2019 sort sessions #20 – labeling

I’m not gonna lie; labeling is maybe my least favorite step when preparing specimens. I do like typing them up (we usually do this in Word, as a table) and reminiscing about the collecting events I was a part of. Cutting the labels out as precise rectangles with minimal whitespace is also hugely satisfying, especially with our new paper slicer. Doing it right takes time, though, and the process usually means I don’t get to spend time admiring the insects themselves. This is also the step where we formally catalog and accession specimens, which requires that they get digitized. Data entry is not (usually) glamorous. That’s one reason we have several drawers of mounted insects that need labels.

During yesterday’s sort session I labeled and accessioned a backlog of 125 specimens, from four collecting events. The routine gave me time to meditate on label placement … among other things. We have an established labeling process already, but I find myself agonizing about it all the time. Here’s how we do it:

     o
     |
     |
   |\
 __ \)  ,
(__).o.@c    
    /|\ 
     |
[catalog #]
     |
[collecting event]
     |
[extra label]
     |
[determination]
     |
     |
     |

Our catalog number labels have a data matrix code, which could allow for rapid scanning of specimens without manipulating them. That’s the primary reason for putting them on first. It’s also the label we do not want disassociated from the specimen; putting it in the highest position makes it least likely to get removed. The problem is that its placement obscures the collecting event label, inhibiting a rapid scan by eye. 🙁 There’s always a tradeoff. The extra label can be anything, from collecting event spillover, host plant information, data about specimen preparation, etc. The determination goes on last because it’s usually the last step.

I also added a new species to our collection: Sphyracephala brevicornis (Say, 1817) (Diptera: Diopsidae). We have specimens from Centre, Westmoreland, and Huntington counties. Here’s a photo of a specimen our own Michael Skvarla collected in 2006 in Indiana:

pinned fly with very wide head. the eyes are separated from each other in a way that makes the head look like a hammer from the dorsal perspective

Stalk-eyed fly. Collected in Lafayette, Indiana, USA October 2, 2006. Photo (c) by Michael Skvarla. Click for source

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Gall wasp project funded!

plant gall about the size of a golf ball, attached to an oak leaf and resting on the moss-covered ground

Amphibolips gall, maybe the species A. quercusinanis, on oak leaf. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

Some big, exciting news hit the Frost Museum today: Our proposal to study the evolution of gall wasps (Cynipidae) was officially funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation! The primary objective is to generate a large-scale phylogeny of Cynipidae, using genome-scale data. Other objectives include comparative gland morphology, sequencing transcriptomes of certain glands to understand how wasps make galls, and generating materials that will help people understand these insects, where they can be found, and how to identify them. We are looking for motivated graduate students and anyone who can help us collect and rear galls.

Look for more detailed updates in the near future. Yay!

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2019 sort sessions #18 and #19 – Special project!

Following up on sort session #17, where I struggled with how we should organize our trap residues, we now have an alternative use for some of these exhausted samples. (drumroll) We’ve started a special project for the public space that highlights the insects of Pennsylvania and what we stand to lose with unchecked environmental degradation. We’re keeping the design under wraps for now, but here are some cool displays I found on Flickr (I’m not saying ours will be like these!):

pinned beetles of many kinds placed together in a very dense rectangle

A huge collection of beetles on display in Montreal Botanical Gardens insect house. Photo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) and caption by Adam Foster. Click for source

pinned bugs from Victorian era; the specimens are large and of odd shapes, indicating they are tropical species

Hemiptera collection in the Horniman Museum. Photo (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Andrew Moore. Click for source

pinned dragonflies, each oriented in different directions

Pinned dragonflies arranged chaotically in the Leeds Museums and Galleries’ entomology collection. This photograph was taken by Sara Porter for Leeds Museums and Galleries for the 2013 exhibition Natural Beauty and is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0. Click for source

The last two sort sessions were dedicated to finding and also preparing material for this new display. Stay tuned!

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More Useful books for Entomologists

My previous post on useful books for entomology students got a fair amount of social media attention. After posting it on Twitter, I got several messages and emails from entomologists with useful feedback and recommendations for more books that had helped and inspired them in their careers.

There were so many great suggestions that I wanted to do a follow-up post with more resources for graduate students and others studying entomology (there seem to be a lot of great beetle books out there!).

Brought to you by the entomologists of Twitter, here are some more useful books for entomology students to check out:

  • Parasitoids: Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology, by H. C. J. Godfray
  • The Phylogenetic Handbook, edited by Philippe Lemey, Marco Salemi, and Anne-Mieke Vandamme
  • Manual of Nearctic Diptera, edited by J. F. McAlpine (three volumes)
  • The Bees of the World, by Charles D. Michener
  • American Beetles, by Ross H. Arnett Jr. and Michael C. Thomas (two volumes)
  • Beetles of Eastern North America, by Arthur V. Evans
  • Australian Beetles Volume 1: Morphology, Classification and Keys, by Adam Slipinski and J. F. Lawrence
  • Beetles: The Natural History and Diversity of Coleoptera, by Stephen Marshall

Thanks to everyone for their recommendations!

The Life Science Library at Penn State. This entire row is comprised of entomology books, and this isn’t the only one… Photo by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

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Woolly catkin gall

I found these beautiful galls in my yard this weekend, while doing yard work:

two normal catkins lying on some moss next to two fuzzy gall clusters that are part of an affected catkin

Woolly catkin galls (bottom), from Quercus sp. (probably rubra), next to an unaffected catkins (left). Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

It’s likely woolly catkin gall, made by a wasp: Callirhytis quercusoperator (Osten Sacken, 1862) (Cynipidae). We’ve started another large project here at the Frost, but I’ll have to wait until it’s official before providing more details here. It involves galls, though, and we are now scaling up our collecting efforts dramatically. These little galls are are the first of many!

Callirhytis quercusoperator is an interesting species, and I am excited and intrigued to find this species in my yard. Like many gall wasps, this one has two generations per year, one sexual and one asexual. The sexual generation induces the galls you see above, on catkins of many Quercus species. The larvae grow quickly in these galls, which soon fall to the forest floor. The asexual generation emerges there, flies to the canopy, and seeks out young acorns, just getting started on the trees above. The asexual females lay their eggs just inside the growing acorn cap and induce another gall – the acorn pip gall. Hopefully I will find those all over my yard later in the summer and fall. They look almost like mini acorns, developing beside a normal acorn. We don’t have any acorn pip galls in our collection, and the clearest photo I could find online is this one from a slideshow Patrick Brose presented at the 2013 Schatz Colloquium:

4 acorns without caps, in a row. Each has several pip galls, which are almost like seeds attached to the acorn, or depressions made by pip galls that fell off

Photo by Patrick Brose, USDA Forest Service. Click for source

These acorn pip galls apparently secrete a nectar-like substance that attracts ants and other insects. Even bumble bees have been observed foraging at these galls! Find out more about these galls in Felt (1940), Kinsey (1922), Bassett (1973), and by cruising around iNaturalist.

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