Mission: Massabesic Middle School


Research Question

Is purple loosestrife spreading on the Massabesic Middle School campus? Are Galerucella beetles or Japanese beetles keeping it in check?

Mission Details

Student scientists at Massabesic Middle School in East Waterboro have launched a multi-year study of the one purple loosestrife plant they documented on their campus in September 2010.


Upon closer inspection of the evidence photos, students noticed holes in the leaves and what looked like beetles on the plant. Could it be Galerucella, the non-native beetle released in southern Maine to control the spread of purple loosestrife? By the time the beetle evidence was discovered, it was too late in the season to collect beetles or try to get better photo evidence. Students made a tough, collective decision to leave the invasive plant intact (2.6 million seeds and all!) and study it (and its potential beetle predator) further in 2011.

The plant was closely monitored through late fall, winter, and spring. The pond area was surveyed in late spring to see if more purple loosestrife plants were present. No new plants were found!


The beetle-thought-to-be-Galerucella was expertly documented by 7HW20 in June 2011. Students are awaiting confirmation and comment by the elusive VS species expert for Galerucella.

The spring 2011 school year ended with a hopeful conclusion that loosestrife did not spread, and perhaps Galerucella played a role.

The research questions student scientists are investigating during the fall 2011 field season are:

  1. Has purple loosestrife spread to new areas on campus?
  2. Is there still evidence of the beetle-thought-to-be-Galerucella on the original loosestrife plant or on new plants on campus?
  3. Japanese beetles were just found by a student on or near the purple loosestrife plant. What role might they be playing?

Join their discussion!

Join Massabesic Middle School students' ongoing scientific discussion about what is happening with purple loosestrife, Galerucella, and Japanese beetles in their pond area ecosystem.

    1. Find the Massabesic Middle School data online
      Go to Explore data
      Search for keyword "Waterboro" & species:
      • Purple loosestrife
      • Galerucella beetle
      • Japanese beetle

    2. Leave comments with your own ideas and questions about what you think might be happening

Why this Mission matters

Invasive species are the second biggest threat to biodiversity worldwide. Scientists in Maine are tracking specific invasive species like purple loosestrife to see if they are having an impact on biodiversity in our native wetlands, fields, forest edges, and drainage ditches.

Definition of biodiversity: The many different species of living things found within a defined geographic region

A healthy ecosystem doesn’t just have a lot of organisms, it has a lot of different organisms. Biodiversity is one of the best signs that an ecosystem is healthy, productive, resilient, and able to sustain itself naturally over time. Diverse ecosystems are important to Maine and to the health of the planet. Biodiversity provides natural services, resources, and cultural benefits.

The two biggest threats to biodiversity worldwide are habitat loss and invasive species. In Maine plants and animals lose their habitat and the resources they need to survive primarily through urban development. Invasive species are a growing threat to biodiversity in Maine. Without predators to keep their populations in balance, invasive species are able to out-compete native species for food, shelter, and space. The introduction of an invasive species like purple loosestrife may increase biodiversity in an area in the short term, but biodiversity often rapidly declines once this new species establishes and expands its population.

Want to know and do more?

York County SWCD
Resources from York County Soil & Water Conservation District. York county has been hardest hit by purple loosestrife.

Vital Signs Mystery graph activity
Use a mystery graph to kick off your study of purple loosestrife and Galerucella beetles


The spring search was a quick survey once again, because of the overabundance of ticks in the area. Our original plant was up once again, with several stalks a foot or so above the ground. There was evidence of Galerucella (holes in the leaves) but we didn't see any beetles during our brief visit. There was no evidence of deer grazing this spring. There was no spread detected as well.

Students were out once again for our annual search for the spread of loosestrife on our school campus. We found the original plant slightly stunted, with 4 flower stalks growing our of stems that showed some damage. These stems were approximately half a meter tall and showed damage similar to the past 2 years, (looked like the tops had been eaten off about a 30 cm off the ground). The plant continued to grow off to the sides of where the top of the plant was eaten. The 4 flower stalks had seeds. Despite its stunted height, the plant looked fairly healthy, with many leaves, branches and little leaf damage.

We once again surveyed the area as per our protocol (area sectioned off, 10 minute timed search and user placed quadrats). No new growth was detected in the surveyed area once again.

When we went out for our annual search for loosestrife in the fall of we were surprised to find a loosestrife plant that was stunted and unhealthy looking. We were expecting to see the typical fall loosestrife, with purple flowers and all. We did remember that in the spring season, some animal grazed and cut down the early growth. There were no flowers or evidence that there were flowers produced. The plants only measured about 50 cm, well short of a full grown plant. There were holes in the leaves, evidence that Galerucella was still around. We did our search and found no new plants in the pond area of our school.

In the spring, the ticks were particularly abundant. We checked the original plant and found it intact. There was no evidence of grazing like we found the spring prior. There was once again holes in the leaves. The Galerucella population is still intact. We did not however do a formal search for the spread of loosestrife. The threat of ticks was too much.

Update on loosestrife on the Massabesic Middle School Campus. Yes, we are still at it. In the Spring of 2015, we found evidence that something had grazed on the newly growing loosestrife. We didn't get get photo evidence (yet) of just what is eating the early loosstrife, but plans are underway to do so in spring of 2017.
When students went out to monitor loosestrife in the spring of 2016 (looking for Galerucella), students noticed the same thing happened. An earlier visit measured the original loosestrife plant to have grown to a height of about 75 cm. A week or so later, the plant had once again shrunk down to a height of 25 cm, with every plant top mowed down. In the short visits to the plant, we found no live Galerucella beetles.

So the question is how is this latest biocontrol (the organism eating the plant) impacting the health of the loosestrife and is it impacting Galerucella as well? A new class of Aroostook students set out this fall (2016) to begin our annual work of monitoring the potential spread of loosestrife in the area. No spread has been detected since we began this monitoring in 2010. While outside, the question of the original plant and Galerucella was addressed. When we visited the original plant this fall, the plant was once again stunted, not much taller than 25 cm, it looked daily healthy despite the very dry summer and fall, with a few more side branches growing. There were no flowers but there was one flower spike, dried up with no seeds detected. We were relieved to find evidence that Galerucella was still around, as the plant had holes all over the remaining leaves. Looks like our "Mystery Biocontrol" is also impacting the loosestrife on the MMS campus. An update on the 2016 Fall Survey for the spread of loosestrife has begun and the result are forthcoming.

Another year has past with no spread of loosestrife. Loosestrife was first detected on our school grounds several years ago and students have been monitoring potential spread ever since. Our class surveyed the area in the fall once again, following the same survey protocol established in 2011. The spring seemed to sneak up on us so we did a less formal look around and detected no new plants.

In the spring, we looked closely at the loosestrife plants in the original area on a couple of occasions and we were not able to find Galerucella beetles, but the telltale holes in the leaves were present. One surprising thing we did find was that all the plants seemed to be mowed down, with no stem over a foot tall. Besides Galerucella and Japanese beetles keeping Loosestirfe at bay, perhaps we have a third biocontrol on our campus. We thought it may be deer mowing the new growth. Hope there is enough of the plant left for Galerucella. We were also wondering if there will be enough of the plants left to flower. We'll have to check that out when school resumes.

On a side note, we had a major Grub epidemic on one of our athletic fields this spring, so bad that the field was roped off and not used. I've learned that Grubs are Japanese beetle larvae.

The more you look, the more you learn and the more interesting things get. The saga continues...

A quick update on this Massabesic Middle School mission. I have been meaning to do this for some time. Once again, students on the Aroostook team went out into the pond area of the school this past fall with the sole purpose of surveying to see if the Lythrum salicaria (Purple loosestrife) had spread. Students followed the same survey protocol established in 2010, when loosestrife was first discovered and identified on our school campus. Thankfully, once again, there has been no detected spread of loosestrife. It seems that Galerucella continues to keep loosestrife in balance at MMS.

Now that the snow is melting, a new question has arisen that could change everything on our school campus. As we all know, this winter has been particularly cold and long. There are projections of possible reduced insect populations as a result, both pests and helpful insects alike. Students at MMS are wondering…

•Did Galercella make it through the winter?
•If the Galerucella population was effected by the severe winter, what does this mean for Lythrum salicaria and possibly the biodiversity of the pond area on our school campus?

Students will be going out this spring to not only monitor loosestrife spread, but we will be anxious to monitor the population of Galerucella as well. Hope these super beetles were able to hunker down and make it through the winter. We'll keep you posted.

Science students of the Aroostook team at Massabesic Middle School have successfully completed their first group Vital Signs investigation of the year. I would like to update the mission results for our fall, 2012 survey. Our findings were as follows.

1. No new loosestrife growth was found in our pond area.
2. Evidence of Galerucella was found on the original plant again this year with most leaves full of holes which once again seemed to effect the overall health of the plant.
3. Japanese beetles were observed on the loosestrife plant again this fall. They once again seemed to be eating the flowers of the plant.
4. By the end of our investigation, there were no flowers on the plant and no seed pods observed on the spikes.

Early indications seem to point to an interesting ecologically balanced system on our school campus. The original loosestrife plant, with its 5 to 8 stems pushing out each spring, continues to grow each year. It seems that the present Galerucella population is also living out its own life cycle, eating enough of the leaves to effect the health of the plant, helping to keep loosestrife in check. Observations also seem to indicate that the appetite Japanese beetles have for loosestrife flowers effects seed production and also is keeping loosestrife from spreading. Time will tell if this one, two punch is the reason for this apparent ecological balance we are observing at this time and if it will continue. We will not underestimate the biotic potential of Lythrum salicaria and will continue to monitor the loosestrife, Galerucella and Japanese beetle relationship on our campus for years to come.

Thank you we all appreciate your help with loosestrife mission

Just wanted to post that since the mission has started, we have been busy searching the campus at Massabesic Middle School for the spread of Lythrum salicaria. With its high biotic potential, we are always on the lookout. We are organizing our search presently, doing a quick study on the mission, how plants are identified, what characteristics Loosestrife has and we will also do a little practice with the equipment before we head outside later this week.
We have been out for a few minutes, getting an initial look at the plant and the area. A quick glance of the plant with 3 different groups on different days found Japanese beetles on the flowers of the plant. Seems like this invasive species prefers the flowers to devour, which is different than what we know about Galerucella. The leaves of the plant were riddled with holes, but no Galerucella beetles were detected. Initial hypotheses by former students seemed to be leaning toward a battle between the invasive (Japanese beetles) and the non native (Galerucella). We were wondering what was going to win out. Based upon observations so far this year, we may have to change our minds and lean more toward the 2 beetles actually working together, one focusing on the leaves while the other feeds on the flowers.

We hope to set up some sort of experiment to show perhaps that Japanese beetles are in fact focussing on the flowers. We will update the mission via comments when we get our results from our search for loosestrife spread later this week.

Aroostook Team Science
Massabesic Middle School

Dear Massabesic Middle School

i have seen most of your summations and i see you all have a grate teacher to get you going on VS and that your teacher has been doing this for a wile now. I am vary proud and grateful that we have hundreds of student scientists working hard for VS so thank you MMS for doing this for us. also good job on the purple loosestrife mission make sure it dosn't spread to much or at all so thank you i hope you incuraje more and more schools to join VS and that even you are done for the year you still summite to VS over the summer and after that also.

hope you read this.