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