Montana State University

MSU lab now has full-time expert to identify worrisome bugs

January 24, 2014 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Laurie Kerzicnik is the new full-time diagnostician and assistant IPM specialist in the Schutter Diagnostic Laboratory at Montana State University. (MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta). Laurie Kerzicnik holds up the larva of a beetle from the family Cerambycidae, also known as the long-horned beetles. It was collected from a poplar tree. (MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta).

Laurie Kerzicnik is the new full-time diagnostician and assistant IPM specialist in the Schutter Diagnostic Laboratory at Montana State University. (MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN -- Montanans who worry about spiders living in their basement or other insects in their homes and gardens can once again consult with an urban insect diagnostician at Montana State University.

The Schutter Diagnostic Laboratory now has a full-time diagnostician and assistant IPM specialist after a lapse of about five years, said MSU Extension Plant Pathologist Mary Burrows, who supervises the MSU Urban IPM program.

Laurie Kerzicnik came to MSU from Fort Collins, Colo., where she worked at Crop Production Services and Colorado State University. She specialized in integrated pest management (IPM) and spiders as pest control agents in agroecosystems. She earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology at Miami University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in entomology from Colorado State University. While conducting her research, she collected more than 11,000 spiders over six years in eastern Colorado. Approximately 4,000 of those spiders are now part of a collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

“In addition to my educational background, I did a lot of entomology and arachnology outreach to K-12 schools, the community and to growers,” Kerzicnik said. “I traveled around to schools with tarantulas, spiders, mantids, scorpions and cockroaches for hands-on learning.”

Kerzicnik is an expert on spiders but she can identify any insect that Montanans submit to the Schutter Diagnostic Laboratory, Burrows said. Kerzicnik assisted with the identification of a sap beetle that has been found for the first time in Montana. Her focus in Montana will be “urban insects,” which generally are insects found in homes and gardens. Her educational outreach will be aimed primarily at Extension agents.

“I love Extension and working as a link between science education and the community,” Kerzicnik said.

Montanans who want to submit insects to the Schutter Diagnostic Lab should take them – dead or alive – to their local MSU Extension agent, Kerzicnik said. The agent will then mail the insect to the lab in Bozeman. Kerzicnik said her goal is to identify the insect within 24 hours of receiving it. She will also make recommendations, if necessary, for insect management.

Ideally, the insect will be alive and intact for easier and faster identification, but she has received many smashed and dried-up insects, weeds and plants, Kerzicnik said. She identifies insects by sight, under the microscope or by comparing them to other insects which are depicted and described in scientific keys, or preserved in the Montana Entomology Collection, which is housed at MSU. Homeowners can also provide valuable background about how and where the insect was caught.

The most unusual samples she has received so far have been bloody scabs and scrapings sent by people who suspected they had parasites on their skin, Kerzicnik said. 

She noted that hobo spiders are a common pest in Montana and often get blamed when people have an infection, but the connection is a misnomer.  

Kerzicnik, who was born in Ohio and grew up in Michigan, said she has been fascinated by insects ever since traveling to Costa Rica as an undergraduate student and encountering the large and diverse insects in that country. In addition to her professional interest, she keeps spiders as pets, saying they are easier to care for than gerbils. Kerzicnik once had 10 tarantula spiders as pets, but most of them died or escaped. She is now down to one tarantula and one black widow spider.

The Schutter Diagnostic Laboratory offers plant disease, insect, plant, and mushroom identification as a free service. However, it charges a fee for out-of-state samples, special tests and multiple samples. 

For more details and instructions for submitting insects to the Schutter Diagnostic Lab, go to http://diagnostics.montana.edu/Insect/index.html

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu