Expiscor (2 September 2013)

Welcome to September (and Labour day, today)! September is favourite month here in the Montreal area – the weather remains fantastic, the maple trees start to change colour, and migrating birds begin moving through.  And best of all, the Academic term starts – for me, lectures begin tomorrow.  For now, however, let’s see what discoveries were uncovered over the past week…

  • An incredible spider photo to share with you, from Sean McCann. Here’s a pair of mating Hyptiotes gertschi (Family Uloboridae) (reproduced here, with permission)

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  • OK, let’s spread around the love. Ants are also beautiful (look, a moustache!), as Alex Wild shows us here:
Cephalotes atratus (photo (c) A. Wild) - THANKS Alex, for allowing me to post your photos on Expiscor!

Cephalotes atratus (photo (c) A. Wild) – THANKS Alex, for allowing me to post your photos on Expiscor!

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  • Close to home, McGill’s Tomato Tornado! FUN!

The greatness of pseudoscorpions

As you know, I’m quite passionate about Arachnology, from spiders, to harvestmen and Pseudoscorpions.  These are all some of the creatures that fall into the category of the ‘obscure and amazing‘.  On the topic of pseudoscorpions, a few very fun and interesting things have happened recently, and enough to warrant a short blog post.  I also promised that I would post a few more videos related to some research activities on the hunt for pseudoscorpions in the Yukon.

1. Just look at this SEM of a pseudoscorpion!

A little while ago, my Arachnid friends and colleagues from Alberta, Heather Proctor and Dave Walter, forwarded me a stunning image of a pseudoscorpion taken with a scanning electron microscope (SEM).  Dave was kind enough to give me permission to share it here:

SEM of a pseudoscorpion (Chernetidae) - copyright D. Walter (reproduced here with permission)

SEM of a pseudoscorpion (Chernetidae) – copyright D. Walter (reproduced here with permission)

There really is something lovely about getting up close and personal with these little Arachnids. I don’t know this species, but it’s definitely in the family Chernetidae – a relatively diverse family, quite common across Canada.  My favourite Yukon species, Wyochernes asiaticus, is also a Chernetid.   Dave Walter really does some magic with his SEM images, and you are encouraged to check out is macromite blog (his home bug garden blog is also worth a peek!).

2.  Just look at these videos about collecting pseudoscropions in the wild! 

Speaking of my favourite Yukon species, I took a lot of videos of field work in the Yukon last summer and I wanted to share a few with you, here.  Although our larger purpose for the trip was to complete some follow-up field work for the Northern Biodiversity Program, I also wanted to collect additional specimens of a wonderful pseudoscorpion species.  The first video provides some context to the work, and gives you a bit of a flavour of the landscape up near the Yukon – Northwest Territory border in Canada:

Typically, pseudoscorpions are not that commonly encountered.  In my experience, when they are encountered, you tend to see one or two.  What is truly amazing is the sheer abundance of this species found under rocks in creek/river beds in the Yukon.  Furthermore, you can see and collect multiple life stages, including females with eggs.  This short video gives a taste for this abundance.

The third and final video is a big goofy, and highlight the ‘collecting gear’ and appropriate field attire for becoming a “pseudoscorpion hunter“.  I am continually on a crusade to help generate enthusiasm for Arachnids, whether it is dispelling myths, or trying to inspire others to become Arachnologists (you know, we do need Arachnologists in Canada!).

One important caveat:  you may NOT simply run to the Yukon and flip rocks to collect pseudoscorpions – many parts of the world, including the Yukon, have strict guidelines about what you can collect.  Permits are required, and be sure to check into this before you plan on becoming an Arachnologist!

3.  Just look at this pseudoscorpion necklace!

To further illustrate my rather quirky obsession, I managed to find a wonderful person on Etsy who was able to make me a pendant with a pseudoscorpion design:

The pseudoscorpion necklace.  You want one.

The pseudoscorpion necklace. You want one.

Not only that, this design is actually from a photography I took a few years ago, and is an accurate depiction of the cosmopoliton species Chelifer cancroides.

Chelifer cancroides - my photo which was used to design the pendant

Chelifer cancroides – my photo which was used to design the pendant

I KNOW you want to get yourself one of these… start a conversation with Lynn.  Get yourself one of these necklaces and stand proud with other pseudoscorpionologists!

In sum, I do hope you find this post interesting, hopefully fun, and has whetted your appetite from more information about curious critters.

Stay tuned… I will continue to post more about Arachnids…

Notes from the field: Yukon wildlife (Part 1)

This is the first of a three-part series that was originally published (as one article) in the McGill Reporter, as part of their “notes from the field” section – it is an account of my research trip to the  Yukon, back in July.  It is reproduced here, with permission.  For a different (yet complementary!) account of this field trip, see The Bug Geek’s blog posts, Part 1 and Part 2.

MSc student Katie Sim searching for wolf spiders in the Yukon, among fields of cottongrass

8 July 2012, 10 PM, The Westmark Hotel, Whitehorse Yukon

Our entomology research team has just arrived in Whitehorse in anticipation of our upcoming fieldwork in the Yukon.  I just returned to my room after enjoying a beer at the hotel bar where we completed our GIANT shopping list this evening. Tomorrow morning we are picking up our RV, and will be driving about 500 km NW of Whitehorse (on paved roads) before turning onto the Dempster Highway – this famous Yukon road is a dusty, gravel road that heads straight up towards the Northwest Territory, crossing the Arctic Circle, and taking you from boreal spruce forests in the south to sub-arctic tundra in the North.  The Dempster crosses the Yukon-Northwest Territory border at about kilometer 465, and then continues on to Inuvik.   It’s a big trip with few opportunities for groceries along the way.  We are all part of the Northern Biodiversity Program - a multi-University collaborative project about the diversity of insects and spiders in Canada’s North.   After months of planning, applying for research permits, and fine-tuning our methods, it is great to finally be here.  That being said, I worry that the excitement and anticipation will keep us too jittery to get a good night’s sleep tonight – too bad since after tonight, we’ll be sleeping in tents rather than hotel rooms!

10 July 2012, 3 PM, Tombstone Campground, km 72 (Dempster Highway), Yukon

We have made it up to the Tombstone mountain range, about 75 km up the Dempster Highway.  Unfortunately, the weather has not been cooperative, so we are stuck in the campground, huddling in a cook-shack with other travelers.  Most of the other campers are on vacation, so we are unusual since our trip is for research.  We are also unusual because unlike most visitors to this part of the world, we are NOT viewing large wildlife (bears, moose) but are instead spending our time searching for the tiny wildlife along the Dempster highway.

PhD student Crystal Ernst installing insect traps on the Yukon Tundra

Our team includes two graduate students from my laboratory, Crystal Ernst and Katie Sim.  Crystal has been setting out “pan traps” (yellow bowls) to collect ground-dwelling arthropods (i.e., insects, spiders).  Part of her PhD is about unraveling some of the complexities of arthropod-based food webs in the Arctic, and she is using these traps to collect critters that live on the tundra.  Thankfully, her work does not require good weather!  Katie is working on the population genetics of a high arctic wolf spider, Pardosa glacialis – and she needs some more specimens.  We know that the species occurs near the Yukon-NWT border (in the Richardson mountains), about 300 km north of us.  A post-doc, Dr. Laura Timms, is part of our team also – she studies plant-insect interactions in the North, and is focusing her research on insects that feed on Willow and Balsam Poplar trees.  Our final team member is Dr. Barb Sharanowski, an entomology professor from the University of Manitoba – she is collecting parasitic wasps, with a goal of better understanding their evolution and diversity in northern environments.  Unfortunately, Barb and Laura’s work is dependent on dry and warm weather, so they are hoping for good conditions!

I am here to find a small (< 4 mm) and curious Arachnid known as the “Arctic pseudoscorpion“.  Pseudoscorpions are relatives of other Arachnids, and resemble scorpions, but without a tail.  They are predators (of other invertebrates) that live in soil, leaf-litter, under bark, and under rocks.  The species Wyochernes asiaticus lives under rocks beside creeks and rivers in the Yukon.  It is a Beringian species, meaning it exists in North America in regions that were unglaciated during the last ice age, including many regions in the Yukon. The Dempster Highway travels directly through a lot of these regions.   I have previously collected this species in the Yukon, and on this trip, I am hoping to gather more specimens to further understand its full distribution, and to collect data about its biology and life-history.

This morning, despite the rain, our team traveled to a half-dozen streams further south from this campground, and we had great success in pseudoscorpion hunting!  Numerous specimens were found under rocks beside creeks, including females with their eggs held under their abdomen.

We are now drying out and I am about to finish preparing a seminar that our team will deliver tomorrow at the campsite.  The Tombstone Park staff are keen to have researchers discuss their work with the general public – it’s a nice opportunity to share our research stories with other people traveling the Dempster.  I am always thrilled that all types of audiences show keen interest and enthusiasm about insects and spiders.

Stay tuned…later this week will be Parts 2 and 3

Why I study obscure and strange little animals

I sometimes find myself defending why I study obscure and strange little animals.  Questions such as “what good are they” are asked of me.  I sometimes get weird looks when I describe what it is like discovering new distribution records of a tiny jumping spider, or the thrilling anticipation of turning over a rock to see what hides underneath.  I have to remind myself that not everyone is fascinated by the natural world.  I also think it is worthwhile reminding myself why I study small animals. Here is a list:

The Arctic pseudoscorpion Wyochernes asiaticus (copyright C. Ernst, reproduced here with permission)

I study these animals because they are there even if we can’t always see them.

I study these animals because they are unknown, and stir up a sense of curiosity, wonder and awe; their biology is as amazing as any other species.

I study these animals because they play important roles in their ecosystems; roles that we have yet to fully understand.

I study these animals because they are one piece of a giant biodiversity puzzle – they are as interesting and fascinating as primates, blue whales, oak trees, honey bees, or coral reefs.  

I study small animals because they are giants in their own world; size is relative.

I study these animals because they are beautiful; they are a landscape painting; they are a a Bach Cello Suite; they are millimetres of perfection.

I study these animals because they have a history; a history as great as their larger cousins; they are evolution exemplified.

I study these animals because nobody else does.

The Arctic pseudoscorpion Wyochernes asiaticus (copyright C. Ernst, reproduced here with permission)

What are your reasons for studying small, strange animals?

(thanks to Crystal Ernst for the stunning photographs of Wyochernes asiaticus - these photos were taken on our recent field trip to the Yukon)

 

Successful Pseudoscorpion Hunting in the Yukon

The Arctic Pseudoscorpion Wyochernes asiaticus

I am heading back home after a simply amazing field trip to the Yukon Territory. As mentioned in a previous post, one of the goals of the trip was to collect more specimens of an Arctic pseudoscorpion Wyochernes asiaticus (Family Chernetidae) – a Beringian species known from Siberia, Tibet, and the Yukon. This species survived the last great glaciation event in North America by living in unglaciated regions of the northwest, including parts of the Yukon. In 2008 I had collected this species under rocks beside high elevation and high latitude creeks and rivers in a few locations in the Yukon. On this trip, my goal was to collect more specimens to further assess the distribution of this Beringian species, and to gather more life-history information including estimates of size and fecundity. Because of the relative rarity of pseudoscorpions, few data exist that describe life-history parameters of these arachnids.

Despite some rather wet and cold weather for a lot of the trip, the pseudoscorpion collecting was completely successful – we were able to collect hundreds of specimens, from the south end of the Dempster Highway (approximate latitude 64.3 degrees N) all the way up into the Northwest Territories (>67 degrees N). We collected specimens under rocks in more boreal regions, as well as the upper headwaters of high elevation creeks – some of these less than a metre wide. Here is an example of one of these northern, high elevation creeks in the Northwest Territories, just beyond the Yukon-NWT border:

An Arctic, high-elevation stream in the Northwest Territories: pseudoscorprion country!

To give you some idea of the ease of collecting, here is an example of what you might find when flipping over rocks beside the creeks:

Several Wyochernes asiaticus (Pseudoscorpiones) females (with yellow eggs visible)

I was also able to capture some video of these pseudoscorpions – as far as I am aware, Wyochernes has never before been videotaped, so this is the FIRST EVER movie of this species!

Our larger research goals included more than pseudoscorpion colleting, and I was in the Yukon with a wonderful team of scientists, including my graduate students Crystal Ernst, Katie Sim, a post-doctoral researcher Dr. Laura Timms, and an entomology professor from the University of Manitoba, Dr. Barb Sharanowski. We all had different objectives and goals for the Yukon trip, and over the next couple of weeks. I will post some more research stories from this field-work to give a sense of the scope of our research efforts in the Yukon.

The research team at the Arctic circle (Laura, Katie, Crystal, Barb & Chris)

Hunting Pseudoscorpions in the Yukon

In four days I head off for two weeks of field work in the Yukon.  I’ve written about this stunning place before, and my student Crystal also posted about the upcoming adventure.  Our time will be spent doing some final collections as part of the Northern Biodiversity Program, and I will also be hunting pseudoscorpions.

A selection of Pseudoscorpions

Although I have a fondness for harvestmen and spiders, pseudoscropions are truly fascinating,  and the most curious of the Arachnids.  They are small arachnids ( most are < 5 mm in length) that resemble scorpions, minus the ‘tail’.  They are found around the world (except Antarctica), and although only a few thousand described species, globally, they are morphologically diverse, and beautiful.  Pseudoscorpions are predators of other small invertebrates, and they typically live within leaf-little, soil, tundra or other substrates on the ground.  They are also phoretic, and sometimes found hanging onto the legs or bodies of other insects.   To learn all about the biology of pseudoscorpions, I recommend reading  Weygoldt’s book.

C. Buddle venturing towards Sheep Creek, Yukon, to search for pseudoscropions

I have a longstanding interest in Pseudoscopions from Canada, and keen to obtain more records to increase the distribution notes for Canada’s fauna.  My trip to the Yukon next week will include searching for a fascinating species: Wyochernes asiaticus.    In North America, this species was described as W. arcticus by William Muchmore in 1990, and is considered the most northern pseudoscorpion on this continent.  Muchmore’s paper was based on 6 specimens collected under rocks beside Sheep Creek, Yukon.  When I was in the Yukon in 2008, I went to Sheep Creek, looked under rocks beside the creek and there were hundreds of specimens to be found:

A Wyochernes (Chernetidae) pseudoscorpion, under rocks at Sheep Creek

Later, Muchmore determined that W. arcticus is the same as a species from Asia (W. asiaticus).   So… those of you that know your glacial history are aware that sections of the Yukon remained unglaciated during the last ice age. Quite a number of taxa have been found in that region of the Yukon whose closest relatives are from Siberia and other parts of Asia. They are relicts of the past, and labeled ‘Beringian’ species because of the Beringian land bridge that used to join North America to Asia.    That tiny pseudoscorpion is a perfect and stunning example of a Beringian species – it is known only from Siberia, Mongolia, possibly Tibet, and from a few localities in the Yukon.

You can probably anticipate my excitement – when I was last in the Yukon almost all the dry creek beds up the Dempster Highway hosted Wyochernes asiaticus.  I am most eager to collect more.  I will be collecting them to test some life-history theories,  verify distribution records, and see just how far north this species can be found.  NOTE:  IF YOU ARE THINKING OF DOING YOUR OWN COLLECTIONS IN ARCTIC REGIONS, INCLUDING THE YUKON, YOU NEED A SCIENTIFIC PERMIT TO DO SO.  You cannot collect in these parts of the world without authorization.  This makes sense-the beauty of the North cannot be taken for granted and needs to be studied with caution:

The Yukon.

As you can guess, the Dempster highway is a rather isolated and remote region.  I will not likely be posting again until after my return. Later in July, I do hope to share some more research stories with you…and I can pretty much guarantee there will be discussions about pseudoscorpions!

References: 

Buddle, C.M. 2010. Photographic key to the Pseudoscorpions of Canada and the adjacent USA. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 10, 03 February 2010, available online at http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/ejournal/b_10/b_10.htmldoi:10.3752/cjai.2010.10.

Muchmore, W.B. (1990). A pseudoscorpion from arctic Canada (Pseudoscorpionida, Chernetidae) Canadian Journal of Zoology, 68 (2), 389-390 DOI: 10.1139/z90-055

Muchmore, W.B. (1996). On the occurrence of Wyochernes in Asia (Pseudoscorpionida: Chernetidae).  Bulletin of the British Arachnological Society 10(6): 215-217.  Link

The Lab Logo

I have decided to start a feature called ‘where are they now?’ – this will be about past students, and what they are up to these days.  A few years ago we had a keen, enthusiastic, and talented undergraduate student in our laboratory – Brigette Zacharczenko.  Many of you many know her by her popular on-line persona “weird bug lady” – the blogger and seller of amazing plush creatures.  She is AKA “the caterpillar wrangler”   I have one of her creations next to me in my office (yes, I am very lucky):

Pseudoscorpion by Weird Bug Lady

Brigette is now doing graduate school at the University of Connecticut in David Wagner’s laboratory.  Although we were sad to see her go, she left us a wonderful gift – our very own laboratory Logo.  You can go to Cafe Press at this link: http://www.cafepress.com/ecologylab and buy your very own t-shirt, mug, mouse pad, etc with our logo in place.  Really, we all MUST own a piece of Arthropod Ecology branding.  Perhaps a tattoo next?  Any takers?

McGill's Arthropod Ecology Laboratory Logo