Friday, July 16, 2010

Nature Leaders Training School

Nature Leaders Training School in Terra Alta is a part of the Schrader Center Nature program at Olgebay Park, Wheeling, West Virginia. It is an 80 year old program and I felt privileged to attend. I had been here a couple times before for weekends but this was my first full week experience.  The week was devoted to arthropods and their collection for scientific research. The program was designed for Master Naturalists and teachers. The idea behind it is that the Master Naturalists like me would learn these techniques and help in collecting for the state in their efforts to document the health and distribution of crayfish and insects. The teachers were there to do the same but with an added twist of getting their students involved and excited about natural history. Hopefully some day one of those students will become a professional biologist and work in WV to help save our environment. The program description said, "All specimens collected during the week or during independent collecting trips following our training will have the option of being deposited in either the Invertebrate Range at Carnegie Museum or the West Liberty University Astacology Collection. Collectors names will accommodate specimens in these collections for hundreds of years into the future." It was not an opportunity I was about to miss.

This was the dining hall and main class room when the weather was bad.

We met here for many of the outdoor classes and lunch.

Here is a photo of my room.  They provided tents but I decided to take my own.

One of the afternoons the Entomologists from Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh taught us how to use the various collecting methods to collect insects from the field.

John Ralwins showed us how to make a light bucket like the one he uses. He also taught us a lot about insects as well as curating techniques and their value. Each of the professional entomologist was a leader in their own field. Dr. Rawlins specializes in moths and I will be sending him lot of the ones from my porch that I have been photographing this summer. He will identify them and eventually send a report to the WV Department of Natural Resources to help them in their monitoring efforts. Remember most of the these moths feed on the trees in our forest and while most are not pest, there are a few that can be.  From my previous posts you are probably aware that I love moths so I was a little hesitant to collect them but since I am not just smashing them on the deck or zapping them with a bug zapper but rather using scientific methods of collecting and documenting I comfortable with my decision to be a part of his efforts.

Bob Davidson is primarily interested in Carbides, ground beetles, and he explained how to make pitfall traps and set out bananas to attract them. I first met Bob at a WV Entomology Society Meeting where he was trying to find a rare cave beetle in one of the caves in the southern part of the state.

Bob Androw, is collecting June Bugs and other Scarab beetles for WV and he showed us how to make another kind of trap to catch flying insects near trees. He is a master at pinning insects and gave us lessons on how to pin longhorn beetles and pull out the genitalia of June bugs. June bugs look similar and in some cases the only way to tell the difference is to look at the male sex organs.  You haven't lived until you've pulled out beetle penises while looking through a microscope.

Chen Young is one of two experts in North America on Craneflies. He showed me the unique way they are pinned and preserved. He has also developed a fantastic online key for Craneflies.

Another method of collecting insects is to use a light sheet and UV light. It is similar to what I do on my back porch by turning my light on the evening but this is much more powerful.  It was amazing at the variety and quantity of insects that showed up at these lights.

After we collected a few on our own they taught us the first stages to curate the specimens. Pinning was much more difficult than I thought and is almost an art form. Since I have been home and doing some of my own I have realized that pinning and labeling insects is kind of meditative like doing a jigsaw puzzle and actually rather relaxing on a 100 degree day when staying inside.

They provided spreading boards, pins and other tools for us to take home and use so I knew they were serious about having us help in the collecting and valued our future contributions.


Ellen Rathbone said...

What a terrific program! How lucky you are to have this offered. Happy collecting!

squirrel said...

Thank you Ellen. I am not a professional in the natural history world so it is a great opportunity for me to actually contribute to science. Did you find another job?

Nature ID said...

Thanks for the crane fly link. I've been looking for one for a while. It looks like you have a lot of fun!