By Michelle Hart, Staff Writer
For those in the University community who watched last Sunday's episode of Discovery Channel's 11-part documentary "Life," you may have missed something just as exciting as the slow-motion, zoomed-in shots of insects fighting for survival.
The episode, which focused on the bizarre behaviors of insects, featured the research of Dr. Lisa Filippi, an associate professor of Biology at the University.
Dr. Filippi has been studying the behaviors of the Japanese ‘red' bug, known as Parastrachia Japonensis, for more than 20 years. The ‘red' bug, as the series refers to it, is native to the part of Japan that Filippi resided in for much of her life. It is this kind of serendipity that has defined both Filippi's life and studies.
As an undergraduate biology major, Filippi was offered the chance to study the behavior of moths and butterflies in the Rocky Mountains as part of her senior project. She found herself excited by their nuances and identifying characteristics.
Flash-forward a decade to graduate school in Japan when Filippi found herself again studying an insect, this time the ‘red' bug. Now with three young children, she wanted to study somewhere both outdoors and close to her home in Japan. The serendipitous part was that not only did she find an insect to study close by, but she also began to examine the parental behavior of the bug, while she herself was learning how to parent. Thus, as she fell deeper and deeper into her research, she fell deeper and deeper in love with the bugs.
"I am a firm believer in the philosophy that when you work at something hard enough, and when you get involved in something enough it will become interesting," Filippi said.
And the bugs are certainly interesting enough. The Japanese ‘red' bug is one of the very few species of insects that takes care of its offspring. The males of the species exist solely to spread their seed and mate with as many females as possible before becoming entirely depleted of energy and eventually dropping dead. This shifts all of the parental duties onto the female, who must then go out in search of a rare fruit called drupes of a particular plant, Schoepfia jasinodora, the only food Parastrachia Japonensis will eat.
However, if the female takes too long in retrieving the drupe, her younglings will leave the nest in search of a more suitable provider. According to Dr. Filippi, this is because the bugs have a unique evolutionary disposition to determine whether or not a mother can fulfill their needs. The mother does her best to find drupes in a hastily enough manner, and will continue to leave the nest and return with fruits for the remainder of her life until she dies. Sometimes the mother will fortuitously drop dead right outside her own nest and become a source of food for her young.
Filippi praised the University for their support in her research. With help from Hofstra's Faculty Research and Development program, Filippi returns to Japan every year to continue studying this fascinating creature. Aside from that, Filippi also procured enough backing from the University to build a field site on campus, where she will be able to study a native insect related to the ‘red' bug as well as other interesting species. Dr. Myla Aronson will also use the site to conduct research on invasive plant species.
Unquestionably, Dr. Filippi has led an extraordinary life so far in being able to find beauty in the ostensibly mundane happenings of every day life.
"Life is what you make it," Filippi said. "Your whole life is determined by the choices you make and it seems as though I have made many fortuitous ones."