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ESC Caption C1 P2

We had a great response to last week’s photo, so thank you to everyone who played along. We’ve got an all new photo for you to caption today, but first we need you to vote for your favourite Photo 1 caption.

ESC Caption Contest C1 P1

[polldaddy poll=6409189]

We’ll post the results and award some points next week.

Now, onto this week’s photo (here are the rules if this is your first time):

ESC Caption C1 P2

ESC Caption Contest C1 P2 – Photo by Morgan Jackson

Have fun!

Got a great insect photo? Submit it to the 3rd Annual BugEye Photo Contest presented by the Entomological Society of Ontario!

Acorn Weevil by Crystal Ernst

2011 Winning Photo, Open Category: Acorn Weevil by Crystal Ernst

Prizes for:
– Best photo (open category): $50
– Best photo by an Ontario resident: $50
– Best photo of an Ontario insect: $50
– Best photo by a kid under 13: $50

Open to everyone, no entry fee!
(Ontario resident includes anyone who currently makes their primary residence in Ontario, international students welcome!).

Submission deadline: Sept. 6th, 2012

Submit photos to: esophotos@gmail.com

Winners announced: September 30th, 2012

Copyright for the photo remains with the photographer, use must be granted for ESO promotional material. Winning photos will be displayed on the ESO website, and all entries will be displayed at the 149th Annual General Meeting of the ESO.

Interested in meeting other entomologists and learning more about Ontario insects? Join ESO! It’s free for students and amateurs, and only $30 for others. Get more information at http://www.entsocont.ca.

Rules:
1. Photos must be of insects or closely-related arthropods (e.g. mites, spiders).
2. Submissions must be as digital files
3. Photographic enhancement is allowed as long as it is something that could be achieved in a real darkroom (i.e. adjustment of contrast, color enhancement, cropping, etc.). However very obvious enhancements will be negatively scored.
4. You may submit up to 3 unique images per category.
5. Submit photos as 7.5 x 10 inches in size at 300 dpi (2250 x 3000 pixels), in .jpg format, with filename as title_lastname_firstinitial.jpg (e.g. dragonfly_smith_j.jpg).
6. Photos may be landscape or portrait in orientation.
7. Print photos must be scanned and submitted as digital files.

Please include a short description of your photo:
1. Where they were taken
2. Why you like them
3. What insect is pictured
4. What category is being entered
5. Your complete address

Judging criteria:
1. Image composition
2. Visual impact
3. Subject interest
4. Sharpness of subject
5. Difficulty of image acquisition
6. Depth of field within image

Dear Buggy is the the alter-ego of Dr. Chris MacQuarrie, a research entomologist with the Canadian Forest Service. You can ask Buggy questions of your own on Twitter @CMacQuar.

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Hello!

Dear Buggy has lept out of the pages of the ESC Bulletin and landed in the new and exciting wilderness of the ESC blog. My loyal readers shouldn’t worry, I’ll still be writing my column, but between editions of the Bulletin I’ll be posting here.

I’m very excited to be contributing to the ESC blog, but I’ll admit I am a tad nervous. When Crystal and Morgan invited me to contribute I was worried that it would be hard to come up with interesting topics. Thankfully the ideas began to flow after a glass of good scotch and I think I’ve come up with a few ideas that should keep me busy. After that? Well I’m always open to suggestions.

While thinking about this first blog post for ‘Dear Buggy’ I recalled how I felt when I first signed on to write Dear Buggy for the Bulletin. Where was I going to get these ideas!? Fortunately, a lot of the suggestions for my early columns come from the then-editor, Kevin Floate. Kevin had the original idea for Dear Buggy and shared with me his collection of questions and ideas. Later on, the ideas began to flow and inspiration came from others around me. Although, when I’m stuck for an topic I still go back to the original list that Kevin gave me. Good ideas can be hard to come by when you’ve got writer’s block and a deadline is fast approaching

As I planned this blog post I began to muse over the source of all my ideas, in particular “Where do I get my research ideas?”.

For example, when I was a new MSc student many of my research questions were influenced by the ideas of my supervisors. This isn’t all that unusual.  I suspect that when most of us started in research we were given, or at the least influenced, by ideas of others. As we mature scientifically we eventually start to come up with our own ideas. In fact, a good part of becoming a successful, independent researcher is tied to coming up with good ideas (which we might also call hypotheses). So where do these ideas come from? And perhaps more importantly, what do we do with these ideas once we have them?

I find inspiration hits at the oddest times and in the oddest places . I think Jorge Cham at PhD comics captured it best in this series of comics. Like most, I’ve been inspired in the ‘usual’ places: reading papers, attending seminars, talking with colleagues, etc… But inspiration can happen in other places as well. My mind tends to wander on my bike-ride home, when I’m pushing my daughter in her stroller, and quite often when I’m sharing a glass of scotch with my wife (who, lucky for me, is also an entomologist). As it turns out, this ‘mind wandering’ actually helps you have those ‘eureka’ moments, especially if you have been banging your head against the wall for awhile. I wrote recently about figuring out when you are best at writing. I think that advice can be extended to figuring out when and where you are inspired and to make sure you go there often.

But what about capturing ideas? My mind is like the proverbial sieve, but with one annoying quirk. I often can remember that I had an idea, I just can’t remember what it was.

To combat this selective memory I try to capture my ideas in my work journal as soon as possible. I’m a bit old fashioned so my journal is still kept in a notebook. Since my journal is also where I keep track my current projects, I make sure I highlight any new ideas so they are easy to find later on. There are many, many web-tools out there that can do the same job. The trick, though is to find something that works for you and to use it. My wife, for example,  is also an artist and long-ago got in the habit of carrying a sketchbook with her. That sketchbook now contains just as many ideas for research projects as it does ideas for art projects.

Finally, I must make a confession. Most of my ideas are bad. Some are half baked, others were thought of by someone else and rejected 30 years ago, a lot are impractical, infeasible, or near-impossible to execute or fit into the research that I’m doing. These over time get filtered out. Those that survive this process of natural selection, I keep. I then draw from this storehouse when the right moment comes along. Not all of these ideas will pan out of course, but by hanging on to the good ones I always have the right idea at hand when opportunity presents itself.

I’d be curious to hear about where you find your inspiration and how you track your ideas. Leave them in the comments section and I’ll summarize the best ones in a later post.

Cheers and see you next month,

Buggy.

By Crystal Ernst, PhD Candidate (McGill University)

Since I finally submitted my manuscript to a journal (YAY!), I’ve been tying up the little loose ends remaining at the end of the project. You know: organizing the useful data and image files, tossing the files marked “MESSING_AROUND_WITH_DATA_v.29), tidying up my R code, and, perhaps most importantly, curating my specimens.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the project here (I’m saving that for another post). I will say, though, that the work I just completed includes just over 2,600 beetles from a single location in Nunavut (Kugluktuk, where I spent my entire first field season).

Two major aspects of the physical work (as opposed to the thinking, reading and writing) involved in an ecological/entomological project such as this one are the pinning and the identifications. Some of the tasks are a bit tedious (cutting labels; entering data; gluing over 800 specimens of the same tiny, plain black ground beetle to paper points), and some of them are thrilling (finally getting over the “hump” of the morphological learning curve and feeling good and confident when working with your keys; having experts tell you “Yep, you got those all right”; discovering rare species or new regional species records). In the end, in addition to the published (*knocks on wood*) paper, you have boxes or drawers full of specimens.

The specimens are gold. (Read this post by Dr. Terry Wheeler to understand why.)

Unfortunately, they don’t always get treated as such.

In the two-ish years that I’ve been working in my lab, we’ve had two major “lab clean-up days”. The first managed to get rid of a lot of clutter (old papers, broken apparatus, random crap). The second involved going through the “stuff” that was eating up all the most valuable storage space: specimens. Years and years worth of graduate and undergraduate projects’ specimens, stashed in freezers, boxes, bags and vials of all shapes and sizes.

Some things were in good shape (pinned well, or in clear ethanol). Other things were, well, downright nasty: gooey beetles in sludgy brown ethanol, dried up bits of moth wings in plastic containers, and a little bit of “what in the name of pearl is growing on that agar plate???” in the fridge.

None of these items were kept – their value as useful specimens was nil. So, the physical representation of some student’s work – probably months or years worth of work – was tossed in the trash.

Others, happily, were tucked back into drawers and cupboards, because someone had taken the time to ensure the specimens were well-preserved.

However, even many of these were suffering from a serious issue: bad labels.

Allow me to illustrate the point. This is a bad label:

This is also a bad label:

The first, you’ll note, is written in ballpoint pen (which fades) on a torn piece of notebook paper and contains almost no information. The second, although it looks fancier and perhaps more sciencey, is just as bad: it contains a cryptic code that is useful only to the bearer of the lab notebook in which said code has been written down. Or, perhaps the code is completely intelligible to the researcher who developed it, but the key to it exists only in his or her head.

To everyone else, it is meaningless. Neither of these labels indicate who collected the specimen, where, when, or how. And we all know what happens in labs: upon completion of their degrees, students move on, email addresses change, notebooks are misplaced, data files are not backed up. The labels’ codes can never be broken, and the scientific value of the specimens – *poof*.

While there’s nothing wrong, in theory, with using labels like these temporarily (although there is always a risk that they will be misinterpreted or misunderstood after a little while, even by the person who wrote them), they are absolutely useless as permanent records.

These are good labels:

These labels, properly affixed to a specimen, provide clear and universally understood information. One provides the location, including GPS coordinates, a method of collection, a date, the name of the collector(s). The information that goes on this label can vary a bit (it may include information about the habitat or host plant, for example), but those are the basic requirements. The smaller label is typically affixed on the pin below the first, and contains the specimen’s scientific name and the name of the person who identified it (it is the “det. label”, i.e., “determined by”). These labels, and therefore the specimen with which they are associated, will remain useful for decades, even centuries.

I am totally guilty of both of the offenses I just explained (the gooky vials of nastiness and the bad labels). For my undergraduate honors project, I identified close to 8000 spiders, mites and insects to the Family level – it was hundreds of hours of microscope work. Then I stuffed all those specimens back into vials with cryptic little codes, like V-1-F(!), hand-written on STICKERS(!), which I placed on the LIDS(!) and not even in the vials themselves(!). Oh, and I’ve long since lost the notebook that contained my decoder key(!). THIS IS ALL SO BAD. I have no doubt that those boxes of vials, which I once prized so highly and felt such pride for, have been unceremoniously tossed in the trash by my former advisor.

Well, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and from working with museum and other collection specimens. I now understand that each specimen is deserving of respect – it’s the original data after all – and that means it should be properly preserved, and labelled.

So.

Last week I spent a great deal of time, as I said, tying up my loose ends. The last thing I needed to do was remove my cryptic labels (the second in the series up there is an actual example of one of my own “secret code” labels) and replace them with proper ones, sorting and tidying up the collection in the process. The end result?

This:

Frankly, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s also enormously scientifically valuable. These specimens will be deposited in various nationally-important collections and museums, like the CNC.

As a matter of fact, just last week I was at the CNC, and I saw specimens bearing the name of the last person to do a comprehensive survey of the insects in Kugluktuk, back in 1955. That tiny but so-important label suddenly made me feel connected to the man who, almost 60 years earlier, had stood on the same stretch of tundra as me, holding and perhaps delighting in the very specimen that I held in my own hand.

Giving my specimens the respect they deserve is worth it, not only for the scientific value, but also because perhaps, 60 years from now, another grad student will discover my name on a specimen’s det. label. Perhaps she, too, will feel that same wondrous sense of connection to the the greater scheme of scientific discovery…

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Original post at: http://thebuggeek.com/2012/06/25/respect-your-specimens/

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