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The Great Pumpkin Project

Main Project Information
Presented By Dunn Lab at North Carolina State University
Goal Understand the diversity of insects and microbe on cucurbit plants
Task Submit photos of pumpkins, and their insects and microbes
Where Global, anywhere on the planet

Many of our most delicious fruits and vegetables — squash, pumpkin, zucchini, gourds, cucumber, and melons — are all important crops in the same plant family, the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family. These are some of the most widely planted and economically important vegetable crops in the United States, and throughout the world. Yet, we know little about the microbial and insect communities (both helpful and harmful) associated with these different crop plants. Here, we present two related projects. The first part of the project documents the species of insects (specifically beetles) that can damage these plants by eating the leaves, fruits and flowers. We are especially interested in understanding more about the beetles that carry a bacterial pathogen from plant to plant. This bacterial pathogen threatens pumpkins (great and small) and cucumbers throughout the northeastern United States and Canada, and has the potential to spread to a much wider area (or may have already spread, we don’t know). The second part of the project documents the beneficial insects that visit the big, lovely, sweet smelling flowers of pumpkins and, in doing so, carry pollen from male flowers to female flowers. While we have been studying these pollinators for years, much about their daily lives and geographic distribution remains mysterious.

Through participating in these projects, students will learn about beneficial bees and plant pollination, plant-insect-microbe interactions, where the food in our grocery stores come from, and how some insects and pathogens can harm plants (including the ones we also like to eat!). By learning about these topics, students can help us solve these mysteries about what species of insects and microbes associate with plants, and in what places (or at least help us solve these mysteries that we might move along to others–the mysteries never end).

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How to Join

We are documenting the insects and microbes that visit all cucurbit plants, including
pumpkins (native to the Americas) and cucumbers (native to Africa, Eurasia, and
Australia). These plants are grown and enjoyed all over the world, yet we know very little about the microbes and insects that grow with them.

You can help!

1. Take pictures of insects on your cucurbit plants
2. Upload your plant and insect photos via our iNaturalist project page
3. If you save your cucurbit seeds or have an unusual variety, please also submit those photos to our iNaturalist, Facebook, or Twitter pages.

For more information, please go to or contact

Project Timing This project is year round - Cucurbits are planted in spring and harvested in summer and fall, and the timing varies in the tropics and in the Southern Hemisphere. If you are anywhere with a cucurbit crop plant, it is the right time to participate!
Social Media
Ideal Age Group Elementary school (6 - 10 years), Middle school (11 - 13 years), High school (14 - 17 years), College, Graduate students, Adults, Families, Seniors
Ideal Frequency Per week
Average Time Less than an hour
Training Materials
Media Mentions
and Publications
Tags bee, beetle, cucumber, cucumber beetle, farm-to-table, flower, gourd, melon, pollination, pollinator, pumpkin, squash, zucchini
Project Updated 05/23/2018