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Tawny Simisky: She Knows What Bugs You...

Tawny Simisky, UMass Extension entomologist Tawny Simisky is an Extension entomologist who specializes in insect pests of ornamental trees and shrubs with the UMass Extension Landscape, Nursery, and Urban Forestry Program.

Simisky provides diagnostic support to the UMass Plant Diagnostics Laboratory, as well as trainings for those working in in the commercial horticulture industry in Massachusetts. Her expertise includes basic entomology and Integrated Pest Management of tree and shrub insect pests for landscapers and arborists. She provides stakeholders with information for a wide variety of pest insects. These include, but are certainly not limited to, winter moth, gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, and piercing-sucking insect pests of plants. Chilli thrips, a newly discovered non-native insect species in the state, was first detected in Massachusetts by the UMass Plant Diagnostics Laboratory. Simisky worked with entomologists from the University of Florida and the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to confirm the identification.

Simisky is a frequent presenter at professional educational programs across the state, including those for nursery, landscape, and arborist’s associations, master gardeners, and several others. She also provides lectures for UMass Extension’s Green School and guest lectures for the UMass Winter School for Turf Managers

Simisky co-leads “walkabouts” in the field where attendees can learn about disease, weed, and insect-related issues common in the landscape. These field-oriented trainings allow observers to get up-close and personal with a wide variety of insects, pests or otherwise.

One of the things she loves most about her job is that there is rarely a typical day. Planning is essential, often six-months to a year in advance.One day she can be found giving a lecture in Wareham and the next day she is reviewing samples in Amherst at the Plant Diagnostics Lab.Simisky provides support to professionals looking for the most effective and safe way to manage insect problems for their clients and later that same day, she may update pest-related fact sheets for umassgreeninfo.org. In addition, she writes articles for various UMass Extension publications including the Landscape Message, Hort Notes, Garden Clippings, shares information through Facebook (@UMassExtLandscape), Twitter (@UMassLandscape) and trade publications. When not busy with these tasks, she organizes conferences.

Simisky recently developed an Invasive Insect Certification Program for “Green Industry” professionals working with trees and shrubs. This program taught participants how to identify invasive insects found in Massachusetts with significant impact and provided management information for these pests.   

In her time away from work, she often combines her love of the outdoors with the love she has for her extended family. When they hike together, often in Berkshire County where she grew up, they all learn something interesting from her irrepressible desire to teach about insects. Hikes might take longer than planned when they come across bunches of gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) egg masses, hickory tussock moth (Lophocampa caryae) or woolly bear (Pyrrharctia isabella) caterpillars.

Her philosophy? “An example of a good day would be one where I learn something new (so every day is a good day!).