Creating Sustainable Landscapes Through the Interactions of Plants and Insects
Educator Spotlight: Ana Legrand
Ana Legrand built her career around helping people understand the benefits that insects provide. Legrand is an entomologist and UConn Extension educator in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. Entomology is the study of insects, and it plays a vital role in our environment and landscapes.
“My interest in entomology started when I was young,” Legrand says. “I worked with an agricultural ecology professor in college, and she focused on insects for her research. I saw that it was a good path to follow because I was also interested in agriculture.”
Legrand started working on the project as an undergraduate. Then, she took a class on entomology that showed the formalities and that it could become a profession. “Part of my educational experience was working in the laboratory. I found that collaborating with the graduate students and professors was fun,” Legrand recalls. “I went on to pursue research in graduate school at the University of Maryland because you’re always learning something and that’s exciting. Teaching is also exciting because you are sharing that new information.”
At UConn, Legrand’s research and extension program focuses on plant and insect interactions in vegetable crops. Her work uses insects to enhance biological controls and looks at plant traits that impact insect pests. Legrand’s lab team is investigating plants that attract pests away from crops. Their goal is to trap insects on crops in the early stages before any damage to the food being grown.
Educational outreach including field days and fact sheets target growers and other researchers. “It’s rewarding to find something that wasn’t documented before, even if it’s a small thing,” she says. “I also enjoy seeing the diversity of insects. It might seem like a quiet agricultural field, but it’s really complex with a lot of activity out there.”
She enjoys getting students and growers excited about insects. Watching undergraduates complete research and pursue entomology in graduate school is also rewarding. “I want everyone to know that insects are a diverse group of animals,” Legrand says. “We face many challenges from pest problems – including health issues. But we also need to appreciate the beneficial insects and make them better allies in what we’re doing. Obviously, there is pollination. But beneficial insects also help with waste management, pest control, and in other areas.”
Remote sensing for early detection of pest damage is one of her new research projects in agriculture and entomology. Legrand and Bivek Bhusal, her graduate student, are partnering with researchers in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. They are using drones to identify insect damage to plants. Analyzing the way the light bounces back from the plant surface helps them find tissue damage and then look for patterns. There is a lot of data, and it has many other applications for agriculture production, specifically in vegetable crops.
Extension educators at several Northeast states are collaborating on a brassica project. The results of their research will enhance agricultural operations. Maussi Arrunategui, another of Legrand’s graduate students, is working on the project with her. Brassica crops include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and turnips. Her research avenues continue expanding and innovating beyond these projects. She is also securing more grant funding to sustain her research and extension initiatives.
“Extension work is valuable, and we want to keep people informed of the latest IPM developments,” Legrand concludes. “There are so many new pest challenges and there are new options available for management of traditional pests. The local environment is important too, our research is more applicable to what people are facing here in Connecticut.”
Article by Stacey Stearns
Article by Sara Tomis ’22 (CAHNR)
This summer, UConn 4-H New London County completed their first in-person program since early spring, 2020. The program focused on entomology and STEM and was facilitated through Preston Parks and Recreation summer camp. Students ranging from 4 to 12 years in age participated in a variety of activities designed to “break the ice” with bugs while learning about insect habitats, developmental stages, feeding behaviors, and anatomy.
Although many younger campers were eager to get their hands dirty and learn by doing (even when this involved making ‘ant restaurants’ that combined a variety of sticky, creamy, and crunchy foods), older campers exhibited a limited interest in engaging with these activities early in the program. However, by the end of the summer, young and older campers alike were enthusiastic about trying new things, interacting with the natural world, and engaging with content that they were initially apprehensive about. Additional impacts resulting from this experience involved promoting science education and science-based careers to young women, as well as teaching young learners how to overcome their fears and insecurities during their pursuit of knowledge and growth.
The 4-H Bugs program further served as an environment where students were able to develop a sense of community and teamwork. One student found a cicada exoskeleton at camp and brought his new ‘friend’ to 4-H Bugs program sessions over multiple weeks. His peers encouraged his newfound interest in entomology and together the group made a habitat for the exoskeleton and created paper ‘food’ for the exoskeleton to enjoy. The students applied what they had learned about insect diets and life cycles as they interacted with the exoskeleton, who was named Steven.
All students expressed increased interest in engaging with insects as the weeks progressed. The last session of the program involved creating habitats for live mealworms, which went home with students inside plastic water bottles filled with leaves, sticks, banana peels, and sheep grain for the worms to eat. The students were each allotted one mealworm each. However, as the worms were purchased in packs of 12, there were extra worms at the end of the session.
Almost all of the students asked for a second or even a third worm to add to their habitat and talked about their plans for feeding and caring for their insect as they moved on to their next camp session.
Cultivating positive interactions with peers and the natural world has a profound impact on how young students view their world and their future. The 4-H Bugs program was successful in providing such an experience to participants through experiential learning. Students benefited from an in-person learning modality after an extended period of time where their primary educational interactions took place in a virtual environment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This program is reflective of UConn Extension’s commitment to improving the lives of residents and stakeholders through quality educational programming.
UConn CAHNR Extension typically holds Bug Week in July; however, this year Extension has designated July as Bug Month. The UConn Extension Master Gardeners and Master Gardener interns participate. Bug Month is an educational outreach activity that promotes insects in the environment (bugs.uconn.edu/). Volunteers like Dr. Lynn Keller make this educational event fun and successful. In order to become a Master Gardener people need to attend and complete the Master Gardener program that includes coursework, office hours, and community service. The training allows them to become knowledgeable about various gardening topics.
Lynn heard about the UConn Extension Master Gardener program many years ago and completed the program in 2019. She learned about a volunteer opportunity to assist with Bug Week from Gail Reynolds, the Middlesex County Master Gardener program coordinator. Lynn enjoyed her entomology (study of insects) classes in college while studying to be a veterinarian. She also enjoyed the entomology class offered by the Master Gardener program and felt like it would be a good fit for her interests.
As a volunteer, Lynn works with various program leaders to coordinate dates and events during Bug Month in July. These activities include bug kits for youth, photo contests, and educational activities. Part of her role includes finding new leaders for these programs and ensuring they have the proper resources as well as creating content for the Bug Month website (bugs.uconn.edu/). New programs are suggested every year, and Lynn works with the team to implement them in addition to fundraising and finding sponsors. She also promotes Bug Month by writing articles and participating in local radio shows.
Bug Month is designed for family participation, and Lynn enjoys educating families on the importance of insects in our lives. She says, “If we didn’t have insects, we wouldn’t have pollination, which would result in missing out on many of our favorite foods.” Her volunteer work is making an impact because adults and children are learning more about the “integral role that insects play in the food web and in our environment.” She also notes that this program provides suggestions for simple steps families can take to improve beneficial insect habitats in their yards and communities.
One of Lynn’s favorite memories from her time as an Extension volunteer is at Bug Week events in 2019. Many children attended the event at the Tolland Agricultural Center and were excited to participate in the fun activities. Lynn enjoyed seeing the children’s enthusiasm while they were looking at bugs under a microscope and learning about them. She also enjoys continuing her education on native plants and insects which allows her to share this information with family and friends. Her advice to new volunteers is to find an opportunity that you are passionate about and use that passion to make a positive difference in our communities.
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program started in 1978 and consists of horticulture training and an outreach component that focuses on the community at large. Master Gardeners devote thousands of hours to organized community outreach projects each year. The Master Gardener program also offers Garden Master Classes for our volunteers and interested members of the general public. More information on the program and classes are available at mastergardener.uconn.edu.
UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
- Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
- Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
- Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
- Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. Learn more about our volunteer programs at s.uconn.edu/volunteers.
Article by Emily Syme
2021-2022 New England Greenhouse Floriculture Guide Now Available!
New England greenhouse growers have long relied on the New England Greenhouse Floriculture Guide, for its unbiased, detailed information about insect and mite management, disease prevention and management, weed control, and plant growth regulation. The Guide is updated every two years to ensure that it provides up-to-date information about crop management
methods and products.
The New England Floriculture, Inc., sponsor of the Northeast Greenhouse Conference, in collaboration with University Cooperative Extension from New England States is proud to introduce the free online version of the New England Greenhouse Floriculture Guide: A Management Guide for Insects, Diseases, Weeds, and Growth Regulators.
We invite you to test this version of the Guide and provide us feedback about
how you use the guide. Find the guide at: http://negfg.uconn.edu/
The Guide is also available via a Print-on-Demand service. The printed guide
costs $35 (plus tax & shipping). https://www.negreenhouse.org/pest-guides.html
Zach Duda, one of our UConn 4-H interns talks pollinators with us! A Bee Hotel can help attract more pollinators to your garden. Watch and learn how to make your own.
Scorpionflies are harmless, but are so named because the males curl the tip of their abdomen up like a scorpions’ stinger. Life of adults and larva are not well known, but both are omnivores, eating decaying vegetation and insects. Adult scorpionflies have a head resembling that of a horse.
To learn more click here.
The Spotted Pine Sawyer Beetle. It is right on time with adults appearing in June. It’s look alike is the Asian Longhorn Beetle, but the adult stage for the ALB occurs during August, says Carol Quish from our UConn Home & Garden Education Center.
Ask us your question at: http://bit.ly/AskUConnExtension_form
Our Healthy Homes program offers the following tips on keeping your home free of pests. You can download the document or print it for easy reference.