A recent study in the Journal of Insect Behavior by Andy Davis, a faculty member in the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, found that horned passalus beetles can lift more than 300 times their own weight without breaking a sweat. Now, Davis has teamed up with Jake LeFeuvre, a senior from Oconee County High School, to find out how internal parasites influence the beetles’ strength.
“These beetles frequently have internal parasites—tiny worms that live in their abdomens—and these appear to be non-lethal,” Davis said. He thinks, however, that they may cause other problems for the beetles, such as sapping their energy. That is what he and LeFeuvre are trying to determine.
LeFeuvre is taking part in the UGA Young Dawgs Program, which pairs talented high school students with UGA faculty to provide early hands-on experience in a variety of fields, including ecology.
“I’ve always been an outdoors person, and interested in bugs, so when I looked at the research that different professors do, this stood out to me,” he said.
LeFeuvre was especially interested in learning how research is conducted and had interests in entomology and physiology, so Davis’s project was a great fit.
For the fall semester, LeFeuvre is spending his time tending to a small collection of beetles in a lab in the Odum School, and each week he conducts a strength test on them. He places each beetle under an electronic force gauge and gently taps it to get it to lift. He then records its maximum lift. So far, he has recorded over 200 strength measurements on 50 different beetles which, combined with information on their parasite loads, should help provide answers.
“This project is a great blend of behavioral ecology and physiological ecology, and it could not be completed without Jake’s help,” Davis said.
Young Dawgs, an initiative of UGA Human Resources, started in 2008 with 21 students from two high schools. Since that time, more than 700 students from 14 schools around the state have participated, working with faculty and staff from departments across UGA.
Students accepted into the program must have at least a 3.6 grade point average and work with Young Dawgs director Jim Geiser to choose a faculty mentor. Geiser said he’s impressed with the eagerness of faculty to participate.
“Professors like Andy open whole new pathways for kids that they wouldn’t have otherwise had,” Geiser said. “And of course the professors get something out of it, too.”
He added that several Young Dawgs have gone on to attend UGA and continue working with their mentors.
For more information about the Odum School of Ecology, see www.ecology.uga.edu. For more information on the Young Dawgs Program, see www.hr.uga.edu/uga-young-dawgs-program.