The following is a guest post from ESC student member Sharleen Balogh. Sharleen is a Masters student at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) working with Dezene Huber and Staffan Lindgren on Warren Root Collar Weevils. She recently took home a President’s Prize for best talk at the ESC/ESS JAM in Saskatoon. 

 

For the past two years, I have been studying the Warren root collar weevil (Hylobius warreni). These weevils are fairly large and long-­‐lived (for insects anyways, they are about 12-­‐15 mm, and live for up to five years). I think they are big enough to have distinct faces and personalities, although some people have told me that I’m personifying them just a bit too much and I need to take a step back from my work, but that’s another story altogether.

I am studying them because of their effects on coniferous trees, especially young lodgepole pines regenerating after the mountain pine beetle infestation in the interior of British Columbia. The larvae feed on the roots and root collars of trees, causing mortality of young trees and growth reductions in older trees (Cerezke 1994). They are native to the Prince George area (where I am doing my research) and can be found across much of Canada. They are often fairly common within their range. However they really can be described as “everywhere and nowhere”, since you can find them in almost any forested area in the region, just in low numbers and often well-­‐hidden.

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The Warren root collar weevil. How can you not love that face? Photo: Staffan Lindgren

I have specifically been looking at the mechanisms by which they locate their host trees. The weevils can’t fly, so they walk along the ground in search of hosts. We know that they use vision (Machial et al. 2012a) to locate trees, but not much else about their host location. There are higher rates of attack by larvae on larger trees, but this could just be a result of a larger area of roots available, not an actual preference when finding hosts. So far no one has been able to find any chemical cues that they use, although this is very unusual for an insect. Some evidence suggests that at least in some situations their movements may be predominantly random and non-­‐directional (Machial et al. 2012b, Klingenberg et al. 2010).

In order to study them, I decided to track the weevils using harmonic radar technology. This is the same technology that is used to locate avalanche victims. It functions by the detector sending out a signal in the microwave range that is passively reflected back by a transponder, attached to whatever you want to find. For use in locating avalanche victims, the transponder is the large Recco® tags you often see in ski jackets. In the case of the weevils, I used a miniaturized transponder– a tiny diode soldered to a 4 cm long piece of copper wire.

When I first decided to use this method, and to construct the transponders myself, I went online to learn how to solder. I was told by several different tutorials that it is “very easy, almost impossible to get wrong”. This may be the case when soldering computer circuit boards, but not so when soldering two tiny pieces of metal together under the microscope. In the end though, I did get it to work, and I tagged 115 weevils over two field seasons. I released them into individual plots in a lodgepole pine stand, within which I had mapped all of the trees, and I relocated them at regular intervals.

Although I’m still analyzing my data, my results suggest that the weevils preferred to go to closer trees, larger trees, and that the preference for larger trees increases when the trees are further away. Otherwise, their movements appear to be primarily random and non-­‐directional. So, as strange as it is, maybe they do just use vision and random movements. If this is true, and their host selection process is predominantly random, this may have implications for forest management. It might make finding ways to limit their spread into new stands difficult, and it may make it difficult or impossible to identify potential genetically resistant trees for planting.

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Warren root collar weevil tagged with transponder. Photo: Staffan Lindgren

 

 

References Cited:

 

Cerezke, H.F. 1994. Warren rootcollar weevil, Hylobius warreni Wood (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), in Canada: ecology, behavior, damage, relationships, and management. The Canadian Entomologist. 126: 1383-­‐1442

 

Machial, L.A., B.S. Lindgren, and B.H. Aukema. 2012a. The role of vision in the host orientation behaviour of Hylobius warreni. Agricultural and Forest Entomology. 14:

286-­‐294

 

Machial, L.A., B.S. Lindgren, R.W. Steenweg, and B.H. Aukema. 2012b. Dispersal of Warren root collar weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) in three types of habitat. Environmental Entomology. 41: 578-­‐586

 

Klingenberg, M.D., N. Bjorklund, and B.H. Aukema. 2010. Seeing the forest through the trees: differential dispersal of Hylobius warreni within modified forest habitats. Environmental Entomology. 39: 898-­‐906

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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The following post comes to us from our new President, Staffan Lindgren, who in addition to being a great researcher, takes the time to make natural history observations which are crucial for any entomologist. 

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Male Vespula pensylvanica. This was the male that was mating with the queen.

On occasion I grab my camera and go out in the garden to see if some photogenic insect or other arthropod is willing to pose for me. On October 18, I went out to see what was happening around the rose bushes between ours and our neighbour’s yard. I was immediately struck by the fairly intense activity of yellowjackets, which peaked my curiosity. After looking around for a while I saw what the commotion was all about; a large queen was being mobbed by a number of males. To my knowledge, I have never seen a male yellowjacket wasp before. A casual observer would just think that they were workers, since they are about the same size and don’t otherwise look obviously different. Looking closer I realized that the queen was in copula with one of the males, so I tried to get some photos. It immediately became clear that I had the wrong lens on; my Canon MP-E 65 macro simply couldn’t capture the entire scene. Therefore the photos I managed to take only show parts of the scene. I didn’t have time to go back and change the lens, unfortunately, but below are a few shots.

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Here is another view of the male.

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This is the queen. The male she was mating with is in the lower right corner. Note the second male trying to mate with her in the background. Note also that her legs are not in contact with the leaf; she was essentially held by the male.

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And here is a view of the act of mating, showing the male in the foreground holding on to the queen. Using these photos and the identification guide to the Vespinae I came to the conclusion that these are Vespula pensylvanica Saussure.

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Sabrina Rochefort – winner of the President’s Prize for best poster

At the recent ESC/ESS JAM in Saskatoon, not only were we treated to some great science and camaraderie, but the beloved institution of the President’s Prize sessions for student talks and posters provided some of the most stimulating and exciting times. This was my first year not being in the competition, and I would like to offer my views on the subject.

1) The President’s Prize encourages excellence: Students are definitely motivated to deliver polished and professional presentations in the hopes that their efforts will be recognized publicly. This reaches further than the conference, to encourage students to vet their talks and posters within their laboratories and departments in formal and informal settings in order to make the best presentation possible. This can only be a good thing.

2) The recognition is important: this prize, although modest financially, has amazing value as something to put on one’s CV. This enhances the career prospects of the winners and also the recognition that conference travel for students is worth funding within departments. Again, the value of this prize reaches much further than the conference, as students returning with the tangible benefits of a prize winning talk encourages others to make it a priority to attend and give an excellent talk next year.

The President’s Prize and the more recent innovation of the Graduate Student Showcase are thus valuable to the society as a whole. By encouraging and recognizing the efforts of students who attend our conferences to present well-polished research results, we promote excellence in scientific communication. We can all learn from the skill and innovation of these students!

With all of this in mind, I would like to make some recommendations:

1) For every conference, pre-publish the scoring rubric to be used by the judges. This will ensure that students entering a talk or poster know what points they have to hit to make their talk a candidate for the prize. These rubrics should not penalize creativity on the part of the students or discretion on the part of the judges, but should ensure that there is a baseline for what is expected.

2) At every conference, formally recognize runners-up in every session: It costs nothing but a bit of extra time during award presentation, but the chance to bestow recognition on a few more students should not go to waste. Many sessions have many excellent talks, and to send an excellent presenter home with nothing does no one any good.  It has been a bit hit and miss in recent years at ESC meetings with regards to runners-up, and I think it should be the case that every conference includes this important recognition.

3) Send all competitors home with the judging sheets. This is a bit more onerous on the part of the judges, but the judges can definitely jot down some notes on their scoring sheet and show the tally for how well the talk lived up to the rubric. This is important to show that the criteria used to score the talks informed the decision. More importantly, it allows students to see how well their talk met the judges’ expectations, and to improve their presentations for the next year. This has been done at a couple of ESC meetings over the last few years and as far as I know, students found the feedback they got very valuable and were able to use it to improve their science communication skills.

 Thanks to Mile Zhang for photos of the poster competitors, and to Catherine Scott for helpful suggestions. Congratulations to all this year’s winners, runners-up, and competitors!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This one is pretty cool too…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Sam searches among moss and Scotch Broom.

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

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A freshly-moulted harvestperson with exuvium still attached!

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A large ichneumonid among pine needles.

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A 10-lined june beetle larva under a log.

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

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Gwylim searches the beach.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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And… success at last!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Citations:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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