Highlights From the Highlighted Posters at Entomology 2017

Catherine Dana highlighted poster

Catherine Dana of the University of Illinois walks an attendee through her poster on water-repellent cicada wings.

By Meredith Swett Walker

The average Denverite passing the Entomology 2017 banners around the Colorado Convention Center might envision meeting rooms packed with folks bearing butterfly nets and admiring insects skewered on tiny pins. But were they to wander inside the convention center, they would likely be shocked by the incredible diversity of ideas, fields of study, and careers that fall under the umbrella of entomology. That variety is perfectly illustrated by the Highlighted Posters on display in the lobby outside Mile High Ballroom.

Meredith Swett Walker

The Highlighted Posters were selected by the Entomology 2017 Program Committee to exemplify the meeting theme of “ignite. inspire. innovate.” Here you will find creative writing alongside the creation of synthetic species using genetic engineering. There is research based on precise measurements of electrical impulses in mosquito brains as well as data collected by backyard beekeepers and citizen scientists. Danny DeVito even makes a small cameo appearance. (See if you can spot him.) The Highlighted Posters will be on display through the end of the meeting, so make sure to take a look!

Poisoned Justice book

Entomology goes noir in Jeffrey Lockwood’s mystery novel Poisoned Justice.

Entomological fiction: Bringing science to the public via mystery and murder

Jeffrey Lockwood, Ph.D., of the University of Wyoming combined his love of noir fiction and entomology to create the character of C.V. Riley, a detective turned exterminator who solves crimes while controlling pests. Lockwood says he loves “slipping science into the world in subversive ways.” Lockwood’s first Riley the Exterminator mystery, Poisoned Justice, was published in 2016. The next in the series, “Murder on the Fly,” is coming soon.

NIMBioS: Enhancing education at the interface between mathematics and biology

Gregory Wiggins, Ph.D., and colleagues at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) present outreach activities that allow students to explore the interface between science and math using insects. 4H participants calculate species richness and diversity of different insect communities. Middle schoolers explore the concept of a model using 3D printing to fashion insects and their structures. A Summer Research Experience (SRE) program provides entomological research and mathematical modeling opportunities for undergraduates.

Engineering species-like barriers: A new paradigm for genetic biocontrol and biocontainment

How will we keep genetically engineered organisms from hybridizing with related non-engineered organisms? Maciej Maselko, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Minnesota present a novel technique to engineer reproductive incompatibility into organisms such as yeast and Drospohila. This “Synthetic Incompatibility” technique could prove useful in a variety of genetic engineering applications, from controlling gene drives to replacing populations of disease vector organisms with non-vectoring varieties. It can also make yeast cells explode.

Fight of the bumble bee

What comes first, the bullying or the babies? Pennsylvania State University’s Ryan Reynolds and colleagues explore the relationship between aggressive behaviors and ovarian activation in female bumble bees. Does achieving dominance through aggressive interactions with sisters stimulate female bees to reproduce? Or are some females predisposed to dominance and reproduction while others will be passive helpers? Reynolds watched the brief but crucial battles of Bombus terrestris to find out.

Don’t forget about the bio in bioinspired design

Bioinspired design is all the rage. But if you don’t fully understand the fundamental biology of evolution’s solution to an engineering problem, you may find yourself creating a suboptimal design. Marianne Alleyne, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois argues for an interdisciplinary approach with collaborations between mechanical engineers, materials scientists, chemists, and entomologists.

Insects—with their variety of forms, lifestyles, and environments—have solved many complex engineering problems and are a potential gold mine of bioinspired designs. Could the click beetle have the solution for when a robot gets stuck on its back? A thorough understanding of their self-righting “click” could inspire the next design.

Effect of temperature on olfactory behavior in mosquitoes

Many mosquito species, and the diseases they carry, are expanding their range as the climate changes. Mosquitoes find their hosts by smelling them, but environmental temperature affects their ability to smell their next meal and fly to it. Chloé Lahondère, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Washington take a deep dive into the flight behavior and brains of mosquitoes to find out exactly how temperature affects a mosquito’s ability to find someone to bite. Understanding this relationship could help scientists develop tools to control these deadly disease spreaders.

mosquito brain research diagram

An illustration of Chloé Lahondère’s device for peering into the brain of a flying mosquito.

A comparative study of cicada wing surface wettability and self-cleaning properties to aid in the design of innovative engineered materials

Did you know that some cicada wings are so water-repellent that water droplets actually jump off their surface? Junho Oh and an interdisciplinary team at the University of Illinois and the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, including entomologists, mechanical engineers, and chemists, are exploring the nanoarchitecture of cicada wings that produces this effect. By grounding their exploration of the physical characteristics of the wings in an understanding of the cicada’s life history, the team hopes to speed the materials design process. Perhaps the cicada’s wing will inspire the design of a super waterproof rain jacket in the future.

Landscapes for Honey Bees

Beekeepers lose an average of 28 percent of their colonies every winter, but there is no one cause of death. A complex interaction between forage quality, pesticides, climate, disease, and beekeepers’ management practices is to blame. In order to better understand that deadly interaction and help minimize colony losses, Penn State’s Tyler Jones and colleagues are turning beekeepers into citizen scientists.

Beekeepers provide them with data on apiary location, colony health and other factors, which Jones and the team feed into a statistical model. They use this model to make recommendations about how the beekeepers can maximize their colonies’ productivity. If a beekeeper implements the recommendations and reports back, Jones and team use machine-learning techniques to incorporate the results into the model and refine it further. Like a worker bee’s dance tells other members of the colony where to find flowers, a beekeeper’s data can help the beekeeping community maximize their productivity in the face of environmental challenges.

Tyler Jones highlighted poster

Tyler Jones of Pennsylvania State University turns beekeepers into citizen scientists to better understand the relationship between honey bee health and land use, disease, pesticides, and other factors.


Meredith Swett Walker is a former avian endocrinologist who now studies the development and behavior of two juvenile humans in the high desert of western Colorado. When she is not handling her research subjects, she writes about science and nature. You can read her work on her blogs Pica Hudsonia and The Citizen Biologist or follow her on Twitter at @mswettwalker.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: