He keeps track of the creepies and crawlies

Doug Boock
Pat Conway sets a bug trap next to the Filling Station in Bishop Hill. It's convenient because he's there every morning for coffee. Conway tracks insect activity in the region for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So far, he's found no moths in Bishop Hill, but he did catch one in Geneseo recently.

Generally speaking, when insects make headlines, the news will not be good.

For instance, the Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis, made a media splash when it appeared in Chicago recently.

Government agencies invest a lot of resources keeping track of scourges such as the Gypsy Moth, the Emerald Ash Borer, and the Pine Shoot Beetle. Our local man on this front line is Patrick Conway of rural Bishop Hill.

Conway, 71, grew up in rural Mercer County and when he retired from the insurance industry in Chicago, he couldn't wait to trade in the big city life and get back to his country roots.

That kind of background has really been helpful since he spends so much of his time on little dirt roads most of us wouldn't think to try driving down.

"I know every back road from Wisconsin to Pike County and over to the Illinois River," he quipped.

Conway can travel 150 to 300 miles a day going about his rounds. The number of counties he has to cover varies from year-to-year; this summer it's Henry, Knox, Mercer, Rock Island, Whiteside and Bureau counties.

His main duty is placing out pheromone traps for the Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar), a pest that was introduced to North America in late 1860s. He'll probably put out over 800 of these specially baited traps.

The traps use a chemical attractant that is specific to the female Gypsy Moth and lures only male moths into the trap. These traps do not control the pests, they're a way of keeping track of insect populations and the information a field agent gathers can be used later to help contain or minimize damage.

Most traps will go in uninfested areas. When a moth is caught in a trap, more traps are then placed around that area. It's a lot of work, but this kind of monitoring has saved a lot of hardwood trees and has kept the moth to a fraction of its potential range.

"I've been collecting bugs since I was 8 years old," Conway recounted, adding that he has a personal collection of 20,000 insect specimens, mostly butterflies and moths of the order Lepidoptera.

This expertise and lifelong interest in insects led a friend and fellow collector to refer him for his current position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection & Quarantine Division.

"They called me up 11 years ago," he said. "I spend three to six months each

summer traveling around; it depends on what I'm chasing."