Insect knowledge a must for Master Gardeners

Molly Keck, Texas AgriLife entomologist, and volunteer Dr. Rick Shepherd from Tarrant County examine a nighttime catch from a light sheet at the San Antonio Botanic Gardens.

Last month the Bexar County Extension office and the Department of Entomology hosted the seventh annual Master Volunteer specialist training in entomology.  Molly Keck, IPM program specialist stationed in Bexar County, hosted the program, which drew 20 volunteers.  Participants included both Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, and the training ran for four and a half days.

“I think I’ve found a whole new interest,” said John Sells, Master Gardener volunteer from Bexar County.  “Now I can go out in my backyard everyday and … at least be able to put what I see into a different group.  If I can’t figure out the exact name, I can find it out.”

“I’ve been looking forward to [this training] for six or seven years, so I was ready,” said Gail Warren from Walker County (Huntsville).  Warren said she waited until she had a friend she could bring with as much enthusiasm for insects as her.  Besides talks on a variety of subjects, participants in specialist training went on field trips to the Witte Museum and the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. In addition, participants got personalized instruction in how to pin and make insect collections, how to photograph insects and and how to see and find insects outdoors. Specialized training in butterfly gardening, spiders, mite identification, and ant identification were just a few of the learning opportunities that go beyond normal entomology training for master volunteers.

Chances are good that Warren and Sells, and the other volunteers who devoted a full week to learning about insects, will find themselves in high demand as they return to their respective counties.  A recent study done by past Entomology Specialist, Lance Jepson (class of 2009) in Tarrant County, revealed that about 30% of all calls coming into the Fort Worth extension office relate to insects.  Over a 22 month period, between 2006 and 2010 (not all months were recorded), computer records show that of 6,022 calls received by the Master Gardener desk, an estimated 1115 calls pertained to insect subjects. Review of data for the year leading up to August 2010 showed a nearly identical percentage of insect calls.

This shows how important insect knowledge is to the Master Gardener volunteer.  Although most Master Gardener and Master Naturalist training courses include insect-related information, there is obviously much more to learn. If you are a Master Volunteer and think you would be interested in Entomology Specialist training, visit the specialist website at Next year’s training will be held in Dallas, with dates to be announced.

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