LSU AgCenter develops first detector program for insects

Identifying insects as native or invasive species just got easier with help from the LSU AgCenter entomology department.

LSU AgCenter entomology specialist Natalie Hummel and extension associate Michael Ferro, are working with colleagues at the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee to build a website that will help not only professionals, but the average citizen identify insects.

The First Detector Entomology Training Project consists of a series of Web pages that allow people with little or no experience to learn about the world of insects and arthropods, insect collecting and insect photography.

The project will develop a train-the-trainer general entomology training course for first detector educators such as county extension agents and Master Gardeners, along with first detectors, which include border inspectors and homeowners.

“I tried to develop the website in such a way that you could come to the site with little or no knowledge of insects and walk away with something,” Ferro said.

The advantage of this system over print publications is the ability to quickly update information and not have to worry about the information going out of date.

“Also we didn’t want people having to attend a workshop or sign up for a class since things are now more global and mobile,” Hummel said.

The pages were created in a “wiki” format, which is easy to edit as needed, Hummel said. “Bugwood, a program at the University of Georgia, hosts the content for the program, and the start page can be found at http://wiki.bugwood.org/FD-ENT.”

The information on the Web pages were designed for Master Gardeners and extension agents but can be used by anyone interested in learning more about insects and arthropods, including teachers and students.

The pages provide a general overview of entomology and are designed to help users recognize common arthropods, whether pests or non-pests, confirm the identification of pest problems and recognize and report suspect, unusual, exotic or invasive species, the developers said.

Some major insect orders, such as true flies, true bugs and beetles, get their own wiki pages that highlight specific examples of commonly encountered pests or non-pests.

The training project consists of several wiki pages that provide a good overview of arthropods in general, insects and entomology, Hummel said.

Topics include how to photograph insects, how to collect and preserve insects, basic insect biology and a brief introduction to the major orders of insects, she said.

“There are some invasive pests, like the brown marmorated stink bug, that we don’t have now, but it is rapidly making its way south from the northeastern United States,” Hummel said. Having the Web site should make people aware of these type invasive insects before they become a problem.

The pages were designed to be user-friendly and act as important sources of reference information, Hummel said. “Anyone interested in learning more about insects and arthropods is encouraged to visit the site and share it with friends and family.”

“In addition to the Web pages, we are also making PowerPoint presentations so that extension agents, Master Gardeners or others can download these PowerPoints and use them as presentations about the information on the Web pages,” Ferro said.

The third piece of the project involves the development of e-learning modules that are entirely online where tutorials will be available. After viewing them, individuals can test their knowledge by taking a short quiz, he said.

Hummel said the future of the project is “limitless.” One of the next steps could be to develop it into a smartphone app that would allow the information to become more mobile.