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Downtown SEL hosts Ag Discovery!

Images from AgDiscovery Day 

AgDiscovery students learn about the process of finding and documenting new insect species

As part of the annual USDA-APHIS AgDiscovery course at the University of Maryland, students spend a day in the Entomology Department at the National Museum of Natural History, hosted by the USDA's Systematic Entomology Laboratory. This year, the 30 participants received a lecture on observational vs. experimental science, a behind-the-scenes tour of the entomological collections, the story of how specimens are handled from the field to the collection, and hands-on demonstrations of how graphics are prepared for scientific publications.



Two-volume Manual of Central American Diptera published

Manual of Central American Diptera: Cover Image  
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The Manual of Central American Diptera, a two-volume identification manual for all of the genera of flies from Central America, has been completed with the publication of Volume 2 in November 2010. All of the dipterists of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory, 2 current staff members, Allen Norrbom and Norman Woodley, and 2 retirees, Chris Thompson and Ray Gagn?, contributed to the manual by serving as an editor and by contributing 22 authoritative chapters on their areas of expertise.

This manual will undoubtedly be the definitive work for identifying flies from Central America for many decades.



An overview of the joint ARS-FS project on the Emerald Ash Borer was presented at the Interagency Research Forum on Invasive Species, Annapolis, MD

Poster of Emerald Ash Borer

Poster presented at the forum


SEL and FS have a 3-year project aimed at developing an illustrated handbook for the detection and identification of adults and larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and its closest relatives. We will use morphological and DNA sequence data coupled with modern phylogenetic methods to infer their phylogeny. This joint project benefits from the collaboration of a number of international (China, Russia, Canada) and national experts. Fieldwork will take place in China, Japan, S. Korea, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and India with workshops held in Beijing and Washington, DC.



SEL conducts arthropod survey at VCNP as part of a national reforestation campaign

Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico 

Valles Caldera National Preserve,
New Mexico

SEL has had a 3-year project at the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), New Mexico, to create a baseline survey of arthropods. Recently the USDA Secretary awarded funds to the VCNP and the adjoining Santa Fe National Forest for forest health and water quality (see Southwest Jemez Mountains in the site below) that includes funds to monitor the re-colonization of arthropods in the restoration areas.



Funding received for the molecular characterization and analysis of pest fruit flies (Diptera: Tephritidae)

Anastrepha ornata, dorsal habitus 

The proposal "Molecular characterization and analysis of pest fruit flies (Diptera: Tephritidae)" written by Dr. Allen Norrbom was selected for funding by ARS Headquarters. $100,000 was awarded for a 2-year postdoctoral fellow, who will obtain and analyze DNA sequence data to find new characters to more rapidly and reliably identify all life stages of pest fruit fly species and analyze fruit fly phylogeny. The DNA database resulting from this project will be a powerful diagnostic tool for agencies responsible for port security and detecting invasive species.



Research Scientist, Michael Gates, helps save Hawaii's endangered Wiliwili Trees

Dr. Michael Gates 

Dr. Michael Gates identified and described a beneficial wasp, Eurytoma erythrinae, from East Africa to control the Erythrina gall wasp, an invasive species that's decimating Hawaii's native wiliwili trees and introduced coral bean trees.




Emerald Ash Borer Research in the Systematic Entomology Laboratory

Dr. Lourdes Chamorro

Dr. Lourdes Chamorro studied the systematics of cryptocephaline leaf beetles as a Smithsonian Institution Minority Postdoctoral Fellow with Dr. Terry Erwin. She is concluding a six month EOL (Encyclopedia of Life) - Rubenstein Fellowship also with Dr. Erwin.



The Systematic Entomology Laboratory recently teamed up with the International Programs Division of the Forest Service to develop a three year project to revise the the species group of Agrilus related to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), a notorious invasive wood-boring beetle in the United States.

An important part of the project will involve capacity-building with Chinese collaborators by teaching workshops on wood-boring beetle identification. There will be a significant amount of fieldwork throughout Asia in support of the project and this work will be facilitated through the Sino-American Biological Control Institute and Foreign Agriculture Service. In addition to a great deal of valuable material for the Smithsonian Institution, the project will culminate in a well-illustrated revision and identification manual for the Emerald Ash Borer and related species.




4th Quadrienniel Meeting of the International Heteropterists' Society

Dr. Thomas Henry 

Dr.Thomas Henry presented a talk at the 4th Quadrienniel Meeting of the International Heteropterists' Society (IHS), at Nankai University, Tianjin, China, in July 2010 titled "Phylogeny and Revision of the Plant Bug Tribe Ceratocapsini (Hemiptera: Heteroptera: Miridae)." Dr. Henry also was elected IHS Program Chairman and will host the 5th Quadrenniel Meeting in Washington, DC, in 2014.



SEL announces the publication of The Plant Bugs, or Miridae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera), of Cuba by Luis Hernandez and Thomas Henry

Book cover: Miridae of Cuba

Luis Hernandez (Natural History Museum, London) and Thomas Henry (SEL) just published "The Plant Bugs, or Miridae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera), of Cuba." Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria. 212 pp.

This taxonomic review of the Cuban Miridae treats 105 species in 57 genera. Twelve new species are described, two new synonyms are recognized, and four previously recorded species are removed from the list. All genera and species are diagnosed, and a thorough literature review and information on host plants and distribution are given. Male genitalia are illustrated and a color image is provided for nearly all species. Identification keys to subfamilies, tribes, genera, and species are included, and the biogeography of the Cuban and West Indian mirid fauna is discussed.

This work will form a solid foundation for future research on the plant bugs of Cuban, providing a summary of the information known about each species and the means to accurately identify them. Because Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States, this work will be of great interest to U.S. researchers concerned with invasive species, especially those working on subtropical taxa.



Taina Litwak receives medal in the 2010 Juried Exhibition of the Illustrators Club

Elaphidion costipenne, dorsal habitus illustration

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SEL Staff Scientific Illustrator, Taina Litwak, won a medal in the Technical, Medical, Scientific Category of the 2010 Juried Exhibition of the Illustrator's Club. The color painting recognized with the award is a dorsal habitus digital piece, done with Adobe Photoshop. The painting of Elaphidion costipenne is one of a series of illustrations she did for Dr. Steve Lingafelter.

It was exhibited May 13 to June 26 at PEPCO?s Edison Place Gallery, 702 Eighth Street NW, Washington, DC. The same illustration was also selected and hung in a juried exhibition at the Guild of Natural Science Illustrator?s Annual Meeting. This show was in the D.H. Hill Library Exhibit Gallery at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.



U.S. NATIONAL ENTOMOLOGICAL COLLECTION helps protect American Agriculture

With nearly 35 million specimens, the U.S. National Entomological Collection, is one of the best resources in the world to support identifications and research affecting trade, quarantine issues, biological control, and other aspects of agriculture.

Read more about our entomological staff, and how they use the collection to make identifications of 35,000 specimens annually and conduct research on complex problems affecting our environment.

AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH MAGAZINE:  Our Invaluable Invertebrate Collection

Dr. Natalia Vandenberg
Dr. Natalia Vandenberg identifies a specimen of Dynastes hercules, part of a shipment of exotic contraband beetles seized by Homeland Security and ARS




Ronald Ochoa, SEL acaralogist, discovers the Chilean flat mite in Argentina

Brevipalpus chilensis mite

Brevipalpus chilensis is a major pest of grapes and kiwis, but also attacks citrus, Annona, and other fruit trees.  Previously, it was known only from Chile.

Some tiny mite specimens, collected in Argentina, were submitted by APHIS botanist Mark Thurmond to SEL for identification. Dr. Ronald Ochoa, resident mite specialist, identified the mite as the Chilean flat mite using the keys and type specimens located at the National mite collection.

This finding caused grave concern at APHIS headquarters at Riverdale, and prompted visits from several important Argentine Agricultural officials this past September. During these visits, Dr. Ochoa supplied material and important data on B. chilensis and provided the Argentine mite identifier with key characters for the identification of this species.

The Argentine Agricultural Department is concerned about this mite and is working on a survey program for the study of flat mites in their commercial grape and citrus areas.The genus Brevipalpus has several species that are vectors of important plant viruses.