A naturalist and his moquitoes

This is another in the “meet the lab” series – here’s a feature by MSc student Chris Cloutier:

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the world of creepy crawly things. For as long as I have been able to grasp and crawl I have been collecting and observing insects and spiders. Although my mother wasn’t always fond of the critters I would trek through the house, my parents were very supportive of my curiosities and did their best to nurture my interests. As a family we would go camping and fishing often, introducing me to the world outside of our backyard and ultimately landing me where I am today.
My passion for studying insects began many years ago with my first entomology course in CEGEP. After completion of that program I enrolled at Macdonald campus of McGill University. Before I even started my first semester I got my first real taste of applied entomology, when Chris Buddle hired me for several months during the summer to be his field and lab technician. Let’s just say that from that point onward I was hooked.

While studying at Mac I really started to discover where my interests were in this very diverse field. I was intrigued with the ecology and natural history of insects and the amazing things that they do. I really enjoyed learning about insect-human interaction, and for some reason I was very interested in disease transmission and parasitism and the amazing enzootic pathways they can take.

Chris Cloutier: the man, the naturalist, the legend.

Chris Cloutier: the man, the naturalist, the legend.

My Master’s research began in early 2014. I had been working for several years at the Morgan Arboretum, a forested property owned by McGill, when my employer, and now co-supervisor, Dr. Jim Fyles approached me with the idea of performing some graduate research using the Arboretum as a study area. I jumped at the idea of doing this, and we got Chris Buddle on board right away. My thesis will be analysing the temporal variation of mosquito community composition across a habitat gradient which includes suburban areas, fields and various forested sites within the Morgan Arboretum. One of the reasons for this research is the fact that in many suburban and forested areas around Montreal, mosquito densities reach near intolerable levels during the summer months. This, coupled with the increasing number of cases of arbovirus (arthropod-borne viruses) infections, such as West Nile Virus, the importance of understanding where mosquitoes are located, and when, as well as which species are present is becoming more and more important.
Collection of mosquitoes takes place for 24h once a week for the entire frost free period, typically from April to November in Montreal. The traps I use to collect mosquitoes are quite specialized and are designed to capture only females which are seeking a blood meal (the ones that we worry about on our strolls through the woods!). These traps use a combination of LED light and carbon dioxide to attract the insects. The LED lights draw in mosquitoes from quite some distance, and the CO2, produced with the help of a few kilograms of dry ice, draws them ever closer to the trap. Once in range, a tiny fan sucks them into a mesh catch-bag and they are trapped.

Chris in the field, checking a trap.

Chris in the field, checking a trap.

When not out in the field, I spend most of my time with my eyes firmly attached to a microscope, sorting, identifying, and counting mosquitoes. After my first field season, I have collected just over 43,000 mosquitoes representing 9 genera and approximately 28 species. I am now faced with the task of analysing the data and making sense of all those numbers, which in fact has revealed some interesting patterns already. I’m looking forward to heading out next spring to start all over again.

The hard work.

The hard work.

I consider myself to be a “geek of all trades” with interests in everything from birding, to plants, herps and pretty much everything in between. I rarely leave home without my binoculars, and during the summer I almost always carry some vials, an aerial net and several field guides (yes, I often get some strange looks…). I’m also a husband and more recently, a father too. My wife still hates mosquitoes but I feel her coming around slowly, and my daughter doesn’t know it yet, but she will be spending an awful lot of time outdoors with us.
Follow me on twitter @C_Cloutier15 or email me at christopher.cloutier@mail.mcgill.ca if you would like to know more about what I am up to and how things are going with my research.

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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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Inuit Art – arthropod style

Thought I would do a quick post from Cambridge Bay – I have managed to find some decent WIFI so I am taking advantage this morning! Once I am back south, I will post more detailed accounts of my adventures in the Arctic.

Inuit carvers are known world-wide for their depictions of Muskox, polar bears, seals, and other wildlife.  “Bugs”, however, are rare as pieces of art from the Inuit. I was therefore thrilled to see a mosquito made from sealskin at a shop in Cambridge Bay, made by a local artist. It’s a wonderful depiction! And the mozzie looks almost cute and cuddly….

Sealskin mosquito

Sealskin mosquito

Another local carver, Johnny, comes by our place with some regularity. Earlier this week I chatted with him about my interest in insects and spiders and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ve never done any bugs before, let me think about that” were his words.  I believed him – I have travelled in the Arctic quite a bit, and have never come across a carving that depicts arthropods.

Last night there was a knock at the door. Johnny approached, holding out his arthropod, made from caribou antlers. WOW. I was so touched that he went away and worked on this carving for me. To me, it looks like a spider, which is quite fitting.

Inuit carving of an arthropod (a spider, in my opinion!)

Inuit carving of an arthropod (a spider, in my opinion!)

 

UPDATE (11 Aug) – Johnny came by the house again last night. He allowed me to take his picture, and I’ll share it with you, here.

The artist: Johnny Udlaoyak Jr., of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

The artist: Johnny Udlaoyak Jr., of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.