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, 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

Apr 132011

My MSc Defense Poster


The Quest for the Master’s Degree is nearing it’s conclusion! If you’ll be in the Guelph area on Monday, I invite you to stop in and see what I’ve been up to for the past 3.5 years. I can promise plenty of taxonomic discussion (hopefully well defended by yours truly), plenty of pictures and diagrams, and the world premiere of 3 species new to science! There will be Timbits and coffee for those who require further encouragement/bribes.

The last month has been all over the place, with periods of extremely long days full of final revisions and paperwork, and an eerie academic Limbo without needing to work on my thesis for the first time in years. There’s always work to be done however, and I’ve been preparing the chapters for peer-reviewed publication. Once everything is said and done, I’ll be doing a series of posts reflecting back on my first graduate degree; the highs, the lows, and some tips for those considering doing graduate work in taxonomy. Until then, have a good weekend, and I’ll see you on the other side!

Jan 192011

As they say, better late than never, but man, this one is really late. The annual general meeting of the Entomological Society of Ontario was held October 15-17 2010 and as usual, it was a great meeting!

I look forward to the ESO meeting every fall, as it gives me a chance to catch up with other grad students from around the province, learn something new, and become inspired going into the dark winter months! The diversity of entomological graduate research being done throughout Ontario never ceases to amaze me, with students presenting on topics ranging from agricultural pest control to freeze-tolerance biology, and from taxonomy to forest ecology, representing 6 Ontario universities. I’ll come back to the student talks a little later, but they were certainly one of the highlights.

Before the official start of the meeting, I attended my first board meeting for the Society as the new webmaster. This was quite the experience, and provided my first look into the inner workings of how things get done in academia. Plenty of lively debate and many great ideas for the future of the society made the 5 hour meeting a breeze!

Following the board meeting was the obligatory ESO Mixer, a chance for students and researchers to meet, greet, and enjoy a beverage or two before the meeting gets underway!

Entomology graduate students at the ESO mixer 2010Entomologists attending the ESO mixer 2010

The next morning started with the plenary session, featuring talks by Dr. Sherah VanLaerhoven of the University of Windsor and Dr. Amanda Moehring from the University of Western Ontario. Dr. VanLaerhoven is a forensic entomologist, making this the second time this year I’ve been faced with graphic imagery from depressing stories less than an hour after breakfast. Sherah related her work on the Steven Truscott case, and this being a scientific conference, held nothing back about the case, displaying actual crime scene and autopsy photos while explaining the significance of the entomological evidence gathered by the coroner. It’s hard to remain objective and detached when shown photos of an abused and murdered young girl, and I commend all those in law enforcement who deal with these sights in person; it’s certainly not a job that I could do. The mood was considerably lightened by Dr. Moehring’s talk on sex and genetics in Drosophila, and everyone was well prepared for the beginning of the student talks following her energetic presentation.

Dr. Sherah VanLaerhovenDr. Amanda Moehring

As I mentioned earlier, the student talks are the real highlight of ESO, and this year didn’t disappoint. A wide diversity of topics kept the audience mentally on edge as they heard all about the breakthroughs made by Ontario students. Although all of the talks were well presented and full of excellent research, I personally found blog-reader Miles Zhang’s talk on host shifts in gall wasps (Cynipidae) and their associated parasitoids from a native rose to a recently introduced rose to be one of the most exciting discoveries. A textbook example of the evolutionary pressures imposed by parasitism and the way hosts are constantly looking for an edge! I hope that he’ll agree to share this fantastic story here once he’s published his findings (hint, hint)! Check out the ESO Meeting program for a full list of student presentations, and the President’s Prize winners are listed on the ESO Website.

As part of the meeting package, all the food was provided, and that included the excellent banquet on Saturday night. With plenty of food, wine and fellowship, everyone appeared to be having a great time. Dr. Nusha Keyghobadi shared her research in the field of Lepidopteran landscape genetics during dessert, and after a couple of trips to the pie cart, the grad students organized an impromptu student mixer! It was a great chance to unwind after presentations and discuss some of the shared issues of grad work and life, and carried on well into the night.

Entomologists at the ESO 2010 Banquet DinnerDr. Nusha Keyghobadi

Sunday saw the final student talks, and a few regular member talks before the awarding of ESO Fellowships and the passing of the “Roach & Gavel” to the incoming president.

2010 ESO Fellows - Dr. Freeman McEwen (L) & Dr. Bernard Philogene (R)Past-President Dr. Gary Umphrey passing the Roach & Gavel to President Dr. Hannah Fraser

Overall, ESO 2010 was a great success, and more than enough to get me through until the spring and fresh insects! If you’re in the area next year, ESO 2011 will be hosted by Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario; mark your calendar and start getting that data analyzed!

Dec 212010
Lunar Eclipse, Feb. 2, 2008

EXIF - 1.6 sec, f/5.0, ISO 400, 70-300mm lens set at 122mm, tripod+remote shutter release

Happy Winter Solstice! It might not be as exciting as Christmas, but the winter solstice signals the lengthening of days, shortening of nights, and the return of summer and insects. Ya, it might be awhile still, but a guy can dream can’t he?

This year also saw a rare occurrence of a full lunar eclipse occurring on the winter solstice. Does it mean anything? Nope, just a special day for a special occasion. Since the next time these two astrological events coincide is in exactly 84 years on Dec. 21, 2094, it would have been a nice time to do some moon-gazing! Of course if it occured at 3am EST on a cloudy night and you have a committee meeting the next day like I did, you had to settle for photos you took in years past!

This shot was from the lunar eclipse of February 2, 2008 and shot from the middle of a rural road north of Guelph. Getting away from the light pollution of cities is the first step in astrophotography. A tripod, a remote shutter release (or warm mitts to guard against the cold while you press that button) and a hot drink all help to get the shot. Unless you live in Western Africa or the South Pacific, you’ll have to wait until June 2012 to try your hand at photographing the next partial lunar eclipse!

Nov 242010

Cedar Waxwing in berry tree in Spring

This isn’t an insect you say? You’re right; I’m using this Cedar Waxwing to distract you from the recent lack of posts. I’ve been juggling several pressing issues (thesis writing, ESO business, deadlines for external projects, you know the deal) and the blog has been the ball that got bobbled lately. Don’t worry though, I’ve got a couple of important topics lined up to discuss in the near future! Until then, enjoy this symbol of urban Canadian winters, and check back soon for an examination of Canadian Biodiversity Science!

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.

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May 052010

Well, it’s the spring, and that means the birds start to come back to Ontario, and start showing off their finery!

American Goldfinch at Long Point Provincial Park

Although not one of the major migrators in the area, this American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) was exploring Long Point Provincial Park

Hopefully this season doesn’t go by as fast as the winter seemed to!

Apr 272010

The blog is likely going to be pretty quiet in the coming weeks as I finish writing my Master’s thesis and prepare to defend. I’ll try and make a few simple posts throughout the process, but more detailed posts likely won’t happen until I have some extra spare time! Until then, I hope you’ll enjoy some of my photos from the archives, and stay tuned for plenty of new content this summer!

Acrididae grasshopper on dead grass stem with purple flowers behind

This Melanoplus sp. (I think) was hanging out in the Alderville Prairie (Click to enlarge)

Feb 232010

Just wanted to highlight an introductory workshop on insect macro photography that I’ll be giving with Dave K.B. Cheung at Wings of Paradise butterfly conservatory in Cambridge Ont. This 35 minute presentation will touch on the basics of macro photography, from equipment to technique, and we’ll follow it up with hands on training in the conservatory! If you’re in the area March 7th and would like to learn more about insect photography please join us for a morning of shooting and teaching! There is limited seating available, so make sure to RSVP by emailing Dave early!

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