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Active learning

Posted: June 5, 2013

Undergraduate assistant Lacy Heberlig shares some insight on some of the things she has learned in her first few weeks with us.
Lacy and her sacrificial waxworms

Lacy and her sacrificial waxworms

My first month in the Tooker Lab has been quite a learning experience. When I first began, I thought that I knew a little bit about insects. I mean, one of my favorite childhood activities included staring at different insects, mostly starving them until they died. However, fifteen years later, I am slowly finding out that I barely know a thing about insects. Just this past week while analyzing pitfall samples, I learned that I did not know the difference between an ant and a wasp. Wingless wasps and ants look very similar to the naked eye; however, under the microscope the two appear to have some key differences. First off, ants have a node, known as the petiole, between their apparent thorax and abdomen (these are actually called the mesosoma and metasoma, but let's not get carried away!). Ants also have elbowed antennae, where wasps generally have long thread like antennae.

I have also learned the difference between a caterpillar, grub, and centipede. Superficially, they all have a very similar appearance. They are all long, round and chubby. However, only two of these are actually insects. Centipedes have one set of legs per body segment and can have anywhere from a total of 20 to 300 legs. Grubs are larvae of beetles, including scarabs, which feed on the roots of grass where as caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies. Next week, Maggie and I will use the caterpillars I am holding above in a sentinel prey study, which will allow us to analyze the different predators and feeding styles within our study sites.

 waxworms

Waxworm larvae ready for work as sentinel prey