argue that the incremental changing of the program is what makes it better and potentially more powerful than EndNote. The community at large is whittling and honing the program to perform optimally, much like how natural selection directs evolution along a continuum of speciation or how water erosion shapes shards of glass into well-rounded jewels. A for-profit company can't pay enough people to do that.

Not your average agroecology post, eh? Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Daring Jumping Spider

I'm pretty sure this is the spider that terrified me as a kid when one jumped at my face from out of nowhere.

This is a female Phidippus audax (family Salticidae), also known as the Daring Jumping Spider. These are commonly found in and around homes catching various prey. Salticids are active hunters who do not make webs; they use their silk as safety lines in case they miss a jump. You can easily recognize this species because they are relatively large (most salticids are quite small while this species can be around 1/2 inch) and both sexes have bright blue or green chelicerae.

Photos from Thomas Shahan, one of my favorite Flickr streams.

Their eyesight is exceptional, as you might guess from their large frontward facing eyes (four more are on top of the head). Not only does this make them agile predators, they also rely on sight for sexual selection. Similar to many birds and mammals, the male jumping spiders are often more elaborately colored than the females because she is choosing her mate based on his beauty and dance performance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Low MALB year!

Has anyone noticed a difference in the amount of multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) invading their homes compared to last year?

There is a very simple explanation for this: there was less food!

These lady beetles really did not become established until the soybean aphid became established. Since the establishment of the soybean aphid, there have been many complaints of the lady beetles invading homes during the fall season which results in an unpleasent smell, possible allergies, and for some reason, most people just don't enjoy sharing their homes with 1000's of beetles.

The image above is of soybean aphids we had in the lab over the summer (greatly magnified). The populations of these aphids tend to cycle, meaning that there are years with very high numbers of aphids, and years with very low numbers of aphids. This year there were low numbers of aphids, so the lady beetles did not have as much food, and they were unable produce as much offspring.

So next time you have an intense home invasion of Asian lady beetles, that probably means that the soybean farmers didn't have such a good year either due to the numbers of aphids infesting their crops. Which of course leads to a increase in the amount of insecticide that is sprayed on the soybeans, which isn't good for the environment, our own health, or the growers wallets.