MILTON — For the first time, Northwest Florida has its own public entomologist.
The scientist who studies insects also goes by “bug doctor.”
Silvana Paula-Moraes arrived last year and works with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. As an entomologist, the native of Brazil protects local forests and fields against invasive insects. She also participates in other projects to control native pests and support the local economy.
“The Florida Panhandle has a distinctive regional landscape consisting of a mosaic of natural vegetation, forests and field crops,” Paula-Moraes said. “My research, teaching and extension work can contribute with these challenges for field crop production in the region.”
Paula-Moraes recently described her duties as the Panhandle’s bug doctor.
What are the biggest challenges of your job?
The big challenge working with applied entomology is that I investigate biological events, and I used to joke that insects do not respect holidays, weekends, and special dates, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, World Cup soccer games and the Super Bowl. We need to keep colonies in lab, perform data collection in experimental areas, and most of the time their life cycles define the timeline of my work. I also face the same environmental challenges in field plots that farmers need to deal with every crop season.
What local bugs cause the most trouble?
Pests associated with peanut and cotton. This is the second crop season my entomology team and I have performed field and experimental areas evaluation to provide local information about the occurrence and impact of these pests.
What is the No. 1 thing people want to know about bugs?
Insects are the dominant group of animals in earth. Some species are harmful: economic pests in crops, vector of diseases, etc. However, insects are a diverse group that can be found in several different ecosystems and play essential roles in nature. Besides beneficial insects, such as natural enemies and pollinators, they also can be used as model for technological development.
What is the busiest time of year for entomologists?
Based on my previous experience working in the corn belt, during my Ph.D. in Nebraska, the hot season for field work with insects, it is in the summer. Here in the Florida Panhandle, it can be said that the crop season extends from end of spring through all summer and part of the fall. If we include (Brassica) carinata, a new winter/spring crop in the Florida Panhandle for oil seed production, it can be said that all year long.