Category Archives: Insects

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!

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Termites. Termites. Termites.

By S.C. Lougheed
For Ontarions, the word “termite” conjures up a negative image of ravenous insects that cause immense and costly damage to human-made wooden structures because of their propensity to eat dead wood and indeed any material that is cellulose-based (Evans 2011). The beast that we know in Ontario is the eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), a species native to the eastern USA that has been introduced multiple times into Ontario (Scaduto et al. 2012) – probably first in 1938 (Urquhart 1953).

Figure 1. A particularly impressive cathedral termite (Nasutitermes triodiae) mound estimated to be over 50 years old and over 4 metres tall (Queen’s University Biology alumnus Cam Hudson, provides some idea of scale ).
Figure 1. A particularly impressive cathedral termite (Nasutitermes triodiae) mound estimated to be over 50 years old and over 4 metres tall (Queen’s University Biology alumnus Cam Hudson, provides some idea of scale ).

In other parts of the world, like the savannahs of African savannahs, the pampas of Argentina, or tropical and subtropical Australia, some termite species present another face – that of exquisite natural engineers who create magnificent and sometimes immense structures of cellulose, mud and saliva (Figure 1). These termite mounds afford many benefits to the termite colony including protection from predators and buffering from sometimes extreme environments where they are found. In the Box below I present some basic information on evolutionary affinities and diversity.

Figure 2. A field of magnetic termite mounds in Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.
Figure 2. A field of magnetic termite mounds in Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.

One of my favourite examples of beautifully-adapted insect architecture is the mound of the magnetic termite, Amitermes meridionalis, found in Northern Australia. Magnetic termites build their wedge-shaped mounds on seasonal flood plains that are saturated during the wet season (precluding subterranean abodes) and baked in the intense tropical sun in the dry season – an extreme environment indeed! The photo in Figure 2 shows that the mounds are all oriented in the same direction – north-south. The unique shape and orientation mean that one side is shaded and cool as the sun rises and sets, but also that when the sun is at its zenith, only the very top of the wedge receives direct sunlight. Termite mounds can be incredibly important to other organisms. Hollows within them can provide shelter for animals like goannas (monitor lizards), quolls (small marsupials), and snakes. For some species termites form a significant part of their diet (e.g. bilbies – small arid-land omnivorous marsupial) and termite mounds thus a rich foraging ground. Finally termite mounds play a significant role in enriching and cycling of nutrients, with local effects persisting decades after a colony has disappeared.

References

  1. Evans, T.A. 2011. Invasive termites, pp. 519-562. In D.E. Bignell, Y. Roisin, & N. Lo Eds., Biology of Termites: A Modern Synthesis. Springer, Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
  2. Scaduto D.A., S.R. Garner, E.L. Leach & G.J. Thompson. 2012. Genetic evidence for multiple invasions of the eastern subterranean termite into Canada. Environ. Entomol. 41: 1680-168.
  3. Urquhart, F.A. 1953. The introduction of the termite into Ontario. Can. Entomol. 85: 292-293.

Box. There are over 3000 named species of termites (also called “white-ants”), although undoubtedly there remain many others to be discovered (Krishna et al. 2013). Much of this species richness is centred in the tropics and subtropics, where termites play a major role in ecosystems as detritivores. Originally placed within their own order (Isoptera), recent molecular evidence suggests that termites are most closely allied to cockroaches with suggestions that Isoptera be subsumed within the cockroach order Blattodea (Inward et al. 2007). Termites are eusocial insects where different castes perform different roles within the colony. This phenomenon of eusociality has arisen multiple times both in insects (e.g. Hymenoptera – bees and wasps), in crustaceans (alpheid snapping shrimp), and in mammals (naked mole rats, Heterocephalus glaber).

References

Inward, D., G. Beccaloni & P. Eggleton. 2007. Death of an order: A comprehensive molecular phylogenetic study confirms that termites are eusocial cockroaches. Biol. Lett. 3: 331-335.

Krishna, K, D.A. Grimaldi, V. Krishna & M.S. Engel. 2013. Treatise on the Isoptera of the world. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist.  377: 1–2704.

Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis, on Queen’s University Biological Station Properties

Post by Paul R. Martin, Department of Biology, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON Canada

Figure 1. Sean Thomas Martin, standing over the small creek on the Bonwill Tract where he captured the Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis.
Figure 1. Sean Thomas Martin, standing over the small creek on the Bonwill Tract where he captured the Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis.

The Pygmy Grasshoppers (Tetrigidae) are a large family of grasshoppers (>1000 species worldwide), also referred to as groundhoppers or grouse locusts (Preston-Mafham 1990). The family is poorly known and less commonly seen than many other grasshoppers — most species are cryptically coloured (brown, gray or black) and many species have expanded pronotums (the upper part of the back, just behind the head) that resemble leaves, stones or twigs (Preston-Mafham 1990). Only 9 species of pygmy grasshopper are known from Canada, and these are either placed in the family Tetrigidae, or partially split into the families Tetrigidae and Batrachideidae (Vickery and Kevan 1985). All 9 species are small (usually less than 2 cm long), brown, gray or black (never green), and have pronounced eyes and long pronotums that extend backwards, often ending in a point (Vickery and Keven 1985). Only one species has been described from the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS), the Ornate Ground Locust, Tetrix ornatus (Paiero and Conboy 2010). Here I describe the occurrence of another species on QUBS properties, the Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis.

On 28 April 2013, Sean Thomas Martin (age 5) spotted and caught a female Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper from above a narrow creek that led into the north end of Telephone Bay (Lake Opinicon), just east of the Bedford Road (Bonwill Tract) (Fig. 1). The grasshopper was caught immediately above the stream — Sean Thomas told me that it had been “laying eggs in the water,” but I could not verify this (he had already caught it). No other grasshoppers were seen that day. We collected, photographed, and later released the insect (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. The female Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis from the QUBS properties, April 28, 2013. Note the extended pronotum (the light brown "shield" on the back, extending from behind the head almost to the anus) and the black and brown colouration typical of pygmy grasshoppers.
Figure 2. The female Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper, Tettigidea lateralis from the QUBS properties, April 28, 2013. Note the extended pronotum (the light brown “shield” on the back, extending from behind the head almost to the anus) and the black and brown colouration typical of pygmy grasshoppers.

Among the pygmy grasshoppers in Canada, our grasshopper can be identified to the two species in the Batrachideidae group by the 16 or more segments of the antennae (Fig. 2a) and the groove on the upper edge of the femor (the largest part of the back leg; Fig. 2b). The Black-sided Pygmy Grasshopper is separated from the similar Armored Pygmy Grasshopper, T. armata, by the blunt shape of the pronotum where it reaches the head that lacks a pronounced point (Fig. 2b; Vickery and Kevan 1985).

Black-sided Pygmy Grasshoppers are widespread in southern Ontario and Québec and overwinter as adults (Vickery and Kevan 1985). Adults emerge early in spring (as early as 2 April in Québec) and can occupy a diversity of habitats, from dry sandy ridges to wet areas beside water (Vickery and Kevan 1985). Little is known of the species’ natural history, although it has been described from Manitoba to Nova Scotia, south to Central America (Vickery and Kevan 1985; Capinera et al. 2004). While this species has not previously been documented on QUBS properties, Black-sided Pygmy-Grasshoppers are likely overlooked by most observers over the age of 5.

Literature cited

Capinera, J. L., R. D. Scott, and T. J. Walker. 2004. Field guide to grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets of the United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Paiero, S. A., and M. A. Conboy 2010. List of Orthopteroides at Queen’s University Biological Station. http://www.queensu.ca/qubs/resources/specieslists/orthopteroids.html

Preston-Mafham, K. 1990. Grasshoppers and Mantids of the World. Blandford Publishers, London, UK.

Vickery, V. R., and K. M. Kevan. 1985. The insects and arachnids of Canada. Part 14. The grasshoppers, crickets, and related insects of Canada and adjacent regions. Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada.

The Best Year for Butterflies..Ever!

Posted by Mark Conboy

Though the butterfly season is not yet entirely over, it’s certainly not too early to declare 2012 one of the best years ever for observing butterflies in Ontario. Though most of the excitement was to be found in southwestern Ontario, we here in eastern Ontario were not without some great butterflying of our own.

Common Buckeye. Photo by Brian Penney.

At QUBS, like in much of the province’s south, the excitement came in the form of several waves of “invading” migratory species starting with red admirals (Vanessa atalanta), American ladies (V. virginiensis), painted ladies (V. cardui), question marks (Polygonia interrogationis) and common buckeyes (Junonia coenia) at record early dates and in unprecedented numbers during the March heat wave. Though red admirals, American ladies and question marks occur good numbers during most years, painted ladies and common buckeyes are rather rare species at QUBS. During this initial invasion we also had two grey hairstreaks (Strymon melinus) in a remote part of the Pangman Tract. Grey hairstreaks are yet another rare species at the station having been recorded on only a few occasions.

A second wave of migrants arrived a few weeks later. This second invasion had most of the above mentioned species plus mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa), little yellows (Eurema lisa; rare at QUBS) and unusually high numbers of early season clouded (Colias philodice) and orange (C. eurytheme) sulphurs. In just the last few weeks even more invaders have arrived. Recently fiery skippers (Hylephila phyleus), at least one sachem (Atalopedes campestris) and two white-M hairstreaks (Parrhasius m-album) have reached the Kingston Region but none have yet been found at QUBS. In other parts of southern Ontario funereal duskywings (Erynnis funeralis), cloudless sulphurs (Phoebis sennae), dainty sulphurs (Nathalis iole), American snouts (Libytheana carinent) and variegated fritillaries (Euptoieta claudi) have all been recorded in greater abundance than usual.

Gian swallowtail. Photo by Mark Conboy.

In addition to migrants this has been a notable year for breeding giant swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes). Giant swallowtails have are now a common component of our butterfly fauna, but this is a fairly new species QUBS. The expansion of giant swallowtails out of southwestern Ontario and into our area started in 2008 when there were a few recorded along Opinicon Road; in 2009 there were about a dozen observations throughout QUBS lands; in 2010 they had become a little more common and more regularly encountered. By the spring of 2011 giant swallowtails were all of a sudden very common, especially on the Pangman and Hughson Tracts where we also found our first caterpillars. This spring, they were more abundant than ever; it was not unusual to count up to 20 adults on a single outing. By mid-summer the number of adults had decreased so that only a few were being daily, but caterpillars were abundant and widespread on northern prickly-ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) along field edges in sunny patches of forest. The large caterpillars which look like big droppings, smell like citrus and display a range of intriguing anti-predator behaviours when disturbed have caught the attention of many non-biologists too. I’ve had over a dozen inquiries about the “huge strange worms” from local residents and cottagers.

Another species of formerly southern butterfly may be found breeding at QUBS in the coming years. Wild indigo duskywings (Erynnis baptisiae) have recently arrived along the Lake Ontario shoreline near Bath and in Prince Edward County. We haven’t found any for certain yet at QUBS but several patches of one of this species’ larval food plants, crown-vetch (Securigera varia), are found on the roadsides near the station and could potentially support a small population of this drab little skipper. Identification of this species is rather complicated because it is virtually identical to columbine duskywing (E. lucilius), a very common species at QUBS. These two species are not reliably told apart in the field except when you can see what plant the females are ovipositing on (baptisiae on crown-vetch, lucilius on red columbine [Aquilegia canadensis]) With some careful observations and a little luck we may yet add wild indigo duskywing to our station list which presently stands at 79 species.

Two recent bee publications.

I subscribe to a number of listservs and on occasion am sent information on new publications that might be of general interest. One of these is a joint publication of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Pollination Partnership, a not for profit head-quartered in San Francisco entitled “Bee Basics An Introduction to Our Native Bees“. It provides a very nice and eminently readable consideration of the ecology, anatomy and diversity of bees of the United States, many species of which of course are also common to Canada. The publication even alludes to the pollination parkthat has been created on an abandoned landfill cite near the City of Guelph.

The second publication is a very well received book from bee biologist Laurence Packer of York University in Toronto. It is a finalist for the Lane Anderson Award which honours two Canadian-authored science books annually. Laurence talks with erudition, first hand knowledge and humour about bee biology, the role of bees in ecosystems, and their recent decline.

Observations of Dragonflies Visiting Lights at Night

Dragonflies (order Odonata, suborder Anisoptera) and normally diurnal. However some dragonflies are active by night. This is particularly true of long distance migrants that travel over open water where they cannot roost so must continue to fly even after dark (Corbet 1984; Hong-Qiang et al 2006). Some species of non-migratory dragonflies are also occasionally observed moving at night. Almost all of these cases are observations of dragonflies coming to lights (Corbet 1999). Reports of nocturnal adult dragonfly activity appear to be relatively scarce, especially with regard to North American species.

Canada darner (Aeshna canadensis) perched just before dusk. The second most frequently recorded species at lights. Photo: Mark Andrew Conboy.

Since April 10, 2010 I have recorded 16 instances (7 species) of dragonflies attending black, mercury vapor and incandescent porch lights at QUBS Point. Here is a summary of those observations. Note that the times given below refer to the time when the dragonfly was discovered at the light and not necessarily when it first arrived there.

Canada darner (Aeshna canadensis); 4 records; all at combination black light/mercury vapor; time: 23:00 and 2:45

Black-tipped darner (Aeshna tuberculifera); 1 record; combination black light/mercury vapor; time: 2:45

Dusky clubtail (Gomphus spicatus); 1 record; combination black light/mercury vapor; time: 4:00

Prince baskettail (Epitheca princeps); 6 records; all at combination black light/mercury vapor; time: between 1:00 and 4:00

Common baskettail (Epitheca cynosura); 3 records; 2 at combination black light/mercury vapor, 1 incandescent porch light; time: 4:00 for all

American emerald (Dorocordulia shurtleffi); 1 record; incandescent porch light; time: 4:00

Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum); 1 record; at black light; time: 12:30.

In addition I have recorded one other species from a different location:

Common green darner (Anax junius) – non-migratory population; 1 record; perched on screen door in morning; Kingston, ON.

Most dragonflies that come to lights are from the families Aeshnidae (darners), Gomphidae (clubtails) and Libellulidae (skimmers) (Corbet 1999). My species list includes representatives from each of these families plus three species of Corduliidae (emeralds and baskettails). With regard to nocturnal movement, I was unable to find species-specific references for most of the dragonflies on the list except for prince baskettail. Both sexes of prince baskettail have been observed perching at street lights between 23:00 and 1:30, staying for about 20 min then departing (Young 1967).

Dragonflies often emerge from their larval exoskeletons after dark, so nocturnal activity among teneral dragonflies might be expected. There are some instances of teneral dragonflies coming to lights during their maiden flights (Corbet 1999). None of the dragonflies collected at QUBS lights in 2010 have been teneral however. Why fully adult dragonflies appear at lights after dark is unknown. It may be that they are disturbed form a nearby roost and fly toward a light because that is all they can see in the dark (Pinhey 1976 in Corbet 1999). It seems unlikely that they are foraging around lights because no active hunting behaviour has been observed.

I will continue to keep records of dragonflies attending lights and make occasional updates to the above list as comments to this post. Thanks to Line Faber and Georgia Lloyd-Smith for collecting dragonflies at the lights.

References
Corbet, P.S. 1984. Orientation and reproductive condition of migrating dragonflies (Anisoptera). Odonatalogica 13: 81-88.

Corbet, P.S. 1999. Dragonflies: behaviour and ecology of Odonata. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY.

Hong-Qiang, F., Kon

Posted by Mark Andrew Conboy