Fulbright Scholar Jessa Thurman loves insects. Possibly more than puppies. Probably more than people. Her current research focusses on native biocontrol agents — a method of controlling invasive pests through the use of parasitic or predatory organisms. In her free time, she explores the rainforests of sub-tropical Australia to find and document every kind of creepy-crawly imaginable, from glow-worms to mountain katydids. A wonder and deep appreciation for nature has nurtured in Jessa a contagious enthusiasm for entomology.
She shares her thoughts, feelings, knowledge, and footage of these awesome arthropods on her Instagram, @JustAnotherNakedApe
^ “This is a new species of Anastatus wasp (family Eupelmidae), which parasitizes the eggs of other insects. This species is an Australian native and lays her eggs inside those of a major Aussie pest, the fruit-spotting bug. Anastatus is quite small (~2mm long) as she has to complete her life cycle within the eggs of a true bug. Thankfully for us, we can raise Anastatus and use her as a native biological control agent, which has been done for the past 8 years. This is one alternative to using broad spectrum chemical pesticides and is a more cost-effective pest suppression for farmers.
“My work here involves describing this wasp and understanding what’s happening when we release her on macadamia nut farms. It’s been great to work in the realm of taxonomy, while also working with farmers to study Anastatus in the field, which could later improve our use of it as a biocontrol agent. Scientific research takes you on a long and interesting road. I’m happy to still be working with these tiny, amazing creatures!”
^ “This limey katydid (Tettigoniidae) was found hiding in this lemon and lime orchard. Unlike other leaf-mimicking insects, like Phyllium spp., katydids are a mixed bag of herbivores and predators. Their strategy in life is more complex than just eating leaves and looking like leaves. Instead, they can be considered the deadly leaf for many insect pests. Overall, they cause no damage to orchards and are one of many insects that can provide farmers with some ecosystem services like reduced pest densities..”
^ “The Sigastus weevil, a terribly cute nugget of a bumpy beetle, but the worst macadamia pest for farmers in New South Wales. Sigastus chews into the nuts and lays an egg inside so its larva can grow fat and happy on the juicy macadamia nut.
“Two years ago, I met with organic farmers, all of whom are now forced to spray in order to control this pest. Hopefully a biocontrol program that can effectively manage this pest will be developed soon. In the meantime it looks like organic macadamias will be non-existent.”
^ “Those spikes are all show. Cairns birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion) caterpillars are soft and velvety critters. But these chunkers are not too worried about predators because they eat a poisonous plant. Aristolochia has toxic compounds which the caterpillars can use to make themselves toxic. The vibrant green adults then don’t have to worry about everyone trying to grab a bite! Some of the red and yellow colors on the caterpillars may also hint at that toxicity. No snacks here!”
^ “This Wolf spider (Lycosidae) couldn’t escape my eye with his neon-green planthopper (Flatidae) prey. Spiders are generalists, taking out a suite of pests on the sly. These seemingly small creatures can provide some sneaky pest suppression in agroecosystems and look darn cute while they do it.”
^ “E N H A N C E D stacked image of the pest weevils (Leptopius sp.) found on young macadamia trees in Bundaberg. This image was created by going through several planes of focus on this weevil under a microscope and 179 photos later… you get a photoshopped beauty who’s had all its bits stitched together.”
^ “I don’t care what you say, Jumping spiders (family Salticidae) are the cutest, cuddliest looking animals. They’re clever animals too, always sensitive to you getting near them and skittering away at first until they grow accustomed to you.”
^ “The only response I need for people asking “why do you like wasps?” This cuckoo wasp (family Chrysididae) was found in my friend’s garden just outside of Brisbane. These wasps parasitize other wasp larvae like those of the large mud wasps who you may see building nests around your house. Like the cuckoo bird, this wasp parasitizes another’s nest with its own young. Understandably, the other wasps are not happy to see this dazzling beauty and so the cuckoo can curl up into its armored body to protect itself from attack.
“There’s an amazing diversity of insects just in your backyard! What can you find?”
Jessa Thurman | 2018 U.S. Postgraduate Scholar | Entomology
Washington State University / James Cook University
Jessa aspires to improve our usage of biological control agents to regulate pest populations in crops by understanding how these insects and other arthropods interact with pests and the environment. These studies may also be based on insights from land managers. This combination of research interests should improve overall execution of biological control on farms globally. These interests will be pursued throughout the completion of her PhD in Entomology and possibly furthered as a professor.
You can follow all of Jessa’s arthropod adventures on her Instagram, @JustAnotherNakedApe.