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Dangerous caterpillars

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The following is a guest post by Emma DesPland

Last week the CBC contacted me about an “infestation” of caterpillars near a local sports and community centre, citing parents’ concern that these could be dangerous for their children.

I was surprised.

The pine (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) and oak (T. processionea) processionary caterpillars do have a genuine claim to being a public health hazard: the later instars are covered with barbed setae containing an urticating toxin. These setae break off readily on contact and can even become airborne: if they lodge in the skin, they can cause a rash, but if they contact the eyes or throat the allergic response can be more serious.

Both are Mediterranean species that are expanding their range and causing concern in Northern Europe among people without prior experience.  Neither has been reported in North America.

There are several species of hairy caterpillars in Quebec: Eastern tent caterpillars, forest tent caterpillars, gypsy moth and woolly bears among the most common.   None have the allergenic properties of processionary caterpillars.

So what were these caterpillars invading the community centre? Forest tent caterpillars (Malacosoma disstria) and gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar).  Neither has any history of causing allergies or any other health consequences, except for possibly causing abortions in mares who eat large numbers of them.

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Gypsy moth caterpillar, one of the species found in the community centre. Photo by Brad Smith, used under terms of a Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0 Licence.

I have handled forest tent caterpillars for years, as have many other researchers, the students in my lab as well as my own children. We have also given hands-on science exhibits, in which countless other children have handled them. Fitzgerald’s classic 1995 book The Tent Caterpillars contains a chapter on “Maintaining Colonies and Suggestions for Classroom Activities”.  No-one to my knowledge has had an allergic reaction.

Does this mean that it is impossible that someone be allergic to the hairs on these caterpillars? Of course not, allergies are very diverse, widespread, complex and poorly understood.  Some people are allergic to laundry detergent, others to strawberries.

Are there any benefits to be gained by children handling caterpillars? First, it’s hard to stop them.  Children are curious and intrigued by the world around them, and caterpillars are ideal experimental subjects: they move and do interesting things, but not too fast.  They can be herded and driven across bridges, housed in jars and passed from one finger to the next, but never entirely controlled as they generally manage to escape somehow.  This kind of non-directed, curiosity-driven play is just the sort that develops scientific thinking. In addition, spending time with nature calms people, children and adults alike, and helps them recover from stress. Finally, conservation ethics – a feeling that the natural word is precious and deserves protection for its own sake – develops in childhood, through non-directed play in nature.  A type of play that is becoming less and less accessible for an increasing number of city-dwelling children.

Instilling fear of the natural world – fear of even something as cute, slightly ridiculous and totally innocuous-looking as a fuzzy caterpillar – cannot be a good way to go,  in a world that increasingly needs calm, unstressed people with conservation ethics.

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Canadian Entomology Research Roundup: September 2015 – January 2016

(version française)

As part of a continuing series of Canadian Entomology Research Roundups, here’s what some Canadian entomology grad students have been up to lately:

From the authors:

Finn Hamilton (University of Victoria)

It is now well known that the majority of insects host symbiotic bacteria that have profound consequences for host biology. In some cases, these symbioses can protect hosts against virulent parasites and pathogens, although in most cases it remains unclear how symbionts achieve this defense. In this paper, we show that a strain of the bacterium Spiroplasma that protects its Drosophila host against a virulent nematode parasite encodes a protein toxin. This toxin appears to attack the nematode host during Spiroplasma-mediated defense, representing one of the clearest demonstrations to date of mechanisms underpinning insect defensive symbiosis. Article link

Drosophila

This is a Drosophila falleni fly infected by the nematode, Howardula aoronymphium, which Spiroplasma protects against. Photo credit: Finn Hamilton.

Lucas Roscoe (University of Toronto)

The Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, EAB) is a buprestid pest of ash trees in North America. As part of the development of long-term management plans for EAB, several projects detailing the biology and ecology of poorly-known, yet indigenous parasitoids associated with EAB were initiated. One project concerned the mating sequences of the chalcidid parasitoid, Phasgonophora sulcata Westwood. Many insects undertake repeatable actions prior to mating. These are commonly mediated by pheromones. The results of this research were the description of the mating sequence of P. sulcata, and evidence of female-produced pheromones that initiate these actions. Article link

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Phasgonophora sulcata, an important parasitoid of the emerald ash borer. Photo credit: Lucas Roscoe.

Marla Schwarzfeld (University of Alberta)

The parasitic wasp genus Ophion (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) is almost entirely unknown in the Nearctic region, with the vast majority of species undescribed. In this study, we published the first molecular phylogeny of the genus, based on COI, ITS2, and 28S gene regions. While focusing on Nearctic specimens, we also included representatives of most known species from the western Palearctic region and several sequences from other geographical regions. We delimited 13 species groups, most recognized for the first time in this study. This phylogeny will provide an essential framework that will hopefully inspire taxonomists to divide and conquer (and describe!) new species in this morphologically challenging genus. Article link

Ophion

A parasitoid wasp in the genus Ophion. Photo credit: Andrea Jackson

Seung-Il Lee (University of Alberta)

Seung-Il Lee and his colleagues (University of Alberta) found that large retention patches (> 3.33 ha) minimize negative edge effects on saproxylic beetle assemblages in boreal white spruce stands. Article link    Blog post

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A saproxylic beetle, Peltis fraterna. Photo credit: Seung-Il Lee.

Paul Abram (Université de Montréal)

The relationship between insect body size and life history traits (e.g. longevity, fecundity) has been extensively studied, but the additional effect of body size on behavioural traits is less well known. Using the egg parasitoid Telenomus podisi Ashmead (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) and three of its stink bug host species as a model system, we showed that body size differences were associated with a change in a suite of not only life history parameters (longevity, egg load, egg size), but also several behavioural traits (walking speed, oviposition rate, host marking speed). Our results highlight how the entire phenotype (behaviour and life history) has to be considered when assessing associations between body size and fitness. Article link

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The parasitoid Telenomus podisi parasitizing eggs of the stink bug Podisus maculiventris. Photo credit: Leslie Abram.

Delyle Polet (University of Alberta)

Insect wings often have directional roughness elements- like hairs and scales- that shed water droplets along the grain, but why are these elements not always pointing in the same direction? We proposed that three strategies are at play. Droplets should be (1) shed away from the body, (2) shed as quickly as possible and (3) forced out of “valleys” formed between wing veins. A mathematical model combining these three strategies fits the orientation of hairs on a March fly wing (Penthetria heteroptera) quite well, and could readily be applied to other species or bioinspired materials. Article link

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Hairs on a March fly (Penthetria heteroptera) wing. Photo credit: Delyle Polet.

In-brief research summaries

Taxonomy, Systematics, and Morphology

Thomas Onuferko from the Packer Lab at York University and colleagues carried out an extensive survey of bee species in Niagara Region, Ontario. Onuferko et al. collected over 50 000 bees and discovered 30 species previously not recorded in the area. Article link

Christine Barrie and colleague report the Chloropidae flies associated with common reed (Phragmites) in Canada. Article link

 Behaviour and Ecology 

Blake Anderson (McMaster University) and colleagues investigates the decoupling hypothesis of social behaviour and activity in larval and adult fruit flies. Article link

Susan Anthony from the Sinclair Lab at Western University, along with Chris Buddle (McGill University), determined the Beringian pseudoscorpion can tolerate of both cold temperatures and immersion. Article link

A study by Fanny Maure (Université de Montréal) shows that the nutritional status of a host, the spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculata), influences host fate and parasitoid fitness. Article link

Is connectivity the key? From the Buddle and Bennett Labs at McGill University and the James Lab at (Université de Montréal), Dorothy Maguire (McGill University) and colleagues use landscape connectivity and insect herbivory to propose a framework that examines that tradeoffs associated with ecosystem services. Article link

 Alvaro Fuentealba (Université Laval) and colleague discovered that different host tree species show varying natural resistance to spruce budworm. Article link

Insect and Pest Management

Rachel Rix (Dalhousie University) et al. observed that mild insecticide stress can increase reproduction and help aphids better cope with subsequent stress. Article link

Lindsey Goudis (University of Guelph) and others found that the best way to control western bean cutworm is to apply lambda-cyhalothrin and chlorantraniliprole 4 to 18 day after 50 % egg hatch. Article link

Matthew Nunn (Acadia University) and colleague document the diversity and densities of important pest species of wild blueberries in Nova Scotia. Article link

Physiology and Genetics

Does heterozygosity improve symmetry in the Chilean bee, Xeromelissa rozeni? Margarita Miklasevskaja (York University) and colleague tested this hypothesis in their recent paper. Article link

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A Chilean male Xeromelissa rozeni. Photo credit: Margarita Miklasevskaja.

Recent University of Alberta graduate Jasmine Janes and others explored the mating systems and fine-scale spatial genetic structure for effective management of mountain pine beetle. Article link

Also from the Sperling Lab at the University of Alberta, Julian Dupuis and Felix Sperling examined the complex interaction of hybridization and speciation. They characterized potential hybridization in a species group of swallowtail butterflies. Article link

Marina Defferrari (University of Toronto) and colleagues identified new insulin-like peptides in Rhodnius prolixus and that these peptides are involved in the metabolic homeostasis of lipids and carbohydrates. Article link

Techniques

Crystal Ernst (McGill University) and colleague sampled beetles and spiders in different northern habitats. They found that the diversity of beetles and spiders are affected by habitat and trap type. Article link

 


We are continuing to help publicize graduate student publications to the wider entomological community through our Research Roundup. If you published an article recently and would like it featured, e-mail us at entsoccan.students@gmail.com. You can also send us photos and short descriptions of your research, to appear in a later edition of the research roundup.

For regular updates on new Canadian entomological research, you can join the ESC Students Facebook page or follow us on Twitter @esc_students.

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Rassemblement de la recherche entomologique canadienne: Septembre 2015 – Janvier 2016

(English version here)

Cet article fait partie d’une série continue de rassemblement de la recherche entomologique canadienne (Canadian Entomology Research Roundups). Voici ce que les étudiants de cycle supérieur canadiens ont fait récemment:

De la part des auteurs:

Finn Hamilton (University of Victoria)

C’est bien connu que la majorité des insectes sont hôtes à des bactéries symbiotiques qui ont de profondes conséquences sur la biologie de l’hôte. Dans certains cas, ces symbioses peuvent protéger l’hôte contre de virulents parasites et pathogens, même si dans la plupart des cas planent encore un mystère sur la façon dont les symbionts réussissent à atteindre cette défense. Dans cet article, nous avons démontré qu’une souche de la bactérie Spiroplasma qui protège son hôte drosophile contre un nématode parasitaire virulent encode une toxine sous forme de protéine. Cette toxine semble attaquer l’hôte du nématode durant une défense induite par Spiroplasma. Ceci représente, à ce jour, une des démonstrations les plus claires des mécanismes sous-jacents de la symbiose promouvant la défense des insectes. Lien vers l’article

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Voici une mouche Drosophila falleni infecté par le nematode, Howardula aoronymphium, dont Spiroplasma  la protège. Crédit phot: Finn Hamilton.

Lucas Roscoe (University of Toronto)

L’agrile du frêne (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) est un buprestide ravageur s’attaquant aux frênes d’Amérique du Nord. Dans l’optique du développement de plans de gestion à long-terme de l’agrile du frêne, plusieurs projets détaillant la biologie et l’écologie de parasitoïdes indigènes peu étudiés auparavant ont été amorcés. Un des projets s’intéresse à la séquence de reproduction d’un parasitoïde, Phasgonophora sulcata Westwood. Plusieurs insectes entreprennent des actions répétées avant la reproduction qui sont souvent induites par des phéromones. Les résultats de cette étude sont la description de la séquence de reproduction de P. sulcata et la preuve que les phéromones produites par les femelles sont à la base de ses actions. Liens vers l’article

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Phasgonophora sulcata, un parasitoïde important de l’agrile du frêne. Crédit photo: Lucas Roscoe.

Marla Schwarzfeld (University of Alberta)

Les guêpes parasitiques du genre Ophion (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) sont presqu’entièrement inconnu dans la région Néarctique, où la majorité des espèces ne sont pas décrites. Dans cette étude, nous publions la première phylogénie moléculaire de ce genre, basé sur les régions COI, ITS2, and 28S. Bien que nous mettions l’accent sur les spécimens Néarctique, nous avons aussi inclus des représentants des espèces les plus connus de de l’ouest de la région Paléarctique et plusieurs séquences d’autre régions géographiques. Nous avons délimités 13 groupes d’espèces, la plupart étant reconnu pour la première fois dans cette étude. Cette phylogénie nous fournit un cadre essentiel qui pourra, nous espérons, inspirer les taxonomistes à divisier et conquérir (et décrire!) de nouvelles espèces dans ce genre qui présente de grands défis morphologiques. Liens vers l’article

Ophion

A parasitoid wasp in the genus Ophion. Photo credit: Andrea Jackson

Seung-Il Lee (University of Alberta)

Seung-Il Lee et ses collègues (University of Alberta) ont trouvé que de larges territoires de rétention (> 3.33 ha) minimisent “l’effet de bordure” négatif sur les coléoptères saproxyliques dans les peuplements boréals d’épinette blanche. Liens vers l’article  Billet de blogue (EN)

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Un coléoptère saproxylique, Peltis fraterna. Crédit photo: Seung-Il Lee.

Paul Abram (Université de Montréal)

La relation entre la taille des insectes et certains traits distinctifs (tel que la longévité, la fécondité, …) a été largement étudié, mais l’effet additionnel de la taille sur les traits comportementales sont moins bien connus. En utilisant le parasitoïde d’oeuf  Telenomus podisi Ashmead (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) et trois de ses hôtes punaises comme système modèle, nous avons démontrés que la différence de taille était associé a un changement dans la plusieurs traits distinctifs (longévité, masse d’oeufs, taille des oeufs), mais aussi de certains traits comportementales (vitesse de marche, taux d’oviposition, taux de marquage des oeufs). Nos résultats mettent en relief comment la phénotype complet (comportement et traits distinctifs) doivent être considéré quand nous évaluons l’association entre la taille et la condition physique. Liens vers l’article

Telenomus

Le parasitoïde Telenomus podisi parasitisant les oeufs de la punaise Podisus maculiventris. Crédit photo: Leslie Abram.

Delyle Polet (University of Alberta)

Les ailes de insectes ont souvent des éléments directionnels rugueux – comme des poils et des écailles- qui perdent des gouttes d’eau dans le sens des éléments, mais pourquoi ces éléments ne pointent pas toujours dans la même direction? Nous avons proposé que trois stratégies sont en jeu. Les gouttes pourrait être (1) évacuer loin du corps, (2) être perdues aussi vite que possible et (3) évacuer de “vallées” formés entre les veines des ailes. Un modèle mathématique combinant trois de ces stratégies concorde avec l’orientation des poils sur un taon (Penthetria heteroptera) assez bien et pourrait être appliqué à d’autres espèces ou à des matériaux inspirés par la biologie. Liens vers l’article

Winghairs

Poils sur l’aile d’un taon (Penthetria heteroptera). Crédit photo: Delyle Polet.

Résumés bref de recherche

Taxonomie, Systématique, and Morphologie

Thomas Onuferko du laboratoire Packer à York University et ses collègues ont réalisé un vaste étude sur les espèces d’abeilles dans la région de Niagara, Ontario. Onuferko et al. ont collecté plus de 50 000 abeilles et ont découvert 30 espèces qui n’avait pas été rapporté dans la région. Liens vers l’article

Christine Barrie et ses collègues ont signalé que des mouches de la famille Chloropidae sont associés aux phragmites au Canada. Lien vers l’article

Comportment et écologie

Blake Anderson (McMaster University) et ses collègues ont étudié l’hypothèse du découplage du comportement social et de l’activité dans les mouches larvaires et adultes. Lien vers l’article

Susan Anthony du laboratoire Sinclair à Western University, ainsi que Chris Buddle (McGill University), ont déterminé que le pseudoscorpion de Béringie peut tolérer tant les basses températures et l’immersion. Lien vers l’article

Une étude par Fanny Maure (Université de Montréal) démontre que le status nutritionnel d’un hôte, la coccinelle maculée (Coleomegilla maculata), influence le destin de l’hôte et condition physique du parasitoïde. Lien vers l’article

Est-ce que la connectivité est la clé? Des laboratoires Buddles et Bennet à l’Université McGill et du laboratoire James à l’Université de Montréal, Dorothy Maguire (Université McGill) et ses collègues ont utilisé la connectivité du paysage et les insectes herbivores pour proposer un cadre pour examiner les compromis associés aux services ecosystèmiques. Lien vers l’article

 Alvaro Fuentealba (Université Laval) et ses collègues ont découvert que différentes espèces d’arbres hôtes montrent des variations à la résistance naturelle à la tordeuse du bourgeon de l’épinette. Lien vers l’article

Gestion des insectes ravageurs

Rachel Rix (Dalhousie University) et al. ont observé qu’un stress modéré induit par l’insecticide pour augmenter la reproduction et aider les pucerons a mieux se débrouiller avec le stress subséquent. Lien vers l’article

Lindsey Goudis (University of Guelph) et ses collègues ont découvert que la meilleure façon de contrôler Striacosta albicota (Smith) est d’appliquer de la lamba-cyhalothrine de la chlorantraniprole 4 à 18 jours après l’éclosion de 50% des oeufs. Lien vers l’article

Matthew Nunn (Acadia University) et ses collègues ont documenté la diversité et densité d’importantes espèces ravageuses des bleuets sauvages en Nouvelle-Écosse. Lien vers l’article

Physiologie et génétique

Est-ce que l’heterozygositie améliore la symétrie de Xeromelissa rozeni?  Margarita Miklasevskaja (York University) et ses collègues ont testé cette hypothèse dans leur plus récent article. Lien vers l’article

Xeromelissa

Un male Xeromelissa rozeni. Crédit photo: Margarita Miklasevskaja.

Jasmine Janes, récemment graduée de University of Alberta, et d’autres ont exploré les systèmes de reproduction et de structure génétique à petite échelle pour la gestion efficace du Dendroctone du pin ponderosa. Lien vers l’article

Du laboratoire Sperling à University of Alberta, Julian Dupuis et Felix Sperling ont examiné l’interaction complexe de l’hybridation et de la spéciation. Ils ont caractérisé le potentiel d’hybridation dans un groupe de Papilonidae. Lien vers l’article

Marina Defferrari (University of Toronto) et ses collègues ont identifié un nouveau peptide similair à l’insuline dans Rhodnius prolixus. Ses peptides sont impliqués dans l’homéostasie métaboliques des lipides et carbohydrates. Lien vers l’article

Techniques

Crystal Ernst (McGill University) et ses collègues ont collecté des coléoptères et des araignées dans différents habitats du Nord. Ils ont trouvé que la diversité des coléoptères et des araignées par habitat et type de trappes. Lien vers l’article


Nous continuous à aider à divulguer les publications des étudiants de cycle supérieur à la plus vaste communauté entomologique grâce aux rassemblement de recherche. Si vous avez publié un article récemment et souhaitez le divulguer, envoyez-nous un email à entsoccan.students@gmail.com.  Vous pouvez aussi nous envoyer des photos et une courte description de votre recherche dans le but apparaître dans notre prochain rassemblement de recherche.

Pour des mises à jour régulières sur la nouvelle recherche entomologique canadienne, vous pouvez joindre la page Facebook de ESC Students ou nous suivre sur Twitter @esc_students (EN) ou @esc_students_fr (FR).

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The awesomeness of snakeflies

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If you are a fan of Canadian neuropteroids, your bucket list should include a trip out west to see one of our best selling points: the Raphidioptera, or snakeflies. The most common of these are in the genus Agulla, and this morning I found several female Agulla when out for a walk at Mt. Tolmie in Victoria.

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The way the pronotum curls around the anterior of the elongated thorax like a little jacket is strangely pleasing. 

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Snakeflies have a fully motile pupal stage, something I found out just the other day, finding this pupa in a decaying branch of Garry Oak. 

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Here is a freshly-emerged snakefly I found in Oregon a few weeks ago. Note how the wings appear milky and the antennae are not fully hardened. 

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I had hoped to catch these against a blazing orange dawn, but like so many dawns on the west coast, today was rather cloudy.

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Against the mossy bedrock of the Garry Oak meadow, the female snakefly blends in quite well. 

One of the most surprising things I have learned about snakeflies over the years is that the larvae have a very effective reverse locomotion that allows them to quickly back away from danger. Check it out:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGkoaRd4_fc&w=640&h=480]

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So if you are ever on the west coast at this time of year, please look for these awesome creatures. You will be glad you did. 

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Are you feeling lucky today? Is it possible to improve your “luck” in academia?

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Staffan with Graduate student Jeanne Robert, 2005. Jeanne went on to do a PhD at UBC, then came back to UNBC, where she worked as a post-doctoral fellow and then a Research coordinator for the UNBC NRESi Biodiversity Monitoring & Assessment Program. She is now the Regional Entomologist, Northern Region, for the BC Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources Operations, Prince George, BC. I was lucky to have a great graduate student. Was she lucky? Only through hard work!

 

The following is a guest post by Staffan Lindgren

When I was about 10 years old I won a competition in a hobby magazine, which landed me a nice race car track. Since then I have not won anything, really. Yet, I consider myself a lucky person, not only because of a great family life, but because opportunities have always seemed to pop up just when I needed them.  But looking back, I would say that my luck was in large part self-made. Over the years, I had made sure I had summer and temporary jobs that gave me appropriate experience, e.g., as a substitute teacher, forest regeneration surveyor, etc.

When I was doing my undergraduate degree in Sweden, the course offerings in the fall of 1973 were not to my liking, so I landed a job as a research assistant to a PhD student studying spiders. But the reason I did, was that I had a longstanding interest in spiders, so I had connected with the student long before that. For example, as a 12-year-old, I wrote to Professor Åke Holm, Uppsala University, after reading a newspaper article posted on a board in my English teachers classroom. Dr. Holm was then Sweden’s pre-eminent spider taxonomist, and had published my first spider book (Holm 1947). His kindness and encouragement has served as a model for me throughout my career. After I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I made a misguided attempt at a PhD  in medical endocrinology, studying testosterone secretion in rats. Apart from five small publications (Carstensen et al. 1976, Lindgren et al. 1976, Damber et al. 1977a, Damber et al. 1977b, Bergh et al. 1982), I came away with a bruised ego and a severe allergy to rats.

After my failed 2-year forage into mammal reproductive physiology, I realized that I needed to re-focus on my first love, which was entomology. The first thing I did was to contact (by which I mean that I wrote a letter ) Dr. Bertil Lekander, professor of forest entomology at the Royal College of Forestry, Stockholm, Sweden. He offered to take me on as a special interest student in the two forest entomology courses offered to future foresters. To make a long story short, this led to a life-long association, albeit informal, with Swedish forest entomologists. For example, I published my Master of Pest Management Professional Paper as a Forest Entomology report (which also has a long story associated with it, the main lesson of which is the old adage “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”), and I had the privilege of spending 6 months as a visiting scientist at SLU in Uppsala in 1993 thanks to the connections I made there. Nevertheless, a few courses did not lead to a specific job, so once that was done I was once again without a firm direction in life. Because I had made many friends and connections in the Department  of Ecological Zoology at Umeå University, in part through the spider job, but also through volunteering every spring and fall on an annual 4-day microtine rodent survey (Hörnfeldt et al. 1986) I got wind of a 4-month Teaching Assistant position in the Department of Health and Environment, which I was offered (notably in competition with another future entomologist, Anders N. Nilsson, who became a world authority on aquatic beetles). This position involved leading a class trip to the Soviet Union, among other things.

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Staffan with a nice rainbow trout from Wicheeda Lake, north of Prince George. Now this may have been luck, because I don’t work hard at my fishing skill!

At the end of that position, I had started the proceedings to go to Canada, which ultimately led me to where I am today. Again, this was not something that happened by accident. In 1968-69, I spent a year in central Michigan as a high school exchange student. This was an extremely formative experience for me. It made me confident that I could succeed in an English-speaking environment, and it shaped me politically (it was the height of the Vietnam War, two political assassinations , Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., had happened earlier in 1968), and there were significant racial tensions throughout the US. Anyway, I had become convinced that applied science was the only worthwhile pursuit in terms of education (see my earlier post here), and had found the Centre for Overseas Pest Research, a British organization. (Remember that there was no Google or internet, so all of this was done through libraries and by asking for information by mail). I received a letter back that they could only offer employment to “British subjects”, but they passed on a brochure about the Master of Pest Management program at Simon Fraser University. This seemed like the ticket to my future, so I wrote to SFU. The response was positive, so I decided to apply. But I needed funding. Fortunately for me, I managed to land a fellowship from the Sweden-America Foundation, and in combination with the relatively generous student loans from the Swedish Government, I all of a sudden found myself in a position to go to Canada! And the rest is history, as they say!

What does this history of my formative years have to do with luck? I truly believe that some people have more luck than others. When you buy a lottery ticket, the odds are fixed.  But in the job market, including academia, you can change the odds in your favour, at least to some degree. The points I take home from the experience I have accumulated over my career are:

  1. If people know you, they will pass on information that may lead to your big break.
  2. Treat people with respect, i.e., treat them the way you wish to be treated. If you are well liked and respected, it will make a difference when you are looking for references or recommendations. This is particularly important when dealing with workers. I found that by showing an interest in, and respect for, their experience and knowledge rather than acting superior, you gain their trust and respect, and they will welcome your opinion.
  3. Don’t hesitate to seek help or advice from professors, no matter how eminent or important they are. In entomology in particular, I have been amazed at the kindness and generosity I have encountered from people really had nothing to gain by responding or talking to me. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get a response, or one that makes you steer clear of that individual (which has yet to happen to me).
  4. We all have weaknesses. Work on them. I used to shake like a leaf when having to address an audience. Some of the best scientists and public speakers I know suffer from extreme nervousness, but they have learned to cope with it. If you suffer from nerve problems, seek help, or at least give yourself experience. There are tricks to help you, and you’d be amazed how experience helps!
  5. Never, ever pretend you know something you don’t. Honesty always pays off in my experience.
  6. Finally, and most importantly, follow your heart. If you are passionate about what you do, you are more likely (and able) to build experience, which in turn becomes as important, or more so, in a job interview.

These are some ways to “make you lucky”. Just like an athlete has to put time and effort into achieving their goals, we do as well.

Best of luck!

References

Bergh, A., J.-E. Damber, and S. Lindgren.  1982.  Compensatory hypertrophy of the Leydig cells in hemiorchidectomized adult rats.  Experientia 38:597-598.

Carstensen, H., S. Marklund, J.-E. Damber, B. Näsman, and S. Lindgren.  1976.  No effect of oxygen in vivo on plasma or testis testosterone in rats and no induction of superoxide dismutase.  Journal of Steroid Biochemistry 7:465-467.

Damber, J.-E., H. Carstensen, and S. Lindgren. 1977a. The effects of barbiturate anesthesia and laparotomy on testis and plasma testosterone in rats. J. Ster. Biochem. 8: 217-219.

Damber, J.-E., S. Lindgren, and B. Näsman.  1977b.  Testicular blood flow and oxygen tension in unilaterally orchidectomized rats.  Experientia 33:635.

Holm, Å. 1947. Svensk spindelfauna. 3, Egentliga spindlar. Araneae Fam. 8-10, Oxyopidae, Lycosidae och Pisauridae. Entomologiska Föreningen, Stockholm, Sweden.

Hörnfeldt, B., O. Löfgren, B.-G. Carlsson. 1986. Cycles in voles and small game in relation to variations in plant production indices in Northern Sweden. Oecologia (Berlin) 68:496–502

Lindgren, S., J.-E. Damber, and H. Carstensen.  1976.  Compensatory testosterone secretion in unilaterally orchidectomized rats.  Life Science 18:1203-1205.

 

 

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The excavator spider

Garden Apr 3 2016-2964 cropped

Guest post by Staffan Lindgren (@bslindgren)

The other day I was practicing macro photography (I am still learning after several years of erratic success at best, so please excuse the imperfections) trying to patiently wait out some Halictus sweat bees with my camera. The bees appeared to be much more patient than I was, however, by which I mean that they sat deep in their burrows, apparently staring me down. So I wandered around looking for other potential subjects to practice on. While examining another bee burrow, I saw a slight movement in the dirt in a spot about 10 cm from the bee burrow. A closer look revealed a very attractive wolf spider hiding in a small depression.  In spite of its gaudy colours (for a wolf spider) it was rather well camouflaged against the dirt. As I watched it, it started to move, and to my surprise picked up dirt and moved it to the edge of its little hiding spot. It remained in the depression and continued to modify it by moving dirt as I attempted to take some photographs.  From what I could tell, it looked as if it used its pedipalps to hold the dirt against the base of its chelicerae to move it, rather than only grabbing it between the chelicerae.

Garden Apr 3 2016-2964 cropped

I had no idea what species I was dealing with, so I went to the web to see if I could figure it out. It turned out to be Arctosa perita (Latreille, 1799), which confused me at first since it is a Eurasian species.  A quick check of Bennett et al. (2014) confirmed its presence. I also found the post “The mystery of the burrow-dwelling sand dune spider” about this species on Catherine Scott’s informative blog “Spiderbytes”, as usual illustrated by a number of excellent photographs by Sean McCann.  These sources confirmed that the spider occurs on Vancouver Island, and that it is a species known to make burrows.

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These spiders have some pretty good camouflage, as well as subtle but beautiful colours. Photo by Sean McCann.

Apparently A. perita was introduced in southwestern BC at some point, and it has spread enough that it now seems fairly common, at least in the southwest corner of the province. In fact, we have numerous introduced species of insects and other arthropods in BC, particularly in urban and rural areas. For example, the most commonly seen ground beetles are generally invasives, although we tend to not think of them as such because they don’t impact us directly. They probably do impact the native fauna to some extent, however, albeit not noticeable to our selfserving views. After all, even earthworms (which are almost entirely non-native in Canada) have been labelled harmful to native fauna in forest environments, at least (Addison 2009). Whether or not A. perita has any noticeable effect on native fauna is unknown, but it is an interesting addition to our Canadian fauna.

References

Addison,  J.A. 2009.    Distribution and impacts of invasive earthworms in Canadian forest ecosystems.     Biological Invasions. 11: 59-79.

Bennett, R., D. Blades, D. Buckle, C. Copley, D. Copley, C. Dondale, and R.C. West. 2014. Checklist of the spiders of British Columbia.  (Web) http://ibis.geog.ubc.ca/biodiversity/efauna/documents/BCspiderlistMay2014FINAL.pdf

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Musings about statistics by a statistics-phobe

By B. Staffan Lindgren, Professor Emeritus

A while back, a paper accepted by The American Statistician entitled “The ASA’s statement on p-values: context, process, and purpose” was posted to the American Statistical Association website. The gist of the paper was that many disciplines rely too much on the p-value as the sole indicator of research importance. Not surprisingly, the paper received considerable attention.

Over my career, I had a love-hate relationship with statistics, knowing just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to really understand what I was doing. Consequently I relied on packaged software and/or colleagues or students who were more quantitatively minded than myself. For example, I generally made sure that a graduate student committee had at least one member with some strength in statistics to make sure I would not leave the candidate stranded or led astray. So if you read my thoughts below, keep in mind that I tread on very thin ice here. I fully expect some disagreement on this, but that is the way it is supposed to be. Ultimately it is your responsibility to understand what you are doing.

The approaches and tools for statistical analysis have changed a lot since my student days, which was at the dawn of mainframe computers for general use, on which we could use a software package called Textform rather than typing the thesis on a type writer as I (read “a secretary I hired and almost drove to depression”) did for my masters. My first visit to a statistical consultant at Simon Fraser University ended with the advice that “This data set can’t be analyzed, it contains zero values.” The software of choice was SPSS, which did not allow for any complexity, so I did a fair bit by hand (which might have been a good thing since it forced me to think about what I was doing, but certainly did not prevent errors). Later in my career it was sometimes a struggle to decide among differing opinions of statisticians what was and was not appropriate to use, but with a little help from my friends I think I managed to negotiate most of the pitfalls (no pun intended) fairly well.

The author with his eponymous insect trap, sometime after struggles doing statistics with room-sized computers. Photo: Ron Long

The statistic-phobic author with his eponymous insect trap, preparing to gather data and test hypotheses. Photo: Ron Long.

One of the issues with our reliance on p-values is that it is tempting to do post-hoc “significance-hunting” by using a variety of approaches, rather than deciding a priori how to analyze the data. Data that show no significance often remains unpublished, leading to potential “publication bias”. In part this may be the result of journal policies (or reviewer bias), which tends to lead to rejection of papers reporting ‘negative’ results. We have also been trained to use an experiment-wise alpha of 0.05 or less, i.e., a significant result would be declared if the p-value is lower than 0.05. There are two problems with this. First, it is an arbitrary value in a sense, e.g., there really is no meaningful difference between p=0.049 and 0.051. Furthermore, the p-value does not really tell you anything about the importance of the result. All it can do is give some guidance regarding the interpretation of the results relative to the hypothesis. I have tried to make students put their research in context, because I believe the objective of the research may dictate whether or not a significant p-value is important or not. I used to work in industry, and one of the reasons I left was that recommendations I made based on research were not always acted upon. For example, pheromones of bark beetles are often synergized by various host volatiles. But whether or not they are may depend on environmental factors. For example, just after clear cutting the air is likely to have high levels of host volatiles, thus making any host volatile added to a trap ineffective. However, a company may make money by selling such volatiles, and hence they would tend to ignore any results that would lead to a loss of revenue. On the other hand, one could argue that they have the customers’ best interest in mind, because if host volatiles are important under some circumstances, it would be detrimental to remove them from the product.

This leads to my thoughts about the power of an analysis. The way I think of power is that it is a measure of the likelihood of finding a difference if it is there. There are two ways of increasing power that I can think of. One is to increase the number of replications, and the other is to use a higher alpha value. It is important to think about the consequence of an error. A Type I error is when significance is declared when there is none, while a Type II error is when no significance is found when in fact there is one. Which of these is most important is something we need to think about. For example, if you worked in conservation of a threatened species, and you found that a particular action to enhance survival resulted in a p-value of 0.07, would you be prepared to declare that action ineffective assuming that it wasn’t prohibitively expensive? If you have committed a Type II error, and discontinue the action, it could result in extinction of the threatened species. On the other hand, if you test a pesticide, would a significant value of 0.049 be enough to decide to pursue the expensive testing required for registration? If you have committed a Type I error, the product is not likely to succeed in the market place. If the potential market is small, which tends to be the case for behavioural chemicals, it may not be feasible to use this product because of the high cost, which has nothing to do with statistical analysis, but could be the overriding concern in determining the importance of the finding.

One area where the sole use of p-values can become very problematic is for regressions. The p-value only tells us whether or not the slope of the line is significantly different from zero, and therefore it becomes really important to look at how the data are distributed. An outlier can have a huge impact, for example (see figure). As an editor I saw many questionable regressions, e.g., with single points driving much of the effect, but which in the text were described as highly significant.

Fig. 1. An example of where a single point is driving a linear regression. Take it away and there is no apparent relationship at all. Figure from http://www.stat.yale.edu/Courses/1997-98/101/linreg.htm

Finally, we need to keep in mind that a significant p-value does not indicate certainty, but probability, i.e., at p=0.05, you would expect to get the same result 19 of 20 times, but that still means that the result could be the result of chance if you only ran the experiment once. (If you run a biological experiment that yields a p-value close to 0.05 a number of times, you would soon discover that it can be difficult to get the same outcome every time). Depending on the context, that may not be all that confidence inspiring. For example, if someone told you that there was only a 5% probability that you would be get seriously sick by eating a particular mushroom, wouldn’t that make you think twice about eating it?? On the other hand many of us will gladly shell out money to buy a 6/49 ticket even though the probability of winning anything at all is very low, let alone winning the jackpot, because in the end we are buying the dream of winning, and a loss is not that taxing (unless you gamble excessively of course). I consider odds of 1:8000 in a lottery really good, which they aren’t of course, evidenced by the fact that I have never won anything of substance! So relatively speaking, 1:20 is astronomically high if you think about it!

Why am I bothering to write this as a self-confessed statistics phobe? I have mainly to emphasize that you (and by “you” I primarily mean students engaged in independent research) need to think of statistics as a valuable tool, but not as the only, or even primary tool for interpreting results. Ultimately, it is the biological information that is important.

Dick Vockeroth and the CNC gang
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The Cobblestone Tiger Beetle

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Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. Photo by Stephen Krotzer, used with permission.

by Mischa Giasson

In 2008, l was asked to participate in a mark-release-recapture survey on the shores of Grand Lake, New Brunswick. My dad and I joined Fredericton entomologist Reggie Webster on a boat to visit three small sites among the rocky beaches surrounding the lake. We were searching for a rare, recently locally discovered beetle that is found nowhere else in Canada: the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. This experience was the first of many that lead me to the realisation that a career in entomology was an option, fueled by my life-long fascination with insects (and other creepy-crawlies).

The Cobblestone Tiger beetle (Cicindela marginipennis) is an insect in the sub-family Cicindellidae (Coleoptera: Carabidae). This small, pretty beetle is listed as Endangered and placed in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), which means that the species has been deemed at risk and that there has been development and implementation of protective and recovery measures.

There is no doubt that Tiger Beetles live up to their namesake as extremely beautiful, but equally deadly predators. These beetles run down their prey by sprinting in short, quick bursts. In fact, they run at such high speeds that they temporarily go blind! One species has been recorded moving at 9 km/hr, which is almost 54 times its body length per second. Their antennae are used to prevent any collisions while sprinting and they have a very short reaction time, but they must make frequent stops to take in their surroundings and make sure they’re on the right track.

Both the adults and larvae are predators, the larvae employing a sit-and-wait approach: they wait in ambush from small vertical burrows in the ground, striking out at lightning speed to catch any prey that passes nearby. Prey consists of other insects as well as spiders, which stand no chance against the huge mandibles of the Tiger Beetle. The Cobblestone Tiger Beetle can be distinguished from other Tiger Beetles by the smooth, continuous cream-coloured border along the outer edges of the elytra and by a bright orange/red abdomen that is visible when the beetle is in flight. Their overall colour is most often a dark chocolatey brown, but some metallic blue and green individuals have been observed in the New Brunswick populations.

 

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Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. Photo by Stephen Krotzer, used with permission.

The Cobblestone Tiger Beetle gets its name from its choice in habitat. The eight sites in New Brunswick where it can be found are all cobblestone beaches. This beetle is also found along major river systems in the United States, from Mississippi to Alabama and from Indiana through to New England. Populations are quite small, few and far between. The Canadian population was discovered in 2003 by Dwayne Sabine and is the only known population to also inhabit lakeshore sites, likely due to the riverine characteristics of Grand Lake. There are three known sites on Grand Lake, while the other five are on the shores of small islands in the Saint John River between Woodstock and Bath. These cobblestone habitats are unique to areas with yearly spring flooding which keeps the vegetation from spreading along the beach, maintaining the flat areas of gravel and sand between the stones which are necessary for the larvae to make their burrows. Not much is known of the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle’s specific life history, but it is assumed to be similar to that of other tiger beetle species. The beetles have a two-year life cycle: eggs are laid individually in the sand, where the larvae will hatch and make burrows. The larvae overwinter in their burrows, somehow surviving the spring floods and emerging as adults in June.

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Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. Photo by Stephen Krotzer, used with permission.

Due to their specific habitat requirements, Cobblestone Tiger Beetles are very vulnerable to environmental changes and disturbances. The biggest threat is habitat damage. In New Brunswick, the installation of the Mactaquac dam destroyed many suitable habitats both upstream and downstream. The small beetle populations are also quite vulnerable to over-collection by scientists and insect enthusiasts. The current concerns involve the use of off-road vehicles, as this leads to the alteration of suitable habitat and often directly leads to the death of many larvae present on the beaches. This threat applies mostly to the shores of Grand Lake, where there is increasing development and use of the beaches. The protective measures implemented include developing a stewardship plan, educating the local communities and encouraging their support and participation in the conservation of this special beetle. Decreasing human disturbance is the most important factor in ensuring the survival in our province of the already very small populations of the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle.

References

https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_cobblestone_tiger_beetle_e_final.pdf

http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=1031

Zurek, D. B., & Gilbert, C. (2014). Static antennae act as locomotory guides that compensate for visual motion blur in a diurnal, keen-eyed predator. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences281(1779): 20133072.

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The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumble Bee: A Species Endangered

 

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B. bohemicus male Image: Magne Flåten via wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0 (B. bohemicus female here)

By Zach DeLong

When people hear of endangered species they often think of large and impressive creatures like the Siberian Tiger or Panda Bear, but we often forget about the smaller, yet no less impressive species that need our help as well. The charmingly named Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee, or as scientists all it Bombus bohemicus, is a member of the family Apidae, in the order Hymenoptera. Though the Species at Risk Act (SARA) currently has no status for the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee, it has been recognized and listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The term “endangered” is a hot topic, but there may be confusion about what it truly means.  As defined by COSEWIC, an endangered species is “a wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction[1]”. In the case of the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee, this means the species is at risk of disappearing from the Canadian wilderness.

The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is an inquiline parasite of other types of bees, which means the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is a home invader. Normally such an invader would be attacked by the workers within the hive, but the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee produces a variety of chemicals which both disguise it as a member of the host species[2] and inhibit worker aggression towards the invader[3]. The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is a generalist parasite and is surprisingly able to successfully invade a number of different Canadian species, namely the Rusty-patched Bumblebee, the Yellow-banded Bumblebee, and the Western Bumblebee[4]. Once inside the nest the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee engages in a number of dominance behaviours to usurp the host queen, including ejecting host larvae from cells, eating host eggs and even outright attacking the host queen[5]. Coexistence with the host queen is preferable as her suppressor pheromones help control the workers who might otherwise attempt to become reproductively active themselves, so the invading Cuckoo Gypsy queen will often choose to shove or perform faux-stinging behaviour over outright killing her co-matriarch[5]. The Cuckoo Gypsy queen produces no workers of her own.  This means she relies on host workers to defend the nest, rear her young, and forage for food[2]. Instead, all her offspring are reproductive with a 1:1 female to male ratio[6]. Young Gypsy Cuckoo Bumblebees can be seen flying about and feeding on flowers while they wait for their reproductive organs to mature so they can begin looking for a mate and a suitable host nest to invade.

 

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Distribution of Cuckoo Gypsy Bumble Bee throughout North America. Image: COSEWIC

The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is widely distributed across a wide range in Canada, with individuals found in all provinces and territories except Nunavut[4], though populations are mostly concentrated in southern portions of Ontario and Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. Its decline across Canada has been attributed to a number of factors. It has been shown that a certain host density must be maintained for cuckoo bee parasites to be able to persist in a given area, and the general decline of bees throughout Canada has subsequently damaged Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee populations[4]. The mass spraying of crops with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, and the release of pathogen-carrying exotic bee species have impacted both cuckoo bees and host densities across Canada[4]. If we want the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee to recover, perhaps the best way is to make Canada a more bee friendly environment as a whole. If we address issues resulting in the decline of other bee species, we can provide the population density necessary to facilitate persistent cuckoo populations. Additionally, addressing factors such as pesticide usage and the introduction of foreign pathogens would have positive effect on Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebees as this would not only increase the population density of hosts, but also improve survival rates of Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebees themselves.

 

References

[1]Assessment Process, Categories and Guidelines. COSEWIC. 2005-06-15. 2015-07-08. http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct0/assessment_process_e.cfm#tbl5

[2]Kirsten Kreuter, Elfi Bunk, Anna Lückemeyer, Robert Twele, Wittko Francke, Manfred Ayasse(2012). How the social parasitic bumblebee Bombus bohemicus sneaks into power of reproduction. Behavioral Ecology and sociobiology, Vol 66, Issue 3, pp 475-486.

[3]Stephen J. Martin, Jonathan M. Carruthers, Paul H. Williams, Falko P. Drijfhout(2010). Host Specific Social Parasites (Psithyrus) Indicate Chemical Recognition System in Bumblebees. Journal of Chemical Ecology, Vol 36, Issue 8, pp 855-863.

[4]COSEWIC Wildlife Species Search: Bumble Bee, Gypsy Cuckoo | Bombus bohemicus. COSEWIC. 2002-10-21. 2011-11-07. http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct1/searchdetail_e.cfm?id=1232&StartRow=191&boxStatus=All&boxTaxonomic=All&location=1&change=All&board=All&commonName=&scienceName=&returnFlag=0&Page=20

[5]R. M. Fisher(1988). Observations on the behaviours of three European cuckoo bumble bee species (Psithyrus). Insectes Sociaux, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 341-354.

[6]Vergara, Carlos H. (2003). Suppression of ovarian development of Bombus terrestris workers by B. terrestris queens, Psithyrus vestalis and Psithyrus bohemicus females. Apidologie 34, pp 563–568

 

 

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The Skillet Clubtail Dragonfly: What you don’t know

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Fig. 1. Skillet Clubtail dragonfly adult; notice the distinctive “skillet” on tail. Photo Credit: David Marvin. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence. 

By Melody McLean

What if I told you that as a New Brunswicker, there are animals in danger of going extinct in your own backyard? Saying that, you’re probably thinking of a cute, fuzzy, little animal with big, sad eyes being displaced from its home.  Well, that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the Skillet Clubtail Dragonfly (Gomphus ventricosus), belonging to the insect order Odonata. This dragonfly currently has no status under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), but was the only arthropod classified in the 2010 COSEWIC (Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada) report as being endangered. Simply put, if we don’t do something, they could become extirpated[i] from Canada or even extinct.  When we hear about insects in our province, we often associate them with being pests, like spruce budworm, aphids, or disease spreading agents like mosquitos. But what we don’t often realize is that not all animals at risk of extinction are cute and fluffy. I’m here to shed some light on an underdog of the animal world, who could use a little help from us.

Insects-we can’t live with them; we can’t live without them.

  What you may not know is just how thankful we (myself included) should be for insects. They clean up after us, help to provide us with rich soil for our gardens, indirectly provide us with fresh food thanks to their pollination efforts; some, like dragonflies, even keep other insects from bugging us¾like our own personal pest control.

 

The Skillet Clubtail dragonfly is strikingly beautiful, with green, yellow, black and brown markings running along its thorax and abdomen; transparent wings; big dark green eyes; and a distinctive circular flare, resembling a skillet, at the tip of its tail (Fig. 1).

The Biology behind the Insect

The Skillet Clubtail’s  life cycle and biology is very similar to that of other dragonflies. The female lays her eggs by dipping her abdomen into the water to release them. Growing and developing, the shallowly burrowed nymphs take at least 2 years (possibly more) to develop before emerging. If conditions are right, usually in the latter 2 weeks of June, the dragonfly nymphs will find a “settle point” where the water is calm; they’ll climb up onto nearby vegetation to emerge synchronously[ii] as adults. Although the nymphs spend the majority of their lives in the water, the adults spend most of their lives around brush, fields, bogs and in the nearby canopy to forage for other insects.

Home of the Skillet Clubtail

 This stunning dragonfly is restricted to North America. In Canada, it is currently found only in a few select places along the Saint John River, specifically in the Fredericton region of New Brunswick.  Over 60 years ago, the Skillet Clubtail could be found in a few other locations in Canada, including Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec. But since there have been no recent sightings there, New Brunswick may be the last known Canadian location. The United States is running into similar problems with this insect too.  It was once found in Pennsylvania and New York but is likely extirpated from both of those areas. The U.S. range extends along the Red River Basin, running from Mississippi, Tennessee, Minnesota, to the northeastern limit in New Hampshire and Maine.

Habitat: Very Important

 This insect is in need of a specific and rare habitat type: a clean, large, slowly running body of water, with fine sediments and substrate, such as clay, silt, or sand, with nearby forested areas for cover. Many of these habitats are only found when the waters run through an area of rich soils, at a low gradient[iii].

99 Problems

 This is where problems arise, as the Skillet Clubtail’s habitat is often prime agricultural land, where possible pollution in the river can occur, and nutrient run-off becomes a concern. Keep in mind, agriculture runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, are not the only culprits behind river pollution. Accidental and illegal dumping, and everyday toxins such as oil, grease, road salt, contaminants from vehicle exhaust, lawn and garden chemicals, and other harmful substances, all have a tendency to wash off lawns and roadways down to rivers and waterways. This is especially relevant here in Fredericton as the Saint John River is considered to have “marginal” water quality. As this city is literally built on a hill, all that urban runoff must go somewhere.

Although pollution is likely a major factor to this species decline, there is also the problem of sea level rise. As the sea level rises, saline water travels further up stream into the rivers, changing the chemistry of the water. This is likely to impact freshwater aquatic wildlife, as most aquatic species cannot adapt to such rapid change in their habitat. Because the farthest population is just 5 km away from the saline water limit, this is a real possibility. It’s been discussed that the Skillet Clubtail populations further upstream on the Canaan River and Salmon River could be safe from saline influence. However it has also been speculated that the main Saint John River population acts as a metapopulation, supporting the other two populations by providing immigrating individuals to them.

It’s good to note that this species needs the surrounding forest, included in its habitat. Even though mass cuttings of forests in these locations are unlikely to happen right now, we should still keep in mind deforestation has the potential to affect not only the Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, but many other species as well.

 

Why should you care?

 

Maybe you’ve gotten through this whole article and decided that you don’t care about the Skillet Clubtail Dragonfly. That’s fine. But think of it this way: the things that are likely affecting this particular dragonfly should be of broader concern to us. Chemical runoff, deforestation, general pollution and rise in sea level don’t just affect this one dragonfly species; they affect everything living that comes in contact with them, including us. The best way to finding a solution to a problem is by better understanding it through increasing our knowledge.  Don’t be ignorant of the events happening in your community and environment. Take notice and do something about any detrimental events, like pollution, in your area. Dragonflies and other aquatic insects are great indicators of stream and river health, and not much is known about this particular dragonfly. So if you spot the Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, send your recordings and findings to your local Entomological Society. Many little changes have the potential to lead to one big change.

 

[i]  Extirpated: a species that was once found in an area but is no longer found there. This is different from extinction because you can still find that particular species of animal in other areas of the country or world, therefore not totally extinct just extirpated.

[ii] They all emerge at once over a short period of time.

[iii] Low gradient streams are associated with flattened stream beds, with slow moving water and gradual, less steep slopes of surrounding valley