Where in the world are the Deans lab members?

This summer has already been a bit of a whirlwind for most of us in the Deans lab. Between conferences, collecting, and travel to other institutions to examine material and image specimens, we have covered many states and countries (Michigan, Canada, eastern Europe, just to name a few). Here is a snippet of my travel so far.

I presented at the Digital Data in Biodiversity Conference at the University of Michigan last month, where I was able to hear about a wide range of current digitization research, such as #ScanAllFish, recording bird behavior in the field, and handling large quantities of biological data.  We have come so far in sharing biological data digitally, but there is so much more that could be done to actually use it in research projects and join other datasets together.

I also was able to tour the wet and dry collections at the university, where I saw everything from armadillos to odonates.

Vials of insect specimens in ethanol.

Odonata in ethanol at the UMMZ, with lots of room to expand. Photo by Emily Sandall (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.


I am soon to head to England to look at some specimens at the Natural History Museum in London and then present at the International Congress of Odonatology in Cambridge, so much more to come!

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Latest adventure to Ten Acre Pond

large pond with clear skies above it

Ten Acre Pond on 18.v.2017. It had more water in it than I’ve ever seen! Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. See original: https://flic.kr/p/TEFoCA

It’s a good time of year to check in on our favorite local locale: Ten Acre Pond. It’s a well-know spot for dragonflies and other aquatic insects, and this is the time of year that activity heats up. We went on a short expedition yesterday to shake out the collecting cobwebs (it’s been months since we were properly in the field!) and see what was flying.

Our primary targets were Odonata, especially larvae and exuviae, but also adults. We’ve recently upgraded the storage of our Odonata larvae and exuviae, of which we have a rather sizable collection. (More on that collection soon, and Emily will present on it at the iDigBio data meeting next month!) We saw lots of damselfly and dragonfly adults flying (and a couple teneral damselflies). The water was so high, however, that it was difficult to find any exuviae. A painstaking search by myself revealed on a single trichopteran exuviae:

finger with small insect skin stuck to it

Caddisfly exuviae. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans https://flic.kr/p/UKsyQK

We did observe (and collected) a few adults, including:

  • Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
  • Comet Darner (Anax longipes)
  • Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)
  • Carolina(?) Saddlebags (Tramea carolina) (It was quite red!)
  • Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella)
  • Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta)
  • Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis) *
  • Taiga Bluet (Coenagrion resolutum)
  • Eastern Forktail (Ischneura verticalis)
  • tons of American Bluets (Enallagma spp.)

* Hal White (in litt.) suggested that it was more likely an Amber-winged Spreadwing (Lestes eurinus), given the time of year. We looked at the specimen and now think it is a Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener).

We also observed lots of damselfly larvae, but we couldn’t find a single dragonfly larva. Perhaps they didn’t survive the dry-out last summer? See if you can see any:

plastic pan filled with half inch of pond water, including some grass bits and aquatic insects

D-net sample from Ten Acre Pond. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans https://flic.kr/p/Un7SA5

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Collecting insects in Pennsylvania

dragonfly held carefully between thumb and forefinger

Want to collect dragonflies in PA, like this beautiful Emerald? Better make sure you have a fishing license! Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans: https://flic.kr/p/eDNaCx

I get lots of questions about how to collect insects legally in Pennsylvania, especially when students are enrolling for ENT 432. I think it’s about time I post what I know—at least what I think I know—in case the information is useful to others. Note that this info is structured for students interested in general collecting, mainly for the collection requirement in ENT 432, and the reader should contact relevant agencies about research opportunities and permits. See also Chris Grinter’s excellent web page on permits; it’s a great starting point for information.

(1) You need a fishing license to collect aquatic insects, regardless of where you collect them (i.e., even on private land if it’s not your year-round residence!) Know that before you start collecting anywhere in PA! As the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission states (see this information sheet (PDF)):

Pennsylvania law defines “fishing” as the act of angling, or to catch, take, kill or remove or the attempt to catch, take, kill or remove from any waters or other areas within or bordering the Commonwealth any fish by any means or method for any purpose at all.

PA law also states that “… fishes include aquatic macroinvertebrates” (also in information sheet (PDF)). If you want to collect Odonata (up to 50 larvae per day), Ephemeroptera, Dytiscidae, Hydrophilidae, Haliplidae, etc. you need a fishing license. Also note that if you collect in certain streams at certain times of year you need a valid trout/salmon stamp in addition to your fishing license. More information is available at the PA FBC website.

(2) Be mindful of federally and otherwise protected species! Check state (aquatic species) and federal listings and understand that you can’t collect these species without special permits you are unlikely to have. For PA that includes the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis), American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus), and other species that are unlikely to occur here (1, 2, 3, 4) … but you never know!

(3) You can collect on private land, with owner’s permission. This one is easy. You can collect any insect (except see points 1 and 2 above) you want on my property in Pine Grove Mills, or your uncle’s land in Beaver county, or your grandmother’s farm near Lancaster, as long as you’ve been given permission.

(4) You can collect on Penn State property. No one has ever told me no. In fact, they’ve encouraged collecting for the purposes of growing the collection at the Frost and for helping students learn entomology! See the PSU hunting info site for a few maps and a list of rules. If you want to collect in more public places, such as the Arboretum, it’s best to get permission first. Don’t forget to re-read points 1 and 2 above, though.

(5) You can collect recreationally in U.S. National Forests. Don’t forget your PA fishing license for aquatic species, and be mindful of threatened and protected species! Grab your gear and head up to the Allegheny National Forest.

(6) You can collect in Pennsylvania State Forests, with a few exceptions. With points 1 and 2 in mind, feel free to explore Pennsylvania’s State Forests and collect insects! As with Pennsylvania State Game lands (see point 7 below), some types of collecting methods are apparently not allowed under existing rules, including bait traps and collecting plant parts.

(7) You can collect on Pennsylvania State Game lands, with a few exceptions. The State Game Lands rules (see also this PDF) don’t seem to preclude insect collecting, with the exception of points 1 and 2 above (remember your fishing license!). Some rules apparently impact certain types of collecting, though, and you must be mindful of hunting seasons (e.g., know when to wear fluorescent orange). You can harvest “mushrooms and fruits of berry-producing plants” but you cannot “gather, cut, dig, remove or otherwise injure any plants or parts thereof, including trees, shrubs, vines, flowering plants and cultivated crops”. So, no collecting galls, leaf mines, etc. You also cannot “feed wildlife or place any food, fruit, hay, grain, chemical, salt or other minerals”, so no bait traps. And you cannot “construct, place, maintain, occupy, use, leave or abandon any structures or other tangible property”, which might exclude Malaise and other, similar traps from your approach.

(8) You need a permit to collect in PA State Parks. We have an amazing park system in this state, and my impression is that it’s relatively easy to get collecting permits for reasonable educational and research activities. Points 1 and 2 above apply to collecting in state parks, so remember your fishing license! The fishing license alone should allow you to collect aquatic insects without further permitting, but other insects would require permits. See state park rules (PDF). You can also join the Entomological Society of Pennsylvania and get listed on their blanket state parks collecting permit. That’s super easy and cheap! See their contact information to inquire about permits.

(9) You need permits to collect in National Wildlife Refuges. Permit applications are available on the web. Pennsylvania has several refuges, and points 1 and 2 above still apply. You probably will not be collecting in National Wildlife Refuges for ENT 432.

(10) You need permits to collect in National Parks, and we’d need a MOU to house the specimens at the Frost.  There are several National Parks in PA. For ENT 432 it’s best to avoid collecting in these areas.

Did I miss anything? Have any suggestions for updates? Post a comment below!

student holding vial in front of hanging sheet at night

ENT 432 students collect insects at a Hg-vapor light at Powdermill Nature Reserve. We had permission to collect from the director. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Hillary Morin: https://flic.kr/p/KZmHH7

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Look out, Ceraphronoidea; we’re coming to a museum near you!

This year, everyone working on Ceraphronoidea here at the Frost is going to visit museums across the world to image type specimens. These are the specimens that represent and define every ceraphronoid species known.

When a new species is described, the specimens used for the description must be deposited in a museum so that other taxonomists can study them and use them to verify identifications. It’s easy to do this when the specimens are deposited in the museum you work in, but when the type specimens are in a museum in another country, it’s a bit more difficult. Sometimes it’s possible to borrow type specimens, but this puts the specimens at risk of being damaged or lost in the mail. Oftentimes, the best and only way to study these specimens is to pack your bags and visit the museum yourself.

A microscope with camera attachment.

Our new, portable system for imaging specimens. Photo by Carolyn Trietsch. (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

Many ceraphronoid species were described in the 19th century, long before cameras became available for common use. And while ceraphronoid taxonomist Paul Dessart made some very good illustrations of key species, looking at an illustration is still not the same as looking at an actual specimen.

We are going to visit the museums that hold the majority of type specimens for Ceraphronoidea, and then image those specimens to create photographic catalogues of each type collection. This will give us a chance to study the type specimens and confirm species identifications for the revisions we’re working on, as well as create a resource for future Ceraphronoidea taxonomists to utilize.

This week, we got to try out our new, portable imaging system, consisting of an Olympus CX41 microscope with a Canon EOS 70D camera attached. István used a similar system in the past to image Xenomerus specimens (Mikó et al 2010), and he was more than happy with the results—he thinks they were some of the best pictures he’s ever taken. I tested this system out on a Megaspilus sp. specimen below, and I have to agree– this is a great, portable system for imaging microhymenoptera. Check out the results below!

A view of a tiny wasp in great detail, showcasing how well our new imaging system works.

A dorsal view of a Megaspilus sp. specimen taken with our new imaging system. Photo by Carolyn Trietsch. (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

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Frost Newbie: Caitlin Mroz

La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica, 2015. Taken by Stacy Koperna

Hi everyone! My name is Cait Mroz, I’m working at the Frost Entomological Museum digitizing specimens of the vast collection we have here. I’m originally from the coast of New Jersey, so growing up I spent a lot of time both at the beach and the Pine Barrens.

I am a Biology major with a focus in Ecology, minoring in Forest Ecosystem Management. I have a passion for all things nature, with a special interest in conservation and restoration. I am fortunate to have been able to study abroad in Panama and  twice in Costa Rica; working with leaf-cutter ants, macro invertebrates in river habitats, scarlet macaws, plankton, and leather back sea turtles.

Prior to moving to University Park, I attended Penn State’s Schuylkill Haven campus for two years. There I was involved in biology and chemistry research labs regarding effects the Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) seeds have on native competitors and the cyclization of a benzothiazinone, respectively. Here at University Park, I work in the Shea Lab with invasive thistle and native weevil population ecology.

I enjoy studying and learning about all living things, but am particularly interested in relationships between insects and plant species (especially if one of those two is invasive!). While most people try to avoid things that are creepy and/or crawly, I really enjoy working at the Frost and being around all of the specimens. Some specimens here are from the late 1800s—holding that bit of history is just amazing, and seeing associated plant taxa that comes with a given species really piques my interest.

Working at the Frost has opened my mind to the wonderful world of Entomology, I have already learned so much from my time here—can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store!

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