, , ,

Insect Monitoring and Twitter

By Scott Meers, Insect Management Specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

————————

My role as an entomologist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development consists largely of counting insects. We monitor the populations of seven different species on a provincial scale and several more on either an ad hoc or regional basis. We also carry out surveillance for potential new insect pests in crops. It is important to note that Alberta is a relatively large place, ranging 1066 km south to north and is 466 km at the widest. There are over 10,000,000 ha of land devoted to crop production. We do our monitoring work with two permanent staff and 2 to 3 summer students.

The first thing that becomes obvious is that we can’t do this work by travelling the entire expanse of the province. So we must communicate with those that are out in the fields and capture the results of their “footprints in the field”. Through various reporting systems we have had good success in developing a representative monitoring system. Check out our homepage at www.agriculture.alberta.ca/bugs-pest.

So where does Twitter fit in? In the two years that we have been using twitter we have collected nearly 800 farm related followers. Twitter is a great place to announce the results of our findings. If a set of traps or online reporting systems are reporting a concern we tweet it. The impact is instantaneous and widespread. Followers retweet (it is common for our in-season tweets to have 5 or more retweets), they ask questions, they check their fields and they let us know if their findings match ours. Talk about impact and talk about a reality check, it is awesome. We can then improve the quality and accuracy of the information we present.

We announce our new extension materials on Twitter. If we have a new You Tube video, radio broadcast (weekly during the growing season), new web page or even a chnage to our homepage, we tweet it. It is at least part of the reason we have over 2,000 hits on how to put together our Bertha Armyworm traps (we only put out 200 sets of traps across the province in 2012).

A big part of integrated pest management is the timing of insect activity. We have models for some insects and when they are supposed to be in their active scouting stage we tweet about it. Again instant feed-back! This helps us adjust and time our monitoring efforts to maximum efficiency. For those insects we don’t have models for we suggest timings based on experience. Agrologists and farmers tell us when they start seeing them. Again, awesome! Through Twitter we know when and where insects are showing up across the province. I am happy to retweet any credible source on insect activity and give credit where credit is due. A couple examples of this revolve around an outbreak of bertha armyworm (BAW) (Mamestra configurata) in central Alberta in 2012.

One case involves a comment about BAW in corn which is very unusual, partially because we have very little corn, and partially because BAW generally feeds on broadleaved plants. The conversation drew the attention of neighbors that were growing corn and they asked to see the field while we were inspecting it. The bottom line: the BAW laid their eggs on  lambsquarters which was uncontrolled under the canopy. The neighbors that had control of the lambsquarters had no BAW. Thanks to @landrashewski.

BAW in corn. Started on and ate all the lambsquarters then moved onto the corn cobs.

BAW in corn. Started on and ate all the lambsquarters then moved onto the corn cobs.

The second case was BAW in field peas, another relatively rare situation. The pictures tell the story though. There was substantial damage. If we have another BAW outbreak we will be sure to encourage producers to check their pea fields as well. Thanks to @Klams81.

Surveillance is where Twitter really shines. Last year I didn’t keep track of the requests for ID via Twitter but it was constant throughout the summer. There was a trend and repeats to the requests and there were questions about insects that we seldom see but were more common in 2012. Twitter gives us a chance to be in fields virtually. This a huge advantage because we can’t always be there in person.

We have also used Twitter to help us find fields to survey and to get permission from producers to access their fields. In addition we have recruited help from agrologists and farmers through Twitter. When we ask they are often happy to help us because they have been following us and the work we are doing. We also have several examples of people joining our monitoring network because of finding us on Twitter.

In short, Twitter is a valuable tool for monitoring insects in our program. We use it extensively. We welcome everything from the virtual coffee shop conversations to the private requests for identification. Twitter is, and will continue to be, an integral part of how we monitor insects in Alberta crops. It is good to be a part of the community and to give and receive in equal measure. We are looking forward to seeing what Twitter will bring in the new crop year!

What is this – a common Twitter question to @ABbugcounter last year. We reared it out and it turned out to be Pontia protodice or Checkered White Butterfly.

What is this – a common Twitter question to @ABbugcounter last year. We reared it out and it turned out to be Pontia protodice or Checkered White Butterfly.

, , ,

Happy 150th Birthday ESO & ESC!

Today is the day, April 16, 1863, in Toronto, Ontario, when it all began….when we became open to “all students and lovers of entomology”….when the colourful histories of the Entomological Societies of Ontario and Canada became “inextricably entwined” (Timms 2010, ESC Bulletin, 42(2):77-83). Despite some early, shared pain in our respective emergences as separate, adult societies, we cannot be anything but jointly proud on this date of our inauguration 150 years ago. We thankfully today can both lay claim to being one of the oldest scientific societies in North America and can happily share our heritage without a bun fight, as of yore.

So happy birthday to us, and please join us in celebration in Guelph at the Joint Annual Meeting of the ESC and ESO, October 20-23, 2013.

HappyBirthdayESOC

 

 

, , , ,

ESC Public Encouragement Grants

By Staffan Lindgren

———–

Given a stimulating, or even neutral environment, I firmly believe that the natural interest that most, if not all kids have for animals will be retained for life – once a bug nerd always a bug nerd. My parents’ photos of me as a kid almost always show me on all four turning rocks or peering down into some pond for any sign of life, and I’m not much different now (See photographs). I was fortunate to grow up close to nature with parents who pretty much put up with anything that I dragged home, usually alive (my mom drew the line at snakes, but spiders were OK as long as they were contained). Many kids are not as fortunate. They may grow up in a large city, or have one or two parents who at best believe that the only good bug is a dead bug and at worst go catatonic at the sight of even the tiniest spider.

The author (left) and a friend looking for moon jellies on the Baltic Sea coast, Arkösund, Sweden, 1958 (Photo R. Lindgren).

The author (left) and a friend looking for moon jellies on the Baltic Sea coast, Arkösund, Sweden, 1958 (Photo R. Lindgren).

Part of the mandate of the ESC and its affiliate regional societies is to stimulate an interest in entomology through education. One of the tools by which ESC tries to do this is by making available a small grant available annually to the regional societies. The ESC committee guidelines on these “Public Encouragement Grants” state:

(a) Each Affiliate shall be eligible to apply to the Committee for an annual grant of $200 for public education.

(b) Application for the Grant shall be made annually to the Chair and should indicate how the money is to be used.

(c) Funds may be accumulated for a maximum period of three years (i.e., up to $600).

(d) Applications in excess of $200 shall be considered.

(d) The difference between the amount made available annually by the Society for public encouragement, and the amount given to Affiliates, shall be called the Public Encouragement Discretionary Fund. This Fund may be used to augment grants to Affiliates or finance direct public encouragement activities of the Committee.

In 2012, two such grants were awarded, one to Société d’entomologie du Québec (SEQ), who reported:

The $200 granted to the SEQ by the ESC for public education and outreach were given to the AEAQ (Association des entomologistes amateurs du Quebec). …They used the funds to grant free access to their annual meeting (6-7 July 2012) to participants of less than 18 yrs old that could not afford registrations. The annual meeting of the AEAQ is primarily a field meeting with some presentations, and a number of interesting faunistic records were made this year. A recap of this meeting with pictures can be found in the bulletin of the AEAQ at the following url: http://aeaq.ca/nouvl/nouvailes222automne2012.pdf

The second grant was made to the Entomological Society of Manitoba (ESM), who reported:

As part of the Youth Encouragement and Public Education Committee activities, members of the ESM travel to visit schools and various special interest groups to talk about insects, and there are many groups that visit the facilities of the Department of Entomology as well to see the live insects and to learn about insects. The Program received $200 from the ESC this year, and this money was used in part for some minor renovations to the insectary (see photograph) in the Department of Entomology. There is now space for new colonies, and the rearing room can now accommodate small groups for tours. The grant was also used to print business cards, which are provided to the different youth groups visited, or to interested parties during festivals where the Youth Encouragement Committee is present.

University of Manitoba insectary after upgrade partially funded by ESC Public Encouragement Grant (Photo: Matt Yunik)

University of Manitoba insectary after upgrade partially funded by ESC Public Encouragement Grant (Photo: Matt Yunik)

It may not appear that activities like these have much impact, but sometimes it takes very little to stimulate the minds of young people. Providing access for youth to meetings allows them to interact with entomologists and learn that we are people too! I was profoundly influenced by the kind, patient, and carefully typed replies (on official Uppsala University letterhead) when I as a 13-year-old confined live spiders in matchboxes and sent these in regular letters by snail-mail to the arachnologist Dr. Åke Holm! (He did tell me that the spiders generally did not arrive in very good condition, incidentally). I have never forgotten that, and I try to treat budding bugologists with equal kindness. Who knows how it will affect them?

It is clear that you can’t necessarily convert entomophobic people to entomologists, but you may be able to provide some fuel for whatever pilot flame burns in youth that possess even a modicum of interest and curiosity regarding life on earth. Every now and again, you encounter some really exceptional students, and those are the individuals that can make the smallest gesture extremely important. I have been lucky to associate with a number of such exceptional undergraduate students here at UNBC. Some have continued in entomology while others have moved to other disciplines. Three former students who carried on to pursue doctoral degrees are noteworthy.  One is now a pollinator specialist with the Government of Alberta, one is a PhD student at York University, and one is a PhD student at Utah State. All have published in entomology journals, and are obviously successful. More importantly in the context of this blog, they have all kept in touch and expressed appreciation for the mentoring they received here at UNBC.

The author and his son looking at tidal pool life, Lighthouse Park, North Vancouver, BC, 1997 (Photo L.M. Friskie).

The author and his son looking at tidal pool life, Lighthouse Park, North Vancouver, BC, 1997 (Photo L.M. Friskie).

The ESC grants are relatively small, but they may make a huge difference in someone’s life and future career path. Therefore, as Chair of the Science Policy and Education Committee, I hope to be the recipient of several applications from regional affiliates this year.

,

Self-discovery and where to next?

By ESC President Rosemarie DeClerck-Floate

—————————

I’m new to blogging, so when asked by our Blog Administrators to provide a first installment as President, I was at a bit of a loss on how to proceed with this. Do I simply distill what I have already shared more formally in the Up-front article from the December 2012, ESC Bulletin?  After some thought, I have decided to try something a bit different, but still related to my article.

One of my personal goals as President is to increase not only membership in the ESC, but the level of “active membership”. To my understanding, an active member is in action and contributing to our Society in any of a myriad of manners; e.g. serving on one of our many committees as either member or Chair, letting their name stand for executive office as Second Vice President or the next Director-at-large, applying to be a Society Trustee (e.g., Secretary, Treasurer, Bulletin Editor, Webmaster) as positions become vacant, collaborating to nominate a deserving fellow member for one of our achievement awards, helping organize a symposium or workshop for the next JAM, giving requested expert advice on issues that crop up within the society, etc. Without the mostly volunteer service of our active members, we cease to exist.

In thinking about what must be a perennial issue for every volunteer group out there…how to get new blood pumped into an organization to sustain it and also allow it to grow, and then how to encourage new involvement in the running of the organization, it occurred to me that one way to do so is to pull back the veil on what active service means, thereby allowing people to envision themselves in a particular active role. Do most of our members really know what projects our 17 regular committees are up to? Do they have a grasp of what is entailed in serving within any of the positions of the society.  Although any one of us can get onto the membership pages of our website and read our By-laws, Standing Rules and Committee Guidelines to find out the nuts and bolts of how our society runs, how many actually do so unless they are serving on a committee?  Honestly, that has been the case for me.  However, by sharing what we do and why, it gives a more human face to the intermeshed components of our organization, and may even inspire someone to step forth to serve.

So to get the ball rolling, let’s start with my experience so far and what is currently keeping me preoccupied on behalf of the society.  I have been in my role as President now for nearly 21 weeks and quickly am getting my legs in the job. Initially the position presented a somewhat daunting view of what lay ahead for me in terms of work load and challenges, and my legs were shaky. I was wondering how in heck I was going to juggle this major responsibility along with my research program and other activities. However, the experience has recently morphed into one of enjoyment that has actually given me energy overall and an eagerness to meet the challenges head-on with the help of others.  A large part of the enjoyment is coming from working with some excellent active members from across the country that are very dedicated and brimming with their own visions of us and how to move our society in new directions. There is such vibrancy to the ESC!

As President, I am ex officio on each of the regular committees, plus two newly-struck ad hoc committees, which means I get a bird’s eye view of what is happening within each as Committee Chairs cc me on their activity and discussions. Not all of them are active at the same time, but it is kind of like watching fireworks go off in different sectors of the sky, and then gauging how it all fits into the progression and synchronization of the whole show. Sometimes I may participate in the activity (either by invitation or when I clearly see where I need to get into action), but more often I find myself just watching, learning, or deciding where to nudge if needed. I also am encouraging new projects by either planting ideas with others, or enabling someone else’s idea by getting the appropriate people together. I must say that it is very gratifying watching projects take hold and grow to potential Board presentation stage, even without any involvement from me at all. Some of the projects that are in the early stages of discussion involve our student membership; for instance, we are sussing out new opportunities for career and leadership development. Overall, the role is a great way to develop improved management/people and leadership skills…..and even some French language skills because of the patience and encouragement of our francophone members.

But to present the full picture, it isn’t rosy all the time, as there are some serious matters to deal with which could have an impact on the future of our society. That’s where I have to screw up some courage and jump into the thick of things. A current example is making sure the ESC makes a successful legal transition according to the new Canadian Not-for-profit Corporations Act, which will mean the re-writing of our by-laws this year among other paperwork. Right now, I’m just so thankful to have the help and experience of our active membership as we navigate these new waters.

Regardless of how serious the challenge though, I have faith that we will survive as a society. We have existed for 150 years, so no time to give up now! So for anyone interested, we will be looking for new people to fill the Chairs of the Annual Meeting, Finance and Publications Committees beginning at our next JAM in Guelph, October 2013, and of course, welcome anyone who wishes to serve as members on any of our 17 committees. Think of it as an opportunity for personal and/or career growth and adventure.

, , , , ,

Editor’s Pick: Resins, exotic woodwasps and how a study species picks a researcher.

by Christopher Buddle, McGill University

————–

As the Editor-in-Chief of The Canadian Entomologist, I have the pleasure of seeing all papers move through the publication process, from first submission to approval of the final proof.  This places me in a position to fully appreciate the incredible entomological research occurring around the world.  As one way to promote some of the great papers within TCE, I have decided to start a series of blog posts titled “Editor’s Pick” – these are papers that stand out as being high quality research, and research that has broad interest to the entomological community.  I will pick one paper from each issue, and write a short piece to profile the paper.

For the first issue of the current volume (145), I’ve picked the paper by Kathleen Ryan and colleagues, titled “Seasonal occurrence and spatial distribution of resinosis, a symptom of Sirex noctilio (Hymenoptera: Siricidae) injury, on boles of Pinus sylvestris (Pinaceae)“.   Sirex noctilio is a recently introduced species in Canada, and is a woodwasp that we need to pay attention to.   As Kathleen writes, “unlike our native species of woodwasps, it attacks and kills living pines” and because of this, we must strive to find effective ways to monitor the species.  One potential approach is to look for signs of resinosis, or ‘excessive’ outflow of tree sap and resins from conifers.  The goal of this work was to specifically assess “the spatial and temporal distribution of resin symptoms of attack to optimise sampling“.  The work involved Kathleen spending a LOT of time in the field, observing evidence of damage to trees, and assessing timing of resinosis relative to other damage to pine trees as related to woodwasps.  In the end, Kathleen was able to confirm that in most infested trees, the appearance of resin was a meaningful detection method.  This is a very practical paper, and very useful towards finding the best methods to detect this exotic species.

Sirex noctilio female - Photo by K. Ryan

Sirex noctilio female – Photo by K. Ryan

I asked Kathleen a few questions about this paper and the context of the work.

Q: Kathleen, what first got you interested in this area of research?

A: I became interested in studying Sirex’s interaction with other subcortical insects. Sirex was recently detected in North America at the time and we didn’t know much about it here including how, where and when to find it  – all of which were essential in planning research about insect interactions. So this study was my starting point – my “getting to know Sirex” study.

Q:  What do you hope will be the lasting impact of this paper?

A: This paper is the result of the many hours of field observations that helped me to become more familiar with Sirex. Since its really basic research, I hope that this paper might be a useful starting point for other people beginning to work with Sirex.

Q:  Where will your next line of research on this topic take you?  

A: Currently, I’m studying another invasive wood-borer, but I’d like to work with Sirex again – it’s a really interesting and unique insect biologically and ecologically. I’m especially interested in studying Sirex community ecology in its native, European, range to see how it compares to North America.

This is truly an important area of study, and I do look forward to seeing more of Kathleen’s papers in TCE.

Finally, I asked Kathleen about any amusing anecdotes about the research, and she shared this wonderful story with me:

The first day we worked together, my PhD advisor Peter de Groot, dropped me off at a forest site with instructions to only observe and collect absolutely no data. I had been in the forest for only a few moments, when a female Sirex landed right in front of me. So being an entomologist, naturally I caught her. A couple of hours later, still holding her, I met back up with Peter and sheepishly admitted that I had caught some “data”. Thinking it fantastic, from that point forward he told everyone that Sirex had picked me as her project.

Looking for wood wasps - Photo by K. Ryan

Looking for woodwasps – Photo by K. Ryan

I believe that these kinds of stories behind the research make Entomology more accessible and real, and help us appreciate the human element of scientific research.

As a final note, the entomological community was very saddened by Peter de Groot’s death in 2010.  His legacy to Canadian Entomology is still very strong.

A special thanks to Kathleen for answering a few questions, and sharing insights into the first ‘Editor’s pick’ for The Canadian Entomologist

———-

Reference:  Ryan, K, P. de Groot, S.M. Smith and J. J. Turgeon.  Seasonal occurrence and spatial distribution of resinosis, a symptom of Sirex noctilio (Hymenoptera: Siricidae) injury on boles of Pinus sylvestris (Pinaceae). The Canadian Entomologist 145: 117-122. Link.

The co-chairs – Chandra Moffat and Boyd Mori. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse
, , ,

Meet your ESC Student Affairs Committee

By Julia Mlynarek, PhD Candidate (Carleton University)

—————

Well it’s a New Year! 2013!

I’m writing a post on behalf of the Student Affairs Committee (SAC). Many people, especially students, don’t really know who we are and what the Student Affairs Committee actually does. So I figured I’d try to clear it up…

Who are we?

The SAC is composed of several graduate students distributed as evenly as possible across Canada. At the moment, there are seven students serving on the Student Affairs Committee. Part of these seven and Chandra Moffat (Fredericton, NB) and Boyd Mori (Edmonton, AB) who are also co-chairs of the SAC this year making sure things run smoothly.

The co-chairs – Chandra Moffat and Boyd Mori. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

The co-chairs – Chandra Moffat and Boyd Mori. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

Via e-mail, we consider how improve or maintain student success and visibility in the ESC. Other members include Ikkei Shikano (Burnaby, BC), Brock Harper (Toronto, ON), Paul Abram (Montreal, QC), Léna Durocher-Granger (Quebec/Honduras), Guillaume Dury (Montreal, QC) and me (Julia Mlynarek (Ottawa, ON)).

What do we do?

The mandate of the SAC is two-fold; 1- we advise Student Members, the Governing Board, and the Society on programs of the Society for students and on other matters concerning students and 2- we advise Student Members and the Society on the training of entomologists and on the future job opportunities for entomologists in Canada. This mandate is very broad but throughout the year we try to set specific goals to help students succeed in entomology. This year for example, we will be trying to post more regular updates on the ESC blog to let the Members know what we are up to. We are also working on an updated version of the Directory of Entomology. Of course we continue working hard on letting the Student Members know of Job and Research postings. Additionally, we let the community know if a student has defended their thesis successfully in the thesis round-up (either on the ESC website, or in the Bulletin). So if you’re a student that has just submitted a thesis, let us know! We also help with organization of the annual meeting such as trying to keep the costs for the meeting as low as possible (but still sustainable) for the student, the student mixer during the meeting, the Graduate Student Symposium and the Silent auction. The proceeds of the silent auction actually come back to help the students. So a successful silent auction means extra funds for the students!

Great turn out to the ESC student mixer! Photo credit: Seth McCann

Great turn out to the ESC student mixer! Photo credit: Seth McCann

Student affair committee members (Chandra Moffat and Paul Abram) manning the silent auction at the last ESC annual meeting. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

Student affair committee members (Chandra Moffat and Paul Abram) manning the silent auction at the last ESC annual meeting. Photo credit: Adrian Thysse

We work hard in our spare (non-thesis) time to encourage students pursue their dreams of working with insects. The actions we take today will influence the future entomology students which could potentially be our students in the future. We want Canadian Entomology to be the best it can be so that is respected in the world as it has been since the inception of the ESC.

If you (as a student) are interested in getting involved please contact us – students@esc-sec.ca or post a message on the ESC student facebook page. We would love to hear from you.

Enjoy the insects.

Till next time,

Julia

, , ,

2013 ESC Student Awards – Application Deadline Feb 16

The Entomological Society of Canada gives out several financial awards each year to Canadian graduate students studying entomology. The following awards are available for 2013:

Graduate Research Travel Award – Up to a maximum of $2000

  • Normally awarded to one MSc student and one PhD student annually
  • Intent is to help students increase the scope of their research, and will be judged on scientific merit
  • Student must be enrolled as a graduate student at a Canadian university & studying insects or related terrestrial arthropods
  • Details
  • Application & Evaluation Information
  • Deadline: February 16, 2013

Postgraduate Awards – $2000

  • Normally awarded to one MSc student and one PhD student annually
  • Awarded on basis of high scholastic achievement
  • Student must be enrolled as a graduate student at a Canadian university & studying insects or related terrestrial arthropods
  • Application & Evaluation Information
  • Deadline: February 16, 2013

John H. Borden Scholarship – $1000

  • In honour of Dr. John H. Borden, one postgraduate award of $1,000 to assist students in postgraduate programs who are studying Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with an entomological emphasis
  • Awarded on basis of high scholastic achievement & innovative research in IPM
  • Applicant must be a full time postgraduate student at the time of application, studying IPM at a degree granting institution in Canada
  • Application & Evaluation Information
  • Deadline: February 16, 2013

Keith Kevan Award – $1000

  • In memory of Dr. D. Keith McE. Kevan, the Entomological Society of Canada offers one postgraduate award of $1,000 biennally to assist students in postgraduate programs who are studying systematics in entomology
  • Awarded on  basis of high scholastic achievement and excellence in insect systematics
  • Application Procedure
  • Deadline: February 16, 2013
,

ESC members: visit your headquarters!

Article by Dr. Chris Buddle, Professor at the McGill University.

————————

The Entomological Society of Canada's home of operations in Ottawa, Ontario.

The Entomological Society of Canada’s home of operations in Ottawa, Ontario.

I was in Ottawa back in December, and found a bit of time to visit the Entomological Society of Canada’s headquarters, on Winston Avenue.  It was a real treat – our office manager (Derna Lisi) is always thrilled to have visitors, and will make you a lovely cup of coffee!  The office is where memberships get processed, general queries from members get answered, and where printing, mailing and processing paperwork gets done.  It’s also a place where you can browse through ALL the volumes of The Canadian Entomologist.  The office has seven copies of all TCE issues, well-organized, and fully accessible.  Although the journal is electronic now, it sure is nice to hold the Volume 1, Issue 1, in your hands.  That is a lot of history!   It is also somewhat comforting to know that hard copies exist, and that they are well cared for.

The Canadian Entomologist 1(1) - 1868

The Canadian Entomologist 1(1) – 1868

Although I visit Ottawa with some frequency, I always seemed to find reasons not to visit the ESC headquarters.  That was a mistake.  It was a real pleasure to meet Derna, see the operations, and realize that our society has a brick-and-mortar face to it. We are all busy and overworked, but I do encourage you to stop by 393 Winston Ave next time you are in Ottawa.  As a further incentive, there are some lovely shops nearby, including Mountain Equipment Coop.  Go grab your field clothes and stop in to say hi to Derna!  You’ll be glad you did.

[googlemaps https://maps.google.ca/maps?q=393+Winston+Avenue,+Ottawa,+ON&layer=c&sll=45.391733,-75.756668&cbp=13,34.84,,0,1.72&cbll=45.391568,-75.756585&hl=en&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=393+Winston+Ave,+Ottawa,+Ontario+K2A+1Y5&ll=45.391733,-75.756668&spn=0.004408,0.009645&t=h&z=14&panoid=z4yTx0-6DuB1ViiOT7x3Fw&source=embed&output=svembed&w=425&h=350]

Myrmica brevispinosa, the short-spined ant
, , ,

The trouble with common names

By Dr. Staffan Lindgren, University of Northern British Columbia

————————

When teaching Invertebrate zoology, entomology or forest entomology, I am regularly asked by students if they can use common names. Mostly this request is precipitated by the perceived difficulty of memorizing, let alone pronouncing, Latin names. I am fairly relaxed about these things, particularly with forestry students, who are quite unlikely to become entomologists no matter how you define that term.  It should be clarified that forest entomology is taught within a Disturbance Ecology and Forest Health course at my institution (UNBC), with diagnostics in half of a separate lab course. My stock answer is thus that they may use common names as long as the name clearly defines the species they are referring to.

Foresters are prone to colloquial terms, whether with respect to insects, trees or other organisms. For example, subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) is called balsam by many, if not most foresters in BC, even though it is a distinct species from balsam fir (Abies balsamea) of eastern North America. Similarly, Pissodes strobi, the white pine weevil, is called spruce weevil (a legacy of the days when this weevil was considered three separate species, two of which primarily infest different spruce species in the west) or simply leader weevil.  The reason, supposedly, is that it is the wood quality that matters in terms of trees, and the type of damage with respect to insects. The consequences of being a bit loose with the taxonomy of a particular species may therefore seem fairly inconsequential in forestry.

Incidentally, our forestry students have even more to worry about when it comes to pathology, which they have to learn at the same time, as the same biological organism often has two completely different Latin names (including genera) depending on whether it is the sexual or asexual form (why this remains an accepted practice is beyond me), and they often do not have common names. Add the fact that fungal species seem to change name more often than I change vehicles (I was going to write ‘shirt’, but didn’t want to gross anyone out making you think that I wear the same shirt for years), and it becomes rather a nightmarish proposition for the poor students.

When it comes to entomology in general, however, common names are most commonly used in casual conversation, particularly with members of the public. For entomologists this is usually not a problem, but for non-entomologists it can be very confusing.  For example, colloquial use of ‘bug’ is pretty much anything that is small and crawls or flies around. Taxonomically it is quite specific (Hemiptera: Heteroptera). Ladybugs (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) are perhaps the most recognizable insects to people in general, but they are clearly not bugs. Plant lice (Aphidoidea and Phylloxeroidea), bark lice (Psocoptera) and body lice (Phthiraptera) represent three vastly different taxonomic groups. In addition, if the non-louse groups above were to be correctly written to show that they are not Phthirapterans, there should be no space – however for these common names that principle is never applied as far as I can tell. It is to differentiate dragonflies, damselflies, stoneflies, mayflies, whiteflies etc. from the true flies. For example, a dragon fly, if there were such a thing (and probably there is somewhere – perhaps a decapitating fly (Phoridae) comes close enough to earn that epithet!) would be a dipteran, whereas a dragonfly is not. How is a non-entomologist supposed to know that (assuming that it is important to anyone except us entomophiles)? Then we can go on to more obvious misnomers such as ‘white ants’, which aren’t ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) at all, but termites (Isoptera).

Going back to forest entomology, one can have all kinds of fun with some common names, the origin of some could serve as fodder for endless speculation. For example, when discussing the problems with common names, I ask my students what they think a sequoia pitch moth (Synanthedon sequoiae)(Lepidoptera: Sesiidae) would attack. The correct answer is naturally “mostly lodgepole pine, but not sequoia”. Similarly, the Douglas-fir pitch moth (Synanthedon novaroensis) commonly breeds in lodgepole pine, but as far as I know not in Douglas-fir. I then go on to western spruce budworm, which as the name does not imply primarily attacks Douglas-fir.

Myrmica brevispinosa, the short-spined ant

Myrmica brevispinosa, the short-spined ant

Clearly one cannot expect members of the public to keep track of Latin names of insects, so common names are here to stay. I was interested to find in a book I recently purchased (Ellison et al. 2012) that the authors had invented common names for every species by essentially translating the Latin species epithet. That creates an interesting situation vis-à-vis the attempt of entomological societies to standardize common names (http://www.esc-sec.ca/ee/index.php/cndb; http://www.entsoc.org/common-names). Nevertheless, some ants simply retained their genus name, e.g., Harpagoxenus canadenis became “The Canadian Harpagoxenus” (not sure why, as they named the genus “The robber guest ants”), Formica hewitti became “Hewitt’s ant”,  Myrmica brevispinosa (the species in the photo accompanying this article) is called “The short-spined ant”, and perhaps my favourite Lasius subglaber was named “The somewhat hairy fuzzy ant”. Common names aren’t generally that innovative, but Latin names certainly can be.

Many years ago May Berenbaum (1993) wrote a column on this topic. If students would all read Dr. Berenbaum’s eminently humorous take on how insects get named, they would without a doubt get a new appreciation for both Latin names and their creators, and perhaps feel less trepidation about memorizing them. Then not only true blue entomologists would be tempted to buy a bumper sticker that read “Sona si Latine loqueris” (Honk if you speak Latin) (Unverified from http://www.latinsayings.info/).

Berenbaum, M. 1993. “Apis, Apis, Bobapis….”, American Entomologist 39: 133-134.

Ellison, A.M., N.J. Gotelli, E.J. Farnsworth, and G.D. Alpert. 2012. A field guide to the ants of New England. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 398 pp.

, , ,

ZAPPED: The Buzz About Mosquitoes

Tonight on CBC (8pm local time across Canada) The Nature of Things with David Suzuki is showing ZAPPED: The Buzz About Mosquitoes, a documentary all about mosquitoes in Canada, the rising potential for mosquito-vectored disease thanks to climate change, and the ways in which Canadian scientists are working hard to stay ahead of them.

Featuring great macrovideography (which you can learn more about with the behind the scences feature on the ZAPPED website), interviews with Canadian entomologists, and highlighting research being done here in Canada, ZAPPED has great potential to spread information and awareness about Canadian mosquitoes.

I’ll be live-tweeting the program tonight @ 8pm EST using the hashtag #CBCZapped (those of you on Twitter can do the same when it airs in your timezone) and I hope that if you live in Canada you’ll join me in learning more about the flies people love to hate!