Entomology and the 17-Year Cicada

Students who study with Dr. Marten Edwards, associate professor of biology at Muhlenberg College, can learn some large concepts from looking at small insects. That’s because bugs are a great tool to study biological processes in an efficient way due to their size and quick life cycles.

Theory of Connectivity: Entomology and the 17-Year-Cicada

They're studying entomology with Dr. Marten Edwards.

Students who study with Dr. Marten Edwards, associate professor of biology at Muhlenberg College, can learn some large concepts from looking at small insects. That’s because bugs are a great tool to study biological processes in an efficient way due to their size and quick life cycles.

Edwards teaches Introductory Biology, Cell Biology, Cell Biology of Human Disease and Entomology at Muhlenberg. One of his current projects involves looking at the molecular basis of how mosquitoes produce juvenile hormone. This hormone is known to exert control over the mosquito life cycle. The long term goal of this project is to find new ways to combat these important carriers of human diseases.

He’s also beginning to research what diseases, beyond the well-known Lyme disease, are transmitted via ticks. He hopes his work will help local doctors determine what diseases to screen for when dealing with tick-related illnesses.

In late May and early June, he’ll be working with Muhlenberg students to map the emergence of the 17-year cicada, a species native only to the Eastern United States. This will help predict where we’ll see the insects when they next appear. In 2004, Edwards and his students Rick Crist ’05 and Michael Sitvarin ’06 helped map the arrival of Brood X, creating the first detailed distribution maps of the species in Pennsylvania.

Both species are distinct from the annual cicadas we see each year - that brood should appear in the hottest days of the summer, several months after the larger 17-year cicadas.

He’s not alone in his love of bugs in the lab. Other insect research projects at Muhlenberg involve the neuroscience of vision with Dr. Patrick Williams, the effect of pollutants on the insect sense of smell with Dr. Jordanna Sprayberry and plant-insect interactions with Dr. Richard Niesenbaum.

“It might be a genetic thing,” says Edwards about his love for insects. “My dad was an entomologist, so I grew up going on field trips and helping his students with their bug collections. I thought it was a normal thing for kids to do on their weekends.”

Edwards believes that almost any topic in biology can be studied through the multiple lenses of insects. They let him “specialize” while learning about the widest possible range of new and exciting topics.

To learn more about the life of insects, follow Marten Edwards in hisBug Blogs for the South Whitehall Patch.

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