Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A female Argiope aurantia in a potato field.
A male (under side) Argiope aurantial in a potato field.

Argiope aurantia, the garden spider or corn spider, is stirring up some concerns in the panhandle. We seem to have a bumper crop of these critters this year and some people are concerned about their safety with these 8-legged behemoths lurking around. They are pretty striking; the females are black and yellow with long, black legs, and a body about 1/2 inch wide and 1 and 1/2 inches long. If you have arachnophobia, I'm sure that these animals would send you into shock. However, don't panic, they are good critters to have. They are not poisonous to humans or pets, although a large number of them (and their webbing) can make scouting field crops a notably unpleasant experience. However, they are beneficial for (at least) a couple notable reasons: 1) One of their common names is "corn spider" and they can be a frequent occurrence in corn fields around this time of year. In Nebraska, we irrigate quite a few acres of cropland. Many of these acres use overhead irrigation systems. These systems are held up and moved across the land with tires. Tires leave tire tracks that can hold pools of water and these tracks can make great breeding habitats for Culex sp. mosquitoes -- the vectors of West Nile Virus. These mosquitoes can be quite common, particularly in western Nebraska. Although adult garden spiders probably prefer something bigger like grasshoppers, the smaller, immature spiders may help keep those pestiferous mosquitoes down. 2) A quick search on my favorite reference database reveals many, many papers concerning the protein, material properties, and potential application of this species' silk. So, although some of you may cry, "eeek" upon walking up on one of these critters, they may also be giving a lot of benefit to us in return.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We have some research going on in the lab to understand the potential of Trichograma ostrineae (a parasitic wasp) to control the western bean cutworm (a pest of corn and edible dry beans). These are very, very tiny native wasps that like to lay eggs inside of caterpillar eggs. There are other pest insects that they attack as well, such as the European corn borer. I have an intern from UNESP, Brazil that is helping me understand the parasitism efficiency of this parasitoid on corn and edible dry beans. Bellow is a short video I took of the tiny wasps moving about inside of a petri dish containing a corn leaf with western been cutworm eggs on it. The eggs are less than 1mm.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The 2010 PREC Entomology Lab.

 Recently at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, we had our UNL Expo. This is basically a showcase of all of the cool stuff that we are doing out in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Henda Pretorius took the opportunity to organize a photo shoot and Gary Stone kindly took some photos. I had such an amazing crew helping out this summer that I thought it worth while to post a couple photos here of the folks that helped make a lot of work happen this summer.
From Left to right: Jeana Jenkins (UNL undergrad), Sarah Peters (UNL undergrad), Kyle Koch (MS student), Henda Pretorius (International scholar), Johan Pretorius (PhD student), Riley Smith (UNL undergrad), Nathan Faulkner (UNL undergrad), Fernanda Pelegrinotti (International intern, UNESP, Brazil), Susan Harvey (Technician), Rick Patrick (Technician), me. I need to credit the creative lay out of my photos on the wall to the undergrads -- nice job!

My graduate students working the PREC Entomology Lab booth.