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.