Utah Pests News Winter 2007-08

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Trip to Ohio Will Help Utah Diagnostics


Dr. Steven Passoa, USDA-APHIS Lepidoptera Specialist (standing, center), trains Extension and UDAF employees.

Recently Ryan Davis and I traveled to Columbus, Ohio for a customized insect diagnostics workshop. As a Co-State Survey Coordinator for the CAPS (Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey) Program in Utah, I felt it was important for us to have this specialized training. We coordinated our trip with two members of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Clint Burfitt and Dan Clark, and visited the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity. For two days, we received intense training on Microlepidoptera of economic importance. Microlepidoptera, often abbreviated as "microleps," represent 37 out of the approximately 47 superfamilies of Lepidoptera. Dr. Steven Passoa, Lepidoptera Specialist, works for USDA-APHIS and is an expert in identifying exotic microleps from other countries. Dr. Passoa is a native New Yorker and his spirited commentary about his unique position helped us all learn more about pest detection in the U.S.

Dr. Passoa began by teaching the group how to properly prepare specimens for examination. As the name implies, microleps are generally less than 5.5 mm and require careful preparation for accurate identification. Generally, moths are collected on sticky cards and require a series of solvent saturations to remove dirt and adhesive; alternating ethanol and histoclear baths is a common protocol. Extra dirty moths need an ultrasonic bath to further remove debris. In some cases, body characters are still hidden by dense scales (hairs), and so gently brushing off the scales is mandatory. An important diagnostic feature for most microleps is the male genitalia. We watched several video clips of genital dissections (pulling out the male reproductive organs from inside the abdomen). This is very delicate work, and a technique for Ryan and I to practice this winter (yes, you can all stop being jealous now!).

Next, we learned to recognize major characters for superfamilies of economically important microleps. We worked through couplet keys, constantly referencing moth body parts through a microscope, and drawing our observations. Dr. Passoa would often mix in native moths with exotic species to point out diagnostics features and how not to confuse similar-looking moths. He discussed microleps of potential concern to Utah, including light brown apple moth, Egyptian cottonworm, silver Y moth, and false codling moth. These moths are or will be part of the annual CAPS surveys, and therefore screening for these moths should be more efficient now that we have insights on diagnostic characters to look for when sorting sticky traps.

Before departing, we visited the Plant Pest Diagnostic Clinic at OSU where they receive over 3,000 samples a year! Barb Bloetscher, Entomology Diagnostician, gave us a tour of their multipurpose facility. It was a great end to our trip to Columbus. Ryan and I hope to continue to improve our diagnostic skills by attending more training workshops.

-Erin Hodgson, Extension Entomologist