Windy Bugs — wrapping up

As winter sets in in Wyoming, I’m finishing up my CLM internship with the Windy Bugs project.  I have been spending the last month and a half in the lab since we wrapped up our field season.  I have been identifying, sorting, and photographing the insects from our summer’s collections.  We have collected quite a variety of insects!  In the few thousand I’ve identified, there are representatives from 11 orders and 56 families.  Of bees alone, we found over 20 genera.

Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Lasioglossum, subgenus  Dialictus -- one of our most common native bees

Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Lasioglossum, subgenus Dialictus — one of our most common native bees

I love photographing insects because it allows us to see them from a different perspective and appreciate the subtle characteristics that often go unnoticed with the naked eye.

Diptera: Tachinidae -- This fly's face is Halloween-ready!

Diptera: Tachinidae — This fly’s face is Halloween-ready!

Our primary focus for this study is bees (Hymenoptera: )  We found some very common genera, like Anthophora, Bombus, Melissodes, Osmia, Agapostemon, and Lasioglossum, as well as some rare and beautiful specimens.

Hymenoptera: Apidae: Anthophora

Hymenoptera: Apidae: Anthophora

Hymenoptera: Apidae: Melissodes

Hymenoptera: Apidae: Melissodes

Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Agapostemon

Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Agapostemon

Hymenoptera: Megachilidae: Osmia

Hymenoptera: Megachilidae: Osmia

Hymenoptera: Megachilidae: Ashmeadiella - a rarely collected native solitary bee

We did have some interesting beetles and moths representing two extremely diverse groups.

Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae

Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae

Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae

Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Trichiotinus

Lepidoptera:

Lepidoptera

My personal favorite group are wasps.  Wasps are a paraphyletic group of insects in the order Hymenoptera.  There is a lot of research to be done in this area, and I hope to study wasp behavior as a part of my graduate research.  There are many beautiful, interesting, and ecologically important wasps found in Wyoming.

Our collections included velvet ants, a type of wasp with pronounced sexual dimorphism.  Males are usually winged and females are wingless.  They can be so different in morphology that some males and females were initially described as different species.  We had quite a number of males in our collections, but no females.  We did observe “cow-killer” females (Dasymutilla) in the field.  They’re easy to spot due to their bright red-orange coloration.

Hymenoptera: Mutillidae: Dasymutilla

Hymenoptera: Mutillidae: Dasymutilla

Hymenoptera: Mutillidae

Hymenoptera: Mutillidae — a velvet ant winged male

We had some predatory sphecid or thread-waisted wasps.  The silvery hairs on the face of the wasp appears metallic in the sunshine.

Hymenoptera: Sphecidae

Hymenoptera: Sphecidae

Some Vespid wasps are known as hornets and have a bad reputation.  They are facinating social insects that include potter wasps.

Hymenoptera: Vespidae

Hymenoptera: Vespidae

Hymenoptera: Vespidae: Odynerus

Hymenoptera: Vespidae: Odynerus

Crabronids are one of my favorite wasp families.  They are very diverse, always beautiful, and include cicada killers, beewolves, and sand wasps as well as many very small species that can resemble small bees.

Hymenoptera: Crabronidae

Hymenoptera: Crabronidae

Hymenoptera: Crabronidae

Hymenoptera: Crabronidae

Hymenoptera: Crabronidae

Hymenoptera: Crabronidae: Astata — males of this genus often have holotypic eyes (meeting at the vertex)

My favorite wasp family as well as the most beautiful of the wasps are the cuckoo wasps.  They are also known as jewel wasps — it’s easy to see why!  Their multifaceted texture accentuates their often bright and multi-hued coloration.

Hymenoptera: Chrysididae

Hymenoptera: Chrysididae

As I complete my internship and move on, I am very grateful for the opportunities this CLM internship has provided me.  I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed myself in many ways.  Many thanks to my mentors, Drs. Lusha Tronstad and Michael Dillon, as well as to the Dillon lab, WYNDD staff, and the BLM.  And of course none of this would be possible without Krissa and Wes of the CLM!!  Thank you!!

Sierra Madre

Me at Sierra Madre

Sadie Luna Todd
CLM intern, UWyo WYNDD/BLM
Laramie, WY

Windy Bugs — last of the field season

It’s hard to believe that this year’s field season for this project is now over.  The last three weeks have been filled with trips to our White Mountain, Quaking Aspen, and Sierra Madre sites.  While I love working in the field and am sad to see the field season end, I’m also happy to be able to relax after long days of fieldwork and process insects in the lab.

Sarah DePaolo and I hard at work recording vegetation data

We had some great temporary research assistants for these trips!  Kaelyn Helson, a BLM volunteer who is starting a fisheries and wildlife program at CSU this fall, was kind enough to help out for a couple days and UWyo student Candis Duke went on several trips with us.  Thank you, ladies, for your much appreciated assistance!!

Kaelyn Helson and I on a hazy day

Candis, research dog Rookie, Sarah, and I

We were fortunate enough to see some amazing wildlife in these last weeks!  We saw a wounded kestrel near one of our campsites, which was sad but beautiful.

Kestrel

We also saw two golden eagle kills — a jackrabbit and a young fox.

Golden eagle with its kill

The victim

We also saw a number of wild horses and many pronghorn.

Bombus on Machaeranthera canescens

Insect collections are slowing down, but we have been getting some interesting insects still – notably robber flies (Asilidae), bee flies (Bombyliidae), and Bombus workers.  We also have still been seeing horned toads, including some very small babies and different color morphs.

Candis holds a horned toad

I will miss our beautiful field sites!!  Good luck to everyone still in the field!

Quaking Aspen

Sadie Luna Todd
CLM intern, UWyo WYNDD/BLM
Laramie, WY

Windy Bugs — Insect processing!

In the last couple of weeks, we resampled our Sierra Madre and Choke Cherry sites.  The trips were pretty fast since we have our system down, and other than a couple rebar stakes damaged by cattle, uneventful.

A cow contemplates messing with our traps

Hanging out at camp

 

A difficult fence

We have been spending a good amount of time processing insect samples in the lab.  I enjoy this task and find it relaxing.  Once you settle into a groove, the pinning goes very fast and I am always amazed by the beauty of the insects.

Melecta, an Anthophora brood parasite

Lasioglossum and Bombus bees

an Ichneumid wasp

Agapostemon, a common halictid bee

Swallowtail (Papilio)

Hawkmoth (Sphingidae)

Some gorgeous Osmia, orchard bees

 

A robber fly (Asilidae)

 

Pinning is an art and always done with full respect to the animals.  While it is difficult for me to actively (and passively) kill so many insects, I am happy to be part of a conservation project and be able to document the insects in an understudied area.  I also enjoy handling and identifying them.  After collection in the field, the insects are stored in whirlpaks until we can process them in the lab.  They are cleaned, sorted, and lovingly pinned, then stored until the field season is over, when I will start to identify them.

Insects in a whirlpak, waiting to be pinned

Aaron correctly positions the pin on a wasp

 

My workspace

Me in our storage area with a small subset of the insects we’ve collected this summer

Next week will bring another field trip to Sierra Madre and pinning, as well as recreational enjoyment of the fading Wyoming summer.  Being on a college campus and watching students trickle back to town is certainly a reminder that autumn is looming!

Sadie Luna Todd
CLM intern, UWyo WYNDD/BLM
Laramie, WY

 

Windy Bugs – new intern and birding!

The future of our wind farm sites looks like this.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks!  First, a new CLM intern has joined the Windy Bugs crew – Laura Super.  We have been introducing her to our field sites and Laramie.

Laura Super (L) and I near our camping site.

It is really drying up around here.  While we’ve had some rain and hail in Laramie, our Choke Cherry site was so dry that our floral surveys were VERY easy this trip.  We did collect lots of bees and other insects, and saw one beautiful milkweed.

Aaron equipped with cyanide tubes and a funnel

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go on a short birding trip with WYNDD ornithologist Michael Wickens.  We went into the Snowy range near Medicine Bow peak.  It was absolutely gorgeous and a great chance to see some different Wyoming landscapes, insects, and birds.  Since my bird ID skills are pretty much non-existant, it was great to be with an expert and see how bird point counts are done while trying to learn some songs and calls.

Michael Wickens listens for birds in a meadow

I was fortunate enough to see a number of interesting birds, including three-toed woodpeckers, mountain chickadees, a ruby-crowned kinglet, and grosbeaks.  Since the mountains are much wetter than the sagebrush-dominated areas I work in, there were many more visible arthropods out and about.

A wood tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis)

A Syrphid fly

Cuckoo wasp (Chrysididae)

A female wolf spider (Lycosidae) with an egg sac

The wildlife on this trip was certainly exciting, but the plant life was amazing as well!  I got to see two native orchids, a beautiful bright pink Castilleja, Columbines, and some lovely alpine plants.

Parasitic orchid Corallorhiza maculata

Platanthera dilatata, another native orchid

Castilleja rhexifolia

I had such a wonderful time in the Snowies, despite the mosquitoes, that I plan to go camping and hiking there next weekend.  Before that, we’re headed back to our Sierra Madre site tomorrow morning!

 

Windy Bugs – Botanizing and Wildlife

This week, my crew and I set up our plots at our last two sites, White Mountain and Quaking Aspen, and their controls.  The dominant flowering forbs right now are mostly Eriogonum, Sedum and Castilleja.  Although it’s been quite dry at our sites, it’s lovely to see (and count, for our project) the colorful blooms blanketing some of our plots.

Sedum lanceolatum is blooming in many plots

A senescing inflorescence of Eriogonum ovalifolium

A spent fruit of the delicate and adorable Eriogonum caespitosum

Castilleja flava

Ipomopsis aggregata

One mishap this trip was flat tires!  Although we drive very slowly, some of the two tracks we travel on to reach our sites are quite rough, and we had the misfortune to get two flat tires at the same time.  Since we only carry one spare, Thor from the Rock Springs BLM office was kind enough to bring us another.  We have since replaced our tires with more sturdy and appropriate 10-ply tires.

Field tech Aaron keeps a lookout for our spare tire backup

We have had some gorgeous insects in our collections this trip!  Brilliant blue-green Osmia,  strikingly patterned Anthidium, Bombyliid flies, many beetles, and Vespid wasps have dominated our collections, which we are still working on pinning.  However, no Windy Bugs post would be complete without some arthropod photos….

A tiny crab spider (Thomisidae) on Achillea millefolium

Ants on a dead Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatidae)

An adorable Solfugid! Love them!

A bombyliid fly on Eremogone hookeri, a very common little mat plant

Large mammals continue to abound at our sites.  While camping in an aspen stand, we had curious mule deer checking us out every night.  Pronghorn with their fawns are a frequent sight, and wild horses were also a common sight.

A mother pronghorn with her twins

Horses eye us before sauntering away

It’s been a very productive week and I’m looking forward to revisiting all of our sites in July!  Soon I will post on insect pinning and our growing collection.

Me and field tech Aaron enjoy some breathtaking views

Sunset and the largest moon of the year over the Boar’s Tusk

Windy Bugs in Wyoming

I just started my internship working with WYNDD, the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database at the University of Wyoming in Laramie with Dr. Lusha Tronstad, lead invertebrate zoologist, and Dr. Michael Dillon, Assistant Professor in Zoology and Physiology.  I am helping graduate student, Sarah DePaolo on a very exciting project in cooperation with the BLM.

Wyoming is very windy.  I have already experienced many excessively windy days since arriving here two weeks ago — and I’m coming from Chicago, another place known for its wind.  Because Wyoming has high plains with ridges ideal for turbine development as well as lots of publicly owned land, it is slated to house the largest wind farm in the US.  Sierra Madre and Chokecherry, the sites we sampled last week and this week, respectively, is the location for this mega wind farm.  It’s currently wide open and gorgeous — not a power line in sight!

Sierra Madre

Wind farming has been touted as clean, renewable energy.  Unfortunately, the turbines are killing wildlife.  Many studies have documented the toll wind turbines take on bird and bat populations; however, little work has been done to assess the effect of wind turbines on insect populations.  It’s well known that insects accumulate on the blades of wind turbines, cutting the efficiency of the turbines by up to half and requiring that the blades be cleaned regularly.  The commonly used colors for the turbines, white and light gray, are insect attractants.  Migratory insects will have to pass through the wind farms to reach cruising altitudes.  Some flies mate at the ridges and hilltops where turbines will be located.

For this project, nicknamed Windy Bugs, we are sampling insect abundance and diversity in plots on rims, mid-slopes, and valleys in proposed wind farm sites and adjacent control sites.  We are setting out bee cups and vane traps at three times during the summer for 288 plots in four sites.  We are also recording the floral resources available to insects at each plot.  This data will be collected next year as well, after the wind farms are up and running to measure the effects of wind farms on insects.

Adrienne Pilmanis, BLM botanist, with a vane trap/bee cups combo

We collect the insects after twenty-four hours.  We have caught quite a variety of bees, wasps, moths, beetles, and more.  Common bees include AnthophoraMelissodes, and Agapostemon.  Since we’ve been going out for about four days in the field, we have had time to pin some of the insects right away.  I’ll post on that later.

(L-R) Aaron Strube, research assistant; Joy Handley, WYNDD botanist; Sarah DePaolo, UWyo graduate student; Sadie Todd, CLM intern

The plant life here is adorable — lots of little mat plants like Astragalus as well as some showier blooms, like bitterroot and lupine, and of course Erigeron and other smaller asters.  The Opuntia are budding and I can’t wait for those!

A pronghorn skeleton laying among the Erigeron

We have seen tons of wildlife in the field!  Besides insects, we’ve seen a great horned owl, horned toads, mule deer, pronghorn, and three rattlesnakes in the last three days!  It’s wonderful to see so much life.

Rattlesnake!