The Bugman Cometh

By Art Goldsmith

August 11-12, 2015

I spent quality time on two fine August days with THE Bugman of Ontario, Marvin Gunderman, an Entomology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Each year, a maximum of 14 very fortunate students spend two weeks with Marvin and two very motivated co-instructors, one of whom is a very capable entomologist and photographer, while the other is a crop plant specialist.

The course is officially called “Field Entomology & Ecology“. Students receive a full Ontario Universities course credit for completing the course. For more information visit http://fieldentomology.com/.

After lunch on the first day, I found a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (common at QUBS, but not in the upper Ottawa Valley, where I live).

Immediately, I showed the caterpillar to Dave, who identified it. Dave travels to QUBS from his job at the National Museum of Denmark, where he is the Collection Manager for Diptera (flies).

First thing in the morning, students gather around Marvin to take the long, long trek down the QUBS road to the first collecting site of the day, meadows and fields a-buzz with a diversity of insect life.

First thing in the morning, students gather around Marvin to take the long, long trek down the QUBS road to the first collecting site of the day, meadows and fields a-buzz with a diversity of insect life.

Only seconds have elapsed, and Marvin's keen eye has spotted a worthwhile insect model amongst the Goldenrods.
Only seconds have elapsed, and Marvin’s keen eye has spotted a worthwhile insect model amongst the Goldenrods.
Collection nets
The happy troop, collection nets in hand (except for course instructor Dave, centre) troops off down the road in search of their quarry.
Reaching the meadows, Marvin stops and surveys the scene, looking for the best and richest microhabitat to find a rare insect, or, at least, an insect representative of one of the more esoteric orders.
Reaching the meadows, Marvin stops and surveys the scene, looking for the best and richest microhabitat to find a rare insect, or, at least, an insect representative of one of the more esoteric orders.
Jeremy, above, describing the REALLY big beetle that got away.
Jeremy, above, describing the REALLY big beetle that got away.

Tales in Horse Poop

We ecologists and naturalists are an easily distracted lot. We bring new meaning to the word “FOCUS”. Indeed, who could resist focusing on a very large Arachnid, which had decided to occupy equine waste. Certainly, Marvin could not resist. Nor could I. Marvin is seen below, fancy home-made diffuser and flash at the ready with super macro lens to take a photo to record the sighting. Initially identified as a “Nursery Web” spider, the evidence later pointed to one of many Wolf spiders (family Lycosidae), which are indeed close relatives of the Nursery Web spiders (family Pisauridae) and it does take a close inspection of the arrangement of the multiple eyes to sort out. Our largest Canadian spiders are members of these two families.

Marvin 3

Fortunately, my own photo, below, does show the arrangement and decided the identification.

Lycosidae

Inspired by this impressive Lycosidae, for comparative purposes I went onto the QUBS wharf to find the most commonly seen Pisauridae, the Dock or Wharf Spider, which has caused a few “starts” in many cottage vacationers in southern Canada.  It took me seconds to find a half dozen, and another hour to get a decent photo of these shy creatures (below).

Pisauridae


All students are required to bring cameras that are able to take macro photos (i.e., lenses which are able to get very close to a small object like an insect).

Simonne taking a photo for a record of an insect on a thistle flower.
Simonne taking a photo for a record of an insect on a thistle flower. All students are required to bring cameras that are able to take macro photos (i.e., lenses which are able to get very close to a small object like an insect).

Alex

Above, Alex demonstrates the capture and preservation of an insect specimen.  Students are required to create a collection of the most common insect orders, and to arrange and identify their specimens, as shown below.  Pins are used to secure specimens onto Styrofoam.

Pins

Gunderman Course

Right, Skippers are common and diverse butterflies throughout North America. One of the most common Skippers that we see in late summer is the European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola), an exotic species from Europe that came to North America in the early part of the 20th century, when agriculture was planting a lot of Timothy grass (Phleum pretense), also from Europe. Until this summer, I often overlooked Skippers, assuming most were European. I found that many native Skippers still abound, such as the Crossline Skipper (Polites origenes). European Skippers are orange in colour. This Crossline Skipper is dull with a very faint pale band, clearly visible in this photo.

Cicada

Above, one of the students was able to capture a newly emerged Cicada, the “warm-days-of-summer” buzzing True Bug, of the order Hemiptera. We have only one species in Eastern Ontario, the Dog Days Cicada, Neotibicen (Tibicen) canicularis.

And what else is in all of those jars the students used for collecting?  Like the Diptera (the insect order that includes all of the flies, collectors will also find a lot of Coleopterans (the Beetles insect order). During late summer days in fields like the one in which we were collecting, there are many members of the Silphidae, Carrion Beetles, such as  the one pictured below, feeding on insects. So far in North America, there are less than 50 species of Carrion Beetles described. Perhaps one of the budding entomologists on this course will describe many more in the future.

Carrion Beetle

Click on this link to learn more about the Silphidae (Carrion Beetles).

I was distracted by a very large spider (our SECOND spider distraction of the afternoon. See “Tales in Horse Poop” above for another scintillating story, which even Marvin could NOT resist). Female spiders are generally much larger than males. Therefore, I expect this is a female Shamrock Spider (Araneus trifolium), as it was just under an inch in length.  Unlike the two spider families discussed under “horse poop”, which hide and surprise prey, this one is an orb weaver.

Shamrock Spider


Boathouse

I took a break from the lab chemicals to visit the QUBS wharf, above.  I was after the Wharf Spider, and I also was fortunate to see a common dragonfly of Eastern Ontario, the Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus), below.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg


Marvin 4

Back on the trail, the intrepid class receives Marvin’s wisdom, above, before spreading out to capture insects in a very different habitat, the wetlands around Cow Island. Below, course instructor Jen, who annually takes leave in order to help Marvin deliver this course, briefly glances up before returning to her insect detective work.

Jen

Above left, enthusiasm abounds as students collect water insects, like the Water Scorpion (Genus Ranatra), a predatory insect, in the right-hand jar, above right.

Jen and Dave

Later that evening, Jen and Dave take a moment to pose for this awesome photo (above), after a job well done. Meanwhile, below, the incredibly handsome duo of Marvin Gunderman, and your blogger, Art Goldsmith, take a brief millisecond break from their very serious taxonomical deliberations. Note Marvin’s “insect” t-shirt and Art’s hand lens!

image23

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