By Gelsey Plaza /// Senior Staff Writer
Beetles ranging from the size of 0.3 millimeters to 6.7 centimeters are being showcased in the Watzek Library atrium. Alumnus Chaya Arabia ’15 organized this unique exhibit, called The Beetles of Lewis & Clark, in which six specimens of beetles are displayed. Three are from the family Curculionidae (weevils and bark beetles), one is from the family Ptiliidae (featherwing beetles) and one is from the family Elateridae (click beetles). It opened on March 28 and will be up until April 28.
Arabia majored in biology and minored in neuroscience at LC. She always thought beetles were very beautiful, but she became interested in studying them in Invertebrate Zoology [Inv Zoo] when Professor Greta Binford shared her excitement about beetle diversity.
According to Binford, beetles are in the largest order of life on earth—Coleoptera. There are more than 350,000 species of beetles. As a comparison, there are 45,000 spider species and 5,416 species of mammals.
“Beetles live all over the world,” Binford said. “They bore into wood. Some are huge. Some are predators. Many have tightly co-evolved with plants. Some are colored like jewels. We rely on them to recycle poop. What’s not to like?”
Arabia became curious about the beetles around her, particularly in how their morphological diversity has facilitated their success.
“For my independent project in Inv Zoo, I examined beetle diversity along the stream in the Copeland ravine at Lewis & Clark,” Arabia said. “I collected beetles at different lengths away from the stream by using a collecting method that involves gathering soil and fallen leaves.”
Arabia’s favorite beetles are the featherwing beetles, which possess unique wings that resemble feathers. The featherwing beetle can be as tiny as 0.3 mm, or about the size of a grain of sand.
“I first learned about this family when I found it among fallen leaves in Copeland Ravine,” Arabia said. “As I sifted through insects under a microscope, the beetle’s fringed hind wings caught my eye. This beetle is one of the three families of beetles that is highlighted in the exhibit.”
The semester after her Inv Zoo course, Arabia designed a practicum that expanded her independent project. She used five collecting methods to sample the different beetle habitats around campus. Arabia learned how to record and preserve beetle specimens through her project.
“Each specimen is essentially a data point in time,” Arabia said. “Each specimen contains collecting information including when and where it was found (date, location, and geographic coordinates), the substrate on which it was found (i.e. Western cedar tree, or soil), and who found it.”
Arabia had the opportunity to use the Biology department’s new macro imaging system. She was then able to photograph the beetles she found to produce high-resolution macro images. Throughout her fieldwork, she found 32 species of beetles representing 12 beetle families. All of these beetles are now a part of the LC Natural History Collection, which includes over 500 beetle specimens from around the world.
Arabia collaborated with Alexander Young ’15, who was studying lichen diversity, and Parveneh Abbaspour, the Science Librarian at Watzek Library. Together, they created a database that links identifying and collecting information. Their goal is for students to be able to add to the database and use it to inform research questions and hypotheses.
There are current biology students working on LC’s Natural History Collection. Kohl Kinning ’16 is working on aspects of the database; Charlotte Laube ’16 is working on the mycology collection; Nathaniel J. Klimpert ’16 is working on the herbarium; Sophia Horigan ’16 is working on the Coleoptera order collection; Emma Hoch-Schneider is working on botanical specimens from the 19th/20th century herbaria albums; and Angelia Romano ’17 is working on the fern collection. Together they are involved in doing a combination of data entry, collection, specimen ID checking, reorganization, and an overall mapping out of what LC actually has in the collection.
According to Klimpert, the LC herbarium is a unique resource in that it has been unused for the past few years. The herbarium has over 1200 specimens, some dating as far back as 1953. The specimens were all collected by students and faculty.
“Many of the specimens were collected either on campus or in Portland, so it’s a great way to see what LC campus might have looked like in past decades,” Klimpert said. “Last semester, I worked with Parvaneh Abbaspour and Greta Binford to reorganize the collection, update some of the storage practices, and digitize much of the information. We hope to scan pictures of the specimens and make all of this information available to students online, as well as continue to collect on campus to preserve a snapshot of our botanical diversity.”
Laube started working on the mycology, or fungi, collection last semester. She had to self teach herself a lot about fungi, for there is currently no LC professor who specializes in mycology. Laube used local communities, such as the Oregon Mycological Society, as well as online manuals. Still, it took a lot of different approaches to find out what worked best for her and this environment.
“I have been collecting and processing fungi fruiting body specimens from campus, Tryon Creek, and Mt Hood,” Laube said. “What I enjoy the most about this experience is no matter how much I learn, there is always more I don’t know. Every collecting trip I come back with questions. This whole experience has made me really interested in natural history collections. [Natural history collections] are a snapshot in time of the organisms within our environment, and that knowledge alone is so important to understanding our world and how it is changing.”
According to Laube, the whole LC collection is smaller in terms of size and taxonomic coverage compared to other colleges and universities in Oregon. Therefore, LC’s Natural History team is more focused on creating a strong coverage of local taxa—both on campus and in Tryon—instead of overall taxonomic breadth.
The LC Natural History team has been hard at work contributing to the school’s specimen collections. Take a peek at the beetle exhibit in the library. And if after that you are seeking a little of a beetle adventure, chances are if you pick up a pile of leaves around campus, you will find one.