Build-a-Bug


Usually, when someone mentions “insects” or “bugs,” you can hear a resounding “eeeeww” from the audience.  Insects are often thought of as creepy-crawlies, monsters, the stuff of nightmares, etc.  Why is that?

As a child, I was constantly playing in the mud.  I was interested in all the creatures the Earth had to offer, no matter how many legs they had.  However, a few years ago I suddenly noticed that I no longer had the same appreciation for insects.  I, too, developed an aversion to bugs!  I decided to dig into my past and try and find the turning point.  There wasn’t any.  Years of being too busy to spend time outside, lack of knowledge on the creatures I used to love, and the general society’s “ew” had eventually turned me.  So, I began to work with insects.  I quickly found myself returning to my old self.  I no longer felt uncomfortable seeing all of them at work.  My interest in insects was reignited, and I hope to do the same for others.

This brings me to the Museum of Biological Diversity’s 2018 Open House.  I was asked to come up with a bug-related interactive activity for the Triplehorn Insect Collection.  I decided to try and create a station where visitors could put together their own insects.  The bugs had to be simple enough to appeal to young children, yet aesthetic and elegant enough to attract the interest of an older audience.  I settled on creating two designs, a butterfly and a dragonfly.

Using source images, I made an outline of the dorsal view of each of the insect’s wings, and a lateral view of their bodies in Adobe Photoshop.  The butterfly consisted of two parts, and the dragonfly of three.

Creating the butterfly silhouette in Adobe Photoshop.

Then, I converted the outlines into vector images in Adobe Illustrator, and multiplied it to fill an entire page.

Getting the design ready for the laser cutter using Adobe Illustrator.

After trying different materials, I settled on using 6-ply Railroad Poster Board.  It is strong enough to have structural integrity, while being thin enough to not sacrifice the delicate design.  I used an Epilog Laser to cut out the pieces, which covered over 25 pages of 24 in x 36 in poster board.

The pieces were then separated by type and labeled accordingly.

During the Open House, the activity was a huge success! (I was there as a volunteer!)  Both children and adults took the time to complete the activity.  Many children even drew their own designs on their insects.

I noticed a lot of the adults that tried to assemble the bugs initially did it wrong.  I hope that by having to start again, they had the opportunity to think about the different parts of the insect they were trying to assemble and by doing so developed a new appreciation for the insects.

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My model bugs also had holes lightly cut into their bodies, allowing for the addition of  legs. During the event we borrowed colorful pipe cleaners from another activity in the collection (Googly-Eyed Dragonfly) to make the legs of our insects.

The bugs were then put in little bags so that the children could reassemble the insects at home without losing any parts.

I hope that activities like this will help the younger generations continue to be fascinated and appreciative of the world around them.  Hopefully, if the younger generations grow up with a sense of wonder about insects, the commonly found disgust of them will eventually fade away.

About the Author: Tamara Sabbagh is an artist that recently earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts, with a specialization in Art & Technology, from The Ohio State University.  She currently works at the Triplehorn Insect Collection as an Undergraduate Curatorial Assistant.  Contact Tamara and see her other projects through her website.

Exploring science through art – Part 3


In my previous blog post I provided a sneak peek of the project I was working on during my internship here at the Triplehorn collection. The project is now finished! The inspiration for this project came from an assignment I completed for my pattern design class at the Columbus College of Art & Design. As part of the assignment I had to study the work of a designer that I could relate to and create a pattern inspired by their work. After discussions with my instructor, I chose Ella Doran, who is known for creating and photographing patterns through found objects and textures. Her images are then taken into Adobe Photoshop and digitally manipulated to create seamless patterns that are then applied onto household items. I knew I had seen work like this before, but up until that moment it hadn’t registered that I could be doing something similar.

Based on the knowledge I gained in that class and the training received at the insect collection, I decided that I would create a pattern that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but could also teach the viewer a little bit about the insects depicted. By that time I had also decided to focus on beetles.

The first step was to pick out the specimens from the collection that I would use to build the patterns. I started by going through several of the collection’s cabinets and marking the drawers containing specimens that I thought were diverse in shape and color. In this initial round I picked 50 to 60 beetle specimens that fit my concept for the project. From those initial picks I separated the top 11 and started working.

The collection has specific protocols for imaging their specimens, which involve 1) attaching a unique identification number (printed on a small plastic tag) to the specimen, 2) transcribing the specimen label for databasing purposes, and 3) adding a small purple “IMAGED” tag to all specimens that are photographed. For my project I had to go through these steps and then work on editing the images that would be used to create the patterns.

Insects are bilaterally symmetric, which means that both sides of the body (left and right) are the same when split along the center. This can be easily observed when watching an insect while it’s alive, such as an ant crawling on the pavement. But when an insect dies, the body starts to dry and curl up in odd ways and by the end the insect appears to be asymmetrical. Symmetry is critical for the patterns I wanted to create, so I decided to mirror all the images of the beetles in order to keep the bilateral symmetry.


Once I had photographed and edited each image, it was time to play around with creating patterns. I started with an idea as to how I wanted the insects to be arranged, but as the work progressed I felt that the initial design was lacking complexity. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, I finally was able to create a more intricate pattern that included all of the specimens I wanted. Each pattern that I created was done through a process in Photoshop that allows the image to smoothly repeat no matter how large the final image. From there it was minor tweaking until I was happy with my final pattern.

I feel as though the collection has become my second home so I am sad to say that my internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection is coming to a close. Here I have learned many valuable skills that will further my goal of merging art and science. I plan to continue coming in once or twice a week in order to keep working alongside the collection staff, so that I may keep learning, improving, and producing new patterns using the resources available to me. I hope to create several more patterns by August using various other insects that could be applied to everyday objects. (see examples below)

Mock-ups created through Society6.

I would like to thank Jordan Reynolds for providing training on the use of the photographic equipment and the image stacking software. He also guided me through several problems during my project which has helped me to create my final image. Besides his work here at the collection, Jordan is a new media artist, actively creating original work to be shown in galleries. I highly recommend viewing his personal work on Instagram or visiting his website.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without Dr. Luciana Musetti and her incredible passion for insects. Her drive to share insect diversity with the world has resulted in a group of amazing staff members and a creative workspace. Luciana pushes the envelope to improve upon display ideas and engage viewers in an educational manner. She has truly made my internship worthwhile.

 

About the authorEvie Moran is a Columbus-based fine art photographer skilled in microscopic imaging, archival preservation/imaging, and shoot coordination, seeking projects where she can add value within academia. She started her internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection in January 2018. Contact Evie here at the blog or at evievmoran.comYou can also follow her on Instagram @eviemoran

Researching Pelecinids – Part 6

Last year I chronicled my experience researching Pelecinus polyturator in Dr. Norman Johnson’s lab. This research journey included learning the biology and behavior of P. polyturator, photographing specimens, collecting in town using Malaise traps, extracting DNA and amplifying it using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), learning the importance of literature reviews, and trying to collect live adults at Zaleski State Forest. Take a look at my previous blog posts to know more about these topics and catch up on my research so far.

author using laptop

The author analyzes DNA sequences using the Sequencher software

Over the last six months I continued working on my research, and now I have several exciting updates to share. While I took a hiatus from the lab in autumn semester to focus on my academic coursework, the research process did not stop. The DNA we extracted was sent out to be  commercially sequenced. Once I returned in spring semester, it was a matter of assembling those sequences and performing phylogenetic analysis before we could start drawing conclusions.

The focus of our study was the sex ratio variation between northern and southern populations of P. polyturator. Using molecular techniques we amplified sequences of the cox1 gene, which can be used as a genetic barcode to differentiate species. Additionally, we amplified the ftsZ gene in Wolbachia, an intracellular symbiotic bacterium that can effect sex ratio in insects. We suspected that if different strains of Wolbachia were present in the different P. polyturator populations, this could be a contributor of the observed sex ratio variation.

The Wolbachia turned out to be nearly identical from every locality sampled. On the other hand, the cox1 gene varied greatly between the northern and southern populations, and even between different localities of the southern population. From this information we concluded that the Wolbachia strain was not a direct cause of the sex ratio variation. The differences in the cox1 gene, however, suggested that there may be speciation occurring between the northern and southern populations.

Doing the research and analyzing the results was only a part of the process. Science is a collaborative endeavor, and it is important for a scientist to be able to communicate the results and ideas to others in a clear and concise way.

On March 1, I had the opportunity to present my research at the CFAES Undergraduate Research Forum. This is an event where students within the CFAES (that stands for College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences) can showcase their research to other students and faculty, as well as a panel of judges. This forum attracts a wide audience of people from many different scientific disciplines and backgrounds. It is a great opportunity to interact with people who may not be familiar with entomology or molecular genetics. At first I was nervous to talk about my research, but it ended up being surprisingly fun to answer people’s questions. I even had a female P. polyturator specimen to show visitors, courtesy of Dr. Luciana Musetti and the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

Designing and presenting the poster was a great experience for me. I quickly learned that designing a poster is much different from writing a traditional scientific paper. Both formats are separated into similar sections such as an introduction, methods, results, and conclusions. A poster, however, has space constraints and must be attractive to a general audience. Large blocks of text typical of papers are unattractive and intimidating on posters. Overall, readability is the most important trait of a good research poster. The font should be large and easy to read, and everything should be spatially organized in a logical manner.

author and research advisor with poster

The author and her research advisor, Dr. Norman Johnson, stand in front of the research poster at the CFAES Research Forum.

author explaining research

The author explains her research to entomologist Dr. Megan Meuti

Presenting my poster at this research forum was a great preparatory experience for the upcoming Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. Because most of the research within CFAES was focused on agriculture and food science, I gained experience speaking to people unfamiliar with the topics of my research. The Denman will feature an even more diverse array of students and faculty, from business to chemistry to art, so I will need to be prepared to explain my research to those completely unfamiliar with entomology or molecular work. I will also be revising my poster using suggestions from the judges of the CFAES forum.

If you would like to learn more about my research project, as well as the research of other hardworking undergraduates, stop by the Denman in the Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom of the Ohio Union on Tuesday, April 3. I will be displaying my poster from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm, and I would love to see you there!


About the Author: Hannah McKenzie is an undergraduate entomology major at the Ohio State University. She currently works as a curatorial assiatnt at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and is greatly enjoying her undergraduate research project on Pelecinus wasps.

Exploring science through art


Micro photography of my lipstick.

Micro photography of my lipstick.

For the past year, I have been exploring different ways to incorporate science into my photographs. I have always wanted to bridge the gap between science and art so that viewers of all ages can experience a new form of art. I have dreamt of recreating the viewer’s childhood curiosity so that they leave feeling amazed, inspired, and curious once again. Some of my most recent work has been created by making various assortments of slides taken from my own body, such as saliva, zits, hangnails and much more. Each created slide is a self portrait of me on a smaller scale or what I like to call my smaller self. The slides are then viewed and photographed under a microscope. Each image taken can be built up of about 50 to 200 photos that are combined together using Adobe Photoshop.

But where exactly does this all fit in with the Ohio State University’s Triplehorn Insect Collection? In spring 2017 I attended Columbus College of Art and Design’s (CCAD) Biodiversity class. I was lucky to have attended that class when I did because soon after it was dissolved. As part of the class we took a tour of the Triplehorn collection. I was overflowing with excitement! At that time I had only gotten to see a small fraction of what the collection had to offer but it was enough to get me hooked. When it came time to leave I was feeling unfulfilled, the hour we had spent there didn’t seem like it would have been enough. As my classmates and I were collecting our belongings to head out the door someone had mentioned that they also take in interns to help photograph specimens. Hearing that was both extremely exciting and terrifying.

I knew I wanted to help out and be a part of the great things that were happening at the collection but I had also immediately started to doubt myself. I had started to think that I wouldn’t have be a good fit only because I did not have any background experience in entomology. With encouragement from some friends I took the time to look over my completed credits at CCAD. I found out that I had completed all the major photo courses required for me to graduate but I still had extracurricular credit that needed to be completed. Instead of filling my free time with classes that didn’t fit my career path I decided to try and spend it at the collection. With the information I had gathered from my class visit I reached out to the Curator, Dr. Luciana Musetti, who responded to my email almost immediately. Plans were then made to meet up within the week and before I knew it, I was accepted as an intern.

I have already started to work with both macro and microscopic photographs which just so happens to be right up my alley considering this has been where my artwork has been heading. On my second week here I had the chance to photograph a feather-wing beetle, one of the smallest beetles in the world. To the human eye the beetle looks nothing more than the tiniest of speck of dust, but once the beetle was placed under the microscope I could see the silver facets that make up the eyes and that its body was completely covered with hair. But the most amazing part about the beetle was its wings. The wings looked nearly identical to a bird’s feathers, hence the common name, featherwing (or featherwinged) beetles (family Ptiliidae)

Featherwing beetle image work in progress.

Featherwing beetle image work in progress.

This experience has been the perfect opportunity for me since everything I have learned along the way was self-taught and was always a struggle to find the resources that I needed. The techniques they use here to acquire their final image is similar to what I have been doing but more efficient. There are many things I still have to learn that will further help my artwork and future career path within the field of scientific documentation. It’s been under a month since I’ve started interning here and everyone I work with have been extremely helpful and friendly beyond all expectations. Being here is constantly driving me to learn and do more every day. It is so inspiring to be around people with a passion for the world of insects. This has brought many ideas for future projects in mind.

Over the next 4 months or so I’ll be working on various specimen imaging projects, butterflies, beetles, minute parasitoid wasps, and more, and I’ll be trying to learn everything I can along the way. I will also be working on an individual project that I will present at the end of the internship. Keep tuned to my next post here at the Pinning Block.

 

About the author: Evie Moran is a Columbus-based fine art photographer skilled in microscopic imaging, archival preservation/imaging, and shoot coordination, seeking projects where she can add value within academia. She started her internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection in January 2018. Contact Evie here at the blog or at evievmoran.com. You can also follow her on Instagram @eviemoran

Researching Pelecinids – Part 1

image of a pelecinus wasp

Wasp in the genus Pelecinus, image by Cynthia L. McLaughlin and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many years ago, arthropods were one of my greatest childhood fears. I was so petrified of bugs that I hardly ever went outside during the summer. Anyone who knew me as a child would never have guessed that I would someday develop a passion for entomology and a love for the insect world. I began to collect insects in little plastic jars, but my rudimentary “collection” might as well have been a dermestid buffet; this was long before I understood how to properly store, curate, and preserve specimens.

It wasn’t until my final year of high school that I realized that I could become an “entomologist” as a profession, a life-changing revelation. During the summer of 2016, I finally learned how to make a proper insect collection at the Ohio State University’s Stone Lab, where I enrolled in a week-long course on insect field biology. That autumn I started my first semester at Ohio State as an entomology major, commuting every day from my home in Westerville, Ohio.

I recently completed my first year in the entomology undergraduate program, and I couldn’t be more excited about my academic future. I have met so many great peers and faculty members within the entomology department, and I have had the chance to explore entomology in ways that my younger self could never have imagined. I joined my general entomology class on an all-day collecting trip in Hocking Hills. I visited the on-campus insectary and learned about rearing insects with Chrysalis Entomology Club. But perhaps the most enlightening experience I have had so far was my interaction with the Triplehorn Insect Collection. I participated in an internship at the collection during autumn semester, then continued to work there part-time during spring semester. This summer I plan to continue working at the collection, but now the collection has presented me with yet another exciting opportunity: working on my first undergraduate research project.

image of a June bug

Unidentified June bug (Phyllophaga) from central Ohio, image by author

I will work with Dr. Norman Johnson and Dr. Luciana Musetti over the summer to research wasps belonging to the genus Pelecinus. These beautiful insects may appear intimidating with their long, slender abdomens, but they are not aggressive toward humans and stings inflicted by their small ovipositors are rare. Their flexible abdomens are instead used to parasitize the larvae of Phyllophaga beetles, more commonly known as “June bugs”. The female wasp does this by thrusting its abdomen into the ground and ovipositing into the subterranean grubs.

My research will focus on Pelecinus polyturator, a species that can be found in areas of South America and in North America east of the Rocky Mountains, including here in central Ohio. One of the most interesting aspects of P. polyturator is that males are extremely uncommon north of Mexico but become much more common further south.

The goal of my research is to examine P. polyturator specimens from both northern localities and southern localities and determine if they are one species or if they are actually multiple distinct species. This can be determined using nondestructive DNA extraction and barcoding, which consists of using a species-specific genetic marker in a specimen’s DNA for species identification. I do not have any prior experience with DNA barcoding, or even molecular genetics in general, so I see this as an incredible opportunity to learn new skills that will benefit me throughout my entire scientific career. I will also get to learn first-hand how specimens such as Pelecinus wasps end up in an insect collection by going through the complete collecting process, from malaise trapping all the way to entering specimen data in the collection’s online Hymenoptera database.

At the conclusion of this research project, I plan to present my findings at both the Denman and the CFAES Undergraduate Research Forums. One of my main hopes for this project is that it can be used to illustrate the research experience for other students interested in undergraduate research, both entomological and otherwise.

As I continue to learn more about topics such as DNA barcoding, specimen collection, and Pelecinus wasps themselves, I will update this blog so that everyone reading can learn alongside me and watch the progress of my research in real-time. Keep watch for another post from me next week about taking photographs of P. polyturator specimens currently owned by the collection. I can hardly wait to share these images and the photography process behind them.


About the Author: Hannah McKenzie is an undergraduate entomology major at the Ohio State University. She currently works at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and is participating in undergraduate research on Pelecinus wasps.