9 out of 10 Noble Chafers Agree…

Romania is the place to be!

Now, I can’t comment the nobility of Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabaeidae) and whether it belongs to a hereditary class with high political or social status. However I can confirm that the Noble chafer has high principles and ideals when it comes to choosing its natural environment and home, traditionally managed orchards and woodlands.

The Noble chafer can often be found in traditionally maintained cultural landscapes and develops in decaying wood within the hallows of live trees throughout Europe. The adults emerge in early summer and live for 4-6 weeks dining on high nectar flowers such as hogweed, elder, and meadowsweet.  Unfortunately, over the last century these beetles have been losing their habitat due to the rural to urban human exodus, urbanization, and rural development programs (Hartel et al. 2013) and consequently have become rare in parts of Europe, such as Great Britain; (Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership). However, in Romania, many people still practice traditional land practices such as manual hay mowing, tree pollarding, low intensity grazing. These practices create a mosaic of habitats in which many species, including the Noble Chafer, thrive.  So, these beetles still seem to be abundant in Romania…. at least for now.

[Photo] Beetles geographic Range includes the palearctic ecozone (Europe: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Servia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Switerland)
Noble beetles geographic range includes the palearctic ecozone (Europe: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Servia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Switzerland) [Photo: Wikipedia]
Noble chafer habitat, Iron Gates Natural Park, RO
Noble chafer habitat in Iron Gates Natural Park, RO. (Although, in the UK Noble chafers found in Orchards.)

I discovered the Noble chafers while surveying longicorn beetles using pheromone trapping in a sub-Mediterranean forest of the Iron Gates Natural Park in Southwest Romania, as part of the Romanian Beetle Project.  At first, I thought it was a fluke!  I figured the first Noble chafer captured must have been merrily going about its daily business and accidentally flown (undamaged) into my trap.  Oops!  But then I continued to find Noble chafers throughout the month and a half of our trapping expedition. In total, we captured 24 Nobel Chafers!

The Noble chafer is a beautiful metallic green beetle (approximately 2cm or, if you are American, Liberian or Burmese that is 3/4 inches in length).  But the most telling feature to identify these beetles is their scutellum, which is the small triangular shield-like structure between their hardened wings (elytra).  Noble chafers have a scutellum that is shaped like an equilateral triangle (all three sides are equal).  But be careful when making the identification because they can be easily confused with the Rose chafer, Cetonia spp., (Family Scarabaeidae) which have an isosceles triangle (2 out of the three sides are equal) shaped scutellum.

The Rose Chaffer is similar to the Noble beetle with the exception that its scutellem is shaped like an isoseles triangle. The Noble beetle is rare and has a scutelum shaped like a equalateral triangle.
The Rose Chaffer is similar to the Noble Chaffer with the exception that its scutellem is shaped like an isoseles triangle. The Noble beetle is rare and has a scutelum shaped like a equalateral triangle.

I needed to learn more about the Noble chafer, if scientists were working with it and what conservation initiatives were being taken… So, I contacted The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. It is an UK-based organization that bridges that gap between science and real-life conservation initiatives.  They consider this beetle vulnerable in the UK, which means that is at high risk of extinction. I told them about all the Noble beetles I captured in Romania and they immediately put me in touch with Dr. Deborah Harvey.  Dr. Harvey is a Post Doctorate at the Royal Holloway University of London and has been working on the Noble  beetle as part of a wider project in conjunction with the Universities of Birmingham and Aberstwyth, funded by Leverhulme.  She is investigating the use of pheromone attractants to manage, survey, and ultimately conserve the Noble chafers.  So, she was obviously intrigued and excited to hear about my discovery (and especially to learn about the pheromones I am using)!

In essence, pheromones have been “playing with insects heads since the 1950’s” when they were first applied to control moth pests. A pheromone is a chemical compound produced by an organism that sends a signal or message to a member (or members) of the same species, causing a change in their behaviour. In this case, we hope that a pheromone will attract Noble chafers looking for romance (a potential mate)!  Similar to the Romanian Beetle Project with longicorns, a pheromone would help conservationists survey and monitor the number of Noble chafers (without harming them) and inform about their community and ecology.

Dr. Harvey is an Insect Conservationist and has been working with Noble chafers (among other vulnerable beetles) for a few years now. In addition trying to find pheromones for attracting adult Noble chafers, she will also be studying the larvae (baby beetles). She explained that in the UK the current method for identifying the presence of chafers is to look for signs of larval frass (beetle poop!). The larvae develop in decaying wood and probably feed on fungi. But that’s the thing… we do not know exactly what they are eating or how they develop. And the frass could have been there for a really long time after the beetles have left the tree. So, in fact, frass may not actually be the best method for determining if beetles are really there. …And this is where Dr. Harvey comes in, she will be conducting scientific experiments to learn how the larva develop, what they eat, and the kind of natural home environment they prefer. With knowledge on the Noble beetles biology and ecology, we can better identify and safeguard Noble chafers habitat.

I always tell people that Romania is the “wild wild west”… of Eastern Europe!  It is one of the few European countries with intact wild forests with a diverse array of ecosystems.  And it is because of this that it is home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe and many of them are threatened or are in danger of becoming extinct. So, it was no surprise that it would be home to Noble chafers but whether or not they prefer Romania?  …Well, we will have to wait and see if Dr. Harvey and I have stumbled upon a pheromone to find out for sure!

What can you do?  Please keep an eye out for these beetles and if you see one this summer, contact The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species or Tweet, Dr. Deborah Harvey @deborahjharvey, #ROBeetleProject #conservation



Hartel, T., Dorresteijn, I., Klein, C., Máthé, O., Moga, C.I., Öllerer, K., Roellig, M., von Wehrden, H., Fischer, J. (2013): Wood-pastures from a traditional rural region of Eastern Europe: characteristics, biodiversity and threats. Biological Conservation, 166: 267-275.

Noble Chafer, Gnorimus nobilis: Species Action Plan (2001) Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership. 2: 1-6.

Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabidae), Iron Gates Natural Park, Romania
Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabidae), Iron Gates Natural Park, Romania

Finding a Way Back Home

Strabo, Xuanzang, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Isabella Lucy Bird, Freya Stark, Bruce Chatwin, Bekka Brodie, Viorel Popescu, Tavi Popescu, and Rex-a-roo.  All are famous travellers.  Okay, true, the last four listed (me, my family, and our dog) are not famous enough… just legends in our own minds.  We are academic nomads; in search of wisdom, experience, adventure, happiness… and the “holy grail” (AKA positions at an academic institution). However our nomadic lifestyle is coming to a close and we have finally made our voyage home.

Many academics live the traveling lifestyle for 10+ years before finally finding the “holy grail” and we are no different. Over the last 10 years we have lived in 7 different cities and 11 different rental apartments/houses (this does not include travel for fun, conferences, or research). However, the main difference is that we have unique circumstances (detailed in “The family with no country to call home” and the follow up post “Why we are a family with no country to call home“), and we have lived in 3 different countries (United States, Canada, and Romania).  Often (thanks to Skype and the Internet) we are living in one country and working in multiple other countries at the same time.  There are many blog posts about academic nomads (here, here, and here) but this post is our story.

The beautiful thing about being academic nomads are the places we have been, meaningful relationships forged, and memories we have made along the way.  While living abroad we made a point of seeing and experiencing as much as possible, often with friends and family, or with friends we have made along the way.  Just to name a few of our favourites… In Maine, U.S.A, we loved visiting Bar Harbour, Acadia National Park and the Maine coast (too many times to count).  While in the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, Canada), our favourite places were the Okanagan, Squamish, and Whistler (2010 Winter Olympics venue), and traveled to Kona, Hawaii… twice!  (One of the added benefits of being an academic nomad are having friends to visit all over the world. For us that included beautiful and tropical Hawaii; thanks Emi and Scott!). While living in Romania last year, we tightened bonds with family and friends while exploring Transylvania, Banat, but also Barcelona, Spain, and Montpellier, France. Tavi spent quality time with his grandparents (3 full months of summer vacation), and learned to speak fluent Romanian.  …Can’t think of any added benefit for Rex (and, honestly, he has “baggage” from all the traveling), but he might be one of the most well traveled dogs EVER.

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park (Maine 2010)
Aloha! (Tavi and I with friends, Scott Hamilton, Emily Knurek) (Kona, HI 2013)
Whistler Mountain! (With visiting family: Me, Viorel, Tavi, Patsy Brodie [AKA Mangie], Larry Glanville [AKA Poppy "G") (Whistler BC 2014)
Whistler Mountain! (With visiting family: Me, Viorel, Tavi, Patsy Brodie [AKA Mangie], Larry Glanville [AKA Poppy “G”) (Whistler BC 2014)
Excavation at Harrison Lake (B.C. Canada, 2013)
Brans Castle
“I vant to suck your blood… ah ah ah”  (Traveling with friends, Viorel Popescu, Antonia Musso, and Andrew Cook) (Bran Castle, Transylvania, 2015)
The Spanish Inquisition!
Dramatic Spanish architecture! (Traveling with family: Me, Ionuts Simion, Veronica Simion, and Viorel) (Barcelona, Spain 2015)

Now, we are on our way home (my home, the United States).  My husband, Viorel Popescu, and I have accepted positions at Ohio University, Athens OH (not to be confused with Ohio State University in Columbus, OH).  Luckily for us, we are good at moving… a super power we rarely get to brag about.  We can pack up in less than 1 day and can fit all of our possessions into 6 suitcases.  In fact, we have just about memorized exactly which items are packed into what suitcases; making packing even faster and more efficient.  To top it all of, Rex, has his own pet passport!  His passport helps expedite his movement through security at various layovers and into the country of our final destination.  (In this case, back to the USA… not that anyone at the border really cares about the dog because they are entirely too busy giving Viorel the third degree).

Leaving Romania, destination Athens, Ohio.
Leaving Romania with the help of family and friends ( 6 checked bags, 3 Carry-on bags, 1 dog crate [plus dog]), destination Athens, Ohio, USA! (Left to right: Cristian Tetelea, me [Rex], Veronica Simion, Tavi Popescu, and Ionut Simion)
Pet Passport_Woo
Rex-a-roo and his pet passport

We quickly adjust to our new home, (wherever that may be) thanks to Google, Skype, Facebook, family, and friends.  (Seriously, I don’t know how people did it before google: search, maps, translate, etc.).  Using the internet, we can quickly find the essentials like a home to rent, transportation, and the closest grocery store.  Family and friends helped considerably by storing our personal items, salvaging housewares, and furniture from roadside curbs and thrift stores, feeding us warm meals as we transition, and moving us.

(Photo of Tavi and Woo passed out in back of Larry's Truck, our new car and home)
Tavi and Rex passed out together while in transit to Athens, OH from Rochester NY… this is actually a very typical travel scene. Thanks Larry and Mangie!
12615 N. Peach Ridge Rd
Tavi outside our new rental (a cabin in the woods)! Thanks Danny Moates!

We can quickly assimilate into new cultures, places, people and food, but nothing prepared us for actually moving home and getting our dream job(s).  Now that we are here, our personal life has settled but our academic life has not… regardless of that coveted “holy grail”.  We are still adjusting and transitioning at Ohio University.  Viorel is navigating his role as assistant professor of conservation biology: planning lectures and teaching, recruiting graduate students, writing grants, networking, and attending meetings (a lot of meetings…).  I have been given adjunct status at OU, with an office, lab, and insect rearing room, which is more than I could have hoped for considering I only recently defended my PhD. Matt White, Biological Sciences chair at OU, was instrumental in providing all this support for me.  At the moment there are no classes for me to teach, and it is uncertain if anything will be offered in the future.  So, I am concentrating on identifying funding resources (i.e., opening my own business, Brodie Insect Science LLC!) and research.  Although we are incredibly nervous, we hope to eventually carve out places for ourselves at the university.  Go Bobcats!

Exploring Ohio University
Exploring Ohio University.

There is a saying that “travel is timeless”, and this certainly holds true for us.  Over the past 10 years we have developed meaningful relationships, seen amazing places, and made memories to last a lifetime. However, traveling (or, in our case, frequent moving) is tiring and we are happy to end our nomadic lifestyle, grow roots, and really invest in our new community. The timing could not be better for Tavi; he has started kindergarten and looks forward to making life-long friends at his new school.  As well as for Rex, who is just too old to be dragged all over the world anymore, and would prefer to spend the rest of his days napping.

This is the world as Academics know it and as we know it.  It has made us stronger, opened our eyes to new opportunities, and made us appreciate and cherish our loved ones, and above all else, we have lived.  We are not unlike the philosopher and famous great traveler, Strabo, we synthesize our own travel into a science of geography, or as he put it “the art of life, that is, happiness”.  Although we have found a home, the adventure is not over, we will continue to look forward to what is around the next corner and the voyage that awaits us… but always returning home.

The Case of the Mysterious Mesosa Longicorn Beetle

Entomology Today

A white-clouded longicorn (Mesosa nebulosa) with all of its tiny hairs (pubescence) intact. Photo by Szczepan Ziarko.
By Bekka Brodie

It was a beautiful, sleek, black beetle with long antennae. Immediately, I knew it was different than any other longicorn beetle I had seen, but its identity eluded me.

Bekka Brodie

Solving mysteries may be “elementary” for Sherlock Holmes, but for entomologists, trying to identify an unknown insect requires more than careful examination of trace evidence to reveal information about a mystery insect — especially when there are more than 400,000 different species of beetle worldwide! Identification requires a systematics key, careful examination of the beetle’s habitat, and a review of the scientific literature. And in this case, a team of entomologists from all over the world.

I discovered the mystery beetle while trapping deep in a sub-Mediterranean forest of the Iron Gates Natural Park in Southwest Romania. I had been checking traps for…

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Beetle Trapping Expedition

It was a beautiful, hot, Spring morning, and 3 out of shape committed scientists set out to bait and trap beetles in a mountainous and rugged sub-Mediterranean area of Romania.  Enthusiastic, we were carrying 50 traps, anxious to see what surprises will wait for us in those 50 cups over the next several weeks. We wanted to survey threatened and endangered longicorn beetles that live in the unique habitats that make up the Iron Gates Natural Park (IGNP) but we would have been excited to find even the most common of them all!  This was a brand new territory for us and one that has never been systematically surveyed. We were looking for one beetle in particular, the endangered European Maple Longicorn Beetle (Ropalopus ungaricus), but found more then we ever expected!

Pheromone Factory Line
The “Pheromone Factory Line”, here Gabriel Vanau, Viorel Popescu and I are tying multiple generic pheromone lures together in preparation for deployment in the field. The pheromone lures were provided by David Wakarchuck at Synergy Semiochemicals.  (Yes, we are wearing socks!  The lab is inside someones home… so, no shoes allowed! Next time I will be prepared and bring/wear slippers.) .
Hanging flight intercept traps and recording habitat data.
The pheromone lures are used in combination with flight intercept traps (above) provided by Joseph A. Francese at USDA APHIS.  …Here’s how it works, the pheromones are chemical compounds that transmit a seductive message to the beetles (i.e. “happy hour” or “ladies night”) and attracts members of the same species (often the opposite sex) to the trap location.  The responding beetle flies toward the pheromone message in search of a mate, bumps into the panel, and slides into the white cup below (trapped!).

The pheromones we are using are generic (many species of longicorn beetle produce the same or very similar pheromones) and we hope that they will attract a variety of beetle species (Hanks and Miller 2013, Wickham 2014). The pheromones and traps will help shed light on the diversity and community of beetle species, which is critical since the deciduous forests in Romania are among the last remaining habitat in the European Union suitable for the survival and persistence of a variety of endangered species and because knowledge about them is relatively scarce.  Additionally, the pheromones we are using have yet to be tested in Europe. So, what we find in the trap cups will be a great big surprise (like Christmas morning… but for insect nerds)!

We walked over 3 kilometres setting up traps, up steep mountains and through open fields. The elevation in Eselnita Valley increased from just under 200 meters above sea level to almost 500 meters in less than 1 km!  Within this landscape, there is a temperature inversion causing the Beech trees (which prefer a colder climate and usually grow at higher altitudes) to grow near the valley bottom (200-300 meters), where the river maintains a cooler microclimate.  The higher we climbed, the warmer it got, the Beech trees disappeared and were replaced by Oak trees.  In the open fields (Mala Valley) it is sunny, hot, and full of wildlife, including wild boar, deer, snakes (vipers!), and insects (lots of ticks!).

Vipera_ammodytes ammodytes_VGavril
Baby corn viper posing for the camera, Vipera ammodytes, IGNP, RO [Photo: Viorel Gavril]
Danube Delta,UNESCO,Biosphere Reservation,traditional food,people,landscape,food Danube delta,carp traditional,sturgeons
Danube Delta, UNESCO, Biosphere Reservation [Photo: unknown]
While setting up our traps in Mala Valley, we just about walked into a barbed wire… and looked like we trespassed on someone’s land!  We had to be careful about setting up our traps because we didn’t know if our presence would be welcome, and didn’t know how serious people are about trespassing.  Carefully, we proceeded onto the property in hopes that we would be permitted access to continue our work… And we were greeted with kindness!  We met an old couple, Ion and Veta Jianu, who not only welcomed us, but they gave us coffee and homemade cheese (which became my staple food for the next several weeks), and also gave us permission to trap beetles on their land.  (In fact, Ion greeted me by hand-kissing without making eye contact, which I learned is a traditional way for a gentleman to greet a lady in Eastern Europe!)  Throughout the field season, I would continue to meet Ion every day (no hand-kissing since). Ion spoke no English, but he patiently waited while I strung together a few Romanian words (thanks iPhone data and Google translate!), and we made conversation for hours at a time.  We chatted about the beetles captured, the trees and plants I came across in the woods, our families, and the weather (always up to date with weather conditions in the area, as well as in the town where my in-laws were babysitting my son, at the other end of the country).  I would often bring leaves from trees where I was catching beetles and Ion would teach me the Romanian name of the tree and its traditional use (scythe handle, cane, etc.).  …So, as it turned out, on the other side of that barbed wire was a very good friend!

Ion Jianu
Ion Jianu waiting for us to finish our work for the day (Mala Valley, Eselnita, RO)

There are many vulnerable, threatened, and poorly understood beetles in the IGNF.  (I will post stories about many of them in the future.)  However, there is one beetle in particular that we were interested in finding, the endangered European Maple Longicorn Beetle, Ropalopus ungaricus.  This beetle has an endangered IUCN status due to severe destruction Ropalopus_ungaricus_copyright_Petr_Zabranskyof mixed forest habitat for intensive agriculture and urbanization, and because of deficient forest management, and most importantly, the abandonment of traditional land uses (fewer people like Ion and Veta). The Maple Longicorn develops in living and dying Maple trees (Acer spp.) with a preference for pollarded or open trees. Pollarding is a form of traditional forest management in Central and Eastern Europe used to produce more branches and foliage for use as animal feed or firewood. Pollarding also has a side effect of increasing the amount of light that enters the tree canopy, as well as its undergrowth, allowing for optimal conditions Maple Longicorn.

A "wolf beetle" overpowering a longicorn beetle, Hungary, Gerence Highlands. [Photo: Sig]
A “wolf beetle” overpowering a longicorn beetle, Hungary, Gerence Highlands. [Photo: Sig]
Over the next month and a half we checked the traps daily.  We wanted to ensure that none of the beetles were harmed… especially the Maple Longicorn beetle.  We were worried about them getting harmed because we caught more then just beetles responding to pheromones for romance (a mate), we also caught beetles looking for a meal!  We caught hundreds of checker beetles (Clerus mutillarius) daily (about 10-20 per trap)!  The Romanian people I spoke to called these beetles ‘gândacul lup’, or wolf beetles, because they’re amazing hunters and eat everything!    So, we had to check the traps daily to reduce the number of Longicorn beetles that would have been on the “wolves” menu.

After an entire month and a half of hiking 1.5 kilometers of rugged terrain daily, we decided to wrap up the project and take down the traps.  The pheromones were quickly depleting from the heat and we hadn’t caught any new beetles species in a week.  And, although we hadn’t found our target beetle, the endangered Maple Longicorn Beetle (Ropalopus ungaricus), we still had plenty of data for a great story!  (As it turns out it’s so elusive that even the Grigori Antipa Natural History Museum in Bucharest, RO, does not have one in their vast collections).  However, (and quite ironically) on the very last day we captured a similar species of Maple Longicorn beetle (Ropalopus insubricus), a cousin of our target beetle (and featured on the header this post).  So, we are getting closer!  We will be back in August to scope out better habitat to trap for the elusive Maple Longicorn Beetle.

Overall, we managed to collect 40 different species of Longicorn beetles and of those approximately 10 are rare, vulnerable, and threatened beetles.  One species of beetle was unidentified, possibly a new species or invasive species??  Many beetles were captured in specific habitats within our trapping areas or at different times of the day.  I will write more detail about the beetles, their identification, habitat, and behaviour in future posts… So, please stay tuned or “follow” this blog.

In the mean time, for more details on the project, please visit my new page “RO Beetle Project“!

Removing traps from the Eselnita Valley with Akis and Laurentiu Rozylowicz.
Removing traps from the Eselnita Valley with Alexandru Gavrilidis Athanasios (AKA “Akis”) and Laurentiu Rozylowicz [Photo: Laurentiu Rozylowicz).
The spot where the Maple Longicorn Beetle "should be" in the collection at the Antipa...
The blue arrow shows the empty location for the Maple Longicorn Beetle in the collection at the Grigori Antipa Natural History Museum, Bucharest, RO


Hanks LM and Millar JG (2013) Field bioassays of cerambycid pheromones reveal widespread parsimony of pheromone structures, enhancement by host plant volatiles, and antagonism by components from heterospecifics. Chemoecology 23:21-44.

Wickham JD, Harrison RD, Lu W, Guo Z, Millar J, Hanks LM, and Chen Y (2014) Generic lures attract cerambycid beetles in a tropical montane rain forest in southern China. Journal of Economic Entomology 107(1):259-267.

Featured imageRopalopus insubricus 

Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

It’s a aphorism I tell my son before shutting off the lights at bedtime.  My parents said it to me, their parents said it to them, and so on.  We all know the saying, but unlike the boogie-man, goblins, or ghosts, bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are a real “monster” that could be lurking in your bed and home. What is scary about bed bugs is that anyone can get an infestation (it doesn’t matter if your clean or dirty) and they are almost impossible to get rid of.  Luckily for us there is a new pheromone identified from the bugs frass (insect poop) and cuticle (wax on the insects body) that can be used to monitor and control bed bug outbreaks. We no longer have to worry about the bed bugs bitting and can finally “sleep well”.

Bed bugs have been feeding on humans for 10,000  years!  In fact, Archeologists found 3,550 year old fossilized bed bugs in human dwellings in Egypt (Panagiotakopulu & Buckland 1999).  Bed bugs really began to spread and thrive in America alongside the arrival of the railroad and increased travel. People began moving and distributing the little nightmares from inns and hotels to their homes. However, over the last few decades, bed bugs have been in quiet descent (perhaps due to the use of DDT and other insecticides)… until recently.  Now there are increased reports of bed bug infestations all over North America (in high rise apartments, homes, schools, hospitals, clothing stores, public transit, etc).

They have become a global epidemic not only because adult insects are such good travellers (Wang et al. 2010), spreading throughout public and domestic dwellings, but also because the eggs are hidden well and almost impossible to kill.  The best way to get rid of bed bugs are to throw items in the dryer at a high heat, minimum 120°F/ 48.8°C. Unfortunately, you can’t put everything in the dryer, so many people throw items out or resort to powerful insecticides.

Thanks to scientists (also my friends and colleagues!) at Simon Fraser University we can indeed sleep well at night.  They used state of the art scientific equipment to identify a natural pheromone blend that acts as a chemical hypnosis.  The pheromone blend attracts bed bugs and keeps them in one spot.  Altogether, keeping them out of your bed!

Please watch the video made by my colleague Mike Hrabar that explains and shows exactly how this aggregation pheromone works!  It’s part of the NSERC Science, Action! scholarship competition.  If you enjoyed the video, be sure to share and give him a “like”  in Youtube!

Read the full article:

Gries, R, Britton, R, Holmes, M, Zhai, HM, Draper, J, & Gries, G. 2015.  Bed bug aggregation pheromone finally identified. Angewandte Chemie- International, 54(4):1135-1138.


Cohen, J. 2010. They’re Back: A Bed Bug History. History.com.  Retrieved March 9th, 2015, http://www.history.com/news/theyre-back-a-bed-bug-history

Hrabar, M. Bed bug aggregation. [Cover Photo] 2010. Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Panagiotakopulu, E. & Buckland, P.C. 1999. Cimex lectularius L., the common bed bug from Pharaonic Egypt. Antiquity 73. 

Wang, C., Saltzmann, K., Chin, E. Bennett, G.W., & Gibb, T. 2010. Characteristics of Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), Infestation and Dispersal in a High-Rise Apartment Building. Journal of Economic Entomology. 103(1): 172-177

Stink Bugs and Steeples

Clink! Clink, clink, clank!  An insect was colliding with the ceiling light! My son, Tavi, and I were stoked!  Our first insect since moving to Romania!  We couldn’t wait to catch it!  We knocked it down and grabbed it before it could fly away… but instead of finding a “new-to-us” native Romanian specimen adapted to flying in mid-February, we found a painfully ordinary grey stink bug (Order Hemiptera: Family Pentomatidae).  (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

Still, it reminded us of a beautiful stink bug, Graphosoma italicum or Minstrul Bug, that we collected on a trip to Cocoş Monastery, back in April.  At the time we were visiting Viorel’s family for the Easter Holiday and traveling to monasteries and churches.  (One of our favorite Romanian past times.)

Stink Bug or M Bug
Stink Bug or Minstul Bug (Family Pentomatidae) The bright colours protects them from being eaten by predators, it a warning they taste bad.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

The Minstrul Bug is pretty common throughout Europe but to our North American eyes it was remarkably exotic!  The bug has beautiful red and black longitudinal strips and on the ventral side (bottom side) was red with black polka dots.  We learned there are two very similar species that can be found in Europe; G. lineatum, which has orange legs and is found in southern Italy, Sardinia, North Africa and the Near East.  While G. italicum (our bug) has black legs, and is distributed more towards the center and north of Europe (Ribes et al., 2008; Dusoulier and Lupoli, 2006).

Here you can see the red ventral side with black dots and black legs.
Here you can see the red ventral side with black dots and black legs.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

We found our bug in the meadow surrounding the monastery on a warm and sunny day.  The entire scenery and monastery was a sight to behold… And, while I’m not religious, I can’t help but enjoy the beautiful architecture and ancient history of these places of worship.

The Cocoş Monastery is located in Tulcea County, Dobrogea, Romania.  It was founded by three monks traveling to Athos Mountain in 1833.  When they arrived to the area, it was so beautiful they decided to end their travel and build a monastery.  The legend says that the Monastery was named after the sound of a rooster and a bell board that could be heard all  the way from the top of the hill, (cocoş= rooster).

Red cross marks the location of Cocos
Red cross marks the location of Cocos Monastery, Tulcea, Dobrogea, RO.
Cocos Monastery and surrounding area.
Cocos Monastery and surrounding area from the top of the hill from which it was named.  (On this day we did not see or hear any roosters or bell boards.)
Cocos church within the Monastery.
Cocos church within the Monastery.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

Thousands of pilgrims visit to Cocoş to bow their heads and pray to the relics of four martyrs/saints (dating back to 303-304) that rest at the Monastery: Zotic, Atal, Kamasie and Filip.  I couldn’t find much information (in English) on these saints, except that their remains were found by pure accident. A huge rain storm in 1971 uncovered the dome of their crypt which was located on Niculitel Commune Road.  Maybe some of my Romanian readers will help provide some information on the saints located in Cocoş, the spiritual centre of Dobrogea? (…Otherwise we will have to wait for my Romanian language skills to improve and that could be a long wait.)

Inside the Monastery's Church. It was crowded with pilgrims and the inside was remarkable!
Inside the Monastery’s Church. It was crowded with pilgrims and the inside was remarkable!  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)
The relics of the four saints... which the pilgrims lined up to kiss.
The relics of the four saints… which the pilgrims lined up to kiss.  (Photo: Ionuts Simion)

Romania is made up of 5 of the 10 biogeographic regions of mainland Europe.  The county of Dobrogea represents the only steppic region in all of the European Union (1%).  It is characterized by it’s low-lying plains and undulating hills, with an average height of 200-300 meters (Sundseth, 2009).  A great portion of the area along the Danube is included in Natura 2000 because it maintains it’s natural hydrology, hosting important areas of natural floodplain ecosystems. It is a unique area home to many small rodents, birds (up to 20,000 during migration!), no less than 8 rare bat species, and numerous insects.  Throughout our day trip Cocoş Monastery, we discovered many of these insects, including beetles (Longicorn, Dung, Flower Chafer), flies (Bee fly, Robber fly), butterflies and lots of rather large holes everywhere… which turned out to house tarantulas!

Macin Mountains
The image illustrates the Steppes, within the area of Macin Mountains, a small mountain chain- 20Km long and 500m (at it’s two peaks)-behind the Danube Delta.  Prime location for typical Steppic plants and animals.
Tavi looking for insects.
Tavi looking for insects!  He found a pretty cool looking ground beetle at the base of this tree. You can kinda see it (a little blur on the left of the trunk) running away.


Dusoulier & Lupoli, 2006. Synopsis des Pentatomoidea de France, Nouvelle Revue d’Entomologie 23(1) : 11-44.

Ribes, J., S. Pagola-Carte, I. Zabalequi. 2008. On some Palaerarctic Carpocorini (Hemiptera: Petatomatidae: Pentatominae). Heteropterous Revista de Entomologia. 8(2): 155-169.

Simion, I. [Photos] 2014. Cocoş Monastery and Minstrul Bug.

Sundseth, K. 2009. Natura 2000 in the Steppic Region. European Commission Environment Directorate General.  Retrieved February 16, 2015 at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/biogeos/Steppic.pdf


A Family with no Country to call Home: Romania Adventure!

That’s right, we have officially moved to my husbands home soil… Romania!  The plan is to start working on the 2 year home residency requirement, which the US Dept. of State so courteously requires from my husband. In any case, it is a pretty loose-end move, since we have no clue what awaits us.

This is a follow-up story from my post “A Family with No Country to call Home: A Modern Love Story” and my husbands take (including the nitty gritty details) “Viorels Story: Why we are a Family with No Country to Call Home“.  To recap,  we met in graduate school in 2006, married in 2008, and our son was born in 2010.  When we met, Viorel (now my husband), was studying in the United States with a Fulbright Scholarship on a J1 Visa.  The US Dept of State requires that, at the end of his J1 term, he must return to his country and “give back” for 2 years.  In theory, it’s a wonderful idea, but (1) there are scant job opportunities for academics in Romania, and (2) this the 21st century, and a person doesn’t need to be physically present in that country in order to contribute and “give back”.  So, along with many other reasons, we moved to Canada in an attempt to bypass this requirement, in the hopes that we would settle there. We lived and raised our family in Canada for almost 4 years, searching for job opportunities that will satisfy both of us. Somehow, BC never felt like home to us, and we’ve been longing to get back in Northeastern US for a while. Both Viorel and I have close family there, which would be great for Tavi (we also found out that life as young parents in this academic system was very lonely, and seeing family was a rare event – this April was the first time in 3.5 years that Tavi met his grandparents in Romania; sad…).  Add this to the fact that academic jobs in Canada are very rare (about 80% of STEM postdocs will never even get an interview for an academic position in the Canadian higher ed system), and we started to seriously doubt our initial decision to settle in (Western) Canada.  So, we decided to take the risks involved with moving back to Romania and hope that after two years we’d be able to return to the US.

On December 15, my entire family (including Viorel, Tavi [our son],  even Rex [the dog] and myself) left for Romania.  We sold our car and the majority of our belongings (don’t feel too bad, we didn’t have much anyway).  We brought little more than 1 suitcase each to begin our new (short-time?) life in Romania.  Since arriving in Romania, we’ve been staying with Viorel’s parents while we search for a home, car, and school for Tavi.  (I should mention here that Tavi and I voted for more traditional or classic forms of transportation… however, we were vetoed by Viorel and my brother-in-law, Ionuts.  We now own an Opel Astra, a German car.)

Tavi on a traditional Romanian carriage, the horses were on break (Braila, RO- December 2014)


Tavi with the classic Romanian Dacia Truck or "Papuch" (Papuch= Slipper)
Tavi with a classic Romanian Dacia Truck or “Papuc”, Papuc= Slipper (Braila, RO- December 2014)

While in Romania, I have assigned myself 5 main goals, 1) learn Romanian(!), 2) spend time with and get to know my husbands friends and family (often requires that I learn Romanian first), 3) finish my dissertation (the defense is scheduled for July 1, 2015 and I’m well on my way with 3 out of the 5 chapters are submitted or published!), 4) eat lots of Chorba (Romanian borscht soup)  and Sarmale, and 5) investigate potential post-doc opportunities in Romania.

Me making great headway towards eating lots of Chorba! (Photo: Tavi Popescu)
I’m making great headway towards goal #4 and eating lots of Chorba! Thanks, Mamaia!!  (Photo: Tavi Popescu)

So far I’m making dramatic progress on 1-4!  Regarding #5, investigating Post-doc opportunities, Romania is one of the few European countries with intact wild forests with a diverse array ecosystems.  Because of this, it’s home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe and many of them are threatened or are in danger of becoming extinct.  These species include mammals, birds, plants, but also encompass overlooked, yet often just as charismatic, insects.  Some of my favourite insects on this list include Rosalia Longicorn Beetle, Rosalia alpina, and flat bark beetle, Cucujus cinnaberinus, (Family: Cerambycidae), and the Mountain Apollo Butterfly, Parnassius apollo (Family: Lepidoptera).  This, paired with a fair bit of optimism, hard work, and cleverness, allows for plenty of research possibilities.

The Rosalia Longicorn is found from the Alps to Slovakia but its numbers have steeply declined due to deforestation. Logging and wood-processing industry is the main source of income in many areas of the Carpathians, Romania. (Photo: Lhasek)
The Rosalia Longicorn is found from the Alps to Slovakia but its numbers have steeply declined due to deforestation. Logging and wood-processing industry is the main source of income in many areas of the Carpathians, Romania. (Photo: J. Lhasek)


The Flat Bark Beetle lives under the bark of dead and live trees in central and Eastern Europe.
The Flat Bark Beetle lives under the bark of dead and live trees in central and Eastern Europe.  This beetle is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to clear cutting forest. (Photo: L. Krasensky).


In the last few decades this species distribution throughout Romania has decreased drastically and currently considered extinct in the Western Carpathian mountains. (Photo: J. Lhasek)
In the last few decades this species distribution throughout Romania has decreased drastically and currently considered extinct in the Western Carpathian mountains. (Photo: J. Lhasek)

What does the future hold?  I have no idea but you can be sure it will be full of trips to explore Romania’s culture, and historical and biogeographical regions.  Because of these upcoming expeditions and adventures I expect my blog will morph as well.  It will still focus on insects and my experiences navigating through academia as a mother and mentor, but I anticipate will take a dramatic turn to Romanian entomology and my experiences adjusting to my new culture and country.  So, let the adventure begin (again)!  Join me and my family as we attempt to, “find the “Mania” in Romania!”

(Plus, I hear Dracula’s castle is for sale… a potential investment opportunity for us?!?  Nah, I been there, it’s cold and has very small doors!)

Update!  I submitted a grant application for the Mohamed bin Zayed Species conservation Fund and it was accepted!  I will be surveying endangered, threatened, and poorly known longicorn beetles (Family Cerambycidae) in traditionally managed Romanian forests!  For more information see RO Beetle Project!