Monday, July 30, 2012

Moth sighting: The Imperial Moth

 Scott managed to capture some photos of this large moth that appeared on my balcony. It had probably been attracted by a light I had left on. The imperial moth (Eacles imperiali) is of the Saturniidae family. It has a wing span of 3 1/8 - 6 7/8 inches and can appear in various morphs as pictured below. The caterpillars feed on both coniferous and deciduous trees such as: pine, oak, box elder, maples, sweet gum, and sassafras. The adults do not feed.
Shawn Hanrahan at the Texas A&M University Insect Collection in College Station
We did not collect this specimen which is a good thing since I later learned that there is some evidence that this species has recently, or is currently experiencing a population decline. It is possible that it is being impacted by pesticides and/or parasitoids. Additionally, being attracted to artificial lighting increases predation risk and disrupts behaviors such as flight, reproduction, dispersal, and feeding.

Sources:, Wikipedia

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Insects in the News

Photo provided by the Idaho State department of Ag.

Another invasive insect has been detected in the United States recently. The elm seed bug has been found in southwestern Idaho and although it is not a threat to trees, it often enters buildings in large numbers. This new invasive insect adds to the growing list of insects which find their way into our homes. Other insects that are known to get into homes and cause a nuisance are the multicolored Asian lady beetle and the brown marmorated stink bug. The elm seed bug gets into homes during the summer to escape the heat and stays there throughout the winter. These insects are not a health risk, but they can have an unpleasant odor, and also can enter homes by the hundreds causing serious distress for homeowners. The native range of the elm seed bug is southern Europe and the mechanism of their arrival is still unknown.

While there have been no reports of this insect in Ohio, the Department of Agriculture has recived calls from people claiming to see the bug in South Carolina, West Virginia, Illinois, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Montana, Nevada, Connecticut, California, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon.

Be on the look out for these bugs, and keep in mind that there is another home invader that looks similar, the boxelder bug. (Fact sheet with info about boxelder bugs)

Sources: Washington Post article, ABC News article

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spider Camp 2012!

Greetings, readers! I am currently in Highlands, North Carolina, for some additional training to help with my research. I am taking a spider identification course with Dr. Kefyn Catley from Western Carolina University, an expert arachnologist and evolutionary biologist.

The course has been a great mix of lectures on spider morphology, taxonomy, and ecology, while the rest of most days have been spent outdoors collecting as many different spiders as possible. In my own work in urban Cleveland I have become familiar with many spider families: wolf spiders, jumping spiders, sheet-web weavers, ground spiders...the list goes on! But the southern Appalachians have truly shown themselves to be one of the most diverse habitats in the world for spiders, where I've seen species we'll never have in Ohio. One of the most fascinating is the lampshade spider, Hypochilus pococki. This belongs to an ancient group of spiders which still retains some ancestral traits such as two pairs of book lungs (most spiders you see today, excluding tarantulas and their closer relatives, only have one pair). They make some really amazing webs along rock outcrops and caves which resemble lampshades. This is a photo taken with my phone, so you may not be able to make out the spider sitting in the middle of the circle.

However, I've also noticed some interesting overlap between spiders I've collected here in the mountainous forests and those I've collected for my own research in Cleveland. Some of the most common species in my urban sites, including Pardosa milvina (wolf spider), Frontinella communis (sheet-web weaver), and Leucauge venusta (long-jawed orb weaver), are also very abundant down here in the Appalachians (L. venusta is absolutely everywhere!). Granted, this research station is slightly developed with a small town close by, but it is interesting to note how some species are so widely distributed and abundant in two very different types of habitats. Their presence highlights the interplay between habitat management and structure along with species behavior and developmental traits which allow for widespread distribution.

I am here for the rest of the week, completing my collection and identifying specimens. Spider identification is notoriously difficult, often requiring a microscope.

And beer and Triskets. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Insect of the Week!

Wheel Bug: Arilus cristatus

The wheel bug is a member of the family: Reduviidae (assassin bugs). These are beneficial insects since they feed on soft bodied pest insects such as caterpillars. They stab prey with their proboscis to inject salivary fluid which dissolve soft tissues. It has been noted that while these insects generally avoid contact with people, they can give a painful bite if they are handled roughly.

These insects are easiest to spot during mid to late summer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bring Back the Pollinators!

The Xerces society is a group that is very active in insect conservation. Currently they are working to stop the observed decline in pollinators with thier "Bring Back the Pollinators" campaign. (Xerces: Bring Back the Pollinators website)

Whole Foods is also raising donations for the Xerces society called "Share the Buzz". The following Whole Foods Market vendor companies are raising funds as well:

The Hain Celestial Group, Inc
Alba Botanica
Almond Breeze
Amy's Kitchen
Arrowhead Mills
Attune Foods
Avalon Organics
Blue Diamond
Earth's Best
Evian Natural Spring Water
GoGo squeeZ
Honest Tea
Honeydrop Beverages
Lake Champlain Chocolates
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day
O.N.E. Coconut Water
Pacific Natural Foods
Popcorn Indiana
Small Planet Foods
Springfield Creamery/Nancy's Yogurt
Three Twins Ice Cream
Wholesome Sweeteners
Yogi Tea

With 75% of our food relying on pollinators, it is important to continue working to improve habitats for important pollinators.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Who's pollinating the soybean?

What's Shawn doing tromping through that soybean field?

Collecting bee bowls!

We are sampling for bees in soybean fields in Wooster and Apple Creek, OH for a graduate student at Iowa State University.

Soybean plants can actually self pollinate to produce beans, but evidence has shown that the presence of bees can increase seed production.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Idenifying and Enhancing Natural Enemies in Vegetable Crops

This 30 minute video describes how to identify and enhance natural enemies, which are arthropods that feed on pest insects providing natural pest control. Much of it was filmed at the ALE lab at OARDC.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just Chillin

This beautiful moth was found yesterday in the facilities services building on campus. It is a regal moth (Citheronia regalis), and I decided to put it outside on this tree to hang out before eager collectors stuck a pin in it!

These moths don't have much to do anyway. Once they are adults they don't eat a single thing, Find some friends to mate with, and die after a week or so. Best to spend your last few days relaxing!

Visit this blog to see some pics of the caterpillar, and more adults pics way better than mine:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Effects of the landscape on services provided by insects

The ALE lab is interested in how the surrounding landscape can affect populations of insects as well as services they provide such as biological control and pollination. An increase in the complexity of the landscape is often associated with an increase in the abundance of natural enemies (insects that prey on crop pests). Additionally, the abundance and diversity of bees visiting flowers has been observed to decrease as the amount of  semi-natural habitats decrease.

A simple landscape is often composed of more conventional crops such as corn and soybean:

A complex landscape tends to have more forest and vegetable crops:

To answer questions about the effect of the landscape on insects, we pick sites, which often consist of an agricultural field, or another area, where data was collected. We then drive around at a 1.5 or 3 km radius (1.5 km for biological control, and 3 km for pollination by bees) and document what is planted or what type of ground cover is present in every field within that circle.


Using a program called ArcGIS we create maps that can be used to compare with the data we collected at our sites with the composition of the landscape surrounding that site. We are currently in the data collection, and mapping phase for most of our projects. The ALE lab is looking forward to the data analysis phase so some of our questions can be answered!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dog toy

Andrea and I were out in one of my pumpkin patches today collecting cucumber beetles and squash bugs. It was a beautiful day and my farmer's friendly chocolate labs came out to see what us weird humans were doing crouching around pumpkin plants. Somehow, I dropped my glasses...and the dogs got bored with watching us collect bugs. They might still work!

So busy doing SCIENCE!

Here at the ALE lab we are hard at work! Sorting samples, identifying bees, making maps, pointing at clip boards, staring at petri dishes, and other general doing science type things!

Putting names to the faces.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Collection of objects collected at field sites...

Every once in awhile we find strange objects in our field sites; mostly from the vacant lots in Cleveland...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Weather Fail.

Not good news for a full day of field work.

Though it is probably good for the crops, they have been looking dry...

Field work on July 4th!

Scott and I ventured into Cleveland this Independence Day to pick up his bee bowls and conduct floral diversity sampling. It was hot and we may have been a little loopy at the end due to a bit of heat exhaustion...but hopefully we got some good data for Scott's project!

Counting green bean flowers
Measuring the radius of a lily to estimate floral area at the site

Hopefully you stayed cool on this 4th of July!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Smallest known fly is an ant killer

The smallest known fly species has recently been identified by Brian Brown of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The fly,  Euryplatea nanaknihali (Diptera: Phoridae), was discovered in Thailand, and is a member of the genus: Euryplatea, which are known to be phorid flies.

Phoridae is a family of small flies that can be identified by their humpback and many members are parasites of flies and bees. It is likely that the behavior of E. nanaknihali may be similar to that of other phorid flies which lay eggs in the body of an ant. The larva migrates to the ant's head and feeds on the muscles used to open and close the mouthparts, eventually eating the brain which causes the ant to wander for up to two weeks. The head falls off when the larva dissolve the membrane that keeps the head attached off. The larva then remain in the head where it pupates and hatches into an adult after two weeks.

The picture below shows E. nanaknihali on the right, and a size comparison with a house fly (Musca domestica) on the left.

Credit: (c) Inna-Marie Strazhnik

Rough day to be a ant.

Brown B.V. (2012). Small Size No Protection for Acrobat Ants: World's Smallest Fly Is a Parasitic Phorid (Diptera: Phoridae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 105, 550-554.

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