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FDACS Scientists Lend Expertise to Smithsonian Institution

October 9, 2014

Drs. Trevor Smith and Paul Skelley, Division of Plant Industry, conduct research at Smithsonian

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present this guest blog from two of the FDACS Division of Plant Industry’s prominent entomologists, who recently traveled to Washington, D.C. Dr. Trevor Smith, chief, Methods Development and Biological Control, and Dr. Paul Skelley, biological administrator III, helped the Smithsonian Institution reorganize beetle specimens in its museum collections.

Drs. Trevor Smith and Paul Skelley in the lobby of the Smithsonian Institution.

Drs. Trevor Smith and Paul Skelley in the lobby of the Smithsonian Institution.

In late September Dr. Trevor Smith and Dr. Paul Skelley traveled to Washington D.C. to spend a week working at the Smithsonian Institution. They were awarded a visiting scientist research grant to cover all travel expenses during their visit. This grant was given specifically so that the two DPI scientists could lend their taxonomic expertise to several major insect groups within the national collection.

Dr. Paul Skelley, FDACS/DPI

Dr. Paul Skelley, at work at the Smithsonian Institution, identifying beetle specimens.

Dr. Skelley spent the majority of his time identifying thousands of beetle specimens in the family Erotylidae. This diverse group of beetles includes the pleasing fungus beetles, lizard beetles some of which bore into plants, and others that pollinate cycads. He was able to completely reorganize over 50 drawers of specimens from all over the world. He also spent one morning working at the Museum Support Center, which houses larger artifacts and archived parts of the National Collection.

” The inside of that facility looks very much like the warehouse in the last scene of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark,” according to Dr. Skelley.

Dr. Smith concentrated his efforts on an accumulation of 35 years worth of canopy fogging samples from Central and South America.  This type of canopy fogging was the basis for the opening scene for the movie Arachnophobia where, after fogging, thousands of insects and spiders begin falling out of the trees for collection. He found hundreds of specimens of the poorly understood beetle family Cybocephalidae, of which he has published several revisionary works.

Dr. Trevor Smith, FDACS-DPI

Dr. Trevor Smith discovered several beetle species new to science in the Smithsonian’s collection.

These beetles are major predators of scale insects, mealybugs and whiteflies making them excellent candidates for various biological control programs.  Dr. Smith discovered several species new to science in these samples and will describe them in an upcoming publication.

In addition to working in the museum Drs. Smith and Skelley travelled to Beltsville, Md. to meet with officials at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service headquarters. There they discussed continuing joint projects and further collaborative work in the areas of arthropod identification and taxonomy.

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