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.


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 ***

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.

Local duets

Not only tropical birds duet with their mate, if you listen closely you can hear some of our local birds duetting, too. Or at least you may notice that female songbirds are not as silent as we often assume. Carolina Wrens Thryothorus ludovicianus and Northern Cardinals Cardinalis cardinalis are two species in which the female often joins her mate’s songs.

Carolina Wren, photo by Rich Bradley

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus, photo by Rich Bradley

Listen to this excerpt of many hours of recordings of one pair of Carolina Wrens captured by Barbara Simpson in the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill on November 3, 1981 (BLB43057):

The female does not respond with the typical male-like “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” song, but with a buzzy, rather high-pitched trill. The coordination is not as precise as in the neotropical wrens, rather in many cases the female overlaps the song of her mate. Still she communicates her presence on the territory to any listeners in the neighborhood, be it male or female Carolina Wrens.

Note the fainter song of another male Carolina Wren in-between the focal male’s songs.

Can you hear when the male switches to a different song type (not shown in spectrogram)?

spectrogram of Carolina Wrens duetting

Carolina Wrens “duetting”, the female chatter (red bar) overlaps the second song of the male (blue bar) and alternates with the third song


You may say that maybe a better example of a duetting species in our area is the Northern Cardinal.

In this common backyard species the female has a song as elaborate as that of her mate and she is often accompanied by her mate’s song. A female Northern Cardinal is easily distinguished from the male by her more subtle, brown plumage, allowing us to tell the sexes apart and notice whether a male or female is singing (In the monomorphic Carolina Wren we would have to color-mark the female to be sure that she does not also sing like her mate). Take a close look at the next Northern Cardinal that sings in your backyard, it may be a female. They are just as virtuous as the males of this species:

spectrogram of male and female Northern Cardinal duetting

Male and female Northern Cardinal duetting; note song (an accelerating trill) of the Field Sparrow in-between

Familiarize yourself with the song of the female and male Northern Cardinal in the duet above.

spectrogram of female and male Northern Cardinal song

Female (red) and male (blue) Northern Cardinal duetting

Rich Bradley recorded this pair of Northern Cardinal at the Delaware Wildlife Area on April 13, 1994 (BLB41331).

I challenge you to get outside early one morning (Sunrise in the Columbus area is around 7:30am, so depending on cloud cover birds may start singing just after 7am). Listen to the dawn chorus of birds in your neighborhood, find your closest Northern Cardinal and listen to his song – or is it a female you are listening to? If you record the song on your phone, share the recording with us!



Shuler, J. B. (1965). Duet singing in the Carolina wren. The Wilson Bulletin, 405-405.
Ritchison, G. (1986). The singing behavior of female northern cardinals. Condor, 156-159.

All bird photos by Richard A Bradley – thank you Rich!


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


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

Explaining Science – crustacean symbionts with sea anemones

Explaining Science – a new series of blog posts bringing scientific discoveries focused around biodiversity to your living room.

Are you ready to learn about phylogeography, population genetics and symbiosis, great topics to impress your boss and co-workers at the next Holiday party?

Let’s set the scene: If you have been scuba-diving off the coast of Florida you are probably familiar with the coral reefs found offshore from the coast, the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States and the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world. It is a hotspot for biodiversity, meaning that you were probably awed (if you looked closely) by the diversity of animals that call this reef their home. Given the large diversity, not only of species but also in strategies that allow them to be successful in this environment, coral reefs are great places for scientists to study relationships among living beings. We refer to this part of science as phylogeography, the study of why species live where they do, how they got there and how they are related with each other.

Here at the MBD we are lucky to have the Laboratory of Marine Invertebrate Diversity led by Professor Meg Daly and her students who explore biodiversity of sea anemones and the diversity in marine symbioses of crustaceans with some anemones. Benjamin Titus, one of the PhD students in Daly’s lab, recently published a study entitled “Specialist and generalist symbionts show counterintuitive levels of genetic diversity and discordant demographic histories along the Florida Reef Tract” in the scientific journal Coral Reefs. I was intrigued and asked Ben to explain the purpose and the significance of his study. Following is a series of clips from my interview with Ben or you can scroll down to a brief take-home-message, summarizing the main results.

  • Introduction: Every good scientific study tests a hypothesis that developed from previous research, here Ben tests these two hypotheses:


One of these hypotheses, the specialist-generalist variation hypothesis, predicts that specialists, species that rely on a close association with one particular species, show reduced genetic variation and genetically structured populations.


  • Study site: Map of coral reefs sampled along the Florida Reef Tract

Ben collected samples along the Florida Reef tract:


  • Study system: Crustaceans living with sea anemones are small animals, many have not (yet) been studied closely. Thus we often do not even know how many species exist within a genus. It is not surprising that genetic analyses reveal new relationships. Ben’s study subjects are 1 sea anemone and 6 crustacean species:
corkscrew sea anemone Bartholomea annulata

corkscrew sea anemone Bartholomea annulata

At least 6 species of crustaceans can live symbiotically with sea anemones. Ben focused on the corkscrew anemone, Bartholomea annulata, as a host for red snapping shrimp (Genus Alpheus), the Pederson cleaning shrimp (Genus Ancylomenes), the spotted cleaner shrimp (Genus Pericilemenes), the sexy shrimp (Genus Thor), and the arrow crab (Genus Stenorhynchus).

These species differ in their life history strategies, what they do to strive and survive:

The red snapping shrimp is most often found buried in the sand beneath the anemone’s column; it is considered an obligate symbiont, because it depends on the anemone for survival.

The Pederson cleaning shrimp is commonly found within the anemone’s tentacles; it is also considered an obligate symbiont but a host generalist, in that it will associate with a variety of anemone species.

The spotted cleaner shrimp lives among the tentacles of several species of sea anemones; like the Pederson cleaning shrimp, it is an obligate symbiont and host generalist.

The sexy shrimp is a generalist symbiont found with a variety of anemones and corals; it is a facultative generalist, for whom a close relationship with an anemone is not necessary for its survival.

The arrow crab is a facultative symbiont, often living in association with an anemone, but such a relationship is not necessary for its survival.

  • Sample collection: Collecting crustaceans for the genetic analysis required a couple of field trips to Florida, scuba-diving offshore and occasionally an inventive technique to knock-out pesky invertebrates.


  • Genetic Analysis: Back in the lab at OSU Ben extracted genetic material, specifically mitochondrial DNA, from the samples he collected in the field and for this study used one particular marker within this mitochondrial genome: CO1.


  • Results – hypothesis 1: Against his expectations (recall the specialist-generalist variation hypothesis from above), Ben found that specialists showed greater genetic diversity than the two generalists he studied and overall the sampled populations are not structured along the Florida Reef Tract.


  • Cryptic species are individuals within a species that are morphologically similar, appear identical, but do not breed with each other because they are genetically quite distinct. Crustaceans living with sea anemones are small animals and many have not (yet) been studied closely. Thus we often do not even know how many species exist within a genus. It is not surprising that genetic analyses reveal new relationships. Based on his previous research findings, Ben suspected cryptic species in some genera, and found evidence  both within the snapping and the cleaner shrimp (genera Ancylomenes and Periclimenes). Ben discovered species that had so far been unknown to us.


  •  Results – hypothesis 2: The second hypothesis regarding shared diversification by co-occurring species, was not supported by the collected data. Most populations did not show a recent expansion since the last changes in sea levels with the end of the ice age some 15,000 years ago. Only one of the snapping shrimp species, Alpheus immaculatus (Fig.6b), showed an increase in population size about 300,000 years ago.


  • Conclusion: So what do these findings mean? Finding new species highlights that the Florida Reef Tract is a biodiversity hotspot, currently maybe even underappreciated because not all species within this diversity have been detected and described yet.

Understanding the genetic structure of crustacean populations is important because they play fundamental roles in the marine ecosystem, in symbiotic relationships with anemones and corals, the building blocks of coral reefs.


Take-home-message: The Florida Reef tract is an important biodiversity hotspot with yet undescribed species. Specialists may have greater genetic diversity than generalists in some, particularly marine ecosystems, where larvae disperse far distances. When host availability is not a limiting factor, species that co-occur on the same host and would be expected to show similar diversification patterns, species may follow quite different trajectories of phylogeographic history.


Titus, B. M., & Daly, M. (2016). Specialist and generalist symbionts show counterintuitive levels of genetic diversity and discordant demographic histories along the Florida Reef Tract. Coral Reefs, 1-16.

Did you know that …

Biodiversity refers to the variety of living beings on our planet. Invertebrates are estimated to have the greatest diversity among all animals. The famous biologist and author E.O. Wilson estimates the total number of existing species close to 7 millions (only ~20% of these have actually been described) in his recent book Half-Earth – a great read if you are interested in finding out what it takes to preserve the diversity of animals and plants on planet Earth.

Sea anemones are animals and they are close relatives of jellyfish and corals, all members of the phylum Cnidaria. You may know anemones for their close relation with clownfish, the small orange, black and white fish that make their home within the sea anemones’ tentacles. But these are not the only symbionts living with anemones; some species of crustaceans also use the tentacles for protection.

Symbionts are animals or plants that live closely together. In mutualisms, the symbionts each benefit from this close proximity. For example, clownfish clean the anemones of parasites, the stinging tentacles of the anemone provide protection to the clownfish – watch some clownfish in their sea anemone habitat during your next visit at the aquarium at the Columbus Zoo!

Some symbionts only exist with one particular other species, these are called host specialists. Other symbionts can live with a wide range of species, you guessed right, these are called host generalists.


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the social media manager at the Museum of Biological Diversity, here in an interview with Benjamin Titus, PhD candidate in Meg Daly’s Laboratory of Marine Invertebrate Diversity at the Ohio State University.

Meet the Seaweeds

In this post, I would like for you to meet some of the algae that are to be placed in the OSU herbarium that I collected and processed into specimens from shorelines close to Eagle Hill Field Station in Maine, July 2016 (see below).

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During part of the class, students were introduced to the ethnobotany of algae, i.e., human uses for seaweeds. Brown algae usually contain a polysaccharide, algin, in their cell walls. Algin is used in industry, food and pharmaceuticals to thicken and stabilize products. Examples of products that contain algin include ice cream, yogurt, soups and sauces, medicine tablets and antacids, toothpaste, lotion, lipstick and paint.

Below is some ethnobotanical information that I learned about the species of algae in the slideshow above.

Nori is an edible seaweed that dries to paper-thin sheets. It is often used as a wrap in sushi. In Maine, nori is currently harvested from wild-grown algae beds, however, nori farming soon will be a reality off the coast of Maine.

Irish moss is a primary source of carrageenan that is used as a thickening agent in toothpaste, foods and drinks, such as ice cream, pudding, and beer. The arrow in the photo points to round cystocarps that produce reproductive spores that will be released into the water when mature.

The winged kelp specimen was attached to a rock on the sea floor about four feet below water level at low tide. Winged kelp is edible and it is used in salad, soups and miso. It has a nutty flavor and is high in vitamins.

Dulse is added to salads, sandwiches and soups, and it is also eaten as chips. It is high in vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

Bladder wrack (don’t you just love the name) grows in extensive mats covering the tops of rocks above the low tide line. It is added to soups, applied medicinally to prevent skin irritations, used as a sunscreen, or utilized as a fertilizer. Like many edible seaweeds, it is high in minerals and vitamins. The paired bladders found at the ends of the branches (arrow on the bladder wrack photo) contain a gel with reproductive spores inside. The brown coloring around the bladders (see above) is algin that leached out of the bladders into the surrounding paper.


To make the herbarium specimens shown above, the seaweeds were processed and pressed in the lab after collecting. Preparing seaweeds for pressing is more elaborate than for land plants and often can be an artistic process requiring time and patience.

Since seaweeds are thin and fragile, they often break apart and/or stick together when removed from the water. Therefore, seaweeds are “floated” onto herbarium paper before pressing so that they can be arranged as close to their natural state as possible.

“Floating” is accomplished by placing a herbarium sheet under the water (water from the sea) with the seaweed floating on the water surface. The paper is carefully lifted up while the water slowly drains off the paper leaving behind the algae in a relatively natural position on the paper. However, slowly draining the water may not sufficiently separate smaller branches of the seaweed. In this case, the branches need to be painstakingly teased apart with a blunt probe while a thin film of water is still present on top of the paper.

Below, meet two additional species of seaweeds that I collected that are finely branched, and that required significant time and an artistic flare to arrange and separate tiny branches.

A finely branched red alga.

A finely branched red alga.

As of yet, the red alga on the left is unidentified, but I know it is polysiphoneous which means it has a central core of cells surrounded by a cortex. The branches appear jointed because the cells of the core and cortex are the same length, beginning and ending at the same place. This species also has tiny spines at each joint.

A brown alga that is finely branched in a feather-like pattern, possibly in the genus, Desmarestia.

A brown alga, possibly in the genus, Desmarestia.




Each side branch of the brown alga on the right was carefully separated from the main branch using a blunt probe to gently nudge the branches into position as the plants were “floated” onto herbarium paper before drying.


After pressing and drying, some seaweeds need to be glued onto the paper and some, especially brown algae that contain algin, often adhere to the herbarium paper without glue. Some algae, such as the finely branched red algae, make exquisitely beautiful specimens.

Meet a couple more unique and beautiful brown and red algae species collected in Maine near Eagle Hill Field Station (below). Note the brown shadow around the sausage weed specimen. The shadow is formed from algin that diffused from the alga into the surrounding paper.

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In closing, I will leave you with a fun fact about sausage weed. The name sausage weed comes from the branches that have sausage-like constrictions. Trivia time, here we come!


About the Author: Dr. Cynthia Dassler is curator of Cryptogams (small plants that produce spores) at The Ohio State Herbarium (OS) in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology.

Photos by Cynthia Dassler.


See the Seaweeds

As a scientist and curator, learning is a constant endeavor. Mix this with the continuous increase in knowledge about organismal relationships and classification, and training becomes critical to maintaining knowledge necessary to effectively curate collections in the OSU herbarium. Thus, I traveled, sixteen hours by car, to Eagle Hill Field Station in Steuben, Maine at the end of July 2016 to attend two, week-long courses, one of which was “Introduction to Maine Seaweeds: Identification, Ecology, and Ethnobotany.”

My reasons to take a course about seaweeds were two-fold: the OSU herbarium has a very small collection of seaweeds, or macro-algae, and I wanted to add to it. Secondly, I had very little experience collecting seaweeds, and thus sought to learn proper collection and curating techniques.

During the class, we spent about three hours each day collecting seaweeds at low tide. We collected along different types of shorelines near the Field Station.

Shorelines with large rocks and ledges are common near the Field Station (see below). The dark rocks closer to the water are covered with brown rock weeds. Large rock ledges occur at the water’s edge. At low tide near the rock ledges, the water is about chest high. Many different species of seaweeds, especially red algae, occur beneath the water surface attached to the sides of the large rocks. Large brown kelps, such as sugar kelp and winged kelp, are underwater and attached to rocks on the sandy bottom.

A typical rocky shoreline at low tide along the Maine coast near Eagle Hill Field Station.

A typical rocky shoreline at low tide along the Maine coast near Eagle Hill Field Station.

Rock weeds often cover the rocks from the high tide line to almost the water’s edge. The rock weeds are usually of two species: knotted wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum) and bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus). Both species are shown in the slide show below. Bladder wrack can be identified by paired air bladders (green bumps on the plant on the left side of the close-up photo of rock weeds). Knotted wrack possesses singularly arranged air bladders along the branches (inflated areas on the plant on the right side of the close-up photo of rock weeds). The creamy white bumps on the rock surfaces are barnacles that cover nearly every rock that receives water at high tide. Pools among the rocks are often havens for red algae, small shrimp, crabs and sand dollars.

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What an incredible experience! Where else could I spend an afternoon clambering over barnacle-covered rocks, poking my hands into pools and crevices looking for red, brown and green seaweed treasures.

A different type of shoreline that we visited is characterized at low tide by open, exposed sandy or gravelly bottoms that often have scattered rocks (see slideshow below). The water is often cloudy, and seaweeds that are attached to rocks beneath the water are difficult to see. The students were often seen strung along the shore, hoping to find a unique specimen in the cloudy water.

After collecting, we began the elaborate task of processing and pressing the seaweeds to create archival specimens by “floating” them onto herbarium paper before drying them in a plant press. On a photo in the slideshow below, one of the students is holding a jug with seawater. We used seawater in the lab to “float” the algae onto the herbarium paper. Tap water is not ever used, as it kills the algae and makes the specimens mushy.

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This is where I leave you until next time. Next time, look forward to meeting some of the seaweeds that I collected, but here is a teaser:

collection sheet of red alga, Devaleraea ramentacea

A collection of the red alga, Devaleraea ramentacea.

Above, each individual alga was “floated” and arranged on a herbarium sheet before drying in a plant press. The specimen was found underwater attached to rocky ledges that were partly exposed at low tide. I collected this alga by reaching underwater and feeling along a rock, choosing it because it felt different than the other algae around it. This species has a limited native distribution, found only along the northern Atlantic coast from Cape Cod to Labrador and Newfoundland.

About the Author:  Dr. Cynthia Dassler is curator of Cryptogams (small plants that produce spores) at The Ohio State Herbarium (OS) in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology.

All photos were taken by Nick Blouin.


Impacts of Rain Gardens on Urban Bird Diversity

Rain gardens have proven to be a useful tool to mitigate stormwater run-off in cities. They are depressions on the side of the road or sidewalk with plants that absorb rainfall and prevent water from picking up pollutants and carrying them to the nearest stream. The plants and soil also filter the water. But this is not the only service rain gardens provide, the diversity of plants used in them increases habitat for many animals. Many insects and spiders are drawn to the local plants and they in return attract birds and small mammals. Rain gardens can provide nice shelter for these animals too.

As part of project “BluePrint” the City of Columbus plans to install some 500 rain gardens in the Clintonville area to manage stormwater runoff. Dr. Jay Martin, Professor of Ecological Engineering at OSU joined the project to holistically quantify the impacts of stormwater green infrastructure on societal services such as stormwater management, public health, community behavior, economics, and wildlife habitat. Dr. Martin’s PhD student David Wituszynski focuses on the animal aspect and recently contacted the Borror lab to discuss his research idea. David wants to test the hypothesis that implementation of such a large network of rain gardens will increase the diversity of urban bird species.

SongMeter mounted (https://www.wildlifeacoustics.com)

SongMeter mounted (https://www.wildlifeacoustics.com)

Specifically, he wants to develop automated acoustic methods to track urban bird populations. He will deploy SongMeters, automated recordings units, and program them to record surrounding sounds at certain times of the day. It is easy to record thousands of hours of bird and insect sound, but one needs to analyze them afterwards and identify vocalizing species.

This takes us back to the problem of automated sound recognition raised in Monday’s post. Dr. Martin and David are collaborating with Don Hayford from Columbus Innovation Group who will develop techniques to filter out background noise (such as human voices, machinery, cars, barking dogs – all familiar sounds to our neighborhoods) and produce files of target sounds that can then be analyzed with existing software.

My role will be to provide reference sounds for the software as we need to train the software to recognize known vocalizations of local bird species. This is not an easy task because some bird species have quite varied vocalizations. Our large and diverse archive of sound recordings will come in handy, we have many recordings of local Ohio species. These should cover most of their diverse vocalizations. Our goal is to build classifiers that automatically recognize and label species in the recordings.

map of Clintonville area with proposed rain gardens (project BluePrint, Columbus OH)

Will you get a rain garden on your street? check this map

We have just submitted a grant application to help us fund some of this research. The first SongMeters will be deployed this fall and we will start monitoring the areas to get a baseline level of bird activity. Come spring the city will install rain gardens in the neighborhood and we can compare our recordings before and after the installation. This certainly is a multi-year project. We will keep you updated.

Should you see a rain garden in your neighborhood, take a picture and share it on social media #BLB #raingarden #songmeter!


Further resources:

The project BluePrint was featured in the Columbus Dispatch last January!

Learn more about rain gardens in Central Ohio!


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics at OSU and Co-PI on the project “Determining Impacts of Rain Gardens on Urban Bird Diversity” with Dr. Jay Martin, David Wituszynski and collaborator Don Hayford.