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MSU biological sciences major Breanna Lyle’s love of spiders helped her receive a national entomology award. She is the daughter of Richard and Tammy Lyle of Aberdeen. Photo by: Megan Bean

STARKVILLE, Miss.–Mississippi State junior Breanna Lyle’s commitment to the trifold mission of the land-grant institution she attends is earning her a national recognition in entomology, the branch of zoology dealing with insects.

The daughter of Richard and Tammy Lyle of Aberdeen, she is receiving the Entomological Society of America’s 2013 undergraduate student achievement award.

“The award has three components — the teaching-learning aspect, the outreach aspect and the research aspect,” Lyle said. “I am fascinated with anything ‘bug,’ and I love sharing that with other people.

“I was undertaking two research projects this summer, and judges looked at my record of doing outreach through the university,” the biological sciences/zoology major explained. “I guess they liked what they saw.”

At MSU’s Clay Lyle Entomology Building, she is responsible for care of the living insect collections. She also leads tours and shares her knowledge with visitors, both young and old.

Additionally, her research on wolf spiders and dirt daubers suggests new information about numerous natural inhabitants living in the Sam D. Hamilton National Wildlife Refuge, located 12 miles south of campus.

Lyle’s accomplishments will be formally recognized by the Entomological Society of America’s Plant-Insect Ecosystems Section in November at the ESA’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

Her particular interest in spiders has led Lyle to spend much of the past summer surveying exactly which wolf spiders make their home on the 48,000-square-mile national wildlife refuge that is located over large chunks of Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Winston counties.

She also reviewed which spiders are being collected for food by mud dauber wasps at the refuge. She compared her results to a similar 1960s study completed by now retired MSU entomology professor Frank Davis of Starkville.

At the upcoming ESA meeting, she will present the results of both research projects.

When notified at home of her selection for the prestigious honor, Lyle said she screamed with joy.

“I let out a yell,” she recalled. “I was so happy, I couldn’t talk for a few minutes.

“Then, I called my dad and best friend before I drove to Mississippi State to tell Dr. John Guyton,” she continued. “I was so happy!”

Guyton is an associate extension professor who nominated Lyle for the ESA award. He joined with Scott T. Willard, department head of biochemistry, molecular biology, entomology, and plant pathology, to submit letters of recommendation to the selection committee.

Lyle credits the nationally recognized leadership of Guyton and Willard, along with the expertise of MSU’s entomology faculty, for greatly enhancing her chances to receive the honor.

It was as a 16-year-old high school student that Lyle first attended MSU’s Basic Insect and Plant Ecology Camp. She said the experience gave her a genuine thrill and ultimately helped determine her academic focus after enrolling at MSU.

“‘Bug Camp’ was the most influential thing in my coming to State and doing what I’ve done here since,” Lyle said.

“When I met the MSU entomologists who came to the camp, I realized they have a good program here. Then, I came back and took the tour, and that was when I realized, this is the school for me. I hope to go to graduate school here, too.”

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