A student’s perspective: entomology at the CFIA

November 2023 | Canadian Food Inspection Agency | by Kiersten DeViller

My name is Kiersten DeViller, and I’m in my third year studying Biology at Carleton University. I’m hoping to pursue a career in entomology - I think that insects are the most incredible group of animals. Their diverse behaviour and morphology is endlessly fascinating.

This past summer, I had the chance to work as a student with Dr. Erin Campbell in CFIA’s Entomology Research Lab, part of the Ottawa Plant Laboratory. To be completely honest, when I heard about the position, I didn’t even know that CFIA had an entomology lab – but, working with them this summer taught me that, not only do they exist, but they also do some pretty cool stuff! My summer was filled with new experiences and so many beetles, so here’s a little snapshot of what it looked like.

Collection curation

My official role in the lab was “Entomology Field Technician”, but, in hindsight, I’d say that was a pretty loose description. Let’s go back to May 1, 2023, my very first day on the job. I was given a tour of the lab – a quiet little building with only about 8 people in it at any given time. The peaceful appearance was deceiving, however, as I quickly learned that there is always plenty going on. The building has molecular labs, an insect collection and even a couple of stick bug and cockroach colonies. It houses the Ottawa Plant Laboratory’s entomology unit, which consists of a diagnostic and research lab.

The beginning of May is a little too chilly for any entomological field work, so, in the mean time, my first task was to start the long process of curating and digitizing CFIA’s insect collection. The collection is a relatively small one compared to the millions of specimens housed in larger collections, but it contains thousands of specimens that help the diagnostic lab identify insects and arthropods collected at Canada’s borders, shipping ports and across the country. Digitizing this collection helped keep things organized and make it more useful for the lab. So, over the next few weeks, I went through the collection, specimen by specimen, transcribing collection labels into a massive Excel spreadsheet. It may not sound like the most exciting task, but since CFIA often checks on and within imported goods for any invasive or potentially dangerous insects and arthropods, the collection houses an incredible diversity of specimens from across the globe. Going through them, you’ll see insects from Germany, South Africa, Australia, Egypt, and so much more. It was fascinating and a great opportunity for me to familiarize myself with different species, managing collections, and maybe brush up on my Excel skills too.

Japanese beetle trapping project

It wasn’t too long, however, before the real fun began. This summer’s main attraction was the first stage of a study to improve trapping efficiency of Japanese beetles. Working with the Entomology Research Lab at CFIA, I spent my summer planning, mapping, measuring and trapping (thousands and thousands of beetles).

Japanese beetles are well established in many parts of eastern Canada, but have recently become established in Vancouver, BC. To aid with eradication efforts in Vancouver, we tested the beetle catch rates with traps at different distances from each other to determine the distance at which the number of beetles trapped was optimized.

The best part about participating in this project was that, despite being a student, I was able to contribute to almost all parts of the study, including:

  • mapping out trap placement
  • setting up our research sites
  • handling traps
  • recording and managing data
  • weighing the 470,000 beetles caught
  • statistical analysis

I was able to get real-world experience setting up and carrying out experimental research and get a taste of issues that arise with field-work. Issues like changing plans to accommodate for weather, available space, limited resources, or even a tornado blowing your traps over. Participating in this project taught me about the process of carrying out experimental research and gave me the chance to learn some completely new skills, like building maps in QGIS!

Working with CFIA’s Entomology lab this summer was an absolute privilege. I loved meeting so many wonderful entomologists, improving my collection management skills, and conducting entomological field work. I’m looking forward to continue working with the lab and moving forward with the Japanese beetle project next summer!

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