Expiscor (9 September 2013)

Welcome to Monday… Welcome to Expiscor! Weekly links about entomology, nature, and a dash of the curious. Here’s what I came across this past week:

  • Speaking of Harvestmen, as Derek Hennen points out, this one is like a Christmas tree (adorned with shiny mites)
Get a load of this Harvestman! (photo courtesy or Derek Hennen, reproduced here with permission)

Get a load of this Harvestman! (photo courtesy or Derek Hennen, reproduced here with permission)

  • Beetles drinking wine and so much more: Insect dioramas. Go look. PLEASE go look.
The Spiny Oak Slug (copyright C. Ernst)

The Spiny Oak Slug (copyright C. Ernst)

  • Tweet of the week goes to…Marc Ozon. It’s just so true.

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  • Interesting perspectives on Academia, using the concept of reviewing papers as an example:… should we “give up our archaic notions of unpaid craft labor and insist on professional compensation for our expertise”
  • I was at a Science Communication workshop last week, and was introduced to this:

Expiscor (19 August 2013) – The Photography Edition (Part 2)

Last week was Part 1 of the Photography editions of Expiscor (this is because I was been doing remote field work and have thus been unable to keep up on science links, and now I’m on vacation!).  Here’s Part 2 – and again, I thank the Photographers for letting me post their work here, and for directing me to their favourite nature image.

First up, a lovely shot from Morgan Jackson, a Micropezidae fly (genus Raineria)

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An Expiscor favourite Adrian Thysse submitted this photo, with the following comment: My ‘favourites’ change every week, but here is a shot that was one of themost popular images at the Bug Jamboree at the Ellis Bird Farm last Saturday. It is a meadowhawk, Sympetrum sp. , taken with very shallow depth of field to smooth-out the background and to accentuate those magnificent eyes.

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Next, another awesome fly, from Rachel Graham:

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Warren Sarle submitting this photo – lovely little jumping spiders!

Salticidae

The next photo comes with a story, here’s what Matt Bertone writes about this image:

I was walking on a trail near our local lake (Raleigh, NC, USA), when I came upon a harvestman. I didn’t think much of it until I saw this tiny ceratopogonid sucking hemolymph out of its leg. I had been wanting to find this phenomenon, so I took a couple photos (others show the whole scene) and then was on my way to find new subjects. After posting on facebook and having Chris Borkent comment on it, I sent the photo to Art Borkent, a world expert on punkies. He was amazed at what I had found – Opiliones as a host was only recorded once ever, and only in Brazil. I was kicking myself for not getting the specimen, but at least the shot turned out well!

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Ok, time to move away from the “All Arthropod” show… here’s an image of my own and here’s the story: Last week I was in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, doing field work. While doing a “tundra walk” one afternoon, we stumbled across a tiny patch of Asters, tucked in among some rocks. It was a beautiful moment because it was very late season, and we observed very few flowers. However, these stunning Asters took my breath away. Delicate, beautiful, fragile.

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Expiscor (6 May 2013)

Welcome to May! Expiscor is still going strong, and thanks to everyone for the continued support and interest. I’m certainly thrilled about this, and will continue to post weekly links about entomology, arachnology, natural history, biology and a dash of the curious and odd.

  • Silk farming and biotechnology: the future is here. This paper describes some things that I don’t fully understand, and I am partially fascinated by, and partially terrified about, the idea (anyone read Margaret Atwood‘s book, Oryx & Crake?).
  • On the death of a bug blog? Ted MacRae posts about waning interest by readers, and perhaps by him, with his fabulous Beetles in the Bush blog. Ted will keep posting (phew!) but less regularly. Actually, I have noticed that over the past six months or so quite a few bug blogs have been less active.  This saddens me – high quality entomology blogs are an important way for this discipline to reach a wide audience.  Come on, folks – keep them going!
  • Palpal action. and check out this stunning photo from Chthoniid!  Yes, Harvestmen are among the most lovely of the Arachnida.
A charming harvestmen. © Chthoniid, reproduced here with permission.

A charming harvestmen. © Chthoniid, reproduced here with permission.

  • Worried about the decline of bees and colony collapse disorder?  Read this –> an important message (thanks Bug Girl for posting this)
  • On-line reading – I have been enjoying Nautilus this past week. Here’s their motto: “Nautilus is a different kind of science magazine. We deliver big-picture science by reporting on a single monthly topic from multiple perspectives. Read a new chapter in the story every Thursday”.  Definitely one to follow. And it’s a lovely site to look at.
  • Avoid that mumbo-jumbo.  Here’s Alan Alda’s take on scientific jargon.  Here’s a great quote from him:  “There’s no reason for the jargon when you’re trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you’re talking what amounts to gibberish to them“.  He’s right.
  • Think you’r a pretty big deal? What to think about your place in the Universe? Think again. (thanks Sam Heads for tweeting that link!)
  • Kids have an interesting fashion sense. Here’s a photo of my 9 year old, en route to school.  I wish we could all worry a little less about whether or not things might clash, and just be happy that we have clothes to wear and food to eat.
Fashion. That is all.

Fashion. That is all.

  • Unless you’ve been off the grid for months, you have probably heard of the great Canadian Chris Hadfield, up on the International Space Station. He and Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson teamed up a while ago to write and perform a song (yes, Chris was in SPACE during the recording). Well, this was all leading up to MUSIC MONDAY, which is today. A fabulous celebration about music – all the details are here.  And the video of the Hadfield/Robertson song is below. Worth a listen.
  • ….on a related note, Chris Hadfield has more twitter followers than Canada’s Prime Minster (and for good reason).

Ten fun facts about Daddy Longlegs

Animals with many names: Harvestmen, Daddy longlegs, Shepherd Spiders, Grandfather Greybeard, Phalangids, Opiliones.

Cousins of other Arachnids, but an Order all to their own.   Over the past 11 months, I’ve been on a journal of discovery about these amazing creatures.

After nearly 300 tweets, and over 600 pages of text in Pinto-da-Rocha et al.’s book on Harvestmen, the Opiliones Project (in the way it was originally conceived) is over.  To recap – this was a twitter-based project in which I shared content from that weighty textbook with anyone who cared to follow along (using the hashtag #OpilionesProject).  Many folks followed along, notably my twitter friends Derek Hennen, Jaden Walker, Matthew Cobb, and many, many others…

A lovely Harvestmen - photo by B. Valentine, reproduced here with permission

A lovely Harvestmen – photo by B. Valentine, reproduced here with permission

I learned a lot along the way – and will take this opportunity to highlight ten fun facts about Harvestmen – all of these were part of the Opiliones Project.

Did you know that…

1. Salvador Dali featured Harvestmen in his work!  It’s true – check it out: “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening

2. Harvestmen can breath through their legs!  Spiracles in harvestmen are located just posterior to the coxae of the 4th pair of legs and this supply of oxygen to Harvestmen legs (e.g., after they are removed) contributes to the duration of twitching

3. Harvestmen have been around for at least 400 million years!  Phenominal!  And Harvestmen from the Rynie chert have an extensive tracheal system – the oldest record of such tubes of ANY arthropod

4. Harvestmen are NOT venomous! They don’t have venom glands!  A common urban myth.

5. Over 60 chemical compounds have been isolated from Harvestmen secretions (e.g., the secretions that are often used in chemical defense)

6.  At least a dozen species of Harvestmen are known to be parthenogenetic (females lay eggs that produce only females)!

7.  Harvestmen often show aggregation behavior, and the largest aggregation recorded is 70,000 individuals on a candelabrum cactus!

8. Unlike other Arachnids, Harvestmen males have a penis!

9. In some Harvestmen species, males use their chelicerae to offer oral secretion to female – a type of nuptial gift!

10. In some species, Harvestment moult even after they are have reached adulthood!

So there you have it.  Many fascinating and fun facts about Harvestmen (and there are many, many more) – you can access all the tweets from the Opiliones Project here (all 24 pages of them).

There were some other notable Harvestmen events over the past year, and it was fortunate this project coincided with these events.  For example, the Taxonomy Hulk burst onto the scene, and highlighted an article depicting a mix-up between a spider and a Harvestmen (a common mistake…).  Also, a truly HUGE harvestmen species was discovered – this sucker had a 13 inch legspan.  As May Berenbaum said over twitter…that’s a Daddy Loooooonglegs!

So, to finish – a big THANK YOU to everyone who followed along.  I hope this project was a fun for you as it was for me.

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Another lovely Harvestmen, photo by B. Valentine, reproduced here with permission.

A special thanks to Brian Valentine for permission to use his Harvestmen photos on this blog!

We need the Taxonomy Hulk

The Taxonomy Hulk burst onto twitter yesterday. We need superheroes like Taxonomy Hulk. As his/her alter ego, s/he surfs the internet, working away as a taxonomist, doing things that taxonomists do – describing species, inferring their evolutionary relationships, discovering their natural history. However, if s/he spots a taxonomic mistake on a website, news story, scientific article, or blog – LOOK OUT. The Hulk goes through an impressive metamophosis. S/he gets mad and gets even. If you make a taxonomic mistake, you will be shamed. Message: DON’T MAKE A #TAXONOMYFAIL. Taxonomy Hulk points out misidentifications in images (e.g., see this website with a Harvestmen instead of a spider.. oops [although a common mistake]).

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Taxonomy Hulk reminds us to use Latin names, not common names.

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Taxonomy Hulk is also funny. We need humour – every day.

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On a slightly more serious note: correct taxonomy is critically important. Other posts (e.g., see here or here) have pointed out taxonomic failures – and I especially like Bug Girl’s Flickr set!. One letter difference in Miridae (a family of plant bugs) gets you to Muridae (rodents and their relatives) – yeah those two are just a bit different. As an ecologist (although one with envy of taxonomists, and one in awe of the work taxonomists do!), I admit that I am perhaps not as careful as I should be when it comes to checking nomenclature, or ensuring spelling is always correct. I try – but given that my training is not in taxonomy, I surely make mistakes. I fear that some ecologists appreciate the importance of sound taxonomy even less than I do, and we need a watchdog. Reminders about correct taxonomy are a good idea. Taxonomy Hulk reminds us that we must be clear in what we are saying, whether it be in science journalism, writing a blog post, or working on a scientific paper.

Taxonomy Hulk is a concept not a person and this is a good thing: the humour and fun and ‘alter ego’ perspective is non-threatening, and allows taxonomic issues to be brought into the open easily and effectively. We can fix our mistakes, smile about it, and move forward.

Thank you Taxonomy Hulk. (and yes, you should follow Taxonomy Hulk on twitter)

I finish by stating that Taxonomy Hulk’s ‘regular’ persona (the Bruce Banner) is known to some of us (and s/he’s an incredibly competent taxonomist!, and a super-nice person).

But I’ll keep it quiet – it’s better that way.

A walk in the woods

Last week I had the opportunity to visit my PhD student Dorothy Maguire at her field sites south of Montreal.  It was a glorious summer day, and given the construction holiday in Quebec, the travel time was quick and effortless (for Montrealers, you know what I am talking about!).  I have briefly described Dorothy’s research in a previous post, and during the field visit, I was able to see Dorothy and her two field assistants ‘in action’.  This included checking samples from an aerial malaise trap, beating the foliage (for herbivores) in the forest canopy, and checking contents of a Lindgren funnel (set up in the canopy to collect flying insects, including beetles).

Thomas and Camille checking the contents of the aerial malaise trap

It was an amazing day for natural history.  In fact, I sometimes think my graduate students cannot stand spending time in the field with me, since I tend to walk slowly, vial in hand, stopping all the time to pick up a spider or beetle, or to turn over a log to search for pseudoscorpions.    I’m probably much more of a burden than a help in the field, and this probably leads to some resentment (ha ha).

Anyway – it was great to get into the forest again after time in the Arctic, and I was thrilled at all the biodiversity starting me in the face.

What did I see?

A dozen or more species of trees, including shagbark hickory, ironwood, and the usual suspects (American beech, sugar maple, red maple, some oaks)

Some stunning underwing moths (Catocala) (although they were somewhat less stunning than usual since they were dead, in a Lindgren funnel!)

The BIGGEST horsefly that I have ever seen (probably Tabanus atratus).  Yikes – I captured it before it bit me – it could have hurt.  A lot.

The big, nasty horse fly (Tabanidae)

Butterflies, butterflies, butterflies!  Including the beautiful great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) and the northern pearly-eyed (Enodia anthedon)- the latter is one of the few shade-loving butterflies in this part of the world

Hundreds of sap beetles (family Nitidulidae) – these were very common in the aerial malaise traps, but were also flying into us much of the day

Some GIANT Scarabaeidae beetles – I don’t know the species but they were robust and impressive; masters of their universe.

Dozens of Harvestmen (Opiliones), which I later identified as Leiobunum aldrichi - I have now started a colony at home (much to my children’s delight).

Female (l) and male (r) Gypsy moth, caught in the act.

Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) – a lot of gypsy moth.  This species in an invasive, introduced species.  Gypsy moth caterpillars can feed on hundreds of species of trees, including our beloved Sugar maple.  This is one species that I am not happy about seeing, and its numbers this year are certainly higher than last year.

And to top it all off.. Antlions (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae).  Yes, Antlions!!  These are among the most fascinating of the insects -the larvae build conical sand-pits and await ants that happen to slip into the pit and fall down into the waiting predator.  I have lived in the Montreal area for over 10 years and I had no idea that Antlions existed this far north.  Wow.

Quebec Antlion “trap”, photographed just south of Montreal

This is only part of the list, but one thing is clear – a hot, mid-summer day in a Montreal-area forest is full of the wonders of Nature.  I didn’t have to look very far, and I didn’t have to look very hard.  Furthermore, most of what I mentioned was all from a rather small forest fragment surrounded by agricultural lands.   We must study, document, quantify the biodiversity within these forest fragments – they are very special, and they host a diverse and fascinating flora and fauna.

 Take a walk in your local woods, and see what you can find under leaves, bark, climbing up trees and catching a few rays of sun in a small clearing.  It’s a nice way to spend a summer day.

Daddy longlegs: spider or harvestmen?

I’m about half-way through the “Opiliones Project” – this is a twitter-project devoted to sharing facts about Harvestmen (follow using the hashtag #OpilionesProject).  As I was working through some of the chapters, I gave a lot of attention to the variety of common names given to Harvestmen, including Daddy Longlegs.  This is not a very good common name for Opiliones because the characteristic of ‘long legs’ is not common to all Harvestmen, and many species (especially in tropical regions) are rather stout and don’t have the long, dangly, legs that we often associate with Opiliones in more northern regions.

The other reason to avoid the name daddy longlegs for Harvestmen is because of the confusion it creates with respect to a distant relative of Harvestmen – a spider with the latin name of Pholcus phalangioides.  This species is often referred to as the “Daddy longlegs spider” (and, by the way, the name “Phalangida” has historically been used as a synonym to Opiliones – more confusion!).   The rather obvious similarity between northern Harvestmen and Pholcus phalangioides is that they both have long legs – but it stops there.  Spiders have a narrow waist (i.e., the constriction between the cephalothorax and abdomen) whereas Harvestmen do not.  Pholcus phalangioides is also an enthusiastic web-builder whereas Harvestmen do not live in webs.  Here’s a photo of Pholcus phalangioides, courtesy of Ashley Bradford. (thanks, Ashley, for permission to use your photograph!)

A cellar spider, with prey (c) A. Bradford

Comparing a Spider to a Harvestmen is like comparing a blue whale to a chimpanzee.  Spiders are a different order (Araneae) than Harvestmen (Opiliones), and although both Arachnids, they diverged millions of years ago.  Opiliones are more closely related to Scorpions, Pseudoscorpions, and Solifugids than they are to the Araneae.

The other common name for Pholcus phalangioides is the “cellar spider” and this is much more appropriate – these spiders are synanthropic (see my other posts about spiders that like living in or near your home, the zebra spider & the ceiling spider), and are very commonly found in dark, damp places in and around human structures.  In my own house, the garage and basement are the common habitats.   Pholcus phalangioides is very distinctive – in addition to its long legs, it is a fascinating species from a behavioural perspective – if disturbed, it gyrates and whirls around in an impressive display of arachno-energy.  This is something I encourage you to try with your own populations of the species – it is wonderful to watch.  This behaviour is very well documented on youtube.  For example….

Wikipedia has an interesting entry about Pholcus phalangioides – including mention that one of its other common name is the “skull spider” because of patterning on its abdomen.  I also learned that the television show “Mythbusters” did an episode (in 2004) devoted to this species!   They busted the myth that this species had potent venom, but was unable to to pierce human skin (you can watch some of that episode here).

There has been some high quality research done on Pholcus phalangioides.  A nice overview of the biology of the species was provided by Jackson & Brassington, in 1987 – their paper is a key source for taking you back to the older literature on the species, and they also provide evidence that Pholcus phalangioides is an aggressive mimic of other spiders, and they are araneophagous (i.e., eat other spiders).  More recently,  Schafer and Uhl, in 2002, focused on mating behaviour and the role of male “pedipalp movements” as predictors of paternity in the species.  Bernhard Huber has recently (2011) written about the phylogeny and classification of the family Pholcidae and provided an updated cladistic analysis.

Keep an eye out for these characteristic spiders and don’t confuse them with the Opiliones…and be careful using the common name of Daddy Longlegs – it means different things to different people.

References:

Jackson, R.R. & R.J. Brassington. 1987.  The Biology of Pholcus phalangioides – predatory versatility, araneophagy and aggressive mimicry.  J. Zool. 211: 227-238. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1987.tb01531.x/abstract

Huber, B. (2011). Phylogeny and classification of Pholcidae (Araneae): an update Journal of Arachnology, 39 (2), 211-222 DOI: 10.1636/CA10-57.1

Schäfer, M., & Uhl, G. (2002). Determinants of paternity success in the spider Pholcus phalangioides (Pholcidae: Araneae): the role of male and female mating behaviour Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 51 (4), 368-377 DOI: 10.1007/s00265-001-0448-9

Learn about Harvestmen: The Opiliones Project


Promitobates species. Photo (c) Techuser, with permission

Daddy longlegs, Shepherd spiders, Harvestmen, Grandfather greybeard.  These are just some of the common names for the Arachnid Order Opiliones (formerly Phalangida).  Although there are over 6,000 described Opiliones species, they remain relatively poorly known.  That is until a few years ago…  In 2007, Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha, Glauco Machado and Gonzalo Giribet published “Harvestmen: The Biology of Opiliones“.  This tome comes in at just over 600 pages, and it is a magnificent achievement.  The book assembles and synthesizes a wealth of information on Harvestmen, including their cultural and historical importance, functional anatomy, reproductive behaviour, biogeography, taxonomy and systematics, and more.

Harvestmen textbook cover.

I have been quite fascinated by Opiliones for a long time, and find myself drawn to their awkward gait, and their unusual biology.  I am also always keen to learn more about all kinds of Arachnids, and I am embarrassed that I don’t know how to identify these lovely animals.    For these reasons, I purchased the aforementioned book, and started reading it.  I must be honest, it’s a very expensive book making in hard to justify for the “casual biologist” and I am privileged to be able to afford it.  It’s also very dense, and although information rich, is not entirely accessible to non-arachnophiles.

I am on a continual crusade to share knowledge about Arachnids with anyone who will listen.  And, like spiders, there is a lot of misinformation out there about Opiliones.  I want to invite you into the wonderful world of Opiliones, and I will do this by sharing small snippets of this textbook with you.  I’ll call this endeavour “The Opiliones Project” and my goal will be to bring you along to learn some interesting facts about the Opiliones as I wade through the different Chapters.   This is not an entirely altruistic process, as by committing this to you, it also gives me incentive to read carefully, and with an eye for detail (something I don’t typically have time to do!).

A few ground rules:

1) To take part, you need a Twitter account and an Internet connection.

2) This project is open to ANYONE with an interest in Arachnids

3) This will be a slow process, and will likely take several months.

4) I will paraphrase details from the textbook, and unless indicated otherwise, the ‘citation’ for this project will be: Pinto-da-Rocha et al. (2007) Harvestmen: The Biology of Opiliones. Harvard Univ. Press.  You can, therefore, fact-check by looking at the book, and I will welcome this opportunity (oh, and in case you are wondering, Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha is 100% supportive of this project).  Now and then I will also try to bring other primarily literature to the discussion.

Interested?  if so…. please follow this project on twitter using the hashtag #OpilionesProject (I will tweet from my account @CMBuddle) – and please join in the discussion using that hashtag – the more interaction, the better.

Once finished, I will assemble all the tweets on storify.

This should be fun.  It’ll be an interactive, and hopefully engaging way for all of us to learn more about some incredible Arachnids.  If you are not yet convinced, just look at this (thanks to Joe Warfel, EigthEyePhotography for permission to use this photo):

A tiny Opiliones, genus Caddo - it can be found in north-temperate regions (C) J. Warfel