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Drop in on your friends…Before it’s too late!

IMG_1266Just a reminder…Summer does not last long here in Canada, so if there are any insects you have missed so far this year, now is the time to get out and find them!

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How to get a spider to drink blood

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Spiders may not bite, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get them to drink your blood! All you need is a sunset at the beach, hordes of mosquitoes, a spider, and some frustration to take out.

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The other night, I was unwinding with an evening of wasp and bee photography at Iona beach, but the flight conditions were great for mosquitoes. They kept interrupting my shots of this lovely Tetragnatha laboriosa, so I decided to share the wealth.

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Trapping the mosquito against my skin, I released it in the sweet spot of the web.

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You can see the movement of the wrapping action, as I was also dragging the shutter to get some light in the darkening sky.

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I was looking forward to a great splash of blood as the spider bit in!

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This is about as good as it got however, but I am sure the spider will appreciate the extra protein already in liquid form.

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This one is pretty cool too…

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The mozzies kept biting, so I kept tossing them into the web.

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I kept the spider busy wrapping up her gifts for quite a while.

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When we both had had enough, I headed home, feeling itchy, but satisfied that I had at least achieved the fattening up of a cool tetragnathid.

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Friday night fun: spiders at Iona Beach

 

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Samantha Vibert, Gwylim Blackburn, Catherine Scott and Sam Evans in the midst of examining an unidentified jumping spider.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of ferrying four Vancouver-area spider researchers out to Iona Beach in Richmond for a bit of a Friday-evening ramble in search of spiders. Gwylim Blackburn and Samantha Vibert are old hands at spider observations at this site, Gwilym had studied Habronattus americanus and Samantha  had studied Hobo Spiders. Catherine Scott (who studies black widows) and Sam Evans (a recent recruit to Wayne Maddison’s lab) came along as well.  This was a Toyota Tercel loaded down with spider talent!

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Daisy did not ask for this in her old age, but performed admirably nonetheless.

 

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We arrived shortly after 7 pm, and despite the late hour, we found a few jumping spiders, although Habronattus americanus was already in bed. I only managed to sneak in a couple photos of large Phidippus.

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Sam searches among moss and Scotch Broom.

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A long-jawed orbweaver male (Tetragnathidae) tucked in with a pupating beetle.

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A freshly-moulted harvestperson with exuvium still attached!

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A large ichneumonid among pine needles.

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A 10-lined june beetle larva under a log.

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A wolf spider in her burrow with a freshly-laid eggsac.

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Gwylim searches the beach.

Just before the gates were due to close at the park, we spotted a couple of snails, seemingly uncaring of our log-flipping sharing a tender moment. We hope they had a fun night!


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The Romanian Tarantula

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The following is a guest post by Simon Fraser University student Bekka Brodie. Bekka studies blow fly ecology and blogs at www.bekkabrodie.com.

The Romanian tarantula, Lycosa singoriensis (Lexmann 1770), is actually not a tarantula at all!  It’s a wolf spider! In Romania, and in most parts of Europe, the members of the family Lycosidae are commonly called tarantulas. This species is the largest spider in Romania.

For the last couple weeks my family and I have been visiting relatives in Romania.  While we’ve been here, my son (Tavi) and I have made it our mission to capture the Romanian Tarantula. It all started when we were visiting the Celic-Dere Monastery (black water in Turkish) in northern Dobrogea (or Dobrudja), Romania and found numerous large holes in the ground surrounded by a “spidery” silk. The holes were about the size of a Toonie (about 1 inch in diameter) and approximately 30 cm deep (measured with a stick). So, we just had to investigate.

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After talking with the locals, it was explained to us that the best way to capture one of these spiders was to “fish” for it.  More specifically, we needed to use a skinny candlestick with the wax removed down to the last centimeter.  (So, basically 1 cm of wax and the end of a string.)  We immediately set out for our “fishing” trip…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22Z5VmDh_28?rel=0&w=540&h=304]

Unfortunately, we had no success. After further questioning the local people, it was suggested we smoke it out… and still no success.  (One of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” plans.)  Finally, plan C, to simply dig it out.

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And… success at last!

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The Romanian “tarantula” is found in central and eastern Europe.  In Romania the species appear to be quite common but are classified as critically endangered in the Czech Republic and on the current IUCN Red List other parts of Europe (Frank 2000). The spider spends most of its time in the gallery it digs in the ground.  The adult spiders are nocturnal and hunt mainly for insects but have been known to eat small lizards (locals, personal communication).

The species size and lifespan various according to their sex, males are smaller (approximately 19-25 mm) living one year and the females larger (approximately 25-30 mm) but live for two years (Iosob 2009). The spiders have an oval shaped cephalothorax and abdomen that are a brown and black on the dorsal side. Their ventral side is black.

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In late summer and early fall males court the females by performing a nuptial dance just outside the gallery entrance. When the male approaches the female he begins to swagger, his leg hair lifts and descends alternately while vibrating (Prisecaru et al. 2010). The nuptial dance varies in time but copulation takes place for up to 1-2 hours (Prisecaru et al. 2010). Shortly after mating the male dies, leaving only juveniles and females to overwinter.

As is common in the spring, we caught an adult female with an egg sac, and as Tavi pointed out, “she is a very good Mama!”  When we first dug her out of the ground she was separated from her egg sac, but when we put them together in a jar, she attached herself to them immediately. It has been reported that if the female loses her egg sac she will look for it with perseverance and even accept another spiders egg sac or a sham (Iosob 2009). Once the eggs hatch, females protect their spiderlings by carrying them on her abdomen and cephalothorax (about 4 days) until they deplete their vitelline reserves and complete their first moult (Prisecaru et al. 2010).

The name tarantula is derived from a common wolf spider (genus Lycosa) from Apulia, Italy.  The folklore during the 11th century suggests that a person bit by the “tarantula” will undergo a hysterical behavior, called tarantism; that appears like violent convulsions.  The only prescribed cure for tarantism was frenzied dancing; now known as the traditional Tarantella.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoWjMK93Lv8?rel=0&w=540&h=405]

Romania has without a doubt, some of the last untouched and preserved ecosystems among the European Union countries.  (In fact, taxonomists can hardly keep up with identifying new species [Cogãlniceanu 2007].)While in most parts of Europe many plant and animal species are threatened or endangered, they can be found thriving in Romania (species like bears, wolves, tortoises, cormorants)… at least for now.  It is crucial that we learn more about these species while they are still common (including the Romanian tarantula), and help them remain common in the face of growing threats such as economic development, overexplotation, or poaching.  (You can read about current research and conservation work here and here.)

Tavi and I enjoyed exploring Romania, especially capturing and learning about the Romanian tarantula! We suggest you go and, as Tavi likes to say, “find the Mania in Romania!”

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Citations:

Cogãlniceanu, D., Ruşti D., and Manoleli, D. (2007) Romanian taxonomy in crisis-present status and future development. Travaux du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. L:517-526

Frank, V. (2010) Spiders (Araneae) on the red lists of European countries. EkolÓgia (Bratislava) 19: 23-28

Alin, Iosob G. Lycosa singoriensis sau Tarantula romaneasca.” Cunoaste natura si animalele din Romania!Blogspot, October 2010. Web. Accessed 01 May 2014. http://zoologysp.blogspot.ro/2009/05/lycosa-singoriensis-sau-tarantula.html

Prisecaru, M., A. Iosob, O. T. Cristea. 2010. Observations regarding the growth in captivity of the wolf-spider species Lycosa singoriensis (Laxmann, 1770). Studii şi Cercetări: Biologie, Universitatea ”Vasile Alecsandri” din Bacău, 19: 33-38.

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A unique experience for the mosquito enthusiast – FMEL’s mosquito identification course 2014

The following is a guest post by Memorial University student Andrew Chaulk. Andrew is looking into mosquito ecology an biodiversity . He recently attended a short course offered by the University of Florida’s FMEL in Vero Beach. 

 

Just off a main road running through a small town in Florida, a small group of enthusiastic folks, both local and foreign, sit focused. Eyes trained on minute hairs, scales, and a plethora of other physical traits, we worked diligently; all of us training to identify the 174 species of mosquitoes which call North America home. What brought us all together? The advanced mosquito identification and certification course offered by the Florida Medical Entomology Lab in Vero Beach, Florida.

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Toxorhynchites, one of the “good guys”. These mosquitoes won’t bite you, and their larvae are predators on other container-inhabiting mosquito larvae. Photo by Andrew Chaulk.

First offered in 2000 as a training course for mosquito control personnel in Florida, the course has since opened its doors, inviting students from across the United States and internationally. This year’s class comprised of 21 students, four of which were Canadian (including myself, Kate Bassett – a fellow Master’s student, and our supervisor, Dr. Tom Chapman), and one student had travelled all the way from Nigeria to receive this internationally recognized accreditation.  Led primarily by Dr. Roxanne Connelly, a Louisiana born entomologist who specializes in mosquito biology and mosquito borne diseases, the course is the only one of its kind and covers the principles and skills needed to identify all known mosquito species in North America north of Mexico in a fast-paced and in-depth manner. The taxonomically based course is divided into two sections, with the first week covering adult mosquito keys, and the second, taught by retired entomologist George O’Meara, covers the larval keys.

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George O’ Meara leading the class. Photo by Tom Chapman.

Having come all the way from St. John’s Newfoundland, we arrived in Vero Beach to a wonderful break from our typical early spring weather. The course, which ran from March 3rd to 14th, began with some brief introductions and a tour of the FMEL property before getting down to business. Each section of the course comprised of four days of instruction and practice with the keys followed by one morning of exams – one written and practical exam per section. The in class material was often broken up by opportunities to use a wide variety of mosquito collection methods. Demonstrations were also provided concerning methods of specimen preparation and during one such demonstration I was even given the opportunity to show the class how minuten pins are used since this method is not commonly used at the FMEL. Overall, while the learning curve for the course was rather steep and the instruction fast paced, there was an interesting combination of anxiety and comfort brought about by the very friendly and supportive atmosphere which I think created an excellent learning experience.

 

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Greg Ross demonstrates some of the trapping and surveillance equipment, including lard can traps and CDC light traps. Photo by Andrew Chaulk.

Reflecting on my experience after returning to the snowy St. John’s, one unexpected yet valuable aspect of the course I took home with me was learning about the variety of backgrounds my peers had come from and how these all culminated in our taking the course together. From graduate students to naval officers, and mosquito control employees to research and medical scientists, our class was quite an interesting mix. While the foundation for my own interest in mosquitoes stems from my work for a graduate degree in biology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, I now have a much broader perspective on the amount of effort and resources that are invested in mosquito research and control.

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Students work with FMEL’s teaching collection, which is extensive. Photo by Tom Chapman.

Taking everything into account, I see this course as being one of the most valuable experiences of my graduate experience to date. Still in the first year of a Master’s degree I am working on a project centered on the mosquitoes of our province. I am concerned with questions surrounding the biodiversity of these insects in our province, their ecology and behaviour, as well as identifying possible introduction pathways of novel species. Being able to see firsthand what the results of research in this area can develop into has provided perspective for my own project and also has given me ideas of where my research can take me in the future. My expectations for this course were well exceeded and I would recommend this course to anyone who is working with these insects in any aspect.

If you would like some more information concerning course content and registration for next year’s class please visit here.

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Identifying Termite Damage in Canada

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Portrait of a house-killer: The eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes is commonly found in homes. Photo courtesy of USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program/ by Sam Droege.

The following post is by Ben Friedson, an student of Biology at George Washington University

 

Termites are often thought to infest only tropical or temperate areas. In fact, they thrive in most parts of southern Canada, especially along the coasts. They are commonly found in large cities like Toronto or Ottawa. The most common type of termite to infest Canadian homes is the subterranean termite (in the East, Reticulitermes flavipes, in the West, Reticulitermes hesperus).

A mobile problem: Subterranean termites about to swarm. Photo by Ben Friedson.

A mobile problem: Subterranean termites about to swarm. Photo by Ben Friedson.

Subterranean termites spend most of their lives underground, in colonies with up to 2 million members (depending on the species). In the spring, subterranean termites swarm when groups of reproductive termites go off to start new colonies. They feed on the wood of a home or building, targeting wooden floors, furnishings, window frames, doors, wall paneling and much more. As termites rarely show themselves in the open, infestations can be difficult to detect until damage becomes severe.

When inspecting your home for termite damage, look to identify at least one of the following:

Mud Tubes

If subterranean termites spend too much time above the ground, their bodies begin to dry out and they die. To avoid this, termite workers make mud tubes along the surfaces of walls, fences, tree trunks or steps so they can work and eat in the comfort of moist ground.

Termite mud tubes look as if someone has painted long thin lines on your home with dirt. Dry tubes are old tubes. Old tubes may indicate that the termites are still residing in your home. If you scrape open a moist mud tube, you may see the termites at work.

The most common places to find subterranean termites in a home are basements, garages or any other room on the ground floor.

Hollow Sounding Wood

All termites make tunnels through many types of substances like wood, mulch and drywall. Eventually, the internal structure of the material becomes so riddled with tunnels that it collapses. This is why it is so important to spot termites early, before severe damage occurs.

Unfortunately, you need X-ray vision in order to see the tunnels. However, you can determine the presence of tunnels by knocking on walls, steps or anywhere you suspect termites might be. If you tap a surface and it sounds hollow, this may be an indication of termite tunnels.

 

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How bad it can get: Subterranean Termite damage in a structure. Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board.

Spots of Damage

Another sign of termite damage is when you see strange spots or stripes on the surface of wooden items throughout the home such as steps, walls, window frames, doorways and furniture. Inspect your home in search of wood surface that appear discolored, warped or bubbling.

If you notice hollow spots on wood surfaces, the termites have eaten just about everything under a thin surface layer. Flakes of paint, wallpaper or plaster on the floor is a big indicator that hollow spots exist. Beware; termites can actually fall out of these spots, at times.

As home owners, you can prevent termite infestations by stopping any sources of moisture that would attract termites. In addition, you must ensure that landscapes are kept clean and neatly trimmed. Be sure that no trees are coming in contact with building walls. Firewood must be stored away from a building and kept dry.

Termite damage is a frustrating problem as it harms valuable property that must be repaired if it is neglected for too long. Contact an experience pest control company, immediately, if you suspect a termite infestation in your home.

Author Bio: Ben Friedson is  a junior at George Washington University in Washington, DC, pursuing a BSc in Biology with a concentration in Entomology. He recently spent a semester studying at the University of Alberta, where courses in ecology heightened his interest in pest management and conservation issues.

Subterranean termites ready to swarm. Photo courtesy of Tom Murray.

Subterranean termites ready to swarm. Photo courtesy of Tom Murray.

 

 

 

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Green and red for the holidays

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This season is full of green and red decorations, and exhortations about family, so I thought I would share this lovely family portrait of some 1st instar stink bugs exemplifying the togetherness of the holiday season. I found this family group in Fort Pierce, Florida on the underside of a Brazilian Peppertree leaf. Schinus terebinthefolius is an invasive plant brought in as an ornamental for its beautiful red berries and evergreen leaves (and used in Christmas decorations!). Not surprisingly, entomologists are on the lookout for a insect-based solution for peppertree control!

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Insects as works of art

Many of us appreciate insects, spiders and other arthropods for more than just their scientific, biological or ecological value: they also have an aesthetic that some of us find irresistible, inspiring us to capture them in photographs or in paintings rather than sweep nets or aspirators.

For this special feature, we interviewed Elizabeth Goluch, a Halifax artist, and asked her about her breathtaking insect sculptures.

PRAYING MANTIS
Sterling silver, copper, 14K & 18K gold
18.5″l x 12″w x 9.5″h

ESCBlog: Please tell us a little bit about your background – where you grew up, when you started doing art, where you did your formal training.

EG: I grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario.  I have been making drawings and objects for as long as I can remember.

I took summer drawing classes at the University of Western Ontario, after which I acquired my BFA in 1976 at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.  However, my major was in Painting.  Much later, around 1997, I learned to solder by taking continuing education classes at NSCAD.  I also became a member of the Metal Arts Guild of Nova Scotia which is a Guild in the traditional sense.  If you wish to learn a certain skill, you have only to ask and another member will provide the help that you need.  Over time, I enrolled in several summer sessions at Haystack Mountain School of Craft thereby acquiring additional metalsmithing skills.  So I would have to say that I have had little formal training in working with metal and am, for the most part, self-taught.

ESCBlog: Why insects? Have you always been interested in insects as subjects for your art?

EG: Insects have always attracted me.  As a child I collected and examined dead insects, seeing them as objects of beauty.  An early memory is one of drawing page after page of spiders which gave me a great sense of satisfaction.

TARANTULA
Sterling silver, 14k & 18k gold, tourmaline
7.25″l x 8″w x 2.25″h

ESCBlog: Most of your sculptures have movable parts; many contain hidden trinkets that can be removed and even worn as jewellery.  Tell us about this choice to include interactive components.

EG: When I first began to make metal insect sculptures, I concentrated on the insect form.  Over time, I realized that I wanted to add another dimension to each sculpture which resulted in the secret compartments containing hidden treasure.

ESCBlog: Although your pieces are incredibly lifelike, they also include many whimsical elements (a children’s poem enacted in a lady beetle) and often embrace word-play (e.g., the violin beetle).  Tell us about your choice to blend the realistic with the fantastical.

EG: As my work has grown I have come to realize that, as much as I enjoy accuracy in building the body parts of each insect, I am also interested in telling the story of the insect.  This is accomplished by including information about the insect’s life, lore and environment in the decorative details and secret spaces, increasingly important elements of each work.

ESCBlog: Insects are so often portrayed as something dark and sinister – something to fear. Your work, however turns insects and spiders into precious things made of gold, silver, pearls and gemstones. Can you talk a bit about your choice of materials in your pieces?

EG: Conversely, I have always seen insects as living jewels. However, I enjoy the combination of fear and attraction engendered in the viewer by the juxtaposition of the subject matter (insects) and the richness of the materials used (gold, silver, gemstones) in the making of the object.

ESCBlog: You’ve tackled many different types of insects, and even arachnids, in your work. Is there anything you haven’t attempted to sculpt yet that you’d like to?

EG: There are so many insects in the world that I can’t imagine ever running out of options for the next piece.

(However, I must confess that after repeated requests, I recently completed a commission that was not an insect.  I made a Snail which turned out to be one of the most complex pieces that I have made to date.  It will appear on my website in the near future.)

ESCBlog: Do you have a favorite piece? If so, why is it your favorite?

EG: I can’t say that I have one favourite piece.  What I will say is that I enjoy the increasing complexity of story and detail incorporated in each new piece.

LADYBUG
sterling silver, 18k gold, garnets, enamel, ceramit
4.75″l x 3.75″w x 2″h

ESCBlog: Can people purchase the work your have shown on your website? Do you ever do commissioned pieces?

EG: Much of the work on my website has been sold or was a commissioned piece.  I have, on occasion, made a second or third version of one insect (Dragonfly, LadyBug). However, no two pieces are ever the same, each differing in size, details and story.

ESCBlog: Is there anything else we should know about you or your work?

EG: I have won numerous awards including Finalist for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award, the Frank Phillips Award for Excellence in Craftsmanship,  Best in Show in many Metal Arts Guild of Nova Scotia Competitions/Exhibitions, grants from the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, and from the Canada Council for the Arts.

My work has been exhibited internationally, including the 2009 Cheongju International Craft Biennale in South Korea where Canada was invited as the guest country, the Cultural Olympiad in the Museum of Vancouver BC to coincide with the 2010 Olympics, Cesky Krumlov in the Wenceslas Cellars of the State Castle of the Czech Republic, SOFA New York and the Mary E. Black Gallery in Halifax NS.  One of my works was included in the Metal Arts Guild of Canada Exhibition in Print 2011 curated by Gloria Hickey.

My sculptures can be found in public and private collections in Canada, the USA, Denmark, Australia, Turkey and Hong Kong.

I have given lectures in Halifax at the Joint Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Entomological Society & the Acadian Entomological Society and at NSCAD, in South Korea at the 2009 Cheongju International Biennale, in New York at SOFA, and in Cornwall ON as the keynote speaker at the Artpreneur Conference.

I sit on the Exhibition Review Committee of the Mary E. Black Gallery Halifax NS and on the Standards Committee of the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council.

ESCBlog: Where can we go to see some of your work?

EG: My work will be included in upcoming exhibitions at the Mary E. Black Gallery Halifax NS and at The Rooms Provincial Gallery in St. John’s NL, both of which will subsequently travel across Canada.

I am in the Studio Rally Map and will participate in the upcoming Studio Rally Weekend.
Dates:  Saturday September 29th and Sunday September 30th
Hours:  10:00 am to 5:00 pm – by chance or appointment
more info:  www.StudioRally.ca

BUMBLEBEE
Sterling silver, 14K & 18K gold
7″l x 7″w x 4″h

If you’d like to reach Elizabeth, here is her contact information:
Website:  www.elizabethgoluch.com
email:  e@elizabethgoluch.com
Representation:  Mobilia Gallery,Cambridge/Boston MA.

Availability in Halifax:  my Studio – 6913 Tupper Grove, Halifax, NS.

Visitors & commissions welcome.
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Do you know any other incredible Canadian artists who feature insects in their work? We’d love to hear about it?