The leaf-cutter bee expeditions are almost completed. Here is a quick overview.
Megachilidae is a family of bees with more than 600 species in the United States and over 4000 species worldwide. Their common names come from the materials they use to build nests. Leaf-cutter bees cut disks from leaves and petals (and sadly, plastic too) to line the walls of their nurseries. Mason bees use mud to build their nests. And carder bees use plant fibers or animal hairs (carding is the process of combing cotton or wool fibers into parallel strands to be woven together). Still others collect plant resins and are called resin bees. One thing they all have in common is that they provision their larvae with pollen and nectar. All this flower visiting means lots of pollen getting spread from one plant to another.
Most bees, including megachilids, are solitary, meaning they do not live in colonies with a caste structure like honey bees and bumble bees. Because honey bees maintain large colonies of overlapping generations, and seem okay living in wooden boxes that are moved from farm to farm, they became the dominant species for commercial pollination. Similarly, greenhouse tomatoes are often pollinated by bumble bee colonies, which will fly at cooler temperatures. But it is much more difficult to wrangle large numbers of solitary bees for commercial pollination. Enter the alfalfa leafcutter bee, Megachile rotundata. These bees will use stacks of hollow reeds or straws to make their nests, and so can be collected, stored, and deployed in alfalfa fields to increase yield.
Because of their importance as pollinators in natural, agricultural, and urban landscapes, the CalBug team chose megachilid bees as important ecological indicators and set about photographing their labels from our collections. It was over three years ago that we launched the first leaf-cutter bee expedition. Now, after nearly 50,000 specimens we are in the final stretch with “CalBug leaf-cutter bees 18”. So, let us look at some stats.
The first thing I noticed is that the Essig Museum has megachilid bees collected every year since 1892, (except for 1893, 1894, 1898, 1899, and 1903). The peak in the late 1930’s marks the beginning of the California Insect Survey, which led to the formalization of the Essig Museum at UC Berkeley. The 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, following World War II, are often considered the “heydays” of Entomology when researchers sought out all species, not just the groups they studied, and collections across the country grew exponentially. Since then researchers have become much more focused in their field efforts. A current peak, beginning around 2010 with renewed interest in native pollinators, is not on this chart because these specimens were databased in-house and not part of the Notes from Nature expedition.
Although the Essig Museum has a major focus on California arthropods, we documented megachilid bees from 53 countries and 45 US states. These specimens represent 493 species in 37 genera. The greatest number of specimens was in the genus Megachile (19,469), followed by Osmia (7208), Ashmeadiella (3781), Hoplitis (3526), Trachusa (3326), and Anthidium (3320).
For this last set of leaf-cutter bee specimens, we would love to know if we fill in some of gaps, like the eastern states not yet represented in the data, or specimens from the 1890’s. The next steps will be to tabulate the host plants these bees visit and look for any populations shifts such as seasonality due to climate change, or the contraction or expansion of particular species over the last 130 years. Thanks to all who have contributed to the monumental task of capturing data on some of our most important native bee species!
— Peter Oboyski, Essig Museum of Entomology
A thank you from the Canadian Museum of Nature
California agriculture feeds the world. Entomologists with the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Plant Pest Diagnostics Center are tasked with protecting the state’s food supply against native and foreign pest insects. This includes hunting for insects at home and abroad that pose potential environmental threats and identifying specimens submitted by various agents and the general public across the state. These specimens make up the California State Collection of Arthropods (CSCA) and are available for future studies.
The CSCA is also part of the CalBug consortium – a collaboration of California’s eight largest arthropod collections – which provides a broader view in time and space than any single institution alone. California has the greatest biodiversity of all states in the US, but at the same time it is not very well known compared to the eastern states. It is important to know what species are native to California, to better understand and detect the invasive species. By analyzing changing distributions of insects over time with respect to land use (agriculture, urbanization, water ways, etc.) and our changing climate, we can better predict and prevent pest outbreaks, know where and when to look for new invaders, and encourage beneficial insects to aid in pollination, pest control, and nutrient cycling.
Our latest expedition series, “California Food and Agriculture”, includes species from several insect families that are important to agriculture and forestry. The often colorful Tephritidae or “fruit flies” include some of the most important agricultural pest species, as well as a diverse set of native Californian species that do not pose pest problems, but are a crucial part in the complex web of life. Bombyliidae (bee flies) are important pollinators, while Asilidae (robber flies) are predators as adults and in the larval stage on other insects. Buprestidae (metallic wood-boring beetles or round-headed borers) typically infest dead or dying trees and accelerate the recycling of nutrition in the ecosystem. California has great diversity of native species, although some non-native pests in this family attack and kill live trees. Understanding and documenting the native fauna is critical to help combat pest species. By helping us capture data in our newest CalBug expedition, you will be helping to protect California’s Food and Agriculture as well as California’s extraordinary biodiversity!
— Steve Gaimari & Martin Hauser, CDFA
We are (re)launching a series of Expeditions called A Lotta Catocala: Underwing Moths! In this new expedition you will see multiple species of Catocala, mostly from the United States.
During the day, Catocala moths rest on tree trunks or dark, sheltered locations such as tree cavities, on the root masses of overturned trees, or in caves. They rest with their gaudy underwings covered by gray forewings, providing camouflage against the substrate. If approached too closely, the unseen moth, sometimes explodes from its resting site in a flurry of striking colors as the hindwings flash into view. At night, Catocala become active and seek out mates and sugar, feeding from flowers, tree sap or rotting fruit. One of the targeted methods of collecting Catocala is baiting or sugaring with rotting or fermenting fruits. To concoct a bait for Catocala, the two required ingredients are sugar and alcohol. The most basic of these recipes rely simply on white or brown sugar mixed with beer or wine. This bait can be enhanced with rotting fruit (bananas, apples, mangoes, peaches, pineapple, watermelon, berries, etc.) or yeast.
It is important to remember that you will be looking at two images (for most of the specimens), dorsal and ventral. There sometimes is critical information on the back of labels. So be sure to check both images! While checking both images, look at the amazing shapes and bright coloration of the moth. Thank you so much for your help!
— Laurel Kaminsky, Digitization Coordinator, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Diversity
Expedition Arctic Botany joins Notes from Nature! / Expédition de botanique dans l’Arctique se joint à Notes from Nature !
The Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) safeguards one of Canada’s largest natural history collections. The botanical collection alone, known as the National Herbarium, numbers over one million specimens, including the world’s best representation of samples from the Canadian Arctic.
Game-changing support from the Sitka Foundation recently permitted the CMN to image Arctic specimens of plants and lichens: one critical step toward the goal of fully digitizing all its botanical collections.
In December 2019, the CMN Botany team launched its very first, fully bilingual (English/French) project on Zooniverse – Expedition Arctic Botany. So far, amazing citizen scientists like you have transcribed three important pieces of information (collector(s), collection number, and collection date) for 16,380 Arctic specimens.
Today we are pleased to announce that Expedition Arctic Botany – newly part of the Notes from Nature family – is back with two new workflows focusing on locality and habitat data for Arctic Lichens!
What is a lichen, you ask? Each lichen species represents a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium. They are found in almost all terrestrial habitats around the world – including city streets and other extreme environments like the high Arctic. Lichens provide food and shelter to animals, control erosion, and are even used in medicines and dyes!
Talk boards for Expedition Arctic Botany differ a bit from those in most other Notes for Nature projects, and not only because they were developed before joining the Notes for Nature team. They also support questions and discussions in both the official languages of Canada. However, they still provide the same great support for your work, including answers to your questions and a vibrant transcriber community.
Hope to see you there!
Le Musée canadien de la nature (MCN) conserve l’une des plus grandes collections d’histoire naturelle du Canada. À elle seule, la collection botanique, connue sous le nom d’Herbier national, compte plus d’un million de spécimens, y compris la meilleure représentation au monde d’échantillons provenant de l’Arctique canadien.
Le soutien déterminant de la Fondation Sitka a récemment permis au MCN de photographier des spécimens de plantes et de lichens de l’Arctique, une étape cruciale vers l’objectif de numérisation complète de toutes ses collections botaniques.
En décembre 2019, l’équipe de botanique du MCN a lancé son tout premier projet entièrement bilingue (anglais/français) sur Zooniverse — Expédition de botanique dans l’Arctique (pour changer la langue, veuillez voir le menu en haut, à droite). Jusqu’à maintenant, d’incroyables citoyens scientifiques comme vous ont transcrit trois éléments d’information importants (herborisateurs, numéro de collection et date de collecte) pour 16 380 spécimens de l’Arctique.
Aujourd’hui, nous sommes heureux d’annoncer que Expédition de botanique dans l’Arctique — nouveau membre de la famille Notes from Nature — est de retour avec deux nouveaux flux de travaux axés sur les données sur la localisation et l’habitat des lichens arctiques !
Chaque espèce de lichen représente une relation symbiotique entre un champignon et une algue ou une cyanobactérie. On les trouve dans presque tous les habitats terrestres du monde, y compris dans les rues des villes et dans d’autres environnements extrêmes comme l’Extrême-Arctique. Les lichens fournissent nourriture et abri aux animaux, contrôlent l’érosion et sont même utilisés dans les médicaments et les teintures !
Les forums de discussion pour Expédition de botanique dans l’Arctique diffèrent un peu de ceux de la plupart des autres projets Notes from Nature, et pas seulement parce qu’ils ont été élaborés avant de se joindre à l’équipe Notes from Nature. Ils répondent également aux questions et aux discussions dans les deux langues officielles du Canada. Toutefois, ils continuent d’appuyer votre travail de la même façon, y compris en répondant à vos questions et en formant une communauté de transcripteurs dynamique.
C’est un rendez-vous !
Notes from Nature has seen a lot of activity since before WeDigBio Lite. In fact, we have had 11 straight days with over 5,000 transcriptions. That is an incredible amount of activity! Thanks to all the have contributed.
We have a “fun” new activity, assuming you like cooties that is. It’s called Countin’ Cooties and you can find it in the Terrestrial Parasite Trackers Project.
“Cooties” is a slang term for lice. This series of expeditions is focused on counting the cooties from wildlife. These parasitic insects infest mammals and birds around the world. Cooties are contagious, they spread by contact between hosts. We are all very aware of how contact between hosts leads to the transmission of parasites and pathogens right now. There are over 6,000 known species of lice, and 100s of unknown species and we are trying to figure out how many specimens of each species (known and unknown) are in our collection. Thank all of you that have been working on this project, for your persistent effort to spread the data collecting effort – this is definitely the best way to spread “cooties”!
— The Notes from Nature Team
We completed our Gaudy Grasshopper expedition today! That’s 332 specimens in less than a week! Wow!
We’re making quick work of our 2nd expedition as well, the Short-horned Grasshoppers. Already at 75% complete! If you haven’t checked out this expedition and want to get in on it before its finished, it is part of the MI-Bug project here.
There has also been a lot of very helpful feedback on the project so far. Thank you for this and please keep letting us know what you think and how we can improve.
Thank you all and great job everyone!!
— Erika Tucker, UMMZ Insect Collection Manager & Assistant Research Scientist