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A unique experience for the mosquito enthusiast – FMEL’s mosquito identification course 2014

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.

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Identifying Termite Damage in Canada

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Sam Droege-2

Portrait of a house-killer: The eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes is commonly found in homes. Photo courtesy of USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program/ by Sam Droege.

The following post is by Ben Friedson, an student of Biology at George Washington University

 

Termites are often thought to infest only tropical or temperate areas. In fact, they thrive in most parts of southern Canada, especially along the coasts. They are commonly found in large cities like Toronto or Ottawa. The most common type of termite to infest Canadian homes is the subterranean termite (in the East, Reticulitermes flavipes, in the West, Reticulitermes hesperus).

A mobile problem: Subterranean termites about to swarm. Photo by Ben Friedson.

A mobile problem: Subterranean termites about to swarm. Photo by Ben Friedson.

Subterranean termites spend most of their lives underground, in colonies with up to 2 million members (depending on the species). In the spring, subterranean termites swarm when groups of reproductive termites go off to start new colonies. They feed on the wood of a home or building, targeting wooden floors, furnishings, window frames, doors, wall paneling and much more. As termites rarely show themselves in the open, infestations can be difficult to detect until damage becomes severe.

When inspecting your home for termite damage, look to identify at least one of the following:

Mud Tubes

If subterranean termites spend too much time above the ground, their bodies begin to dry out and they die. To avoid this, termite workers make mud tubes along the surfaces of walls, fences, tree trunks or steps so they can work and eat in the comfort of moist ground.

Termite mud tubes look as if someone has painted long thin lines on your home with dirt. Dry tubes are old tubes. Old tubes may indicate that the termites are still residing in your home. If you scrape open a moist mud tube, you may see the termites at work.

The most common places to find subterranean termites in a home are basements, garages or any other room on the ground floor.

Hollow Sounding Wood

All termites make tunnels through many types of substances like wood, mulch and drywall. Eventually, the internal structure of the material becomes so riddled with tunnels that it collapses. This is why it is so important to spot termites early, before severe damage occurs.

Unfortunately, you need X-ray vision in order to see the tunnels. However, you can determine the presence of tunnels by knocking on walls, steps or anywhere you suspect termites might be. If you tap a surface and it sounds hollow, this may be an indication of termite tunnels.

 

Armed Forces Pest Mangagement  Board

How bad it can get: Subterranean Termite damage in a structure. Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board.

Spots of Damage

Another sign of termite damage is when you see strange spots or stripes on the surface of wooden items throughout the home such as steps, walls, window frames, doorways and furniture. Inspect your home in search of wood surface that appear discolored, warped or bubbling.

If you notice hollow spots on wood surfaces, the termites have eaten just about everything under a thin surface layer. Flakes of paint, wallpaper or plaster on the floor is a big indicator that hollow spots exist. Beware; termites can actually fall out of these spots, at times.

As home owners, you can prevent termite infestations by stopping any sources of moisture that would attract termites. In addition, you must ensure that landscapes are kept clean and neatly trimmed. Be sure that no trees are coming in contact with building walls. Firewood must be stored away from a building and kept dry.

Termite damage is a frustrating problem as it harms valuable property that must be repaired if it is neglected for too long. Contact an experience pest control company, immediately, if you suspect a termite infestation in your home.

Author Bio: Ben Friedson is  a junior at George Washington University in Washington, DC, pursuing a BSc in Biology with a concentration in Entomology. He recently spent a semester studying at the University of Alberta, where courses in ecology heightened his interest in pest management and conservation issues.

Subterranean termites ready to swarm. Photo courtesy of Tom Murray.

Subterranean termites ready to swarm. Photo courtesy of Tom Murray.

 

 

 

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Ants of Alberta – Technical Editor’s Pick CJAI 22

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