Jul 242012
Virginia Ctenucha - Ctenucha virginica moth

Virginia Ctenucha – Ctenucha virginica

I may be nearly useless with moth identification, but this is one I know by heart. Of course, this isn’t really brag worthy since there aren’t many moths with an iridescent blue thorax and yellow head, but I’m working on baby steps here.

Just because I can identify it doesn’t mean I can place it in the correct family however! When I was an undergrad (back in the day when I had to walk 10 miles uphill both ways, etc) I was taught the tiger moths were a family unto themselves. Since then however, they’ve been sunk into the family Erebidae, causing me much confusion.

The Virginia Ctenucha feeds on a variety of grasses and sedges as a caterpillar, and adults are active from late spring to mid summer.

What feeds on Virginia Ctenucha though? Compsilura concinnata, a tachinid fly that was introduced to North America to combat Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) in the late 19th and early 20th century. As is wont to happen with poorly understood ecology and introductions, Compsilura concinnata turned out to be a broad generalist, and is right at home within a wide diversity of caterpillar hosts. There’s concern that this “new” parasitoid is a contributing factor to declining saturniid moth populations in eastern North America, but the fly appears to be under heavy pressure from a hyper-parasitoid species of trigonalid wasp, which appears to be keeping fly populations low enough to prevent eradication of native moths.
Kellogg, S.K., Fink, L.S. & Brower, L.P. (2003). Parasitism of Native Luna Moths, (L.) (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) by the Introduced (Meigen) (Diptera: Tachinidae) in Central Virginia, and Their Hyperparasitism by Trigonalid Wasps (Hymenoptera: Trigonalidae), Environmental Entomology, 32 (5) 1027. DOI: 10.1603/0046-225X-32.5.1019

Oct 152010

Tone Mapped image of a river in Ontario Canada

Water is the driving force of all nature

– Leonardo da Vinci

I was raised on the shores of Lake Huron, and spent summer vacations on a northern Ontario lake; I have traversed amazonian rivers, and hiked along mountain streams hunting for insects. At work or at play, water has been a contributing factor in my development as a scientist and as a photographer.

Continue reading »

Jan 182010

Today I figured I’d introduce my study organisms, the Stilt-legged flies (Micropezidae) in the genus Taeniaptera (latin for ribbon wing I believe, referencing the bands on the wing).

Taeniaptera Micropezidae Fly Venezuela

(Click on the photos to view them larger)

I was first introduced to these flies in Amazonian Bolivia on a University of Guelph Field Entomology course (which was easily the best course of my undergrad). They are commonly encountered standing on broad leaves waiting for food to literally drop from the heavens (the females feed on bird droppings & monkey dung, and the males tag along to find a mate).  What makes these flies even cooler (I know, its hard to get cooler than feasting on fresh dung…) is their remarkable morphological and behavioural mimicry of parasitic wasps.

Ecuador Parasitic Wasp Braconidae

Ecuador Poecilotylus Micropezidae Fly

I came across these two specimens (a braconid wasp above and a Poecilotylus sp. fly below) while in Ecuador this past spring. Fairly similar at first glance, especially in the shadows of the jungle! The flies add to the deception with their fore legs, which they wave out in front of their bodies mimicking the constantly moving antennae of the wasps (notice the white bands on the wasp’s antennae and the white tips of the fly’s front legs).

Micropezidae Diptera Fly Bolivia Taeniaptera

So what am I doing with these attractive little buggers? Well, right now generic concepts (the characters that define a genus) of several genera including Taeniaptera are overlapping and ill-defined, resulting in confusion over the relationships between certain species groups. I am using morphological and molecular characters (DNA sequences) to find monophyletic groupings (groups descended from a single common ancestor as opposed to paraphyletic groupings where species from different ancestors are considered to be most closely related) of these species, which I can then confidently define as strongly supported genera. Think of it as untying knots in the branches of the tree of life!

I’ll provide updates on my work every once in awhile, but no worries, my posts won’t generally be as detail-oriented and will have more photos!

Jan 122010

Welcome to the Biodiversity in Focus Blog!

After much deliberation and procrastination, I’ve finally gotten around to starting a blog to share my (hopeful) career in entomology and my hobby of nature photography with all (one or two) of you!

Let me start off with a little about myself:

  • I’m a Master’s student at the University of Guelph studying insect systematics (more to come on that later);
  • I began taking my nature photography seriously in 2007 as a major hobby in order to share my passion for insects and the natural world with friends and family;
  • I’m a proud Canadian,  I love to travel and be out in the field, and I believe there is always something more to learn, especially about the natural world!

Ecuador Poecilotylus Micropezidae Fly

What can you expect from me and this blog? Well, I’ll be sharing my photos and information related to the biology of my subjects and the techniques I used capturing them; I’ll be writing about my work with insects and the science of taxonomy, as well as my experiences in the field and the lab (both the good and the bad); book & equipment reviews – related to both photography and entomology – as well as anything else I can come up with that I think may be of interest to you, the reader!

I hope that you’ll join me on my adventures through grad school (aka “life”), enjoy my photos, and I encourage you to ask questions or make requests on topics you’d like to read more about!