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Upcoming Meeting – Entomological Society of Ontario AGM

Greetings fellow entomologists,

The 149th annual meeting of the Entomological Society of Ontario is fast approaching!

The venue: Bonnenfant Outdoor Education Centre, West Carleton, Ottawa, Canada.

The dates: September 28-30th, 2012.

Registration is now open at the official meeting website.

Submit your Posters and Oral Presentations before September 17th to be assured of getting onto the program.

Students: enter the President’s Prize competition and win cash!

Don’t be disappointed – register early as we are limited to 100 participants.

See you in September!

Bruce Gill
ESO President
Chair ESO 2012

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Sneak Peek: Some upcoming papers in The Canadian Entomologist

By Chris Buddle, Editor-in-Chief, The Canadian Entomologist

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As Editor-in-Chief for The Canadian Entomologist, I have the privilege of knowing what papers will be appearing in our journal in the future… in this post, without saying too much, I wanted to give you a ‘sneak peek’ of what to expect in the future.

First up, ground beetles (Carabidae) in eastern Canada:  Chris Cutler and colleagues studied the communities of ground beetles associated with wild blueberry fields in the land of the Bluenose (Nova Scotia).  They collected over 50 species in their study fields, and a high proportion of these species were not native (this is a pretty common trend with ground beetles in agroecosystms).   They also considered whether ground beetle communities differed between the interior and edges of their study fields – another important consideration in these systems.  In the discussion of their paper, the authors place their work in the context of conservation biological control.  It is a fascinating and important paper, and I know you will enjoy it when it appears on-line and in print.
In our Systematics and Morphology Division, you will soon see a paper by Art Borkent on biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) in cretaceous amber.   In this paper, he describes two new species (and provides a key to the genus) based on specimens from many amber specimens.  These lovely flies are diverse and abundance in Amber, and in this case, Art Borkent looks into amber from southern Alberta.  This paper includes some lovely images and drawings, and you will be delighted when it appears in the journal.
Because I am quite fond of spiders, I am delighted to report that we will have a paper appearing about the dispersal behaviour of young Dolomedes triton (the ‘fishing’ spider), written by Carol Frost, Alice Graham, and John Spence.  The authors used a sophisticated laboratory set-up to understand the dispersal of this ubiquitous species, and tested what sort of cues could relate to the spider’s dispersal propensity.   It’s a very nice study, and one that will be of interest to the broader arachnological (and entomological) community.
Katherine Bleiker and colleagues at the Canadian Forest Service in Victoria BC will have a paper appearing in TCE about the mountain pine beetle -this destructive species is well known to the entomological community in Canada.  In this study, the authors investigated pre-emergence behaviours among females and completed this work completed this work in northern Alberta.  This area is in the ‘newly established’ habitat for the species, so it is important to fully understand the species and its behaviours at these locations.  This will be an exciting paper for researchers working on the mountain pine beetle, and we are delighted that it will appear in our journal.
Finally, I am pleased to report that one of our very own Subject Editors (Gilles Boiteau) will have a paper coming out in TCE on the Colorado potato beetle and its movement.   Gilles and co-author Pamela MacKinley using plant models to test how plant architecture affected the beetle’s movement patterns.  This is an important question given that management of this species in eastern Canada is a key priority, and a full and comprehensive examination of its movement behaviours provides important insights for researchers.
We have many, many more papers in our « production queue », but this little sneak peek will hopefully get you excited about our Journal.  You can view papers on-line by clicking here, and members of the Entomological Society of Canada have full access – another great reason to join the society!
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Why a scientific society needs a blog

Chris Buddle, Editor-in-Chief, The Canadian Entomologist
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I’ve been involved with the Entomological Society of Canada for a long time.  It’s a wonderful community of Canadian entomologists sharing an interest and enthusiasm for arthropods. The ESC’s activities are mostly centered around  its annual conference, its range of publications, and it offers a suite of awards and scholarships.  The society’s website also hosts career opportunities, photo contests, and a range of other rich and varied entomological content. The latest, big news for the society is that on 1 June, the ESC officially launched its own blog.  This blog was the brainchild of a few members of the society.

So…why does a scientific society need a blog?  What’s the benefit to members of the society, to the society itself, and what’s the benefit for the broader entomological community?  Here are some thoughts about this:

1) Visibility:  it’s a tough time for scientific societies – funding is tight, and for a lot of people, the value of memberships to societies may seem less important than it once was.  Therefore, increased visibility though an on-line presence is important. A static website is essential, but a blog has a fluidity and dynamic presence that is hard to match with a website.  An active blog with well-written and interesting content will do a lot to increase a society’s visibility.  The visibility from an active blog is also global in its reach.

2) Opportunities to contribute:  the ESC blog will have dozens of contributors – means anybody with an interest in entomology (regardless of their profession and educational background) has an opportunity to write something for a broader audience.  Blog posts are often easier to write, they are shorter than research papers, and the content need not be vetted through a peer-review process.  It’s a forum for creative ideas, stories, photographs, and fun facts about insects.  The blog already has a couple of nice examples to illustrate this point.  For example, Chris Cloutier, a naturalist at the Morgan Arboretum on the Island of Montreal, just wrote a lovely post about the Hackberry Emperor.  Chris is an example of a different kind of entomologist – he’s not a research scientist, nor is his primary profession Entomology.  However, he does outreach, has a wealth of expertise and  talent, and he has a lot to offer the entomological community.  These kind of opportunities create an environment of inclusion for a society – members have a voice and can share their ideas and expertise.  Non-members can also contribute and recognize that there is a strong community associated with the ESC (…and perhaps some of the non-members will see the value of the society and join).

3) Economics: more than ever before, scientific societies are struggling to maintain members, and balance their books.  A blog is a cheap and effective way to promote their science to the world and the cost can be as little as a domain name.  I can think of no other method by which a society can promote itself at this cost point.  You could even argue that the time for static websites may be coming to a close since they are costly to host, require people with specific technical skills, and require a lot of back-end support.  The good blog sites can be administered by people with relatively few of these skills (I’m proof of that!!).

4) Marketing and branding:  a high quality blog helps a society get its brand to a broad audience, and helps to market the society to the world.   The ESC has a long and wonderful history, but its main audience over the years has mostly been academics, research scientists, and students of entomology.   The ESC brand has excellence and quality behind it and that kind of brand should be shared, expanded, and through this process, the society will hopefully gain positive exposure and more members.

5) Communication: At the end of the day, knowledge is something to be shared.  Scientific communication is a fast-changing field and one that is making all of us reconsider how we talk and write about our interests.   I think we all have a responsibility to do outreach.  There is so much mis-information out on the Internet, and people with specialized and well-honed skills must be heard and must have a means to share accurate information in a clear and effective manner – e.g., a society blog. I also think many entomologist are perfectly positioned to do effective outreach (I’ve written about this before).  Part of the ESC’s mandate is dissemination of knowledge about insects and social media is a key piece of any communication strategy.

What do you think?  Can you think of other reasons why scientific societies need to embrace social media?  Please share your ideas!

I will finish with a stronger statement:  scientific societies are perfectly positioned to have the BEST blogs on the Internet.  A scientific society is a community, a community with history, and a community built on high level of expertise.  A scientific society also provides a structure and framework for bringing together high quality knowledge about a particular topic.  A blog can be amazingly strong with this kind of support.  A society is also about people and these people work tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate the dissemination of high quality content.   These people, structured in committees, and with oversight from an executive committee, can provide tangible support that will help to keep a blog from becoming unidimensional.  The ESC’s blog administrators (Crystal and Morgan) know how to keep the content of high quality, and know how to put all the pieces together – and they know they can do this because they have an entire community behind them.  The society is committed to supporting the blog and for that reason, there is reason to be optimistic about its long-term success.

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Originally posted at: http://arthropodecology.com/2012/06/13/why-a-scientific-society-needs-a-blog/

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Luminous impressions of nocturnal pollinator research

By Paul Manning, B.Sc. student at Nova Scotia Agricultural College
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As an undergraduate student, I’ve been working diligently on the final hurrah of my four year career; the undergraduate thesis. I’ve been fortunate to work under the supervision of Dr. Chris Cutler for the past two summers, learning about the ecology and roles of insects within wild blueberry production. Though I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects within the lab, I’ve realized quickly that pollination was the aspect of entomology that I found to be particularly intriguing.

Blossoms of wild blueberry May, 23rd, 2012 (Photo by P. Manning)

One of the projects that caught my eye was as a continuation of a trial that our lab did in the summer of 2011. By sanctioning off areas of wild blueberries with cages that prevented pollinators from accessing the flowers, the team discovered that approximately a third of pollination events may be attributed to nocturnal insect activity, as well as weight of ripe berries being insignificant between nocturnal, and diurnal pollinated treatments.  Though a number of insects were collected using Malaise traps in this study, it was not possible to conclude captured insects were responsible for vectoring the pollen.

Lo and behold, there was a great opportunity for my thesis; to discover the identities of nocturnal pollinators within wild blueberry production. Armed with a sweep net, kill jars, a mercury-vapour lamp, tissue and enough ethyl-acetate to open my own nail salon we began to hit the field. Our sampling periods happened at two different times during the night; an early shift that started as soon as the sun went down, and a shift that started at 12:00 AM. Each sampling session lasted for two hours in length.

We implemented an interesting capture method, which worked extremely effectively. Under the glow of the mercury-vapor lamp, we placed a large 8×4 plywood board against the fence, making an 80° angle with the ground. When the insect landed upon the board, a quick capture could be made by placing the kill-jar against the board, and giving the board a small tap. This caused the insect to fly up into the kill-jar.

Screen illuminated by the mercury-vapour lamp (Photo by P. Manning)

June beetle captured with light trapping (Photo by P. Manning)

As the mercury vapor lamp began to buzz, insects began to make their way out of the dark and against our screen. The diversity was stunningly interesting, quite surprising. Tiny midges, large scarab beetles, hawk moths, and nocturnal icheumonids were included amongst our varied group of visitors.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJNKIzoC-yE]

Sweep samples were also taken in an area of darkness within the field. We used ethyl-acetate fumigated from a ventilated jar, within a larger Tupperware container to effectively kill the insects without struggle. The diversity from these samples was very different; being attributed mostly to beetles and small flies.

Insects were analyzed to find whether or not they carried pollen using methods. By swabbing the eyes, head, and mouthparts with a small cube of fuchsin gel.  By sealing these slides with the aid of a Bunsen burner, blueberry pollen was easily detected through its distinctive tetrad shape using a light microscope.

As the samples have been analyzed, the diversity of insects that may represent the nocturnal pollinators of wild blueberry is staggering. Though the work has been challenging and sometimes very tedious (have you ever attempted removing pollen off the head of a thrips?). I’ve learned a great diversity of things, including: an incredibly simple way to differentiate between icheumonids and brachonids; that there are an incredible number of fly families that vaguely-resemble a typical housefly; and that iced-cappuccinos do contain caffeine (after finally drifting off to sleep at 4:30 AM on a Sunday morning).

A small moth visits the light screen after sampling finishes (Photo by P. Manning)

This project has been a great way to open my eyes to the diversity of insects responsible for ecological functions. When prompted with the cue ‘pollination’ – my mind has been switched over from the typical image of a honey-bee – to a myriad of insect visitors among flowers. This is a vision of pollination which to me is something more; diverse, representative, and inclusive of this invaluable ecological service.

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References:

Beattie, A. J. 1971. A technique for the study of insect-borne pollen. Pan-Pacific Entomologist 47:82.
Cutler, C. G., Reeh, K. W., Sproule, J. M., & Ramanaidu, K. (July 01, 2012). Berry unexpected: Nocturnal pollination of lowbush blueberry. Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 92, 4, 707-711.

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Stupidity is the mother of invention

By Dr. Terry Wheeler, Director of the Lyman Entomological Museum, McGill University

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Warning: the following post contains content that makes a university professor and museum director look a bit ridiculous. Readers who wish to cling to the fiction that University Professors are smart, infallible and wise may find this post unsettling.

“Do you have everything?” A logical and reasonable question from The Students as The Professor exits his hotel room in the morning, several bags in hand. Some Students may consider such a question presumptuous, but it’s good to run through these little mental checklists.

Lesson #1 (for Students and Assistants): “Do you have everything?” may be a little too broad a question. A series of questions identifying particular individual items of necessary field equipment might be better. In this case, for example, a question along the lines of “Do you have the sweep net handles?” might have saved much subsequent humiliation and hilarity.

Lesson #2 (for Professors): Pack the gear the night before AND get enough sleep!

We jumped in The Vehicle and headed south for a long day of collecting in the dry prairies of southeastern Alberta. We had our sights set on a few promising collecting spots and it was a sunny day. After an hour or so of driving we arrived at the first site and The Professor disgorged the contents of the several bags as The Students waited to begin doing science. “Where are the net handles?” asked both Students, almost simultaneously. “Well,” replied The Professor “obviously they’re in the $#%#$ hotel in my &#@% red duffel bag.”

Lesson #3 (for Students and Assistants): Do not be afraid to laugh at a Professor, especially when they deserve it.

Lesson #4 (for Professors and Aspiring Professors): You can’t afford to take yourself too seriously. Things happen and people will laugh at you. Pretend you’ve just told a wickedly funny joke. I find that helps.

So, not relishing a long drive back to the hotel in the prairie heat, The Professor was forced to improvise, which he did in a rather unspectacular way, and the Short-Handled Shortgrass-Prairie Sweep Net (SHSPSN) was born.

The short-handled shortgrass-prairie sweep-net, ready for deployment. (Photo by T. Wheeler)

Some readers will recognize the SHSPSN as reminiscent of a short-handled folding insect net commonly referred to as a “National Park Special”, a net that folds up compactly and is easily concealed in a pocket for . . . well . . . ummm . . . inclement weather and increased mobility and the like. In our case (we were not in a National Park or other similarly protected area), the short handle worked quite well to keep us low and out of the high wind blowing across the site. Of course, the actual process of sweeping required a slightly modified stance compared to regular sweeping.

Anna demonstrating excellent SHSPSN technique. Her back will be fine. (Photo by T. Wheeler)

In the end, we collected (very successfully!) at four good sites that day with our lightweight, compact SHSPSN’s. Fortunately, we encountered no other Entomologists (especially Lepidopterists, with their penchant for freakishly long-handled nets) who could have taken advantage of our predicament and heaped ridicule upon us, especially The Professor.

And the next morning, when The Professor emerged from his room, well-rested and laden with several bags, The Students greeted him with a hearty “Do you have the net handles?” and it didn’t sound sarcastic AT ALL.

Lesson #5 (for Students and Assistants): Sooner or later, every Professor is going to do something dumb. Take joy in such magical moments. They are the times that make The Professor appear slightly less than superhuman. It helps to have a camera handy for the more spectacular times. Such photos make great content for retirement celebrations or department Christmas parties.

Lesson #6 (for Professors): The great thing about tenure is that you can actually get away with a lot of really dumb stuff. Just don’t lose any Students in the field – there’s a lot of paperwork involved. I find keeping the numbers low and giving each of them a distinct name helps. Take attendance a lot. Especially at airports.

And if anyone would like plans for making their very own SHSPSN, please contact The Professor.

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The original post can be found on Dr. Wheeler’s blog, here: http://lymanmuseum.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/stupidity-is-the-mother-of-invention/

We’d love to hear about other people’s (mis-)adventures in the field! Please feel free to send your stories and pictures to EntSocCanada@gmail.com

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CJAI #20 – Dufourea (Apoidea: Halictidae) of Canada

pcyu_logo

By Sheila Dumesh, entomology research assistant at York University.

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My interest in bees was ignited in 2007, when I took a biodiversity course in my last year as an undergraduate student at York University in Toronto.  The course instructor was the well-known melittologist, Laurence Packer, and, although I had not met him before, I had heard many good things.  Laurence’s affection for bees was inspiring, not only to me, but to others in the past and many more to come.  He was so fascinated by these cute and fuzzy insects (at the time, I did not see myself describing them as such).  Even though he had been studying bees for decades, the look of excitement on his face never faded when collected and examined them.  Back then, my knowledge of bees was very limited.  I was unaware of their diversity, importance, and great beauty!

I began with an Honours thesis under Laurence’s supervision in the “bee lab” at York University.  I was keen on taxonomy and began a systematic study on a Central American bee genus, Mexalictus.  For my Master’s thesis, I chose to continue that work and complete a revision of Mexalictus, which included descriptions for 20 new species, an illustrated key, and a phylogenetic analysis.  I conducted my field work in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico, where I sampled in high elevation cloud forests (the known habitat of Mexalictus).  As these species are quite rare, I did not always have the pleasure of finding them; although this was somewhat upsetting, I was amazed by the bee (and general insect) diversity in that part of the world.  I was aware of it, but being out in the field in those countries was a truly amazing experience.  Just the change in habitat and species make-up along a small sector of the elevation gradient was incredible to witness!

Dufourea bee on flower

Dufourea sp. – Photo by Sheila Dumesh

Throughout my time as a Master’s student, I studied other groups of bees and collaborated with others in our lab.  One such project is the revision of the Canadian species in the genus Dufourea (Apoidea: Halictidae), which I undertook with Cory Sheffield and recently published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification.  There are eight species in Canada, but some were described from only one sex, the descriptions were written by several authors in different publications, and a key to identify these species was previously unavailable!  These bees are also floral specialists, meaning they visit specific flowers (usually a genus or family).  Cory and I set out to revise this group and provide all of this information in one paper.  The identification key is user-friendly and illustrates the characters mentioned in the key couplets to aid the user.  We also constructed species pages, which include full descriptions, important features, distribution maps, and images of each species.

We are striving towards creating many more illustrated (and web-based) keys to facilitate bee identification.  I am very excited to have this work freely available and hope that it is found useful by others in the community!

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Dumesh, S. & Sheffield, C.S. (2012). Bees of the Genus Dufourea Lepeletier (Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Rophitinae) of Canada, Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, 20 DOI: 10.3752/cjai.2012.20

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CJAI #19 – Cluster flies of North America

Pollenia rudis Face

Pollenia rudis

By Adam Jewiss-Gaines,  a research assistant at Brock University.

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When people ask me what the heck a calliphorid is (often after I have mentioned the family name and am being gawked at as if I’m crazy), I usually remark « You know those shiny flies you often see flying around in the spring and summer? »  This isn’t technically 100% accurate since the genus Pollenia, one of the most commonly encountered genera of the family, is in fact non-reflective and grey.  Upon closer inspection, a keen eye can also observe varying amounts of wrinkled, yellow hairs on the thorax.  These two qualities distinguish Pollenia from other blow flies throughout North America.  Despite being a little dull when compared to their more eye-catching iridescent relatives, Pollenia are ecologically important insects as they aid in plant pollination and the processing of various biomaterials.

Pollenia often become particularly active during the spring and summer months once the temperature warms up, although they can occasionally be spotted indoors in the wintertime on a warmer day.  With a sudden onslaught of large, grey insects flying around when the snow begins to melt, it comes as no surprise that people tend to get irritated with them and consider them pests.  Oftentimes they are mistaken as houseflies (Family Muscidae) causing Pollenia species to be labeled as potential food contaminators, but this is not the case.  These insects are also particularly well-known for their clustering behaviour on walls, earning them their common name: cluster flies.

Even though Pollenia are extremely common, their general biology is largely unknown with a few exceptional details. It is known that larval Pollenia are parasites on various other organisms, such as maggots and worms. For example, Rognes (1991) noted that Pollenia pediculata, one of the most common species found throughout the continent, is a parasite of the earthworm species Eisenia rosea. Aside from this little tidbit however, specific information regarding the life cycles of Pollenia species is relatively scarce and further studies in this particular field would greatly improve our knowledge of the genus.

Pollenia griseotomentosa Calliphoridae Cluster fly

Pollenia griseotomentosa

Until very recently it has been thought that all Pollenia found in North America were the same species (Pollenia rudis), but after examining various collections throughout the world, Knut Rognes found that six members of the genus occur throughout the region.  Terry Whitworth adapted much of Rognes’ work shortly thereafter into a nice, clean, simple identification key for North America. With accurate images and photography, however, characters could be even easier to distinguish and observe when one is able to compare a photograph to the creature they have under their microscope.

Therefore, to further expand on Terry’s key and clarify important visual characters, I collaborated with him and Dr. Steve Marshall to create a fully-illustrated digital key for distinguishing the six North American Pollenia species from one another.  Now published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, Cluster Flies of North America couples high-resolution images of important traits with a clean and simple interface to create a handy tool to be used by entomologists and non-entomologists alike. If you are relying on this key for identification, it is recommended to use physical specimens of Pollenia rather than images or photos, since even the best of hand-photographs have difficulty capturing key features. In addition, distribution maps are provided for each species, constructed from locality data of specimens from the University of Guelph Insect Collection and Terry Whitworth’s personal collection of Pollenia.

Creating this key has been a great opportunity, and I hope the entomological community is able to make good use of it. My sincere thanks go out to Steve Marshall, Terry Whitworth, the editors, and my labmates and friends for all of their support.

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Jewiss-Gaines, A., Marshall, S.A. & Whitworth, T.L. (2012). Cluster flies (Calliphoridae: Polleniinae: Pollenia) of North America, Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, 19 DOI: 10.3752/cjai.2012.19

Rognes, K. 1991. Blowflies (Diptera, Calliphoridae) of Fennoscandia and Denmark. Fauna Entomologica Scandinavica Vol. 24.

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Respect your specimens

By Crystal Ernst, PhD Candidate (McGill University)

Since I finally submitted my manuscript to a journal (YAY!), I’ve been tying up the little loose ends remaining at the end of the project. You know: organizing the useful data and image files, tossing the files marked « MESSING_AROUND_WITH_DATA_v.29), tidying up my R code, and, perhaps most importantly, curating my specimens.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the project here (I’m saving that for another post). I will say, though, that the work I just completed includes just over 2,600 beetles from a single location in Nunavut (Kugluktuk, where I spent my entire first field season).

Two major aspects of the physical work (as opposed to the thinking, reading and writing) involved in an ecological/entomological project such as this one are the pinning and the identifications. Some of the tasks are a bit tedious (cutting labels; entering data; gluing over 800 specimens of the same tiny, plain black ground beetle to paper points), and some of them are thrilling (finally getting over the « hump » of the morphological learning curve and feeling good and confident when working with your keys; having experts tell you « Yep, you got those all right »; discovering rare species or new regional species records). In the end, in addition to the published (*knocks on wood*) paper, you have boxes or drawers full of specimens.

The specimens are gold. (Read this post by Dr. Terry Wheeler to understand why.)

Unfortunately, they don’t always get treated as such.

In the two-ish years that I’ve been working in my lab, we’ve had two major « lab clean-up days ». The first managed to get rid of a lot of clutter (old papers, broken apparatus, random crap). The second involved going through the « stuff » that was eating up all the most valuable storage space: specimens. Years and years worth of graduate and undergraduate projects’ specimens, stashed in freezers, boxes, bags and vials of all shapes and sizes.

Some things were in good shape (pinned well, or in clear ethanol). Other things were, well, downright nasty: gooey beetles in sludgy brown ethanol, dried up bits of moth wings in plastic containers, and a little bit of « what in the name of pearl is growing on that agar plate??? » in the fridge.

None of these items were kept – their value as useful specimens was nil. So, the physical representation of some student’s work – probably months or years worth of work – was tossed in the trash.

Others, happily, were tucked back into drawers and cupboards, because someone had taken the time to ensure the specimens were well-preserved.

However, even many of these were suffering from a serious issue: bad labels.

Allow me to illustrate the point. This is a bad label:

This is also a bad label:

The first, you’ll note, is written in ballpoint pen (which fades) on a torn piece of notebook paper and contains almost no information. The second, although it looks fancier and perhaps more sciencey, is just as bad: it contains a cryptic code that is useful only to the bearer of the lab notebook in which said code has been written down. Or, perhaps the code is completely intelligible to the researcher who developed it, but the key to it exists only in his or her head.

To everyone else, it is meaningless. Neither of these labels indicate who collected the specimen, where, when, or how. And we all know what happens in labs: upon completion of their degrees, students move on, email addresses change, notebooks are misplaced, data files are not backed up. The labels’ codes can never be broken, and the scientific value of the specimens – *poof*.

While there’s nothing wrong, in theory, with using labels like these temporarily (although there is always a risk that they will be misinterpreted or misunderstood after a little while, even by the person who wrote them), they are absolutely useless as permanent records.

These are good labels:

These labels, properly affixed to a specimen, provide clear and universally understood information. One provides the location, including GPS coordinates, a method of collection, a date, the name of the collector(s). The information that goes on this label can vary a bit (it may include information about the habitat or host plant, for example), but those are the basic requirements. The smaller label is typically affixed on the pin below the first, and contains the specimen’s scientific name and the name of the person who identified it (it is the « det. label », i.e., « determined by »). These labels, and therefore the specimen with which they are associated, will remain useful for decades, even centuries.

I am totally guilty of both of the offenses I just explained (the gooky vials of nastiness and the bad labels). For my undergraduate honors project, I identified close to 8000 spiders, mites and insects to the Family level – it was hundreds of hours of microscope work. Then I stuffed all those specimens back into vials with cryptic little codes, like V-1-F(!), hand-written on STICKERS(!), which I placed on the LIDS(!) and not even in the vials themselves(!). Oh, and I’ve long since lost the notebook that contained my decoder key(!). THIS IS ALL SO BAD. I have no doubt that those boxes of vials, which I once prized so highly and felt such pride for, have been unceremoniously tossed in the trash by my former advisor.

Well, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and from working with museum and other collection specimens. I now understand that each specimen is deserving of respect – it’s the original data after all – and that means it should be properly preserved, and labelled.

So.

Last week I spent a great deal of time, as I said, tying up my loose ends. The last thing I needed to do was remove my cryptic labels (the second in the series up there is an actual example of one of my own « secret code » labels) and replace them with proper ones, sorting and tidying up the collection in the process. The end result?

This:

Frankly, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s also enormously scientifically valuable. These specimens will be deposited in various nationally-important collections and museums, like the CNC.

As a matter of fact, just last week I was at the CNC, and I saw specimens bearing the name of the last person to do a comprehensive survey of the insects in Kugluktuk, back in 1955. That tiny but so-important label suddenly made me feel connected to the man who, almost 60 years earlier, had stood on the same stretch of tundra as me, holding and perhaps delighting in the very specimen that I held in my own hand.

Giving my specimens the respect they deserve is worth it, not only for the scientific value, but also because perhaps, 60 years from now, another grad student will discover my name on a specimen’s det. label. Perhaps she, too, will feel that same wondrous sense of connection to the the greater scheme of scientific discovery…

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Original post at: http://thebuggeek.com/2012/06/25/respect-your-specimens/

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Physiology Friday – Nitric oxide causes a sticky situation

Physiology Friday is a monthly column by UWO PhD candidate Katie Marshall and will feature new Canadian research on insect physiology.

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Nitric oxide (NO) is usually overshadowed in fame by its more famous cousin laughing gas, but it’s difficult to think of many simple molecules that have such a variety of important biological functions.  While NO only lasts a few seconds in the free gaseous state in the blood, it has been implicated in processes that involve everything from immune function to neurotransmission.  One important role for NO is in the cardiac system, where it functions as a vasodilator and in vertebrates it slows heart rate, while in insects it has the opposite effect.

Stick Insect Baculum extradentatum

Baculum extradentatum photo by Sara da Silva

Most of the research about the physiological functions of NO has focused on vertebrates, but recent work published in the journal of Cellular Signalling by graduate student Sara da Silva and her postdoctoral fellow mentor Rosa da Silva in the lab of Angela Lange (University of Toronto Mississauga), has shown that, unlike other insects, the Vietnamese stick insect Baculum extradentatum can respond to NO like a vertebrate.

“Our initial research interests in cardiac physiology were influenced by earlier work indicating that stick insect hearts are innervated and can be modulated by endogenous chemicals [like NO],” says study director and University of Toronto Biology professor Angela Lange.  “It is for this reason that we chose this understudied organism, which contains a simplified cardiovascular system that can be considered a model for work on other cardiac systems.”

The researchers first attempted to find the natural source of NO in the stick insect by removing hemolymph (blood) samples and staining for the presence of an enzyme that produces NO.  Then they examined the effects of NO on heart rate by dissecting the dorsal vessel out and maintaining it in a Petri dish with physiological saline.  They could measure heart rate through the placement of electrodes on either side of the dissected heart, and monitor the effects of various chemicals on the cardiac activity of the stick insect.   They also could examine whether heart rate was mediated by the central nervous system by leaving the nervous system attached or not.

insect heart rate

The effects of nitric oxide on the heart rate of B. extradentatum. Figure 3 from da Silva et al. 2012

They found that the hemocytes (blood cells) of the stick insect were producing an enzyme that was similar to the enzyme other animals use to produce NO.  In addition, the more of a chemical called MAHMA-NONOate (which produces NO) they added, the slower the stick insect hearts beat.  This surprising effect was completely opposite to what had been found in other insects and was more like the response of the vertebrate heart.

“Insects have evolved different strategies depending upon life history, and have co-opted different messenger systems for this success,” says study author da Silva. “We need to understand the full ecology of all species to finally appreciate the factors involved.”

Using the same setup, they also tested other components of a system of compounds that they thought might be involved in the pathway that produces NO that leads to decreased heart rate in B. extradentatum.  They believe that NO is produced in the hemocytes, travels to the wall of the heart, and then leads to the production of a messenger molecule that decreases heart rate.

Schematic diagram of the proposed regulation of cardiac activity in B. extradentatum by the gaseous signaling molecule, nitric oxide (NO)

Schematic diagram of the proposed regulation of cardiac activity in B. extradentatum by the gaseous signaling molecule, nitric oxide (NO). Figure 7 from da Silva et al. 2012.

“This study further emphasizes the evolutionary links between the physiological processes of vertebrate and invertebrate systems,” says da Silva. “Our findings suggest that signaling molecules (such as NO) common to both types of organisms can have similar effects on cardiac activity.  These novel findings demonstrate that the study of vertebrate systems can be complemented with studies in model invertebrate organisms.”

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da Silva, R., da Silva, S.R. & Lange, A.B. (2012). The regulation of cardiac activity by nitric oxide (NO) in the Vietnamese stick insect, Baculum extradentatum, Cellular Signalling, 24 (6) 1350. DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2012.01.010