67th meeting of the Entomological Society of New Zealand, Bugs in the Pub

Last week my lab group and I attended the annual conference of the Entomological Society of New Zealand. This was my second time attending this meeting and I have really enjoyed it each time. Prior to moving to New Zealand, I had only attended entomology meetings in the United States which are very large conferences (with ICE in Orlando bringing in over 6000 entomologists). I find that the smaller meetings here in Australasia are much more intimate and make it easier to network. Kiwis also believe in the importance of morning and afternoon tea, which not only provides lots of yummy pastries but also breaks up the day and provides plenty of time to interact. I delivered a talk about some preliminary data on the morphometrics and metabolism of my focal species, Forsteropsalis pureora, as part of the Behaviour and Evolution symposium.

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A slide from my presentation at the conference
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The Holwell lab group

As a former outreach and education coordinator in Florida, I have been eager to put together an outreach event here in New Zealand. However, I have generally lacked the time, energy, and resources to make this happen on top of my PhD research and responsibilities. This conference provided the perfect opportunity as I would have support from colleagues (who are all in one place for once!) and support from the society. A popular idea that has particularly taken off in the United States and Europe is pub science, where scientists mingle with the general public while enjoying a pint. This idea had slowly made it to the larger cities in New Zealand such as Auckland, but I wanted to try it out in our smaller conference venue city, Whanganui.

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We decided to put on “Bugs in the Pub” where three entomologists delivered ten-minute talks, answered questions, and then all of the entomologists in attendance mingled with the general public. I wanted to cover a broad scope of entomological topics to disseminate an appreciation for arthropods, highlighting evolution, diversity, and their benefits to humans. I first delivered a talk on insect weaponry and sexual selection. We then had a talk on beetle diversity and finally a talk on entomophagy and the use of insect protein as a livestock feed. Additionally, we brought in some live native insects for the public to view and handle, including praying mantids, walking sticks, and a few spiders. The event seemed well received overall and I look forward to continuing on with more events like this in the future. I’d like to thank my friend and colleague Rich Leschen and my friend and labmate Neil Birrell who truly made the event possible with all of their help with conception, design, and execution. Also a big thanks to Frank. Bar + Eatery in Whanganui who not only graciously hosted our event but also expertly catered the entire conference.

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Delivering my pub talk on insect/arthropod weaponry driven by sexual selection

Fieldwork, network

What better place to network with and get to know fellow field biologists than in the field itself? As important as conferences and professional meetings are for networking, it’s my experience that getting right out into the field with someone is exceedingly valuable. Considerable knowledge is shared and relationships built by trudging through the bush into the late hours of the night.

I had the pleasure of meeting behavioural ecologist Darryl Gwynne and his wife Sarah on a recent field trip to Waitomo. Darryl is a faculty member at the University of Toronto working on sexual selection, specifically mating behaviours in systems such as weta, crickets, and dance flies. He has a particular interest in nuptial gifts (typically defined as nutritious resources produced or gathered by males and given to females) and other reproductive investment.

Darryl and Sarah were in search of a species of ground weta and met up with me in Waitomo to see if my field sites for harvestmen could be suitable sites for their species as well. It was a bit late in the season for the ground weta, but hopefully they’ve identified some promising sites for next year’s trip. I was also sure to take them to the Mangapohue Natural Bridge after dark to view the phenomenal glowworm display.  It’s a must-do for anyone visiting the area.

 

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Yet to be identified longhorn beetle (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae). Such a handsome beetle!

Though the ever-unpredictable harvestmen season seemed to be waning, I was able to gather a bit of data adding to the projects I was working on throughout January and February. This time, I also lugged my macro setup with me into the bush to photograph some of the wonderful and diverse arthropods we encountered. The photos throughout this post were taken during this early April trip. Click on each photo for more information.

A summer update

Time flies when you’re having fun! This summer has been pleasantly productive thus far, and it isn’t over yet. After 5 weeks in rural New Zealand, I am back in the city running through some laboratory protocols unable to be completed in the field. With some luck, I will be back in the field by April to gather even more data. The field season of our harvestmen can be quite unpredictable, largely driven by the weather. In years of drought, the season may conclude by February, but in wetter years such as this one, adults may be found into May.

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My awesome summer students, Caitlin, Liz, Nik, and myself. Plus Wally, who is an excellent field assistant in his own right,  but not very good with calipers.

Most people can think back to a night during undergraduate study where they pulled an “all-nighter”. Modifying one’s daily schedule to coordinate with the nocturnal nature of the study species is something that many field biologists grapple with. Beginning your work day as the sun sets can be a bit jarring at first, but soon you fall into the new programme: harvestmen by night, sleep by day. And if you’re up to it, you can squeeze in an adventure in the afternoons just for fun.

We did several day hikes around our main field site, a private farm and native forest  indefinitely protected by a trust (check out the photos above and below). We also explored Marakopa Falls, Marakopa beach, Mangapohue natural bridge, Ruakuri natural bridge and track, Piripiri caves, and even went black water rafting in the infamous Aranui cave. Waitomo has a limestone kaarst landscape, which means that in addition to the beautiful native forest on the surface, there are countless cave systems to explore below. Further, you see many limestone boulders at ground level, which makes this area very attractive to climbers and boulderers. We often share our field hut with spelunkers (people who go into caves for fun) on the weekends and I’ve learned so much about what drives people to enjoy this unique hobby. It turns out that many spelunkers are interested in mapping out new systems and passages on their adventures, not to mention the thrill of squeezing yourself through dark, tight spaces. I am personally most interested by the invertebrate life within the cave systems.

It is the world-famous glowworms that often bring tourists into the caves for the first time. Glowworms, Arachnocampa luminosa, are the larval stage of keroplatid fungus gnats. These bioluminescent insects are not only found in caves, but also occur in the right forest habitat. Pupae and females also glow, but the larvae are most noticeable with their long strands of silk coated with sticky mucus droplets to capture prey.  In fact, the cave guides we met were quite knowledgeable about glowworms, but most failed to know what harvestmen were. When harvestmen do come up, they are only known as an occasional predator of the glowworms. Perhaps a short course in Waitomo invertebrate fauna is in order for the tour guides!

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The endemic black cockroach hunter (Tachysphex nigerrimus) with Celatoblatta sp. cockroach prey

 

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A lovely male Soerensenella sp. covered in (likely phoretic) mites. These are short-legged harvestmen, in a different suborder than the long-legged harvestmen I work on.
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Male Lasiorynchus barbicornis, the giraffe weevil. These endemic beetles are found over most of New Zealand. My cosupervisor Chrissie Painting’s PhD work was on this fascinating system (https://chrissiepainting.com/)
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Time for a close-up! A giraffe weevil male at 5xs magnification.
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Kanuka longhorn beetle, Ochrocydus huttoni. These guys often get confused and end up flying in to the spotlights on the farm house.

Be sure to tune in soon for more information on the experiments we’ve been conducting this summer as I process and analyze the data.

I am excited to have a full line-up of conferences this year including the Entomological Society of New Zealand in April in Whanganui, the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASSAB) in July in Brisbane, Animal Behavior Society (ABS) in August in Milwaukee, and the International Society for Behavioral Ecology (ISBE) in August in Minneapolis. Please get in touch if you’re interested in meeting up at any of the listed meetings.

Trip to Southland, NZ

I spent the last week of November in Southland, New Zealand collecting harvestmen for our Marsden-funded project to investigate the evolution of weapon exaggeration and diversity. This was just one of several trips around the South and North islands of New Zealand taken recently by myself and others to create a collection of Neopilionidae (in the genera Pantopsalis, Forsteropsalis, and Mangatangi) that will be used for the morphological and phylogenetic comparative aspects of the project (which will be conducted by my supervisor Chrissie Painting while I focus on the behaviour and physiology of just a couple of species).

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A male neopilionid feeds on a prey item (Hemiptera from what I can tell)

My advisor Greg Holwell, labmates Rebecca Le Grice and Murray Fea, and I flew into Queenstown and embarked on a 5-day trip slowly covering over 800km (500 miles) of stunning New Zealand countryside. We spent the majority of our time on the Southern coast travelling from Queenstown to Tuatapere, skirting the edge of Fiordlands National Park, on to Bluff and Curio Bay, and ending our collection in Tahakopa and Catlins Coastal Rainforest park.

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McLean Falls in the Catlins Conservation Park. What an amazing field site! Collecting harvestmen from a waterfall in New Zealand was like an experience out of a dream for a bug nerd like me.

This trip was not all about harvestmen however. While we spent our evenings and nights in the native bush searching for nocturnal harvestmen, we spent our days on the beautiful south coast collecting kelp flies (in the family Coelopidae) as part of my labmate Rebecca Le Grice’s PhD project.

Once we were back in Auckland, some of the harvestmen got to have a proper photoshoot.

 

 

I am gearing up for some field work in Waitomo, New Zealand at the beginning of 2018. I will be doing some exciting behavioural and physiological experiments with two species. If you’re interested in volunteering with us, check out the Opportunities tab.

Welcome!

Welcome to my new site! I’m an early career researcher currently working on my PhD in New Zealand at the University of Auckland. Using behavioural, morphological, and physiological approaches, I am exploring the evolution of extreme weaponry and sexual selection in male NZ harvestmen (Arachnida, Opiliones, Neopilionidae).

I completed my MSc at the University of Florida where I did two separate projects on foraging specialization in mud dauber wasps (Insecta, Hymenoptera, Sphecidae) and jumping spiders (Arachnida, Araneae, Salticidae). Check out my Research to learn more!

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A female Opisthoncus polyphemus, the “cyclops jumper” or “polkadot jumper” collected in Auckland, New Zealand.

Follow my adventures and check back often for research updates and new photography.