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News 2013
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Anatomy of Sports Day - National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM)

Taina Litwak has been a Board certified medical illustrator since 1994, but these days she rarely has the opportunity to utilize that aspect of her training. As staff illustrator for the Systematic Entomology Lab, Taina spends most of her time illustrating minute morphological details of insect and mite species.

On Saturday Aug. 17, however, she participated in a public outreach activity at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Springs, MD that allowed her to demonstrate some of her other abilities. The NMHM hosts an "Anatomy of Sports Day" as an annual educational event, and this year Taina painted images of muscles and tendons directly on the skin of volunteers that allowed viewers to visualize how these internal structures interact during movement.


Image of Taina Litwak painting musculature on the skin of a volunteer

Taina Litwak,CMIand one of the many volunteers acting as a human canvas


Click here to see another image of the event

Click here to read about some of Taina's insect artwork



Research Entomologists/Scouters Gary Miller and Michael Gates attend National Scout Jamboree to instruct Insect Study Merit Badge

The new Summit Bechtel Reserve is home to the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree (July 12 thru 25, 2013) and Gary Miller and Michael Gates were there!

They taught Insect Study Merit Badge to hundreds of Boy Scouts out of the 27,000 in attendance. It was a rewarding experience for all involved and we hope to attend the 2017 Jamboree.

Picture of insect study tent at the Jamboree

Hundreds of Scouts had the opportunity to study and observe insects in a natural setting. The visiting public were also welcomed to observe the activities.

Picture of Michael Gates working with Boy Scouts

In addition to field observations, the curriculum also focused on general insect morphology, biology, and systematics.



Sonja Scheffer hosts Eric Adjakwah to work on invasive leafminers

Eric at Barc Poster Day

Sonja and Matt from SEL's molecular lab pose with highschool intern Eric

High school intern Eric at BARC Poster Day (Top image), Sonja and Matt from SEL's molecular lab pose with Eric (Bottom image)

Sonja Scheffer hosted Eric Adjakwah, a senior at Howard High School (from September through May, 2013) to work on the use of DNA sequence data in determining the geographic origins of the globally invasive pea leafminer.

Eric carried out DNA PCR and sequencing protocols, participated in analysis and interpretation, and prepared a poster for BARC Poster Day.

Eric's teacher wrote "I know this has been a wonderful experience, due to all of your thoughtful help to him. I want you to know that from my perspective your lab placement stands out as unusually effective and welcoming." Cindy L. Kelly, Biotechnology Teacher.



Scientists develop new interactive key to identify Diabrotica beetles from North and Central America

Flyer announcing the release of Diabrotica ID

Flyer announcing Diabrotica identification tool 


Diabrotica is one of the largest and most economically important leaf beetle genera in the New World with a single species, Diabrotica virgifera, costing the US economy about 1 billion dollars annually. Unfortunately, the classification of this group of beetles has remained in a state of confusion for the last 100 years.

After 2 years of extensive studies carried out mostly by University of Maryland postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Alexander Derunkov, we are now able to distinguish and reliably identify all 112 Diabrotica that occur in North and Central America.



Alicia Hodson Joins SEL

Photo of Alicia Hodson at the microscope

Alicia Hodson joined SEL on a term appointment as a Biological Science Technician.  She earned a B.S. in Biology (2008) from the University of New Mexico and a Masters in Entomology (2011) from the University of Florida.

She specializes in insect systematics, with a focus on Lampyridae (fireflies).

Welcome Alicia!



Visitor from Rhodes University, South Africa

Photo of Dr. Alicia Timm at the microscope

Dr. Alicia Timm, a lecturer at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, is visiting the Lepidoptera Section for two weeks in March 2013 (3/4-19/2013). She is collaborating with John Brown, working on the molecular identification of tortricid moths in the tribe Grapholitini, many of which are pests of seeds and fruit not only in southern Africa, but throughout the world. 




The New Weevil Curator at the Systematic Entomology Laboratory

SEL welcomes its newest Research Entomologist: Dr. Lourdes Chamorro.  Dr. Chamorro's scientific research focuses on the systematics of agriculturally important weevils (Curculionidae); this being the largest group of living organisms on the planet.

She maintains and curates weevils (Curculionoidea minus Scolytinae and Platypodinae) of the U.S. National Insect Collection at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Additionally, she provides identifications of beetles submitted to the laboratory, but primarily weevils coming in on a daily basis from many U.S. ports in collaboration with Homeland Security and APHIS.

Dr. Chamorro earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and was a postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Institution (2009-2010) and SEL (2010-2013).

Photo of Dr. Lourdes Chamorro

Dr. Lourdes Chamorro



Biocontrol research on Brazilian peppertree in Florida discovers new cryptic species

Picture of 2 adult moths

A newly discovered species, Paectes longiformis Pogue, that is a potential biocontrol agent for the Brazilian peppertree. Male (top) and female (below)

Picture of a green and yellow striped larva

Larva of Paectes longiformis feeding on Brazilian peppertree

Brazilian peppertree with red berries

Brazilian peppertree a serious invasive species in Florida

Brazilian peppertree is one of the most damaging invasive species in Florida. It was introduced as an ornamental plant into Florida at least three times in the mid- to late 1800's. It has now invaded a number of habitats throughout southern and central Florida. 

Dr Michael Pogue, a Research Entomologist in the ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory, Washington, DC was sent a series of moth specimens from Bahia, Brazil for identification.  The moths had been collected as a possible biocontrol agent for the invasive Brazilian peppertree in Florida and were believed to represent a common and widespread species known as Paectes obrotunda.  However, when comparisons were made, it became evident that these particular moths belong to a related, but previously unknown species, which Dr. Pogue has named and described as Paectes longiformis (see images at left).

   Further studies by Dr. Pogue, involving moth specimens collected from Southern Florida to Argentina, demonstrated that a number of similar species have been confused under a single name.  For example, in the National Museum of Natural History where Dr. Pogue works, the more than 250 specimens labeled as Paectes obrotunda were found to represent eight different species (6 new and 2 previously described), none of which match the original specimen that was discovered and named in 1852.

   "What was interesting about this identification was the discovery of so many new species," said Dr Pogue. "The wing pattern was similar among these species, but their reproductive systems were quite different. It became obvious that multiple cryptic species were involved only when these dissections were made."