Jul 272012

So now that National Moth Week is in full swing and you’ve been checking your porch lights at night and flower beds throughout the day, you’re probably looking for some way to identify all the great new additions to your natural history lists.

There are a variety of guides, keys and other identification resources out there for Lepidoptera, and while I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t taken much time to look through them, these are the ones I turn to first when I absolutely need to identify a “lep”.

Butterflies & Skippers

National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American ButterfliesButterflies are what my friends and I like to call “honourary birds” because there are so many people out looking for them, and there are a large number of field guides produced to help with their identification. My personal choice is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, which has fairly good live photos and detailed life history information. If I were to nitpick, I’d wish for actual range maps rather than range descriptions, and more photos of the butterflies would be nice (especially for those species which are only illustrated with one photo — a couple of times I’ve not been able to ID my photos because the representative photo had its wings closed while my photo had its wings open or vice versa).

I recently downloaded the digital app version of this field guide for my iPhone, and absolutely loved it! The Audubon Society has added plenty of new photos and still included all of the natural history information from the print edition (although still no maps…). Being in a digital format means that searching for species is a breeze, and they’ve added some social media connectivity, allowing you to share your finds from the field to Facebook. They also offer personal accounts so you can keep lists of your sightings which work across all of their field guide apps (I also have their North American Insects, Birds, Mammals, Flowers and Trees apps on my phone). I love having all this natural history information literally in my pocket and available whenever and wherever I may be!

Normally $10 (which is cheap compared to the print version at $15-25) the app is available for both Apple and Android devices. Even better, the team at Audubon has dropped the price for the app to just $0.99 until Sunday July 29th in honour of National Moth Week! Definitely a great deal and well worth a Loonie (or dollar bill).


Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North AmericaUntil recently I never really had a good guide to moths that I could reliably get IDs from. Normally I’d have to figure out what family they belonged to, and then start searching through BugGuide to find a photo of something that looked about right. Needless to say, that took a long damn time and resulted in me not paying much attention to moths beyond a casual ID of big species.

All that’s changed now that I’ve got a copy of David Beadle & Seabrooke Leckie‘s Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. This field guide is fantastic, and a great addition to both the Peterson field guide family and my collection. The book seems nearly comprehensive for the area (there are a few noticeable things not included, like the wingless female Fall Cankerworm I showcased the other day – the winged male is included though), apparently including nearly 1,500 species, ranging from tiny micro-moths to big eye-catching species, and the photos are excellent for helping with identifications. Its taken me a little bit of time to learn the different groups and body forms of moths that are used to group similar things together, but the authors included a really useful silhouette guide at the back of the book to help n00bs like myself (one nit pick: I wish they had included page numbers under the silhouettes directing you to the start of the appropriate section). Every page also includes a life-sized shadow for a moth on the page, with the remaining images on the page displayed to scale appropriately. Because the guide includes so many species it can be tough finding the correct group to start with, but there’s only been a couple of species that I’ve been stumped by so far. At 610 pages it’s not a small guide, and there is very limited natural history information included, with the authors choosing to include bigger photos over other information (which is fine with me). Plus they have graphical range maps and flight periods, and indicate how common or rare each species is which I really like.

I can definitely see myself picking up a 2nd copy to leave up at the cottage, and I can see myself paying a little more attention to moths from now on now that I’m confident I can identify them!

Technical Keys

Of course if you can’t seem to identify a moth or butterfly, you can always turn to a technical key like Jason Dombroskie’s CJAI matrix key to the Lepidoptera of Canada (I wrote up my thoughts on it previously). It’s certainly not for beginners, and usually requires a dead, preserved specimen and observation under a microscope or magnifying loupe, but if all else fails, it is as good a resource as any.
Do you have a favourite guide to identify moths and butterflies? Feel free to leave your suggestions below in the comments, I’m always looking to expand my collection!

Dec 082011

For those who were unable to make it to the ESA Annual Meeting this year, I’ll be sharing all 3 of the presentations I gave over the next week or so. The audio is my actual presentation from the ESA meeting (recorded using my iPhone set on the lectern), which I later synced to screen capture video of the slideshow, essentially transporting you through time & space to ESA 2011! Turns out I’m no David Attenborough or David Suzuki, but hearing myself present was actually a pretty useful tool for how to improve in the future!

This presentation was part of the Citizen Scientists in Entomology Research, and aimed at sharing how the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification is a great place for citizen science projects to publish identification aids specifically for their volunteers.


Here are the (slightly modified) slides if you’d like to explore a little further:


If you’d like more information on the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, feel free to explore our published volumes, and if you’ve developed arthropod identification aids of your own, I encourage you to consider publishing them with CJAI!


Aug 262011

Today’s guest post is by Stephen Luk, the lead author of Fireflies of Ontario (Coleoptera: Lampyridae), which was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. Stephen is an M.Sc. candidate at the University of Guelph as part of the Insect Systematics Lab, and while his main research is now focusing on Sphaeroceridae taxonomy, he has maintained a keen interest in the remaining Insecta. Stephen is a frequent contributor to BugGuide.net, and an avid nature photographer.

Lampyridae - Lampyrinae - Photinus obscurellus (m) - Stephen Luk Firefly

Photinus obscurellus by Stephen Luk

Over the moist meadows where stargazers behold the star-studded sky, insect enthusiasts can admire the summer scintillations of fireflies. Their neon glows spark fond childhood memories: of fields lit by symphonic displays; of brilliant twinkling in a jar set among the grass or over a book. But the fireflies of lore and poetry are truthfully poorly understood. They are often difficult to identify both in the field and in the laboratory. The shape and colour of a species can vary bewilderingly, and only an informed observer is capable of confidently identifying species amid the dazzling nocturnal orchestration. This is said of adults, and scarcely of immature stages, the knowledge of which is mostly sparse to absent.

Thankfully, the confusion is subsiding with the advent of novel identification tools. “The Fireflies of Ontario (Coleoptera: Lampyridae)”, published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, features an updated list of Ontario fireflies as well as a comprehensive and user-friendly key to adult fireflies in Canada east of Ontario. Users will discover a practical platform upon which to illuminate the fascinating lives of fireflies. This resource arrived just as these wonderful beetles mesmerized the public with their seasonal light shows. Fireflies were certainly well represented this summer in southwestern Ontario — I observed nearly a dozen species upon a few occasions here in Guelph.

Behind the scenes with fireflies

I became acquainted with fireflies as an undergraduate student, and was appalled that creatures so familiar were so harrowing to identify. Thus, I assembled obscure literature, meticulously determined specimens and wrestled long with species in the genus Photinus (remarkably similar species in this region). I amalgamated and redesigned keys while gladly illustrating them with pinned specimens, but disapproved the paucity of suitable live images, and have since embarked on a quest to rectify this personally. The product was defended and published fourteen months later, rendering Ontario’s adult fireflies identifiable. I have since accumulated additional images, and was even privileged to dispense some expertise through the CBC.

Steve’s CBC Radio Interview

Steve was also interviewed for an article in the London Free Press

ResearchBlogging.orgLuk, S., Marshall, S., & Branham, M. (2011). The Fireflies of Ontario (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification DOI: 10.3752/cjai.2011.16 OPEN ACCESS

Jul 232011

Yes, this is my best Canadian moth photo...

This week saw the publication of one of the broadest identification aids yet in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification; A Matrix Key to Families, Subfamilies and Tribes of Lepidoptera of Canada by Jason Dombroskie.

Arguably the most popular insects, butterflies, skippers and large, showy moths have had many a field guide written about them, and are generally easy to identify simply by comparison to photographs. However, the large majority of Lepidoptera are small, obscure and have traditionally been difficult to identify. By using simplified characters (including morpho-metric ratios), Jason has created an open-ended, user-friendly matrix key which aims to streamline the identification of even the most minuscule moths. Each subfamily/tribe covered includes a representative photo, notes on biology and taxonomy, and citations for further information.

The key is designed to be used in the lab with a dissecting microscope, but I decided to see how it worked for identifying photos. Using my only 2 photos of Lepidoptera from Canada (I’m not a fan of leps, what can I say), I ran them through the key to get a feel for how the matrix worked. First up was the photo of a female Fall Cankerworm (Alsophila pometaria; Geometridae) pictured above; wingless and not very moth-looking, I thought it’d be an easy ID. I thought wrong. After going through every character included in the key which I could confidently see in my series of photos, I was left with 4 possible tribes in 3 different families (one of which was correct). Unfortunately a photo of a wingless female wasn’t the representative for the taxon page, so I was unable to confidently assign an identification via this key; a shame considering how conspicuous this large, wingless moth is! My second attempt was with a photo of a European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola; Hesperiidae), and again I was stymied by a multitude of possible end taxa. While I have no doubt that this key will be invaluable for identifying micro-moths under a microscope, I’ll be sticking to traditional field guides if I happen to photograph other lepidopteran megafauna.

It’s also important to note that the key is run in a third-party program (XID), which is currently Windows-exclusive (although I hear there is an Android app in the works…). So if you’re a Mac user, you’ll need to borrow someone’s PC to identify your moths!

Despite some compatibility issues and my ineptitude with Lepidoptera, this is another extremely valuable paper which will certainly make the identifications of those tiny Tineidae and other micro-moths a much simpler task!


ResearchBlogging.orgDombroskie, J. (2011). A Matrix Key to Families, Subfamilies and Tribes of Lepidoptera of Canada Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, 17 DOI: 10.3752/cjai.2011.17 OPEN ACCESS

May 042011

The latest volume of the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification was published today, and it’s one of the most visually compelling keys published so far! Allowing you to identify all the world’s genera of Clusiidae as well as the species found in North America, this new key provides plenty of fantastic photos, an awesome layout and functionality, and something not yet utilized in CJAI papers, a Lucid™ Matrix key. While I’m personally not a fan of Lucid™ products in particular, matrix keys provide users an open-ended path to identification, increasing the chances of a correct identification.

While clusiid flies aren’t necessarily the most frequently observed flies, they are nonetheless fascinating, featuring some incredible behaviours. One of the few acalyptrate families to defend lekking territories, males will take up residence on sunny stretches of logs or dry forest floors and battle with other males for prime areas. Check out the battle gear on these two males:

Procerosoma alini male head - Lonsdale et al 2011

Procerosoma alini male head - Lonsdale et al 2011

Hendelia kinetrolikros - Lonsdale et al 2011

Hendelia kinetrolikros - Lonsdale et al 2011











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Feb 172011

It’s a been a busy period for the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, and today I bring you lucky #13, the final volume chronicling the horse & deer flies of Canada east of the Rockies. Although Canadian tabanids were relatively recently treated by H.G. Teskey (1990),  Anthony Thomas has now updated the distributions for these flies, and has greatly increased the number of illustrations, simplifying the identification of these beautiful brachycerans.

Atylotus bicolor Tabanidae horse fly

Atylotus bicolor (Wiedemann)

Continue reading »

Feb 102011

The latest volume of the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification was published recently and is the first in a series on the Staphylinidae of Eastern Canada. Coordinated and authored by Adam Brunke, this first volume provides a key to all of the rove beetle subfamilies and tribes of the Staphylininae found in eastern Canada (and adjoining US states, termed ECAS by Adam). In addition to these keys, Adam has treated the species of the Staphylinina, and has plans to further coordinate and complete the treatment of the eastern Canadian Staphylinidae in due time (it might take awhile considering the rove beetles are the largest family of animals in the world). With plenty of stunning images and an unconventional key structure designed to increase usability for even the most novice of entomologists, Adam is well on his way to bringing these tiny yet important beetles into the public!

Xantholinus elegans by Dave Cheung Staphylinidae Insect Beetle

Photo by Dave K.B. Cheung


Brunke, A., Newton, A., Klimaszewski, J., Majka, C. and Marshall, S. 2011. Staphylinidae of Eastern Canada and Adjacent United States. Key to Subfamilies; Staphylininae: Tribes and Subtribes, and Species of Staphylinina. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 12, 20 January 2011, available online at http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/ejournal/bnkmm_12/index.html, doi: 10.3752/cjai.2011.12. (Open Access)
Jan 112011

The Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification has just published it’s 11th edition and features the blow flies (Calliphoridae) of eastern Canada. This new paper includes richly illustrated keys to the adults of all genera found in eastern North America and the species found in eastern Canada (excluding the cluster flies (Polleniinae), and the rare, mollusk-parasitizing Melanomyinae). Additionally, two species are newly recorded in Canada (or eastern Canada), and Stephen Marshall has populated the paper with his world-class photographs.

Lucilia sericata Calliphoridae Blow Fly Common Green Bottle Fly

Lucilia sericata, the common green bottle fly

The Calliphoridae are important for a number of reasons, and unlike many insects, correct identifications can quite literally be a life or death choice. These flies are a keystone in forensic entomology, and knowing which species colonize a victim’s body, and when, can mean the difference between catching a killer and convicting the wrong person. The importance of Ontario Calliphoridae is perfectly illustrated in the case of Steven Truscott. Sentenced to death by hanging at the age of 14 for the murder of Lynne Harper in rural Ontario, Truscott’s sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1959. Truscott served his 25 year sentence behind bars, and lived with the stigma of a being a convicted murderer for nearly 50 years. It wasn’t until an appeal before the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2006 that entomological evidence collected at the time of the murder was analysed and presented by Dr. Sherah VanLaerhoven of the University of Windsor. This entomological evidence, largely composed of blow fly maggots, helped to overturn Truscott’s conviction, and led to his acquittal. Sure, forensic entomology wasn’t even on the radar in 1959 (although the coroner at the time had the presence of mind to collect and catalog maggots from on and around the body), but forensic entomologists today are called to hundreds of crime scenes every year to help develop a timeline of events to be used in criminal prosecution.

The majority of people using this paper will not be making these life or death decisions, but being able to identify the species you find on your backyard flowers (because blow flies are also major pollinators) is equally important. Plus, if you choose to play CSI on that dead squirrel under the deck, now you can!