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Student Spotlight – Sam Dilday

Once a month we sit down with an Entomology graduate student to get to know more about them, how they became interested in Entomology, and what their research is about. This month, we sat down with Sam Dilday!

Q1: Masters or Ph.D, and how far into your program are you? 
PhD, I just finished my first year and am in my first research season. 

Q2: What is your research project? 
Oh boy, that’s a loaded question! My research subject is the odorous house ant (OHA) also known as the sugar ant. These ant pests have become an increasing annoyance in the last decade, and they don’t show signs of slowing. Because research into this ant is just now increasing, there is still plenty we don’t know. I’m interested in a few different aspects of their behavior and biology including recording their feeding preferences over the year, how environmental factors such as humidity and temperature can affect their activity levels, their aggression towards common PNW ant species, and recording the genetic and taxonomic variation in populations across Washington and Oregon.  

Q3: How did you become interested in entomology? 
My first interaction with insects that I can remember was watching (and destroying) ant mounds on my backyard brick path. Give me some slack, I was probably five or six years old. But I remember being amazed at how quickly those ants (probably pavement ants) could reconstruct the mounds. Maybe that’s when I first became interested.  

But I didn’t truly begin my education in entomology until three or four years out of my undergrad biology degree. I was working as a nature instructor at my local nature center where they have an observation honey bee hive. I loved watching all the busy workers and pointing out the queen bee to families. After a few months of working at the center and helping the local beekeeper take care of the colony, I decided to begin my graduate school journey. I moved to Newfoundland, Canada and obtained my Master’s in Environmental Science where I researched the isolated honey bee colonies of the Island.  

Q4: Why would you recommend entomology as a career? 
Insects are one of the foundational organisms of an environment. Not only do they pollinate many of the food we enjoy but they are important bioindicators of ecosystem health, can improve soil and water quality, and are an important source of energy for many other organisms. A career in entomology can support so many aspects of our society from agriculture to human health.

Q5: What are your future career plans after graduation? 
I still have a few years before I’m ready to graduate but I hope to enter the government or industry sector. I would love to be able to continue field research into other ant and eusocial insects. I’d like to continue working and consulting with the pest management industry.  

Q6: What is your favorite thing about your Master’s/PhD journey? 
I love learning. My favorite aspect of my PhD program would be all the interesting course work I’ve taken. Now I’m excited to use this knowledge to develop and perform my own experiments on the odorous house ant. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to travel around the PNW collecting colonies.  

Q7: Something you’re proud of that you made, found, received during your time here at WSU. 
There are a couple of things that I’m proud of recently. I’m currently working on a honey bee gut diagram for a review paper that will be submitted this year. It will be the first time my artwork has been published in a scientific journal. I also received the first ever Dr. Laurel Hansen Endowment Scholarship. This endowment was put together by WSU and the pest management community to recognize Dr. Hansen’s contributions to the industry. I am honored to receive this award and am looking forward to working with the pest management industry. And finally, I finished my macrophotography set up and I’ve started taking detailed shots of my OHA colonies that I intend to use for taxonomic studies. It’s also fun to take close up shots of some of my pinned insect collection.  

Q8: What is your favorite insect and why? 
First of all, I love ants in general. My favorite insect must be any species of leaf-cutter ants. In Newfoundland, there is an insectarium that houses a 2-story leaf-cutter ant colony with interconnecting enclosures. I was fascinated watching them all scurry around. Did you know they can cultivate fungus and feed the leaf cuttings to their “gardens”? How cool! I know scientists have a bad habit of anthropomorphizing our research subject but it’s difficult not to when you see these little ant farmers!