Monday, March 4, 2013

The New Bug Guy

Hello everyone! My name is Matt Bertone and I am the new entomologist for the Plant Disease & Insect Clinic. I will be taking over for the now-retired Dave Stephan, a great entomologist with years of encyclopedic knowledge who will not be easily replaced. I do hope to follow in his footsteps, however, and to learn as much as I can about the insects and other animals that affect the daily lives of North Carolinians. But first, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

I was born up North (don’t hold it against me) and lived most of my formative years in Pennsylvania. From a young age I was obsessed with the natural world (see below photo). It started with the usuals like dinosaurs and such, but quickly turned into a passion for insects, spiders and other creepy-crawlers1. They were so strange and diverse that there was always something amazing to learn.

Only the nerdiest kids know how to draw
a microscope in kindergarten.
After high school I entered college at Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I had a great time there and took as many zoology courses as I could. There I met many great scientists and was introduced to research studies and continuing to graduate school. I was not aware of the universities that had entomology programs and applied to NCSU on a whim after seeing one of my colleague’s certificates from the department. After applying I was very happy to be accepted and had no idea how wonderful the area, school and people were going to be.

In 2001 I started my master’s work on dung beetles (Scarabaeidae & Geotrupidae) inhabiting cattle pastures in the Piedmont (Salisbury, NC) and coastal plains (Goldsboro, NC) under the advisement of Dr. Wes Watson. The project was great. I was introduced to a charismatic group of insects, researching their seasonality, abundance and diversity, and performing experiments to show how they help fertilize different soils. I was also happy to participate in extension work, since teaching in any format is another passion of mine.
A rolling dung beetle (Melanocanthon bispinatus)
from North Carolina.

In 2004 I began my PhD work under Dr. Brian Wiegmann on the evolution of true flies (Diptera), one of the most underappreciated – yet extremely diverse – groups of animals. I used genetics to see how different groups of the more “primitive” flies, like mosquitoes and midges, were related to one another. It was eye opening to learn the things flies do and I could (and may well in the future) go on and on about them. Needless to say, I found another group to love2.

The elephant mosquito (Toxorhynchites), a large and distinctively blue fly, 
is one of the few beneficial mosquitoes. Larvae eat other mosquito larvae and adults do not bite. This male was sucking goldenrod nectar in Garner, North Carolina.

Following my degrees I have worked on various projects including a computer-readable glossary for the anatomy of wasps, bees and ants (Hymenoptera) and a citizen science project on the arthropods (insects, spiders and relatives) that are found in Triangle homes (a project through NCSU and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences).

Now I’m here in the clinic! I am very excited to help people find out what little leggy things are on their plants, eating their crops, and inside their homes. Please feel free to send photos or specimens to the clinic. I will do my best to get an ID, so that a specialist can recommend the proper action. All said, I hope to serve science and the citizens of North Carolina well in this position!

Other facts about me:
  • I am a huge (literally and figuratively) insect geek, competing in many insect quiz bowls (Linnaean Games) during my time at NCSU
  • I am an avid insect macrophotographer (my Flickr) and graphic designer
  • I enjoy music, movies, games and cooking
  • Last but certainly not least, I have an amazing wife and daughter, and a baby on the way (as well as two dogs)

1 I also love reptiles, amphibians, fish, and many other groups of organisms (even plants!)
2 I highly suggest anyone interested in flies read Harold Oldroyd’s captivating tales in The Natural History of Flies – it is very easy to read except for some scientific names (which you can just pretend are like the variously named creatures from Tolkien or Dr. Seuss!)