A new invasive weevil that is turning berry buds into duds in British Columbia

By Michelle Franklin, Paul Abram, and Tracy Hueppelsheuser

 

Most of the weevils we find in raspberry and strawberry fields in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia (BC) are nocturnal, so you would be hard pressed to find adult weevils without venturing out at night with your headlamp or flashlight.  However, in 2019 a curious small black weevil was observed during the day in a backyard raspberry patch in Abbotsford, BC.

The first specimens of this weevil were collected by Provincial Entomologist and coauthor, Tracy Hueppelsheuser from the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and sent to taxonomists and co-authors, Dr. Patrice Bouchard from the Canadian National Collection and Dr. Robert Anderson from the Canadian Museum of Nature for their expert identification. It turned out that this weevil was indeed new to the Fraser Valley, BC.  This tiny (2.5 – 3mm), black, long nosed weevil was the strawberry blossom weevil, Anthonomus rubi, which is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. This was the first observation of this species in North America.

Strawberry blossom weevil is not just a pest of strawberries.  It is able to feed and reproduce on a wide variety of plants in the family Rosaceae, including other economically important berry crops such as raspberries and blackberries.  Adult weevils overwinter in the leaf litter and become active in the spring.  After mating, the female chews a hole inside a closed flower bud, lays her egg inside, and then clips the stem below, killing the bud and preventing fruit development.  The weevil larva then develops inside the bud and emerges as an adult about a month later when temperatures are warm in the summer.  In its native range, the weevil  completes a single generation each year.

I started my position as a research scientist in July 2020, specializing in small fruit entomology and Integrated Pest Management at the Agassiz Research and Development Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.  With help from Paul Abram (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), Tracy Hueppelsheuser (BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries), and crop consulting company, ES Cropconsult we hit the ground running, completing surveys in the Fraser Valley in the summer 2020 to determine the distribution and associated host plants of the strawberry blossom weevil.  We found adult weevils on cultivated plants (e.g. strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and rose) and wild hosts (e.g. salmonberry, thimbleberry, Himalayan blackberry, and wild rose).  Our survey found this species to be well established throughout the Fraser Valley from Richmond to Hope.

However, there is some good news for potential natural pest control.  Later during the summer we saw parasitoid wasps around weevil-damaged Himalayan blackberry buds.  We knew that some species of parasitoid wasps had the potential to be natural enemies of the weevil. Parasitoid wasps lay eggs on weevil larvae and their offspring often develop on the larvae resulting in their death. This behaviour has been successfully used as biological control of other weevil pests for decades. Hence, we initiated natural enemy surveys by collecting damaged buds from the field.  Although COVID protocols restricted lab access, I monitored damaged buds in my temporary laboratory (a.k.a home garage) and within a few weeks parasitoids emerged! Over the summer, we had over 150 parasitoids emerge from strawberry blossom weevil damaged buds. With the help of taxonomist and co-author, Dr. Gary Gibson from the Canadian National Collection, we identified the metallic-colored parasitoid to the genus Pteromalus. Future work is needed to identify the parasitoid to the species level, determine its origin (native to North America or inadvertently introduced from another continent), and determine its impact on strawberry blossom weevil populations.

I am continuing to work with my co-authors to understand the biology of this new pest and its natural enemies, with the goal of using this knowledge to develop sustainable pest management strategies in the future.  If you are interested in this new berry pest, please contact me at michelle.franklin@agr.gc.ca.

Free online access to article (until October 4, 2021): Click here

Links to information pages:

Strawberry blossom weevil – Anthonomus rubi Herbst – Canadian Food Inspection Agency (canada.ca)

Anthonomus rubi Detection in Canada Anthonomus rubi D tection au Canada | Phytosanitary Alert System (pestalerts.org)

Strawberry Blossom Weevil – Invasive Species Council of British Columbia (bcinvasives.ca)

Full article: https://doi.org/10.4039/tce.2021.28

Graduate Student Showcase 2021: Call for Applications

Graduate students are invited to apply to present their research at the Graduate Student Showcase (GSS), held during the Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Entomological Society of Ontario (Nov 15-18, 2021). The purpose of the GSS is to provide a high-profile opportunity for graduate students near the completion of their degrees to present a more in-depth overview of their thesis research.

Applicants to the GSS must:

  • have defended or plan to defend their thesis at a Canadian University within one year of the meeting
  • be the principal investigator and principal author of the presented work
  • be registered at the meeting

Eligible candidates who wish to be considered for the GSS must submit a complete application to students@esc-sec.ca, following the instructions below. Items 1-3 must be submitted in a single PDF file named in the format “FamilyName_GSSapplication.pdf”.

1) Submit a 250 word abstract describing the proposed presentation highlighting their work,

2) Submit a 1 page (single-spaced, 12 point) outline of their research, including rationale/significance, methodology, and results to date,

3) Include a CV that includes a list of previous conference presentations and other presentation experience.

4) Arrange to have the principal supervisor email a letter of support in a PDF file that confirms the anticipated or actual date of graduation and comments on the proposed presentation and the applicant’s presentation and research abilities. Please ask your supervisor to name the letter of support in the format “FamilyName_GSSLetterOfSupport.pdf”, where Family Name is the applicant’s family name.

In addition to the above materials, applicants are welcome – but by no means required – to submit supplementary information about any factors that may have influenced their application (e.g., factors that may have limited access to publication or presentation opportunities). Please note that the supplementary information will be considered confidential, being viewed exclusively by members of the Graduate Student Showcase Selection Committee.

The GSS application deadline falls on the same day as the annual meeting deadline for contributed talks. For the 2021 GSS, all application materials must be submitted by September 13, 2021. We will select up to four (4) recipients. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application. Unsuccessful applicants to the GSS will have their talks automatically moved to a President’s Prize Oral session.

Differences between the GSS and the President’s Prize (PP) Competition include:

  • The GSS will take place in its own dedicated time slot; there will be no conflicting talks!
  • Presenters in the GSS are given more time to speak about their research (28 minutes total, 25 for the presentation & 3 for questions)
  • Abstracts for talks presented in the GSS are published in the ESC Bulletin, an open access publication, received by all ESC members.
  • The selection process for the GSS is competitive (only selected students speak), compared to the PP where all students who enter speak but only one per category receives a prize.
  • All presenters in the GSS receive an honorarium of $200.

We encourage and welcome applications from all eligible individuals, especially those who identify with groups that are underrepresented in STEM and entomology. The Entomological Society of Canada values diversity in all its forms and seeks to represent the breadth of Canadian entomological research and researcher identities through its GSS. Supervisors, please encourage your students to apply and please help us to spread the word! Any questions can be directed to students@esc-sec.ca.

Matt Muzzatti and Rowan French
Co-Chairs of ESC’s Student and Early Professional Affairs Committee (SEPAC)

ESC members are invited to a participate in a research study on interference with environmental research in Canada conducted by a Master’s Thesis student from the School of Resource and Environment Studies, at Dalhousie University.

Purpose: To document scientists’ perceptions of their ability to conduct and communicate environmental research in Canada.

Eligibility: If you are currently working in Canada in the field of environmental studies or sciences, you will be asked to answer questions about your work, personal demographics (e.g., career stage, gender, etc.) and to recount any experiences with interference in your ability to conduct or communicate your work.
This survey is anonymous. It should take you 20 – 30 minutes to complete.

Impact: Results from this academic research will be presented at national fora on science policy and decision-making and could have policy implications that will directly affect your future work.

Incentive: Participants who complete the survey will have the option to provide their email address to enter a draw and win one of three $50 gift cards or donations to the organization of their choice. Email addresses will be collected separately from the survey to maintain anonymity in responses and will be kept confidential.

 

The deadline to complete the survey is on or before 11:59pm ADT on Sunday, August 15, 2021.

Follow this link to the Survey: Interference in Science Survey Link

Or copy and paste the URL below into your internet browser: https://rowebusiness.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_aeHh5GmYXUMfoXk

If you have questions or concerns, please contact the research team at woodlab@dal.ca.

Thank you very much. Your participation is important to us.

 

Sincerely,

Manjulika E. Robertson
on behalf of the Westwood Lab
School for Resource and Environment Studies
Dalhousie University, Halifax (K’jipuktuk), Nova Scotia

www.westwoodlab.ca || woodlab@dal.ca

Mating with castrated males induces females to oviposit

As I was picking up rotting fruit from the ground, a woman walked by and told me “pick the nice ones from the tree, you are going to get sick”. I was amused by her concern and explained that indeed I was looking for the rotting fruit. I was searching for the fly maggots that infest oranges and mangoes.

The Mexican fruit fly is a pest that can cause devastating effects for both small fruit farmers and exporters. Most people think of fruit flies as those pesky small flies around our ripening bananas, but those in reality are in the Family Drosophilidae, the vinegar fruit flies. The pests that I was looking for are called the true fruit flies and belong to the Family Tephritidae. The reason for this distinction is that the true fruit flies lay their eggs in fruits when they are still green on the tree, while the vinegar flies lay their eggs in ripening or rotting fruit. The eggs of the true fruit flies develop into maggots (larval flies) which eventually leave the fruit when it falls from the tree. Once on the ground, the maggots burrow into the soil and form a cocoon known as a pupa. Some species even have an unusual behaviour in which the maggots can coil and jump from the fruit into the soil. A few weeks later the adult emerges from the pupa; eats and matures sexually; mates; and then lay eggs into the fruit.

Some species from the Tephritidae are worldwide pests that cause huge losses in agriculture and commerce. Because no one wants to eat fruit with maggots inside, scientists have developed various control measures against these flies. One of the most successful and environmentally friendly means of control is called the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). This technique begins with mass-rearing of the insect in huge factories. Then the males are sterilized (so they cannot reproduce) and are released into the field where they will mate with the wild females. These mated females will not be able to lay fertile eggs in the fruit and so the number of flies in the next generation decreases. So SIT uses the pest as a type of its own “birth control” and reduces the use of harmful insecticides. By avoiding pesticide use, this method has the advantage of not targeting beneficial insects such as native bees.

For SIT to be effective, we need factory-produced males to be attractive to wild females and to successfully prevent the females from mating with other wild males that may be around. In my lab we are trying to understand how males that mate with females can cause the females to not mate with other males, and this has led us to studying the male ejaculate. It turns out that when males mate, they transfer to the female not just sperm, but a whole lot of other substances from the male accessory glands (MAGs). In many insects, these glands contain proteins that act as anti-aphrodisiacs, so that when females receive them after mating, they will not remate. The gland contents also stimulate the female of other species into laying more eggs. These are all very important behaviours when it comes to pests, as we do not want them to lay fertile eggs or mate again. The Mexican fruit fly has very complex male accessory glands, thus we are trying to find out what effect they have on the females. By injecting the contents of the MAGs into females, we observed that, contrary to what happens in other insects, they did not increase egg laying. So, the question still remains as to what the functions of Mexican fruit fly MAGs are.

Next, as the MAG contents do not increase egg laying, we wanted to find out about the whole ejaculate (MAG contents and sperm plus other components). Thus, we proceeded to cut the tip of the male penis (don´t worry they could still mate), so that they could not transfer any of their ejaculate. Surprisingly, we found that females that mated with these partially castrated males laid more eggs compared to virgin females that did not mate. This means that the internal and external aspects of the male copulatory courtship behavior that females receive during the mating is enough to stimulate them to lay eggs.

These results are important for two reasons: 1) studying MAGs can help us better develop control measures for these pests, with a better understanding on how mating affects female behaviour, and 2) we still know little about how various stimuli during mating affect female reproduction. As these are pests of economic importance to fruit growers, this knowledge will help us to further improve an environmentally friendly means of control.

–Diana Perez-Staples

 

Dear ESC members,

The ESC Science-Policy committee would like to draw your attention to the following call for expressions of interest for the Workshop on a Canadian Biodiversity Observation Network (CAN BON), due May 31st:

https://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Media-Media/NewsDetail-DetailNouvelles_eng.asp?ID=1252

This call is for interested members to be involved in a federally-funded workshop. The main objectives of this workshop will be to:

  • obtain initial information on the state of biodiversity monitoring in Canada and the resources currently available to support monitoring
  • identify ways that a CAN BON could support local, regional, national and international efforts to conserve and restore biodiversity, including meeting Canada’s international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • initiate an inclusive approach to the design and implementation of a CAN BON drawing on perspectives from Indigenous peoples, scientists, government, private and public sectors—for Indigenous peoples, the expectation is to pursue a co-development approach to CAN BON that would allow equitable and meaningful participation of Indigenous peoples and a weaving of traditional knowledge and Western science
    Eligible groups include Canadian institutes, networks, or teams (including federal, provincial and territorial government groups) who are currently undertaking significant biodiversity monitoring activities and related research

Given the diversity and abundance of terrestrial invertebrate species in Canada, the ESC Science-Policy committee would like to encourage as many eligible groups as possible from ESC membership to apply to attend this workshop. Invertebrates are often neglected in monitoring efforts and resource allocation and, by having more representation at this workshop, there may be an opportunity to advocate for better taxonomic coverage and consideration in the future.

If you do choose to apply, please fill out this google form so we can keep track of the number of groups applying that could represent terrestrial invertebrates at this workshop. These results will be used for internal ESC purposes only. https://forms.gle/pYBX7z7xMJapSnQq7

The 1st International Electronic Conference on Entomology (IECE)

A free virtual event held from 1st–15th July 2021

This event will solely be an online proceeding that allows participation from all over the world, with no concerns of travel or related expenditures, while at the same time, allowing the rapid dissemination of global advances in the study of insects among the entire scientific community. All proceedings will be held online at https://sciforum.net/conference/IECE.

Through this event, we aim to cover the following topics:

  • Systematics and Morphology
  • Genetics and Genomics
  • Biology, Behavior and Physiology
  • Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution
  • Pest Management
  • Forest and Urban Entomology
  • Medical and Veterinary Entomology
  • Apiculture and Pollinators

The conference is completely free of charge—both to attend and for scholars to upload and present their latest work on the conference platform.

IECE is a virtual conference sponsored by Insects (IF: 2.220, ISSN 2075-4450). Participation is free of charge for authors and attendees. The accepted papers will be published free of charge in the journal Proceedings of the conference itself.

IECE offers you the opportunity to participate in this international, scholarly conference without the concerns or expense of traveling—all you need is access to the Internet. We would like to invite you to “attend” this conference and present your latest work.

Abstracts (in English) should be submitted by 15 May 2021 online at http://www.sciforum.net/login.

For accepted abstracts, the proceedings paper (at least 3 pages and should not exceed 8 pages) can be submitted by 15 June 2021. The conference will be held on 1st–15th July 2021.

Paper Submission Guidelines

For information on the procedure for submission, peer review, revision, and acceptance of conference proceedings papers, please refer to the section ‘Instructions for Authors’.

Timelines

Abstract Deadline: 15/05/2021
Abstract Acceptance Notification Deadline: 25/05/2021
Proceedings Paper Deadline: 15/06/2021
Conference Date: 01/07/2021

We look forward to receiving your research papers and to welcoming you to the 1st International Electronic Conference on Entomology (IECE). Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Prof. Dr. Nickolas G. Kavallieratos

Chair of the 1st International Electronic Conference on Entomology

Conference Secretariat

M.Sc. Fancy Zhai
Ms. Barbara Wang
E-Mail: iece@mdpi.com

Mark your calendars for Black in Entomology Week, happening virtually from Feb. 22-26. This is an event dedicated to celebrating and supporting Black entomologists, organized by Maydianne Andrade, Swanne Gordon, Vik Iyengar, Shakara Maggitt, Michelle Samuel-Foo, Jessica Ware, and Natasha Young.

The goals of #BlackInEnto week include fostering community among Black entomologists, including students and enthusiasts, for Black entomologists to inspire others and share their passion for insects (and other terrestrial arthropods), and to create funding opportunities for Black entomology students.

In addition to daily content on the @BlackInEnto twitter feed, there is a fantastic schedule of live panel discussions and social events on zoom. Some highlights include:

 

Tuesday Feb. 23

A panel on Black in Entomology with organizers Maydianne Andrade, Michelle Samuel-Foo, and Jessica Ware. This discussion will focus on the challenges and successes of Black entomologists, and ways everyone can get involved in efforts to diversify entomology and support Black entomologists. Hosted by the California Academy of Sciences. Watch here.

Plus, discussions about Entomology Careers, Getting into Undergraduate Research, and a community building social for non-traditional students. Full schedule here.

 

Wednesday Feb. 24

Panel discussion: Contributions of Black Entomologists to Insect Sciences. Hosted by Texas A&M University. Register here.

 

Thursday Feb. 24       

Panel discussion on Colonialism in Entomology, and an Entomology Trivia Night. Full schedule here.

 

Full schedules and registration links, profiles of Black Entomologists, and more can be found on the Black in Ento website here.

By Amanda Roe (ESC Photo Contest Organizer) & Sean McCann (ESC Photo Contest Organizer-in-Training)

~~~~

We are pleased to announce the winners of the ESC Annual Photo Contest. This year saw 27 people participate in our annual ESC Photo Contest. They submitted a high number of entries – 99 to be precise. We wish to thank all the entrants for their fine collection of photos. 

We would also like to thank the anonymous judges who took the time to review and rank all the photo entries.  This is never an easy task with so many stunning pictures. The winners and honourable mentions listed below will have their photos grace the covers of The Canadian Entomologist and The Bulletin for the 2021 season.

 

First Place: Tim Haye

Caption: Samurai wasp, Trissolcus japonicus, parasitizing egg of Halyomorpha halys (Delémont, Switzerland)

 

Second Place: Mel Hart

Caption: Enallagma civile watching the foot traffic along a boardwalk at Riding Mountain National Park, MB

 

Third Place: Andrea Brauner

Caption: A presumed Acrididae grasshopper found hanging out in the backyard in Summerland, BC.

 

Entomologist In Action: Chris Ratzlaff

Caption: Collecting insects and setting up pan traps on the dry slopes of Galiano Island, British Columbia as part of the Biodiversity Galiano Project.

 

Honourable Mentions

Honourable Mention: Andreas Fischer

Caption: Subadult female black widow spider walking on her web. Tsawwassen, BC, Canada

 

Honourable Mention: Matt Muzzatti

Caption: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Two male rhinoceros beetles (Xylotrupes: Dynastinae) preparing to ‘fight.’ Prize fighters are bred and bets are placed on which male will throw the other off a cylindrical piece of wood.

 

Honourable Mention: Richard Yank

Chateauguay River, Sainte-Martine, Quebec

Caption: Portrait of a male American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana) photographed along the Châteauguay River at Ste-Martine, Québec on August 13, 2020.  A small population of this colourful damselfly was discovered at this site, well north of its usual range, several years ago.

 

Honourable Mention: Robyn DeYoung

Caption: Robber fly in the Subfamily Asilinae, photo taken at Trout Creek Point in Summerland, B.C.

 

Thanks to everyone who participated this year!

By Dezene Huber, Suzanne Blatt, and Amanda Roe, Co-Editors in Chief of The Canadian Entomologist.

After consultation with the Entomological Society of Canada’s (ESC) Publications Committee and the ESC Executive Committee, we have instituted this new model for management of Canada’s flagship entomological journal. Following an application process, we are happy to announce that Dr. Suzanne Blatt and Dr. Amanda Roe will join the current EiC, Dr. Dezene Huber, to form a three-person co-EiC team. Incidentally, both will be only the second female EiCs in the journal’s >150 year history. (The first was Margaret Rae Mackay, from 1964 to 1965).

We are very excited to welcome Dr. Roe and Dr. Blatt, and we look forward to their contributions towards the continued excellence of our journal.

Here are introductions from Dr. Blatt and Dr. Roe:

– – – – – – – – – –

Suzanne Blatt sitting in an orchard

Dr. Suzanne Blatt

I am Suzanne (Suzie) Blatt and I am excited to be part of the newly formed co-EiC team for The Canadian Entomologist. I have been a research entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada since 2011. My formal entomological journey began at Simon Fraser University studying a cone and seed pest in seed orchards and expanded to include agricultural pests in tree fruits and vegetables, but I also dabble in Christmas tree plantations. My focus is on developing or improving pest management methods.

I have been a member of the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) since 1992, typically as a participant at JAMs. The opportunity to become more involved materialized in 2016 when I served as the Regional Director for the Acadian Entomological Society (AES) to the ESC and since 2018 as a Director-at-Large.

I have served as a reviewer for numerous local, regional and international scientific journals since 2012 and as a Subject Editor for The Canadian Entomologist since 2019. I look forward to serving The Canadian Entomologist in this new role. As The Canadian Entomologist continues to evolve and its reputation grows, so too will the number of submissions. A diverse and engaged editorial board will be critical to ensure the review process remains both rigorous and efficient. I am keen to become better acquainted with our Subject Editors and to enlist their expertise in directing submissions to suitable reviewers. I am very much looking forward to working with Dezene and Amanda to make The Canadian Entomologist a journal of choice for entomologists in Canada and around the world.

– – – – – – – – – –

Amanda Roe in a laboratory

Dr. Amanda Roe

Hi! I am Amanda Roe and am excited to join the new editorial team at The Canadian Entomologist. I am a research entomologist at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. I started there in 2016 after a number of years of postdoctoral work in Canada and the USA. I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Alberta on a cone and seed pests in conifer seed orchards (just like Suzie – small world!!). My PDFs took me into the world of Lepidopteran evolution, bark beetle symbionts, and tree hybridization. I am now back into the world of forest entomology, understanding the population and functional genomics of forest pests. In particular, I am interested in the drivers of population differentiation and physiological differences between forest pest populations. In addition to a busy research program, I also lead the Insect Production and Quarantine Laboratory, a state-of-the-art facility that rears multiple forestry pests to support research initiatives within and outside Canada.

I have been a member of the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) since I started as a graduate student in 2001. I have attended the JAMs numerous times and have always enjoyed making new connections with colleagues at the meetings. I have served as a Subject Editor for The Canadian Entomologist since 2016 and have reviewed for a wide range of regional, national, and international journals.

The Canadian Entomologist plays a vital role in our Society and in the entomological community. It is a highly respected journal in the field of entomology, with a long, influential history. Many articles published here continue to impact our field even decades after publication. I believe The Canadian Entomologist fills an important niche in the publishing landscape, and we need to strive to maintain that influence.

I look forward to this new role as an Editor-in-Chief and to working closely with Dezene and Suzie. I believe it is important to give back to the society and support this research community. Accepting the role as co-EiC gives me the opportunity to do so. Our EiC team can help maintain this high-quality publication and further support the growth and development of The Canadian Entomologist.

– – – – – – – – – –

Volunteering as editor-in-chief (EiC) for The Canadian Entomologist is intellectually and professionally rewarding, but it is also a major task. Even with the support of an excellent paid, part-time editorial assistant, depending on the influx of new and revised manuscripts, the EiC typically spends, as a rather conservative estimate, at least five to 10 hours a week on journal-related tasks. This is a substantial amount of time for a volunteer service activity, particularly during teaching semesters and field research seasons.

Several other entomological journals have adopted a co-editors-in-chief model. These include: Environmental Entomology (two co-EiCs), Medical and Veterinary Entomology (two), the Journal of Economic Entomology (three), Insect Systematics and Diversity (two), Agricultural and Forest Entomology (four), Insect Molecular Biology (three), and Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (two). Doubtless a large number of other examples also exist in scientific publishing beyond entomology.

Some of our intentions for this new journal management model include the following:

  • This volunteer task takes a substantial amount of time. Potential EiC applicants will know that there will be a division of labour, and we hope this will result in a more diverse and inclusive pool of applicants.
  • The learning curve for editing a journal is steep. New co-EiCs will benefit from consultation with their peers.
  • This model will allow the Society to choose EiCs who cover a wider swath of expertise than in the existing single-EiC model.
  • Co-EiCs will have the opportunity to discuss difficult decisions with each other, hopefully making for more robust and fair decisions.
  • Co-EiCs could pick up the slack if one co-EiC needed to be temporarily absent due to illness, injury, or other life events. In the past, even vacation times were often interrupted for EiCs.
  • The co-EiC model will also allow for more continuity when one editor leaves the post and a new one takes over.

by Angela Gradish

A common eastern bumble bee male on a flower. Photo by Brett Forsyth.

There’s been a buzz in the air about bees lately, and for good reason: bees are major pollinators of both wild plants and agricultural crops, and some species are declining because of threats like habitat loss, climate change, and agricultural intensification. Many people assume the honey bee is the top pollinator among bees. But bumble bees, the honey bee’s bigger, hairier, and louder cousins, are just as important for pollination*. (For some plants, bumble bees are even better pollinators than honey bees.) North America is home to 46 bumble bee species that collectively visit hundreds of types of plants. Also, a few bumble bee species are commercially reared and sold to growers to pollinate certain crops, like blueberries and greenhouse tomatoes. Unfortunately, some bumble bee species are declining or endangered, and the status of many other species is unknown. Bumble bees are historically understudied, and so for some areas, there aren’t many bumble bee records (documented sightings of individual bumble bees with associated reference information, like sighting location, date, and species name). Without good records, it’s difficult to know how many individuals of certain bumble bee species there are now and how large their geographic range is, and how their population sizes and ranges may have changed over time. Brett Forsyth, a photographer and naturalist from Guelph, hopes to help address this problem and raise awareness about bumble bees with his new online project, Photographing Bumble Bees for Identification.

A pinned rusty-patched bumble bee, an endangered species in Ontario. Photo by Brett Forsyth.

Originally from British Columbia, Brett became interested in bumble bee conservation when he moved to Ontario. Currently, there are three bumble bees on the Species at Risk in Ontario list: the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis, endangered), the gypsy cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus bohemicus, endangered), and the yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola, special concern). Brett decided to figure out how to photograph these at-risk species, and in the process, he discovered that there are relatively poor records of many Ontario bumble bees, especially in the northern and central areas of the province.

Brett saw a way to improve our knowledge of Ontario bumble bees** via iNaturalist, an existing online citizen science project aimed at documenting and sharing observations of global biodiversity. Users create free profiles and upload photos of their biodiversity finds, where they can then be viewed by other users and identified by experts. iNaturalist educates people about the natural world, but it also can provide scientists with valuable data that can be used to track changes to species’ geographic distributions and population sizes. For those data to be useful, the species in the uploaded photos must be identifiable, which requires high-quality images that contain key body structures needed to identify the organism. But as anyone who’s ever tried will tell you, getting a bumble bee to sit still for a picture is tricky. As a photographer, Brett saw an obvious solution to that problem: simply teach people to take good pictures of bumble bees with their mobile devices, and in turn, get better data on Ontario bumble bees.

Pocket guide to photographing bumble bees by Brett Forsyth.

In a series of videos on the Photographing Bumble Bees website, Brett takes viewers step-by-step through the process of taking pictures of bumble bees and uploading their photos to the Bumble Bees of Ontario project on iNaturalist. He also provides a free, printable pocket guide that outlines the most important tips for photographing bumble bees and gives descriptions of the three at-risk species in Ontario. Brett has four general tips for getting great pictures of bumble bees. First, get as close as you can to the bumble bee. (Don’t be scared of that stinger–bumble bees really aren’t very aggressive!) Second, get separate shots of the bumble bee’s back, side, and face. These areas contain features that are important for identifying bumble bees. Third, slow motion video can be used to get good images of fast-moving insects because it produces a bunch of still images that you can sort through later to find the perfect shot. And fourth, find an app that will allow you to manually focus your phone’s camera.

Brett hopes his project will inspire 250 people to join the Bumble Bees of Ontario project on iNaturalist and generate at least 1,000 new bumble bee records from central and northern Ontario. More generally, he wants to get more people interested in bumble bees and the underappreciated world of insects. So help scientists help bumble bees: Grab your phone, get outside, and start snapping photos.

 

*This article is focused on bumble bees, but there are many other types of bees. In fact, there are around 4000 species of bees in Canada and the US. All of those bee are also very important pollinators, and many of them may also be at risk. (We know even less about other bees than bumble bees.) So please learn about other bees too!

**Maybe you’re not in Ontario, but don’t let that stop you from using these tips to photograph bumble bees in your area. Information on any bumble bee species from anywhere is important!