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It’s a trap! Ryan Zemel | Courtesy

Although people typ­i­cally con­sider wasps, flies, and mos­quitoes to be pests, seniors Joel Parker and Ryan Zemel spent part of their summer trying to attract the insects.

Parker and Zemel both won cash awards from the Michigan Ento­mo­logical Society for their pre­sen­ta­tions on LED lighting in traps and a survey of spe­cific insects present at Hillsdale College’s G.H. Gordon Bio­logical Station in Luther, Michigan.The two won first and second place at the society’s annual con­ference in June, and their research was pub­lished in brief in the society’s annual newsletter in December.

Pro­fessor of Biology David Houghton, the former pres­ident of the Michigan Ento­mo­logical Society, said the con­ference pro­vides stu­dents with an oppor­tunity to present their work in a pro­fes­sional but friendly envi­ronment.

Zemel’s project tested the effec­tiveness of LED lighting, or light-emitting diodes, in attracting insects. His traps, which he designed and built himself, fea­tured lights of dif­ferent wave­lengths of UV, or ultra­violet light. Many insects can see wave­lengths of UV light, which are invisible to the human eye, and many flowers emit certain wave­lengths that attract spe­cific insects. Zemel said he hoped to find a spe­cific wave­length of light to attract mos­quitoes.

“We found for sure that ultra­violet LEDs attract insects, which is some­thing that hasn’t really been studied before since LEDs are so new,” Zemel said. “They know black light has always attracted insects but not the LED type of bulb.”

Although Parker and Zemel are still working on iden­ti­fying and counting the spec­imens from their traps, Zemel said his pre­lim­inary results gen­erally show certain wave­lengths of light attract certain groups of insects.

His trap design also gives future researchers addi­tional porta­bility, since the bat­teries of tra­di­tional light traps can weigh as much as 15 pounds. Zemel’s traps, which run on AA bat­teries, only weigh about half a pound.

“What happens is the insects go to the light, and fumes from the ethanol will knock out the insect, or they’ll just land in the ethanol and die,” Parker said. “Then you can collect all the insects and identify them.”

Parker’s research involved several methods of trapping insects to identify dif­ferent species present at the bio­station. Parker focused on the order Hymenoptera, a clas­si­fi­cation group which includes insects such as bees, wasps, and ants. Parker said wasps and bees tend to fall into one of two cat­e­gories: pol­li­nators, which carry plant pollen from flower to flower, and par­a­sitoids, which lay their eggs in another organism that even­tually dies.

Dif­ferent par­a­sitoid species choose spe­cific species on which to prey, and deter­mining these rela­tion­ships can help sci­en­tists to try and control invasive species. Parker said iden­ti­fying the par­a­sitoid species in an area can help researchers match it to spe­cific prey that live in the same area and habitat.

“What I was trying to do was take a survey and under­stand why those par­ticular species to figure out why they show up in a par­ticular habitat, which can tell us what kind of thing it’s par­a­sitoiding,” he said. “There’s this idea of bio­logical control, which is where you bring in another insect to coun­teract the effect of an invasive species.”

Both Parker and Zemel are con­tinuing the iden­ti­fi­cation of the spec­imens from their traps, a process Parker said can be extremely tedious and spe­cific, since iden­ti­fying a species can require as much detail as counting the tiny hairs on a specimen. Parker’s project has spanned the course of two years, and Zemel said he will probably make another improved design for LED-based traps for fun.