Blog for 2009-06-10

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A Rhinoceros Beetle.



For the past two days, we students have been encountering many cute, and truly fascinating, insects that crossed our paths during our hikes through the rainforest at Lambir Hills National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia. Unfortunately, only a select few of us had a sufficient understanding of the insects and were able to successfully identify and describe them. You can then understand how excited we were when we woke up this morning and saw that in our calendar, we had a full day of lectures and labs scheduled that centered on teaching us about insects. Our goal was to be able to, by the end of the day, have a fundamental understanding of what an insect is.

We began our morning with a wonderful lecture by one of our faculty, Dr. Dave Lohman of the National University of Singapore. During this lecture, we were taught what could be classified as an insect. As a reference point, we were given specific descriptions of Lepidoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, and Coleoptera, the four most significant insect orders. For practicality, we were taught the many current methods that are used by scientists to study, sample, and preserve the insects they collect for their experiments. This practicality was very useful for our next activity of the day, a lab on insect collecting. This lab was directed by Dr. Lohman as well as Dr. Rod Eastwood. Dr. Eastwood is another member of our faculty who has a great deal of experience working in the field and is currently of the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology department at Harvard University. After being briefed on some of the equipment that was available to us for collecting, we divided up the nets and collection vials among us and headed for the field.

During our hike, we took our time and slowly progressed into the forest while keeping a sharp eye out for insects to sample. Using out nets, many of us were very successful and caught various species of butterflies, moths, beetles, ants, spiders, and termites to name a few. We were sure to keep some of these insects preserved for future data collecting. In addition to utilizing the nets, we were also able to set up a Malaise Trap and a Berlese Funnel. These two sets of equipment are two different methods for collecting insects over a period of a few days. After our setup, we gathered our samples of insects that we had collected and headed back to the cantina for lunch. After a much deserved lunch break, we headed to another part of the forest at Lambir hills to set up more insect traps. We set up 6 Pitfall Traps and 6 Leaf Little Samples using strict methods of randomization in order to be able to collect data that will be reliable and indicative of the forest as a whole. After we finished setting up our traps, we headed home for a small, yet fulfilling break where many of us caught up on reading and sleep.

After a delicious dinner prepared by our hosts at Lambir Hills National Park, we gathered for our last lecture of the day given by yet another one of our beloved faculty, Shawn Lum of the National Institute of Education at Singapore. This lecture was centered on understanding the elements of seed dispersal. The significance of this lecture was fully appreciated by all of us students because it adequately tied together our lectures from the previous day on plants and our lectures from today on insects. By the end of the lecture we understood that many interactions and relationships exist between plants and insects (as well as between plants and various other animals) and that these interactions are essential to successful seed dispersal. As the busy day ended, we students slowly retreated to our cabins for the evening for a well deserved good nights sleep.

To conclude, I would be remiss if I did not mention that we were very fortunate to have with us Dr. Lohman and Dr. Eastwood to direct us in our understanding of entomology and Dr. Lum to educate us on seed dispersal. We very much appreciate their patience, understanding, and willingness to share with us their vast knowledge of their respective fields of biodiversity.

And an extra special thank you to Jess for the priceless picture of the Rhinoceros Beetle!