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BugsR4Girls – Applied entomology with a twist

By B. Staffan Lindgren (@bslindgren)

I have always thought of myself as extremely fortunate and blessed to have made a career in entomology. The main reason is that 99.9% of all entomologists I have met and come to know over the years have been extremely nice people. Like most entomologists, I was interested in animals (which in my case included insects and spiders) at a young age. Many of my friends probably considered me a bit odd, but that’s as far as it went as far as I recall. Unfortunately, that is not always the case as this story reveals.

The other day I (along with a large number of people on Twitter) got to witness this kindness in action in a way that warms my heart. Nicole Spencer, a concerned mother, sent a request to the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) regarding her young daughter, Sophia, who happens to love insects and wants to become an entomologist when she grows up. Sophia’s interest has somehow led to teasing and outright bullying in school, however. Fortunately Sophia’s mom understands the importance of nurturing her daughter’s interest, as did my mother even though I kept spiders in jars in my bedroom. Nicole’s and Sophia’s heartfelt letter was passed on to Morgan Jackson (@BioInFocus), who promptly posted a tweet on behalf of the ESC (@CanEntomologist) asking entomologists to help out. This tweet, which displayed the letter, included the hashtag #BugsR4Girls, and it quickly went viral.

facebook-shareWithin a very short period, Morgan had amassed a list of 100+ people willing to assist, along with a number of additional offers from non-entomologists. An offer even came from celebrity Dominic Monaghan, British actor and host of the television program Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan. You can get the gist of it all from the Storify that Morgan put together. The huge response led to interest from media, and Sophia and her mom were featured on Buzzfeed Canada, where the whole story is revealed. It hasn’t ended there. Another media story came from LFPress, and Sophia’s story even made the front page of the Toronto Star! In addition, numerous tweets have been posted with or without the hashtag, and above I have reproduced 3 (but there are so many more that you really need to look for yourself). I also posted about this on my Facebook Page, and the story was shared by others there. The comments from this one really says it all!

I mentioned non-entomologists. Here is an open letter to Sophia (called Beatrix in the letter because the author didn’t know her name at the time) from a science communicator.bug-chicks

On the one hand this is a story about a little girl who has big dreams. On the other hand it is a story about the future of women in STEM. Sophia has dreams about becoming a scientist, but both she and her mother are uncertain of what possibilities are out there. Many other young children are in the same boat, I’m sure. But the journey starts at home with parents encouraging children to believe that they can be or do whatever they set their minds to. Last Friday I listened to a CBC Radio show with Maria Issa, a Canadian scientist who started in life just like Sophia by daydreaming and watching lady bugs. In spite of the odds being stacked high against her success, she made it, but many are discouraged, which later affects their self-confidence. My experience is that there is no gender difference in ability – in fact women mature sooner and are more focused than men IMHO. And the increasing number of brilliant female scientists in entomology is a case in point. Luckily for Sophia, she has an encouraging mother. Whether or not she becomes an entomologist is not the point. The point is that she believes in the possibility.

llavanerasFor me, Sophia’s story is a wonderful, multifaceted teachable moment. With all her new friends, Sophia will do just fine. I wish her all the luck in the world.

whiffin

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Appreciating insects and other arthropods: a lifetime of riches

 

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It is about time I got busy and stared blogging again on this site. Since I am out of practice, I will do what I know best: a photo essay about why I love insects and other arthropods, and how studying them has improved my life!

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Ever since I was a young kid, I have loved getting out and seeing the animals nearby. When I was very young, my mom would send me in the backyard with a spoon and a yogurt container, so I could dig up, catch and watch the bugs I found. 

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In school, virtually all of my research reports and essays would be about insects, spiders, snakes and other animals. My love of insects became my pathway to learning.

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In university, I continued to indulge my love of insects and other animals, by taking any and all zoological courses offered. 

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Even when not studying, almost all the free time I get is spent outdoors, still looking for and watching insects, spiders and other animals. I really enjoy doing photography of what I find. 

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Taking photos of insects is a great way to explore their beauty, and to try to communicate that to others. In the pursuit of a good photograph, I learn a lot about the habits of local insects. 

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Now, I make a living studying animal behaviour. At the moment I am working with Catherine Scott studying spider behaviour at a local beach in Victoria BC. 

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We are studying black widows, one of the most beautiful and intriguing spiders. Of course I bring my camera along, to document the cool things we are learning about their behaviour!

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Studying insects and spiders is not only my job, it is what I most love to do. There is just so much to learn and explore. I think that getting out and experiencing the natural world this way is one of the most rewarding things someone of any age can do!

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Organizations like the Entomological Society of Canada, as well as the Entomological Society of Ontario, and the Toronto Entomologist’s Association form a community of people I can talk to and share my discoveries with. I highly recommend getting together with other insect lovers! Trading ideas and anecdotes and learning more together are some ways we can improve knowledge of insects and other arthropods.  

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OK! I have said my piece. I would welcome any other ESC members, or other entomologists out there to do likewise! What have you been doing this summer? What are some of the cool things you have seen? Share them with us here at the ESC blog!

 

 

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New apartment infestation blues…

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I am sure many folks out there know what it is like to rent their very first apartment, only to find that the place has a major infestation of some noxious pest. Well, fellow ESC member Catherine Scott and I have just rented our first apartment in Gualaco, Honduras, and boy does it ever have an infestation!

These are the dreaded household casebearer, Phereoeca uterella (Tineidae)and there are tons of the wandering larvae all over the walls! Luckily we have other familiar allies, the Pholcids, which are in great abundance. This infestation will be easy to manage provided we take care of the moths’ food sources. This is definitely not the worst infestation I have experienced.

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Allies in the fight against clothes moths!

Anyway, these are the most obvious insects in our new home. Please share below about any experiences with first-apartment infestations you may have had!

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Insects & Wine

By Staffan Lindgren, University of Northern BC and 2nd Vice President of the ESC

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A few weeks ago my most recently graduated Master’s student took a few days off to attend the UNBC convocation ceremony. Knowing her former supervisor’s fondness of red wine (which several of my other graduate students have magically discovered as well – go figure!), and no doubt well mentored in the important aspects of oenology by her entomologist father, she kindly presented me with a bottle of Idaho wine aptly named “Entomology”. The vineyard in question has a series of ‘ology’ wines, and appropriately, the importance of entomology has been recognized in this one. This welcome gift, along with other wines I had purchased solely because they had an insect on the label, caused me to ponder the connection between insects and wine. It should be added that apart from a long-standing preference of certain varieties of red wine, label design and price are pretty much my only criteria for selection of wines to purchase, as my olfactory senses have long been impaired after years of sinus infections.

Insects have had enormous significance in viticulture. Interestingly, pollinators do not appear to play a significant role, as the wine grape, Vitis vinifera L. (Vitaceae) is primarily wind pollinated. The negative impact of one insect on viticulture, on the other hand, provides for a fascinating story of applied interdisciplinarity, long before that concept became a fad. In an entomological detective story, elements of international politics, bureaucratic intrigue, the struggle between Darwinian evolution and creationism, invasive insect ecology, plant resistance, systematics, are interwoven like a movie script leading to the establishment of the fledgling discipline of economic entomology, with several entomologists the heroes (prominent among them Charles V. Riley) saving the damsel in distress (French viticulture) (Sorensen et al. 2008). I speak of course of the impact of the grape phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae (Fitch) (Hemiptera: Phylloxeridae), an introduced insect from North America, on the French wine industry. At one point this little insect threatened the very existence of the industry, which at the time supported a sizeable portion of the French economy (Smith 1992, Sorensen et al. 2008). A simple Google Scholar search reveals that phylloxera remains a significant issue and is subject to continuing research worldwide (Granett et al. 2001). Corrie et al. (2002) even noted that phylloxera “is a viticultural pest that in the past has devastated vineyards worldwide, yet little is known about this insect’s biology”.

Apart from the “Entomology” wine, which I haven’t tasted yet, I have four other wines, falling in two categories. Two are organic wines, and have butterflies on the label, while the other two labels are adorned by ants. The descriptions below are from other sources, as my inferior olfactory system cannot do wines justice. Suffice it to say I like them all.

Five wines with labels adorned with insects. In today’s wine market, it seems that eye-catching labels are important competition tools. I wonder if entomophobic customers buy any of these?

Five wines with labels adorned with insects. In today’s wine market, it seems that eye-catching labels are important competition tools. I wonder if entomophobic customers buy any of these?

Nuevo Mundo Reserva Cabernet-Malbec represents the type of wine I enjoy with a “big bouquet of dark cherries and blackberry with hints of sweet spice on the palate” (hint to future students!).  The labels of all their wines have butterflies, no doubt signifying that it is an organic product and certified 100% carbon neutral. This wine is produced in the Maipo Valley, Chile, aged in French oak for a year, and sold for slightly under $16 in BC Liquor stores.

Domino de Punctum Lobetia is an organic Tempranillo wine produced by the Punctum Estate in La Mancha, Spain. It is described as having a “cherry colour with a violet shade indicating its youth. On the nose you’ll find fresh cherries and other red berries, with similar notes on the palate that shows moderate tannins”, and for $12.99 this is a very price-worthy wine.

Fabulous Ant is a Pinot Noir from Tolna, Hungary, which at $12.99 is a great buy. I have not been a fan of Pinot Noir, but I quite enjoy this wine described as having “cherry, strawberry and clove aromas on the nose and a silky, medium-bodied palate”. The label features an ant carrying a cherry, rather than a grape, perhaps indicating the predominance of cherry. This is a wine that I would not have picked as Hungary doesn’t strike me as a primary wine producing country, at least not of the types of wine I enjoy. However, this wine was awarded a Gold Medal at the Berlin Wine Show 2013, reflecting the emergence of yet another interesting wine producing region worth paying attention to.

Formiga de Vellut is a Carignan-Grenache-Syrah blend from the Priorat region in Spain, and is the most expensive of the wines I have chosen. At under $30 it is still worthy of a try by any entomologically inclined wine aficionado, however. I rarely spend that much on wine, but with ants on the label, how can I resist? It is described by Anthony Gismondi (http://www.gismondionwine.com/), who gave it a rating of 91 points, as a “spicy, floral, curry, black peppery, liquorice scented red.” He goes on to write: “Love the dry, supple palate and its smoky, peppery, black cherry jam and meaty, licorice and cedar flavours.” I agree with Mr. Gismondi (at least with respect to what I am able to perceive)!

Finally, the interesting Idaho wine Entomology. Produced by the Cold Springs Winery located halfway between Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho, this is a Cabernet-Syrah blend which according to the vineyards own website is a medium bodied wine with red fruits and dried figs on the nose and blueberry on the palate. The label depicts a Polyphemus moth, which is described as a “pollinator moth”, so the entomology part may be a bit off target, but hey, if the wine is good we can live with some slight miscues.

There are obviously many other wines with an insect connection that I have not seen. I am hoping for suggestions in response to this blog post! Actual samples are welcome as well….

References cited

Corrie, A.M., R.H. Crozier, R. Van Heeswijck, and A.A. Hoffmann. 2002. Clonal reproduction and population genetic structure of grape phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, in Australia. Heredity 88: 203–211.

Granett, J., M.A. Walker, L. Kocsis, and A.D. Omer. 2001. Biology and management of grape Phylloxera. Annual Review of Entomology 46: 387-412.

Smith, E.H. 1992. The grape phylloxera. A celebration of its own. American Entomologist 38(4): 212-221.

Sorensen, W.C., E.H. Smith, J. Smith, and Y. Carton. 2008. Charles V. Riley, France and Phylloxera. American Entomologist 54(3): 134-149.