Dr. Ray L. Winstead
IUP Professor of Biology

Aerial Insects Balloon Project:
Preliminary Results

Number of Insects Caught
All dates are in 2006

  W April 19
1315 - 1815
R April 20
0945 - 1845
W April 26
0945 - 1845
F April 28
0930 - 1715
S April 29
1245 - 1845
Height above the ground 68 - 73 F
0 - 9.2 mph
35.7% calm*
weather
63 - 77 F
0 - 6.9 mph
58.3% calm*
weather
36 - 57 F
0 - 9.2 mph
24.0% calm*
weather
48 - 61 F
0 - 8.1 mph
4.3% calm*
weather
63 - 68 F
3.5 - 10.4 mph
0.0% calm*
weather
55 meters 1 13 0 0 6
48 meters 7 18 2 1 9
41 meters 13 19 3 1 14
34 meters 9 20 3 1 14
27 meters 6 31 3 1 11
Total 36 101 11 4 54
Insects per hour 7.2 11.2 1.2 0.5 9.0

 

  W May 10
1045 - 1900
T June 6
1140 - 1925
M June 12
0730 - 1800
T June 13
0730 - 1815
F June 16
0720 - 1820
Height above the ground 70 - 81 F
0 - 9.2 mph
29.2% calm*

weather
72 - 79 F
0 - 8.1 mph
45.5 % calm*
weather
49 - 66 F
0 - 9.2 mph
24.1 % calm*
weather
51 - 75 F
0 - 5.8 mph
45.2 % calm*
weather
52 - 79 F
0 - 8.1 mph
66.7% calm*
weather
55 meters 5 6 0 22 16
48 meters 5 12 0 23 14
41 meters 15 16 3 30 27
34 meters 19 12 4 34 25
27 meters 25 10 3 22 27
Total 69 56 10 131 109
Insects per hour 8.4 7.2 1.0 12.2 9.9

 

  S June 17
1115 - 1830
W June 21
0720 - 1345
S June 24
1600 - 2000
M June 26
1600 - 1710
F June 30
0715 - 1915
Height above the ground 79 - 86 F
0 - 16.1 mph
5.3% calm*

weather
54 - 77 F
0 - 16.1 mph
42.9% calm*

weather
75 - 79 F
0 - 3.5 mph
63.6% calm*

weather
79 - 79 F
0 - 4.6 mph
50.0% calm*

weather
55 - 75 F
0 - 17.3 mph
18.8% calm*

weather
55 meters 13 3 10 3 10
48 meters 15 2 8 6 8
41 meters 11 5 6 4 13
34 meters 11 5 6 5 15
27 meters 9 8 9 1 20
Total 59 23 39 19 66
Insects per hour 8.1 3.6 9.8 16.2 5.5

* percentage of wind samples indicating calm winds, with wind samples taken about every 20 minutes.

 Preliminary observation: Very small insects are captured on the top panels, while larger insects are captured on the lower panels.
(Later observation: This does not hold up later, since larger insects have been observed on the top panel, while smaller insects were on the bottom panels.)

Dr. Ellen Yerger's preliminary results for panel at 27 meters above the ground April 20, 2006:
Beetles = 25
    12 are in family Chrysomelidae, subfamily Alticinae, "Flea Beetle"
      3 are  Staphylinids
    10 are other beetles
Wasps (minute) = 3
Hemipteran = 1
Spider = 1
Small wood fragment = 1

Interim Summary report of project activities and project preliminary results - August 11, 2006

The main objectives of the grant to catch aerial insects available to be eaten by local Chimney Swifts and deliver the collected insects to the Carnegie Museum for identification have been accomplished. 

            After a number of technical delays in early April, 2006 the tethered ten-foot-diameter helium balloon was flown from the roof of Weyandt Hall 200 feet off the ground on April 13, 2006 for its first test flight.  After a successful, uneventful flight of several hours a weather front preceding a thunder storm rapidly came into the area and I made the decision to bring down the balloon.  Although the wind speed at that time was only fifteen miles per hour (within the published rating for the balloon) this created a major problem in bringing down the balloon.  Because of the wind I could not control the balloon myself and fearing for my safety near the edge of the roof, I sought help.  The second faculty member I recruited immediately said the situation was too dangerous for even two people, and eventually five people were required to lower the balloon in the wind.  Walking around on the ground in a fifteen mph wind is not a real concern, however having a large helium balloon moving you around next to an edge of a roof is a different story.  Furthermore, the process inflicted major damage to the balloon in the form of several rips, however that damage was repaired successfully and the project was able to continue.  Throughout this project the wind was a major concern and factor for both safety and project objectives.  Based on that first experience the location of the balloon was moved to a roof deck with a railing farther away from the edge of the roof, and the balloon was only flown in reduced wind conditions.  Experience continued to confirm that constant vigilance was necessary when the balloon was flying.  Furthermore, two people were always used to raise and lower the balloon.  A number of modifications were necessary to the deck, e. g, removing tall, sharp obstructions, padding the surrounding railing, and putting a tarp over the wood floor to protect the balloon from splinters.  After these modifications were completed the first day of data collection actually occurred April 19, 2006, two days before the first Chimney Swift was seen over Weyandt Hall.  Not knowing if the research procedure would even catch aerial insects, the results of the first day were satisfying, since thirty-six insects were captured on the five sticky panels.  Because of the high wind conditions throughout the scheduled project time frame, only fifteen flights of the balloon were possible, and the preliminary results of those flights are given above.  Preliminary information above includes the number of insects caught on each panel on each day, along with summary weather data for the time period when the balloon was flying.  The original plan of gathering data three days a week over a three month time period turned out to be impossible.  The daily risk of severe damage to the balloon during the project, whether the balloon was actually flying or secured directly on the roof, was almost continuously on my mind.  On one occasion when a gust of wind hit the balloon while it was flying, the balloon and tether line were pushed down into the top of a tree between Weyandt Hall and the Pizza House, and leaves from that tree were found stuck on the collection panels.  The balloon now has a number of small and large patches on it where holes were found from various sources.  Furthermore, after experimenting with different ways to secure the balloon at night, an elaborate, time-consuming process was eventually found to reasonably secure the balloon, but only after one of the eight main attachment lines was ripped off the balloon in a storm.  That patch also held to the end of the project, but that anchor position was not used as a tiedown again and was monitored closely during the remaining flights.  Implementation of the original idea of putting a tarp over the balloon at night caused more problems than it solved.  When I was asked by a number of people how long the project would continue my honest answer was to say the end of June or the destruction of the balloon, whichever came first.  (During this same time period a larger, but lower flying advertising balloon only a couple of blocks away was seen up only one day, was severely damaged, and has not been seen since then.  I felt really bad for the owners when I saw their expensive balloon totally deflated and impaled on a metal fence.  I had not put my balloon up that day because of the moderate wind (at least a steady 15 mph).  I saw their balloon up earlier and drove by on purpose later to see how their balloon was faring in the wind I knew was too strong for mine.  When I first drove by and didnt see the balloon up, I thought they had taken it down, only to discover the truth that the balloon was hanging limp on the fence by the side of the road.)

             On Monday July 17, 2006 I personally delivered all of the collected insects to entomologist Mr. Tim Tomon at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.  After being removed from the sticky panels the insects had been previously transferred to a solvent (HistoClear) to remove the Tangle Foot sticky material and then later transferred again into 75% alcohol.  The collected insects in small jars labeled by date and panel height are presently in Pittsburgh being identified by Mr. Tomon.

             The projects ending coincided with the end of the universitys fiscal year and this caused some financial problems.  While the final result was that not all of the money in the grant account was spent, a couple hundred dollars of personal funds had to be spent on the project.  A main reason for this was because of the changing and unknown weather situation and having to allow for enough helium to be available for the end of the project.  Some helium naturally leaks through the balloon material and more helium was continually needed, depending upon the wind, which accelerated the loss, and the time between flights.  Enough money had to be on hand specifically from the grant account to buy more helium through an IUP service contract, since, of course, that was essential for the continuation of the project.  In general, the original budget was followed pretty closely.

             In conclusion, this project was very labor intensive with daily weather-related complications and apprehensions, however the main objectives of the grant to catch aerial insects available to be eaten by local Chimney Swifts and deliver the collected insects to the Carnegie Museum for identification were accomplished.  The Carnegie Museum has agreed to identify the insects to order for free, however depending upon these results, identification to species will probably be desirable.  This would cost more money.  The next step after appropriate identification of the insects would be to publish the results, e.g., patterns of insects caught over time, in a suitable journal.

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