Hillary expands her view of entomology

Posted: September 17, 2015

This summer Hillary got a better understanding of how Integrated Pest Management can be implemented in field crops
Hillary, a happy summer helper

Hillary, a happy summer helper

I graduated last May from the University of Maine with my undergraduate degree in Biology with a concentration in Ecology. As an undergraduate I worked mostly with honey bees and invasive species in the labs of Dr. Frank Drummond and Dr. Eleanor Groden, and found interest in natural enemies of invasive species (especially hymenopteran parasitoids), completing an undergraduate thesis on the invasive winter moth. I have a long-term goal of a pursuing a Master’s degree and a career in entomology. I would like to attend Penn State and moved down here to begin working to learn more about the different routes I could take within entomology. It has been a really cool summer switching from “blueberry-land” to “corn-land”. I have been enjoying Pennsylvania’s beauty – the views from the research sites are awesome (Fig. 1), and the insect biodiversity is great too.

Storm clouds at the research farm 

Fig. 1. Storm clouds at the research farm.

I spent most of my time this summer helping graduate student Anna Busch with her research involving predators of corn pests on the NESARE project at the Rock Springs Research Facility. We collected marsh and gray garden slugs, and two types of ground beetles known to be predators of the slugs. These are maintained in colonies back at the lab to use for “fear” experiments, where we monitor the slugs in the presence of the beetles. We also checked weekly under shingle traps, which are placed in the corn fields and used to monitor the slug activity densities in the field. Every few weeks I helped Anna with sentinel prey assays, which involved setting up vertebrate exclusion cages with pinned live waxworm larvae and checking the cages to see which insects find the “snack.” Twice at the beginning of the summer I helped with corn damage assessments, which involved checking corn at two growth stages for damage from several pests including slug, bill bug, cutworm, and army worm damage. Finally, I helped with pitfall sampling, setting up pitfall traps in the field, processing the samples, and identifying the insects we caught.

I previously had little experience with agriculture outside of blueberries before working in the Tooker Lab. In my one summer here, I gained exposure to IPM methods such as cover cropping and sweep netting for leafhoppers to assess populations to determine whether insecticide applications are necessary. I enjoyed working in the Tooker lab because the work is helping develop strategies for long-term sustainable agriculture, and it feels great to contribute. Additionally, I gained a better grasp on how entomology applies to agriculture. The community in the lab has been great too – there is a lot of laughter every day, especially with the differences in entomological experience amongst the lab – some people think it is hilarious that other people think bugs are “cute”, etc. This experience has definitely added to my understanding of entomology as a broader field, and has opened interests to me for potential graduate work.

--Hillary Morin