26 March 2015

Hard at work behind the scenes

Believe it or not, work is proceeding slowly on the Michigan Odonata Atlas.

The emphasis is on slowly. Two major events (at least!) came into play since our inception of the Atlas project that have consumed much time and energy. First, 5 million wet specimens from the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology have been moved from the campus Ruthven Museums Building to a new off-campus facility. The UMMZ is now preparing to have the rest of the collections moved and housed in the same facility. This is a monumental undertaking, and as the collections manager of the Insect Division, you can bet Mark has been busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Nonetheless, he has been cataloging incoming new Michigan Odonata specimens into the collection and database, complete with bar codes.

Meanwhile, funding for my position at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the UM-Dearborn campus has been slashed, but my workload has not. In addition to attempting to keep that afloat, I have completed work on a review of 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies for the Michigan Threatened and Endangered Species Insect Technical Advisory Committee. My husband and partner in all things Odonate, Darrin O'Brien, did a ton of field work this summer and snagged a new dragonfly species for the state; our paper on this has been submitted for publication and we'll link to a blurb about it as soon as we can.

Darrin (who is no relation to Mark, to everyone's confusion) has also been hard at work geo-referencing all the Michigan specimen records in the MOS database. With 29,000 records dating back to the late 1800s, you can imagine that location data is...let's say "rich and varied." With the use of various mapping software, Darrin is assigning latitude and longitude for each voucher to more precisely reflect collecting sites. It is critical information and we believe it will make the MOS database and ultimately the Atlas one of the most accurate and complete compilations of its kind.

Let's look at these delays not as impediments, but an opportunities to continue to explore the state, collect vouchers, and learn more about Odonata distribution in Michigan.

The two unrelated O'Briens: Mark (standing) and Darrin (at the microscope)
in the Odonata range at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

20 March 2014

Atlas update

It's been a long winter, and dragonflies on the wing seem a long way off. But there has been activity behind the scenes pertaining to Michigan's Odonata and the Atlas.

The last few months, the state has tasked various committees with reviewing threatened and endangered species, which is done periodically by law. As part of my work on the Insect Technical Advisory Committee, I've been reviewing all the Odonata species currently listed in Michigan as Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern.

As the committee works to form recommendations on elevations, downgrades, additions, and subtractions to the list, we can see that the relatively recent popularity of dragonflies has provided us with a lot of new data to work with. Alas, there are still some species for which we'd like more data on distribution and abundance in the state.

We are going to take advantage of the interest in Michigan Odonata and the Atlas project to ask you to contribute data on a list of about a dozen species this summer season. As their flight dates near, we'll be posting about each species, the habitats and historical locations they have been found, and further information we would like to gather.

We feel that current and accurate data is not only critical to the endangered species review process, but also to the Atlas project. Much of what I've already put together for the committee work will be incorporated into the Atlas species accounts. Mark has also been busy incorporating many new records into the MOS database. All of this -- plus your contributions -- will make the Atlas project even more valuable to Odonata conservation!

The first call for data will be in May. Stay tuned

10 November 2012

Hangers On...

Sympetrum vicinum om 11/09/2011

I was out at Pittsfield Preserve in Washtenaw Co.  yesterday around 1 pm, and the temperature was about 53°F, but sunny.  Lo and behold, a male Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) was warming itself on the packed dirt path ahead of me.  Some years, we have records of these as late as December, if there has been no really hard frost or several days of below-freezing temps.  Autumn Meadowhawk is a good name for this species that lingers into the gray days of November, only to alight in front of us on a sunny day -- a dash of red on a sea of tans and browns.
I know we get all fired up about early records, but of course, late records are just as important.  It would interesting to know just how late this species was 50 years ago in SE Michigan.

24 July 2012

"I" counties and a look at "effort"

I have slowly been compiling the separate county lists, using the data that we have up to 2011. It's been an interesting exercise, as it shows how paltry our Odonata records are for some counties. As a case in point, let's look at the five counties that start with the letter I. I could have used other letters, but I just finished with these, and besides, I would love someone to get more records for Ionia. The five counties - Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Iosco, and Iron range from central Michigan to above the Saginaw Bay, and over to the western UP. The species counts are shown in the map below. Iron Co., which is in the SW UP, has 69 species recorded for it, whereas Ionia, not far from Grand Rapids, has...19. Nineteen species? I can find that many on a good day in Washtenaw. So, it's someboody's turn to be a "hero" and spend a day collecting in Ionia Co. Think of all the county records that you may possibly accumulate. Isabella Co. is hardly better, and the count for Ingham and Iosco is a mediocre 60. That's actually not bad, but to make an example, Benzie Co. has had a fair amount of collecting from Carl Freeman, and there are 93 species recorded from there. Sometimes, it's amazing what is NOT on a list of species from a county. Common species, such as the baskettails (Epitheca spp.), many skimmers (Libellulidae), and many common damselflies are not listed from a lot of counties. When I am done with this field season, I will go back and do a map with the species numbers for each county shown. Hopefully, we will have made some progress over tha past year. You can take a look at the species lists at the MOA Downloads page.

Example list for Ionia County:
Calopteryx aequabilis Say
Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois)
Amphiagrion saucium (Burmeister)
Argia moesta (Hagen)
Enallagma exsulans (Hagen)
Enallagma vesperum Calvert
Ischnura posita (Hagen)
Ischnura verticalis (Say)
Anax junius (Drury)
Basiaeschna janata (Say)
Dromogomphus spinosus Selys
Gomphus fraternus (Say)
Ophiogomphus rupinsulensis (Walsh)
Macromia illinoiensis Walsh
Celithemis eponina (Drury)
Leucorrhinia intacta (Hagen)
Libellula luctuosa Burmeister

--Pretty easy to add some good records, I bet. Of course we know that a lot of species are going to be found in most of the counties. However, that's not the same as having vouchers, and it's a lot of fun being the first to document a species for a particular county. So, we have a few months left in the season, plenty of time for skimmers, darners, and wandering gliders, etc.

18 July 2012

Rare and uncommon saddlebags, wandering meadowhawks, and gliders galore

This is an excellent year for several uncommon or rare species in the upper Great Lakes and northeastern states, and an opportunity for getting plenty of new county records. Three of the species -- Red and Striped Saddlebags and Variegated Meadowhawk -- are pretty much considered vagrants from the south or west in Michigan. Often their extra-limital movements are triggered by environmental conditions, especially drought. Specimens are extremely valuable in tracking range expansions, as well as for molecular research that can determine source populations, colonization histories, and other important characteristics of their population ecology. For more background on the value of voucher specimens, see this post on our record of Striped Saddlebags for Michigan.

Carolina Saddlebags and Spot-winged Glider are much more common, although more so in some years than others. However, all the Trameas and Pantalas can be pretty tough to net due to their habit of flying continuously over water and/or up high. Thus, they are under-represented in the MOS collection.

Here's what we're looking for:

Red Saddlebags, Wayne County. Photo by Julie Craves. Map of MOS voucher specimens through 2011.

Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta). As of the end of 2011, this species has only been collected in four Michigan counties. They are making a strong movement north this year, with sightings well into Canada. Red Saddlebags are smaller than the abundant Black Saddlebags (T. lacerata) and Carolina Saddlebags. They differ from Carolinas in lacking a purple frons; having less black on s8 and s9, usually restricted to the top of the sections and not extending down the sides; and having a larger clear "window" in the base of the wings.  Males also have larger hamules. Here is a side-by-side from the Iowa odes website.

Carolina Saddlebags, Wayne County. Photo by Julie Craves. Map of MOS voucher specimens through 2011.
Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina). If you have some trouble distinguishing red-colored saddlebags, don't despair. If you can catch them, we can use them. Carolina Saddlebags is present in the southern counties pretty much annually, but every few years can be very numerous. This is one of those years. With fewer than a dozen counties being represented by vouchers, we can surely fill in much of the southern part of the state, at least, in 2012.

Striped Saddlebags, Wayne County. Photo by Julie Craves.

Striped Saddlebags (Tramea calverti). The only record in Michigan of this species is from Wayne County in 2010. That year saw an unprecedented northern invasion of this southern species. This year is shaping up to be another great year. In June, there were photographic records of Striped Saddlebags for Minnesota and Wisconsin, and in early July they were photographed in northern Ohio (none of these records indicated vouchers were taken -- remarkably, of the dozens reported the last few years in northern states, the two specimens we took in 2010 are the only vouchers that I know of).

Spot-winged Glider, Wayne County. Photo by Julie Craves. Map of MOS voucher specimens through 2011.

Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea). While not as common as Wandering Glider (P. flavescens), this species is not rare in Michigan. As is evident by the map, it is clearly widespread, but really under-represented by specimens. Vouchers are needed to accurately show the distribution in the state. Here are some ID tips from the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership.

Speaking of Wandering Glider, although it is one of the more common species, voucher specimens are also missing from many counties. Fill in the blanks!

Variegated Meadowhawk, Alger County. Photo by Mark O'Brien. Map of MOS voucher specimens through 2011.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). This is another hit-or-miss species in Michigan. They aren't anywhere near as hard to catch as the Trameas or Pantalas, since they tend to stay near and perch in waist-high vegetation. They are more common in the western U.S. and Great Plains, but tend to wander and are strongly migratory. When we found them in Wayne County in 2006 (after last being collected in 1931), they were emerging from tire ruts in a wet field in June, so presumably they can also breed and overwinter here. The map indicates they can show up anywhere, so be on the lookout. Here are some ID tips from the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership.

16 July 2012

Ebony Jewelwings -- only 2 counties to go

The MOS is missing specimens for Ebony Jewelwings (Calopteryx maculata) from just two Michigan counties: Bay and Charlevoix.

Go get'em -- and make this the first species to be collected in all 83 Michigan counties! See Mark's post on Michigan Odonotes. sex is where you find it
♂ and ♀ Calopteryx maculata in copula. Photo by Mark O'Brien, all rights reserved.

13 June 2012

"The cat ate my county record"

Jeff Sommer is one of the newest and most productive contributors to the MOS. He collects primarily in the Saginaw Bay region. Jeff is an archeologist, and has unearthed and contributed many new and significant records in the last couple of years.

Recently, he scored a good one: a recently emerged Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) on a turbulent stretch of the Shiawassee River. There are fewer than 50 adult records of this species in the MOS database. Because the individual was still very soft bodied, he placed it in a covered aquarium when he returned home to let it harden up before he dispatched it in acetone for curation (very teneral specimens have dull coloration and tend to "implode" if placed in acetone too soon).

Jeff briefly left the room, only to return to find the aquarium on the floor, top off, and the remains of the sanddragon -- a mangled wing and thorax -- in the mouth of his cat. The cat's name is Darner. We are not making this up.

Fortunately, Jeff has some photos, and he also collected an exuvia which hopefully belonged to the tasty sanddragon.

Common Sanddragon -- a.k.a. "cat food." Photo by Jeff Sommer, all rights reserved.

We can relate to this! Mark and Adrienne O'Brien have a four-cat household: Johan, Val, Kosh, and Sassafras. Julie Craves and Darrin O'Brien have two cats, Sophie and Juniper. I can't speak for Mark's close encounters, but several times Juniper has taken an immediate interest in odes wiggling in their glassine envelopes as soon as we walk in the house after a collecting trip. So far, no casualties.

Mark adds: When Adrienne and I first moved to Ann Arbor in 1981, we adopted a stray cat that I named Frank, after Frank Kurczewski, my graduate advisor at Syracuse. We lived in an apartment at the time, and I was collecting a lot of Hymenoptera my first summer here. One day I had pinned up a bunch of specimens and left them on the kitchen table. I don't recall how long they were there -- probably just a few hours, but when I came back, it was obvious that Frank had been nosing through them and one was missing, pin and all. The next day I saw Frank, and a pin was sticking out of his butt --and luckily it was the rounded part first. I pulled it out, and the cat apparently suffered no other effects, as he lived for about 14 years.