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

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


By Dr. Shelley Adamo, Dalhousie University

Do insects feel pain?  Many of us probably ask ourselves this question.  We swat mosquitoes, step on ants, and spray poison on cockroaches, assuming, or perhaps hoping, that they can’t – but can they?  As someone who studies the physiology behind insect behaviour, I’ve wondered about it myself. Those thoughts motivated me to examine the question from the perspective of evolution, neurobiology and robotics.

Are these crickets angry? In pain from being whipped by antennae? How would we know?

To find out whether insects feel pain, we first need to agree on what pain is.  Pain is a personal subjective experience that includes negative emotions.  Pain is different from nociception, which is the ability to respond to damaging stimuli.  All organisms have nociception.  Even bacteria can move away from harmful environments such as high pH.  But not all animals feel pain.  The question, then, is do insects have subjective experiences such as emotions and the ability to feel pain?

We’ve probably all observed insects struggling in a spider’s web or writhing after being sprayed with insecticide; they look like they might be in pain. Insects can also learn to avoid electric shocks, suggesting that they don’t like being shocked.  However, just as I was appreciating how much some insect behaviour looked like our pain behaviour, I realized that Artificial Intelligence (e.g. robots and virtual characters) can also display similar behaviours (e.g. see (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxyGwH7Ku5Y). Think about how virtual characters can realistically express pain in video games such as “The Last of Us” (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQWD5W3fpPM). Researchers have developed circuits allowing robots and other AI to simulate emotional states (e.g. ‘joy’, ‘anger’, ‘fear’). These circuits alter how the robot/virtual character responds to its environment (i.e. the same stimulus produces a different response depending on the AI’s ‘emotion’).    However, this does not mean that robots or virtual characters are ‘feeling’ these emotions.  AI shows us that behaviour may not be the best guide to an insect’s internal experience.

Given that behaviour seemed an unreliable guide, I then looked for neurobiological evidence that insects feel pain.  Unfortunately, the insect brain is very different from the human brain.  However, once we understand how our brains perceive pain, we may be able to search for circuits that are functionally similar in insects.  Research in humans suggests that pain perception is created by complex neural networks that link up the necessary brain areas.  These types of networks require massive bidirectional connections across multiple brain regions.  Insect brains also have interconnections across different brain areas.  However, these interconnections are often quite modest.  For example, the mushroom bodies in the insect brain are critical for learning and memory. Although the mushroom bodies contain thousands of neurons, in fruit flies, for example, they have only 21 output neurons.  In humans, our memory area, the hippocampus, has hundreds of thousands of output neurons.  The lack of output neurons in insects limits the ability of the insect brain to sew together the traits that create pain in us (e.g.  sensory information, memory, and emotion).

Finally, I considered the question from an evolutionary perspective.  How likely it is that evolution would select for insects to feel pain?  In evolution, traits evolve if the benefits of a trait outweigh its costs.  Unfortunately, nervous systems are expensive for animals.  Insects have a small, economical, nervous system.  Additional neurons dedicated to an ‘emotional’ neural circuit would be relatively expensive in terms of energetics and resources.  If it is possible to produce the same behaviour without the cost, then evolution will select for the cheaper option. Robots show that there could be cheaper ways.

The subjective experience of pain is unlikely to be an all-or-none phenomenon.  Asking whether insects feel pain forces us to consider what we would accept as a subjective experience of pain.  What if it was devoid of emotional content?  What if cognition is not involved?  If insects have any type of subjective experience of pain, it is likely to be something that will be very different from our pain experience.  It is likely to lack key features such as ‘distress’, ‘sadness’, and other states that require the synthesis of emotion, memory and cognition. In other words, insects are unlikely to feel pain as we understand it.   So – should we still swat mosquitoes?    Probably, but a case can be made that all animals deserve our respect, regardless of their ability to feel pain.

Adamo, S. (2019). Is it pain if it does not hurt? On the unlikelihood of insect pain. The Canadian Entomologist, 1-11. doi:10.4039/tce.2019.49 (Paper made available to read for FREE until Sept. 16, 2019 in cooperation with Cambridge University Press)

(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


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


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


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)


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


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


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


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


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).

by Amanda Boyd and Kate Pare

The field course in Arctic Ecology (BIOL*4610), offered periodically by the University of Guelph, explores ecological relationships in a sub-arctic environment. Based out of the Northern Studies Research Center, the 2-week course takes place in Churchill Manitoba and the surrounding area. That was what we, the students, knew going into the course. What we didn’t know was that course would be, for many of us, a once in a lifetime experience!

Students in the Arctic Ecology field course learning from Hymenopterist extraordinaire Alex Smith

Students in the Arctic Ecology field course learning from hymenopterist extraordinaire Alex Smith. (Photo by Eric Scott) 

There are only three ways of travelling to Churchill, Manitoba: by boat, by plane or by train. Since we wouldn’t be taking the boat route, two options were left: an hour and forty-minute flight, or a three-day journey by rail. The latter is where most of our adventures began (particularly when some of us didn’t purchase a sleeper ticket). There is much to be learned from a long northward trek, from changing ecosystems and changing cultural environments to increasing price tags. Eventually though, the journey’s end came with a comfortable bus ride and an incredibly delicious meal at the Northern Studies Centre. From there on out, it was down to business.

The first week of our course was spent roaming the rugged landscape, learning about the diverse ecosystems the region has to offer while simultaneously trying to prevent ourselves from being carried off by the swarms of (seemingly) abnormally-sized horse flies. We visited sphagnum bogs, fens, the coast (which may have involved kayaking with belugas), a cranberry-laden moraine and the northern extent of the boreal forest. We explored Krummholtz and bluffs, learned that sedges have edges and learned to always be on the lookout for polar bears (at least 2 bear guards please!). The second week however, allowed us the liberty of designing and conducting our own studies.

As a real world example of scientific research in action, the first day of week-two was spent sampling in the footsteps of Robert E. Gregg and collecting ants from his original 1969 study sites (Gregg 1972). Armed with basic instructions on the identification of the 1969 sampled ant species and genera, we visited a total three sites: Cape Merry, the Churchill Welcome Sign, and Goose Creek Bog. At each site, we spent approximately three hours actively searching for ants, breaking open woody debris and digging into moss hummocks. This was true for all but the Goose Creek site where our (brand new bus) tire sprung a leak and we had no choice but to wait there (which may have resulted in a thoroughly sampled population of Odonates) until Alex Smith, one of the instructors walked into town to radio the Churchill Northern Studies Centre for Plan-B transportation. From there it was back to the lab for a crash course on identifying ants to morphospecies, and for many of us, a valuable lesson that all individuals of a species do not look the same (due to individual variation and cryptic diversity). The rest of week-two was spent with groups of students at every site chasing a variety of six-legged, sub-arctic mysteries. Of course, as students of the natural world, no curiosity was overlooked and no opportunity for fun either! Many an hour was spent bluff jumping, polar bear sighting, investigating the Ithaca shipwreck, and in the case of some students, completing a partial reconstruction of an arctic fox skeleton. Needless to say, it was a very short two weeks that passed with discovery and awe.

One of the many species collected - an ant in the Leptothorax muscorum complex, collected at Cape Merry (Photo by Chelsie Xavier-Blower)

One of the many species collected – an ant in the Leptothorax muscorum complex, collected at Cape Merry (Photo by Chelsie Xavier-Blower)

Going into our field course, I’m not sure any of us thought we would come out of it as published authors. For many of us that participated, the Arctic Ecology field course provided the first real opportunity to actively participate in research outside of the university. The idea that a few days’ worth of collections could be turned into a scientific paper was almost unimaginable. The resulting paper was the first publication that any of us had contributed to. It was exciting to receive the manuscript drafts, and then paper proofs and to know that even aspiring researchers like us could contribute to the knowledge of the scientific community.

During the course, we took high-resolution panoramic GigaPan photographs of the areas we sampled (Smith et al 2013) – you can explore those here. All the DNA barcodes we generated during the course are publicly available for download and exploration. Finally, we wrote about using GigaPans in our Churchill adventures in an article for GigaPan Magazine.

Members of the Arctic Ecology Field course 2015

Students of the Arctic Ecology Field course (now published authors!)(Photo by Eric Scott)


We would like to thank LeeAnn Fishback and the staff of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (https://www.churchillscience.ca/) for all their hospitality and help in Churchill. Support from the CREATE Lab Outreach Program at Carnegie Mellon University, the Learning Enhancement Fund of the University of Guelph (http://www.lef.uoguelph.ca/) and the Fine Foundation helped provide funds for GigaPan-ing and DNA barcoding during the course. Support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to Alex Smith and Sarah Adamowicz provided support and infrastructure.


Gregg, R.E. 1972. The northward distribution of ants in North America. The Canadian Entomologist, 104: 1073–1091

Smith, M. Alex, S. Adamowicz, Amanda Boyd, Chris Britton-Foster, Hayley Cahill, Kelsey Desnoyers, Natalie Duitshaever, Dan Gibson, Steve James, Yurak Jeong, Darren Kelly, Eli Levene, Hilary Lyttle, Talia Masse, Kate Pare, Kelsie Paris, Cassie Russell, Eric Scott, Debbie Silva, Megan Sparkes, Kami Valkova (2013) “Arctic Ecology” GigaPan Magazine Vol 5 Issue 1. www.gigapanmagazine.org/vol5/issue1/  (students ordered alphabetically)

Smith, M. Alex, Amanda Boyd, Chris Britton-Foster, Hayley Cahill, Kelsey Desnoyers, Natalie Duitshaever, Dan Gibson, Steve James, Yurak Jeong, Darren Kelly, Eli Levene, Hilary Lyttle, Talia Masse, Kate Pare, Kelsie Paris, Cassie Russell, Eric Scott, Debbie Silva, Megan Sparkes, Kami Valkova S. J. Adamowicz  (2015) The northward distribution of ants forty years later: re-visiting Gregg’s 1969 collections in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. The Canadian Entomologist. http://dx.doi.org/10.4039/tce.2015.53

By Sabrina Rochefort, MSc student, McGill University.

Early in my undergraduate program at McGill University, I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer in a lab, where I could feed my need to learn and make new discoveries. That led me to Terry Wheeler’s lab; he was the teacher for my evolution class at that time.

I had a strong interest in evolution and paleontology, and was hoping to pursue that field. But Terry informed me that volunteering in his lab did not involve studying fossils, but instead studying tiny insects. Curious and willing to learn about insects, I decided to give it a try! At the Lyman Museum, I quickly discovered that entomology is a field of study with great opportunities and with an infinite number of projects. Besides studying for my degree, and working on weekends at Tim Hortons, I was volunteering up to 12 hours a week, between and after classes, pinning flies and identifying them. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, I had developed a strong passion for entomology!


Identifying flies at the Lyman Museum. Photo by E. Vajda


Volunteering gradually transformed into a student job. It’s then that Terry introduced me to the fly family Piophilidae, commonly known as the Skipper Flies. I spent numerous hours familiarising myself with piophilids, reading literature, learning to identify them, their ecology, etc. All that knowledge that I acquired in entomology during my undergraduate studies gave me a great opportunity: the chance to pursue graduate studies. I am presently undertaking a Master’s project on the taxonomy and phylogeny of Piophilidae.

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Collecting piophilids on decaying mushrooms in the Yukon. Photo by E. Vajda


Now, let’s put a little less attention on my background and a little more on this wonderful family of flies and my project!

Piophilids are small to medium flies (3 to 9mm), which are abundant and diverse, especially in the northern hemisphere. To date, there are 82 described species worldwide. They mainly feed and reproduce on decaying organic matter. This family is of interest in several scientific domains such as forensic entomology (for their presence on carrion), in behavior (for their unique sexual selection strategies) and in biodiversity (for their interesting geographic distribution in the arctic). Several species are also pests in the food industry. The study of their taxonomy and phylogeny is essential for several reasons: to be able to identify specimens found in studies; to document the geographic distribution of species; to establish their phylogenetic relationships; and to learn more about their biology and ecology. The main objectives of my thesis are a taxonomic revision of the Nearctic Piophilidae and phylogenetic analysis of the genera worldwide.

Liopiophila varipes, a piophilid species commonly found on carrion. Photo by S. Rochefort

Liopiophila varipes, a piophilid species commonly found on carrion. Photo by S. Rochefort

A statement that is often repeated in our lab is that it is important for taxonomists and ecologists to collaborate, and that the outcomes of our taxonomic projects should be useful not only for taxonomists but also to other entomologists in other fields of expertise. And that is right! For taxonomy to make sense, it is essential that other researchers be able to understand it and use our work. This can be done by providing them with “working tools” such as identification keys which are simple and adapted to a specific need. It is for that reason that, as a side project to my thesis, I decided to collaborate with Marjolaine Giroux, from the Montreal Insectarium, Jade Savage from Bishop’s University and my supervisor Terry Wheeler on a publication and key to the Piophilidae species that may be found in forensic entomology studies in North America. That paper has just been published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod identification. We reviewed some of the problems associated with identification of piophilids, and the need to develop a user-friendly key to the species. We wanted to create a key with lots of photographs, that was user-friendly and simple for non-specialists, and that would be published on-line and open access. Because of this, CJAI was the ideal journal for our paper.

Seeing this publication completed early in my graduate studies is a great accomplishment for me. It gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge and make taxonomy more accessible to students, amateur entomologists and researchers in the academic and scientific community. Undertaking a project in a less familiar field which is linked to your expertise is a very gratifying experience which I strongly encourage other students to try. From this experience, I acquired new skills and knowledge, I made connections with researchers in other fields of study and I was able to make more connections between my Master’s thesis and other subjects in entomology.


Rochefort, S., Giroux, M., Savage, J., Wheeler, T.A. 2015. Key to Forensically Important Piophilidae (Diptera) in the Nearctic Region. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 27: January 22, 2015. Available online

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Bedbug feeding on human host. Photo courtesy of Armed Forces Pest Management Board. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence

Researchers at Simon Fraser University have just published a paper describing a bedbug pheromone blend which includes three new volatiles and a surprising arrestant: histamine!

Regine Gries, along with colleagues from SFU’s Chemistry and Biological Sciences Departments have been working on pheromone chemistry of these pervasive and damaging pests for years. Regine has led the effort, maintaining bedbug colonies and devising many ways of extracting and testing the compounds. By analysing headpace volatiles of bedbug-soiled paper, they were able to identify three new volatile pheromone components: dimethyl disulphide, dimethyl trisulfide and 2-hexanone. These, in addition to the previously-identified alarm pheromone components (E)-2-hexenal and (E)-2-octenal, attract bed bugs to experimental shelter baits placed in study arenas.

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Photo by Graham Snodgrass, via Armed Forces Pest Management Board. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence


The identification of histamine as an arrestant pheromone is quite novel, as this compound is not volatile at all. The free base of this common amine hormone is present in bed bug exuviae, and when applied to paper shelters causes bed bugs to remain in place. Bed bugs  seem to use histamine as a signal that the shelter is a safe resting site. This is so effective, that experimental traps with only histamine catch more bedbugs than traps coated with the traditional sticky trap coating. Bed bugs are so reluctant to leave the traps with histamine that they remain in place even when the trap is picked up.

These findings will likely translate into more effective monitoring and control tools for these difficult-to-eradicate pests.

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Photo by Graham Snodgrass, via Armed Forces Pest Management Board. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence





The following post is by Chloe Gerak, a Masters student at UBC who completed an undergraduate project at Simon Fraser University in the Gries lab.This past weekend, she won the top prize for an undergraduate talk at the Annual General  Meeting of the Entomological Society of British Columbia with a talk entitled “How the false widow finds true love”. Photos by Sean McCann.


A male Steatoda grossa. These spiders have stereotyped courtship behaviour involving stridulation of an organ located dorsally between the cephalothorax and abdomen.

For approximately eight months, I studied the courtship behaviour and chemical communication between male and female false widow spiders, Steatoda grossa. Prior to studying them in Prof. Gerhard Gries’ lab at Simon Fraser University, I had never even heard of this species!


Female Steatoda grossa on her web.

My mentor Catherine Scott and I had collected juvenile and mature false widow spiders around the basement of the biology wing at SFU… and let’s just say we didn’t have a lack of specimens to collect. Almost every baseboard we turned over or corner we searched, we would find these little guys and collect them individually into petri dishes. These formed the nucleus of our laboratory colony which we reared for behavioural experiments.


A  common nickname for Steatoda grossa is the “cupboard spider,” which I find extremely appropriate considering these spiders seem to love dwelling in dark corners. Since they are so abundant around SFU, and I had never even seen one before this, I think people should not be frightened by cohabiting with them… likely, you won’t even know they are there!


By Justin Renkema, Post-Doc, University of Guelph


It was an early morning after a long drive from Guelph to a small fruit farm in Chatham-Kent where my undergraduate student, Caitlyn, and I were conducting a small-plot spray trial to test the effect s of repellents against Drosophila suzukii (Spotted Wing Drosophila), a recent invasive and serious fruit pest.  I knew the raspberry patch was heavily infested with D. suzukii so before getting to work, to amuse ourselves at the start of the day, I started gently shaking canes, and we watched the swarms of fruit flies disperse and hover over the fresh fruit.  However, as I went to grab a branch low to the ground, I noticed something different about one of the fruit flies sitting on a leaf.  It had characteristic white “racing stripes” along its thorax, unlike any other fruit fly I had seen.  This was it!  This was very likely Zaprionus indianus or African fig fly, another invasive and potential fruit pest that we knew was moving northwards from the southeastern USA.  Caitlyn grabbed a vial and we successfully had, on 10 September 2013, what we thought was the first capture of this fly in Ontario and Canada.

Zaprionis indianus photographed by Dr. Stephen Marshall in Africa. (Photo C Stephen A. Marshall, used with permission)

Zaprionis indianus photographed by Dr. Stephen Marshall in Africa. (Photo © Stephen A. Marshall, used with permission)

 Indeed the fly was Z. indianus, as determined by Meredith Miller, a M.Sc. student at the University of Guelph working on taxonomy of Drosophila spp. in Ontario.  Through contact with Hannah Fraser at Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, we learned that their Ontario-wide monitoring program for D. suzukii had also picked up some African fig flies in apple-cider vinegar traps, and a few at an earlier date than our find in Chatham-Kent.  Colleagues in Quebec (Jean-Phillipe Légaré and others at MAPAQ) had also found what they believed were Z. indianus.  Once all the material was collected and examined by Meredith, we submitted a scientific note documenting our Z. indianus discovery in Canada that was published by the Journal of the Entomological Society of Ontario.

Zaprionus indianus is native to the Afrotropical region.  It was found in Brazil in 1998 where it was given its common name because it became a significant pest of figs.  In 2005, Z. indianus was discovered in Florida and has since been found successively further north and west in the USA (see a map of its distribution here).  It is likely that the North American infestation did not come from the Brazilian population.  Zaprionus indianus is the only member of Zaprionus present in Canada, and therefore the reddish-brown head and thorax and particularly the silvery stripes that extend from the antennae to the tip of scutellum can be used as distinguishing features.

Zaprionis indianus dorsum showing characteristic white stripes

Unlike D. suzukii (thankfully!), female Z. indianus do not possess heavily sclerotized and serrated ovipositors and are not currently seen as a serious threat to temperate fruit crops.  They have been reared from a number of tropical, tree-ripened fruits in Florida and there is concern in vineyards in the eastern USA, where sometimes they outnumber D. suzukii in traps. It is possible that Z. indianus can use fruit that has been oviposited in by D. suzukii, thus increasing damage and possibly complicating control measures.  In Canada, particularly Ontario and Quebec, winter temperatures may preclude establishment of African fig fly, and yearly re-infestation from the south would be necessary for it to show up in future years.  At all but one site, we found just 1-4 flies during late summer and early fall per site, so it will be interesting to see what happens to numbers this coming growing season.  In tropical and sub-tropical locations much larger populations have been detected the year following first detection.

For the past 1.5 years I have been working as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Guelph with Rebecca Hallett on D. suzukii.  We are developing a push-pull management strategy using volatile plant compounds to repel and attract this pest.  With the occurrence of Z. indianus and possible reoccurrence  in larger numbers in the future, we may have a unique opportunity to study how two recent invaders using similar resources interact, and also, perhaps, a more significant challenge ahead of us  in developing management strategies.  If you are interested in this topic or have current or future experiences with Z. indianus, I and co-authors on the scientific note would appreciate hearing from you.  You can contact me at renkemaj@uoguelph.ca.


Renkema J.M., Miller M., Fraser H., Légaré J.P. & Hallett R.H. (2013). First records of Zaprionus indianus Gupta (Diptera: Drosophilidae) from commercial fruit fields in Ontario and Quebec, Canada, Journal of the Entomological Society of Ontario, 144 125-130. OPEN ACCESS [PDF]

Earlier this summer, a new key and review of the Ants of Alberta was published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. James Glasier, the lead author, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the work, and share some of the species he thought were particularly interesting.

Couplet 3 from Glasier et al. 2013

1. What inspired you to produce this key?

The key was inspired by the difficulty of finding coherent, up to date, and all-encompassing keys for the ant fauna of Alberta. It started as a side project, to help me better understand the differences among ant species I was finding during my thesis research.  As it developed, we realized that a key formatted for the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification would greatly benefit anyone who wanted to study ants in the province. So with the help, guidance, and contributions of my co-authors, we developed to identify all known ants from Alberta.

2. Who do you think is most likely to use your key to the Ants of Alberta?

The coauthors and I hope that anyone who is interested in ants uses the key.  We think that in Canada, ants are too often ignored in biological studies and with this key we hope more people will include them in their research.

3. Rather than provide individual accounts for each species, you’ve linked out to the species profiles in AntWeb. Why did you decide to do it this way, and what advantages does AntWeb have over traditional publishing?

We decided to link the key to AntWeb, because AntWeb has fantastic photos of ant specimens and they are always updating their photo catalog.  It is hoped that these photos work in concert with the key we have developed and better aid identification of ant specimens.  Additionally, AntWeb has an online specimen catalog and natural history sections, which is easily accessed and continually updated to provide current information about each ant species.

4. Were there any ants that you were surprised to find in Alberta?

The most surprising was species was the neotropical ant Brachymyrmex obscurior; found in the Olds University Atrium by Dr. Ken Fry.  For better or worse, the colony seems to have died out. Another surprising ant species was found by John Acorn, Dolichoderus taschenbergi. This ant is a rather obvious ant when you are out in the field; workers are black and very shiny, and in the morning will all congregate on their nest to sun themselves.  The effect of hundreds of workers covering a ~30cm2 area is an obvious sparkling mass of black.  Yet, with over 30 years of work by multiple researchers in the Opal Sand Hills, including John, no one recognized that this species was present until our ant project began.

Dolichoderus taschenbergi – Photo by April Nobile, courtesy of AntWeb.org (CC BY 3.0)

Glasier, J.R.N., Acorn, J.H., Nielsen, S., Proctor, H. 2013. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Alberta: A key to species based primarily on the worker caste. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 22, 4 July, 2013. Available online at http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/ejournal/ganp_22/ganp_22.htmlhttp://dx.doi.org/10.3752/cjai.2013.22