By Laura Knowles
Some might call them bugs.
For Millersville alumni and students in the field of Entomology, they are insects, and these creatures are their life’s work.
“Many people think of insects as pests, and many of them can be dangerous, like disease-carrying mosquitos, which kill as many as a million people a year” says Dr. John Wallace, Millersville University biology professor and director of Millersville’s Center for Environmental Sciences — known to many as the “Bug Guy” at MU.
Wallace came to the University in 1998 to pick up the entomological torch that Dr. Syd Radinovsky, aka “Dr. Rad,” passed to him. In addition to the many entomological courses he teaches, Wallace has been advisor to the Entomology Club that “Dr. Rad” started 52 years ago.
As Wallace points out, insects have an important role in the earth’s ecosystem. Those pesky mosquitoes are part of the food chain. Without them, other creatures like bats would have nothing to eat.
“Sure, from a medical entomological perspective, mosquitoes are the most important insect in terms of the medical and economic costs annually to humans and livestock. So when you have a mosquito buzzing around you, it might seem like a good idea to just get rid of them, but that can have a catastrophic effect,” says Wallace. “The diversity of the earth depends on insects. Everything is interrelated. While it might be hard to believe, human survival depends on insects.”
BUSY AS BEES
Take the honey bee. It may sting, but it provides honey, the one food that never spoils. Honey bees are the pollinators of the earth, responsible for pollinating just about every crop there is from cherries to peaches to oranges. Quite simply, we would all die without honey bees to pollinate our food sources.
Wallace and two students, Rob Parkes and Dorian Seibel, started an on-campus apiary last summer. The pair received two grants to cover the cost of the bees, their hives and related beekeeping gear like smokers, beekeeping suits, netting and gloves. MU alum and local beekeeper Dan Bleeker provided two hives with between 6,000 and 10,000 honey bees to the University.
“This is very exciting news for Millersville. As far as I know, we may have the first apiary among the State System universities,” says Wallace.
The goal is to increase the number of hives to at least eight in the coming years. Each hive can house as many as 15,000 bees and produce up to 60 pounds of honey each year.
“The apiary project we started will allow students to gain valuable entomological, service and potentially research experiences long after we have graduated,” says Parkes. “It is exciting to leave a mark and provide opportunities for future students to learn.”
MOSQUITOES, BLACK FLIES & MORE
The University’s insect population extends beyond bees to include a variety of insects like black flies and mosquitoes for students who hope to pursue entomology as a career.
Recently, MU students have been doing research on the deadly mosquito, which has received a lot of publicity in the last year due to the rise in the dangerous Zika virus. The main culprit for this disease is the Aedes aegypti, also called the yellow fever mosquito, but there is also a second species, Aedes albopictus, known as the Asian tiger mosquito, which has been linked to the virus.
Millersville students like seniors Kayli Thomas ’17 and Phil Hutchinson ’17 have been hard at work raising these mosquitoes. The specimens will be used in a study of a new mosquito trap, which is being developed by Novelty Manufacturing Co. here in Lancaster.
Several alums are also getting involved in mosquito research. Recent alum Ryan Walker ’16 worked with Dr. Wallace to develop a dichotomous key for larval mosquito identification, which will be useful for the Hunterdon County Department of Public Health West Nile Control Program. Also, alumna Calen Wylie ’15 has researched a new approach to control adult mosquitoes using plant extracts from the Tree of Heaven, a deciduous tree native to northeast and central China, and Taiwan.
Black flies are another insect species that current MU students and alums are dedicated to observing and researching. Molecular biology major Frank Herr ’17 is at work examining how current larval control methods that kill black flies influence the microbial community structure in rivers and streams. Microbes are important organisms at the base of these aquatic food webs because they help to make leaf matter palatable for aquatic insects. Damage to these microbes can have major effects on the whole system.
Several students are examining the links between members of an ecosystem. In addition to her work with mosquitoes, Thomas is also working on a collaborative project with alum Rebecca McCabe ’13 which examines the potential transmission of avian pathogens by louse flies on migrating hawks. Jenn Houtz ’18 is also focusing on the connection between insects and birds. She is working with Dr. Brent Horton and Wallace on a microbiome project focused on tracking the microbial community shifts in nestling birds from birth to fledgling, when they are experiencing a dietary shift from an insect-based diet to one of grains and seeds.
“This project demonstrates that insects are connected to all forms of life, including birds,” says Houtz, who plans to enter a doctorate program in zoology.
Insects play a crucial role in the world’s ecosystem. While they may be considered a pest to some, Millersville University students, professors and alums understand their importance and are working on many valuable projects that could have a great impact on all of our futures. We would be wise to tune into the all-important conversation surrounding insects because as Wallace reiterates in his favorite quote courtesy of famous naturalist John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Dr. Gary Miller ’80
USDA, AGRICULTURE RESEARCH SERVICE,
SYSTEMATIC ENTOMOLOGY LABORATORY
Much of DR. GARY MILLER’S research
involves the identification and
classification of insects. His work relates
to naming and describing new species,
as well as providing a final identification
authority for aphids and related groups
that are intercepted at U.S. ports of entry.
In his research of aphids, which are also
known as plant lice, he has discovered
more than 30 new species of insects.
One of them is a mealybug named
Dysmicoccus radinovsky after
Dr. Syd Radinovsky.
Dr. Robert F. Smith ’00
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, BIOLOGY
DEPARTMENT AT LYCOMING COLLEGE
DR. ROBERT SMITH became enamored
with insects while he was a biology
student at Millersville. He is an assistant
professor at Lycoming College, and
researches aquatic insects, with a recent
focus on Caddisflies (Trichoptera). His
studies relate to the ecology of aquatic
systems in natural and human dominated
landscapes, looking at insects from the
perspective of how people living closer to
streams today affects where insects live.
Dr. Frank Rinkevich ’02
USDA-ARS HONEY BEE BREEDING,
GENETICS AND PHYSIOLOGY
DR. FRANK RINKEVICH is doing his
part to save the threatened honey bees.
Now living in Baton Rouge, Rinkevich
works for the USDA-ARS researching
honey bee breeding, genetics and
physiology. Through the course of his
career, he has studied insects such as
house flies, diamondback moths,
Colorado potato beetles and mosquitoes.
His current research includes evaluating
insecticide sensitivity among honey
bee subspecies to agrochemicals and
Michael Broomall ’05
STROUD WATER RESEARCH CENTER,
MICHAEL BROOMALL credits Millersville
University and working at Stroud Water
Research Center with giving him the
opportunity to study insects in different
streams, rivers and lakes, from the
headwaters of Pennsylvania streams to
the mighty Mississippi River. He researches
aquatic macroinvertebrates, freshwater
insects and a few non-insects, that live a
portion of their lives in freshwater.
Dr. Rachel McNeish (Barker) ’09
POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOW AT
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO
DR. RACHEL MCNEISH’S interest in
studying insects began in Ecology Lab at
MU when her labmate wanted to study
aquatic macroinvertebrate communities
in a tributary of the Little Conestoga River
for their semester project. She pursued
graduate school because she discovered
that she loved working in river systems
in Wallace’s research lab and wanted
to expand her research and education
opportunities. She is currently studying
how much microplastic is incorporated
into aquatic food webs and how it impacts
microbial communities throughout
Scott Starr ’08
TEACHING ASSISTANT, TEXAS TECH
UNIVERSITY, DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGICAL
SCIENCES, TEACHING CONSULTANT FOR THE
TEACHING, LEARNING & PROFESSIONAL
DEVELOPMENT CENTER (TLPDC)
SCOTT STARR first became interested
in insects when he learned about the
fishing lures that are used in fly-fishing.
Many of the lure patterns attempt to
imitate specific species of insects and
invertebrates that live within the streams
and rivers. He is currently working on his
Ph.D. in biology at Texas Tech University,
studying dragonflies and damselflies of
the Order Odonata and the invertebrate
communities of playa wetlands.
Rebecca A. McCabe ’13
HAWK MOUNTAIN SANCTUARY,
NOVELTY MANUFACTURING CO.
In her work with Hawk Mountain
Sanctuary, REBECCA MCCABE’S research
focuses on birds of prey, like eagles and
hawks. While trapping and banding
migrating raptors, she decided to collect
the louse fly, which can only be seen
when “you have a bird in hand” and is an
ectoparasite that feeds on the blood of
their host. The study is expanding to look
at the microbial diversity and community
of these louse flies as a collaborative
project with Wallace’s lab and Michigan
State University. She is also working for
Novelty Manufacturing Co., assisting with
field tests and the launch of a new type of
mosquito oviposition trap.
Joe Receveur ’16
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
At Millersville, JOE RECEVEUR undertook
a unique honors thesis that focused on
cutting-edge research addressing the
impact of large storm events such as
Hurricane Sandy on mosquito habitats
and how larval mosquito control agents
influence the microbial environment in
which they live. He has continued his
research on mosquitoes, in particular the
Aedes aegypti mosquito that is linked with
the Zika virus. Currently, he is a graduate
student at Michigan State University in the
lab of Eric Benbow, working on mosquito
oviposition (where mosquitoes lay their
eggs) and the chemical compounds
produced by bacteria that attract
Kristin Sloyer ’11
FLORIDA MEDICAL ENTOMOLOGY
LABORATORY IN VERO BEACH, FLA.
KRISTIN SLOYER is proof that studying
creepy-crawly things is not just for men.
She is currently working on her master’s
degree studying medical entomology at
the University of Florida, and is working
in Dr. Nathan Burkett-Cadena’s lab at the
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in
Vero Beach. At the Research and Education
Center of the University of Florida, she is
doing research on biting midges in the
Culicoides genus, commonly known as
no-see-ums — those tiny, pesky biters that
are nearly invisible.
Jennifer Stough ’03, M. ’16
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF
Working with the Pennsylvania
Department of Environmental Protection,
JENNIFER STOUGH is involved in the
West Nile and Zika Programs, where she
conducts surveillance and controls for the
mosquitoes that transmit these diseases.
Her work includes setting mosquito traps
in response to West Nile and Zika cases;
controlling for mosquito larvae in areas
such as storm water basins, tires, ditches
and sewage treatment plants using
various bacterial products; conducting
adult mosquito control sprays; training
personnel on all aspects of mosquito
biology and educating the public