Crouched among Stony Brook University’s flora and fauna, Stony Brook students have recently been spotted foraging under rocks for a tiny creature — the isopod.
This expedition is at the heart of an extra-credit assignment for BIO 204: Fundamentals of Scientific Inquiry in the Biological Sciences I, the first lab course for all biology students. During the first week of the lab, students were instructed to find and collect living, adult-sized isopods within five weeks for extra credit. They earn one point for every five isopods they catch for a maximum of ten points.
“This is a lab report course and the isopods are being used for their experiment,” Marvin O’Neal III, the course director of introductory BIO labs, said. “The primary reason to have students look for isopods is that it gives students a sense of where animals live, what environment they’re typically found in.”
Commonly referred to as “pill bugs,” isopods are nocturnal crustaceans with a gray, brown, or black color. They have oval-shaped bodies and seven protective armor plates, called “pereonites.” Isopods dwell under damp areas, such as rocks, logs, leaves and branches.
Some students ended up with fruitful findings. Derek Hu, a sophomore biomedical engineering major, found hundreds of isopods near the Javits Lecture Center at night. Although “finding them was the hardest part,” Hu found a plethora of the little critters within an hour.
“Isopods actually like to moon bathe,” he said. “So instead of digging for them, they may very well be lying on the surface of the soil.”
Joshua Merai, a sophomore biology major, found more than 50 isopods in two hour-long shifts. Although Merai naturally abhors insects, his opinion changed slightly as he conducted the extra-credit assignment.
“Before knowing their name, I hated this bug the most,” Merai said. “They seemed very disgusting and weird. However, once I collected them into a Red Mango cup with dirt and bark, I felt like they were my pets.”
Nevertheless, not all students found colonies of isopods.
Ryan Kang, a sophomore health science major, collected 14 isopods along the wooded trail connecting Tabler and Roosevelt quads. After spending more than two hours searching for the bugs, he described the experience as “sweaty, embarrassing and pointless.”
“I legit sat on a pile of dirt digging with a spoon,” he said.
Hunting for isopods specifically did not spare students from unwanted insects.
Nina Callahan, a biology major, freaked out when “cricket-like things and red ants” and a “Jurassic Park daddy longlegs” materialized a foot away from her face. One of her friends got bitten and also touched poison ivy while scavenging for isopods.
“It was definitely an adventure,” Callahan said.
Amanda Stoerback, a biology major, also suffered from unsolicited critters.
“I didn’t appreciate all of the mosquito bites I had to show for my hard work in finding isopods,” she said. “I was nonstop itching for the next two days.”
However, Stoerback successfully captured isopods last Tuesday and kept them alive until she handed them in Thursday at 1 p.m..
“To store our isopods, we used a large Pepsi cup with a lid from the SAC and included a moist paper towel and a piece of bark in order for the habitat to feel as natural as possible for the isopods,” she said.
O’Neal gave three tips for isopod explorers: “When you go into any type of forest, any type of just wooded area, you should know what poison ivy looks like, especially around Stony Brook, and try to avoid it. You should wear bug spray because this time of year, mosquitos are really bad, especially after periods of rain. And you should look out for ticks.”
O’Neal also recounted the time a past student claimed that there were no isopods on campus. He and the student ventured to the trees outside the biology building to find the allegedly elusive isopods.
“I turned over the first dead log from a tree that had fallen, and there were hundreds just crawling everywhere,” he recounted. “I scooped them up, put them into his bowl, and said basically, ‘isopods are everywhere.’”