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Three days a week, Don Weber shows up to work at the U.S. Department of Agriculture campus in Beltsville, Md. The parking lot is empty and the hallways are dark. Like other federal facilities across the country, the lab is closed because of the partial government shutdown.
"It's like a ghost town," said Weber, an entomologist.
Task - Hundreds - Insects - Lab - Hatching
But he has to perform an important task: feeding the hundreds of insects he raises in his lab, which keep hatching, mating and dying, oblivious to the political showdown in Washington, D.C.
For the brown marmorated stinkbugs, a major crop pest that Weber studies, he supplies a feast of sunflower seeds and organic green beans. The ornately patterned harlequin bugs, on the other hand, prefer home-grown mustard and collard greens.
Rearing - Bit - Art
"Insect rearing is a little bit of an art," he said.
Weber and one other member of his lab at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center have permission to do limited essential work like caring for their insects, albeit without pay. "So far, we're able to keep enough of our colonies going so that we can start up" as soon as the shutdown ends, he said.
Standoff - Week - Government - Researchers - Things
But as the standoff marches through its fourth week, government researchers who study living things face mounting challenges.
On top of the missed paychecks, the canceled trips to scientific conferences and the deadlines that loom despite the forced time off, scientists at the USDA and other federal agencies have plants, animals, insects and microbes to worry about.
Government - Case - Lights - Door - Bob
"When the government shuts down, it's not a case of, 'Well, you just turn the lights off and lock the door,' " said Bob Peterson, an entomologist at Montana State University and president of the Entomological Society of America. "You can't do that with living organisms."
Across the country, millions of fish are treading water in hatcheries run by the U.S....
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