May 22, 2020

From Sweden to Texas to Buffalo to Manitoba - The Story of the White Flower Moth

Gustaf Wilhelm Belfrage was born in April 1834 in Stockholm, Sweden, into an aristocratic family. He was the youngest of two sons, and his older brother followed in their father's footsteps to become an officer in the Swedish military. While the reason(s) behind it appear lost to history, young Gustaf went in an entirely different direction and made his way to the United States. He landed in New York and eventually ended up in Bosque County, Texas.

He made his living selling insect specimens to collectors and scientists all over North America and Europe. These days, scientists typically travel to their areas of study and collect their own specimens. But as you can imagine, travel in the 1800's was much slower than it is today so scientists often bought specimens from collectors in various parts of the world. Over the course of his time in Texas, Gustaf collected and sold tens of thousands of specimens (though oddly he never published any articles of his own). His specialty was moths.

A number of the specimens he collected ended up in the hands of Leon F. Harvey of Buffalo, New York. This gentleman paid the bills as a physician and dentist, but his hobby was identifying and describing moths. Alongside his scholarly articles on dentistry, Dr. Harvey published numerous journal articles describing and naming many moth species, many of which were based on the specimens sent to him by Gustaf Belfrage.

One specimen he got from Mr. Belfrage was quite different from any others he had seen before, so different in fact that not only did he describe it as a new species but also created a new genus for it. The new genus he named Pippona, and the new species was named Pippona bimatris. Bimatris means 'of or having two mothers' which is a curious name for a moth, but unfortunately Dr. Harvey neglected to mention why he chose this name. The specimen had pure white wings, an orange body, and green eyes.

In 1903, George Hampson, a moth scientist in Britain, decided that this species was not so different that it needed it's own genus, so included it in the genus Lygranthoecia. Thus the species name became Lygranthoecia bimatris. This name lasted until 1954 when William Forbes, an American entomologist, decided that it should actually be included in the genus Schinia, so the name became Schinia bimatris, which remains its scientific name to date.

Over the years, this species was occasionally recorded in several south-central states. Interestingly, it was also collected in Manitoba in the Carberry sandhills, some 1000 km north of the nearest occurrence! This remains the only known occurrence of this species in Canada, despite surveys (including some by the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre) in other sandhill complexes in Manitoba. Thus the White Flower Moth is listed as Endangered under both federal and provincial legislation. Fortunately, all of its known habitat is protected in Spruce Woods Provincial Park and CFB Shilo. Next time you go for a hike in the open sand dunes of this area, keep an eye out for this rare species and if you see it please add it to iNaturalist - there's only one observation recorded so far!

Gustaf Belfrage died in his cabin in Norse, Texas, in December 1882, in the company of thousands of specimens he had collected but not yet sent to anyone. Dr. Leon Harvey was an active member of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences in the mid-1870's and published a number of entomological articles during that time. He died in New Rochelle, New York, in 1912.

Posted on May 22, 2020 14:07 by manitoba_cdc manitoba_cdc | 1 comment | Leave a comment

November 09, 2018

Can you see it now? The solution.

In the last journal entry, we described several scenarios where posting observations to iNaturalist can lead to undesirable results. In this journal entry, we'll discuss an easy way you can ensure your observations on iNaturalist don't do more harm than good.

For observations of species that are vulnerable to poaching or persecution, or from places you would prefer to keep underwraps, the easiest thing to do is adjust the 'Geoprivacy' setting of the observation. Three options are available:

Open - everyone can see the coordinates (unless the species is threatened - more on this later)

Obscured - public coordinates are shown as a random point within 10 kilometres of the true coordinates. True coordinates are only visible to you and the curators of the projects to which you add the observation

Private - Coordinates completely hidden from public maps; true coordinates only visible to you and the curators of projects to which you add the observation

You'll notice that curators of projects can always see the true coordinates regardless of the geoprivacy setting, so please make sure you only add your sensitive observations to projects with trustworthy curators!

It's important to also note that coordinates are automatically obscured for all species that are 'Near Threatened' or worse according to the IUCN Red List. For iNaturalist.ca (not .org), NatureServe Canada (which includes the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre) has worked with iNaturalist to automatically obscure the coordinates of a number of other species. Currently that list includes all species that are rare to uncommon either nationally or provincially. That is, all observations of species with a national conservation status rank between N1 and N3, or a provincial/territorial rank between S1 and S3, has the coordinates obscured (for more on conservation status ranks, see http://explorer.natureserve.org/nsranks.htm).

Because the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre (MBCDC) sits on the board of NatureServe Canada, which in turn sits on the iNaturalist.ca steering committee, the MBCDC has significant input into which species get included on the 'automatically obscure' list. Some people have suggested that the current criteria obscure too many species, and some jurisdictions automatically obscure only those species that are most vulnerable to poaching or persecution.

Did you know about the 'Geoprivacy' setting? In what circumstances do you use it? What criteria should the MBCDC use for determining which species are automatically obscured?

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Posted on November 09, 2018 16:00 by manitoba_cdc manitoba_cdc | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Can you see it now? The problem.

You finally lay your eyes on the rare orchid you've been looking for, snap the perfect picture, and post the observation on iNaturalist. You revisit the site a week later to see the orchid again and are dismayed to find a shovel hole where the orchid used to be! Could it be that an unscrupulous person has found your observation on iNaturalist and used the location information to find the orchid, dig it up, and bring it home for their personal 'collection'?

One of the great things about iNaturalist is the ability to share all the great things we find with other nature enthusiasts. Whether it's something weird, wild, and wonderful (or all of the above!), sharing that observation with the iNaturalist community is so good in so many ways, and something we at the CDC certainly encourage. However, it's worth keeping in mind that sometimes sharing everything may not be the responsible thing to do.

In addition to the above example, consider the following scenarios:

After a long night of owl surveys, you find a great spot to view the comings and goings of a pair of Great Gray Owls. After adding the observation to iNaturalist you hit the hay for well deserved night's sleep. You find out later that your special spot has been taken over by a crowd of photographers who saw your observation on iNaturalist and are hoping for the perfect picture, much to the chagrin of the owls trying to raise their young in peace.

Or perhaps your neighbours have a nice wooded area on their property and let you hike the woods whenever you'd like. You see some neat things living there and post the observations on iNaturalist. Now your neighbours are swamped with requests by others who want to see the neat things you saw. Even worse, some aren't even asking and are just 'visiting' without permission!

The vast majority of iNaturalist users are upstanding people who would consider the interests of wildlife and landowners and never do such things. But, unfortunately, there's always those few who will use iNaturalist data for less noble purposes.

Thankfully there's a few simple things we can do avoid these situations, but since this entry is getting a bit long, we'll discuss them in the next entry: 'Can you see it now? The solution.'

Posted on November 09, 2018 15:59 by manitoba_cdc manitoba_cdc | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 07, 2018

Small White Lady's-slippers

Every year, the Manitoba CDC spends some time surveying for Small White Lady's-slippers (Cypripedium candidum). This is one of six lady's-slipper species in Manitoba and is listed as Endangered under Manitoba's Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act.

In Manitoba, Small White Lady's-slippers can start blooming late in May, but more often in early June. Their bloom period often overlaps with that of Yellow Lady's-slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum). The two species are closely related and where they occur together, hybrid plants are often produced that have cream-coloured flowers.

Small White Lady's-slippers is a tall grass prairie species and in Manitoba is found in three main areas: from Steinbach south to the international border (most at the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve), around the Brandon Hills, and in the south Interlake region around Woodlands and St. Laurent. Existing populations range in size from just a few plants in some road side ditches to thousands of plants in native prairie remnants.

The Manitoba CDC monitors some populations annually and others less often, and also searchers for new occurrences. If you find this species, consider yourself very fortunate (and please let us know so we can help protect it!).

Check out the associated observations to see photos of Small White Lady's-slippers and other species we found during our surveys this year.

Posted on June 07, 2018 14:42 by manitoba_cdc manitoba_cdc | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 29, 2018

Where's Verna?

The Manitoba CDC is on the hunt for Verna's Flower Moth (Schinia verna), a relatively small moth with a bold black and white pattern on the wings. The larvae feed on the flowers and seeds of Pussytoes (Antennaria). There are only four known occurrences of Verna's Flower Moth in the world, one of which is near Glenboro right here in Manitoba! The others are in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Recent searches have only found it at one site in Alberta. It is listed as Endangered under Manitoba's Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act and as Threatened under the federal Species At Risk Act. See the COSEWIC status assessment for more information (http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/CW69-14-447-2005E.pdf).

The species was first described by David Hardwick in 1983 after he had discovered it four years earlier near Glenboro, and he decided to name it after his wife, Verna. It has not been found in Manitoba since Hardwick's surveys, so for the past few years, CDC staff have gone hunting for this at-risk species.

Despite our efforts identifying sites supporting lots of Pussytoes in the area where Hardwick worked, checking thousands of Pussytoe flowers for larvae, and carrying nets in hopes of finding adults on the wing, we have not yet found this species. We've found larvae in Pussytoe flowers, but identifications are thus far inconclusive.

This year, we're trying something new in our search for Verna's Flower Moth. We're setting up traps that draw moths in using ultraviolet light in case the moths fly at dusk or at night (so far we've only surveyed during the day). We've also baited the traps with a special attractant (really it's just a mixture of molasses, beer, and rum - tasty!), hoping the combination of attractants will do the trick. Stay tuned for the results!

In the meantime, check out some of the other neat stuff we found during our surveys this year!

Posted on May 29, 2018 19:41 by manitoba_cdc manitoba_cdc | 13 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

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