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KU Student Portrait – Rachel Smith
What’s in Your Backpack, Rachel Smith?

“The beetle specimens I used in my recently published paper,” said Rachel Smith, a senior majoring in ecology, evolution and organismal biology from Independence, Kan. “My little brown beetles are pretty special. They all look very similar, but each one is equally important to me.”

Smith traveled to Suriname, South America, for a biodiversity discovery expedition, where she surveyed the area and collected specimens. Smith and her advisor, Dr. Andrew Short, examined the specimens for months and discovered 18 new species of aquatic beetle from the genus Chasmogenus.

“There are keys to help identify already described species. It’s like a checklist — you go down the list and if you can’t identify a species, then you do some more digging. If it doesn’t match up to any previous descriptions, you can name it and describe it as a new species.” Earlier this year, Smith published her findings in ZooKeys, where she described and named the species. The beetles are now an important part of the KU Natural History Museum, as some of them are holotypes — the one singular specimen used to describe a species.

Photo by Mike Yoder

A love for art inspired Smith’s interest in insects, and the variation among them sustains her passion for learning. She started out creating insect art and was fascinated by their diversity. “Insects have so many ecologies, behaviors and features. I think they are cute.”

Smith graduates in December and plans to continue her research in entomology in graduate school. She appreciated being able to study in Suriname and later presenting her research at a conference. “I would not have been able to experience all these opportunities without scholarships. I hope donors know they are really making a difference, especially in the lives of young scientists like myself.”

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