What’s Happening in the Lab this Summer?

These Soapberry bugs are from the Frederick Plantation in Maryland and were originally collected in 2015. So we code them Fr15. Notice that not all of these are red, there is a grayish-blue color variation in this collection. Photo by Maggie McKeon, July 2016.
Photo by Maggie McKeon, July 2016.

The Bugs in our Backyard  project is run by Dave Angelini and his lab members at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. This post will give you a brief tour of the lab and how we keep the bugs! This summer students and researchers are hard at work on questions of insect development and molecular genetics. In one section of the lab, we keep collections of two kinds of bugs, milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and soapberry bugs (Jadera haematoloma). This room also has equipment for observing the bugs and conducting experiments with them.

Here is one view of the lab where we keep our equipment. We use CO2 gas to temporarily knock out the bugs and study them under the microscope. For some experiments, we record our observations about their morph, sex, and wing length. For others, we inject the bugs with DNA and record the results some days later. Photo created by Maggie McKeon, July 2016
Here is one view of the lab where we keep our equipment. We use CO2 gas to temporarily knock out the bugs and study them under the microscope. For some experiments, we record our observations about their morph, sex, and wing length. For others, we inject bugs to test the functions of genes and record the results some days later.
Photo and Labels by Maggie McKeon, July 2016
Here is a Soapberry bug under the microscope. They are currently on a plate connected to CO2 gas. The bug on the left is a female. The bug on the right is long-winged. Both are adult morphs. We record these observations in a data log. Photo by Maggie McKeon, July 2016
Here are two adult soapberry bugs under the microscope. They are currently on a plate connected to CO2 gas. The bug on the left is a female. The bug on the right is long-winged. We record these kinds of observations in a data log. Photo by Maggie McKeon, July 2016

The Angelini Lab works mostly with two species of true bugs. On the counter, we have a collection of milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). Each habitat has a small Erlenmeyer flask of water with a paper towel as a kind of straw, a water dish, and a dish of sunflower seeds. We also give them a fluffed cotton ball to lay their eggs in. They can live out on the counter because they are used to typical room temperatures.

The soapberry bugs, however, live in an incubator set to approximate the climate of Florida and the Gulf Coast. We have several collections of soapberry bugs (Jadera haematoloma). Dave and some of his students have collected them from different places, from Maryland to Florida to Colorado. Each caged habitat is labeled with the collection location, the date, and the age of the bugs it contains.

In each soapberry bug cage, we also put an Erlenmeyer flask of water and a water dish. Soapberry bugs eat specific seeds, depending on where they were collected. Some feed off of balloon vine seeds, while others have evolved to feed on seeds of the decorative golden rain tree. The “why” and “how” they switched feeding hosts is one of the many topics we are studying.

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