Buchholz High School student wins prestigious grant to research moth wings

July 24th, 2014
Zhong

High school senior Minjia Zhong holds a Saturniid moth, Citheronia splendens, while conducting fieldwork in Arizona.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Geena Hill

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A high school student working in the Florida Museum of Natural History McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity recently received a $2,000 Mu Alpha Theta grant to research moth wings.

Only about a dozen U.S. high school students receive the grant each summer from the national high school and two-year college mathematics honor society.

The grant will allow Buchholz High School senior Minjia Zhong to complete a paper she wrote and submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“A $2,000 research grant is an incredible accomplishment for someone who has yet to start college,” said Florida Museum assistant curator of Lepidoptera Akito Kawahara, who is supervising Zhong’s research.

Zhong uses her math skills to apply and understand geometric morphometrics, a field of statistics used to quantify complex shapes. Kawahara said Florida Museum researchers think diverse wing shapes evolved as a defense against nocturnal predators, such as bats.

Zhong said she developed an interest in moths as a collections assistant through the Florida Museum’s summer Junior Volunteer Program, and studying wing shapes of the Saturniidae moth family satisfied her desire to combine math and (more…)

UF researchers document caterpillars that mimic one another for survival

December 14th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In the world of insects, high risk of attack has led to the development of camouflage as a means for survival, especially in the larval stage. One caterpillar may look like a stick, while another disguises itself as bird droppings. Though crypsis may have its advantages, University of Florida researchers uncovered some of the most extensive evidence of caterpillars using another strategy previously best-known in adult butterflies: mimicry.

Insects use camouflage to protect themselves by looking like inanimate or inedible objects, while mimicry involves one species evolving similar warning color patterns to another.

The study in the current issue of The Annals of the Entomological Society of America helps scientists better understand how organisms depend upon one another, an important factor in predicting how disturbance of natural habitats may lead to species extinctions and loss of biodiversity. (more…)

Museum researcher receives $260,000 to study echolocation in moths

November 10th, 2011

Photo available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Whether by buzzing, singing, cawing or hissing, plenty of animals boast their own form of communication. But researchers now hope to unlock a common predator-prey language found in insects and mammals: echolocation in hawkmoths and bats.

“Moths and bats are completely unrelated yet they are talking to each other,” said principal investigator Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “We can’t hear it, but they certainly can, so we’re trying to do some experiments where we let the two organisms fly together and see how they interact.”

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Kawahara $260,000 to research hawkmoths’ use of echolocation as a defense mechanism against predatory bats. The grant will fund research in Ecuador, French Guinea and Borneo, molecular biology lab work at the Florida Museum, and experiments at a live bat cage in Boise, Idaho, run by co-principal investigator Jesse Barber, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Boise State University. (more…)

Florida Museum expands ‘A for Science’ free admission program to entire state

November 1st, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History is expanding its popular “A for Science” program statewide.

Elementary, middle and high school students in Florida who receive an ‘A’ or ‘S’ grade in science can present their latest report card for free admission to the Butterfly Rainforest with a paid regular price adult admission. Alachua County students receive their next report cards Nov. 8.

The offer is valid until the next report cards are issued. A student receiving another ‘A’ or ‘S’ grade on their next report card would again qualify for the offer through the end of the following grading period. (more…)

Fla. Museum to unveil renovated ‘Monarch Passage,’ butterfly migration videos

April 20th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will unveil the newly renovated “Monarch Passage” that connects the Central Gallery to the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at 10 a.m. Saturday. (April 23)

The museum installed seven 46-inch high-definition TVs to display videos of the monarch butterfly’s overwintering colonies in Mexico. (more…)

ButterflyFest offers activities for all ages, including butterfly releases, plant sale

October 21st, 2010

(EDITORS: A complete schedule of events follows this release.)

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The fifth annual ButterflyFest at the Florida Museum of Natural History from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday features free, interactive presentations and activities the entire family will enjoy.

Visitors can listen to presentations about Project Butterfly WINGS, Honduran butterflies and moths, the Monarch Watch organization, worldwide honey bee decline and the migratory patterns of Monarchs. Gardening activities and wildflower walks as well as live butterfly releases will also be offered. (more…)

Fla. Museum receives $500,000 NSF grant to curate Lepidoptera collection

November 10th, 2009

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two Florida Museum of Natural History scientists have received nearly $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to curate butterfly and moth collections in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.

Andrei Sourakov and Keith Willmott received the $495,989 grant to integrate the Ulf Eitschberger specimens from Germany into the McGuire Center’s collections and fund other projects for the center.

Sourakov said the three-year project will help solidify the McGuire Center collections as one of the best and most accessible in the world. (more…)

Fla. Museum unveils new Lepidoptera education exhibits for ButterflyFest

October 23rd, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Visitors attending the Florida Museum of Natural History’s fourth annual ButterflyFest this weekend will have an opportunity to experience the museum’s new interactive Lepidoptera exhibits.

The indoor butterfly and moth exhibits help visitors better understand the scientific value of the collections and the cutting-edge biological research that occurs in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. The center holds one of the world’s largest butterfly and moth collections at more than 9 million specimens.

“In highlighting our research for the public, we hope to inspire young people to get involved in science,” said Darcie MacMahon, Florida Museum assistant director of exhibits. “These informative and interactive butterfly exhibits will make learning about butterflies and moths easier and even more fun.” (more…)

ButterflyFest this weekend features tagged monarch releases, plant sale

October 19th, 2009

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will release tagged monarch butterflies, hold gardening and photography workshops and feature expert speakers on a variety of gardening and pollinator wildlife topics during its annual ButterflyFest Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 24-25).

ButterflyFest is a celebration of all pollinators and encourages visitors to explore their role in our ecosystem through crafts, games and presentations. The festival also includes activities, entertainment, food vendors, workshops and tours for the whole family.

Florida Museum staff will release hundreds of Monarch butterflies both days of the festival. The Florida Museum is participating for the third year in the national Monarch Watch program, which tracks the butterflies’ migration to Mexico with citizen reports using tiny stickers attached to the butterflies’ wings. (more…)

Donation of Lepidoptera collection will boost biodiversity research

October 13th, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A gift of more than 2 million butterfly and moth specimens to the University of Florida contains hundreds and possibly more than 1,000 new unnamed species, and will help researchers better understand biodiversity and environmental changes.

The gift to the Florida Museum of Natural History from Dr. William and Nadine McGuire of Wayzata, Minn., is valued at more than $41 million, and also includes funding for curation of the Lepidoptera collection, ongoing taxonomic and biodiversity related research, training of scientists and publication of books and relevant papers. The gift brings the number of specimens in UF’s collection to more than 9 million, one of the world’s largest.

“It is important that both the world’s scientific community and the general public recognize that one of the compelling issues of the early 21st century is the global threat to the present diversity of life on earth,” Bill McGuire said. “It is our belief that this threat to biodiversity demands a stepped-up educational and research effort on the part of universities and governments worldwide.” (more…)

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