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Kyle is getting full exposure to entomology this summer

Posted: August 12, 2014

Kyle is working toward a minor in entomology, but never did he think he would learn about such a range of research topics!
Kyle with his hand in a slug colony

Kyle with his hand in a slug colony

My name is Kyle and I am a senior here at Penn State majoring in Plant Science with a minor in Entomology.  More than just my minor has brought me to this position; I have always been one to enjoy the outdoors and I’ve been playing with insects since I was a child.  I believe I was stung at age 7 or 8 after disturbing a yellow jacket nest (intentionally).  I have spent my summer so far at the Tooker Lab and have assisted in a variety of different research projects.  The very first day of work gave me insight on insects as I began to sort out samples acquired from sweep-netting.  I then got to know our lab technician Andrew quickly as he assisted me with taxonomy and identification of common ground beetles found in Pennsylvania crop fields.

Who knew that my work with entomology involved mollusks??  Yes, the first week here introduced me to the world of slugs.  The primary focus of research has been on the gray garden slug (Deroceras reticulatum).  This creature is a major pest of many crops including corn and soybean.  No-till farming practices encourage this pest, as they prefer to hide among the residue where it is moist.  Right after starting, it was apparent that our lab needed to get a colony of slugs started as soon as possible!  Behind the lab building lie roof shingle traps that simply lay flat on the ground surface.  For about two months, my morning “first” task was to check the shingles and collect any slugs found under them.  In doing so, my captured slugs contributed a significant amount to our colony.  The slugs seem content with very little; soil for a place to live and cabbage as the food source keeps them happy.  This colony has been big enough to keep PhD. Student Maggie Douglas, and our new Post-Doc Marion Le Gall busy with slug research all summer. 

One of the most enjoyable experiences this summer has been going out to the Rock Springs research farm for sentinel prey data.  This project is under the NE-SARE project with Dr. Heather Karsten.  Out in the field, I assist new Master’s student Anna Busch and Andrew with set-up and data collection.  This experiment begins with the pinning of live waxworm caterpillars to a small piece of modeling clay. Once pinned, they were put in the refrigerator to “slow them down” and the next morning we placed them in the field.  The pinned larva were kept inside cages with a lid to avoid mouse or bird predation and direct sunlight.  After a certain time, we checked to see what has been eaten and if there are predators visible.  I got hands on experience with predator-prey interactions I had not seen before, such as a small centipede crawling out of a waxworm carcass!  This experiment was performed in several plots at the farm; each plot containing its own treatment.  The project aims to measure predator density and diversity among the different treatments. 

My skills in the plant science field, particularly greenhouse skills, have been sharpened by another main project being conducted at the lab.  I have been helping PhD student Ian Grettenberger with his research project.  This experiment involves mixing different varieties of wheat to help with overall knowledge of pest management.  He wants to see how adding diversity can influence pest management.  The greenhouse work came at a great time and I was even able to put in some hours over a weekend to help with watering when the experiment was started.  Watering took on a new meaning when it came the different wheat treatments.  To further add to the diversity of abiotic stress, each mix was duplicated leaving one to be “well-watered” and the other placed under “drought conditions.”  I would use a special probe to take measurements and help monitor the changes in soil moisture.  There were many goals in mind with this experiment; many were discussed in Ian’s previous post.  This was a great way to acquaint me with research in a greenhouse setting. 

It has been a great overall lab experience as I have learned many new things in the world of entomology.  Everyone seems to be friendly and before I knew it, I was part of the lab team.  This summer continues to add to my overall knowledge of entomology, which helps with my minor and will assist me in the future.

-- Kyle