Weekly reads 20.ix–26.x.2016

Okay, it’s been over a month since our last “weekly reads” post. Where does the time go?! Well, it goes into grant writing, teaching, administering candidacy exams, editing manuscripts, paperwork, peer reviews, workshopsinternational congresses, phone dropping and breaking (which I needed for Penn State’s 2-factor authentication … sigh), etc. Here are the updates I neglected to post until now —ARD

Carolyn: Recently I found a paper about wing shape in parasitoids and how it is affected by the quality of the host they develop in. Since an organism’s phenotype can be impacted by both its genotype and the environment the organism develops in, it is important to distinguish whether phenotypic differences are based on the genotype or the environment, especially when you are using phenotypes to distinguish between species. In this paper, they found that the wing shape in an aphiidine braconid species, Lysiphlebus fabarum, did not exhibit host-induced phenotypic plasticity, which means that wing shape factor is a stable character that could be used for distinguishing between different species of aphid parasitoids.

While sorting through my ICE notes and following up on connections, I also happened upon a paper by Norman Johnson about Lubomír Masner, written in appreciation of him for his 75th birthday. I am glad that I found this paper. I did not realize that yellow pan trapping was originally used for aphid sampling, and that Lubo is the one who discovered that it worked well for microhymenoptera and adjusted the technique for our purposes. This is one of our most successful sampling methods, and we wouldn’t have it if not for Lubo. I knew that Lubo is one of the greatest hymenopterists alive, and that he has changed how people study microhymenoptera, but I did not realize just how many different ways he has influenced the research I do now.

plastic bowls on rocks next to creek

Pan traps collect stalk-eyed flies and all kinds of parasitoid wasps, near Powdermill Nature Reserve. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans

I also finished Books IV-VII of Aristotle’s History of Animals, and I have to say that it is an absolutely fascinating read! I think it is incredible that although the work is from 4th century BC, it contains an accurate description of how female octopi guard their eggs at the cost of maintaining their own body condition. He accurately describes the life cycle of cicadas as well as metamorphosis in butterflies. He even describes aquatic larvae and how adult flies emerge from the water. However, he believes that only some insects reproduce sexually, and that the rest are born from spontaneous generation, providing a long list of which materials spontaneously generate different insects. For example, he was not aware of pollination, and while he does mention that drones do not have stingers, he thought that flowers produced bee larvae, and that bees visited flowers to retrieve their young. He also thought that honey was produced from the sky in minuscule amounts, and that only bees were able to gather these droplets and store them in the hives.

Emily: This paper by Graham et al. (2004) explores the incorporation of phylogenetics and niche modeling to see where speciation is occurring and the geographic factors that are driving it. In looking at the distributions of species, it is possible to see if sister species are allopatric or sympatric in origin. By adding the niche model, it is possible to tease apart the environmental variables driving the speciation. They also added elevation layers into their models, which is definitely something that is underincorporated in modeling / georeferencing, but is likely very revealing for some taxa. A PCA was used to examine the overlap between the phylogenetic trees and the niche models. While this research focused on frogs, I could see how it could be useful to do something similar for winged insects-layering phylogenetic data with a niche model.

[Notes from the preceding week …] There is so much unknown about Odonata, even though over 6,000 species are described. Of particular potential for discovery include the relationship between odonate evolution and ecology, though there has not been huge emphasis on this work. Genetic resources are spotty for much of the diversity of this group, and there is known to be a tenfold difference in genomes between species. While there is relatively strong support for the phylogeny of the order, there is much more to dive into within families, particularly outside of tropical species. The 1KITE project aims to get transcriptomes for 107 species, but this will not cover all of the families.

The interplay between the habitats in which they live during their lives leads to myriad questions about their movements and interactions with a changing planet, something I am certainly interested in within my own research. The genetics underlying their sexual variation, physiology, and phenotypic plasticity are also areas of great potential. With their large size and dispersal around the globe, the possibilities are endless for research in this order. This paper by Bybee et al. (2016) definitely gives me hope that I will be able to make some awesome discoveries during my PhD, even if I am not exactly sure where to begin!

Andy: This time of year my reading is mostly focused on papers that are relevant to ENT 432, including the re-reading of some classics on insect diversity and evolution. There are too many to list, but the highlights for me include Hugh Glasgow’s work on Heteroptera guts (1914; I also read his dissertation from 1913) and Angela Douglas‘s review of mycetocytes (She was here this week as a seminar speaker!). I definitely could do a better job of addressing the importance of symbionts and mutualisms in the evolution of Insecta.

small hopper insect standing on leaf

Two-lined Spittlebug (Prosapia bicincta (Say, 1830)), discretely harboring important symbionts. Photo (CC BY-SA 2.0) by John Flannery https://flic.kr/p/5JhZzw

I also tried reading and synthesizing the evolution of Aculeata and of eusociality in Hymenoptera. As a hymenopterist (but a parasitoid person) I admit that I could/should know these stories better. The sting’s the thing (Starr (1985)), in my opinion, along with many, many, many other factors.

Posted in research, teaching | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Swarm of Entomologists- ICE and ECN 2016

This year marked the 25th International Congress of Entomology (ICE) meeting in  Orlando, FL. It was the largest gathering of entomologists in the world, with over 6400 people and over 5300 talks!

ICE 2016 opening talks! Photo by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0). Click photo for source.

The Deans lab headed south a few days early to catch the annual meeting of the Entomological Collections Network (ECN), which is devoted towards the advancement and improvement of entomological natural history collections. I saw some fascinating talks, including a talk by Elijah Talamas about Platygastroidea at the Smithsonian, and a talk by Beulah Garner about Lucy Evelyn Cheesman, a British entomologist who wrote popular science books about her travels and field experiences in order to fund her work.  There was also an entertaining symposium about collecting trips gone wrong. Different researchers told stories about being chased by a bear, bitten by a venomous snake in a country with no functional hospitals, almost being arrested for drug residue in a suitcase bought at a garage sale, being held at gunpoint twice by the police in Mexico, and more (the ECN program booklet can be found here).

At ICE, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and the number of different talks going on at the same time.  I went to talks about Hymenoptera systematics, next-generation sequencing, databasing and digitization, insect behavior, morphometrics, and more. I even sat in on an interesting talk about the use of insects as symbols in Japanese art and poetry, as well as an entertaining talk about the use of insects in videogames.

The Exhibition Hall at ICE 2016. Photo by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0.) Click photo for source.

Even though there were over 5300 talks at ICE, there were only two talks that dealt with Conostigmusmy talk and István’s talk. It really puts things in perspective  and drives home that we are at the forefront of our field. However, I did manage to find some agricultural researchers that had experience rearing Dendrocerus carpenteri, and was able to get some good tips from them about starting my own colony of megaspilids.

I made a lot of great connections, and was also able to get a lot of helpful advice from others about primer design and PCR, which will help us in our upcoming DNA and PCR work. Overall, it was a very successful and eventful conference, and a memorable experience for my first ICE!

What’s an entomology conference without an entomology-inspired game? I didn’t win the ICE Pokemon Go! competition, but I still found some cool insect-inspired Pokemon. Photo by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

Posted in news | Leave a comment

Mapping it Out

I’ve been east and west for research this year- from California to New Jersey! Lately, I have been on the road or in the air so much that I have not been able to update the blog.

A photo of some dry grassland and trees, with the ocean in the background.

The view from UC-Santa Barbara. Photo by Emily Sandall (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

What’s been occupying my time, you ask? A ton of georeferencing! I presented on my ecological niche modeling research at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology in Orlando, Florida at the end of September. I then turned around and went to an iDigBio Georeferencing for Research Use course at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in sunny Santa Barbara, California.

Since I only returned a few days ago, I have not yet had a chance to fully realize all that I am hoping to do with georeferencing. For starters, I am working an SOP for best practices for georeferencing specimens with a variety of locality data types. This will help ensure that our records are traceable and replicable, and will help with the “fatigue” that is associated with spending a lot of time on georeferencing. Stay tuned!

Posted in Digitization | Tagged | Leave a comment

Weekly reads 2–19.ix.2016

Carolyn: I’ve been working on trying to identify some structures we found associated with the semitransparent patches in Ceraphronoidea. We spoke to Missy Hazen about what they might be, and she suggested that they might be related to membrane recycling. I’ve been researching membrane recycling since then, and after taking a look back through the Microscopic Anatomy of Arthropods, I think I have finally figured out what the structures we’re seeing are. My guess it that they are lamellar bodies. There’s a good picture in Microscopic Anatomy volume 2, page 665, but I also found the following three papers that all discuss lamellar bodies. They are membrane-bound structures with excess membrane folds that are produced when fat bodies or vacuoles are broken down, and they are involved in organelle recycling, as well as storage and secretion. It seems like there are even lamellar bodies associated with photoreceptors, which is fascinating because we think the tissues underneath the semitransparent patches in Ceraphronoidea might contain photoreceptors.

  • McDermid, Heather, and Michael Locke (1983) Tyrosine storage vacuoles in insect fat body. Tissue and Cell 15 (1): 137–158 DOI: 10.1016/0040-8166(83)90039-3
  • Vigneron, Aurélien, Florent Masson, Agnès Vallier, Séverine Balmand, Marjolaine Rey, Carole Vincent-Monégat, Emre Aksoy, Etienne Aubailly-Giraud, Anna Zaidman-Rémy, and Abdelaziz Heddi. (2014) Insects recycle endosymbionts when the benefit is over. Current Biology 24 (19): 2267–73. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.07.065
  • White, Richard H. (1968) The effect of light and light deprivation upon the ultrastructure of the larval mosquito eye. III. Multivesicular bodies and protein uptake. Journal of Experimental Zoology 169 (3): 261–277 DOI: 10.1002/jez.1401690302

Emily: I read a study published by Fourcade et al. (2014), in which they examine the efficacy of MAXENT models at handling biased locality data. Acknowledging that this is not unusual of species data, the researchers used real and virtual datasets with a variety of biases. They found that AUC (area under the curve), a measure of data fit to the model of species distributions, is not a good indicator of how well the model fits the data. The AUC values were found to be pretty high even when data had strong bias. Fourcade et al. suggest that it is best to ensure that the sample size is large enough to balance out data biases. Systematic sampling, in which a subset of the locality records are picked from the total, can help break up the spatial bias in records. MAXENT already removes records that are in the same grid cells, but this helps remove data that appears to be almost stacked geographically. When I look at data coming from our collection and others, I often think about just how similar the localities must be when they are collected extremely close to one another. However, it is hard to determine exactly how to correct this spatial bias-further georeferencing research and collecting efforts will help!

István: My weekly readings are listed in the Know your Insect course syllabus! Needless to say, it’s been an intense and incredible set of discussions. Watch for dedicated blog posts about each discovery.

Andy: I’m in the throes of ENT 432, so most of my weekly reads are dominated by the topics at hand. This week it is Odonata (e.g., Gorb 1999, Mischiati et al. 2015) and Ephemeroptera, as well as hypotheses concerning the origin of insect wings (Engel et al. 2013).

mayfly clinging to stem of a plant

Great photo of a mayfly at dusk, taken by Bob Fox (CC BY) https://flic.kr/p/H6S81g

Posted in research | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Great Insect Fair at Penn State – Recap & Photo Gallery

Photo advertising the Great Insect Fair at Penn State Univeristy, September 10th 2016. Held up and beyond is the fair in action. Lots of people moving about from table to table in a large building.

Entomophiles near and far flocked to State College this past weekend for the 23rd annual Penn State University Great Insect Fair. There were bugs to eat, bugs to see, bugs to hold, bugs galore!

The Snider Ag Arena filled with Penn State Entomology faculty, staff, and students who showcased their research initiatives and ran an insect zoo and a butterfly tent. Together with organizations such as the Pennsylvania 4-H clubs, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Penn State Master Gardeners, the Friends of the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden and others, the arena was filled with interactive insect related displays and activities aplenty.

This year’s theme, Bug Appetit, explored the world of entomophagy – the eating of bugs. Penn State Nutrition Science students offered a variety of insect bites from chocolate chip cookies baked with 25% cricket flour to wax worms and meal worms mixed with caramel popcorn.

At the Frost Museum table, we played into the theme by featuring a pinned display of edible insects of Pennsylvania! Yum. We also related insect muscles to that of chicken and other vertebrates. Additionally we had a praying mantis that gave live demonstrations throughout the day on how to eat grasshoppers.

Close up photo of a praying mantis eating a grasshopper. The grasshopper is in the clutches of the praying mantis's raptorial front leggs and the body is in pieces.

Feeding time for Juliet the Praying Mantis. Juliet gave several live demonstrations throughout the day on how to eat a grasshopper. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

A Luna Moth caterpillar takes a rest from munching on Sweet Gum leaves.

A Luna Moth caterpillar takes a rest from munching on Sweet Gum leaves. The caterpillar was brought in and presented by the Monroe County 4-H club. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

Black Bess Beetle rests on a dead piece of wood.

Bess Beetles! Another charismatic group brought by the Monroe County 4-H club. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

Visitors on one side of a table with various insect display cases. They are interacting with entomology interpretors who are on the other side.

The bustling Frost Entomological Museum table. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source

A researcher stands at a table and holds out an insect speciment to teach a girl scouts troupe about insect muscles

Research Associate, István Mikó teaches a local girl scout troupe about insect muscles. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source

Andy Deans stands at the Frost Museum table and speaks with two boys about wasps

Frost Museum Director, Andy Deans answers question about wasp behavior and nest architecture. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

Undergrad student, Jonah Ulmer holds out a Death Feigning Beetle for visitors to see and hold.

Undergrad student, Jonah Ulmer holds out a Death Feigning Beetle for visitors to see and hold. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source

Graduate Student, Emily Sandall introduces visitors to the edible insects of Pennsylvania. There is a display case with pinned insects

Graduate Student, Emily Sandall introduces visitors to the edible insects of Pennsylvania and the benefits of eating insects vs other animals. Photo by Isa Betancourt (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

We had a blast and can’t wait to participate again next year for the 24th Great Insect Fair!

Posted in fun, news, outreach | Leave a comment