Masoomi's Introduction to Slugs and Bugs!

Posted: July 25, 2016

Masoomi's first summer in the Tooker lab has been full of new insights to the arthropod ecology in agricultural fields

My name is Masoomi and I am going to be a junior this fall. I am majoring in Biotechnology and minoring in Information Sciences and Statistics. I imagine you are wondering what these areas of interest have to do with entomology or insects. In reality, these fields are heavily connected with each other. I love being outdoors and working with insects and slugs seemed like a great opportunity to explore nature and its various facets.  Working in the Tooker Lab has definitely taught me a lot about nature’s tiny creations and what goes on in their world.

On my first day, Andrew Aschwanden, the lab technician, took me to Rock Springs to assess any damage done to the corn field. This helped me understand how different treatments in a field experiment influenced damage to crops. As summer progressed, I helped my fellow undergrad student, Sarah McTish, sort her insect samples collected from vernal pools, and I learned about the differences between larvae and pupae of various insect species.

My responsibilities also include assisting the different Masters, PhD students and Post-docs working in the lab. I aided Dr. Marion Le Gall in her slug work. I never really thought I would work with slugs, but Marion taught me about them and how they interact with the crops and their predators. I helped find the number of slugs resting under shingles laid out in her fields. I also assessed any sort of damage done to her crops. Other days I have helped Dr. Eric Yip assess damage done to his goldenrod plants by insects. First, we counted the number of leaves on each plant planted in a pot. Then we record the number of damaged leaves and which insects caused these damages in his hundreds of pots.  This task is done every Thursday in a field covered in mosquitoes and thorny plants. This has definitely helped me realize the effort that goes into collecting data for your research. I have also assisted Kirsten Pearsons in weighing out straws for her project on decomposition of plants. Through this work, I found out the difference between hay and straws. Yes, even I was surprised to know that they aren’t one and the same!

One of the most exciting projects I have worked on is the sentinel prey experiment. To carry out this project, I pinned live wax worm caterpillars onto pieces of clay and preserved them in the refrigerator. Then we took them to the field and kept inside cages with a lid to protect them from vertebrate predators. Periodically, we checked to see if they were eaten and if they were any invertebrate predators around them. This project taught me about the interactions between predators and their prey.

Another amazing skill I have learned is identifying the various species of ground beetles. To identify each species, we pinned dead ground beetles caught in our pitfalls trap. These pinned ground beetles are then examined under microscope to identify their genus and species. You would be surprised to know how a little indentation can make a huge difference in identifying them!  It’s amazing to know that there are so many different species of ground beetles out there.

This is my first time working in a lab. I was very nervous and apprehensive about working amongst amazingly intelligent and experienced people. I expected everyone to be super strict or something of that sort. But so far I have experienced no such thing. Everyone has been kind and has helped me taking my first steps in this field. I have always loved being outdoors and now I have a liking towards insects and a curiosity to understand their world. Members of the Tooker Lab have also helped me gain an amazing insight into the meaning of research and what it entails. I am really thankful to have this experience and I look forward to spending the rest of the summer in the Tooker Lab.

-Masoomi Bhatt