Getting the hang of entomological research

Posted: June 15, 2014

Tonilynn may not be an entomologist yet, but she is getting some good exposure
Tonilynn in a cultivar mixture in Berks County

Tonilynn in a cultivar mixture in Berks County

I have been through about five weeks in the Tooker/Entomology lab, which was not where I expected my interests to lead me for the summer. I can’t say I know much about bugs or how they might choose to interact with plants; I never gave it much thought. When I started in the lab all that went through my mind was what the heck is this bug (or slug) and why is everyone in this lab so interested in seeing what results will come when using it in their experiments?
After a couple of weeks and the help of every single person in Tooker Lab my thoughts began to change. I helped Andrew with his beetle identifications and checking under the shingles in the field to see what critters might be scurrying around. I can now say that what a Harpalus, Pterostichus, and Chlaenius all have in common is a visible scutellum plus a few other things easy to identify using the dichotomous key for Carabidae. 
Under the shingles, Andrew and I looked into the slug population. I’m starting to understand that slugs have a large impact on farms and can really reduce crop yield. Maggie has definitely filled me in on slugs and she also does some crazy sentinel prey work with wax worms and cut worms in her corn fields that allowed me to see predation in action.
I been able to get out of the lab and did some exciting field research with John, visiting commercial farms where he has experiments testing monocultures and cultivar mixtures of wheat. It was cool to see why certain insects favored specific crops and what they may do to protect themselves from enemies while feeding. The cereal leaf beetle was an interesting new insect to learn about and probably the first beetle larva that I will never forget.
Ian seems to be the go to guy when research with aphids and wheat are involved. The amount of wheat and aphids he uses to obtain his results is unbelievable! The lab-reared aphids were used as sentinel prey on the farms John and I visited, so Kyle and I worked hard to get a couple hundred tiny pea aphids glued onto little cards. Though Ian seems to like using the bird cherry-oat aphids he had spare pea aphids to lend us for the sentinel prey day. 
A lot of different experiments have been going on the past couple of weeks and they have all caused me to appreciate entomology. I am finally thinking along the lines of a researcher. I’m wondering what insect could cause plant leaves to become stripped of their color and how much slugs can influence the crops they eat and maybe different varieties of a plant can be more beneficial than people think. There is still so much I need to learn about the world of entomology!