Category Archives: citizen science

Documenting Biodiversity

Today while picking veggies in the garden, I noticed Pieris rapae (Cabbage White) sheltering

Pieris rapae 18 July 2013 Weakley County, TN

Pieris rapae 18 July 2013 Weakley County, TN

from a light rain in the tomato plants. According to Butterflies and Moths of North America this common, ubiquitous, invasive species had not yet been documented in Weakly County, so this photograph provided documentation of occurrence.

Sure, it would have been cool to see a super rare species, but even the most common and non-native/invasive species need to be documented. It also would be cool to not have P. rapae larvae competing for our bok choy. The first step in conserving biodiversity is knowing the patterns of distribution. Consider submitting photos from your backyard to – you might be surprised at how poorly documented your home county is.

107-2013-07-07 15.21.59On a ‘the bok choy is lost’ note, earlier this month I documented caterpillars of Evergestis rimosalis (another Weakley County first record) in our brassicaceous garden crops. We have also had Murgantia histrionica also come in to enjoy our brassicaceous plants.

You do not enjoy a garden alone…

Butterfly and vehicle interactions

As a cyclist, it is common to encounter animals that have been struck and killed by cars along roads. It appears the frequency with which these encounters are made is influenced by traffic volume, traffic speed, and quality of roadside habitat. While a big, bloated deer or reeking skunk will attract the attention of the most unaware road users – the carnage is not limited to mammals. Striking insects with a car is inconsequential to a motorist and it is not until the carnage has reached epic proportions that the motorist takes note and the windshield wipers will be engaged. Otherwise insect collisions are meaningless to most motorists.

Butterflies can be a common part of the roadside insect milieu. McKenna et al. (2001) estimated that 20 MILLION Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) were killed in one week on the Illinois road network.

Recently, while out on my bicycle, I noted a dark swallowtail dead on the shoulder along highway 45E south of Martin, TN. The Lepidoptera fauna from this part of Tennessee is

30 June 2013, highway 45E, Weakley County, Tennessee

30 June 2013, highway 45E, Weakley County, Tennessee

poorly known, so I doubled back and documented the insect with my cell phone. This photograph was submitted to BAMONA, and provided documentation of Papilio troilus in Weakley County. The simple documentation of species within an area is the first step in conserving species.

The riders in the Tour de France are probably not looking for dead insects along roadways as they ramble through the French countryside and I would hate to see the peloton crash because a leader saw a cool roadkill butterfly (like Parnassius apollo). However, the Tour de France does go through some spectacular habitats and this year’s tour has had quite a few crashes already…

Keep your eyes open and be safe!

Lightning bugs!

As usual this cartoon is based on real events. I thought about using Manti T’eo, to represent the non-biologist, but used a farmer. I respect and like farmers, and it is a farmer that was helping with some of my insect research that is responsible for for the statement central to this comic. I have not done it, but if any of you are participating in the lightning bug citizen science project, please comment and share your experience.

lightning bugs

Harrisina americana

The Zygaenidae are a moth family I do not have a good handle on. From what I have read

20 April 2013, West Monroe, Louisiana

20 April 2013, West Monroe, Louisiana

they are primarily tropical and all members are capable of producing Hydrogen Cyanide as a defensive chemical.

I had the pleasure of documenting Harrisina americana, for Ouachita Parish for BAMONA while visiting in Louisiana recently. It was sitting quietly on a Lantana leaf and allowed easy cell phone photography. Sharing your Lepidoptera photos with BAMONA helps document ranges of moths in North America – the first step in conserving such!

I would expect a poisonous moth to be much more colorful, but I guess “orange and black – stay back Jack” still applies. I have much more to learn about this moth family, now that I am living in the Southeast, maybe I can find more members of this family.

You are what you is

The title of this post is also the title of a Frank Zappa album (I am a huge FZ fan). It is also sad that I feel the need to provide an explanation for a cartoon, when cartoons should be able to stand alone. The need for an explanation turns them into ‘blogtoons”(??). Anyway, I hope this blogtoon is of use:

be yourself

A tribute to George Sims

I am lucky enough to have several inspirational people in my life. George Sims is one of those

Award presentation, L to R: Sherry Fischer, Paul Calvert, George Sims, Daughter Susan, Mark Van Patten, and Suzy Higgens

Award presentation, L to R: Sherry Fischer, Paul Calvert, George Sims, Daughter Susan, Mark Van Patten, and Suzy Higgens

people. You all should know George from his blogs: Bugs of Booger County and The Ozarkian. I met George at a Missouri Master Naturalist convention and since that time have

George Sims: 2012 Water Conservationist of the Year

George Sims: 2012 Water Conservationist of the Year

been lucky that George has chosen to remain in contact. George Sims is an inspirational person because he has a passion for the natural (and human) world and DONATES a huge amount of his time, money, and energy towards making the world a better place. Foremost in George’s super powers is his good-natured, self-effacing, sense of humor and laissez les bon temps rouler attitude – so not only does George accomplish great things but he (and the people he does things with) has fun doing them.

If you go to Mansfield, MO, you will find the city is pretty much laid out like Bejing. The difference is that instead of murals and statues of Chairman Mao, Mansfield has murals and statues of George Sims surrounding Red Square. Outside of Mansfield George is not as well known, but this is changing. Last week George was recognized by the Conservation Federation of Missouri as the 2012 Water Conservation of the Year for his stream team and Master Naturalist efforts. George can envision the world as a better place and is willing to take action to make the changes happen. Because George is motivated by love he tends to get good results – you can learn a lot from watching George.

Below is the page that the Conservation Federation of Missouri wrote about George for you to read and enjoy. Please read it and consider doing something nice for the planet yourself.


Weed management

Since the last couple of posts have dealt with weed management/ biocontrol weevils, I thought I

Ol' Cirsium vulgare is in for an ass kicking today!

Ol’ Cirsium vulgare is in for an ass kicking today! Idaho July 2012.

might post about some weed control paradigms. The photo at left shows me at work managing weeds at a mine exploration site in a National Forest utilizing perhaps the most expensive weed control methodology known: a trained botanist unleashed on a low density weed. As readers of the blog are aware, Rhinocyllus conica will feed on this noxious weed species, but removal before pollination guarantees that no seed will be set by this individual plant. The intensity of human response to weed threats is correlated to what is being protected and potential for effecting change. This is true whether the weeds are in wildland or agricultural situations. The area in the photo is a zero tolerance zone for weed occurrence due to sensitive nature of native plant populations and the economic activity occurring on site.

Amazingly, I have had people tell me that I shouldn’t kill plants. A blood-(sap)-thirsty approach approach to invasive species shows that I am not in tune with Mother Nature (who sent these species to tell us something) this is a statement I have heard more than a couple times. However, I have seen: wetlands become a monoculture of Lythrium salicaria, sage steppe converted to a sea of Bromus tectorum, and bean fields not harvested due to Amaranthus palmeri; to do nothing and just let these plants have their way with our ecosystems is something I just cannot do. This isn’t to say I don the weed management cape and tights every time I see noxious weeds – if I did they would never come off. So, what can we do?

  1. Learn your plants. Until you know your targets you are just a green murderer.
  2. Learn how to prevent movement of noxious weeds: clean seeds from your socks, vehicle undercarriage, etc.
  3. Clean up your yard, that Lonicera japonica bush isn’t as beautiful as you think…
  4. Be aware that many invasive plants (e.g. Lonicera japonica) will support some native wildlife, try to replace that function with native plants as the invasive is removed.
  5. Report populations of noxious plants to land managers when on public lands. GPS data, photographs, and specimens will all help land managers to act.

Pass me the glyphosate please…