Tag Archives: brackenridge field lab

West Nile Virus Swatted at Science Under the Stars

Photo credit: User Salvadorjo on Wikipedia

Don’t miss the Science Under the Stars lecture series on Thursday evenings once a month this Fall 2012:

  • September 13 – Stavana Strutz, West Nile Virus
  • October 11 – Patrick Stinson, Frog Calls and Response to Noise
  • November 8 – Chintan Modi, Vaccine Development and Fluorescence
  • December 13 – Michael Gully-Santiago, Astronomy

Science Under the Stars lectures are held at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory at 7:30 p.m. They serve great refreshments and have fun activities for kids.

West Nile Virus

This Thursday’s lecture on West Nile Virus is very timely. Travis County and all of Texas has been hit hard by this virus carried by mosquitoes.

Ms. Stavana Strutz will talk about why this year has been so terrible with hundreds of infections across the state. In addition to West Nile virus, she will also talk about Chagas disease, another illness transmitted by insect carriers.

Here are some ways to combat mosquitoes and the virus:

  • Drain standing water.
  • Put fish that eat mosquitoes in your ponds.
  • Wear insect repellent.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants.
  • Avoid going outside at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are active.

Brackenridge Field Laboratory

Science Under the Stars is held at the Brackenridge Field Lab, where they also hold the fun Insecta Fiesta in the Spring.

In the Austin American Statesman, I saw that Mr. John Crutchfield retired as resident manager of the Brackenridge Field Lab. I only met Mr. Crutchfield a few times but each time he was very kind and I knew he had a love of nature. I hope that I will see him again.

I had a great time over the summer at the lab volunteering for Ms. Laura Dugan’s graduate research on the Jeweled Cichlid, an invasive species invading the waterways of Northern Mexico. Learn more about this invasive fish:

Science Under the Stars will always be special to me, because I won my first video contest with them for my first video, “Who will fell this titan?”, in May 2011.

Your friend,

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Filed under Brackenridge Field Lab, Jewel Cichlid, John Crutchfield, Laura Dugan, Mosquitoes, Ms. Stavana Strutz, Science Under the Stars, West Nile Virus

Entomology adventures with Insecta Fiesta at the UT Austin Brackenridge Field Lab

I had a great time learning about insects last weekend at the Insecta Fiesta. It was held on Saturday, April 21, 2012, at the UT Austin Brackenridge Field Lab.

You can see from the picture above that this place had a big bug problem, but that’s a good thing. (Although you can’t see it in this picture, I kept my swatter close by in case this gigantic cockroach got out of hand.)

This hissing cockroach was down to size. It was cool holding him because it felt like many dull thumbtacks poking me.

Strangely, it did not hiss for me. I think it was tired of hissing at all the people that came before me. When I put him (it?) back down, it skittered away.

Here I sit next to a homemade bug city in their butterfly garden. It’s really a refuge that everyone can make because there are many places for bugs to hide and burrow in with no fear of being squished.

Magnificent UT Austin insect collection

Dr. Tom Atkinson, research scientist with College of Natural Sciences, took us on a tour of the UT Austin Insect Collection. He was really nice and showed us their extensive collection. Although it’s not as big as Texas A&Ms, he said they’re not trying to have the biggest collection (although they have a lot!), but they are trying to specialize in the insects of this area.

They have wonderful tools for preserving and pinning insects at their field lab.

Commander Ben’s insect collection

I love collecting insects, although I have not formally pinned many of the insects in my collection. After they’ve dried out, I keep my specimens in a plastic box with dividers.

Some of my favorites, I put in small, clear card boxes, and I keep my specimens safe by putting cotton balls around them.

Here’s my “pièce de résistance“, an Ironclad Beetle that I found hanging on a screen door a few years ago. It has an extremely hard exoskeleton, and I learned that you have to use a small drill to pierce the exoskeleton, if you want to pin it. I like keeping it on a wall in my room.

I have many more insects in my collection, but four more that I really like are my:

* Click beetle
* Large walking stick
* Huge assassin beetle
* Unusual tree cricket.

Click beetles and butterflies at UT Austin

Here’s a picture of UT Austin’s click beetle collection. They are really cool because when you try to hold or catch them, they try to get away by clicking and hopping their bodies, almost like a seesaw. They feed on organic material and roots, and you’ll find them in central Texas, so be sure to look for them the next time you’re hunting insects.

Dr. Atkinson showed us a beautiful display of butterflies, but sadly, he said it was not very scientifically useful because the insects were not labeled or identified. Be sure to label the insects in your collection!

He said that everyone can catch the larger bugs, and they have tons in their collection. (Note to graduate students, collect more smaller insects!)

Update: Learn more about North and Central American bark and ambrosia beetles at Dr. Atkinson’s Bark Beetles website.

Beware of food with insects!

They had tons of different insect food to taste, and a lot were made with crickets. I think that people are more open to eating crickets and not mealworms, especially live ones, as that can make you squeamish. (Take a look at me eating a mealworm at Explore UT.)

They were sold out of the following when I stopped by:

  • Cajun crickets, which were dried, baked, and flavored with cajun spices
  • Salt and pepper crickets, which were also dried and baked, but with salt and pepper

The graduate student who I talked with (and who I met at Explore UT too!) said that the least favorite snacks were the ones where people could see the insects. She said that the critter popcorn crunch, which was caramel popcorn with caramelized beetle larva, was not selling well, probably because it was too easy to see the larva. (I didn’t want it either.)

I didn’t want to eat any because I was still recovering from having all four of my wisdom teeth out earlier in the week…

Cricket spitting contest

But that didn’t stop me from taking part in the cricket spitting contest. At the front of the line, where people were waiting to spit crickets, someone held a container full of crickets that had been frozen, but were thawed out.

I grabbed one of the crickets with my hand, and I was initially wary of putting one in my mouth, but I finally stuffed it in (and went back for a second time too.) I think I made it up to 13 or 14 feet both times without anyone getting hit.

They started out with 1000 crickets, but the activity was so popular that they soon began to run out.

On spider safari

Here I stand with a very nice man, Spider Joe (Joe Lapp). He didn’t like spiders, but preferred insects when he was younger. But he grew to like them and became very knowledgeable about them.

He talked about spiders to our group and asked what’s the difference between insects and spiders? The other kids had a lot of answers, like six or eight legs, but the key answer is that an insect has three body segments: head, thorax, and abdomen. Spiders only have a head and abdomen.

As part of his activity, he walked around through the tall grass with his spider collecting net. He dumped the insects and spiders that he caught on his inspecting canvas. He identified the arachnids that he caught and passed them around in small containers for everyone to see. He mostly caught orb weavers, like Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web. He also found a wolf spider that I liked because it has a cool way of hunting prey. (They don’t wait for the prey to come to them.)

He also showed us a brown recluse in a clear container. It was small and difficult to see, but I was able to make out a fiddle on its back.

Our group walked along a wilderness trail around Brackenridge Field Lab, and Spider Joe stopped along the way to have us look for spiders. In such a wonderfully wooded area, there were a good many spiders. That was a very fun activity. No tarantulas sadly, as I really like tarantulas.

Spider Joe was a really nice man, and if you ever get a chance to get a guided tour from him, jump at the chance.

A secret find!

Here I stand by their experimental gardens. Who knows what secret and mysterious creatures are inside! (I took a peek, but it looks like a bunch of plants…hey…wait a minute, was that an invasive?)

I really enjoyed the Insecta Fiesta. The professors and graduate students at the Brackenridge Field Lab did a great job. It was wonderful to be around so many bugs and so many people who loved nature so much.

Your friend,
Commander Ben

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Filed under Brackenridge Field Lab, Click beetle, College of Natural Sciences, Crickets, Dr. Tom Atkinson, Entomology, Hissing cockroach, Insecta Fiesta, Insects, Ironclad beetle, Orb spiders, Spider Joe, Spider safari, Spiders, UT Austin Insect Collection

Invasive Jewel Cichlid Shatters Native Ecosystems

Although an attractive fish for aquariums, when West African Jewel Cichlids invade the ecosystems in Northern Mexico, they can cause havoc. Ms. Laura Dugan describes her research on this invasive fish, and how she is trying to determine the impacts of the species’ competition with natives and factors for their distribution and spread.

Ms. Dugan, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, also talked about her lab experiments into the temperature profile of the fish, including their:

  • Thermal range (determined as 14-40 degrees Celsius)
  • Temperature preference (reviewing the results now)
  • Optimal temperature for growth (will be researching soon)

She is also researching the competition between this invasive fish and native fish that live in northern Mexico too. She will weigh the fish before and after the experiments to see if they grew.

Thanks for talking with me Ms. Dugan and for helping me make my first video about invasive fish. I also found your blog talking about your past research.

Science Under the Stars

I had a chance to talk with Ms. Dugan about her research when I attended this month’s Science Under the Stars talk at the UT Austin Brackenridge Field Laboratory.

I learned about Science Under the Stars in May 2011 when I entered my very first science video as part of their video contest. I won first place (yea!), and they gave me a fantastic navy blue shirt (thanks!) with their logo and a fire ant (invasive!) carrying off the state of Texas.

Before this month’s talk, they had a neat activity to help you learn about Charles Darwin’s Finches. They showed plates with different foods, such as rice, beans, and chocolate covered walnuts, and they also had different tweezers and tongs. They showed how the finches developed very specialized beaks (the utensils) to pick up the different sized food.

Conflict Avoidance: How NOT Competing Can Be The Ticket to Success

For the March 2012 Science Under the Stars talk, Ms. Genevieve Smith, a graduate student with UT Austin-Integrative Biology, gave a great presentation.

She gave a lot of examples and talked about many scientists, including one who observed a lot of different species of birds that lived in a tree. He found that the different species lived in different parts of the tree and avoided conflict with each other.


Filed under College of Natural Sciences, Darwin’s Finches, Jewel Cichlid, Laura Dugan, Ms. Genevieve Smith, Science Under the Stars, University of Texas