One Week Down

Aloha everyone,

I’ve just completed a little over a week out here. Last time I left you with some pictures of the first leg of my trip. The second leg was decidedly ‘uglier’ in the sense that not much scenery can beat the Appalachians. Also, it was a bit wet most of the way from Nashville coming into Missouri.

Just West of Nashville

Western Tennessee

A few more hours of driving had me in Kentucky and eventually Illinois. Both fit what I had heard of severely bad roads and boring scenery. I would note here that though Florida is just as flat, the wildlife and vegetation in Florida is much more interesting than corn fields.

And I didn’t find a single KFC

Corn Country

Tractors tilling off in the distance, flat, bad roads = Illinois

Indeed, the highlight of the second leg of my journey out here was driving through St. Louis. I’m not entirely sure about this, but the city might be one of the biggest in the Midwest. My understanding is that St. Louis is considered the Westernmost Eastern city in the U.S., and I would agree with that sentiment.

Perhaps the best – known landmark around

After settling in on Saturday afternoon, and bumbling around on Sunday without much to do other than pick up a few non-perishables, I came into work on Monday.

Here, I should note that I unconditionally love my boss. Jaime Pinero is one of the hardest working people I know. He has a wide range of experience that I won’t detail here, but suffice it to say that I could hardly ask for a better leader.

Unlike most of my previous experience, my work here is not just limited to pure research. I also take part in extension activities. I know many of you know that I work a lot with kids, even back in Florida, whether it’s giving talks or teaching about ecology and the environment, I do some of those things here, too. Extension work in the Midwest also includes helping farmers out when they ask for it. One of the first farms I went out to for this purpose was an organic farm in the far south western corner of MO.

Location: Middle of Nowhere, MO

My personal tag along while looking for insects, had some pretty neat clear, blue eyes, too

A West – facing image of the organic farm

My boss, Jaime, and the farmer herself

Evidence that IPM can lead to a commercially successful local, organic farming practice

Used for growing some more sensitive crops when they are smaller, or even through harvest. Similar to a greenhouse in that sense, but cheaper.

Even though a lot of my work involves driving around random parts of the State, things don’t get too dull because of the low population density.

Probably one of the best surprises of rural MO is the volume of green around here

For those of you who might think that I’m just carousing around, getting paid to chase bugs, I would remind you that while, yes, I do that, there is real work involved.

See, I’m not lying about doing actual field work


I call them ‘farmer’s hands’ because it fits my image of the stereotype. A mix of grease, dirt, insect frasse, and a whole lot of stuff I’m not too sure about.

While working, I’ve been lucky to observe some pretty neat things in the field. For example, here is a picture of Podisus maculiventris, an important predator insect species. This is one of the ‘good’ squash bugs. If you can’t see it in my image, look around the internet for some others of the piercing, sucking mouthpart. The insect uses this to hunt other ‘pest’ species of insect. Also, check out the eggs this female laid. They have a characteristic silvery sheen that is quite striking in person.

A female spined soldier bug and her freshly – laid eggs

The green lacewing is another of my favorite insects. Not only are its wings extraordinary (hint: the name of the insect) but the eggs it lays are equally neat.

One of my favorites. Egg is at the tip of the stalk which is anchored to the foliage.

I don’t know everything there is to know about insects, though. Lots of eggs, for instance, look like other insects eggs.

Found early in the morning. Unknown species. Located on underside of cotyledon of a young zucchini plant. Will investigate further.

I should clarify what my role is: A large part of my research and work here involves IPM (integrated pest management). IPM of insect species, whether in crops, or in urban settings, traditionally involved three categories: chemical control, mechanical / cultural control, and biological control. Chemical control has, since the ’40s and ’50s, been dominated by broad spectrum, environmentally damaging, human health problem – causing, compounds.

To some extent, this is changing today. Many of the most problematic chemicals have been phased out, or outlawed. Modern scientists are developing more targeted insecticides and herbicides that are also less persistent in the environment. There are also new, organically certified compounds (i.e. Spinosad, Pyganic, etc.) that can be used. Mechanical, or cultural control as it is sometimes called, is easier to implement, as it involves things like trap cropping, no-till agriculture, beetle banks, and the like.

If you want more information on any of these, it should be easy enough to find – I will attempt to keep this blog from being overly scientific. What I work on largely is the biological component of IPM, i.e. conservation of natural predator species and the like.

Conventional farm, but limited insecticide use. This was where I found the egg mass, above.

Other than the sweep net, wire cutter, etc., I think duct tape is a universally useful tool in any given profession.

Big time farmer, Rusty Lee, located ~25 miles outside of St. Louis. Population of this town = 14.

Close up of previous picture detailing bait traps of different colors along a row of cucurbit plants. Purpose is to determine efficacy of said traps as part of a mass trapping strategy for cucumber beetles.

That makes three pairs in three months.

Yellow sticky cards, clear corn rootworm traps, cucumber beetle lures; all placed near Blue Hubbard squash to test attractiveness.

This is what it all looks like when put together.

So there you have it. A small selection of the things I do.

Some notes on the culture here: it’s conservative, but a different kind of conservatism from the proverbial ‘Deep South’. Indeed, what passes as a very conservative person here might be construed as a moderate or even liberal in Mississippi. People here have the potential to be exceedingly friendly, in this sense.

Either way, things are a bit on the lonely side here. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Jefferson City. Of all the people I have talked to, it would seem that all the things-to-do are located in Columbia, MO, about a half hour drive.

I’ve taken the initiative to work a little extra every day, for every day of the week (read: including weekends) such that I can come home a little on the early side. I’ll hopefully be back in Florida by early August.

I should further note that I haven’t really had internet access, hence the delay in posting this update. The IT department here should have things figured out by the end of this coming week so I should be able to post more regularly after that.

And as always, feel free to ask any questions or post suggestions, or ideas you would like to see implemented.