Explaining Science – vermiform mites

You have heard of mites – minute arachnids that have four pairs of legs when adult, are related to the ticks and live in the soil, though some are parasitic on plants or animals. But what are vermiform mites? Maybe you have heard of vermi-compost, a composting technique that uses worms (like your earthworm in the garden) to decompose organic matter. So vermiform mites are mites with a body shape like a worm:

worm-shaped nematalycid Osperalycus

Why are they shaped like a worm, you may ask – To find out more I interviewed Samuel Bolton, former PhD student in the acarology collection at our museum, now Curator of Mites at the Florida State Collection of Arthropods. Sam’s main research interest is in mites that live on plants and in the soil, especially Endeostigmata, a very ancient group of mites that dates back around 400 million years, before there were any trees or forests. Sam’s PhD research with Dr. Hans Klompen here at OSU, was focused on a small family (only five described species) of worm-like mites, called Nematalycidae.

side note: You may have heard of Sam’s research in 2014 when he discovered a new species of mite, not in a far-away country, but across the road from his work place in the museum.

When Sam started his research it was not clear where these worm-like mites in the family Nematalycidae belong in the tree of life. To find out Sam studied several morphological characters of Nematalycidae and other mites. He focused in particular on the mouth-parts of this group. As he learned more about the mouth-parts of this family, he found evidence that they are closely related to another lineage of worm-like mites, the gall mites (Eriophyoidea). Eriophyoidea have a sheath that wraps up a large bundle of stylets. They use these stylets to pierce plant cells, inject saliva into them and suck cell sap.
Although Nematalycidae don’t have stylets, one genus has a very rudimentary type of sheath that extends around part of the pincer-like structures that have been modified into stylets in Eriophyoidea.

So what did Sam and his co-authors discover?

“.. Not only are gall mites the closest related group to Nematalycidae, but the results of our phylogenetic analysis places them within Nematalycidae. This suggests that gall mites are an unusual group of nematalycids that have adapted to feeding and living on plants. Gall mites use their worm-like body in a completely different way from Nematalycidae, which live in deep soil. But both lineages appear to use their worm-like bodies to move around in confined spaces: gall mites can live in the confined spaces in galls, under the epidermis (skin), and in between densely packed trichomes on the surface of leaves;  Nematalycidae live in the tight spaces between the densely packed mineral particles deep in the soil.”

This research potentially increases the size of Sam’s family of expertise, Nematalycidae, from 5 species to 5,000 species. We have yet to confirm this discovery, but it is highly likely that gall mites are closely related to Nematalycidae, even if they are not descended from Nematalycidae. This is interesting because it shows that the worm-like body form evolved less frequently than we thought. This discovery also provides an interesting clue about how gall mites may have originated to become parasites. They may have started out in deep soil as highly elongated mites. When they began feeding on plants, they may have used their worm-shaped bodies to live underneath the epidermis of plants. As they diversified, many of them became shorter and more compact in body shape.

I wish I could tell you now to go out and look for these oddly shaped mites yourself, but you really need a microscope. Eriophyoid mites are minute, averaging 100 to 500 μm in length. For your reference, an average human hair has a diameter of 100 microns.

eriophyoid Aceria anthocoptes

Reference:

Bolton, S. J., Chetverikov, P. E., & Klompen, H. (2017). Morphological support for a clade comprising two vermiform mite lineages: Eriophyoidea (Acariformes) and Nematalycidae (Acariformes). Systematic and Applied Acarology, 22(8), 1096-1131.

 

About the Authors: Angelika Nelson, curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, interviewed Samuel Bolton, former PhD graduate student in the OSU Acarology lab, now Curator of Mites at the Florida State Collection of Arthropods, in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry.

 

Summer in the field

This is the time when many students and faculty spend their days in the field doing research or attending conferences and meetings where they present their latest research results. Follow us on social media #ASCinthefield. We will not post here until the beginning of classes on August 22.

Have a great summer!

 

Playing the role of a bee

Mid-spring through mid-summer is a good time to see our native orchids in flower here in Ohio.  One of the showiest groups is the Lady’s Slippers, which have a distinctive pouch-shaped lip.  We have four species of Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium) in Ohio and one of the more frequent ones is the Yellow Lady’s Slipper (C. parviflorum).  There are two varieties of this species – Large and Small.  The Large (var. pubescens) tends to be a plant of rich woods in more upland situations, while the Small (var. parviflorum) is a plant of wet and often more open situations.  In addition, there are floral differences, including overall flower size and coloration of petals.  In many places they are quite distinct, but in others there seem to be intermediates, which is the main reason that they are not called distinct species.

The Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper in flower at Cedar Bog.

The Small Yellow is the less common one in Ohio, given that there are fewer instances of its habitat than for the Large.  One place that the Small occurs is Cedar Bog in Champaign County.  Cedar Bog is really less of a “bog” and more of a “fen” or swamp, because it is not a lake that has been filled in with Sphagnum moss, creating an acidic habitat, but is rather an alkaline wetland that has water flowing through it.  Cedar Bog is owned by the Ohio History Connection and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Pollinating a flower.

Unfortunately, the numbers of Small Yellow Lady’s Slippers at Cedar Bog have been declining recently, so the preserve managers wanted to have the flowers hand-pollinated to increase the changes of seed set, rather than depending on bees to do the job.  They called on me as an orchid specialist to perform the pollination, since orchids have a rather specialized floral morphology.  Two weeks ago my colleague, Richard Gardner, from the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, picked me up and we headed out to Cedar Bog.  Once there, we put on rubber boots because we needed to hike off the boardwalk to the orchids.  We made our way to the plants, which had been surrounded by plastic fencing to keep the deer from browsing them.  We opened the enclosures and I set to pollinating, removing the pollen masses (pollinia) from one plant with forceps and transferring them to another.  There were only five stems up this year, and only three of those were in flower, so each pollinium was fairly precious.  I did my best, but we won’t know for a few weeks if the pollination was successful – hopefully we will soon see capsules beginning to swell that will be filled with mature seeds by the end of the summer.

You can learn more about Cedar Bog at this website.

About the Author: Dr. John Freudenstein is Director of the OSU Herbarium and Professor of EEOB.  Photographs by Richard Gardner.

Dynamics of Neo-Tropical Arachnids

Today’s post is a guest post by Andrew Mularo,  an undergraduate student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology. He is currently doing his Tropical Behavior Evolution and Ecology research project under Dr. Rachelle M. M. Adams and Dr. Jonathan Shik.

You may love them or you may fear them, but no one can deny the incredible ecological importance of spiders and scorpions. As an aspiring biologist, I have chosen to study the interactions between arachnids and their environment in the tropical rainforests of Panama for the 2017 Tropical Behavioral Evolution and Ecology course. The tropics are a biodiversity hotspot for the majority of the world’s organisms, so there are plenty of creatures to look at. From the smallest spiderling to the largest tarantula, I am curious to see how these cryptic and intriguing animals interact with their ecosystem.

For my project, I am doing an observational study where I am assessing the relationship between leaf litter and arachnid diversity and abundance. I am accomplishing this by creating several 50 meter transects in the Panamanian rainforest, sampling leaf litter with 1 square meter quadrants along each transect. For each quadrant, I take a measurement of leaf litter depth, and sift through the leaves to extract any organisms out of the area. Back at the lab, I sort through the organisms, first finding any arachnids in the sample, and then any other insect or invertebrate, such as ants, beetles, millipedes, snails, mites and many others. With these data, I hope to make a correlation between leaf litter abundance and arachnid diversity and abundance, as well as a correlation between the diversity of potential prey items and arachnid predators.

Naturally, the majority of the organisms that I have been assessing have been very small, from the size of a thumbnail to not even being visible to the human eye. However, there

Wandering Spider (Photo by A. Mularo)

are several occasions where I have observed some extremely imposing arachnids in the tropical forest. One of these includes the huntsman spider, an extremely large nocturnal species that does not rely on a web to capture its prey. This family of spiders is very poorly researched, and is largely unknown how dangerous the venom is for the majority of species. However, they are quite shy, and often scurry away at the sight or sound of a human.

Another fascinating group of organisms I see occasionally are scorpions. The two pictured below are from the genus Tityus, whose venom is very potent. I found the two in the picture below, which we believe to be different species, huddled in close quarters in the water well of a bromeliad. While potentially dangerous, these are a relatively uncommon sight in the rainforest. Nevertheless, it is always good to be careful where you step.

Tityus scorpions (photo by A. Mularo)

While many of them are feared, arachnids are some of the most fascinating organisms on the planet. They come in all shapes and sizes, and have a wide array of interesting characteristics that are of great interest to scientists. Being interested in biology since I was a child, I have always dreamed of coming to the tropics so I could study the vast diversity of organisms, and I could not have picked a better group of organisms to focus on!

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Ohio


Dragonfly at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

Dragonfly at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

The Triplehorn Insect Collection is beginning a collaborative project to survey the dragonflies and damselflies of Ohio.

These spectacular aerial predators are surprisingly diverse: currently 164 species have been recorded in the state. Brilliant colors and striking markings make them the songbirds of the insect world. The immature stages of all species are aquatic, and these animals are found in lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.  Although many dragonflies and damselflies are common, a number are listed as threatened or endangered.

This new Ohio Odonata Survey is scheduled to last 3 years. The work will be done together with the ODNR Division of Wildlife, the Ohio Odonata Society, and a network of avid volunteers and citizen scientists across the state.

MaLisa Spring, an Entomologist and recent OSU graduate, just joined us as coordinator for all of these efforts.  She will be working out of the Triplehorn Insect Collection in Columbus, and will be actively interacting with participants around the state.

Information on the project can be found in the newly created Ohio Odonata Survey website.  Project activities will also be widely advertised on social media.

Ohio naturalists are invited to contribute to the project. If you have images that can help document the distribution and seasonality of the various species of dragonflies and damselflies in our state, please check out the guidelines.

Finally, the Ohio Odonata Society will be holding its 2017 annual meeting, ODO-CON-17 on 23-25 June at the Grand River Conservation Campus in Rock Creek, OH.

Resources:

Photos by L. Musetti (dragonflies) & Huayan Chen (damselfly).

About the Author: Dr. Norman F. Johnson is an Entomologist, Professor at Ohio State University, and Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough .. To Stop Tree Squirrels From Hybridizing

The Chavez Lab will be going to the North Cascades of Washington this summer to do field work in the Tamiasciurus tree squirrel hybrid zone. We have been studying hybrid zone dynamics between Douglas squirrels (T. douglasii) and red squirrels (T. hudsonicus) for 10 years using mostly genetic and phenotypic data. Now is the time to start some observational field research to better document hybrid dysfunction and behavioral interactions between species and their hybrids.

This study contains a richness in questions as to the role that ecological divergence has in the maintenance of isolating barriers and ultimately speciation between these two species. These parapatric species, separated by an extreme change in habitat, meet each other in the different mountain ranges in the Pacific Northwest. Both species live primarily in coniferous forests and have diets and lifestyles that are specialized for feeding on seeds from conifer cones. In the North Cascades region, Douglas squirrels are mostly found on the west side of the Cascade Mountains in a mesic forest environment with a moderate coastal climate. Red squirrels on the other hand are mostly found in the rain-shadow of the Cascade Mountains on the eastside and live in a drier forest with a more seasonally variable climate. Due to the higher fire frequencies in the eastside forest communities, some of the conifer species that red squirrels depend on produce cones with very hard scales or are serotinous (only open during extreme heat from fires). As a result, red squirrels in this region have very strong jaw muscles and bite force in comparison with Douglas squirrels that only feed from trees that produce softer cones. There are many other environmental differences between the westside and eastside environments and thus strong potential for adaptive divergence between these species.

So, you may ask, what does all this ecology have to do with hybridization and speciation? Well, these species may be producing hybrids that have phenotypes that are not well adapted to either type of forest and thus are at a selective disadvantage. Our goal for this study is to examine more directly whether hybrids have lower fitness and dysfunctional traits that decrease their chances of surviving and reproducing. We plan to do this by live-trapping squirrels in a hybrid zone location where I know from previous genetic research that both parental species and hybrids occur. We expect all squirrel types to be living in close proximity with each other and thus we should have good opportunities to study behavioral interactions, as well as document differences in various performance behaviors, such as feeding, mating, vocalization, territorial defense, anti-predator defense, etc…

Stephanie Malinich with bird crownStephanie Malinich is going to be the lead field technician and she will supervise a crew of eager field assistants. Since this is our first field season, we expect a lot of surprises, hopefully more pleasant than difficult ones. This is an exciting time for our lab and we will update you on our findings on this blog later in the year.

 

Andreas ChavezAbout the Author: Andreas Chavez is Assistant Professor in EEOB as of Fall 2016. He is also Director of Mammals in the Tetrapod Collection at the Museum of Biological Diversity. This is his first blog post for the Chavez Lab on the MBD website.

*** Leave a comment to welcome Andreas Chavez ***

Songsters on the move

I have been teaching a class on Ohio Birds since January during which we visit various field sites around Columbus to look for birds. One main goal is for students to be able to identify birds visually and acoustically by the end of the semester. As you may imagine the birds we have been seeing over this time period have  changed quite a bit.

Not only the species have changed but also overall diversity. Venture out in January and you can call it a good day when you see 15-20 bird species. You want to choose your birding location carefully, a variety of habitats (lake, woodlot, open field, and bird feeder) will increase your numbers. These days however 30 species are the norm, it is migration season! While most of our winter guests such as Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow have left us and gone north to their breeding grounds in Canada, many other species that spent the winter south, some as far as Argentina, are on their way to our temperate region.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Photo by Christopher Collins, 2017

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Photo by Christopher Collins, 2017, via www.fb.com/roguebirders

Have you seen a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher yet? Guess what this bird feeds on! Listen for their begging-like calls high in the tree tops. Their long tail and light-gray appearance are a good give-away.

Spectrogram of calls of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Spectrogram of calls of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, BLB28872

 

Similarly flitting around in the tree tops are kinglets (family Regulidae). These tiny birds (even smaller than chickadees! they weigh only 10g or 2 nickels) seem to be constantly on the move. One of the two species that can be added to your Ohio list, the Golden-crowned Kinglet, even spends the winter with us. Truly an amazing feat in temperatures that can drop to zero Fahrenheit and below on occasions. A good photo of this species shows off their flashy bright yellow crest bordered by a black eyebrow stripe on each side.

My favorite though is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, in particular because of its song. It starts out like its close-relative the Golden-crowned with some very high-pitched tsee notes, but then truly distinguishes itself through a jumble of notes, a musical twitter, that seems incredibly loud given the small size of this songster.

Spectrogram of song of Golden-crowned Kinglet

Spectrogram of song of Golden-crowned Kinglet, BLB17541

Spectrogram of song of Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Spectrogram of song of Ruby-crowned Kinglet, BLB11487

 

But do not underestimate the small! My all-time favorite, the Winter Wren, delivers the loudest song (per unit body weight) of all birds, a beautiful cascade of bubbly notes.

Winter Wren. Photo by Christopher Collins, 2016

Winter Wren. Photo by Christopher Collins, 2016, via www.fb.com/roguebirders

While you may get lucky to hear this song in Ohio on occasion from one of the male Winter Wrens passing through, their song is commonly heard in the deciduous and evergreen forests of the north. By the way, did you know that the male hormone testosterone greatly influences bird song? As these males migrate and get ready for the breeding season, their testosterone levels increase and they start practicing their song – even though they are not setting up territories here or trying to attract females.

Spectrogram of song of Winter Wren

Spectrogram of song of Winter Wren, BLB44620

 

There are many ways to appreciate our songbirds. Since I am fascinated by their song I like to record their vocalizations and take these recordings back to our sound lab and look at them. We humans are just so visually oriented that even the song of a Winter Wren may look more beautiful to us than listening to its sound (This is of course not true if you have a musical ear or train yourself to listen carefully and pick out intricate details).

If you are interested in learning how to record bird songs, look at them at home and compare them to each other join me for a Sound Analysis workshop at the nature center at Battelle Darby Creek metro park on Saturday April 29 from 10:30-11:30 am. If you are an early riser, join us on a Bird Walk at 8 am that same day and listen to the bounty of birds singing at this time of the year.

Credits:
Sound descriptions based on the ones given by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All about Birds.

Thank you Christopher Collins and Jim McCormac for the bird photos.

All recordings are archived in the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics. More detailed information for each can be accessed online; just click on each species’ name:
Blue-gray GnatcatcherGolden-crowned KingletRuby-crowned KingletWinter Wren

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and instructor of Ohio Birds each spring.

*** Which birds are your favorites? ***

 

Hey, Four-Eyed Fish!

Sure, those of us who wore glasses when we were younger may have been called “Hey, four eyes!”.  But I wonder if anyone ever took offense to the level of “Hey, you four-eyed fish!”.  ‘Cause that would be combining two insults, the discrimination against an ocular disability and the idea that you were kind of cold…or wishy-washy…well, anyway.  I sometimes get to share the fact that I once caught a Four-eyed Fish, and recently I found out that the species belonging to the Genus Anableps that I caught is rather rare, so I feel even more special!

(Imagine me affecting a British accent here, to make my story sound more adventurous).  “There I was, standing in the river with my doughty crew, when one of the young stalwarts excitedly shouted “Quatros ojos, quatros ojos!””.  Yes, just a few feet away from me cruised the rare and dangerous (dangerous if you’re an insect, that is) Pacific Foureyed Fish Anableps dowei!

In 1999 I accompanied members of my church on a mission trip to the area of Siguatepeque, Honduras, to assist in building cement block housing for victims of Hurricane Mitch (in 1998 Mitch was responsible for the death of at least 11,000 people in Central America) that caused a flood perhaps 40 feet deep in a valley near Siguatepeque.  After the rest of the mission left I stayed behind to travel to the Pan American School of Agriculture near Tegucigalpa, where the fisheries instructor there graciously allowed me to accompany them on trips to waters near the school.

view of Universidad Zamorano

Universidad Zamorano. Photo by EAP Zamorano [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The streams we sampled were the mainstem and tributaries of the Rio Choluteca, the major river on the Pacific slope of Honduras that winds through mountainous terrain until it empties into the Gulf of Fonseca, an estuary shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.  At a site on the Choluteca, near the village of Zamorano, the school’s students and I seined up the Pacific Foureyed Fish (Anableps dowei).  This was a species I’d read about prior to making the trip, so when I heard the student’s cry I became quite excited!

Drawing of a Foureyed Fish

Drawing by Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The species is named for a Captain J. M. Dow, who skippered the steamer “Guatemala” of the Panama Railway Company.  Captain Dow collaborated with two associates to send over specimens from over 1500 samples in Central America to the U.S. National and the British Museums.

The reason for the Four-eyed Fish’s common name is the presence of two pupils in each eye, one in the upper and one in the lower half, separated by a band of tissue. This enables them to see above and below the water while they cruise at the surface of the water body and makes the Four-eyed Fish extremely difficult to catch with a seine: they are able to see you (or an eagle, or other bird of prey) coming from a long ways away. They are known to leap right over a seine and like fish in another family, topminnows, they dive down to the bottom to avoid capture.  An effective method of capture is described as using a group of fishermen to drive a school of quatros ojos toward a concealed individual waiting with a cast net that is thrown over the school, ensnaring a “bushel full” of the prey.

photo of Largescale Foureyes (from above water)

Largescale Foureyes, Trinidad. Photo by Charlesjsharp [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Anableps‘ eye is flattened on the top and rounded on the bottom half, with a thickening of the lens from the bottom to the top to adjust for the refractive differences in the two mediums.  The upper pupil casts the terrestrial image through the lens on the lower retina, while the lower pupil’s image is reflected on the upper retina.  The Four-eyed Fish’s eye recently inspired at least one contact lense company to develop lenses that work extremely well both out of and in the water.

 

Scheme of the eyes of a four-eyed fish showing the basic functions

Diagram of the eye of a four-eyed fish, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

1. Underwater retina 2. Lens 3. Air pupil 4. Tissue band 5. Iris 6. Underwater pupil 7. Air retina 8. Optic nerve

Swimming at the surface with the head exposed is relatively unusual for fishes in general, but species of this genus show other oddities as well.  Not only do the quatros ojos leap out of and skip along the surface of the water, but when they see terrestrial insects on the banks they will actually leap onto the shallow, inundated bank side areas to capture their prey.  These fish have been observed lying in the sun, sometimes for several minutes, before pushing their way back into the water.  Once they’re out of the water their mobility is severely limited since unlike eels they cannot locomote with a wriggling motion, nor can they push off with their tails to leap forward on land. Unlike mudskippers and the “walking” catfish their pectoral fins are unsuited to pulling themselves along.  So, although they may push themselves along with their tail and pectoral fins to chase their prey, the extent to which they are able to do so is severely limited.

Another anomaly that characterizes anablepids is that their genital organs are oriented either to the left or right, thus they can reproduce only with mates having compatible organs.  They share this character with the group of species to which they are said to be most closely related, the “One-Sided Livebearers”, or Jennysina.  The functional significance of this anomaly is not known.  Anableps species are viviparious, meaning the young are birthed live rather than from an egg deposited in the water.  The eggs are carried to term inside follicles in the female’s ovary at which point they hatch and are extruded from the genital pore.  The male of the species has a gonopodium, a modified anal fin ray that develops as the males mature and facilitates placement of the sperm into the oviduct, fertilizing the female’s eggs.

At present three species of Four-eyed Fish are recognized: Anableps anableps, the Largescale Foureyes, is found in South America from the island of Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela to the Amazon Basin of Brazil.  Anableps dowei, the Pacific Foureyes, has the most limited distribution of the three species, occurring in Central America from southern Mexico to Nicaragua. Anableps microlepis, the Foureyes, is the most salt tolerant species of the three. They are found in open marine areas in full seawater (also from Trinidad to the Amazon Basin in Brazil) and follow tidal rhythms, moving up into sheltered lagoons and further upstream with the high tides, and back out into open waters as the tide wanes.

Anableps congregate in schools of up to 200 or so as juveniles, with their gregariousness decreasing with age until at adulthood they are as likely to be found as individuals as in small groups.  Some of their known fish associates include characins, pimelodid catfish, poeciliids, atherinids, eleotrids, flatfishes and cichlids.

If you are looking for an unusual fish for your aquarium the species that is most commonly available from suppliers (there are several that raise their own stock), the Four-Eyed Fish, is moderately hardy, but they are comparatively large in size, growing to around a foot in length.  Since they are surface swimmers they do best in a long, relatively shallow tank in fresh to moderately brackish water (depending on the species).  They are gregarious so it is best not to keep them singly or in pairs.  They will probably do well with Sailfin Mollies, bottom-dwelling Gobies, Mudskippers, and even Orange Chromide Cichlids, Archer Fish and Monodactylus.

The Family Anablepidae is placed within the Order Cyprinodontiformes (and, the Pacific Foureyed Fish attains the largest size of any species in that order).  That order contains a bounty of fascinating forms, with a wide variety of reproductive types, a plethora of adaptations to environments, and high importance in terms of biogeography.  My next post will portray some of those very diverse species.

About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Associate Curator of the Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

*** Have you ever seen a four-eyed fish? Let us know, leave a comment ***

St Patrick’s specimens

Since it is St. Patrick’s day today I felt inspired to search our collections for specimens from Ireland. None of the sound recordings in the Borror lab were made in Ireland – I hope to change this soon as I am planning a trip to Ireland this May. I will keep you updated on which birds I manage to record. May should be prime singing time for most songbirds as they defend their territory and/or attract a mate.

When I searched the Tetrapods collection I came across some bird eggs that sure enough had been collected from nests in Ireland and transported across the Atlantic ocean to be included in our large egg collection. The majority of the 11 egg sets were accessioned when we received the large egg collection put together by Dr. B.R. Bales. He may not have collected all eggs himself, some of the eggs may have been traded with other egg collectors around the world. Such trades were common in former days. The eggs date back to the early 1900s (1899-1923) as you can see from the labels with each one. To my disappointment none were collected on St. Patrick’s day, but I guess March is a bit early for expecting breeding birds in Ireland!

So which species do these Irish eggs belong to? Take a look at the photos.

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Only one species is a songbird, the Dunnock. It builds its nest low in a bush and lays 3-5 blue eggs. Under low light conditions, like inside a bush, these eggs are hard to detect by a potential predator. Keep this in mind when you look at the color and markings of the following eggs of seabirds: The Atlantic Puffin digs a burrow in which it lays its single egg. No color camouflage needed there. Similarly the Manx Shearwater digs a 3-6 feet long burrow in which it lays its single egg. Again the white coloration of the egg is a sign of no camouflage needed. The European Storm Petrel places its nest in crevices between or under rocks, or burrows in the soil. Guess the color of its egg … These eggs are actually from two different females because each lays only a single egg per nesting season. Now look at the egg of the Common Murre, do you think this one is well hidden in a burrow or crevice? The intense markings all over the surface camouflage this egg very well against the bare rock it is laid on. The nest site is on cliff ledges or on flat stony surfaces near water. The last set of eggs is from a single female Corn Crake, a bird in the rail family, which builds its nest in grassland and relies on marking camouflage of its 6-14 eggs per clutch.

Bird eggs, their colors and markings are fascinating and have inspired many research studies. Do you have any burning questions? Leave a comment and we will get back to you.

Have you ever seen any of these birds? The seabirds can be found on both sides of the Atlantic. I have seen Atlantic Puffins on a puffin cruise off the coast of Maine.

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and former curator of the OSU Tetrapods collection.

 

*** We would like to hear from you, please leave a comment ***

We Break for Science

A few weeks ago, I highlighted the artistic and scientific variety of illustrations of Metridium senile. These images were on my desk because Metridium is on our minds a lot these days as the focus of the dissertation research of EEOB PhD student Heather Glon. Heather aims to address one of the persistent problems with this widespread and highly variable anemone: whether the name Metridium senile is being used for a constellation of related but distinct species or whether it represents a single, cohesive circumpolar species.

Answering this question requires sampling across the broad range of this species, analyzing DNA from multiple individuals within populations, and comparing morphology and micro-anatomy. Although our partner museums, like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, American Museum of Natural History, and California Academy of Sciences, hold collections that can help solve this puzzle, none of these collections have sampled at the depth we require and the vast majority of the samples in museums are preserved in ways that complicate DNA analysis. With only a few years to amass the data needed for a dissertation, we have no choice but to spend spring break on the road, searching for Metridium along the California coast.

After nearly 10 weeks in classes, this chance to be outside in the field, focusing on research is a welcome change of pace for both me and Heather. The recent rains in California and generally high low tides of the coming week means that we’ll work mostly from floating docks, searching for small pink anemones among the sea squirts, hydroids, and worm tubes coating the floats and pilings. Our travels will take us from Bodega Head to Morro Bay, with detours through Monterey, Half Moon Bay, and Marin. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, or check back here on Friday for a wrap up of our efforts.

 

OSU Professor Meg DalyAbout the Author: Dr. Meg Daly is Professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, director of the Museum of Biological Diversity and leads the laboratory of marine invertebrate diversity at OSU. She and her students study systematics of cnidaria, sea anemones, jellyfish and their like.