New posts to our lab website have been slow in recent months. Students and I have been busy with experiments, and of course the new semester is upon us. However, I’ve also been occupied with a new project. In collaboration with Scott Carroll at soapberrybug.org, generous help from Colby ITS, and support from NSF, I’ve been working to build a website and educational resources to involve K-12 public school teachers and students in our work on soapberry bugs. The project and website are called Bugs In Our Backyard.


Bugs in our Backyard
is a “citizen science” initiative. Since our lab is studying the genetics, development, and evolution of alternative wing morphs in the soapberry bug, we are interested in the relative numbers of long- and short-winged bugs in different populations. Over roughly the last 70 years, soapberry bugs have been expanding north from Florida on introduced golden rain trees, planted in mostly urban areas. They now live as far north of Maryland. However, only long-winged bugs are capable of flying to these new locations. So how have wing morphs influenced this expansion? Are bugs in the north more likely to have long wings than those in the south? — We can’t answer these questions form the lab. However, there are hundreds of young students and teachers across the East Coast who have these bugs living, literally, in  their own backyards and schoolyards. Our hope is to provide them with the background knowledge and a little training to enable them to become partners in this research project. The data will be publicly available for everyone to analyze. Complementary teaching modules on related topics are also in the plans. Ultimately, I hope to organize a companion program at Colby, in which students here can interact with teachers and students at our partner K-12 schools, exploring the genetics and ecology of soapberry bugs, while also studying the history, art, and social experiences of American urbanization.

Lot’s to do. We’re just getting started. But it’s very exciting. Look for more updates in the future!