UFH Hogsback field trip empowers Entomology students for the future
A group of third years and honours Entomology students from the University of Fort Hare’s Zoology and Entomology Department recently completed a three-day field trip at Hogsback as part of their training to empower them with skills required for their postgraduate studies and their careers.
Entomology is the study of insects and their relationship to humans, the environment, and other organisms.
The main objective of the annual field trip is to teach students basic field trip planning skills and to introduce them to various insect collection techniques, learn more about the motives behind sampling sites selection and to learn further insect preservation and identification methods.
According to UFH entomology lecturer, Ms Pfarelo Grace Tshivhandekano, in class, the students get to learn about all sorts of entomological information without much hands-on experience that they would get outside in the environment where insects exist.
“During the field trip, they get to observe live insects feeding on plants, dung, and other materials and if they are lucky, they can even catch them mating and even in the process of molting or even laying eggs. Thus, each year we embark on field trips usually to Hogsback for the students to put into practice what they learn in class.”
On the trip, the students are accompanied by MSc students and staff from the department. The third years assist the honours students with collecting insects using different techniques and using different identification guides for identification. In the process, also familiarize themselves with the techniques. The role of honours students is extended to identifying the insects collected and writing a report on their composition and diversity.
The master students and staff serve as advisors to assist the students with, firstly, planning of field trips, site selection, and execution of the techniques. They also share survivor skills of being out in the field for several days with access to only a few necessities.
Sharing more detail on the activities of the field trip, Ms Tshivhandekano said: “Some of the activities include using pitfall traps to collect insects, which is a technique used to collect mostly ground-dwelling invertebrates. This Involves containers buried in the ground with upper rims level with the ground surface with a killing agent and preservative, such as ethylene glycol or water with dish-washing liquid inside. These are left outside for about 2-3 nights to let insects fall in and they are monitored daily to check which insects fell in.”
“The other technique is to use the Malaise trap which is a tent-like structure used for trapping and preserving flying insects, particularly Hymenoptera and Diptera. We also actively search for insects from foliage and the ground under rocks and fallen tree logs where they can be picked by hand, forceps, or aspirators/pooter. All the insects collected are stored in 50% ethanol solution for preservation so that they do not rot, and if time allows, they can also be pinned.”
According to Ms Tshivhandekano, in addition to learning to catch their own insects and practicing using collection tools, other highlights of the trip are that the students get to enjoy further lessons outdoors, observe the insects in nature and observe some of the phenomena they knew theoretically.
“The students also get the opportunity to form networks amongst each other and get to know their lecturers in a less formal setting. They also realize that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy because they also get downtime in the evenings to play games, chat, sing and cook together.”
Sinobomi Fadana, a third-year entomology student and class rep said the field was a great learning experience. "I learnt about the collection methods of insects, and how to choose a site for sampling. The location was cold but the good thing about it is that it had almost everything. I also gained experience in socializing with my peers when I participated in games and other activities. The skills and techniques we acquired during the trip will certainly make us better entomologists and scientists”
Commenting on this excellent initiative, Dr Unathi Heshula, Senior Lecturer of Entomology, said: “If learning by doing is the ultimate way to learn, then that's exactly what these students got during their three-day trip! With senior staff and students as their guides, they got to see, touch, and experience the incredible organisms they'd only read about in Entomology textbooks. It was like their science class came to life. Furthermore, the trip gave them a whole new appreciation for the diversity of nature and the urgent need to protect it in a changing world. It was three days I believe they'll never forget.”