Aquatic Insect Collection

Supervised by Dr. Nathan Rank
SSU Biology Department

Dr. Nathan Rank

Description of Project: What?

In spring of 2011, Dr. Nathan Rank's Entomology (Biology 323) students identified and categorized aquatic invertebrates and associated terrestrial species collected from vernal pools, ponds, and streams in the following four Preserves:

Students recorded their observations and data in field journals and also added their data to a shared spreadsheet that listed all specimens found from 2008-2010 at Pepperwood, Galbreath, and Fairfield Osborn, and in 2011 at the Cooper Road site.

Description of Project: So What?

Course learning objectives included the following:

  1. Gain knowledge about how insect groups are distributed among habitats in Northern California.
  2. Become familiar with the use of biological keys to identify insects to order and family.
  3. Learn how to document insect diversity by preparing a properly labeled insect collection with family-level identifications.

Course learning objectives as stated on the syllabus mapped directly to the learning outcomes for the service in Copeland Creek. For example, students' "properly labeled" insect collections were donated to Pepperwood Preserve to help with Preserve outreach.

Description of Project: Now What?

Students' specimen lists will be used by Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and California Department of Fish and Game professionals to assess health of aquatic systems. Students' data will also be used by the Fairfield Osborn and Galbreath Preserves to help document biodiversity at each site. Pepperwood Preserve will use students' donated specimen collections to help with their own entomology outreach efforts.

Many students were transformed by their work with insects, and some have even continued their work after semester's end. For example, senior biology major Nadia Lopez is currently working with insect collections and outreach in SSU's Biology Museum. She has also been hired to collect willow leaf beetles of the genus Plagiodera in support of three different research projects at three other universities.

Ms. Lopez says she was drawn to biology because she is "very interested in how things work, in how systems work," but did not have any particular interest in insects prior to taking entomology. She admits that she used to be scared of insects and says, "I never imagined that I would be working with bugs, but here I am." Ms. Lopez anticipates she will be working in an entomology field upon graduation.

Students who have the opportunity to create insect collections to be used by others for educational purposes and outreach efforts typically gain a deep appreciation for insects that is similar to developing an appreciation for art. As Ms. Lopez explains:

"These collections, they teach other people. Without these it’s not the same type of learning. I think that's very important because we can actually look at these insects under a microscope and see them with our own eyes.

Looking under a microscope is pretty amazing. They [insects] have these beautiful structures and... there are so many beautiful colors with every different species, and even within a species. Insects are so diverse in how they look. Some are so tiny. You wouldn’t imagine that they might have rainbows on them, but some of them are just fantastic like that.

That was a surprise. I was looking at a micro moth under the microscope and I was saying, “Wow, these are beautiful!”


Dr. Rank sees his students similarly transformed from their service work each semester, and says, "Students are very excited after performing these [collection and outreach] activities, and they become messengers about the diverse... ways that humans relate to insects."

Coordinator for Service-Learning in the STEM Disciplines Frederique Lavoipierre observes that "many SSU students go on to do interesting entomology work, which seems unusual to me for a school that only offers one course in entomology." Some students pursue graduate studies and some enter entomology fields. (See also Civic Engagement.)


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"Looking under a microscope is pretty amazing. They [insects] have these beautiful structures and... there are so many beautiful colors with every different species, and even within a species. Insects are so diverse in how they look. Some are so tiny. You wouldn’t imagine that they might have rainbows on them, but some of them are just fantastic like."
—Nadia Lopez, entomology student

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