Expiscor (28 October 2013)

Welcome to Expiscor! All sorts of discoveries… at your fingertips.

  • Speaking of images from that workshop, here’s a black widow for you, taken by Alex (thanks for the permission to use your photos here, Alex!)

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  • The latin name discussion came in part from the best hashtag I’ve seen in a while – #ReplaceWordsWithBugs. This also made it difficult to highlight a tweet of the week. Even though there is debate about how to pronounce “…..dae” at the end of family names, this is still a winner, from Adrian Tchaikovsky:

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  • In the spirit of Halloween… BLOODY FINGERS! Yum yum.

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  • Students text a lot during class. In my opinion, this means there’s also a problem with the content and/or instructor. Students need to engage, but Profs must also adapt. Right -so I will have to write  blog post on this (stay tuned)
  • Here’s a Halloween-themed “Simon’s Cat”, featuring a spider:

Expiscor (21 October 2013)

Good Monday morning to all! I’m excited to be attending the Entomological Society of Canada’s annual meeting (you can follow along on twitter using the hashtag #ESCJAM2013).  Hope you have a good week ahead, and to help you start it right, here are some discoveries from the past while.

  • Poor spiders. So much bad press. Time for a lovely photo, perhaps? This one is a lynx spider from Crystal Ernst (Thanks, Crystal, for letting me post it here)

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  • Death of an order. (insect order, that is). An intriguing paper about Termites and their relatives (thanks to students in my introductory Entomology class for pointing out this paper, and the associated controversy)
  • Ever feel like your social calendar looks like this? (from “Wrong Hands“)

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  • To finish… an Icelandic Hymn – in a train station. Wow (thanks Jamin!)

Expiscor (14 October 2013): The Thanksgiving Edition

Today is Thanksgiving Monday in Canada (yes, quite a bit earlier than the US version!). This time of year is my favourite: the cool, crisp air,  fall colours, and the striking sense of decay and change.  It’s also a nice opportunity to eat yummy food and spend time with family and friends.  I’m currently away enjoying this time with my extended family, and therefore decided to bring you a few of my favourite photographs of autumn in my part of the world.

Hiking in a local forest.

Hiking in a local forest.

Pumpkin season!

Pumpkin season!

Some of the local fauna - active on warm fall days!

Some of the local fauna – active on warm fall days!

Early morning at my in-laws place in Ontario (no filter)

Early morning at my in-laws place in Ontario

A country road, 10 minutes from where I live.

A country road, 10 minutes from where I live.

Near my office, at McGill's Macdonald Campus (no filter)

Near my office, at McGill’s Macdonald Campus

Expiscor (7 October 2013)

Another week has passed… here are some discoveries!

  • Speaking of bugshot, here’s one of Nash Turley‘s pics from that adventure (Thanks, Nash, for letting me post it here!)

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  • Students in my intro Entomology class are teaching me a lot (they are lecturing on the Insect Orders). Last week, I learned of Desert Locusts that can swim, underwater. (note: they ‘can’ but they don’t necessarily ‘do’ the swimming.)
  • My students also told me of the hip, cool family of Orthoptera called…. Cooloolidae. Yeah, that’s awesome.
  • You like ants?  What about a jumping spider that looks like an ant? Here you go:
A species of jumping spider in the genus Peckhamia (photo by Alex Wild, reproduced here with permission)

A species of jumping spider in the genus Peckhamia (photo by Alex Wild, reproduced here with permission)

  • Tweet of the week goes to …  Erin McKiernan. This is awesome. Don’t worry: My neighbours think I’m crazy too. I’ve been caught running up and down the street with a sweep net.

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  • On robots: here’s a Wild Cat: This is both terrifying and amazing:

Expiscor (30 September 2013)

Expiscor – your voyage of discovery: bugs, biology and beyond!

Here’s what I stumbled across this week:

  • Ah, Botflies. Gross or cool? For entomologists, this is some pretty amazing stuff.
  • The amazing Ainsley Seago knows how to draw spiders. Here is one of her pieces; perfect for Archnophiles:
A male peacock spider (Maratus amabiis), doing his dance. [by A. Seago, reproduced here with permission]

A male peacock spider (Maratus amabiis), doing his dance. [by A. Seago, reproduced here with permission]

  • Better beetle news: here’s a nice wood-boring beetle, and one that is sexual dimorphic.
  • A lovely image from Sean McCann, showing a moulting Opiliones. (Thanks, Sean, for allowing me to share it here)

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  • To finish, more on the peacock spiders (last week I was teaching about courtship behaviours in arthropods, and that discussion is not complete without viewing this video!):

Expiscor (23 September 2013)

Still going strong! (If I counted properly, this is the 25th edition of Expiscor). Bringing you weird and wonderful discoveries each week.  Thanks to everyone who continues to provide great content AND reads this link-fest.

Here are some things I stumbled across this week:

  • Bites from black widows.. a worthy read on the topic.  Note these important sentences: “But despite their fearsome reputation, black widows are surprisingly shy and retiring. Over the course of your life, you have probably walked past hundreds of black widows without even realizing it
  • Right, so now you are ready for a jumping spider photograph, courtesy of Tom Houslay (thanks, Tom, for permission to post it here!)
Phidippus regius, by T. Housley

Phidippus regius having lunch, by T. Housley

  • Want another beautiful insect, here’s a photo of Megalopyge opercularis [YES, THIS IS A CATERPILLAR!] courtesy of Matt Bertone. Um, despite its cute, furry and cuddly appearance, don’t play with it, please. (thanks Matt, for allowing me to post your image here)

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  • Sick pets make us think about why we empathize with animals. Malcolm Campbell wrote an excellent post on the topic. And he even quotes E.T. in the blog post (I remember that movie well…)
  • On the topic of personal stories, a very lovely post over at the boreal beetle: “My Voyage(er)”
  • Tweet of the week to… Amy Brown – I like this idea!

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  • Peripheral vision is weird. Don’t believe me? Go here.
  • To finish, so proud of my son, aspiring guitarist. Here he is, rockin’ out (with one of his friends on drums, and his guitar instructor on bass):

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!

Expiscor (26 August 2013)

After various trips and adventures, regular editions of Expiscor are back… Here are some discoveries from the past week! Hope you enjoy…

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  • Here’s a shot of doing Entomology on the tundra. Entomology Yoga, anyone?
#EntoYoga (photo by J. Wagner)

#EntoYoga (photo by J. Wagner)

  • Tweet of the week goes to Joshua Drew. Darn good advice!

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  • Snail trails. What a neat (and important) story. Here’s the video (check out at 3:08):

Arctic reflections (Part 2)

I started a post last week about my recent field trip to the Arctic – I was situated in Cambridge Bay (Nunavut) for a week, and here are a few more reflections from that trip.

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Wildlife

Walking across the tundra brings sights of circling rough-legged hawks and the sounds of jaegers. We were able to find spots where the hawks like to sit (at higher elevations, on a pile of rocks and boulders). The vegetation is particularly rich under these perches, as the nutrient inputs are very high! We could also find feathers, and pellets – these pellets are a tidy package – a mass that represents the undigested parts of a bird’s food, regurgitated. These pellets can be dissected and you can find the tiny bones of small mammals. While in Cambridge Bay it was a particularly good year for lemmings, and thus a particularly good year for hawks, and snowy owls. Each day on the tundra, about a dozen different snowy owls were sighted. They were always just the right distance away, perched beautifully and peacefully on slight rise – a close look with the binoculars showed the owls staring right back, tracking our movements as we were tracking theirs. If you walk little closer, the owls take off, flying low and fast over the tundra.

Bird food. Aka lemming.

Bird food. (otherwise known as lemming).

At times, off in the distance, it was also possible to see black, slow-moving shapes – unusual creatures, shaggy, and foreign to a boy from the south. These were muskoxen – chewing their way across the tundra. While in Cambridge Bay I spent some time with graduate students working on Muskox health, and I learned of the serious disease, lungworm, that is affecting these stunning mammals. Lungworm has been known from the mainland for some time, but only more recently on Victoria Island – climate change is a possible reason for this change in distribution. These nematodes use slugs or snails as intermediate hosts. Yes, there are slugs and snails in the Arctic!  Finally, it’s pretty difficult to talk about Cambridge Bay without mentioning the fish. The traditional name for this place, in Inuinnaqtun, is “good fishing place“, and that is an apt description. We ate fresh fish every day, enjoying Lake trout, Greenland cod, and the most delicious of all, Arctic Char. We were blessed with amazing weather during my week in Cambridge Bay, and our Sunday afternoon fishing trip on the ocean was picture-perfect.

Good fishing place.

Good fishing place.

Landscape and light

It’s hard to explain the North to people who have never experienced it, but let me try:

The landscape is breathtaking in its starkness.  The tundra rolls out like a grey/green/brown carpet, as far as the eye can see. It’s broken up by ponds, streams, and lakes, and broken up by slight changes in elevation. This results in a landscape that ripples with shadows and colours; a landscape that meanders, curls and curves depending on the underlying bedrock, sediment, glacial till, and permafrost. 

At first glance, the Arctic tundra appears homogenous, but after walking for hours upon hummocks and through cotton grass, you start to see the diversity of ecosystems, and the heterogeneity in microhabitats. It’s a landscape that is forever changing and providing plants and animals opportunities as well as challenges. I was in Cambridge Bay in early August, and it was evident that the summer season was ending.  In addition to the signs from the plants (lack of flowers) and wildlife (geese were moving in, in flocks; butterflies were seldom seen), the strongest evidence was the light. During the week I was in Cambridge Bay, there was about 18 hours of daylight each day, but the land is losing about 5 minutes of light each day – it’s a rapid change. Since Cambridge Bay is above the Arctic circle, it gets 24 hours light in June and early July, but by mid-August, summer is winding down. This means, however, that you can experience the most stunning sunsets – you can sit for hours and watch the sun approach the horizon from a remarkably shallow angle. The “magic” light is with you for hours. The kind of low light that makes everything slow down.  The kind of light that creates long, dancing shadows, and warms everything in a soft, gentle glow.

Arctic reflections

Reflection

To finish, I wanted to write a little bit about perspective. The Arctic makes you feel close to the earth. When standing on the tundra, the land before you contains no telephone lines, roads or apartment buildings. It’s very much like it was hundreds or thousands of years ago. You could start walking and you won’t likely see anyone else. The Arctic causes you to reflect and slow down. And most importantly, the Arctic makes you feel small. I think that’s an important feeling to have every now and then. The land is vast and old; we are small and young. Let’s remember we are here for a short while, and some of our time is probably well spent out in a forest, on a lake, or hiking the tundra.  Time on the land is time well spent, in part because it causes you to pause and reflect. I think the world would be a better place if we spent a little more time breathing in nature, and remembering what the earth is giving us and on how we ought to respect it a little more.  We owe it everything.

The Arctic makes me think of these things and for that I am grateful.

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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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