Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Burst of News!!!

We have had such an eventful Summer that I wanted to share all of the recent activity with everyone.  Our department is getting prepped to monitor the population status of the Oklahoma native butterfly, Linda's Roadside Skipper.  The conservation status of this little butterfly has been classified as "Vulnerable [to extinction]" by the Xerxes Society (http://www.xerces.org/lindas-roadside-skipper/).  We want to find out if the population is stable, what habitats are best suited for this species, and if populations are interbreeding.  We have a variety of additional research questions that all pertain to helping future land management decisions have a positive effect on this butterfly's population.  I'm a recent immigrant to Oklahoma (Ohio native), but I love it here already.  I feel proud to work on a project to preserve the natural heritage of this great state.  We have applied for funding and are anxiously awaiting response to proceed with this project.  Here is a picture of Linda's Roadside Skipper:

Linda's Roadside Skipper. Image used with permission by Nick Grishin

We are waiting hopefully for a response from our second grant proposal this year from NSF.  My fingers are crossed that the third time will be the charm!  We really need our facilities updated, especially the cabinetry as we continue to grow.  As our collection has grown from significant acquisitions, we are in need of the infrastructure to keep up with the current rate of our collection's use.  We face turning away scientifically important accessions due to lack of space. We currently have a strong core of 3 regular volunteers who are tremendous assets to our collection, and being able to expand our space will allow us to reach our full capacity of their productivity.  I would like to have 10-15 volunteers in our department, and this would have a strong impact on the Biology Program at Oklahoma University and the City of Norman.  We are on a positive roll right now!

We started collaborating with Mr. Perry Buenevente of the Philippine National Museum and our Herpetology Department to study biodiversity in the Philippine archipelagos.  Mr. Buenevente organized a month long trip where they collected tissues from hundreds of reptiles & amphibians and just as many insects.  We have made some amazing finds just from the pilot tests, and we have already made plans to go with Dr. Siler to collect more specimens within the next year!  Here are some of the best finds we have made so far:

I noticed this fly (left photo) had something peculiar about it.  After closer examination it appears to have a parasite from the order Strepsipter (Twisted-Winged Parasites).  I took these photos to show to an expert on these parasites and he was very excited by this find because this would be just the second record of Strepsiptera parasitizing a fly.  This is very likely a new species, which we plan to collaborate and describe!  We are beginning talks about generating a 3D model of this for our museum's upcoming exhibit "What's Eating You?" - an exhibit that highlights interesting parasites!

This fly is called a "Stalk-Eyed Fly" because ... well ... the eyes are seemingly stretched out on stalks!  Females prefer to mate with males that have wider eyes, and this preference has strongly influenced their morphology.

Next I would like to show you what appears to be a mimicry complex.  All of the wasps below are different species, and many are not closely related.  However they have similar markings with subtle variations.  See if you can pick out some of the similarities and differences between these:

Now take a second look and pay attention to the color and patterns on the thorax and abdomen, the dark marks on the wings, the colors of the legs.  Also, they all have a white patch across their antennae.  Pretty cool huh?

These Weevils (above) from the Philippines are so beautiful I wanted to share photos!

This specimen was a great find!  A rarely collected specimen of the Enicocephalomorpha (Unique-Headed Bugs).  Their heads are uniquely shaped and they have forelegs that are similar in structure to a louse.  We just discovered this specimen and are excited to examine it in more detail at a later date.

This brightly colored beetle belongs in the family Chrysomellidae, the leaf-eating beetles.  Aside from it's safety orange color, notice it has white tipped antennae - just like the wasps in the mimicry complex above!

This pygmy grasshopper is in the family Tetrigidae.  I thought it looked cool and wanted to share a photo.  Enjoy!

With these great finds and more to come, we are very excited about joining Dr. Siler for the next expedition!

Katrina and I are both organizing separate symposium for the upcoming annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America.  Katrina is a world expert on the identification and classification of true bugs (Heteroptera), and her symposium will cover an assortment of topics related to this subject.  I have been working hard to put together a team of volunteers in our department, and we have a great crew!  I'm very proud of all the work that we have accomplished in the last year.  When I first took on the task of processing countless samples of 20 year-old by-catch material, there was an entire cabinet stacked with samples on top of samples.  There must have been 500+ samples when I started.  Katrina estimated this job to require 3 years to finish (maybe 5), but right now - just a year into it - we are nearly finished processing the samples and over half of these have been cataloged already!!!!  I want to give a big congrats to our volunteers for all their hard work!!!!  Last month we processed & cataloged over 430 specimens to our collection.  Getting back to the topic of symposiums, my symposium will cover the important topic of sorting, processing, cataloging, and publishing from samples of biodiversity.  My talk will be an essay on how to generate a volunteer base, create a work routine, and efficiently use your time to process samples.  I want to share this with other institutions because what we've done at the Sam Noble Museum can be a model for other institutions to follow. 

Katrina has been extra busy this last month.  She has been taking groups out to Black Mesa for the museum's Explorology program, where kids get to spend time with a scientist and collect insects.  She has also been competing at the national level in triathlons (and doing very very well!).  She is competing internationally toward the end of the month, so wish her luck!

Throw another iron in the fire because we are looking for an honors student to study the spiders of Muskogee and Cherokee County.  We have pulled all the spiders from the 500+ samples mentioned above.  We will work to identify these spiders and then assemble a checklist for the spiders of Muskogee and Cherokee County.  You will have the opportunity to expand the distribution range for many spiders in Oklahoma.  Along the way you will learn skills in spider identification to strengthen your future in Zoology and Ecology.  You will also learn best practices for museum based research questions.  If you are an honors student at OU, and this seems like a good fit for your interests, then please consider our project. 

Well, with all the big news, I'm sure I've forgotten a few noteworthy items.  However, it's time to get back to work!

Have a great day!