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Fifty Species Goal: #15-23

And to think I was worried about getting fifty species in a year! Now I'm starting to think I underestimated the case! I may have a shot at 300 total this year! (I currently am in the mid-200s somewhere--thought I was over 300 already, but going back and tallying the spreadsheet shows I am lower than I thought.)

A sentiment I've heard occasionally--generally cheerfully uttered!--is that the extraordinary diversity in my garden is a result of either extreme good fortune, obsessive targeted gardening, or great location in the unspoiled woods. Or because it's huge.

Well...not exactly.

There was a study done in England a decade or so ago that looked at biodiversity of insect species in gardens, and what they found is that a bigger garden does have more species than a smaller garden, but not by as much as you'd think. If my garden is twice as big as yours, I will probably not have twice as many species, unless other factors are in play. Even quite a small patch of garden, and a water feature literally the size of a plastic window box, will bring in a vast array of species. (An older garden does have more species, interestingly, probably because trees and shrubs are a huge draw.)

As for location--well, species found on the edges of woodlands are different from those found in cities and suburbs, but not that much more numerous--and not, it should be said, noticeably more rare.  Being totally crazy on the native plant front, and having a lot of trees around helps, but the tree thing happens in a lot of cities too. (Hell, I got more bird species in the city than I ever do here, simply because I was an oasis there--the Central Park Effect writ very small.)

The only species that are probably going to be more numerous for me than someone in a suburb are the various amphibians and reptiles, which are plentiful locally and have a harder times in cities. But that's a very small percentage of my species list.

The primary reason I'm sitting here cruising towards 300 resident species is because I'm the sort of obsessive individual who looks. That's all. I am willing to go out at 10 at night and photograph the moths buzzing around the porch light (and then I go back in and turn the porch light off, so that they don't get too fried.) All I've got that's specialized is a pretty good cell-phone camera and a willingness to join ID sites like BugGuide.net and BAMONA.

(And a willingness to look like an idiot chasing bugs around. That last is pretty important. And yes, I still scream and duck when the moths fly for my face. I'm not actually that fond of bugs, I just think it's important to know what they are.)

So if you're wondering if your postage stamp sized yard is enough to make any kind of difference and feeling discouraged--believe me, it can and you will. You may have to be cleverer about it than I am--I have the luxury of space--but that's honestly not hard. I am enthusiastic, but often not bright.

Okay! Enough pep talk! To the critters!

#15 -- Pseudacris crucifer Spring Peeper

A frog! Woo! This is actually a pretty common species, and we've probably had them for ages, but this is the first year they've been calling separate from the chorus frogs and I've felt confident in the call ID, so I'm counting it here.

#16 -- Nemoria saturiba Red-Splotched Emerald


Originally thought this was a Red-Bordered Emerald, but the red spots on the body are apparently the tell. This makes him a lot more obscure. (And by obscure I mean "There are two sightings on the BAMONA website, and I'm one of them.) He feeds on sweetgum leaves.

#17 -- Acleris nigrolinea Black Lined Leafroller

Another obscure one, and also a pretty uninteresting little insect, I must say.

#18 -- Melanolophia canadaria   Canadian melanolophia

These are swarming my porchlight in vast numbers at the moment. They're a weirdly tall moth--they stand up away from the wall instead of lying flat.

#19 -- Iridopsis humaria   Small Purplish Gray

One gets the impression that they ran out of clever names at this point.

#20 -- Egira alternans   Alternate Woodling

I was saying on Twitter that this one sounds like a folk-electronica band.

#21 -- Copivaleria grotei   Grote's Sallow

This one looks a lot like a bird dropping. It feeds on ash leaves.

# 22 -- Eupithecia matheri

There is no common name for this species and not many sighting reports. The Eupithecia clan all look alike, and trying to tell them apart is tricky. A good many of my sightings get rejected as "Eupithecia, but can't tell which one from photo."

#23 -- Achatia distincta    Distinct Quaker


So it turns out that there are a kajillion different Quaker moths. Highlights include "Ruby" "Rustic" "Subdued" "Cynical" and "Intractable." I love those last couple so very, very much.

Next week I am off to Texas and the 50 species goal will be on hold--but hey, at least this is getting me taking photos, even if I fell off the wagon on the Photo A Week thing!

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Cynical...Quaker.. Moth! That sounds like something you'd come up with, and draw an adorably grumpy looking picture of.

I figure it would be rethinking its position on pacifism.

And concluding that however cathartic it might be short-term, in the long run violence won't work any better (and probably a lot worse) than the rest of the panoply of useless options.

I'm going to have to make sure my Quaker friends know about those moths. (I went to a Friends-associated college; for a non-Quaker I know quite a few.)

This is a really cool project. :) We can finally see grass (but still much snow). No bugs - yet - but maybe I'll try to take some pics of moths this year and see what's around!

Quaker Moths-- quiet, serene, concerned with social justice... I am so enjoying your photos. Have you ever seen a Luna Moth up close? I have seen only ever a few.

Intractable Quaker? Oh! That is splendid! Thank you.

...a willingness to look like an idiot chasing bugs around... Um. Yeah. Since buying a camera, I've started regularly throwing myself to the ground with delighted cries of "Look! An interesting beetle!"

I notice that there aren't any photos of a couple of these guys on the BAMONA site. Perhaps you should upload yours.

The Distinct Quaker Moth is very pretty!

Are you going to be near Houston while you're in Texas? If so, I offer native-guide services and possible dinner company.

Alas, no, this is a pretty tightly scheduled birding trip with a group, so we're not seeing most of Texas. Just the bird hotspots!

What part of Texas are you visiting? It sounds like a pretty fun trip. The best bird hotspots, and this is my recommendation, despite the fact I live in
Britain, are in Galveston, Galveston Island/Pelican Island.

So, I googled, just because I had picked up a parks magazine a bit ago and had read something about birding that I couldn't remember. And then I found out that Lubbock is somehow on one of the birding trails. And I mean, we've got some egrets out in Dunbar park, mockingbirds, Inca doves, burrowing owls, road runners, plenty of pheasants, quail, and lesser prairie chickens, and we even had a painted bunting in the wildlife center. But it just doesn't strike me as birding territory. We're so flat!

That is true!

Alternate Woodling : I was saying on Twitter that this one sounds like a folk-electronica band


Doesn't the number of plant species in a garden increase the number of critter species? I know as I've increased the variety of plants I've seen a huge increase in critter types. (of course, this was a hayfield before I started gardening in it, and there isn't a huge amount of biological diversity in a hayfield.)

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There's been some fascinatingly cool stuff done with restoring hay meadows in the UK--but you need the mixed hay, yeah.

But yes, to address the original, the more plant types, the more critters! Definitely a diversity is important there.

If you want to do a species count scientifically, you can use new DNA methods.

(1) Collect some biomass

(2) Homogenize it and extract DNA.

(3) Sequence DNA fragments and match against a database of samples from known species.

I believe this is become one of the cheapest ways to do species surveys, since it doesn't require any expensive manual separation and classification of organisms. And it works on microorganisms (even viruses!) which you probably have an enormous variety of.

It's the bit where I have to homogenize some biomass that never did my any harm that bugs me.

Yeah, that's the downside. I think it might work on waste products though.

Delurking after (goodness, several years) for this:

It's actually really common to use feces for something like this! Especially if you are trying to get an idea of parasite counts or of what kinds of animals are present in the local ecosystem. The whole point of the technique is that you don't have to find the actual animals to figure out whether they're around, you just have to figure out if something else nearby ate one. And feces are much easier to locate and sample than live, moving animals, especially when you're interested in tiny little insects or really highly endangered animals. As a bonus, for diet assays where you want to know what your species of interest is eating, you don't have to kill a bunch of individuals and open up their gut contents first, which is the older method of finding out.

On the other hand, having to find and homogenize feces from one's yard is not precisely as fun as taking photos of live animals, either...

Who comes up with species names anyway???

The Red-Splotched Emerald looks rather intriguing...

So many Quaker moths! I had no idea! :D

My spirit of scientific curiosity has been kind of beaten down this year by bureaucratic exhaustion, but I can feel it trying to glimmer at me. ^^

I would love to know who comes up with the names of moths, they are just so evocative. I mean how does a moth look cynical or intractable? Or were the locals pulling the legs of whoever was going to officially name the moth?

Someday, you will say "I'm off to Texas" and it will actually be some part of Texas that is actually anywhere near me.

They are so beautiful!

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