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.

An 1892 Framed Plant Mount on display at the Thompson Library

The first director of The Ohio State University Herbarium and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. William Ashbrook Kellerman, prepared quite a large number of framed mounts of Ohio plants in 1892. According to the previous curator of the herbarium, Dr. Ronald L. Stuckey, these were “part of an exhibit of the Ohio flora displayed in the Ohio State Building … at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. The total collection consisted of a display of mounted specimens of leaves, twigs, flowers, fruits, section of wood and bark of Ohio’s forest trees, and flowering plants, mosses, lichens, and algae.”

One of these framed mounts, twigs and wood section of the white oak tree, Quercus alba L., is currently on display at the Thompson Library until May 14, 2017. Dr. Florian Diekmann, head of the Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Library and Student Success Center, was in contact with the staff of the OSU herbarium early June last year seeking help in displaying specimens of white oak as many of the wooden structures of the main library were obtained from that plant.

Since the original twigs and leaves were not in good condition and the glass was chipped in a corner, Dr. Diekmann agreed to have it restored and refurbished. This is just one of the many framed, mounted but not displayed items in the Herbarium hitherto. The idea behind the gallery is to show the “unique connections and history shared between The Ohio State University and Ohio’s forests.” The Ohio State University Herbarium was glad to share its resources with the general public and has also made other items available for display at the gallery.

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Mesfin Tadesse, curator OSU herbariumAbout the Author: Mesfin Tadesse is curator of vascular plants at The Ohio State University Herbarium.

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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.

Backyard Bug Explorer


Visitors touring the Triplehorn Insect Collection are invariably drawn to the biggest, longest, most colorful creatures that we have among our four million specimens. Giant walking sticks, Goliath beetles, white witch moths, and birdwing butterflies are a sure hit with visitors of all ages.  One question that usually follows that exhilarating experience is … “Are these from Ohio?” And, unfortunately, we have to say that no, those enormous and colorful insects come from tropical forests in Africa or South America or elsewhere.

That is not to say, though, that there aren’t plenty of interesting and very striking insects in Ohio. In fact, there are plenty of cool insects right in our own backyards, many of them still poorly known or even completely unknown to science.

Here are just a few examples of the insect fauna that I found in my urban backyard in the past few weeks.


Bees & bee nests

During Spring, carpenter bees and bumble bees are very busy building their nests and collecting pollen. Well, that’s true of the female bees, anyway. The male carpenter bees are far too worried about patrolling their territory and checking out everything that comes along, all in the hope of finding a female that might be susceptible to their charms. Not to worry: the males are harmless, and you’d practically have to grab hold of a female before she would think of stinging.

 

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Under a clay pot that was left leaning against a wall, a queen bumble bee has dug a hole into the soil where she’s starting her own colony. The same sort of gardening accessories are also great places for spiders to build their webs and for insects to hide away their eggs from predators.


Wasp nests

A mud-nesting solitary wasp found the perfect place to build her nest among the wrinkles of a deteriorating plastic cover on an old outdoor fireplace in our yard.  This might be a mud dauber or perhaps a potter wasp nest. Either way, the mother wasp builds the nest using soft mud, then goes hunting for caterpillars or other insects.  The prey – stung into a state of suspended animation – is stuffed into the nest accompanied by a single wasp egg.  The larva that later hatches will feed on the living prey and develop into a new flying adult wasp.


Insect eggs (my all time favorite)

The most exciting finds for me are insect eggs. Sometimes the eggs are parasitized and produce the little wasps that are my object of study. Here on our screen door I found the eggs of an assassin bug. Each egg is like a small piece of art in itself each with a beautiful ornate crown. I’ve been watching carefully to see if assassin bug nymphs will emerge or if the eggs will produce any of my parasitic wasps.

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Ants

When I rolled over a log, I found a number of Lasius interjectus.  These bright yellow ants are commonly called “citronella ants.” If you disturb them, they respond by releasing a bouquet of repellent chemicals that smell like lemon or the citronella candles used to repel mosquitoes. These ants are farmers: they maintain underground “herds” of aphids or mealybugs. These “cows” feed on the fluids in plant roots and excrete a sweet honeydew that the ants love.

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Here’s a quick video of the citronella ants. They are very cute!


Beetle larvae

I love looking for insects on, in, and under dead trees. Recently I found quite a number of very slick and shiny beetle larvae beneath the bark of a large dead tree near our house. I actually don’t know what kind of beetles they are, but I am hoping my buddies who study beetles will be able to identify them. And who knows, maybe I found something entirely new?!

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When disturbed the larvae move deeper into the soft wood.


I have more photos and videos of local insects, but I’ll stop here for now.  Yes, I know, the local bugs are not massive and showy like the amazing things that come from tropical rain forests, but pay close attention and you will find that they are just as fascinating. And best of all, they are right here in our backyard!

 Insects are everywhere. The more we learn about them the more we see how absolutely fascinating, beautiful, and important they are.

 

So take your family outside the house and go explore. Look around your backyard, watch for signs of insects, check out the flowers, the underside of tree leaves, listen to the buzz of the bees and see what they are doing.  Notice the differences between a bumble bee and a carpenter bee and other bees (get more info here.)



A final note: Monday, May 22, is the International Day for Biological Diversity. People all over the world and here in Ohio will be celebrating the day with the goal of increasing understanding and awareness about biodiversity, and to have a good time observing nature.

What a great opportunity to connect with fellow bug explorers and to promote the insect biodiversity that is right around us! Post your discoveries, photos, and musings about Ohio insects on social media. Use the hash tag #OhioBugs so we can keep in touch.

Hope to see you out there!


About the Author: Dr. Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and the current Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at The Ohio State University.

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Follow on Tweeter or Instagram: @osuc_curator

Flight of the Butterfly

What does re-animated life in the Triplehorn insect collection look like? What if a butterfly took flight from its drawer? Watch for yourself: Flight of the Butterfly by Tamara Sabbagh

THANK YOU Luciana Musetti, curator of the OSU Triplehorn Insect collection for facilitating the students’ visit.

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the outreach and multi-media coordinator at the Museum of Biological Diversity and facilitates visits of school classes and students.

*** Which of the animations is your favorite? ***

Samsara – Cyclicality of life

Another video of re-animated life produced by a student in the Moving Image Art class organized by Amy Youngs, Associate Professor of Art:

Samsara – Cyclicality of life by Yuntian Zang: Inspired by the antlers on the wall, a deer goes wandering …

THANK YOU Stephanie Malinich, collection manager of Tetrapods, for facilitating the students’ visit.

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the outreach and multi-media coordinator at the Museum of Biological Diversity and facilitates visits of school classes and students.

*** Which of these animals is your favorite? ***

re-animated Life I

We scientists look at our natural history collections as a great resource for our studies. Specimens tell us about life in the past (where species lived, what they looked like, how many individuals existed etc.) and let us hypothesize about the future. This is one way of looking at these dead “things” that we so meticulously curate. Artists may have a quite different view. This was greatly illustrated by a Moving Image Art class organized by Amy Youngs, Associate Professor of Art, last semester. Students visited our collections of dead things and were asked to find ways to re-animate these animals. We were amazed by the imagination of these young artists-to-be. Over the next days we will share some of the best pieces with you. Here is the first animation, Re-Animated Life by Alina Maddex: Birds and one turtle moving in their natural environment

THANK YOU Stephanie Malinich, collection manager of Tetrapods, Marc Kibbey, Associate Curator of the Fish Division, Caitlin Byrne, Collections Manager of the Division of Molluscs, and Luciana Musetti, curator of the OSU Triplehorn Insect collection for facilitating the students’ visit.

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the outreach and multi-media coordinator at the Museum of Biological Diversity and facilitates visits of school classes and students.

*** Which of these animals is your favorite? ***

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 ***

Museum Open House 2017

We hope you all enjoyed our Open House last Saturday. We started the morning in the dark due to a power outage in the Upper Arlington area. Just as we moved specimens and displays outside, the power came back on at 10:30 am and we were able to invite visitors inside.

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The auditorium was creeping and crawling with all kinds of arthropods including everyone’s favorite stick insects and scorpions.

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Lots of activities awaited all kids and young-at-heart; among others you could plant a seedling, build your own bird feeder, preserve bugs in goo and get your face painted – some artists were at work here.

Herbarium, insects, tetrapods, fishes and mollusc collections had their doors open to give you insights into research in natural history collection and simply show you some of the cool specimens we have.

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You could listen to sounds of frogs, cicada, racoons and other animals in the Borror lab of Bioacoustics.

Drawing natural history specimens was a hit, and produced some very nice drawings.

We would like to thank our numerous volunteers without whom this event would not have taken place. They help with set-up, explain displays to visitors and take displays down at the end of the day. THANK YOU.

Let us know what your favorite activity or display was. We hope to see you all again next year!

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and coordinates social media and outreach at the museum.

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