Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hine's Emeralds Now Being Reared

Courtesy of USFWS, photo by Paul Burton
One of the functions of the Endangered Species Act is to protect a species, and in doing so, find ways to counter a species' decline.  We know far more about Somatochlora hineana than ANY other Corduliidae, thanks to the ESA and funding for projects by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Over the years, I think the various Hine's Emerald projects have done much to not just provide us with a wealth of new information, but it's also educated the USFWS about insect populations and how to work on non-charismatic invertebrates.  (I do not mean to imply that dragonflies lack charisma, but they are not soft and fuzzy, big-eyed vertebrates.) For too long, the USFWS seemed to equate invertebrate populations with that of something like a Piping Plover.  Some insects ARE extremely sensitive to disruption, have low vagility and small localized populations -- such as Mitchell's Satyr.  However, in the case of dragonflies, most are good fliers, have large clutch sizes, and are typically quite vagile.   In the case of Hine's Emerald, what we didn't know was due to it being (a) a dragonfly (b) the type locality's habitat was significantly changed shortly after the species was described and (c) few people working in the field.   With all of the research that has been done on Hine's since the mid-1990s, it's a safe bet that it THE most studied dragonfly in terms of habitat requirements, behavior, gene flow, and distribution.  Up until recently, the only thing that hadn't been done was rear them in the lab!

Dan Soluk, a long-time researcher of Hine's, has been rearing them at his lab at the Univ. of South Dakota - Story Here.  Some of the readers may remember Dan as coming up with the idea of sucking the water out of the crayfish burrows to search for the dragonfly nymphs.   Kudos to him and his crew on this latest development. An official USFWS release is here, and has more info than the AP story.

With so many populations being found in Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinios -- all on limestone-influenced  fens, I wonder if the species will have its threat status changed to threatened rather than endangered?   That would be the goal of any ESA program -- to reduce the threat to a species' existence.  In the case of S. hineana, it would seem that protecting the species may be the key to protecting the habitat.  

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A New Season Starts

May is my favorite month for a lot of reasons.

  • The myriad shades of green
  • The birds arriving, singing, and nesting
  • The amazing beauty of flowering plants
  • The promise of a summer yet to be had
  • The students have mostly left campus
  • The start of the dragonfly season

While I did see the arrivals of Green Darners (Anax junius) a few weeks ago, that's not the same as our home-grown odes emerging from the cold marshes and ponds, which usually starts around the 1st of May. For a long time, I have maintained that the best time to start looking for boghaunters (Williamsonia) is when the Amelanchier trees are in bloom.  Ready to test that hypothesis, Darrin O'Brien and I headed out to the bog at Rose Lake Wildlife Research Area yesterday (May 2) to see if the ringed boghaunters had started to emerge. It was a gorgeous day, with a high of 23°C, few clouds, and a faint breeze. Yes, the shadbush trees were in full bloom, and the spring azure butterflies (Celastrina ladon) were quite abundant.  We walked the trail from the small parking lot that follows the footbridge over Vermilion Creek to the trail that rings the bog. The first ode of the day, and one that we kept seeing was Epitheca canis, and all of the ones that I saw were males, and still teneral, so were maybe 24 hours emerged.
male Epitheca canis
The area we visited is at the edge of Clinton County, MI.  I collected a voucher of the baskettails, and we walked slowly around the area that borders the bog.  There were lots of bees visiting the blueberry flowers, and other flying insects, but no boghaunters. Or were there?  These small corduliids typically fly low to the ground, and vanish into the leaves when they land. A lone green darner was flying across an open area to the W of the bog. Darrin spotted several very, very teneral whitefaces - Leucorrhinia intacta and did not collect them, as they were too soft.    More baskettails.  At the point where the northenmost part of the trail goes around the bog, we ran into David Marvin, the photographer that alerted me to the boghaunters there last year!  It's not often that I can see someone on a trail and ask if that person is looking for boghaunters! David is a very dedicated nature photographer, and it was nice to meet him in person. He had spotted  a couple on the E side of the bog but was unable to get a photo. A little while later, Darrin saw one, and it flew up and landed on a tree trunk, but he was unable to net it. We then walked around the area where I had seen quite a few last year, and I only saw baskettails. About 20 minutes later, Darrin shouted that he had one!  It was atypically about head height on a tree trunk.  He had to almost poke it with his net so he could nab it.  The male specimen had probably emerged less than 24 hours before. He saw another one a bit later and then lost sight of it as it flew up through branches.  By that time, it was after 5 pm, and we had accomplished our objective. Darrin got his first ever Williamsonia lintneri , and my record was intact.

The earliest date for Williamsonia lintneri is April 30 (2010) in Mecosta Co., and May 2 is the date that specimens were collected in Kent Co. (2002) by Greg Swanson.  At this point it is safe to say that the first week of May in the Lower Peninsula is the time to look for Ringed Boghaunters.  The earliest date for Williamsonia fletcheri is May 6 in the Lower Peninsula (Mecosta Co.).  In the UP, late May to mid-June is the flight period for either species.

The perching on tree trunks at head height and above is something that we did not expect. Perhaps it was due to the afternoon sun, or to the time of adult emergence.  It goes to show that there is always something to be found that is new and unexpected, and that its good to have our preconceived notions challenged.

EDIT, MAY 4TH:  For some reason, I was putting the actual location of the bog and boghaunters as being in Clinton Co., a mistake I made last year.  The topo map and satellite view clearly shows that the trail around the bog is within Shiawassee County.  I have updated the MOS database to reflect that change.   Thanks, Darrin, for pointing out the error of my ways! :D

Friday, April 17, 2015

Some catching up to do!

Ringed Boghaunter eating a tipulid fly.
Time flies, doesn't it?  It's been a long time since I have updated this blog, and it's not because I am lazy.  I have been quite busy, in fact.  First of all, some updates on Michigan odes.  2014 was an interesting year, with more new county records, and a few really significant finds.  I'll start out with a species that should be emerging any day now -- Williamsonia lintneri, the Ringed Boghaunter.  Last May, I was alerted to this species being present by David Marvin on 5/25 at a bog within the Rose Lake Wildlife Research Area in Clinton/Shiawasse counties.  A few days later, John Douglass and I drove to the site, and found quite a few individuals along the paths that ring the bog.  We collected several, and were able to watch these small dragonflies do their thing.  It was interesting to see how well they blended in with the brown leaves on the forest floor.   I estimate that I saw 30 individuals as I walked the trail.  They also don't fly much higher than knee height, so one needs to look down to find them. We were there at the tail end of their season, and I expect to return there in early May this year and have a look.  This population greatly extends the range of W. lintneri in Michigan from the W side of the state to the E side.  Previously, Kent Co. was the furthest S we had seen this species.

Last summer was also a banner year for the Painted Skimmer, Libellula semifasciata!  I had never seen one in the wild until last year, and we had many reports coming in of it being present in numbers never before recorded.  In the early days of the MOS effort, I was convinced that this species was quite rare in Michigan. No, it is not, and it remains to be seen if these numbers stay the same.  We had several localities for Painted Skimmers in Washtenaw Co., and it was numerous in the Fox Science Center wetlands, away from the main ponds.  I also collected it at the edge of the bog  at Rose Lake in Clinton Co. I was standing (barely) in the bog myself, and saw several within reach, and finally netted one.  Darrin O'Brien and Julie Craves saw them frequently, as well.

Painted Skimmers may just be the prettiest species of Libellula I have seen.  This photo was taken on June 6, and while they appear to be a late-spring early summer species, I also collected a female at Fox Science Preserve in mid-July.  So, this should be an interesting year.  Will they be as abundant and widespread as last year?

Work progresses towards writing the Michigan Odonata Atlas, but both Julie and I have had time limitations due to work and other issues.  Darrin O'Brien has been geo-referencing the Michigan localities, and this will be very useful for us to create dot maps of actual collecting events.

Matt Hysell, Jeff Sommer, Julie and Darrin, Bob Marr, Jorie O'Brien, and Rhyne Rutherford collected for the MOS last season, bringing many good records.  Matt Hysell, especially, has been collecting in the somewhat neglected Berrien and Allegan counties.  Darrin O'Brien recollected Tachopteryx thoreyi at Warren Woods, and is going to be on the hunt this summer for other populations in SW Michigan.

The season is starting up here, and I had better get ready myself.  Happy Ode hunting!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Burton Clyde Cebulski, 1946-2013.

Burt at Chippewa Falls, Ontario, July 2012
 Burt Cebulksi, an avid enthusiast of Odonata, lost a battle with esophageal cancer on October 29.  Burt was a native Ann Arborite, born on October 6, 1946. He graduated from Pioneer High and graduated from Michigan State University with a B.S. He went on to do post-graduate work at Central Michigan, and then started teaching. Burt taught biology, physics, general science and environmental science at Adrian High School for 33 years, and was an effective coach in cross country for 29 years.  The Adrian Cross Country Invitational was changed to the Burt Cebulski Invitational in 2012, to honor him as a runner, coach, and example of a caring person.  Burt once ran marathons, and just missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which totally surprised me when he discussed that part of his life a few years ago. Burt retired from teaching in 2004, and became more involved in working on Odonata, attending various meetings and conferences.  Burt and his wife Kerry (married in 1976) shared a love for camping, motorcycling, making glass beads, and enjoying the outdoors.

I first met Burt in 1981, when he came to the Museum of Zoology to visit Leonora K. (Dolly) Gloyd.  He became interested in Odonata in the summer of 1976 while a graduate student at Central Michigan University. Dolly's tutelage of Burt continued for about 10 years, and he collected specimens and deposited them in the UMMZ, and developed a technique for collecting Odonata nymphs from under the ice of lakes and ponds. He eventually grew very interested in the Darners (Aeshnidae), and started rearing them from eggs.  It was this interest that grew into a lengthy project of rearing parasitic wasps from the eggs of Aeshna tuberculifera. Over the span of 20 years, Burt made many visits to a favored spot in Alger County Michigan to collect material for his study of the egg parasites.  After his diagnosis of esophageal cancer in January of 2012, Burt asked me to co-author his manuscript to ensure that his project would get published.  He and his family were very pleased to see the paper appear in the Great Lakes Entomologist in early September of 2013.  I know that it meant a great deal to Burt to see it in print, and I am happy to have been part of it. In addition to his work on the eggs, he collected over 700 specimens of adult and immature Odonata from Michigan, which are still being cataloged before they are added to the UMMZ collection as part of the Michigan Odonata Survey (MOS) project.  Burt also helped students with Odonata projects at Siena Heights College in Adrian. 
Burt and Ken Tennessen at GLOM 2008
Burt was by any definition, a very interesting person with diverse interests.  He could look like a scruffy biker dude, but had a warm and generous personality. Anyone seeing the twinkle in his eye would know that he had a great sense of humor. He was a lot of fun out in the field with an insect net, and didn't always reveal his high level of knowledge about the Odonata, preferring to be in the background. He enjoyed hunting and fishing, and was a very competent naturalist. Most people did not get to see the tattoos he had of dragonflies at a pond across his back -- and he had some amazing ink on his arms of the parasitic wasps that he reared.  My favorite though, was the tattoo on his forearm that was based on a card to Dolly Gloyd from Belyshev, a Russian odonatologist. I had published a scan of the card in the newsletter Williamsonia, and Burt surprised me in March 2009 at a Michigan Entomological Society gathering with his new tattoo. It was far better than the card. He also brought dragonfly-shaped cookies that day. 
Burt’s last Great Lakes Odonata Meeting (GLOM) was in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario in July 2012.  He was feeling well enough to attend, and we had a great time driving around, telling stories, collecting Odonata, and just being out in the field together.  Standing around a pond or a stream waiting for a dragonfly to come flying by is a bit like fishing, and we discussed all kinds of topics while out in the field. Burt attended several meetings of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas and most of the GLOM meetings in previous years – in fact, more than I did.  He was a good ambassador for the study of Odonata, and introduced his son-in-law Greg Bauman to them.  Greg is now enthusiastically collecting specimens for the MOS in Marquette Co.  Burt touched a lot of people through his life as a teacher, coach, mentor, naturalist, cyclist, outdoorsman, and artist.  It is sad losing a friend too early, and Burt will be missed most of all by his wife Kerry, his daughters Erin and Chelsey, and extended family.   

Odonata Publications of Burt Cebulski
2009. Collecting Odonates Under the Ice. Argia 21(3):8-9.
2009. Hetaerina titia (Smoky Rubyspot) No Longer rare in Southern Michigan. Argia 21(4):21-22
2011. Dragonflies of Ives Road Fen Preserve. Argia. (23(1):14-15 (with Chelsey J. Cebulski).

2013. Observations on egg Parasitism of Aeshna tuberculifera (Odonata: Aeshnidae) by Eulophidae, Trichogrammatidae, and Mymaridae (Hymenoptera) in Alger County, Michigan. Great Lakes Entomologist 46(3-4):145-153 (with Mark F. O’Brien).

Monday, August 19, 2013

In Praise of Pantala

A challenge to net, members of the genus Pantala are well-known long-distance travellers.  This is a specimen of Pantala flavescens, the Wandering Glider, taken at the small ephemeral pond at Pittsfield Preserve on Aug. 16. Supreme aerialists, these dragonflies seem to be able to hover effortlessly over a body of water, and then zoom off vertically in pursuit of a potential mate or to chase off a rival.  It's sort of like watching one of those fighter jets go from landing speed to vertical with afterburners, but with a LOT less sound and energy expended.  Due to their ability to take advantage of wind currents, their high wing area to body-mass ratio, and their ability to go from egg to adult in 3 months, these dragonflies are found all over the world.  It's a global species, with migratory flights reported from the Indian subcontinent to Africa, and of course, all over North America.  Sometimes we laugh at their miscues - such as an ovipositing female mistaking a shiny car hood for a pond, but the laugh is on us if we try to swing a net and capture one.
Small temporary ponds can often have a lot of small creatures in them, including larval fishes.  The rapid development of Pantala nymphs is dependent on having access to a good food source, and however many miscues the females may make, it's obvious that many of them are successful.
This world-wide distribution map from Discover Life obviously lacks ALL the collection localities, but you can see that is it a cosmopolitan species.  Our UMMZ collections has hundreds of specimens from all over the world.  Alas, except for the MI specimens, the rest are not cataloged.  You can read about the migratory flights of Wandering Gliders in the Indian Ocean here., and in Venezuela here. In Michigan, we have numerous sightings of Pantala flavescens all over the state.  It's the other species - Pantala hymenea - that we see much less often.   August and September are the months when we most often see swarms of Wandering Gliders -- as they complete their summer's life cycle and emerge from the ponds, they will become more numerous (especially this year, with adequate water all summer). Eventually, these amazing fliers will make their way south of the Great Lakes and down the Atlantic coast to new ponds and deposit their eggs and fly off to the next pond.  We will see some of their offspring next May/June as they return to the North. In Michigan, we have specimen vouchers for counties as shown at the left.  Undoubtedly, there are many sight records that are not indicated here.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Golden-Winged Skimmer Incursion into Michigan.

L. auripennis in Jackson Co., courtesy of Craig Robson.
Earlier this summer, Rick Nirschl collected the first Michigan record of Libellula auripennis in Washtenaw County at the powerline ROW in Nan Weston Preserve.  There is a small fen there, and the specimen was photographed and collected by Rick and Curt Powell.  Obviously, a great find, and then the question becomes -- is it a one-off vagrant or an indication that there may be others? One observation means a new state record, a second site means that the species is perhaps establishing a beach head in SE Michigan.  That second site turned up today as I received an e-mail from Dave Cuthrell, forwarding an email from Craig Robson who photographed a Golden-winged Skimmer at the Grand River fen in Jackson County on July 30. That second sighting is very important, and it's possible that the species will be found elsewhere in S Michigan. Libellula auripennis is typically a SE US and Gulf Coast species, with a few scattered records S of the Great Lakes, in central OH and N Indiana.  It will be interesting to see what happens in Michigan.

On another front, the Xerces Society has a new program out called "Dragonfly Pond Watch Project." It looks to be an interesting endeavor, and should engage a bunch of citizen-scientists to record both migratory and resident odes across the country.  It's part of the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, and the Xerces Society has a really good PR and web presence.  I encourage you to give the site a look!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back to Normal at Pittsfield Preserve

Dragonfly paradise for now.
During last year's awful drought and strange early spring, the mid-summer to fall looked pretty grim -- many ponds dried up, and the Odonata of late summer were almost non-existent here.  One place in particular -- Pittsfield Preserve -- where I have been monitoring the Odonata, was bone-dry by this time last year, and I was quite curious about what I would see this year.  We have had an abundance of rain this year, and even though it has been quite hot the past couple of weeks, we have also had adequate rainfall.  I went out to Pittsfield Preserve today, and am very happy to see all of the wetlands - both man-made and natural, have good water levels.  The ephemeral pond that is filled by the draining wooded wetland to the east is doing very well, and there were lots of odes flying around.  I collected a new species for the site there -- Enallagma traviatum westfalli.

Pachydiplax longipennis
 The skimmers were in great abundance at the wetland sites, with Libellula pulchella being the most numerous.  Also in abundance were many Blue dashers, Pachydiplax longipennis.  It's a great feeling to be standing by a pond and see dozens of dragonflies at any instant.   I am very pleased that populations have apparently rebounded, and  the wetlands look very lush right now. I caught a few specimens, but the list for today's trip is as follows:
Lestes australis
Enallagma basidens
Enallagma traviatum westfalli
Ischnura verticalis
Anax junius
Libellula pulchella
Libellula luctuosa
Plathemis lydia
Pachydiplax longipennis
Erythemis simplicicollis
Celithemis eponina
Perithemis tenera
Tramea lacerata
Pantala flavescens
Sympetrum rubicundulum?

an old P. lydia
 Fifteen species isn't too shabby for an hour or so in the field at one small location.  I am sure I missed a few damsels that were too far away to ID.

I will reiterate here what I have long believed -- long-term studies of a habitat produce more interesting information as one spends more time at a site.  As much as it's great collecting at a new place that is different from the local areas, the long-term observations at a place such as Pittsfield Preserve provide information on species succession, yearly variations, and so forth.  It's also interesting seeing new species come into a site.  This year, I observed a single female Perithemis tenera at the preserve.  Maybe there will be more there next year.

in copula
Still to come are the Aeshnas, and it will be interesting to see what is flying this year, since all of the woodland ponds they inhabit were dry last year.
Halloween pennant ♀