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Studying Moths in the North Cascades

June 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Nick Engelfried, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

To my mind, it isn’t truly spring in the lush, green landscape on the west side of the Cascades until the first half-white carpet moth (Mesoleuca gratulata) has flown. This small insect, with its delicate wings of white, gray, and dark brown, is a sign that sunny days and warmer weather have finally arrived.


Mesoleuca gratulata. Illustration by Nick Engelfried

I chose the hundreds of moth species in the North Cascades as the subject for my in-depth study of a natural history topic at North Cascades Institute this spring. I was drawn to moths partly because of their vast diversity—there are some 11,000 species in North America, far more than the 750 or so butterflies—and partly because of how deeply underappreciated they are. If you spend time outside in western Washington, you’ve probably seen an M. gratulata at some point—but most people who take time to notice it at all will likely mistake this day-flying moth species for a small butterfly. Most moths are even less noticed, due to the nocturnal habitats, nondescript colors, and tiny size of many species.


Platyprepia virginalis. Illustration by Nick Engelfriend

This spring, I embarked on a project to seek out moths wherever I could: below lights on the outsides of buildings after dark, hiding on the bark of trees and walls by day, and—for day-flying species—flitting across trails in patches of sunlight in the North Cascades forest.

I identified as many moth species as possible, including those I found this spring as well as specimens collected last summer and fall. I relied on Jerry A. Powell and Paul A. Opler’s excellent reference book, Moths of Western North America, as well as the expertise of editors at the citizen science website Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).

In addition to seeing as many species as I could myself, I generated a list of all moths from eight target families reported on BAMONA from Whatcom, Skagit, Okanogan, and Chelan Counties. This list includes nearly 150 species. For reasons of feasibility, I confined myself to “macromoths,” largely ignoring the smaller and even more numerous but very tricky to identify “micromoths.”

One of the most rewarding parts of studying moths this year has been following the emergence and disappearance of different species as their “flight periods” come and go. Most moths in the North Cascades live in this region year-round, but for much of this time they reside only in the egg, larva, or pupa stages. The length of the adult phase ranges from months in species like the tissue moth (Triphosa haesitata)which overwinters as an adult and emerges to fly in very early spring—to only a few days in the giant Ceanothus silk moth (Hyalophora euryalis), which lives just long enough as an adult to mate and lay eggs.

» Continue reading Studying Moths in the North Cascades

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An exploration into science and art

June 13th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Holli Watne, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th Cohort.

I have a deep love for entomology and artistic exploration. Until recently, I viewed these two pleasures as mutually exclusive. My perception changed when I was introduced to the work of Hubert Duprat. He has been working with Trichoptera (one of my favorite orders of insects) since the 1980’s, getting them to build beautiful structures out of precious materials. (For more information of Mr. Duprat’s work, please read this article.)

Trichoptera, commonly known as caddisflies, can be found in all biogeographical regions, except the Antarctic, in (larvae) or near (adult) a large range of aquatic habitats. There are about 1,400 species of Trichoptera in North America, 230 of which have been identified in Washington State. The majority of species have aquatic larvae that build cases out of silk and various natural materials. These cases aid in streamlining substrate-attachment and protection against predators.

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Trichoptera, or caddisfly, larva. Drawn by Holli Watne.

In my undergrad studies at Western Washington University, I remember my entomology professor telling me that entomologists that specialize in Trichoptera can frequently identify the species just by looking at a case. This is because each case-building species has characteristic ways of building their cases. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Using Duprat’s work as an inspiration, I started a simple study to see if larvae would build cases that are structurally similar to their native cases when provided with a choice of unfamiliar building materials.

Being a poor grad student, it wasn’t really an option for me to use such fine materials as Duprat uses in his work. Instead, I introduced the caddisflies to various beads and different sizes of glitter:

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» Continue reading An exploration into science and art

orchard mason bee

Mason Bees and Honey Bees: What’s the Difference?

July 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Kevin Sutton

There were some things I knew about bees when starting this project; what I didn’t know was exactly how much I didn’t know.

When someone says “bees”, I immediately think of the western honeybee (Apis mellifera).  Maybe it’s because of the honey bee’s depiction in popular culture (see Honey Nut Cheerios) or maybe it’s because of the long relationship between humans and bees.

Humans have been trying to domesticate honey bees for thousands of years; evidence has been found in cave paintings in Spain,Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
hieroglyphs in Egypt, on coins in Greece, and more and it makes sense; bees give us honey, wax, and all of our food through pollinating our crops.

The term wild bee is used for those species that don’t produce honey.  There are 20,000 species of bee in the world, 4,000 native to North America, and 600 native to Washington alone.  With such daunting numbers, I focused on one particular native bee, the orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria).

While similar to A. mellifera in size and shape, O. lignaria differs in coloring, some physical attributes (fig. 1), and most significantly, social structure:

O. lignaria A. mellifera
Metallic blue/green Classic yellow and black striped
Nest in tubes, holes, hollow reeds, etc. Builds a hive of wax
Solitary but will live near other mason bees Social: lives in colonies up to 70,000
Each female lays eggs Only the queen lays eggs
Average range of 100 yards Average range of two miles
250 – 300 bees sufficient to pollinate 1 acre one hive per acre (30,000 – 70,000 bees)
Gathers pollen by stuffing it between hairs on abdomen Gathers pollen by storing it in specially adapted pockets on the rear legs
Stores pockets of pollen between larva Turns pollen into honey and stores for winter
Eggs hatch in summer, larva hibernate through winter, emerge as bees in spring, repeat Eggs regularly tended, hive comes together during winter (like penguins), become more active in spring

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 1.38.36 PM

For my project, I wanted to see if there were mason bees at the North Cascades Institute.  To do that, I constructed two mason bee houses and stashed them in a rock wall near my house.  Each house is made of the same materials (wood for a base, support, and backing and a compressed cardboard tube for the shell) but the internal pieces, where the Mason Bees will hopefully nest, are different.  The interior nesting holes in house one are made from commercially drilled slats of wood that have been taped together, while the nesting holes in house two are from pieces of bamboo I cut, dried, and tied together (fig. 2).

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 1.38.44 PM

I put the houses outside on May 15, 2015 but as of this writing, June 12, 2015, there is no sign of use.  My research said most mason bees are actively laying eggs in early April and with the unusually early and warm spring we’ve had, I expect the process began much earlier than that.  Both houses will stay up until September when I transfer to Bellingham and if nothing else, will try again in March 2016 when I return to my house and garden in Portland, OR.

dragonfly

Order of the Odonata

August 12th, 2013 | Posted by in Field Excursions

August 2nd through 4th, 16 participants, three Institute staff, and one instructor spent a wonderful weekend exploring the order of the Odonata. Due to cold and cloudy weather, we were unable to catch dragonflies and damselflies on Friday as planned. Instead, the class sat down for a presentation on these carnivorous insects given by instructor Dennis Paulson, who gave most of the Odonates their common names.

common spreadwing damselflyCommon Spreadwing Damselfly (Lestes disjunctus)
northern bluet damselflyNorthern Bluet Damselfly (Enallagma annexum)

» Continue reading Order of the Odonata

The Animal Dialogues: A Natural History Book Reflection

February 20th, 2012 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

In 2010, I completed a year-long bicycle tour through many countries famous for their exotic creepy crawlies and, while reading Craig Childs’ book The Animal Dialogues, I couldn’t help reflecting on the experiences I had with some of those creatures throughout that tour. The Animal Dialogues presents an exploration of the author’s uncommon encounters with animals, reptiles, and insects. Childs’ writing style is a blend of naturalist observations and beautifully depicted narratives indicative of a well-seasoned nature writer. He is able to find pause in that moment between life and death and break down the human-animal barrier, capturing in writing the infinite space between one moment and the next.

One such moment was depicted in a chapter on mountain lions where Childs recalls many nearly unbelievable stories. After a recent cougar encounter in Diablo, followed by numerous cougar sightings around the Environmental Learning Center, I found myself paying close attention to how Childs describes his encounters with cougars in the wild. One particular story that Childs writes about centers around a run-in with a cougar near a water source in the Arizona desert. After the mountain lion backs down from the stand-off with Childs, he writes, “I stand there for a few minutes, staring at the forest. […] I have reached the hard, palpable seed of life. The image is now permanently formed in my mind. I can see how the mountain lion will be posed, suddenly in view anywhere around me, its tail weaving an intricate pattern, spelling secret words in the air (66).” We all have moments in life where time seems to stand still and we are truly living moment by moment. Although for most of us this stand still will never occur between man and cougar, what Childs conjures in this chapter and throughout his book is the way in which our primal connection with the earth is realized when we interact with deep wilderness. Whether it’s a cougar in my own neighborhood, a mountain goat on Cascade Pass, or some other surprising encounter, these experiences come in a myriad of forms.

» Continue reading The Animal Dialogues: A Natural History Book Reflection