August 02, 2021

An outing to Randall's Island today yielded some good observations

I spent two hours in the Freshwater Wetlands area of Randall's Island, between noon and 2 pm today. I managed to find a few new lifers, assuming I have ID'ed them correctly:

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Conoytachelus fissunguis -- several of these neat-looking true weevils were deep in a flower of Swamp Rose Mallow
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89546274

Jumping Bush Cricket -- just one nymph
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89546121

Eutreta noveboracensis -- a very cute little fruit fly
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89549908

Vampire's Bane -- delicate mushroom growing under a log
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/89549290

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Butterflies that I saw:

Cabbage White
Zabulon Skipper
Broad-winged Skipper
Monarch
Summer Azure
Eastern Tailed Blue
Red Admiral
Buckeye
Silver-spotted Skipper
Pearl Crescent
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And a few nice other things like five-angled dodder and dodder gall weevil galls in a tree pit on 125th Street.
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Posted on August 02, 2021 01:15 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 30 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 03, 2021

Personal history behind my malacology and nature study

I was born in 1948. I grew up 12 miles southeast of the center of London, England, in North Kent, where the suburbs ended and the countryside began. Each summer for two weeks my immediate family vacationed in Bideford, North Devon, where my mother was from and where my grandmother, and a vast number of other relatives lived. Devon was where I really got interested in shells, although I also studied all other aspects of nature back in Kent. I collected a lot of shells, but my mother threw away some of my boxes of shells over the years.

When I was 19, I was living in Cambridge, England, and I got married to a PhD student in Organic Chemistry. We both moved to La Jolla in Southern California, where he had been awarded a Post Doctoral Fellowship at the Salk Institute. In California I got a lot deeper into shells, and started writing papers about them. My first husband helped me learn more about fossils, and about how to research and write the papers we co-authored. In return I taught him a lot about shells.

After 14 months in California, I went back to Cambridge, England for 5 years, working in the Histology Department of the Physiology Lab of Cambridge University. I got a divorce. I was then invited to move back to the US with an 18th century British historian, who had been given a tenure-track position at Yale University.

After four years at Yale, we moved to Harvard University, where my then spouse had been given a full professorship, the second youngest person ever to attain that. I went to work in the Malacology section of the Louis Agassiz Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. After a couple more years, we split up. I moved briefly to Ithaca, and then to New York City, where I lived at several different addresses downtown.

In 1988, I started a live-in relationship with Ed Subitzky, a cartoonist and humor writers who had a day job in advertising. We soon started vacationing in the Caribbean. For about five years of visits we went to Mustique, Grenadines, and then, after that, we started going to Nevis, Leeward Islands. In the spring of 2000, after Hurricane Lenny had struck in November 1999, I discovered that Nevis had developed a small but very rich shell beach, and because of that I really got into Caribbean seashells in a major way. Over the following years we gradually started staying longer on Nevis, eventually for as long as four weeks on each visit. As well as visiting Nevis's sister island, St. Kitts, whenever I was on Nevis for a public holiday, I was able to take a day trip via at the Sea Hustler ferryboat, either to Montserrat or St. Eustatius, where I would search for shells. And, partly as a result of all that research, in 2015 I was able to take part in a Dutch scientific marine biological expedition to St. Eustatius.

For several years, starting in 1999, I volunteered in the Malacology section of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, and when Malacology unfortunately shut up shop, I started volunteering in Invertebrate Paleontology.

Starting in the summer of 2007, for seven years I did a great deal of work on Wikipedia as "Invertzoo". Jimmy Wales knew me, and referred to me as "the Snail Lady".

In 2014, I shifted the online aspect of my volunteer work over to iNaturalist, and, as time went by, I was delighted to meet and become friends with some really great local naturalists and biologists here in NYC.

On this webpage you can find a complete list of my science-oriented publications,. they are mainly malacological, but a few are more generally nature-related:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Invertzoo/Publications

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Posted on July 03, 2021 14:48 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 1 comment | Leave a comment

July 02, 2021

Which birds visit my new NYC bird feeder?

I live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the back of a 12-story building on the third floor. A few months ago I bought a small plexiglass bird feeder which has suction cups that hold it onto the outside of your window. I also bought some fairly fancy bird seed.

I installed the feeder close to where I sit at the computer, near the window. At first no birds came at all, I think because the weather was still not warm then, and there were very few birds in the backyard.

Then when the weather warmed up, birds started to come, but our cat would sit nearby and try repeatedly to pounce on them by trying to hurl herself through the glass of the living room window.

But then, sadly, we had to have our cat put down, because she was diagnosed with extreme chronic Kidney Failure. We miss her a lot because we loved her, but the cat being gone has made the birds' life considerably easier.

Since then, I have seen a lot more birds at the feeder. Having to take photos through the window glass and then through the plexiglass (sometimes two layers) does not give crisp image results, but the photos are better than nothing. I sometimes take bird photos morning and evening, but as yet I can't tell which individual birds are "repeats".

Here is a list of the species of birds that I have seen on the feeder so far. I will add others as I (hopefully) see more species:

Mourning Doves -- lots of them, and they sure eat a lot.
House Finches -- lots and lots of them, especially the females, but also the occasional very pretty male.
House Sparrows -- very few so far, surprisingly.
Cardinal -- Three males so far, just amazing when seen close-up. I did not get a photo of the second one. And on July 21st I got a photo of the female cardinal.
American Robin -- three so far, didn't get a photo in the feeder yet, but one on the tree near the feeder.
Black-capped Chickadee -- one so far (July 7th at 3:23 pm).

No Pigeons at at all as yet, and no Blue Jays either.

Our backyard has no garden in it, it's all concrete, but there is a big Ailanthus tree and a bit further east a White Mulberry, which is currently in fruit. The next yard over to the west has a lot of very tall bamboo, and the yards beyond that have several Ailanthus trees and a large-leafed Elm tree, also there is a young Princess Tree.

Posted on July 02, 2021 21:18 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 20 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 02, 2021

How to find small and tiny seashells to increase both your species count and iNat's species count

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In response to this recent iNat post:

https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/52872-one-sixth-of-all-named-species-tallied#activity_comment_347148b3-6979-4642-aee7-8ea1c596f889

I suggested that iNat observers could find a lot of additional species of shelled marine mollusks to add to the iNat named species total if people who are beachcombing tried to find more of the small and tiny shells.

It seems that most people only pick up shells that are about an inch in diameter, or larger than that. I suppose that is because they shell by walking along the beach until a shell catches their eye.

Instead I would recommend that people check the drift lines, the wrack lines on a beach, until they see a patch or a line that appears to have mostly small stuff in it, even though some of that might be broken fragments of shells and other detritus, rather than whole shells.

Pay particular attention to the surface of sandy beaches near jetties and piers, where the sea water tends to form eddies. Eddies are often the place where waves drop the smallest stuff they are carrying. Flat areas of a beach at mid-tide or low-tide level are often promising places to look for patches of small shells. Sometimes the sediment on the bottom surface of a tide pool or rockpool can be good too.

If you see a patch of fine detritus on the beach that you think might be worthy of investigation, kneel down or sit down, and take a closer look.

You can pick up the small and tiny shells and drop them into a suitable container. I like to use a plastic flip-top vial. If I am finding extremely tiny shells, I fill that vial with water -- that way even a very tiny shell (2 or 3 mm) will drop down into the water instead of remaining stuck to my finger when I try to add it to the vial.

Another collecting method is to simply scoop up all of the possibly relevant material, and put it into a ziplock snack bag. This material can be washed, dried, and sorted at home at your leisure -- so-called armchair collecting.

I myself wear neoprene knee and elbow pads with gel inserts when I do a lot of searching for tiny shells. That way I can kneel, and when necessary crawl, for hours on end, day after day, without scraping the skin off of my knees and elbows. And I use magnifying reading glasses to help me see the smallest shells.

While it is true that you are likely to find some small juveniles of larger shells, you are also likely to find a lot of species which never reach an adult size that is larger than half an inch, a quarter of an inch, or even smaller still.

If you happen to know a scuba diver, you may want to ask the diver if he or she would scoop you up a small ziplock bag of sediment from a quiet place that is likely to have a lot of small species, such as under a kelp bed, or off of the end of a coral reef. Those places can be very rich in tiny species.

Storing the tiny species of shells requires small glass vials or tiny plastic boxes and small slips of rag paper. Small shells can be stored in very small ziplocks that are 2 inches by one inch or 3 by 2 inches.

If you end up getting deep into this area of knowledge, you will find you need some good magnification at home. A good light and a head-mounted magnifier, a standing magnifier, or possibly even a binocular microscope may come to seem like a necessity.

With some notable exceptions, the literature on the super tiny shells, which are often known as micromollusks, can be sparse and sometimes hard to obtain. Many popular books don't include any or many micromollusks.

Shells a bit larger than micros are often known as "minis". I however don't like that term, as these are not miniature shells, but simply small species.

If you have any questions about this or similar subjects, feel free to ask me.

Posted on June 02, 2021 16:22 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 25 comments | Leave a comment

May 20, 2021

The story behind unknown stem galls on Common Mugwort plants

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This is a story about an unknown gall former, and the story is still only partly understood.

Last summer (August 2020) in Central Park and on Randall's Island, I found six stem galls on the very common and extremely invasive weed Common Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. The galls look like this one:

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/79560187

@steven-cyclist was with me several times when I found them, and he probably also photographed one or two of them.

I had never noticed these galls on mugwort before 2020, so I photographed them all, but I had no luck working out what the gall-making organism was that had caused the galls to form.

Fortunately iNatter @jeffmollenhauer is a lot more of a thorough and persistent naturalist than I am. Jeff collected some of these galls in New Jersey. Jeff then carefully cut one gall open, and photographed the larva that was inside the gall. It appeared to be a beetle larva:

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/65600322

Jeff also carefully saved a few of the intact galls to see what hatched out in the next spring or summer.

Sure enough, this spring, 2021, beetles started hatching out, like this one:

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/79554086

It is a Tumbling Flower Beetle, in the genus Mordellistena.

However, it seems that the beetle is almost certainly not the original gall former, but instead is an inquiline parasite. Mordellistena is a stem borer and a gall borer, but it does not create galls.

The Mordellistena larva apparently takes over the gall, a gall which is probably initially occupied by, and created by, a Eurosta fly larva. Eurosta are gall flies, and they are the causal agent of some similar galls on Golden Rod species. For example this large gall, which was caused by the Goldenrod Gall Fly, Eurosta solidaginis:

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10167994

After an initial gall is formed on Common Mugwort, then presumably a mother Mordellistena beetle lays an egg on the outer surface of the gall. That egg hatches and the young beetle larva chews its way into the gall. The beetle larva starts out by eating the soft inner tissues of the gall, and then probably it often goes on to eat the little Eurosta larva too! Talk about eating you out of house and home!

For more info on this type of interaction, read the results section in this paper (especially under the Differentiation of Mordellistina convicta section). https://academic.oup.com/icb/article/41/4/928/2046532

Perhaps the Mordellistena species in our case might also be Mordellistena convicta? On BugGuide that species has been reported from inside galls on Common Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisifolia, so maybe it could also bore into galls on Common Mugwort, a plant which is somewhat closely related?

https://bugguide.net/node/view/170446

I asked @borisb, a beetle expert, what he thought about this beetle, and Boris commented, "What you have resembles those WE [in Europe] have in ragwort (Mordellistena weisei-group), though ours do not produce galls." I am assuming that Boris means that this group of Mordellistena beetles in Europe bore into the stems of Ragwort plants (does Boris mean the plant Jacobaea vulgaris?), but that they do not cause galls to form. I explained to Boris that we assume that the Mordellistena beetles here do not actually cause the galls in the Common Mugwort, but instead they take advantage of galls already created by a gall-forming fly.

And incidentally, here is a 2008 paper about differentiating the larvae of that European group of Mordellistena beetles:

https://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=BY2008000753

@megachile made an entry in the excellent gallformers.org database (a great new resource from @megachile and @jeffdc) for this still currently unknown stem gall:

https://www.gallformers.org/gall/1592

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Posted on May 20, 2021 20:55 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 12 comments | Leave a comment

May 14, 2021

Giving a Zoom talk to the Marine Biological Association of the UK

A couple weeks ago while I was on vacation in Sanibel, Florida I was asked if I could give a Zoom talk about iNaturalist to the Marine Biological Association of the UK, on the morning of Thursday May 6th. The meeting was at 11 am British time, which means it was at 6 am Eastern Standard time. The meeting was called "Marine Biology Live; Citizen Scientist Special".

It meant I had to get up at 4:45 am to be ready. Also the WiFi reception in our hotel cottage was really terrible, but fortunately the weekday manager of the hotel lent me the office key, so I could do the talk from the office, where the reception was plenty good enough. But during the talk, my husband Ed had to put the office lovebird out on the porch, as she kept squawking rather loudly.

At first I had intended to extemporize the talk, which was supposed to be only 10 or 15 minutes in length, but in the end I wrote it out. The MBA is very prestigious, so I wanted to make sure I did a good job, even though I did not have much time. It would be easier to talk about iNat for an hour than to talk about it for only 10 minutes!

My little talk went OK in the end, although I sounded a bit trashed from having to get up so early. The MBA filmed the whole meeting and put it up on their YouTube Channel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvATd6Qo0UY

Posted on May 14, 2021 21:19 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 24 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Sanibel nature is wonderful!

I just spent three weeks on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Sanibel, near Fort Myers, in Lee County, Florida. Sanibel is 65% nature preserve, and the island has many legal restrictions that make it wildlife-friendly.

This was my 10th visit to the island, which I heard about in childhood thanks to a National Geographic article about it. The island is very famous for its shells, but in reality it is wonderful for almost every aspect of nature. And during this visit I saw a lot of species that I had never seen before, as well as several others that I had seen before, but not very often.

Here are a few highlights. I will add others to this list as they occur to me.

MAMMALS
My favorite sighting of all was eight manatees at Jensens Twin Palm Marina on Captiva. They were all but one clustered in an overlapping row right by the seawall where a freshwater spring runs into the saltwater of the back bay. They like to gather there to drink the freshwater, and as a result of that, you can see them quite close-up. They are really enormous, and very sweet-seeming; truly they are gentle giants.

REPTILES
Finally got a great view of an alligator. I also got a photo of a live Black Racer, saw one dead, run-over Florida Rat Snake and the shed skin of another one. Saw a couple of Iguanas from a distance and a freshwater turtle from a great distance (too far away to determine the species) as well as a juvenile Gopher Tortoise who has moved into the hotel grounds where we were staying.

BIRDS
The birds are always great on Sanibel, especially the various waterbirds, lots of egrets and herons and a nice Anhinga drying off. I also saw something that I think may have been a Clapper Rail.

BUTTERFLIES
Zebra Longwing, Gulf Fritilliary, Great Southern White, Barred White, White Peacock, Monarch.

SCORPIONS
Slender Brown Scorpions via UV flashlight, thanks to @jaykeller -- so cool

CRABS
Squareback Marsh Crab
Mangrove Tree Crab
Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crab

BEETLES
Headlight Beetle, also thanks to @jaykeller and his mothing set-up.
Coastal Tiger Beetle, I think.

"LOWER PLANTS"
Shoelace Fern --looks like an armful of green spaghetti nailed to a tree trunk
Lots of cool lichens TBD

"HIGHER PLANTS"
Florida Butterfly Orchid -- native and epiphytic
Chinese Crown Orchid -- ground-dwelling, introduced and invasive

For anyone who loves nature, I thoroughly recommend a visit to Sanibel.

Posted on May 14, 2021 14:21 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 6 comments | Leave a comment

March 17, 2021

Finding the land snail Triodopsis hopetenensis, the Magnolia Threetooth, in NYC

On Friday March 12, my iNat friend @steven-cyclist drove us to Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn, at the north end of Jamaica Bay.

To my surprise I found a lot of empty shells and live individuals of the polygyrid species Triodopsis hopetonensis, identified for me by Harry G. Lee of Jacksonville, Florida.

Cool!

This species has apparently never been recorded before from New York State, so I am writing an article about this discovery for American Conchologist magazine.

The first four images here are of dead empty shells from grassland. The other five images are of live snails that were sheltering under small rocks beside a gravel pathway in the State Park.

Posted on March 17, 2021 20:00 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 8 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 08, 2021

Giving a Zoom talk for the Philadelphia Academy on iNat and Shells

In case anyone is interested, on Thursday evening, January 21st, at 7:30 PM, via a Zoom meeting, I will be giving a talk on "iNaturalist and Shells" as part of a virtual meeting of the Philadelphia Shell Club, which is virtually hosted by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.

My talk is entitled: “iNaturalist: The easy way to record, learn, and communicate with others about the shells you find.”

To learn more about me, or iNaturalist, before the meeting, you can check out my profile page: https://www.inaturalist.org/people/susanhewitt; or my ResearchGate page: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Susan_Hewitt.

The talk will not simply be about shells, as the principles are of course the same for any group of organisms.

A link to the Zoom meeting can be found here: https://drexel.zoom.us/j/83453412766

You can also join to hear audio of the meeting by dialing: +12678310333,,83453412766#

Posted on January 08, 2021 20:21 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 24 observations | 8 comments | Leave a comment

December 31, 2020

On the global leaderboards for December 2020

As was the case last year, in December 2020 my husband Ed and I went to stay in Sanibel Island, Lee County, Florida for almost three weeks. Here is the journal post about last year's trip:

https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/susanhewitt/29786-on-the-global-leaderboards-for-december-2019?

During my Sanibel trip this year, I was able to make observations of a lot of species that I had never seen (or in some cases never noticed or paid attention to) before. In fact, during the month of December I was happy to see that I recorded 92 "Newly Added" species:

https://www.inaturalist.org/stats/2020/susanhewitt

We were fortunate in that our trip overlapped for two days with a trip to Sanibel by our friends @ginsengandsoon and @maxcavitch, so we were able to go out iNatting with them twice, once to a nature preserve, and once to a good beach with lots of shells.

A substantial number of the "Newly Added" species that I found during this trip were thanks to an excellent, extremely helpful iNat meet-up outing with local (Fort Myers) botany professor @jayhorn.

I also met, and got to go out shelling with, iNatter @lukemiller17, who lives on Sanibel Island, and who works on the front desk three days a week at the wonderful Shell Museum on Sanibel. We went to Lighthouse Beach, and also to West Gulf Drive, beach access #7, which is the beach next to the cottages where Ed and I stay, and that beach was very rich in shells this year.

But I was somewhat surprised to see that this year I am once again currently on the global leaderboards (one of the top 5 observers) for the most observations in December 2020 (number 3), and also on the leaderboard for the greatest number of species observed in December 2020 (number 5). And I was even more surprised to see that I was also on the iNat global leaderboard (number 4) for the most observations overall in the year 2020.

https://www.inaturalist.org/people

2020 certainly felt like a productive year for me on iNat. And the three weeks on Sanibel felt like the best part of the year. When I went to Nevis, West Indies, back in March, the country of St Kitts & Nevis shut down suddenly, and we were forced to leave after eight days instead of the planned 28 days, plus we were not allowed to go anywhere off of the hotel grounds during those eight days, so I did not record nearly as many new organisms as I would normally have done during four weeks on that lovely island.

In late December, I had 8 days of being back again in NYC after the Sanibel trip. During that time, as was the case last year, I made a conscious effort to add more species to my December 2020 total, by observing as many species as I could here in NYC that do not occur on Sanibel.

Making those extra observations was not easy this year, as for the first six days of being back in NYC, we were in very strict traveler's quarantine for Covid, having come back from Florida to NY State. I could not set foot outside my apartment at all, except to go get a second Covid test. So for the first few days back, I had to keep my iNat streak alive by photographing wild organisms out of our back windows, and there is not too much biodiversity visible that way!

But once we got all our Covid test results and knew they were all negative, I was able to go out locally and find things to observe during the final 2.5 days of December.

Some people seem to think that leaderboards are a bad idea, because they can (supposedly) encourage mindless competitiveness. But I think that Streaks and Leaderboards help encourage people's involvement with iNat, and help record their remarkable levels of commitment.

Note: The first 42 images here are from Sanibel, starting on December 3rd. The last ten images here, from "Goldenrod Rust" onward, are from NYC, starting on December 29th.

Posted on December 31, 2020 16:44 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 52 observations | 8 comments | Leave a comment