Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gardiner lab at ESA!

So it's been....all summer... since we have updated our followers on our research progress.

Obviously we were productive as we are now at the Entomological Society of America meeting in Reno, NV, presenting various presentations and posters. Our aims are obviously to shock and awe! (or just bring awareness to our awesome projects)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

ALE lab, unite!

Chelsea and I have moved back to Wooster for the summer, making Mary Gardiner's Wooster grad student roster 5. We also have a small battalion of excited undergrads and high-schoolers working for us, which puts our total roster of busy-bodies up to 13.

It feels like this TV show I used to watch as a kid, called Captain Planet. With our powers combined...well, Wooster better be ready.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Biological Control (ENT 650)

Many of the current entomology graduate students, and some undergraduates have been working hard on a class project throughout the quarter for our Biological Control course.

After many conversations between the Columbus and Wooster students over the video link, we decided on the focal habitats and methods for our study. We also had much assistance from our professors (Dr. Canas and Dr. Grewal) as well as our TA (Harit).

Our goal for this project was to assess the biological control services provided by organisms in three different habitats (conventional farm, community garden, and forest). We were interested in looking at both above and below ground control.

The below ground method involved placing larvae into cages and burying them in the soil. They were left there for 2-3 days, then retrieved and checked for fungal, bacterial, or nematode infection.

For surveying biological control services that occur above or on the ground we used three methods: Larvae on sticky cards, larvae hanging in cages, and aphid counts.

The larvae on sticky cards was a method that came up with ourselves, and I am unaware if this method had been used before to survey biological control services. The sticky cards are usually used to survey for flying insects in fields (lady beetles for example). We decided to stick the larvae on them and see if any predators attacked them. This method was not without flaws though. We found that the larvae were very active and were able to escape from the glue on the trap. Our solution was to use scotch tape to keep the larvae in place, and it worked in some cases.
We also placed the larvae in hanging cages, and we were hoping that they might be attacked by parasitoids.
The final method, aphids, is a method that is commonly used to asses biological control services in fields. This method involves placing plants infested with aphids in the field. One is covered with a net to exclude predators, but still be affected by the weather conditions. The other plant is left open (without a net) so predators are able to munch away on the aphids as they please. The idea is to compare the number of aphids on that closed plant with the number of aphids on that open plant after a period of time in the field (one week in our case) to get an idea of the effect predators have on aphid colonies. We would expect to have higher aphid counts in the closed plant treatments.

The class is now busy analyzing the data and putting together presentations!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

There's always a better way

Science is about sharing, and simplifying. Many scientists meet at conferences to talk about results of their work and about their methods for getting them. One of the most satisfying things for me is to find out that someone has devised an easier or better way to accomplish a task. For instance, in determining which type of larval parasitoids are hiding out in the body cavity of a really small insect. You could wait for them to emerge, spending weeks keeping the host insect alive and fed. Or, with the right instruction you could simply cut them open and look within days of collecting them. What a time saver!

So, in the spirit of this, how many of you have been tying your shoes wrong? Watch the video below to find out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cost Effective Window Trap

This summer the ALE lab is working with the Cleveland Metroparks to study insect communities in some of the park's forests. The Metroparks have established 30 plots in beach maple forests throughout their system where they have completed and intensive inventory of plant diversity and relative abundance. Within each of these plots our lab will determine if the insect fauna is influenced by the quality of the plant community found. We are mainly interested in measuring beneficial insects including predators and parasitoids.

When designing this project I thought about several possible types of traps we could use. The understory in this plots is very open and most plots experience significant deer browse. I decided to use window traps to collect dispersing insects moving though each of the plots. Typically you make a window trap out of Plexiglas and suspend it within a frame. Then you place a pan of water underneath. When the insects hit the Plexiglas they fall into the pan of water. We priced out Plexiglas for 30 2 x 2 foot window traps and the price was too high for our budget. At a local hardware we ended up buying plastic sheeting for $1/foot. This is flexible, slightly heavier than a shower curtain material. We stretched the material between two posts and let the trap collect insects for 1 week. We found that this material worked great. It remained in position for the whole week despite several storms. We collected a diversity of flies, wasps and beetles which is what we hope to collect using the trap. If you need to build a large number of window traps and have limited funds this method may work for you.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Late May or October?

The first few weeks of field work each spring usually involve some last-minute changes of plans. This year is no exception. Today Scott Prajzner began the first of three experiments to measure pollinator activity within vacant lots and urban gardens in Cleveland. Today we took 48 blooming sunflowers to 8 sites. Scott is using the sunflowers to measure pollination services. He will collect them in 7 days and compare seed set in flowers which were exposed to pollinators with those that were bagged to prevent pollinators from accessing them. He will then determine if the pollination services supplied to vacant lots or urban gardens is significantly different. In addition to using the sunflowers to measure pollination services we also planned to monitor the community of bees visiting the plants within each site. We also plan to measure bee activity at other flowering plant species within each site.

Unfortunately with high winds, rain, and temperatures of ~45 degrees there was nothing to monitor. We were the only animals that decided today would be a good day to visit these sites! We are going to try again on Friday when it is supposed to finally stop raining.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Costs of doing business, traditional versus citizen science

So what does it cost to collect entomology data? Using data collected by the Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz program, I am working on a paper with co-authors from the Lost Ladybug Project and UK Ladybird Survey to measure the accuracy of citizen-collected lady beetle data. We are interested in the costs both monetarily and in data accuracy of utilizing citizen science. We are comparing the costs of traditional science (researchers collect data), verified citizen science (citizens collect data that is checked by researchers) and direct citizen science (citizens collect data which is analyzed without being verified by researchers).

We compared the monetary costs associated with collecting a yellow sticky card trap using each type of science. Cost estimates included sampling supplies, labor costs, travel, workshops for volunteers, and website development and maintenance. We found that to collect one sticky card using traditional science costs approximately $132! To collect one sticky card using verified or direct citizen science costs $65.31 and $43.74 respectively. Therefore programs that employ verified citizen science can collect 2 times as many samples for the same cost when compared to traditional science. Since all data is verified by researchers, accuracy rates for species identification should be equivalent using traditional science and verified citizen science. The only loss of data quality would be due to errors in the way the sample was collected, so programs utilizing citizen science need to be sure to provide clear instructions to their volunteers. Direct citizen science will provide 3 times the samples of traditional science for the same cost. The tradeoff here is a potential loss of accuracy. Accuracy rates among the three programs examined ranged from 53-94% of lady beetles correctly identified by volunteers. Therefore, high levels of accuracy can be attained using direct citizen science but programs should consider some type of data verification at least in the beginning so that an error rate among citizen-supplied data can be calculated.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Luna moth!

Our Saturniid emerged today, and it was a beautiful male Luna moth (Actias luna)! Ian, Caitlin and I had fun playing with it today. We thought it was a male because of its small abdomen. Here are some pictures of the shed pupal casing, and the moth.

Watch these 2 videos to see it in action!

1. Flight muscle warm-up
2. Take-off!

If you would like to raise your own Saturniid, just keep it in a dry container with something for it to crawl up nearby. Holometabolous insects need something to rest on until their wings harden up for flight. Other insects that do this are butterflies, dragonflies and cicadas. Enjoy the weekend!

Saturday, April 30, 2011


While mushroom hunting around Wooster, a few of us discovered what looked like a perfectly cylindrical dead leaf. But, a leaf it was not! As soon as I cut into the leafy shell, it literally came to life in a series of raspy gyrations that caused me to drop it and nearly lose it again in the leaf litter. Watch this video I took in the lab to see what I mean. If you look closely at the photos below, you can see eyes developing inside the dark brown thing in the middle.
In fact, it is the pupa of a giant silk moth, in the Saturniidae family. These are the largest moths in North America. Many Saturniids make drab cocoons and attach them to twigs to overwinter. But, this pupal casing was found in the leaf litter. Either way, the effect is the same, they look like un-interesting dead leaves. I've set up a hatching chamber in the lab, and we will keep our eyes on it to see if it emerges. We do not know what species it will be, but we do expect something large and extraordinary. Unlike this cocoon, the adults of this family are very showy! So showy that many confuse them with butterflies. The difference is in the antennae and resting wing posture. These moths have feathered antennae, and they rest with their wings horizontally over their backs. Butterflies have clubbed antennae and rest with the wings held vertically over their backs.

Here are pictures of the most recognizable species in this family, the Luna Moth (Actias luna) on top and the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) on bottom.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The beginnings of field season

April is quickly coming to an end and a few of us in the Gardiner lab are starting our field seasons in May. I've started building my field equipment to use in June, and things are finally on a roll with the help of a few people more apt at construction than I (add that to the ever-expanding grad school skill check list).

Yesterday we set out an aerial sticky trap prototype to catch ballooning spiders. Last night was a real test of its stability as the winds knocked down some trees in the area. The only issue was the sticky trap square turned 90 deg. when it should stay facing west.

Mary and I will be on our way to Lowe's today to buy more materials for building an additional 47 of these traps. I will place 2 of these in each site (which includes urban community gardens, vacant lots, and grasslands either converted from vacant lots or within urban park reserves). The goal is to determine how aeronautic spiders differ in abundance and diversity around the city depending on the site type and surrounding landscape.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The lab has been bustling! Chelsea and I commute back and forth between Columbus and Wooster until June, while Scott, Ian, Caitlin and Mary hold down the fort. Lately we've been planning our supply lists, and will soon be placing orders and making visits to different stores for odds and ends. It all reminds me of playing Oregon Trail as a kid, and going to the general store to stock up for the big journey west.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

First week in Wooster

I've finally arrived in Wooster, and it's hard to believe the week is almost over! I am settling into my new apartment, though most of my time is already spent at the OARDC. There is of course lots to do and classes have barely started!

The weather has been pretty lackluster with snow yesterday afternoon. I have had little photographic opportunities so far here, although I did find a few spiders and flies out (pictures to come as my card reader is still in Columbus). However, bug life has been revving up around the state; I found this wolf spider a few weeks ago in Columbus:

This was taken mid-March, so I would think this is a juvenile. Here's its backside for anyone that may want to attempt an ID (it was approximately 1 cm long).

Some other predators are also busy with the early season sawflies serving as a good meal!

This is a juvenile assassin bug (family Reduviidae, species Zelus luridus) sucking the life out of a sawfly (family Tenthredinidae, species Dolerus nitens) (both IDs from These are both very common insects, so it's not much of a surprise I found them around an apartment complex.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Southwestern Ohio Beekeeper School

Last weekend the ALE lab traveled to Loveland OH to attend the Southwestern Beekeeper School. Scott Prajzner presented a seminar titled: "Does your landscape influence the risk of pesticide contamination in managed hives?" In addition to providing information about the toxicity of pesticides to honey bees he also discussed some of the sub-lethal effects pesticides have on pollinators. Scott also signed up 22 beekeepers to participate in Bee Healthy Landscapes, a new citizen science program aimed at measuring pesticide contamination in honey bee hives across the state. Check out his website: for details.

Ben Phillips presented his seminar titled: "Who pollinates pumpkin? How can we make vegetable crop habitats more suitable for native and manged bees." to a large group of beekeepers and pumpkin growers in the afternoon session. Ben described how he has established 6 native perennial floral strips consisting of several forb and grass species. He will be evaluating whether the addition of these strips enhances pollination and biological control within pumpkin fields. If you are interested in planting a native perennial strip check out the resources Ben provided including his seed mix (includes bloom period for each plant species) and a list of seed and plant suppliers.

Insect of the Week!

Short Horned Grasshopper
Orthoptera: Acrididae

While spending my spring break in cold Michigan I set aside some time to watch much the video data I had collected from the past summer. The point of this video is to observe what eats lady beetle egg masses. With populations of native lady beetles declining in Ohio, I am interested in finding out if predation by exotic lady beetles on native lady beetle eggs is a factor. I have been able to observe many different arthropods feeding on the egg masses and to my surprise, grasshoppers are among them!

This grasshopper has an interesting method for making sure it has many offspring. The male will ride on the back of the female for a day or more in order to prevent other males from mating with her. This behavior is called mate guarding. Copyright © 2006 Sean McCann

Monday, March 14, 2011

A disturbance in the force

Hey ALE readers. This isn't my normal day to post anything on here, but I hadn't been paying attention to the news in Japan until I got sucked into an NPR discussion of the recovery this evening. Many things have happened there, at a large scale over the past 3 days. These are the 3 heavy hitters.
  1. A tsunami struck the northeast coast 30 minutes after a 8.9 subduction earthquake occurred close by.
  2. A recent estimated death toll has topped out at 10,000 people from the combination of these events.
  3. Two nuclear reactors at a damaged coastal power plant have exploded, creating unconfirmed fears of large-scale radiation exposure. A 12-mile radius has been evacuated.
At the ALE lab, we focus our research on smaller agricultural disturbances, both natural and human, but I think these events are relevant to our work particularly in video 2 below. What we mean by a disturbance is a change in stasis in an environment by plowing, spraying pesticides, introducing pollinator habitat, etc. However, on 11 March a much larger disturbance occurred off the the coast of Japan in the form of an earthquake, creating a series of other ecological disturbances, including massive flooding of harbors, towns and farms. Japan, a very earthquake-prone and earthquake-ready nation, actually gave the phenomenon its name, "tsunami," which means "harbor wave" and now commonly refers to a large volume of water displaced by volcanic or tectonic activity.

The earth is like a chewy candy with a hard shell. The shell rests on molten rock as huge plates (picture 1). Japan is the eastern edge of the Eurasian plate, pushed up out of the Pacific ocean by the Pacific plate in what is called a subduction zone. The edges of these plates can be ripe with activity as the earth settles and adjusts itself, almost like an old house. You will notice from the map where other regions of the world sit on these plates, and how newsworthy seismic activity tends to occur the most along their edges.Subduction earthquakes result when the upper plate "catches" on the lower plate as the lower plate moves beneath it. Over time, the upper plate slowly bends until enough pressure builds and it breaks free. Very quickly, a high volume of water is sent straight up from the sea floor (video 1). Japan experienced the massive tremors from being on the upper plate, in a sort of springboard effect.

The high tsunami waves at sea do not ebb like normal tidal and wind waves, but continue to flow away from the epicenter in reaction to its rapid displacement from the sea floor until all of the displaced water's energy dissipates. This is what causes the continuous rush of flood water that you will see in the next video.

I shutter at the thought of all the grad students whose projects just washed away in those fields, not to mention all the kind grower-collaborators who managed them...

If you would like more information and multi-media I highly suggest this NYT link showing before/after satellite images and this integrated timeline and map of events in Japan which students and press from inside and outside the country have been doing their best to put together with social media where internet access and electricity is available.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring is almost here

Lest another winter storm indicates otherwise, spring is just around the corner. I went out two days ago and found a few little bugs coming out to enjoy the sun.

A globular springtail is in the second picture, too. I didn't notice it until I brought it up on my computer!

These images aren't really professional quality, but I just bought a macro lens and hope to take some good pictures of the insects and spiders I see.

As Canadian as curling

Mary and I are in Leamington, Ontario, meeting with the Great Lakes Vegetable Working Group (GLVWG). Leamington is the ketchup capital of the world and the greenhouse capital of North America. The GLVWG is made up of researchers and extension agents from every state and province in the Great Lakes watershed, and aims to form a communication network for vegetable specialist's throughout the Great Lakes region and to address current priorities facing growers and the vegetable industry. We've already seen great presentations on stem and root nematodes in garlic, millipede pests in tubers, plastic row cover economics, pumpkin seed mechanization and the Gardiner Lab's urban garden project. Yesterday, we took a break for curling. It was a first time for many of us. "You're only an amateur the first time. After that, you're a pro."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

State insects!

We already know Ohio's state insect...The convergent lady beetle!

Here are some other state insects...

New Mexico: Tarantula hawk wasp

South Carolina: Carolina Mantid : Lori

New Hampshire (State butterfly): Karner Blue Butterfly

New Hampshire State Insect: Two spotted lady beetle

Alaska: Four-spot skimmer dragonfly


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spiders and car recalls

In the news today is an interesting story about spiders. Apparently, there have been 20 reports of spider webs found in a part of 4-cylinder Mazda6 sedan fuel systems. Now 52,000 of these cars are being recalled, as the vent lines these webs are in can cause blockage and ultimately cracks in the gas tank. This could result in a fire, though none have been reported.

The spider culprit? Most news reports I can find refer only to "a yellow sac spider," a term which can refer to a few different species in the genus Cheiracanthium. US Recall News specifically sites Cheiracanthium inclusum, but as they readily indicate in the article their source of spider information is Wikipedia (i.e. not always informative or correct). C. inclusum is one of the few medically significant spiders in the United States, so it's little surprise (to me at least) that this particular species would be targeted first.

C. inclusum is a native spider often finds its way into homes and may be the most common cause of spider bites. The bites normally cause just local pain and a wound which should heal in a few weeks.

Whether the Mazda spiders are C. inclusum or C. mildei (another very common yellow sac spider which is invasive from Europe), I wonder why they are making webs in car innards. I'm not sure how small the vent is, but yellow sac spiders make webs for hiding out in rolled up leaves. They are otherwise active predators.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Insect of the week!

The Tortoise Beetle David R. Parks
Tortoise beetle adult

These beetles have a very interesting way of protecting themselves from predators. As larvae, they use their shed exoskeletons and fecal matter to build a shield which helps camouflage them, and I am guessing it might make them unappetizing to predators as well. J Sullivan
Tortoise Beetle Larvae

Monday, February 28, 2011

Updated ALE Lab Website

Over the weekend I updated our lab website If you want to learn more about our current research and outreach check it out!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ol' Punkin'

After a long, and not quite finished winter, this pumpkin has still retained some of its color and shape. I am not sure what broke it up to begin with, but the thaw last week probably softened it up for an animal to eat some seeds. I saw lots of deer tracks frozen in the mud.
If we let nature take its course this will self-seed into new plants.

Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Further ecological impacts of the seven-spotted lady beetle

I recently stumbled upon an article that caught my eye...

"The co-occurrence of an introduced biological control agent (Coleoptera: Coccinella septempunctata) and an endangered butterfly (Lepidoptera: Lycaeides melissa samuelis)"

In a post long ago, I talked about an internship I had during the summer of 2007 with the Detroit Zoo. I worked with their restoration program for the endangered karner blue butterfly (KBB) (Lycaeides melissa samuelis).

Karner blue butterfly

Now I am studying the effects of exotic lady beetles such as the seven spotted (Coccinella septempunctata) on native lady beetles. Though, I had not taken much time to think about other native insects that could be affected by the exotic beetles. In this paper the authors reported observing both species co-occurring spatially and temporally with the eggs and larvae of the KBB. They also observed an adult beetle feeding on a KBB larvae. This observation is not shocking to me since lady beetles are generalist predators, meaning they can feed on a wide variety of prey.
Seven-spotted lady beetle

The conservation of endangered species is incredibly important since the loss of a single species has the potential to drastically impact the ecosystem. The KBB is also treated as an "umbrella species" because efforts made to preserve KBB populations, have benifited other native plants and animals that reside in the Oak Savannah habitat as well.

Oak savannah habitat in Southern Michigan

Schellhorn, N. A., C. P. Lane, and D. M. Olson. 2005. The co-occurrence of an introduced biological control agent (Coleoptera: Coccinella septempunctata) and an endangered butterfly (Lepidoptera: Lycaeides melissa samuelis). Journal of Insect Conservation 9:41-47.