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Come Examine Insects with UMass Extension

Still from InsectXaminer video on gypsy moth
April 17, 2020

Looking for exciting short movies to watch while in quarantine? Look no further!  A new video series, InsectXaminer, about Massachusetts insects will both educate and entertain you. Tawny Simisky, UMass extension entomologist, is creating several short clips to regale you with the antics and life cycle of gypsy moths, lily leaf beetle, and others.  She says, "InsectXaminer is born from my love of insects and my desire to share with the world just how incredible these organisms really are, even the ones we consider to be pests." 

Simisky educates professional audiences who are managing these organisms in landscapes every day. She frequently takes photographs of insects, primarily pests of trees and shrubs, to use in her presentations or written publications. More recently, Simisky also began taking videos of the insects after she purchased a macro lens for her husband's personal camera as a birthday present. Her husband is employed by a different university as a video editor, so they have been able to combine career passions.  With his help in their spare time, Simisky has developed newfound editing skills that will serve her well in this new project.  

Her goal is to create a catalog of footage that will be helpful to teach landscapers, arborists, grounds managers, and other Green Industry practitioners how to identify each life stage of significant insect pests in our landscapes. Proper identification is essential for successful management.  Simisky’s hope is that by keeping these videos short and to the point they can also attract attention from a wider audience.  She said, “If these videos can spark enthusiasm for insects in students and the general public, that would be an added bonus.” 

She plans to produce as many episodes of InsectXaminer as possible. One of her goals is to capture video of visible life stages of each species. This means that filming may take a growing season to complete. For example, the video in Episode 1 featuring gypsy moth was filmed over a period of two months. The next insect to make an appearance on InsectXaminer will be the lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii). Although this insect is not a pest of trees and shrubs, it is a beautiful but destructive beetle that many gardeners are likely familiar with. For now, she may be releasing one episode per month this spring. 

Because of the current response to COVID-19, Simisky is unable to travel for work, but will film more insect pests in her own yard as the season progresses. When travel approval for work is re-established, she has big hopes for InsectXaminer.

Simisky chooses music from YouTube's free audio library which can be used without royalties. The song from Episode 1 on gypsy moth is called "Rainy Day Games" and is attributed to the artist "The Green Orbs" in the Audio Library. The genre is Children's/Happy. Simisky chose this song because it was fun with a lighthearted theme. She acknowledges that people who dealt with the gypsy moth outbreak in Massachusetts from 2015-2018 didn't find it fun at the time, but she liked the way this song complemented the footage. Most of all, insects are incredible organisms and they are a lot of fun to observe - so she hopes the song reflects those feelings. 

Stay tuned for more engaging videos, this is a great time to learn about insects in our environment.

Anyone who wishes to be notified when the next episode is available should subscribe to the Landscape, Nursery, and Urban Forestry Program's email list.

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