A casual observer would stumble on what appears to be a simple field trip to an on-campus pond. Don’t let appearances fool you. In Professor Michael Draney’s “Entomology Laboratory: Aquatic Insects” class, students must collect, preserve, prepare, label and correctly identify 50 insect specimens, each belonging to a different insect family.
“This assignment is not only a ‘high quality’ hands-on assignment, but it also teaches skills and procedures that are absolutely fundamental to the scientific study of insects, which is the most diverse lineage of animals on our planet,” Draney explains. “Students also receive extra points for specimens that are not on a list of ‘commonly collected’ families, or for unusual species of even common families. This encourages the students to plan a collecting strategy and it rewards them for diligence and initiative.”
An implied lesson: Finding “rare” organisms does not take luck; it takes knowledge and hard work.
Yes, the assignment requires that insects are killed to study them microscopically, so that specimens can be preserved for future studies. Collection specimens become integrated into the Richter Museum of Natural History on campus, where they are used to teach future entomology students, and where they are maintained and preserved to serve as a basis of our knowledge of these animals in our area.
The assignment, which took place at Upahki Pond, on campus, is also an opportunity to teach about ethical collecting techniques in biology. Students are taught to collect judiciously and with minimal environmental impact, and material that is not used in this year’s insect collections is preserved and made available for students in future entomology courses.
“Although different insects can be found in different kinds of lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands, we head out to a constructed body of water on campus called Upahki Pond, because although many aquatic habitats are ecologically sensitive, this pond is “tough” and is not changed much by an afternoon of collecting once a year by our class,” Draney said.
Students learn a few basic collecting techniques (kicknet, plankton tow, sieve bucket) that can yield a huge array of insects if properly employed in different habitats and microhabitats, Draney said.
“This lab, held mid-September, is also an excellent opportunity for us to get outside and explore our beautiful campus on one of last days of the year when it actually feels good to get wet!”
– Photos by Lindsey Przybylski, student photographer, Office of Marketing and University Communication.