Conservation Education Sustainable Agriculture

Camel spiders for the win!

Since I’m writing and analyzing my data these days, and haven’t spent hardly any time in the field since 2013, I figured it would be a nice time to have a #flashbackfriday to a video I took of a Solifugid eating a waxworm. Solifugids are amazing little animals, something I could have only dreamed of capturing when I conducted my field work in Mexico. I have a fascination with weird creatures, and in spite of the fact that I study a group of animals (the arthropods, of course), there are still so, so many organisms I learn about on a regular basis. Solifugids have not been an extensive part of my formal training since they typically live in dry and arid places (environments completely unlike that here in Pennsylvania). But prior to starting my field work in Mexico, I had been looking at a data set of insect captures from a few years prior, and noticed Solifugids on the list. Of course, just capturing one in my samples would have been a feat in itself for me; I had no idea I would actually capture one on video.

I use live waxworms in my research to “assess the biocontrol potential of the ground-dwelling arthropod predator community” in science speak. This basically means that we, the scientists, want to know how different agricultural practices may increase the abundance of different predators, and as such, the potential of these predators to keep the numbers of insect or other pests low. Not only is it important to conserve these predators in the field for their inherent value as members of our ecosystems, but too, if they are present in high enough numbers, they can help reduce the need for insecticides. While we still have some need to understand the economic value of these predators, their worth goes beyond just the monetary; for example, there is no dollar value for the great joy I got from this video, and the teaching moments it has provided me. I was out in the field at about 2 in the morning when I captured this video, generally making observations of my waxworms to see what type of predators were eating them (mostly ants, and occasionally a soldier beetle larvae).

Solifugids were fairly rare in my plots in Mexico, and they definitely do not come up this far north to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, this means I won’t be able to explore their role in agricultural pest control in great depth. But, hopefully in the future I will get the chance to study these great creatures, and I would be happy to learn more from anyone who does know more than I!

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