I Found Something. What Is it?

Today, you’ve found something and you don’t know what it is, if it will hurt you, or what you should do. It might be something you found at work, in the woods, in your car or yard, or even in the area where you feel most vulnerable, the bathroom. Please, do not panic. Instead, calmly pull out your phone try to take pictures at different angles and maybe relocate the animal in a safe container. Cooling the animal in a refrigerator for a short period of time may help for photos. Jody Green, an extension agent with the University of Nebraska, has some great tips of getting a good picture with your phone.

Platycryptus undatus

A little jumping spider (Platycryptus undatus) explores the new world to which it has been transported.

After that, you’ll need to contact someone or a group who can identify the animal for you. On Facebook, there are several groups (Entomology, BugGuide, Bi-State Bugs (Insects of Missouri and Illinois)) that can help provide an identification. Bugguide.net and iNaturalist are also great resources for identifications. For those of you on Twitter, be sure to reach out to entomologists if you know any. Try adding #BugID to your post to help entomologists like me find you. There are many of us on Twitter that are willing and happy to help. We may know the answer or know someone else who will.

If you do post on these Facebook pages or Twitter, then be sure to provide information about the habitat, date, and approximate location of where you found the insect, spider, or other creature. This information can be the difference between a family level identification (metallic wood-boring beetle) to a species level identification (emerald ash borer). However, don’t be frustrated if your picture is unidentifiable.

Dictyopharidae

This dictyopharid planthopper has a “horn” that makes it easy to identify. With my current knowledge, I cannot identify this insect beyond the family level. Other entomologists may be able to provide more information.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, there are a bunch of insect species. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are very tiny, while others seem gigantic. Furthermore, some species look very similar and photos alone are not enough for a correct identification. Why? Currently, there are more than 1.2 million described insect species. Those are just the insects that entomologists have been able to describe to date. These represent just a fraction of what remain to be described. There are also many species of spiders and other arthropods.

Red Velvet Mite

A red velvet mite (Thrombidiidae) patrols for its food in a forest. How could you not like something that looks this soft?

Once you’ve had the animal identified, it’s likely that you won’t need to take any steps. Many species simply cannot survive indoors or do not pose harm to humans. A simple “live and let live” approach is often the best path. Each of these insects plays a role in the environment. If it is something you are concerned about, then you should contact your local extension agent to determine the best option(s).

Here’s the short version for those in a rush:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Grab your phone or camera. Use the steps mentioned in Jody’s blog for better photos.
  3. Post the picture to a Facebook group or Twitter (#BugID), check out Bugguide.net, or speak with a local extension agent.
  4. Ask questions if you need to know more.
  5. Listen to the recommendations of trusted sources (extension agents, university researchers, etc.) or find reliable information on university websites. Do not take action unless necessary.

Have a great day! Feel free to contact me on Twitter or through my e-mail on the Contact section of this blog.

Why I Study Insects and Who I Am

Welcome to my first ever blog! My name is Dalton Ludwick. I am currently working on a Ph.D. in entomology. I thought I would start this blog by telling you about a big part of my life. Insects, insects, and more insects.

As a child, I would pick up worms and place them in my pockets. My mom hated finding these after the clothes were washed. My brother and I also competed to collect the most cicada shells (exuviae) each summer. I also chased and caught fireflies. When I mowed our yard, I saw so many little flying things. It was much later that I found out that these small insects were mostly leafhoppers. In short, there were many experiences with insects, but never with any real scientific curiosity.

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A firefly (lightningbug) crawling across a window screen on the outside of my house.

Let’s fast forward to high school. I became involved with FFA my freshman year. With encouragement from my ag advisors, I competed in several Career Development Events (CDEs). Thanks to FFA (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America), I found out about entomology and was even able to compete in the entomology CDE my junior year. As part of the CDE, we learned about important agricultural pests, beneficial insects, and many other insects. Between the joy in FFA and strong interest in entomology, I realized my passion was to help agriculture through entomology. After we competed in the Missouri State FFA competition, I shifted my attention from a career in architecture to a career in entomology. My ag advisors helped me find entomology and related degrees (e.g. plant sciences) so that I could apply to the right degree programs.

I went to the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) and enrolled in Plant Sciences with an emphasis in Plant Protection. If I had any hope to improve agriculture, then I felt I needed to know how plants respond to insects. Fortunately, my first entomological job was in the Wilbur R. Enns Entomology Museum and not in a laboratory studying pests. This expanded my knowledge of insects so very much. Having never left the United States, I could barely imagine the incredibly diversity of insects across the world. Every chance I got, I’d peek into random drawers of butterflies from South America, grasshoppers from Africa, beetles from Asia. There are even fascinating insects in backyards and forests in the United States. Visually, insects are simply remarkable.

Leuconycta diphteroides

An owlet moth (Leuconycta diptheroides) stands still on a mirrored glass. The photo was taken in my backyard at night.

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A plume moth (Pterophoridae) found resting on the side of my house after being attracted by light.

As a side note, you should definitely visit an entomological museum at least once in your life.

The manager at the museum dragged me to a monthly C.V. Riley Entomological Society meeting. It was there I met others with a deep fascination of insects. Thanks to the graduate students and other undergraduates in the group, I was welcomed and got to participate in collecting trips. I had no clue how much fun I was missing out on until my first collecting trip. It’s one thing to see dead insects from all over the world, but it’s another thing entirely to see these hopping, crawling, and flying.

Because insects are so cool, I check for insects everywhere I go. I look in my backyard all the time. I check the same parks I’ve searched hundreds of times. I’ve posted some pictures of these insects here. Still, I find new insects almost every single day. It’s not just me. Other researchers and insect enthusiasts experience this.

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A leafhopper (Graphocephala sp.) found in Missouri. You don’t have to travel far to see such wonders.

After a couple years in the museum, I landed a job in a lab studying western corn rootworm and left the museum. Finally, I found a job which combined agriculture and entomology. I got to become involved with research an insect which impacts corn growers most years. Western corn rootworm is known as a “billion dollar bug” because it costs corn growers approximately one billion dollars (USD) each year through yield losses and the amount it costs to reduce damage. This insect impacts corn growers across the corn growing areas of United States. This same insect even causes problems in Europe where it is an invasive pest.

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A female western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte) feeding on corn leaves.

This lab is where I now study and conduct my dissertation research as part of my doctoral degree. This lab has documented different ways we (industry, academia, and growers) can control western corn rootworm or better conduct research. Ultimately, I hope my research helps at least one farmer. It would fulfill my goal set by my high school self.

Want to learn more about insects? You should follow these amazing people and many other entomologists on Twitter: Catherine Scott, Sean McCann, Gil Wizen, Gwen Pearson, Creepy Crawlies with Christy, Alex Wild, Ainsley S, and Phil Torres.

Have a great day!