A Visit to the UFL Entomology Department During the Science Writers Meeting

By Richard Levine

I’m in Gainesville, Florida attending the annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers, and yesterday got to take a tour of the Entomology Department at the University of Florida, and later that night a reception was held at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Richard Levine

One of the other people on the tour was Rick Borchelt, Director for Communications and Public Affairs at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Back in his college days, Rick studied entomology and was Chair of the Entomological Society of America’s Student Affairs Commitee. Now he blogs about moths and butterflies in his spare time and you can also follow him on Twitter at @RangerRik.

We started out meeting with Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman and others who showed us a tarantula, a Madagascar hissing cockroach, an African millipede, a scorpion, and other arthropods.

We were then given a choice about visiting the forensic entomology lab, an urban entomology lab, and a few others. Having never seen a crazy ant or a live bed bug (I’ve been bit, but haven’t SEEN them), I chose the urban lab.

When I got there, I was introduced to two graduate students named Ben Hottel and Holly Beard, who were feeding bed bugs. They had four chickens tied down with feathers partially removed from their abdomens, with containers full of bed bugs strapped to the chickens.

They do this in order to maintain the bed bug colonies so they can conduct their research. For some reason, I volunteered to let the bed bugs feed on me (click here for video).

We also got to meet Dr. Roberto Pereira, who showed us ants and cockroaches, as well as a novel way to use heat (cheaply) to help control bed bugs, as you can see in this video:


We also got to meeet Rebecca Baldwin, who will be volunteering at the Teachers Workshop and the Insect Rodeo Expo in Austin, Texas next Saturday just before the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, plus Philip Koehler, Amanda Hodges, and many others.

The crazy ants at the Urban Entomology Lab lived up to their name, as you can see in this video, along with Florida carpenter ants and ghost ants:


Later that night at a reception at the the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity, I got to meet Jackie Miller, Phillip Kaufman, Andrea Lucky, and Jiri Hulcr, a forest entomologist from the Czech Republic. The Center is huge, with around 8-10 million specimens of moths and butterflies. Some are hundreds of years old and somehow survived all that time intact. Scientists at the center thoroughly examine the specimens and often discover previously unknown species in the collection. Part of the display features a huge plate glass window where you can watch scientists as they pin the moths and butterflies, and another one shows the rearing facility where you can watch as moths and butterflies emerge from cocoons.

Below are some photos from the UFL Department of Entomology, the McGuire Center, and the UF Natural Area Teaching Lab, a nature trail with several different ecosystems:

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Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.

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