27 August 2005

Childhood Memories

I'm guessing that the picture here doesn't trigger a lot of thoughts for many people. It's a little tent designed to trap insects---and my association with it is for collecting gypsy moths. I saw one attached to a tree on a recent trip to the post office and it brought back a lot of memories for me.

Gypsy Moth House by Jeremy Zilar CC-BY-NC-ND

When I was a little goddess, I lived in the northeastern U.S. My dad, an entomologist, was working with a group to find some type of biocontrol for the gypsy moth. You see, the baby moths (more properly called "larvae" like the one shown below...isn't it cute?) are voracious. They eat leaves off of most types of hardwood trees and a few species of evergreens. If the trees don't have leaves,
they can't undergo photosynthesis to make food for themselves (and the rest of the food chain), and a great deal of damage is done. And that's just the environmental impact. Certainly there's an economic one, too.

The idea behind a "biocontrol" is to find a predator or some other "natural" way to decrease the population of a pest. This, too, can have problems as you may never be completely sure how the introduced organism may impact the system other than just killing off the target you have. But, many people would prefer this method of eradication over spraying with chemicals.

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar by Sergey Yeliseev CC-BY-NC-ND
I remember spending many weekends in the woods with my parents as my dad did his work with other scientists. (They called themselves the "gypsy mothers.") I got to play as they climbed trees and examined traps and test cages. There were a lot of fun people working there. I still think of them from time to time and wonder where they went with their lives.

My dad worked with identifying and testing biocontrols throughout his career, including southern pine beetle and salt cedar---a project he was working on when he died. (This project has recently had some breakthroughs.) He always had a love and respect for the natural world.

These days, when I see those green tents or hear on the news how a group is upset over spraying for the moths, I remember those times spent in the forests and am glad that my dad was able to help with different problems. (By the way, bacteria that kill the moths are what is sprayed---not chemicals.) Perhaps insect traps don't go along with everyone's childhood, but they are certainly a fondly remembered part of mine. Seeing them now makes me feel like my dad's work continues to live on, even if he didn't.


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The Science Goddess said...

I can't believe someone spammed my childhood memories! Ugh.