Volume 3: no. 2
As February draws to a close it seems that some of that early spring which the groundhog predicted may in fact be upon us, but as the old folks say, `If you don't like the weather, just wait a couple of days and it'll change!' Maybe it will stay warm so a larger variety of insects will begin to move around again. We are already catching some of the smaller moths in pheromone traps and I have seen a good variety around lights the last two or three warm nights. Now might be a good time to bait some areas to attract moths and also to use blacklights. In planning your activities for the spring, don't neglect to look at some of the smaller insects and insect groups. These often take a little more care in collecting, preserving and displaying but they can really improve the quality of an insect collection. Check to see which insects are common to your area, but may not be commonly found in insect collections. Then study that group to explore new places or methods for finding them. Local bookstores usually carry a `field guide' to insects which will be helpful in this study. We commonly use `Peterson's series, A field guide to the insects of America north of Mexico' by Borror and White. The Audubon Society also has a good selection of books for reference. The Young Entomologists' Society also has a good selection of materials which can be ordered. (Call them for their catalog: 517-887-0499.) Every entomology student should have one or more of these books to help them to know their insects better.
Science Projects: Many students begin to think about entering projects in local science fairs at this time each year. As with most projects, insect/entomology projects don't lend themselves to `quick' studies, but there are a large number of ideas which young people might use to demonstrate exceptional thought and good science. Insect protection is a study which could be used as an outstanding science project. Many insects, like bees, wasps, ants etc, have `stingers' which they use mostly for defense. Other insects, like stink bugs, give off an offensive odor as a method of defense. Some Insects also have a somewhat passive mechanism which serves very well to protect them. Insects' colors and mimicry enable them to both escape their enemies and at times with some species to catch their food (i.e. predators use camouflage to hide in ambush). Generally, protection is divided into two types. 1) Some insects resemble their background or another species. 2) Others use warning coloration which sends a message to an enemy which says danger. The praying mantids are a good example of coloration and shape which allows concealment for protection and for hunting. Many of the Katydids look like a part of the plant on which they feed. Some moths/butterflies simply blend into their background environment. Even the larvae may look like a natural part of the plant on which they feed. Tomato hornworms on a tomato plant are often extremely hard to find. Some larvae may even resemble bird droppings. The syrphids, some of the clear winged moths and many other insects are harmless to inflict pain, but they are afforded protection simply because they look and act somewhat like bees or wasps. Monarch butterflies are `inedible' to birds which might prey upon then. The viceroy butterflies, a very edible species, mimic them as a means of protection. As a project, develop a list of insects which use some form of coloration or mimicry as a protective mechanism and see if you can determine what they insects are mimicking. Take pictures of insects in nature to demonstrate this. Live insects caged with their host plant also demonstrates mimicry.
More on Nomenclature: Last month we looked at the listing of Insect Orders and some general characteristics for each. All of the various names are generally descriptive of the animals. Many of the names have Latin meanings which describe a major character. The ending ptera signifies that the creature is winged, though some may lose their wings at some stage during their life. For example, Diptera: di - 2, ptera - wings; or Lepidoptera: Lepido - scales, ptera - wings. Other names also often have special meanings. Family names generally end in idae. Genus and species names (always italized or underlined with Genus capitalized and species lowercase) may also be very descriptive of a small group. Though the species name may say something about the person describing the species. For example, some scientists have named species after themselves or others: B. marci or P. schaeffi.
By learning the characteristics of a group we can begin to divide the insects into their correct Order, Family, Genus and species. Most good insect Guides use key characteristics to make identification easier. These are often called dichotomous keys because they lead the subject down a path of choices which enable decisions to be made one at a time. Below is a copy of the pictorial key from Peterson's Guide Series - `A field guide to the insects of America.'
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We have set June 4-8, 1995 as the dates for our 2nd Entomology Camp at Tombigbee State Park, Tupelo, MS.
Dr. Michael R. Williams
Entomology & Plant Pathology
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9775
phone - 601-325-2085
home - 601-323-5699
FAX - 601-325-8837