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Help Me, Help Me

German cockroach nymph

Entomologist Dr. Art Evans shares with WCVE producer Steve Clark some of Art's recent efforts to identify insects online.

SC: I'm Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You. (binging noise) What's that?

AE: That's a query coming into my email, one of several I receive on a daily basis, people asking for identifications. And this person is about to receive some unwelcome information (laughing). It appears to be a photograph of a nymph of a German cockroach.

SC: Where was it?

AE: In the home, and in my experience, you don't find just one of these. And most people don't take kindly to finding cockroaches in their home.

SC: So what does a nymph look like?

AE: Nymphs are wingless. They're young cockroaches. They look like a cockroach, but they're small. Some of them tend to have different markings. This particular one is very boldly marked. It's a German cockroach, and they have pale sides and a broad pale stripe running from the head to about the mid-section of the body.

SC: But you would be able to identify it as cockroach?

AE: Very easily, yeah.

SC: Oh, okay.

AE: Now there are some things I receive that I can't answer right away, and there are others that I still want to double check. I'm, you know, my gut reaction, “It's this”, but I need to go to my sources and figure out what it is. Bugguide.net is usually one of my “go to” websites just to verify things because they've got lots of pictures from all different angles.

SC: What other identifications have you made recently?

AE: Gosh, people have sent me beetle photographs from Utah, caterpillar queries, identifications for bug parts found in food (laughing). And that usually gets people pretty excited when they find some unwanted insect or worse yet parts of an unwanted insect in something they've prepared.

SC: A friend of mine sent you a very blurry photograph of flying ants.

AE: Oh right. I don't expect everybody to be a nature photographer. I mean that's a skill that you develop over years, and you have the right equipment. Most people are out there like yourself with your smartphone, and you're snapping pictures away, and things are moving quickly, and you're looking at it with your eye. The things that seem conspicuous to you, and you're trying to convey that information, and sometimes I look at it and think, “Well, where's the information I need. . .

SC: Oh, to make the identification.

AE: . . . to try and identify this?” But I enjoy doing it, because I appreciate that people are paying attention to insects.

SC: Yes.

AE: Yeah, they're interested, and they want to know what things are. And I've always been an educator more or less, even when I was a kid dragging my parents' friends into my room and opening up my . . .

SC: “Artie, what’s this?”

AE: Yeah. Well, I had my five cigar boxes with my collection of insects, and I was always proudly displaying it at every opportunity. You know, in a way of educating people and sharing my passion, enthusiasm for insects.

SC: Just over the weekend someone asked me if we had tarantulas.

AE: No, we don't. To my reckoning, the largest spider, or one of the largest spiders would be one of the fishing spiders. And they'll have a leg span of, what is that?

SC: Oh my God, yeah.

AE: Two or three inches, that's big.

SC: That's big.

AE: I'm always happy to help when I can. Sometimes I get overwhelmed, and I can't answer right away. But if people send me emails or send a picture on my Facebook page, I'm more than happy to give it a go, and sometimes we'll find things interesting. So I'm happy to give it a look, and let's see what we can come up with.

SC: Dr. Art Evans is a Research Associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. You’ll find photos, audio, and links to the museum and Art’s Facebook page at ideastations.org/radio/bugs.

Photo: A German cockroach nymph, Blatella germanica (Dictyoptera: Ectobiidae).

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