Dr. Steven Juliano’s introductory entomology class visited the ParkLands Foundation’s Lexington Preserve September 7 to gain a deeper understanding of how to find, observe, and collect insects. 

Trips like this one have been an important part of the class long before Juliano began teaching it roughly 10 years ago. They enable both the undergraduate and graduate students in the course to work in the field under the guidance of the Distinguished Professor of Ecology and his teaching assistant, Kate Evans.  

“My job and Kate’s job during these trips is to see that the students are getting into collecting and drawing their attention to things that are not as obvious when they are beginners,” Juliano said. “You’re seeing all these pollinators on the flowers that are really obvious, but you should also be taking a look at the leaves to see if there is herbivore damage on the leaf. Then you can try and find what the insect is that’s feeding on that plant.  

“That’s the kind of thing that the instructors end up doing with students: talking about where to look, what you’re looking for, and how to handle different situations.” 

The students prepare for the trips by spending time in the laboratory learning basic observation and collection techniques. The students then apply the in-class instruction during the trips.  

Elyse McCormick, a third-year master’s student in biological sciences, has taken three classes with Juliano. She said the trip added another dimension to the course’s insect study. 

Elyse McCormick, female graduate student, holding up a grasshopper, contained in a glass collection jar.
Elyse McCormick holds a grasshopper contained in a collection jar.

“There’s nothing like being able to see them in their environment doing what they’re doing,” McCormick said. “In addition to everything that you learn about their natural history and ecology, there’s just a level of wonder seeing all these tiny little insects that have such a big impact on the world and on all of our ecosystems. It’s pretty amazing to be able to go out and see it.” 

The trips help the students with their main project. Each one must curate an independent insect collection, following a rubric that dictates what sorts of insects to collect and how they should be collected. The collections incorporate photographs and physical specimens. At the close of the semester, students have the option of either keeping their collection or incorporating it into the teaching collection for entomology so that they may be studied by future students. 

This semester the class took trips to the Lexington Preserve and nearby Franklin Research and Demonstration Farm. Juliano reincorporated the field experiences into the course this semester after they were absent last school year due to the pandemic. 

“There’s a thing that happens when you have the whole group out there,” Juliano said, “One of the students will find something and get excited about it, and everybody will gather around, and then the excitement gets to be infectious.”