WANTED: Giant Lacewing! Report to iNaturalist on Your Nearest Device

We need your help to track down the Giant Lacewing (Polystoechotes punctata).

Giant lacewing wanted poster
Download and post on your favourite social media channel!

The Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) are looking for this elusive species. It is an insect that kind of looks like a cross between a fly and a moth.

The experts at COSEWIC will be assessing its status. We are looking to citizen scientists to report any potential observation of this species to iNaturalist Canada.

i-What?

iNaturalist is a wildlife observation reporting tool that anyone can use. The free mobile app for Android or iOS is easy to use. Or you can add an observation directly on the website at iNaturalist.ca.

It’s very important that a good photo is submitted along with the observation since experts will need this to confirm the species. Equally important is the location you saw it, which the app will automatically add if your phone’s GPS is turned on.

What, Where and When

The Giant Lacewing was once widespread in Canada and beyond. However, it hasn’t been seen in the eastern parts of North America since the 1950’s. But the experts are optimistic it still exists here, just that it hasn’t been seen or reported. Here’s what to look for:

  • A mostly black insect that is between 2.5 to and 4 cm centimetres (about 1 to 2.5 inches) long
  • Mottled wings, which are held tent-like over the insect’s body
  • Most likely to be found in more remote areas
  • Attracted to artificial lights, such as light posts, outdoor restrooms and buildings.
  • Most common time of year to spot one is mid-June through to early August.

Experts from Canada and around the world are using iNaturalist to keep track of where species are found. This is a valuable opportunity for anyone to contribute directly to species conservation decisions — like this assessment of the Giant Lacewing.

turtle mobileNot Just Lacewings

Any observation of wildlife — animals, plants, fungi, molluscs and fish — is a valuable contribution to the knowledge of Canada’s biodiversity. Plus with iNaturalist.ca you can keep track of what you’ve seen and search the map for what others have found. iNaturalist can even help you with identifying what you’ve seen with its instant auto identification feature.

Learn more about iNaturalist.ca and other ways to connect with wildlife.

 

Three Days in the Life of a Native Prairie Insect Diversity Field Technician

My name is Jones and I am a Canadian Wildlife Federation summer student, working as a Native Prairie Insect Diversity Field Technician at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, supervised by Dr. Cory Sheffield. This blog describes my day to day duties in this exciting opportunity to learn about insects of the wild prairies.

July 5th – Setting Up Blue Vane and Malaise Traps in Avonlea

Saskatchewan Badlands
Overlooking the badlands atop a rock formation. Behind stretches an otherwise typical Saskatchewan prairie.

On July 5th we drove to a pasture East of Avonlea to set up two types of insect traps. Inside this pasture is a large canyon of badlands terrain with soft sandy ground and large rock formations. It was a new experience for me seeing a landscape like this, and I didn’t expect to see anything like it in an otherwise normal-looking Saskatchewan pasture.

We observed that a few species of bees and wasps that had made a nest in the side of these rocks and dirt mounds. Some bees like the Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata) that were nesting in small hillside holes; these holes were probably previously inhabited by the Digger Bee (Anthophora occidentalis).

A few of the bee species I caught in this badlands were completely covered in pollen and were very eager to fly off to another flower. One bee I managed to catch stained my fingertips yellow because it was covered in pollen! This reminded me what an important role bees, wasps and other pollinators play in fertilizing their respective flowers and keeping the plant ecosystem healthy.

Nesting Wasps
Anthropheta wasps nesting in a dirt mound. Photo: Cory Sheffield

July 6th – Travelling the Wascana Trails and Craven Roadside

The next day involved more net collecting after travelling North of Regina to the park and hiking area of Wascana Trails. There was a lot of biodiversity in this area including Red-winged Blackbirds and Barn Swallows, both of which really didn’t appreciate us waving nets near their nests. We spent most of the day there collecting insects, but eventually made our way to a field outside Craven. There was a patch of sweet clover here where we caught plenty of Bumblebees as well as wasps and other bees.

July 7th – Discovering a New Species in Canada

Three Days in the Life of a Native Prairie Insect Diversity Field Technician
Left to right: Syrphid Fly, a wasp mimick; Collection from Avonlea on June 7; Here I am sweeping a bush in the Avonlea Badlands for insects. They are often so preoccupied they hardly even notice you walking up to take a swing.

On Friday we went back to Avonlea to collect the blue vane traps and Malaise traps as well as do some sweep netting. It was extremely hot so we didn’t stay too long, and one of the Malaise traps appeared to have fallen over shortly after we first set it up, so we didn’t get anything from that. The other Malaise trap, however, collected a good amount of bees, beetles, and a chalcid wasp that is a new record in all of Canada (picture below) as a parasite of Antlion larvae! It’s fantastic to have been part of this discovery. A new species being found in Canada while casually collecting insects shows how vast the Saskatchewan biodiversity is, and how much more there is to learn about the interactions between species within it.

In the coming weeks we should be collecting insects at other PFRA pastures, and it will be interesting to see whether any different species are present.

Canadian Wildlife Federation is contributing to Dr. Sheffield’s work because little is known about insect diversity in the prairies and the knowledge generated through this project will help us to better conserve these rare ecosystems.

Chalcid Wasp
New chalcid wasp species found in the Avonlea pasture.

Floats Like a Lepidoptera, Stings Like a Hymenoptera

From butterflies to bees and everything in between, insect activity across Canada increases throughout the summer.

Insects are a very abundant, diverse, and vital group of animals, which makes their populations important to conservationists. Surveying different species in local regions allows us to actually see the wide range of creatures in a relatively small area. This data can help scientists to catalogue the species that were already known to occur in the region, but we can also discover new ones! Monitoring changes in an ecosystem through insects is beneficial to us due to the increased ability to see changes from their relatively large diversity and abundance.

Grayson WihlidalAs a Native Prairie Insect Diversity Field Technician in Saskatchewan, insects in pasture or farmland ecosystems are of particular interest to me. Sometimes thought of as pests, many insects are actually beneficial. Ladybugs (which are actually beetles) are considered beneficial because they eat large amounts of aphids, mites, and other arthropods considered pests because they feed on various plants, including crops. Similarly, most bees are beneficial as pollinators, which aid in fruit production for many plants.

In order to survey all these different species, they first must be captured. There are a few different ways to catch insects that work pretty well, but each method has specific biases. This is why we use multiple techniques. One way is to simply walk around using a ‘butterfly net’ to catch any insect that catch our eye. Even though this is limited by collector experience and the time when we visit the site, this method works great for collecting particular pollinators and linking them to a flower, but you have to be fast enough!

You can also set Malaise, and Blue Vane traps to collect a large variety of insects that might be missed using a traditional netting method. Despite the fact that these approaches are passive and record little ecological data, they work continuously throughout the period they are set up and can collect a lot more insects than we could ourselves in one day.

Recently, we set some Blue Vane traps in the Badlands of Avonlea, Saskatchewan. The Avonlea Badlands are unique to the area because of little winds and an abundance of flowers where the sandy substrate has become an area of erosion with bluffs and hoodoos present throughout. To our surprise, we caught a Chalcid Wasp (Hymenoptera: Chalcidae) known taxonomically as Hockeria eriensis, which is a parasite of the larvae of antlions (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae). Although antlions are abundant in the Avonlea Badlands, this is the first time their parasite has been detected here. This is a new record for Canada! The taxonomy of this group of insects was last revised by Halstead in 1990. Our specimen was identified by entomologist Dr. Cory Sheffield at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina. Without our surveying efforts, the presence of this Chalcid Wasp in Canada would not have been detected.

Hockeria eriensis
Hockeria eriensis. Photo: Ryan Oram

Once back in the lab, we prepare the specimens to be put on pins as they will be put into the museum’s collection for later study. Many pollinators are hairy, and collectors must ensure that the hair as well as their colours can be seen for identification. As we usually collect the specimens in ethanol, we must first let them dry out before pinning in order to preserve them properly. After drying and pinning, the insects are placed in trays and stored in a climate-controlled room we have dubbed “The Cocoon.” The museum’s extensive collection includes a variety of insects, with names ranging from Agapostemon to Zacosmia.

All in all, studying these insects allows us to better understand how we can properly identify and conserve their natural habitat, which will help all of the species occupying these unique ecosystems.

My Summer as an Insect Field Technician

I grew up on a farm in North Easthope Township in southwestern Ontario. As a kid, I was surrounded by farming and big equipment, with an understanding of the environment from a farming perspective. Farmers rely on healthy soils and adequate precipitation to produce crops. In the past few years my interest towards the environment has grown and I have become aware as to what role the environment plays for us. I am currently studying at Sault College, Sault St. Marie, ON for a Natural Environment Technician – Conservation and Management. I feel great doing work that can have a beneficial impact on our native lands, and appreciate this opportunity that CWF has given me to work as a summer student.

Brock Roth
Me and a friendly tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum).

What Does an Insect Technician do, Exactly?

My job as an Insect Technician involves conducting insect surveys on 22 different farms in southwestern Ontario. In the field, we use two techniques to catch the insects. One involves using a sweep net to catch them and the other uses pan traps or malaise traps. Once the insects are successfully trapped, they are brought back to the Guelph University Summerlee Science Complex where we identify, pin, label, and data base the specimens. All insects are placed under the microscope, where they are identified to family and species (if possible). The goal is to determine whether the insect is a pest, predator or a pollinator, and to discern if that insect is ‘beneficial’ to farming. Bees are truly beneficial pollinators and play a major role in the ecosystem as they are vital for the foraging crops. Other important pollinators are hoverflies, flower beetles, butterflies and moths.

Collecting Soil

One of my daily responsibilities has been to collect soil samples. Quadrats at the field sites are recorded into a Geographic Positioning System. This is for the purpose of re-sampling years after this pilot study is finished. The work we began here will continue for another seven years in collaboration with a network of University of Guelph professors called CFREF. Testing is done to find the porosity and the carbon storage at different soil profiles. The samples are taken to the university lab where another technician performs various tests.

Studying Plants

In the coming weeks, I look forward to beginning the plant portion of the research project. I will be conducting plant surveys related to species diversity, biomass, light canopy, and crop damage by insect herbivores. We will continue to travel to field sites in southwestern Ontario to collect, study and identify the plants. I feel that the work I am doing this summer as an intern will provide evidence to farmers and scientists that beneficial insects play a contributing role in agricultural production by showing the symbiotic relationship between insects, plants and soils.

Highlights of My Field Work

Besides coming across many dangerous plants like poison ivy and giant hogweed, I have really enjoyed my outdoor field work. Some awesome highlights of this summer so far have been: watching a deer raceby me only 10 feet away in the middle of a corn field, witnessing a Bald Eagle swoop right in front of my eyes, and even coming face to face with a beautiful orange Eastern Hognose Snake.