Generally speaking there are three different ways I could spend my work day. I could:
- Spend the day setting, servicing, and/or collecting what insect traps have collected and bringing them back for inspection by the scientists/professionals.
- Spend the day collection, releasing and/or preparing for transfer biocontrol agents from one location to another location to attack invasive plants.
- Spend the day counting grasshoppers and if the density warrants collecting grasshoppers to bring back to the office for inspection by the scientists/professionals.
Doing traps is one of the fun parts of the job. You take off with a truck with a bunch of gypsy moth traps that were made earlier with a book with a bunch of sites and maps for the locations your traps to be set. It takes some above average orienting and map reading skills to find your locations because you are setting traps out in counties you may have never explored before. Even if you get your home county, I promise some of the location you will never even have knew a road existed there before. You also have a limited number of super moth sites you have to set. For those you pick the site and set up five different kinds of moth traps. You might also have to set out traps for Emerald Ash Borer or at an airport for Japanese beetles. All of these sites are testing for other non-native potential insects that we would want to detect their presence Montana as early as possible because of their potential impact on ecosystems and agriculture.
If you look closely in that small pine tree you can see a bit of orange. That was my first gypsy moth trap of my summer.
Each of the traps has lure, generally some kind of pheromones that would draw in the potential pest. Some lures will last the whole season and others will only last about a month. So each month we go out to the traps that need to have an updated lure, and pull the captured sample and bag it up, then put out a new lure and a new collection medium.
This was taken when I was setting up traps for a super site in May. You can see all the different types of traps. In the cooler I kept the lure that I put into the trap as I was putting it out.
This was one of the things I did last week. I went back to the super sites I had worked with landowners to set up and serviced traps. I also spent some time at one of Montana’s airports. It was nice in that I knew where I was going and who I was going to work with. I knew what to expect in roads, timing, motels and food. One of the more interesting prospects for me was that I was going back to sites I had been to about a month before. Since that time we have had very little rain and abnormally high temperatures. We have gone from lush green pastures, fields and rangeland to the land of curing vegetation. I realized as I wrote this I did not take hardly any photos this week to show May and now the first week of July. Something I will try to be more aware of to snap a few more pictures this week.
I have never spent much time thinking about snakes and bugs, since I was a kid. My grandma had garter snakes at her house growing up and she never seemed much phased by them, though as small child I was not so sure. My husband is allergic to spider bites and we had a dog who got a necrotic wound from a spider bite, so even though they do have a purpose we don’t tolerate them in the house or in the major people places in our yard. Bottom line is we are adults don’t encounter many creepy crawly things and don’t spend much time thinking about them. Last week with my new job I had lots of encounters and I learned something about myself and how I feel about things that are creepy crawly.
I spent the week out in the field working with biocontrol agents. In layman’s terms this means I collected “good” bugs that would eat non-native invasive plants and moved them from an area with an over abundant population of bugs to an area that did not have enough bugs to work on the “bad” plant. Non-native invasive plants left unchecked would overrun a native/normal ecosystem such that it could no longer be used for its intended purposes. The intended purpose could be to support wildlife that has existed there for years, agriculture or recreation. Not all non-native plants become invasive nor will they upset the ecosystems, but some like spotted knapweed have the ability to overrun an ecosystem so completely that the elk can no longer find sufficient food and this can mess up everything from breeding, weight, herd size and other things. Biocontrol is not a magic bullet but is one of an arsenal of tools for attempting to manage invasive plants.
First we inventoried places so we knew where the bugs were and what level they were at. This involved timed counts and using a GPS. This data was given to the professionals who evaluated levels and then gave us assignments on where to collect and where to redistribute what we had collected. For the plant and bug we were dealing with this week I walked through acres of weeds and grasses. To collect the bioagents you knocked bugs off the “bad” plants into trays. This is where the worst of the creepy crawly things comes into play. When you knock bugs off the plant you not only get what you want, but lots of other bugs. Bugs that have wings and fly. Grasshoppers. Spiders of all sizes and colors. Lastly ticks.
I have decided that of all the things that I ran into this week collecting and redistributing bugs, that I hate ticks most. I ran across snakes as well this week and decided that quite frankly they don’t want to encounter me and if I slow down they will move on and out of the way. On the other hand ticks are always looking for there next meal. Things that can hop or fly are like snakes they will move out of the my collection tray if they are given enough time. Spiders well they are a little gross, but most of the I can flick them out of my tray without much effort, but ticks……well they are just plain nasty vectors of disease. I would prefer to never have to deal with them, but shaking the bugs off of plant, it just invites the tick to move, and you are looking pretty good at that moment. So you become a tick magnet, no matter your precaution.
I did all the right precautionary stuff. Co-workers picked ticks off of clothing for one another. When I got back to my hotel that night I did a tick check and did not find anything. After showering I was checking my hair for what I thought was the billionth time and found two ticks on the nape of my neck. Oh gross. I was there alone in my hotel room with ticks on me. No one to call for help. I pulled up my big girl panties and took them off and flushed them down the toilet. They had not attached at that point. Lucky me. If they been attached the rules would have been different. It was the icing on the cake of affirming that yes ticks are the worst of the creepy crawly things in the world for this woman.
If you find a tick crawling on you pick it off and throw it down the toilet. If it becomes attached, when you remove it, save it in a plastic bag in the freezer in case you become ill. Having that tick will be really helpful if that does happen. Also make sure you know the right way to get a tick out of you if it becomes attached. If you are unsure don’t be afraid to ask for help.