It’s A Bug’s Life for Prospective Biology Major
Roanoke College student turns interest in bugs into research.
Ariel Firebaugh ’12 is interested in something most people run from in a panic: bugs. Firebaugh sees bugs as one of the Earth’s hidden treasures. “They’re just cool,” says Firebaugh, a prospective biology major. “They are the single most numerous organism on the planet, but no one likes them! I like them because they have lots of uses.”
Originally from Atlanta, Firebaugh did not know she wanted to attend Roanoke until she visited the campus during the second semester of her senior year at Dunwoody High School. After meeting Dr. Chris Lassiter, assistant professor, and Frances Bosch, teaching associate, Firebaugh knew Roanoke’s biology department was the place for her. She has found that her professors are great resources, finds that her relationships with them are constantly growing. She even helped Dr. Leonard Pysh, associate professor of biology, set up fruit fly stocks for labs.
“Where else would I get to set up fruit fly stocks as a freshman?” Firebaugh asks with a laugh. “I have gotten hands-on experience, and my professors let me know of things that would interest me.”
Many would assume Firebaugh would be satisfied with her knowledge of bugs after her first year’s experience, but leave it to this student to want to take her research experience into the summer. As a Summer Scholar, Firebaugh compiled the life history data of the European cabbage white (a butterfly) on garlic mustard. Specifically, she studied the rate of growth of European cabbage white caterpillars on garlic mustard, combining her interests in entomology and the health of the natural world.
Her research has indicated that this butterfly species can complete a life cycle on a diet of garlic mustard. If that is her final finding, the results will be groundbreaking because previous studies have shown that garlic mustard cannot support the growth of the European cabbage white.
More than satisfied with her summer research, Firebaugh says, “This study is giving me the opportunity to hone my skills as a researcher. I am exploring an aspect of ecology in much greater depth than the constraints of the traditional academic year would typically allow.”
Firebaugh also is part of the College’s Honors Program, and she often spends her weekends with the Outdoor Adventures club biking and hiking, yet another way she learns the biology of bugs.