Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 26th annual Texas Plant Protection Conference in College Station. The conference is a collaborative between the agriculture industry, Research, and Extension and is attended by crop consultants, growers, and agency personnel each year. The conference does a great job of giving attendees an overview of current trends affecting agriculture.
One of the highlights of the conference is a Pest ID Contest, which serves as a reminder of how important naming and identification are to agriculture and science. We name organisms, not only so that we can communicate with one another, but we find that the name is the communication medium to which all information about the organism is tied or attached. Without a name, we cannot look it up in a book and find information about that organism. Without the name and the attached information, we can only learn about organisms through experience and this could be a costly exercise.
If you don’t know it, often you can’t see it. Yet, once we learn to identify an organism we seem to readily recognize it even if we observe it rarely.
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The contest itself is a rather humbling experience that highlights how few organisms we can name on sight even by a room full of crop professionals. It consists of 30 images of pests affecting plants in Texas—10 plants, 10 insects, and 10 plant diseases. With the sheer diversity of Texas agriculture and the number of pests that affect it, it’s no small wonder that learning to identify pests must be a lifelong endeavor.
Fortunately, we have several great resources available to improve skills in pest identification.
For plants, several good online resources are available at http://bit.ly/PlantID. For insects Extension has several crop specific field guides to insect identification. Check http://texasinsects.tamu.edu/ for an online field guide to Texas insects. A Texas Plant Disease Handbook is available at https://plantdiseasehandbook.tamu.edu/ and is an excellent online resource.
Each of us has the ability to identify many of the organisms in our surroundings, but we also look past just as many. As we move into 2015, let us challenge ourselves to learn some of the organisms we overlook on a routine basis simply because we do not know their names. After all, the name is what attaches all the known information about an organism to that particular organism.