Category Archives: Insects

Insects

West Seneca Oxbow Wetland Restoration, WNY

As someone who is not exactly from Western New York originally — {:-) — I had no idea that there even were any old oxbow lakes in the area, let alone one on which restoration efforts had been made, but there is and its in West Seneca.

The Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper [BNRK] website states that “West Seneca’s oxbow wetland on Buffalo Creek is just a few miles upstream from the industrialized Buffalo River, a Great Lakes ‘Area of Concern’. As one of only three major wetlands in the lower Buffalo River watershed, it is considered a source area for future habitat and species restoration in the AOC.  Planning studies over the past 40 years have recommended that the oxbow site be protected.”

According to the  ERIE [Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange] webpage, “the restoration of the  oxbow wetland began in 2008 as part of the Buffalo River Watershed and AOC  restoration effort.  The project was led by BNRK and funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“In Fall 2009, six ERIE trainees became involved  in the restoration project… [and] donated over  1000 hours in fieldwork and analysis of flora, fauna, soils and groundwater.  The trainees developed a habitat restoration  and management plan for the 14-acre parcel of the oxbow. The plan used an  adaptive management framework to control invasive plant species and reintroduce  native plants to the site based on historical and nearby reference  communities. ”

To see pictures of the Oxbow and ERIE trainees working on the project (courtesy of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper), click here.

IfI can establish that there is public access to this site, or get us permission to visit, then this seems like a good venue for one of our ‘Wildlife Watchers & Nature Photographers’ group walks.  I’ll let you know the outcome of this.

Two new butterfly species discovered in eastern USA!

Butterflies are probably the best-loved insects. As such, they are relatively well studied, especially in the United States. Eastern parts of the country are explored most thoroughly. The earliest eastern US butterfly species were described by the father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus himself, over 250 years ago. For the last two and a half centuries, naturalists have been cataloguing the species diversity of eastern butterflies, and every nook and cranny has been searched. Some even say that we have learned everything there is to know about taxonomy of these butterflies.

Intricate satyr (A) and Carolina satyr (B) are very similar in wing patterns despite being more evolutionarily distant from each other, but south Texas satyr (C) is distinguished by smaller eye spots and wavier lines, yet is much closer related to Carolina
Intricate satyr (A) and Carolina satyr (B) are very similar in wing patterns despite being more evolutionarily distant from each other, but south Texas satyr (C) is distinguished by smaller eye spots and wavier lines, yet is much closer related to Carolina

The discovery of a new eastern USA butterfly species is indeed very rare nowadays. It is even more remarkable that Texas researchers discovered not just one but two new species at once. ‘It was completely unexpected’, said Dr. Grishin. ‘We were studying genetics of these butterflies and noticed something very odd. Butterflies looked indistinguishable, were flying together at the same place on the same day, but their DNA molecules were very different from each other. We thought there was some kind of mistake in our experiments.’

But there was no mistake. Segments of DNA sequences obtained from these butterflies, clustered in two groups. While wing patterns in the two groups were indeed very similar, inspection of genitalia revealed profound differences. Males and females from one cluster had larger and paler genitalia, and males and females from the other cluster possessed smaller and darker genitalia, among other numerous distinctions. It became clear that the researchers were dealing with two species, which were not even very closely related to each other, just very similar in wing patterns. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

One of these species is a well-known Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius), discovered two centuries ago, in 1793: a small brown butterfly, just over an inch in wingspan, with eyespots along the edge of wings. It is one of the most common eastern US butterflies and a usual denizen of shaded, wooded areas, hence the name. The other species was new. It was named the “Intricate Satyr” (Hermeuptychia intricata) for ‘the difficulty in recognizing this very distinct species and its intricate ventral wing patterns’, Cong & Grishin write. Initially discovered in Brazos Bend State Park in East Texas, Intricate Satyr is widely distributed all over eastern USA in several states, including Florida and South Carolina. One discovery leads to another. Being curious about genetic makeup of these Satyrs, Cong & Grishin decided to investigate DNA sequences and genitalia of Satyr populations from South Texas. And it immediately paid off. These populations turned out to be another new species, named “South Texas Satyr” (Hermeuptychia hermybius). Interestingly, South Texas Satyr is a close relative of Carolina Satyr, but Intricate Satyr is rather distant from either of them.

This begs a question about how many more new species of eastern butterflies remain to be discovered and currently hide behind their colourful wings? Nobody really knows, but it is clear that nothing can be further from truth than a statement that there is not much new to be learned about North American butterflies.

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Journal Reference:

Qian Cong, Nick Grishin, (2014). A new Hermeuptychia (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, Satyrinae) is sympatric and synchronic with H. sosybius in southeast US coastal plains, while another new Hermeuptychia species – not hermes – inhabits south Texas and northeas. ZooKeys, 2014; 379: 43 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.379.6394

This news is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0)

A photo of a dragonfly found in W.N.Y. wins a ‘Highly Honoured’ in the 2013 Nature Best Wildlife Photography Competition

You don’t have to travel in order to find good subjects for wildlife photography and competitions!

By pure chance, I found a page on a British wildlife photographer’s blog, showing his award-winning shot of what was, to him, an unusual species of dragonfly but to us in Western New York is a common species.  So if — as he writes — he was only able to grab two photos of the ‘halloween pennant’ in question, imagine how much advantage we “locals” have when we can see it and photograph it up close, every summer!

Richard Peters’ photo was taken in Florida but there are certainly plenty “Halloweens” here in Erie County, and by happy coincidence one of my own shots of this species is currently the ‘feature photograph’ at the very top of the ‘Site Index and About Us‘ page on this blog.

See Richard’s photograph here.

2013 ‘National Wildlife’ Photo Contest Winners Slideshow

WHEN NATIONAL WILDLIFE INAUGURATED ITS ANNUAL PHOTO CONTEST 43 YEARS AGO, contestants submitted just a few hundred images, all of them documenting the harmful impact of pollution on wildlife. That year’s Grand Prize winner portrayed a dead, oil-soaked cormorant. This year the editors received more than 32,000 entries in seven categories ranging from Backyard Habitats to Baby Animals. Yet despite their greater diversity, many entries still mirror NWF’s conservation priorities. This year’s Grand Prize winner, for instance, features a polar bear, a species severely threatened by climate change. On the day this bear was photographed, the temperature on northern Canada’s Hudson Bay soared above 90 degrees F during a record-breaking heat wave.

View a slideshow of the winning images here and the stories behind each image are available here.

Britain’s Farmland Butterflies Bounce Back from Low Numbers

Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) on barley - Tim Melling - Butterfly Conservation
     Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) on barley – Tim Melling – Butterfly Conservation

Farmland butterflies have flourished thanks to last year’s hot summer, the charity Butterfly Conservation says.

The annual Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) recorded almost double the number of insects compared with the previous year.

Long, sunny periods provided perfect breeding conditions for some of the UK’s brightest species, it suggested.

But experts warned the mild winter could reverse the insects’ fortunes if they emerged too early for spring.

The survey has been run by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology [BTO] and The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology since 2009….

Read the full, very interesting article from the BBC, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/26242496

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Eddie’s comment:  This is excellent news!  For the past few years, there has been a dismaying scenario of butterfly numbers falling, throughout Britain.  This has largely been attributed to inappropriately long periods of cold and/or wet weather, so it is nice to see that a warmer, drier summer brought numbers back up, perhaps to a larger extent than one might have dared hope.

As for the excellent photograph by Tim Melling, some experts say that the European Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) is actually the same species as North America’s “Milbert’s Tortoiseshell” (Aglais milberti).*

The other two North American tortoiseshells (‘California’ and ‘Compton’) are in a different genus — Nymphalis — the same as the Mourning Cloak.

* National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies

More Disease Problems for Bees in the US and Worldwide

An article published today in Britain, by the BBC, under the heading of ‘Bumblebees infected with honeybee diseases’, might not seem to be cause for alarm among nature lovers in America, but there can be no doubt that it is.

Honey Bee on Birds-foot-trefoil. Copyright 2013, Eddie Wren
Honey Bee on Birds-foot-trefoil. Copyright 2013, Eddie Wren

Given that bees are a massive factor in the viability not only of the wild flowers that we all enjoy but also of many important food crops, the rise of Deformed Wing Virus [DWV] and of the microsporidian ‘Nosema ceranae‘ should be of concern to anyone who has an interest in the health of our environment, and not least to bee keepers, whose livelihoods are once again being threatened.

When I read the above article, I did a search for these two problems in the USA, and sure enough I found this this report from the American Society for Microbiology, about DWV here in the States.

As for the ‘Nosema ceranae‘, Wikipedia has plenty to tell us about the spread of this pathogen, not only in the Americas but worldwide.

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Fox News in the USA has now run a version of this story, here.

Would You Like to Make a Living Photographing or Filming Insects?

Through the URL below, you can view a video collection featuring bugs and insects in amazing close up, selected by insect expert and TV presenter George McGavin, with Goliath spiders, killer centipedes, ants and moths. By no means everyone’s favourite animals bugs — encompassing true bugs and other creepy crawlies — hold a special place in George’s heart and led him to an academic career at Oxford University. Having worked as scientific advisor on Attenborough’s “Life in the Undergrowth,” George became a presenter in his own right. He is now loved and admired for his passionate engagement with invertebrates, whether in the jungles of Bhutan or the back gardens of One Show viewers in England.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/collections/p00bf3fy