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Don’t read this article

I will admit that the headline was thoroughly and completely “click bait”. That’s because I was worried that “The new ESC Science Policy Committee and its mandate” would have you move along to the next article. And I hope that giving you the goods now on what this article is about doesn’t cause that right… now.

For those of you who are still with me, and I hope that is a majority of our members, I am aware that policy is not generally considered an exciting topic. But in this era of climate change, environmental degradation, increasing population pressure on our agricultural and silvicultural output, emergent and spreading vector-borne diseases, research funding challenges, and rapidly shifting politics in Canada and many of our largest trading partners, we as entomologists cannot merely sit back and let policy happen. We need to engage with policy makers to encourage careful decision making with the long view in mind.

Our diverse Society membership has an equally diverse set of skills and perspectives to offer to Canadians and the rest of the world. But engagement can only happen if we are willing to put fingers on the pulse of various issues, and to collaboratively marshal responses to issues as they begin to emerge. In other words, we can only be effective if we are able to anticipate in time and react with collective care and wisdom.

Over the past many years, the ESC has maintained a Science Policy and Education Committee. That committee has been effective in many areas including over the past several years:

  • expressing concern to the federal government about travel restrictions on federal scientists wishing to attend ESC meetings,
  • encouraging the continued support of the Experimental Lakes Area,
  • responding to NSERC consultations, and
  • drafting the ESC Policy Statement on Biodiversity Access and Benefit Sharing which was later adopted by our Society.

However, because the combination of both public education and public policy was a substantial and growing mandate, the ESC Executive Council Committee decided in 2015 to split the committee into two, each part taking care of one of the two former aspects.

In October 2016 I was asked to chair and help to formulate the new ESC Science Policy Committee. Your committee now consists of (in alphabetical order):

  • Patrice Bouchard (ESC First VP, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
  • Crystal Ernst (appointed member, postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University)
  • Neil Holliday, (ESC President, ex officio committee member, University of Manitoba)
  • Dezene Huber (appointed member as academic representative, Chair 2016/2017, University of Northern British Columbia)
  • Fiona Hunter (ESC Second VP, Brock University)
  • Rachel Rix (appointed member and student and early professional representative, Dalhousie University)
  • Amanda Roe (appointed member as government representative, Natural Resources Canada – Canadian Forest Service)

Each executive member’s term is specified by their ESC executive term. Each appointed member is a member for up to 3 years. The Chair position is appointed on a yearly basis. The terms of reference specify that the committee should contain members “who (represent) the Student (and Early Professional) Affairs Committee, and preferably one professional entomologist employed in government service and one employed in academia.

We are officially tasked “(t)o monitor government, industry and NGO science policies, to advise the Society when the science of entomology and our Members are affected, and to undertake tasks assigned by the Board that are designed to interpret, guide, or shift science policy.”

We are now working on putting together an agenda, and have started to work on a few items. For instance, you may recall an eBlast requesting participation in Canada’s Fundamental Science Review that was initiated by Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science. We hope that some of you took the opportunity to send your thoughts to the federal government.

As we develop an agenda, we would like to consult with you, the ESC membership. Please tell us:

  • What policy-related issues do you see emerging in your area of study, your realm of employment, or in the place that you live?
  • How might the ESC Science Policy Committee integrate better with your concerns and those of the rest of the membership? 
  • How can our Society be more consultative and responsive to the membership and to issues as they arise?
  • Who are the people and organizations with which ESC should be working closely on science policy issues?
  • How can you be a part of science policy development, particularly as it relates to entomological practice and service in Canada and abroad?

 

Please email me at huber@unbc.ca with your thoughts, questions, and ideas. We know that many of you are already involved in this type of work, and we hope that we can act as synergists to your efforts and that you can help to further energize ours.

 

Dr. Dezene Huber

Chair, ESC Science Policy Committee

This article also appears in the March 2017 ESC Bulletin, Vol 48(1).

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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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Missed Mandate, Missed Biology: The ongoing “Mother Canada” debacle in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Opinion Piece – M. Alex Smith, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph (salex@uoguelph.ca; @Alex_Smith_Ants; www.malexsmith.weebly.com)

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Like many Canadians, I have been hearing more and more about the so-called “Mother Canada” development in Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP). Proposed by a combination of private funding in partnership with the federal government, this enormous 10-storey memorial is meant to “… be a place for remembrance and gratitude” to Canadians who have “fallen as a result of war and conflict”. Parks Canada has expressed direct support for this monument through actual monetary donations. The erection of such a memorial within a Canadian National Park has garnered much recent interest in the Canadian and international press.

Beyond any aesthetic concerns people may have about the specific plans, in my opinion, there are two critical problems with this monument. The first was pointed out in a Globe and Mail editorial of June 24 2015: it is redundant. Every town and city in Canada already has a memorial to those who have served and sacrificed. My second objection is a combined biological and sociological one. It concerns the location of a private funded monument within a Canadian National Park, where it appears very unclear what the ramifications of that action will be on the fauna in and around the proposed site. The mandate of Parks Canada is elegantly expressed in its charter, “To protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole” while fostering “public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations”. Indeed, 26 former senior Parks Canada managers wrote an open letter to the Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq detailing their objections and that such a plan, “is in violation of the site’s Wilderness Zone designation as detailed in the Management Plan for the Park”.

Beyond the effects of the actual physical construction on the park environment, the monument will potentially increase tourist traffic to the area. How will these changes affect the biota (both animal and plant) of the immediate area? Exactly how well known is that fauna? How was the effect on the sites and the adjacent park environment determined?

A detailed impact analysis was completed by Stantec Consulting Limited who concluded that the effects of the development are, “generally predicted to be negligible to moderate in magnitude”. Conclusions regarding the effect of the construction and development on the “wildlife” of CBHNP were based on a single terrestrial field survey of the locality and a consultation of a CBHNP sightings database. (Stantec is actually listed as a Partner and Supporter of the development). In the Stantec impact analysis, “wildlife” is exclusively mammals and birds. As an ecologist whose professional and personal life is replete with instances of being overwhelmed and delighted by the diversity of arthropods living coincidentally (and cryptically) with their better-studied vertebrate relatives, this raised some concerns.

So what can I offer? Well in 2009, I spent a wonderful time collecting arthropods in CBHNP as part of the BioBus program out of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph. In fact, four colleagues and I spent a night collecting insects at a site only 3 km away from the proposed development (Black Brook and the nearby Jack Pine Trail). The Jack Pine trail was particularly beautiful! The trail goes through a forest of Jack Pine that is more than 200km away from the rest of its range and has survived fire and spruce budworm infestation. At any rate, since all the data is publicly available online (dx.doi.org/10.5883/DS-ASCBHNP), I thought this would be an opportune time to explore those records in light of the planned “Mother Canada” development.

 

Figure 1: A high resolution GigaPan panorama taken at the Black Brook collection site (http://gigapan.com/gigapans/29312).

Figure 1: A high resolution GigaPan panorama taken at the Black Brook collection site (http://gigapan.com/gigapans/29312).

 

Figure 2: The collection team earlier in the trip in Terra Nova National Park Newfoundland.

Figure 2: The collection team earlier in the trip in Terra Nova National Park Newfoundland.

It was a beautiful night in 2009 (Jul-21) at Black Brook where we collected arthropods using two common methods (UV light (which means lots of moths!) and free-hand active search using insect nets). That night, in about four hours of collecting, we came away with 363 specimens from nearly 200 species (191 named and provisional species based on their DNA barcodes). To put this number in context, CBHNP has 200 species of bird – a total nearly matched for arthropods by our single nights work at one location! This diversity is only a small fraction of the diversity of arthropods currently protected by CBHNP. Via these DNA barcodes, (public on BOLD (www.barcodinglife.org, dx.doi.org/10.5883/DS-ASCBHNP) we can compare them to the > 4 million DNA barcode records representing >400,000 species worldwide on this database.

What we find from this comparison is that some of these species may be exceedingly rare. Despite concentrated collections in this and other National Parks before and since this night* there are four species which have been found only once out of these millions of records. While this diversity is currently protected by Parks Canada, it is within 3 km of the proposed “Mother Canada” development. It is unclear how the changes in traffic and construction from the development will affect this protected diversity.

Why bring this up now? What use is a rapid analysis of a single night’s collections? I decided to bring it up to call attention to numerous small and cryptic species in and around the location of the proposed development about which we know very little. Going ahead with an enormous private development within a National Park is a mistake that flies in the face of the mandate of Parks Canada – and does so without good evidence that it would not have negative effects on the diversity of animals that it was created to protect.

 

Figure 3: This neighbor-joining tree is a graphical representation of the diversity of nearly 200 species of arthropods collected at Black Brook in July 2009. The taxa are colour coded and are followed by the number of specimens we caught.

Figure 3: This neighbor-joining tree is a graphical representation of the diversity of nearly 200 species of arthropods collected at Black Brook in July 2009. The taxa are colour coded and are followed by the number of specimens we caught.

John Barber (a freelance journalist from Toronto) closed his recent article in the Guardian newspaper with a marvelous quote from Valerie Bird, a WWII veteran and resident of Cape Breton, “It is vulgar and ostentatious,” she said. “It certainly doesn’t belong in a national park, and I don’t think its going to do a darn thing for veterans.” “I think the idea of this horrible thing offends veterans,” she added. “I find it difficult to find words. This is a monstrosity.”

Not simply a monstrosity – but one contrary to of the principle mandate of Parks Canada, “to protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole”. Ultimately, this is the essence of the problem. This issue is more than a simple discussion regarding the aesthetics of a >$25 million, >25-metre tall conglomeration of private and corporate citizens (in apparent partnership with our federal government). If a private group wants to erect a memorial on private grounds and can raise the money for their monument – it is certainly their prerogative. This is a critical discussion about the mandate of Parks Canada and specifically how well they protect the natural heritage resident within that Park.

To place this monument in a National Park is not the right of any private group. To consider placing such a monument in a National Park without careful consideration of the most diverse Park residents (insects, spiders and their kin) is not simply poor planning; it’s poor management and should be stopped.

* -Since that evening in 2009, the BioBus has continued to collaborate with Parks Canada in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and now even more is known about the vast diversity of small and important insects from other areas within this National Park. Collections of arthropods have now been made for 3000 species! For more information about those collections visit the reports section at www.biobus.ca. The author has no current association with the BioBus program. All specimens analysed here are publically available via the public data portal of the Barcode of Life Data System (dx.doi.org/10.5883/DS-ASCBHNP).

Useful websites:

Thanks to Morgan Jackson for helpful thoughts on an earlier draft of this post.
Figure 4 – Shareable infographic outlining information & data presented in this article. Please feel free to circulate.

Figure 4 – Shareable infographic outlining information & data presented in this article. Please feel free to circulate.

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“Thrips” should die

By Dr. Tom Chapman, Memorial University

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I used scissor to cut my pant into short. A jarring opening sentence, I know. It is how I use to feel when someone dropped the “s” in “thrips”; it is a plural noun, don’t you know? If you see a solitary individual of these animals it is still referred to as a “thrips”.  I have been quick to correct people that have made this mistake. But lately on this issue, I have become tired of being the grammar pedant.

Art work done by Michael McLeish and Andrew Chaulk.

Art work done by Michael McLeish and Andrew Chaulk.

I don’t mean to be insulting to the readers of this blog, I am assuming you are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about insects, but just maybe you haven’t heard much of thrips. They are members of the insect Order Thysanoptera, and world wide there are at least 5000 species. They are small; in fact, they are typically the size and colour of the commas in this very sentence. These slithering punctuation marks do not commonly attract the attention of insect enthusiasts. However, for a small number of economically important species there is a large and vibrant community of researchers. These scientists routinely gather together to describe and discuss their research outcomes, with their next big event to be held in California (2015, Xth International Symposium on Thysanoptera & Tospoviruses).  Among the dominant applied work that will be presented at this meeting, and those of the past nine meetings, will also be more curiosity driven research.  This group of non-applied thrips-focused researchers could book a table at most restaurants. No more or less important, just a more private club. A club I joined as a PhD student.

Professor Bernard Crespi, in his early career, did a stint in Australia as a Research Associate. His motivation to travel to the antipodes was to answer the challenge, are there social thrips? The evolution of altruism (sub-fertility in part of a population) in the insects was and remains an outstanding conundrum for evolutionary theory. Theoretical attempts made in the sixties and seventies to explain these incidences of self-sacrificing castes appeared to also predict that somewhere within the diversity of thrips species we should also find sociality. There were no ready examples. Crespi had a hunch that social thrips would be found among the gall-inducing thrips on Australian Acacia.  In brief, he was right! Subsequently (Again, drastically shortening the story. Hey, I am not trying to write Crespi’s biography here.), Crespi took a position at Simon Fraser University where his research began with a focus on Australian social thrips. I was the first graduate student he recruited.

I will admit that the thrips played no part in attracting me to the program. Instead, it was Crespi’s strong scientific reputation and the chance to do field work in Australia that was the lure. However, it was several years of working in Canada with preserved and frozen specimens of thrips before I saw their full charm in their native habitat. I was hosted in Australia by Crespi’s major collaborator with the thrips work, Dr. Michael Schwarz, at Flinders University. In this prominent social insect lab I met three students with the same taxonomic focus as me.  Like Tigger in The Tigger Movie, I had started to fear that I was the only one. We connected quickly, and one of the pivotal bonding events happened during a trip to a Nursery outside the city of Adelaide. We needed native Australian plants for an experiment and the Nursery that could provide them was located inside a national park. On the way in we saw a sign warning visitors that they were not permitted to bring in plants or soil for fear of introducing pests. The list of pests included “thrip”. On our way out of the park, we stopped our truck; one of us jumped out with a permanent marker and added an “s”. Having scored one for thrips, we cheered and drove away.

It has been almost twenty years since we vandalized that sign (I hope that is longer then the crime’s statute of limitation). Since then I have continued research on social thrips, and I have given lectures in undergraduate and graduate classes, job interviews, conferences, public lectures and even dinner parties. Many people have engaged me after these events to express further interest in the work. If they said “thrip”, I corrected them. I thought educating people outweighed the potential risk of embarrassing them. My behaviour has certainly lost me a few acquaintances, some people have skin that is thin, but is there any evidence that I have been successful in educating people? I think the answer is no. A student of mine was interviewed a little while ago on the national radio science show, Quirks and Quarks. She corrected the host when he dropped the “s”. Two students and I submitted a paper to an entomological journal, and one reviewer pointed out to the editor the poor grammar of our presentation. The example they used to illustrate our incompetence was our failure to drop the “s”. I am co-writing a book chapter with a longtime friend and colleague, he edited my part by dropping a few of the “s”s. I give up. Not research or a fascination with thrips, just the “s” thing. It is now my opinion that the thrips research community is better off without this plural noun. To the uninitiated it sounds weird to use “thrips” in the singular, and to insist on its proper use is alienating. I don’t know how to change this. Who is in charge? How do you start a revolution? In the mean time, to those that naturally say “thrip” I am sorry I have offended you, let’s be friends.

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More than a meeting – Workshops at JAM 2013

This year’s Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of Canada and Ontario is shaping up to be the event of the century, or perhaps more correctly, a Sesquicentennial Event, as the ESC & the ESO are celebrating their 150th birthday! While all the usual JAM events will be taking place (like Plenary Sessions with exciting invited speakers, student presentations & posters, a whole suite of special symposia, and plenty of social events to unwind in the evenings), this year will also see the expansion of training workshops for not only meeting attendees, but also the public!

This year, the ESC and the ESO will be holding 3 workshops which we invite entomologists and insect-lovers alike to register for, and which will be held before, after and during the ESC-ESO JAM 2013 in Guelph, from October 19 to 24, 2013.

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UP CLOSE: Insect Photography with Alex Wild – Oct. 19, 2013 – University of Guelph Arboretum Centre ($65 registration fee)

Come spend the day learning how to improve your insect macrophotography skills with Alex Wild. This full day workshop (9:30a-4:30p, lunch provided) will help you take better photos of insects, both in the lab and in the field. For more information, and to learn how to register, please visit the workshop website here. Space is limited, so register today!

Alex Wild Guelph Photography Workshop Poster—————–

CFIA Regulated Plant Pests Identification Workshop – Oct. 22, 2013 – University of Guelph, Graham Hall Rm 3309 (Free Registration!)

Come learn about the 69 plant pests whose movement is legally regulated by CFIA. First, a brief introduction to what such regulation means for people who move insects and goods. Then, most of the workshop will be a hands-on session with microscopes (20), specialists (3), and specimens of species of: mites (2), beetles (18), flies (4), Hemiptera (5), Hymenoptera (2), moths (29), and snails (9). This is meant to get participants the information that they most need: we will help you get
to know the regulated pests that are most relevant to your work. Please register with hume.douglas@inspection.gc.ca to secure your space. More information is available on the ESC-ESO JAM website, but space & microscopes are limited so register early.

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Emerald Ash Borer Workshop – Oct. 24, 2013 – University of Guelph Arboretum Centre (Free Registration!)

This workshop is intended for all those interested in the management of emerald ash borer.

The morning session will review current tools and techniques for the management EAB, including a presentation on the risk assessment process in Canada. Other speakers will provide case-studies of their response to EAB in municipalities in Southern Ontario, and on the management of wood from infested trees.

The afternoon session will be round-table discussions among all participants. These discussions will include: what future research is needed to manage emerald ash borer, what questions about the beetle are still unanswered, and what are the challenges to implementing current management techniques. The goal of the afternoon session is for you to provide feedback to the research community on where effort needs to be directed as the emerald ash borer enters its second decade in Canada. There is no charge to attend this workshop, but space is limited. For more information, and to register, please see the workshop flyer on the ESC-ESO JAM Website (PDF).

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Grant Writing: Success in Preparation – October 20, 2013 – University of Guelph Rozanski Hall

This workshop is still in development (check back soon for details), but will be held Sunday, Oct. 20 from 9:30a-11a, before the Opening Ceremonies and Plenary Session. Designed for entomologists at all stages of their careers, from students to post-docs, and early career researchers to tenured professors, we hope this workshop will help get you all set for your next grant writing session. Free & open to all meeting registrants!

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Lunch Workshops

We’ll also be hosting several other workshops over the course of the meeting for registered attendees, including workshops on bringing social media into your lab, teaching in entomology, and how to prepare a CV or Resume. These workshops are for meeting attendees only, and will be held daily over lunch break (your lunch is provided with meeting registration this year).

If you haven’t registered for the ESC-ESO JAM yet, there’s still time to do so online (expires October 6). We hope to see you in a few weeks time at the 2013 ESC-ESO JAM in Guelph!

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ESO Bug Day 2013

By Jeff Skevington, AAFC & President of the Entomological Society of Ontario

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Today was the first ESO Bug Day. Thanks to Sophie Cardinal for organizing it all and to our many members and other volunteers who came out to help. I think it was an unparalleled success. We had hundreds of participants (my guess is slightly over 1000, but it was hard to track numbers). All of the volunteer leaders came with fabulous stuff – everything from Giant Swallowtails and Tomato Hornworm larvae to huge scarab larvae to hissing cockroaches and a whip scorpion. Andy Bennett did a brilliant job with the cockroach races with his home made Duplo race track. We had a tank of aquatic insects, ran at least 15 public hikes, had a biological control display, face painting, a butterfly exhibit, a craft table. The building was bursting at the seems to thankfully the rain held off and we were able to do a lot of it outdoors.

All in all, it was fabulous exposure for the ESO and the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (who provided many volunteers as well as their clubhouse and gardens).

Thanks again to all who helped and to the ESC for their help with funding. I hope that we can do it again next year – maybe in more than one city now that we have tried it out!

Caterpillar overlook Craft time

Andy Bennett oversees a cockroach race

Andy Bennett oversees a cockroach race

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CBC Radio Ottawa stopped by and took in Bug Day as well. Listen to the segment titled “Bug Day fun at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden” here (scroll down the page a bit to find it).
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The Royal Canadian Mint’s “Animal Architects” Coin Series Celebrates Insects and the ESC!

By Rebecca Hallett, ESC First Vice-President

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A year ago, an exciting new collaboration was initiated between the ESC and the Royal Canadian Mint. This collaboration grew from a letter sent by then President, Michel Cusson, and myself as chair of the Scientific Policy and Education committee, to the Mint commending them for the inclusion of insects on Canadian coins and offering the services of the ESC as a resource for the development of future insect coins. The response from the Mint was very warm and they immediately invited the ESC to be involved in the Animal Architects coin series.

Bee-coin

The Animal Architects coin series celebrates the “exceptional architects of Canada’s animal world and their unique constructions”. I was thrilled to see that the first coin in this new series has recently been released, depicting an iconic insect architect, the honeybee, with its hive.

View the sale sheet here for the 2012 $3 FINE SILVER COIN – ANIMAL ARCHITECTS: BEE & HIVE

The Mint also decided to recognize the involvement of the ESC in this series and, in 2013, to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the ESC on the certificates of authenticity that accompany the coins.

The Bee & Hive coin has proven to be extremely popular and is selling rapidly.  The depiction of insects on coins helps to increase appreciation for nature in general, and insects in particular, among the Canadian and coin-collecting public. I hope you will consider supporting this endeavour by treating yourself or a loved one to one or all of the coins in this series.

Coins can be ordered from the Royal Mint website:

http://www.mint.ca/store/coin/14-oz-fine-silver-coin-animal-architects-bee–hive-2013-prod1670011

Or obtained through one of the Mint’s dealers:

http://www.mint.ca/store/mint/customer-service/dealer-locator-1400026

I’ve got my Bee & Hive coin reserved and am rushing off to Toronto tomorrow to collect it!

Keep your eyes open in the fall for the next Animal Architects coin to emerge…

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Kids like bugs: entomology outreach in elementary schools (Part 2)

Last week, Chris Buddle and Paul Manning posted the first of a two-part series on outreach activities in elementary schools. That post focused on the ‘why’ – this one (also written by Chris and Paul) is about the ‘how’.

How to talk to kids about bugs:

First thing about talking to elementary school kids is stay calm and don’t worry!  If you have any University-level training in Entomology, you are qualified – Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be able to speak about all aspects of entomology: play to your strengths! If you are a taxonomists working on Syrphidae flies, bring in your flies and talk about them these magnificent animals.  If your experience is broader and less specialized, browse some notes, look on-line, or peek at a textbook: do a short overview of the main Orders of insects and their characteristics. Although most kids get some entomology in elementary schools, it’s not usually very much (although ALL kids do seem to learn about monarch butterflies!).

One great way to speak to kids about bugs is to make the session thematic.  In addition to bringing in a drawer or two of insects, link the specimens to biology. For example, one of us (Paul) has recently used ‘metamorphosis’ as a focal point for discussion. The transition from larvae to adult is a biological wonder, and acts as an excellent focal point for discussion. It brings together different facets of biology, from hormones, to physiological development, behavioural adaptations, through to discussion about life history strategies.  Paul brought galls into the classroom, and demonstrated that there were larvae living inside. The students screamed with excitement when they saw the larvae living within the gall. One student described it as a ‘cute white blob‘. Several students asked if they could bring the larvae home (wouldn’t Mom and Dad just LOVE that!).

Kids like bugs. And they like to draw them.

Kids like bugs. And they like to draw them.

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”.  In fact, kids find it refreshing to hear that an ‘expert’ doesn’t know all the answers.  Turn it around to illustrate that the world of entomology is so vast that there are a lot of unknowns out there, and many questions still to be answered.

Have patience. With younger grades, asking kids questions, or having them answer questions, can quickly turn into ‘stories’ from young, enthusiastic students. For example:

Q: Does anyone know what kind of insect a ladybug is?

        [Hand shoots into the air…]

 A (from a 6 year old): Um, yes, I know a lot about those things.  Once, when I was 4, I remember that I saw a beautiful bug flying by my garden – it was really big and black and I think it was a ladybug and my granddad told me about how ones like that eat trees and kill the trees and that makes me sad because we have a big tree in our front yard that I really like but sometimes my little bratty brother hides behind it and scares me when I am walking by. But I really like all bugs especially ladybug ones that are red but they smell funny sometimes and my mom said they can bite – will they bite me if I play with them? why do they smell funny? why are there so many spots on them? do their spots get bigger when they grow….

Give kids a chance to tell you these stories, but know that it will take patience…. but heck, if bugs get them talking and excited, that can’t be a bad thing!

(as an aside, most elementary school teachers will typically coach students so that they will ask/answer question instead of tell stories)

Bring a few props: If you can do an event outdoors, try to bring a few sweep nets and vials.  We will often bring extra vials from the lab and give students the vials to keep (heck, plastic vials cost very little!). For MONTHS afterwards, parents will often tell us about how their child packed that vial full of insects and carried it around obsessively for weeks. That’s a great way to inspire entomology.

Beetle galleries are easily found in wood, and can be a great prop to bring to an entomology session with school kids.

If you are doing an indoor talk, make sure to have a lot of photographs of interesting insects, and whenever possible, discuss/show or use examples from your local fauna – this will allow kids to connect to things they have seen on the playground or in their own yards – this connection between the content you are discussing and the insects they are seeing on their own, is very powerful.  With a smaller group, you can certainly bring in a few drawers of insects – if you don’t have any, this becomes a great excuse to make a little synoptic collection of your own to use for educational purposes. Or, ask your local entomology museum, or local naturalist club, about borrowing some specimens.

Whenever possible, bring a few ‘real’ field guides. One of us (CB) ran a biodiversity challenge at an elementary school and managed to convince the school to buy a couple of sets of field guides. The kids LOVE the look and feel of real field guides and will thumb through them with delight. Part of our own passion about natural history can be traced back to field guides in our houses when we were young.

A field guide to insects - suitable for all ages!

field guide to insects – suitable for all ages!

Don’t dumb down the material: Too often we think kids need to be talked down to, but nothing is further from the truth. As mentioned above, kids are sponges for information and in our experience they want to hear the details. You will want to avoid jargon, but other than that, provide the details whenever you can. Again, doing a ‘thematic’ talk with school kids becomes quite important because you just won’t have time to cover anything in-depth if you try to cover too much.

Finally, and most importantly, be passionate and enthusiastic. Kids will feel your positive energy and love of entomology; they will feed off of this, take it home with them; they will start asking more questions, start to dream, and fall further in love with the world around them. Spending a bit of time in a classroom is perhaps one of the most important kinds of outreach activities to do.

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Cross-posted from: http://arthropodecology.com/2013/04/26/kids-like-bugs-entomology-outreach-in-elementary-schools-part-2/

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Kids like bugs: entomology outreach in elementary schools (Part 1)

Written by Chris Buddle and Paul Manning.

Spending time talking to kids about Entomology is ALWAYS worth it. If ever invited to speak at an elementary school about insects, always say “yes”, and in this post, we’ll expand on why it’s worth your time. In a second post on this topic, we’ll provide some tips on how to talk to kids about bugs.  Although these posts are focused primarily at elementary school events, the ideas and tips could be expanded to community nature walks, events at an ‘earth day’ celebration, hosting a bug day in your backyard, etc.

Part 1: Why talk to kids about bugs?

Most kids aren’t afraid of nature. In our experience, elementary school kids (especially the younger grades) still have a fascination with entomology and are still curious and excited by ‘bugs’. Later in life, it seems that many kids will follow one of several paths: (a) disinterest, (b) disgust, or (c) delight. As entomologists, in a field that is so important, getting kids to be delighted is very important.

Kids like bugs.

Kids already know a lot but they like an expert to verify their findings and support their interests. In our experience, kids can get especially excited about insects because they see them all the time – they have played with them in their yards, tasted them (perhaps), and probably spend time trying to burn them with a magnifying glass. Bugs are accessible, small, curious, and catchable, and thus kids learn about them – an entomologist can keep facilitating this learning.

Kids are truly amazed that you can ‘get a job‘ studying insects. This is unfathomable to them, since they don’t typically get much exposure to biologists. They are exposed to limited career options (“I want to play in the NHL“, “I want to be a doctor“, “I want to be a firefighter“) in part because our school systems often exclude the cool jobs like “stream ecologist”, “geologist”, or “entomologist”. The idea that you can spend time (as an adult!) collecting and curating insects (i.e., FUN STUFF) can be quite extraordinary. In our experiences, it’s so painfully obvious that working outdoors with insects is simply not noticed as a real job by many people; entomologists must work to correct this. Giving kids exposure to wonderful careers (like entomology) can help encourage future scientists that there are truly enjoyable careers that involve getting ones hands dirty, and spending time outside.

Entomologists have a responsibility to dispel myths about arthropods, and this should start at an early age. Invariably, we get statements from kids such as “My Dad told me to stay away from spiders ’cause they will bite you“, or “My aunt told me that earwigs go into your ear, so I hate them“, or “I am allergic to bees because my cousin is allergic“, etc. We can bring clarity to these kinds of statements, and by offering an ‘expert opinion’ on these topics, can help kids understand the real facts about entomology.

Kids are sponges: it is satisfying to speak to an audience who is fully engaged and willing to soak up as much as you can provide. Bugs are a very exciting topic for kids, and they will remain interested, excited and enthused if you continue to provide good content.

Kids ask great questions.  As an example, one of us (PM) recently talked about insects to an elementary school class. The class was asked to guess what was living within a gall, and to make guesses as to what they thought the gall was, and how it was formed. After one student quickly suggested that an insect was living within the gall, a flurry of wonderful questions began. Students asked questions like:

  • How did the insect get inside the gall?
  • How does the insect survive the winter?
  • What does the insect eat when inside the plant?
  • Why doesn’t the insect kill the plant?

All of these questions prompt interesting, and relevant discussions that fit well within learning objectives in science curriculum. Providing a concrete example that is applicable to students, might also result in a better understanding of the concept.

Finally, it’s nice to talk to kids about bugs because they genuinely appreciate it. Being thanked for spending time doing this kind of outreach is really, really nice. And, sometimes you might receive some nice thank-you cards or posters to put up on your wall.  To us, these are as important as a diploma on your wall, or a favourite butterfly poster. Thank-you notes from kids are some of the most wonderful things to read, and they often include delightful, creative, and colourful drawings.

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Insect Monitoring and Twitter

By Scott Meers, Insect Management Specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

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My role as an entomologist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development consists largely of counting insects. We monitor the populations of seven different species on a provincial scale and several more on either an ad hoc or regional basis. We also carry out surveillance for potential new insect pests in crops. It is important to note that Alberta is a relatively large place, ranging 1066 km south to north and is 466 km at the widest. There are over 10,000,000 ha of land devoted to crop production. We do our monitoring work with two permanent staff and 2 to 3 summer students.

The first thing that becomes obvious is that we can’t do this work by travelling the entire expanse of the province. So we must communicate with those that are out in the fields and capture the results of their “footprints in the field”. Through various reporting systems we have had good success in developing a representative monitoring system. Check out our homepage at www.agriculture.alberta.ca/bugs-pest.

So where does Twitter fit in? In the two years that we have been using twitter we have collected nearly 800 farm related followers. Twitter is a great place to announce the results of our findings. If a set of traps or online reporting systems are reporting a concern we tweet it. The impact is instantaneous and widespread. Followers retweet (it is common for our in-season tweets to have 5 or more retweets), they ask questions, they check their fields and they let us know if their findings match ours. Talk about impact and talk about a reality check, it is awesome. We can then improve the quality and accuracy of the information we present.

We announce our new extension materials on Twitter. If we have a new You Tube video, radio broadcast (weekly during the growing season), new web page or even a chnage to our homepage, we tweet it. It is at least part of the reason we have over 2,000 hits on how to put together our Bertha Armyworm traps (we only put out 200 sets of traps across the province in 2012).

A big part of integrated pest management is the timing of insect activity. We have models for some insects and when they are supposed to be in their active scouting stage we tweet about it. Again instant feed-back! This helps us adjust and time our monitoring efforts to maximum efficiency. For those insects we don’t have models for we suggest timings based on experience. Agrologists and farmers tell us when they start seeing them. Again, awesome! Through Twitter we know when and where insects are showing up across the province. I am happy to retweet any credible source on insect activity and give credit where credit is due. A couple examples of this revolve around an outbreak of bertha armyworm (BAW) (Mamestra configurata) in central Alberta in 2012.

One case involves a comment about BAW in corn which is very unusual, partially because we have very little corn, and partially because BAW generally feeds on broadleaved plants. The conversation drew the attention of neighbors that were growing corn and they asked to see the field while we were inspecting it. The bottom line: the BAW laid their eggs on  lambsquarters which was uncontrolled under the canopy. The neighbors that had control of the lambsquarters had no BAW. Thanks to @landrashewski.

BAW in corn. Started on and ate all the lambsquarters then moved onto the corn cobs.

BAW in corn. Started on and ate all the lambsquarters then moved onto the corn cobs.

The second case was BAW in field peas, another relatively rare situation. The pictures tell the story though. There was substantial damage. If we have another BAW outbreak we will be sure to encourage producers to check their pea fields as well. Thanks to @Klams81.

Surveillance is where Twitter really shines. Last year I didn’t keep track of the requests for ID via Twitter but it was constant throughout the summer. There was a trend and repeats to the requests and there were questions about insects that we seldom see but were more common in 2012. Twitter gives us a chance to be in fields virtually. This a huge advantage because we can’t always be there in person.

We have also used Twitter to help us find fields to survey and to get permission from producers to access their fields. In addition we have recruited help from agrologists and farmers through Twitter. When we ask they are often happy to help us because they have been following us and the work we are doing. We also have several examples of people joining our monitoring network because of finding us on Twitter.

In short, Twitter is a valuable tool for monitoring insects in our program. We use it extensively. We welcome everything from the virtual coffee shop conversations to the private requests for identification. Twitter is, and will continue to be, an integral part of how we monitor insects in Alberta crops. It is good to be a part of the community and to give and receive in equal measure. We are looking forward to seeing what Twitter will bring in the new crop year!

What is this – a common Twitter question to @ABbugcounter last year. We reared it out and it turned out to be Pontia protodice or Checkered White Butterfly.

What is this – a common Twitter question to @ABbugcounter last year. We reared it out and it turned out to be Pontia protodice or Checkered White Butterfly.