Sunday, August 30, 2015

A second Michigan Locality for the Giant Spreadwing

For many years, a few of us wondered if and when Archilestes grandis, the Giant Spreadwing would be found in Michigan.  This giant lestid has been spreading from the SW to the NE gradually, and I believe that it's because of anthropogenic habitat change we are seeing the species farther and farther northward and eastward.  Julie Craves and Darrin O'Brien found a small colony of A. grandis in Wayne Co. ten years ago (2005) [Craves, J. 2006. Great Lakes Entomologist 39 (1&2):88-90].  The small stream in Livonia has had a colony for at least the last decade, but no other locations had been found.  
Yesterday, I was almost apoplectic when I saw a Giant Spreadwing in my front yard.  I went off to get a net, but when I got back it was gone. Drat.  No photo, either.  This species is hard to miss, as it's at least 2x the size of any other Lestes in our area, and deserved of the "Giant" category.  I looked several times afterwards, but did not see the spreadwing again.  Until today.  This time, I walked out into the garden with the insect net -- a movement near the Hydrangea shrub -- and there it was. A female Giant Spreadwing!  I carefully moved closer and snagged the specimen with my net.  Wow! 
I was elated over being able to catch and voucher this elusive species. In my front yard, no less.  Really, that's like being an expert in meteorites and having one fall in your yard.  Twice.  

So, naturally, I had to wonder where this female came from.  It had to be relatively close by, but where?  Aha! County Farm Creek, which is a 10-minute walk from my house.  So, with my D200 and 200mm micro-Nikkor, I walked over County Farm Park (CFP).  Three years ago the county finished the constructed wetlands and the improved creek channel. I walked down to the creek where the water was pooled up, and there, under the overhanging willows, within a minute of arriving at the water, I spotted a male Archilestes grandis! I checked other spots along the creek, and had 10 sightings, 9 males, and 1 female. I watched several males, and they typically flew off to catch a gnat and then return to where they were perched to eat it. I feel as though the female in my yard was an omen. 

Looking at the site, I think the arrival of the Giant Spreadwings is fairly recent, and was possibly facilitated by the improvements in County Farm Creek and the constructed wetlands.  Willows and other small trees now grow on the edge of the banks, shading the stream, and provide ideal perch sites for the damselflies.    The image of County Farm Creek should provide a reference in looking at other small, slow streams elsewhere in lower Michigan.

So, this makes two localities in SE Michigan.  Where else will we find them?
Oh, and the voucher data is: MICHIGAN: Washtenaw Co., Ann Arbor. 2104 Needham Road. 30 August 2015. Mark F. O'Brien.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mapping Is Easy

Now that all of our MOS records have been geo-referenced (thanks to Darrin O'Brien), the mapping becomes a reality.   I am using Google's mapping app to import the data from Excel spreadsheets.  Here are the four species of Calopterygidae in Michigan:

Calopteryx aequabilis Say
Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois)
Hetaerina americana (Fabr.)
Hetaerina titia (Drury)

I think this is going work....

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Making Progress!

I am now experimenting with using Google Maps and other online sites to create distribution maps based upon MOS records.  Having the entire database geo-referenced is facilitating this aspect of  the Michigan Odonata Atlas.!  This is basically my initial foray into this, so there will be some improvement and changes as I progress.

Aeshna tuberculifera adults.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Humbling, yet Enthralling

This summer has been spent doing more computer work than fieldwork, in regards to Odonata.  Yes, I would love to be able to go out in the field all summer and play.  Because, while it sometimes is hard work, it's really play.  The work at the computer is important in terms of what the final result will be.  First of all, I thank Darrin O'Brien for his diligence and hard work in geo-referencing over 28,000 records in the MOS database.  Plotting each record on a map is going to tell us quite a bit more than just a shaded-in county for a species' occurrence.  Imagine the map for Ischnura verticalis!
As I was bringing in the data for the coordinates to the MOS database, I suddenly realized that we were having a wee problem. Eighty-five records should have 85 corrections, not 87.  Hmm.  I then realized we had some duplicate numbers in the database.  A duplicates search in Filemaker brought up several hundred pairs of duplicate numbers. I printed out the records, and then found the problems that created the duplicates.  A few were exact duplicates, where  everything was the same.  Those were easily eliminated. A smaller number were errors I had made in assigning numbers to different sets of incoming specimens.  I was able to find the specimens and give one set new (bar-coded) numbers.  The last remaining ones required more sleuthing, and some of those records were entered in 1997!  Transposed numbers and operator errors accounted for most of the problems.  I finally eliminated all duplicates a couple of days ago.  We still have over 28,000 records in the database, and in searching through the collection, I gained some insight into what the "old-timers" did and an appreciation for our fantastic collection.  It was actually a little humbling to see all the places that some people collected, and how many of those same sites I had visited over the past 30 years.  It also pointed out how a well-maintained collection makes the work easier.  Most of our older material is housed in paper triangles.  Anything added within the past 20 years or so is inside clear 3x5 inch mylar or polypropylene envelopes, backed with a card that contains the collecting event information.

The cards are easy to sort through, but the paper triangles are something like playing a physical game of Tetris as they have to be placed in the unit trays in a way that conserves space.    When I look at the specimens, they are a tangible link to the past, not only those that preceded me, but my own as well.

In addition to this, I have had two students cataloging the North American specimens in our collection.  At this point, they have captured data for over 20,000 Anisoptera, and have yet to finish the Gomphidae.  Then, I will start them on the damselflies.  That will probably be another 25,000 records.  In total, including the UMMZ-MOS specimens, that should be around 75,000 specimens from only North America.  It's a pretty damn good collection, and someday we will catalog the other specimens, which should add up to another 100,000.

So, I have been dealing a lot with data this summer, and while I am not out in the field that much, I am gaining more insight into the fauna that we have, and the remarkable collection that we house here at the Museum of Zoology.    If I have one piece of wisdom to impart from all this, it is: Use bar codes!  It makes daata-entry faster, easier, and you avoid the problems that I encountered with the duplicates.  The database is set-up to avoid dupes as we enter the data, but it does not do so when we import a bunch of records.  Lesson to be learned.  Click on the box that enables that check.

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!