Students Travel to Greece

Fall 2023: A Conferencing Tale

A Pair of UGA Students Visit Crete

By Roy Kucuk, PhD student

Hungry for far-off stages from which to share our research, Emily Shelby and I sped to Greece to do so at the European Congress of Entomology meeting, held in Heraklion Crete. The conference, housed at the modestly sized but fittingly-labyrinthine Cultural Conference Center, was but a few hours underway when we showed up the morning after our landfall, and we were promptly guided through the usual registration routine of badge-printing and equipment-gifting. We found the construction of choice itineraries for ourselves to be an easier matter than at the larger American conferences, where the sheer number of attendees makes even the laziest sifting a tall task. Mindful of our own respective times in the spotlight, we dove right into the posters, which snaked intimately through the halls, and into the few but spacious presentation rooms.


The other benefit, ironically, of the smaller conference, was the availability of ample audiences, and, despite our foreignness and humble place in the academic hierarchy, both Emily—who spoke about the developmental mechanisms behind whitefly reproduction and embryogenesis—and myself—describing aphid defensive symbionts and their interaction with the cellular arsenals of parasitoid wasps—found our audiences pleasingly, if somewhat intimidatingly, beefy. Plenty of the work presented there was agricultural in orientation, but basic science abounded too, from talks on viral-mediated zombification of fungus-parasitized flies and the mysteries of amber-encased bugs of the obscure and “boring” (a tongue-in-cheek the systematically-minded audience did not fail to detect) heteropterans of the Dipsicomorpha.

A few UGA allies were in attendance too, in the form of Drs Babu Srinivasan and Jason Schmidt. However, stranger-filled it was, this meeting was soaked with a noticeable spirit of courtesy, with both speaker and audience effortlessly exchanging numerous congratulations and expressions of gratitude and appreciation.

Pure profession wasn’t the only matter on the table, either. Every day, lunch, in the form of a princely buffet of local delicacies, was served a little past noon. The conference organizers also provided several excursion opportunities, including a grand dinner in an inland village, Kato Karouzanos, and a tour of the partially reconstructed ruins of Knossos. Splendid as it was, appendages and all, the conference itself was still one of many nexuses of attraction, and the sprawl of Heraklion and the Cretan Isle itself brought us, on foot and by car, to a few other choice patches. In the city, these included the shell of the old venetian fortress known as Koules, the Heraklion archaeological museum, harboring, predictably, Minoan remains, but also a smattering of the more stereotypically Greco-Roman pieces, classical to imperial.

Greece couldn’t help showing off its girdling beaches, among the wildest of these on Crete was on the northwest Aegean coast, the aptly named Seitan Limania (“Devil’s Port”), whose sharply deepening waters were pinched by massive, steep, goat-ridden cliffs. Another, Matala, facing the Libyan Sea, had a gentler and more populous entry, but was nonetheless delightfully savage in its fearlessly teeming marine life. Food, a boast of the country for millennia, almost need no extra room here to assert itself. From snails fried in oil and rosemary in a smokey alley side restaurant, to a fat octopus, tentacles-and-mantle, in the early afternoon sun of Chania, kept us up and moving in a spirit befitting the excellence of our hosts, both professional and local.

Fall in this part of Greece hardly bespeaks death and conclusion as much as it does in cooler regions, our state of Georgia included, but the season still ensured that local insects were relatively few. However, the big sarcophagid flies that perched along the sidewalks, and solitary potter wasps darting past little pomegranate trees to visit nearby blooms never failed to remind us playfully of our main mission, and, exclaimingly, the corpses of obsidian scarabs, Protaetia cretica, great bearers of the island’s name, gave us a hint of what local entomological prosperity of the seasons of growth looks like. Such is the spirit of good conference going too—the flames of enrichment effortlessly flicker.