Adventures in Hashawha

Ecological research is certainly full of excitement.

In our pursuit of knowledge, Meghan and I donned our waders, grabbed our nets, and traveled into the mysterious wilds of Lake Hashawha toward our target.

Our target you ask? The majestic dragonfly, or more specifically, their larvae. dragonfly These cricket-esque creatures are one of the top invertebrate predators in these types of aquatic environments, preying upon mosquito larvae, small tadpoles, and each other. Dragonfly larvae live mostly solitary lives, using substrate from their habitat to hide from predators and ambush prey.

Through our adventures in lake Hashawha, we encountered some of life’s most perplexing questions. Can one pull himself out of knee-deep mud pits using a friendly tree branch? Is crawling off of a dock into the mouth of an awaiting fish an evolutionarily advantageous behavior of dragonfly larvae? Do fish actually need water to survive?

That fish was not a happy camper.

That fish was not a happy camper.

Using our nets and a hint of cunning, we captured some larvae and placed them into our high-tech behavioral arenas to study activity level and hiding behavior.

Those are highly sophisticated pool noodles, for your information.

For your information, those are highly sophisticated pool noodles.

With our arenas in the water and our behavioral trials commenced, we could finally begin the most annoying enjoyable aspect of our research; explaining to the countless families visiting Hashawha just what in the world we were doing.

Fishing & Feeding in the Larval Behavior Lab


Summer is one of my favorite times at McDaniel, because this is when I put aside the demands of teaching, and the administrative chores of being a professor, and get to focus on research with students!  This summer the Jacobs lab is focusing on larval behavior and feeding in two very different systems: dragonfly larvae, and tobacco hornworms.  I’ll let the student researchers introduce their specific questions in later blog posts, but for now I’ll introduce the teams:

IMG_20140529_111850540_HDRJosh Viar and Meghan Sturgill are my field team – they are spending the summer investigating the distribution and behavior of dragonfly larvae in a range of local ponds.  Their project is entirely field-based, and involves hunting in the mud for dragonfly larvae, observing their behavior for hours in large floating arenas, and sampling for fish with minnow traps and fishing poles.  In other words, if you like to splash around outdoors and aren’t afraid of a little mud, they have designed the perfect summer project!

IMG_20140604_130838675Meg Knauff and Amanda Horst are my lab team – they are spending the summer investigating the effects of diet on growth, feeding, and behavior of the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta.  They have designed an ambitious and labor-intensive project, and are working in close collaboration to make it happen.  This was a project they started in my larval biology course in the spring, and it was so interesting that we just had to continue it over the summer!

Greta_fishingFinally, every lab needs a mascot!  My daughter Greta (7 months) sometimes visits my office or comes along on field work.  As a working mom, I’m grateful for the more flexible schedule of summer, which allows me to spend more time with her, and to McDaniel for being a supportive workplace for women in science!  So far we haven’t put her to work fishing, but she’s ready!