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.

Where the Wild Things Are – Guest post by Cherokee Hill-Read

 


In Columbus, Ohio on the Ohio State University campus, there is a building that does not stand out much. It is tan, small, and has dark windows facing the street. The parking lot is for Ohio State faculty and students only, and looks too big for the building. This peculiar structure is the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Museum of Biological Diversity

Museum of Biological Diversity

Walking in through the heavy doors, there is a conference room to the left, usually with people who will glance up at visitors and then back to their business. The smell of preserved life infiltrates the nose and sinks its way into clothes. It is not a bad smell, just… different. Continuing through the second set of doors there is a hallway. This hallway does not seem to fit the outside appearance of the building. It is like that long hallway that never ends in dreams, only this time it does end.

Walking down the hallway there are posters of research and multi square pictures of insects, spiders, plants, and more.

After finally entering the double doors marked “Triplehorn Insect Collection” there is a case to the left that has the local fauna of insects, which are beautifully preserved and displayed on a grass plant. Faded butterflies, beetles, and bees all seem to be frozen in time as they work around each other. Further left there are four computers (and there’s always someone working there.)

Compactors containing insect cabinets

Compactors containing insect cabinets

To the right are huge metal lockers that continue down the large part of the room. Three pronged wheels allow the technicians to move the lockers forwards or backward. This contraption allows room to open doors and pull out the drawers of insects. The lockers are marked with labels such as Odonata, Hymenoptera, and Coleoptera amongst the many yellow sticky notes.

Over the Fall 2015 co-op internship, it was my responsibility to learn how to set up and maintain an insect collection. I worked over the summer to begin a collection of the biodiversity sample of bees that is was in need to be pinned, identified, and stored. At the Triplehorn Insect Collection I was shown how to pin the collected specimens to museum standards and how to store them. No one there has great experience in identifying bees, but I am working my way through two resources that break down how to determine the genus of a bee.

Longhorn bee (Melissodes sp.)

Longhorn bee (Melissodes sp.)

I worked my way thought The Bee Genera of North America, only to find it too difficult for an amateur like me. However, Lu helped me pull out specimens that looked similar to the bee pictured above (Figure 3). After I determined the specimen to the genus Melissodes, I worked backwards through the book. I then reached out the well-known bee expert, Sam Droege. Dr. Droege gave me many tips on identification and great resources that I have been reading. He said to start on already identified bees, so that I could hone my skills. I hope to someday work by his side and learn all he has to offer.

Along with the work involved with the bees, I have been learning other tasks that go along with management of museum grade research specimens. I have learned how to create labels and what data needs to be on them, how to barcode, and how to input the label data and barcode information onto an Excel spreadsheet. I have also learned how to DEA, which is an online device that checks all the excel sheets and puts the information in the correct format. Its not difficult, but it is critical to pay attention to everything being done since the information will be available online for researchers to find. I have moved specimens from cork bottoms that trap old specimens and make it hard for researches to handle without breaking the insects, to hard foam bottom unit trays that help organize the 4 million individual insects that are in the collection.


Cherokee working on her bees at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and some of the beautiful results of her labor.


During this work I have learned what materials I would need to start up and maintain an insect collection. Some items include pricey cabinets sealed with silicone foam so that nothing gets in the cases, drawers that have glass tops and fit into the cabinets, unit trays, and small glue boards that will hold broken pieces of specimens.

Cherokee Hill-Read and Gisele de Souza

Cherokee Hill-Read (right) Gisele de Souza moving precious cargo of specimens to the Museum

There is a whole laundry list of things needed for a task like this to be started, but thankfully the Triplehorn Insect Collection and Doctor Luciana Musetti have agreed to help Antioch College with small items – like the barcodes and the label paper. While it might not seem like much, it is actually very helpful for Antioch and a great honor.

I hope to work on building a small insect collection at Antioch College. It will be mostly collected specimens from biodiversity samples. Currently the bees that were caught have been pinned using size 2 and size 0 pins. The bees large enough to be pinned with the size 2, have been spread while the smaller species have been point-mounted, meaning they have been glued to a small triangle on the size 0 pin. Further work is needed to determine the species down to genus.

BVT used to collect bees

BVT used to collect bees. Photo by Cherokee Read-Hill

Working on this internship, I have found a place I call a second home. I could spend hours (possibly days) in the quiet environment. Coming home smelling like naphthalene, the substance mothballs are generally made of, I feel peaceful. It is a great workplace and I would recommend this co-op internship to anyone interested in highly detailed work that can take days to finish, a quiet but friendly workplace, and a love for insects.

 


About the Author: Cherokee Hill-Read is an Environmental Science Major at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She is passionate about entomology and wants to pursue a higher degree in the field.  As a part of her academic Cooperative Education Program at Antioch, Cherokee spent three months (October 17 to December 17) at the Triplehorn Insect Collection as a Curatorial Intern, or as she calls it, “my co-op.” She wrote this post as a wrap-up of her activities here.  She did not mention that her photo appeared on an article on the Columbus Dispatch and on another post in this very blog. Cherokee made huge progress in the short period of time she’s been with us and she’s one of our team now.

What Happens to Insects in the Winter? — Guest post by MaLisa Spring

 

So kids (and kids at heart), we have been getting a lot of questions about what happens to insects in the winter. Do they build little homes with elaborate hearths to keep warm? Or perhaps they take a really long nap like bears when they hibernate?

The answer is: it depends. Although we can easily say they do not build miniature houses with a wood fire to stay warm, they might use several different strategies to get through the winter.

Some insects invade houses, much to the chagrin of the human occupants. You might not notice most of these temporary residents, but a few others make themselves known. The recent invasion of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, caught the public eye when they were found to invade houses in large numbers. (Brown Marmorated Stink Bug fact sheet – PDF to download)

The exotic Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis (below), is also notorious for invading houses in the fall. They spend the winter months in the cracks and crevices throughout the house. They form huge aggregations where they huddle together for warmth. However, our native species of lady beetle do not invade houses. So where do they go?!

The Multicolored Asian Ladybeetle.

This is the Multicolored Asian Lady beetle that most people are familiar with. A common house pest in the winter, they are still considered beneficial for their voracious appetite of aphids. Photo by the author.

Good question! Some lady beetles migrate. The Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens (below), and the Two-Spotted Lady Beetle, Adalia bipunctata, are both thought to travel long distances to find suitable hibernation sites where they tend to huddle together in large numbers. That causes temperature and humidity to increase under tree bark or boulders, and that in turn helps the lady beetles survive the winter.

Convergent lady beetle.

Our native convergent lady beetle, Hippodamia convergens, can be identified by the oval shape and two converging lines on the pronotum. Photo by the author.

In addition to lady beetles, there are many other insects that also migrate. When most people think of migration in insects they think of the Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. However, many other moth and butterfly species migrate south for the winter. What better way to deal with winter than to avoid it entirely?

Going back to lady beetles, they have even more strategies to survive winter. With over 450 species in North America, it is not surprising that they have developed multiple strategies to survive winter.

Many of our native species find refuge a bit closer to home. Like bears with hibernation, many insects go through diapause, a period of suspended development. Once in diapause, it takes several cues to get an insect to “wake up.” That is one of the reasons wh,  on those random warm days in the middle of winter, we are not surrounded by bleary eyed insects enjoying their one day of warm weather. Diapausing insects might bury themselves deep in the soil or in the crooks of trees to avoid most of the winter weather.

Some insects overwinter as eggs, as pictured here with these lady beetle eggs.

Some insects overwinter as eggs, as pictured here with these lady beetle eggs. Photo by the author.

Other insects have a secret weapon to survive in the brutal cold: they have a form of antifreeze in their blood! That keeps them from freezing to death during the winter. In some cases the insects keep foraging during the cold months! A good example is the Snow flea (not a flea, but actually a springtail). They have a special protein that keeps their blood from freezing in subzero temperatures. You can find them crawling around, albeit slowly, on snow in the winter. Just look for the tiny moving dark specks.

Overall, insects have many strategies for dealing with winter. I mentioned just a few of them. Insects do not disappear in the winter, you just have to know where to look to find them. Try digging in the soil or look closely at snow and you are sure to find some of those evasive little bugs.

 

About the Author: MaLisa Spring is an Entomology Graduate Research Fellow M.S. in Mary Gardiner’s Lab here at The Ohio State University. She is working on pollinator networks in urban environments. Find MaLisa Spring on Twitter @EntoSpring

From 4-H to the Triplehorn Insect Collection

 

“Hey, who’s the odd guy carrying that large net around along the edge of the woods over there?”

“I don’t know, but he sure looks silly doing whatever he’s doing!”

If you have ever seen someone with a net walking along the edge of the woods or along a roadside ditch, it might have been me in search of insects.

Riley handling an insect as a small child.

As a child, I picked up many insects. In my right hand I have a snack, but in my left hand, I have an insect.

Since I was a child, I have had an interest in finding insects. I can remember picking up cicadas at a family reunion when I was four or five years old, and since then, I was known as the bug boy in my family. Anytime a ‘strange’ looking insect appeared, I was immediately asked, “What is this?” or, “Is this going to sting me?” Once I was a bit older, I was asking the same people, “Can you catch it for me?”

As I grew older, I was introduced to the insect collecting project in 4-H, which is where I discovered my fascination of butterflies and moths. I would try and try to collect tiger swallowtails near my house, but they would fly up into the tree tops when I came running after them with my net. Not only were they difficult to collect, but once collected, they were difficult to properly prepare for my collection. I enjoyed learning to master the techniques with the butterflies so much, that I became attached to them and wanted to learn more and more about the life cycles, taxonomy, and anything else relating to them.

Towards the end of my senior year in high school, I decided to go to the Ohio State University to study entomology. While perusing the Entomology Department websites and other links associated with OSU, I came across the Triplehorn Insect Collection web page. As soon as I saw the web page and knew there was an insect collection, I wanted to be involved with it— especially if there was a chance that I would be working with butterflies and moths!

A drawer of skipper butterflies being databased.

A drawer of skipper butterflies in the process of being databased.

During my freshman year in college, I began working in the Triplehorn Insect Collection learning the basics while slowly being introduced to the butterflies and moths of the collection. During my sophomore year, I started working on the skipper butterflies. Not only do I work with skipper species from Ohio, but I work with the entire skipper collection.  The broad goal of my project is to curate and database the entire skipper collection while focusing on a few Ohio species. During this project, I have gained experience with insect taxonomy, different computer software, and most of all, I felt a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had been entrusted to work on an entire section of the collection.

Riley identifying a moth under a microscope.

Riley identifying a moth under a microscope.

This past summer, I was able to stay in Columbus, and I knew that I wanted to work in the insect collection. As a result, this was the perfect opportunity to meet the internship requirement for my entomology major and thus, I became an intern with the Triplehorn Insect Collection for the summer.

During my internship in the collection, I had three main areas of focus. The first focus was continuing the work with the skipper butterflies in the collection. My second focus was to learn the morphology of butterflies and moths with Dr. Steven Passoa, a National Lepidoptera Specialist with USDA/APHIS/PPQ. The third focus of my internship involved the databasing the darkling beetle collection, as part of a specimen data digitization project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Working with Dr. Passoa was one of the most enjoyable parts of my summer. He presented new techniques and ideas to me on a weekly basis that I could then apply to my work with the skipper butterflies and other areas of the butterfly and moth collection. His excitement for butterflies and moths fueled my own excitement for this group as I continued to work with him.

The beetle specimen is moved down the pin for glueing.

The specimen is being moved down the pin so glue can be applied to the pin at the proper spot.

With the darkling beetle portion of my time this summer, I was able to apply many of the same techniques used with butterfly curation and databasing for the darkling beetles, but I also learned how to fix beetle specimens known as spinners – ones that swivel around their pin freely. I enjoyed being able to apply knowledge from other areas of the collection to the beetle collection this summer and learning new techniques with the beetles. Although I spent a large portion of my summer working closely with beetles, my heart did not sway away from butterflies and moths.

Labels being placed back onto a specimen that needed to be glued to the pin.

After the “spinner” specimen has been glued to the pin, the labels are placed back onto the specimen using forceps, a pinning block, and a steady hand.

It is safe to say after working with other groups of insects that my true interest is working with butterflies and moths. Whether carrying a net along the edge of a forest in search of new specimens, or sitting at a microscope identifying butterflies and moths, I am enjoying what I am involved with at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and I am learning a lot.

 

About the Author: Riley Gott is an Undergraduate Curatorial Assistant at the Triplehorn Insect Collection. He is majoring in Entomology (Class of 2017) and he loves butterflies.