Vaurie and her husband were both enthusiastic about natural history. Patricia
has an extremely successful career studying beetles while her husband pursued
his artistic interest in North American birds. Their trips together provided
the AMNH Entomology collection with a breadth of data that is still productive
and informative to the field as we continue to digitize her plant bug
Wilson was born on September 14, 1909 in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. While she
was still young, her family moved to New York City. By 1920, they lived only a
block away from the American Museum of Natural History. Patricia attended high
school and later Barnard College, Columbia University. She graduated in 1931
with a degree in English literature.
World War II she started volunteering as a technical assistant in the
Department of Insects and Spiders (now the Department of Invertebrate Zoology).
Around this time she met her husband Charles Vaurie. He was a dentist in New
York with an avid interest in painting North American birds. Although Patricia
focused on the study of beetles, the two of them appreciated their mutual
interests in natural history. They were married in 1934.
1947 she achieved the title of Assistant and by 1957 became a Research
Associate. Patricia published 77 revisionary studies of beetles throughout the
course of her work. She received a total of four grants from the National
Science Foundation to study Diplotaxis (Scarabaeidae) and Metamasius
(Curculionidae). According to her glowing obituary, her colleagues held her in
high regard for her meticulous and usable work.
TTD-TCN project digitizers at the American Museum of Natural History are still
benefitting from her enthusiasm for insects and detail. Although Patricia
specialized in beetles, she collected a variety of other insects while on trips
for the Natural History Museum with her husband. Interestingly, the Specimen
Database tells us that most of their work trips took place during the months of
July and August in pleasant locations such as the Bahamas, Cuba,
New Mexico, Guatemala, the Ruins at Palenque (dark blue peg), and Flagstaff, Arizona.
This sounds like an extremely convenient way to skip out on New York City
summers. Moreover, these trips were often funded as expeditions. The map to the right represents all of the localities that the Vauries collected plant bug specimens
during the D. Rockefeller Mexico
Expedition of 1953 (green pegs).
have been digitizing many species that were collected by her but were later
determined by other AMNH entomologists. This tells us that she collected for
the greater good of the field even though beetles were clearly her specialty.
The current, massive plant bug collection at AMNH does not solely exist because
of previous plant bug enthusiasts. Although such specialists have left a huge
impact, the enormity of the project is just as dependent on the previous work
of enthusiastic entomologists in general.
some of these plant bugs were collected without a clear objective, the
usefulness of these insects has only increased over time. Take the image of the
(light blue star) for example, it was collected is 1952 by Patricia Vaurie
and it sat until 2005 when M. D. Schwartz determined the specimen. Now, in
2014, it is available for digitization and has become a small piece of data in
a growing database.
References and Suggested
Herman, Lee H. "Patricia Vaurie: 1909-1982." The Coleopterists Bulletin 36.2 (1982): 453-57. JSTOR. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.
Ratcliffe, Brett. "PATRICIA VAURIE." PATRICIA VAURIE. University of Nebraska-Lincoln State Museum - Division of Entomology, 01 Jan. 1988. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.
Short, Lester L. "In Memoriam: Charles Vaurie." The Auk 93.3 (1976): 620-25. JSTOR. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/4084962?ref=search-gateway:7d6818bef46661b9ca5037987711093e>.
Maps built using google.maps.com and the Tri-Tropic Specimen Database.
Patricia Vaurie from her obituary in The Coleopterists Bulletin.
by Becky Fisher: TTTCN Intern and Masters candidate at Columbia University
in Museum Anthropology.
Olive Wiley is most widely known for her illustrious career as a fearless and
controversial snake collector. She frightened and informed her audiences by
demonstrating nurturing relationships with her snakes. Snakes and insects have
been associated with negative images of hypnotizing demons or filthy
infestations. Her closeness with snakes captures attention, to say the least, but
I think it also overshadowed her contributions to the field of entomology. This
article is an attempt to shed some light on her life, her specimens in the Tri-Trophic TCN project and the field of entomology before she
immersed herself in a world of herpetology exhibitionism.
Olive Wiley was born and raised in Chanute,
Kansas in 1883 on a farm. She attended the University of Kansas and achieved a bachelor degree in Entomology. She
worked as an entomologist at the University at a time when women struggled to
gain acceptance in scientific fields. The University of Kansas was unique. By 1867 they had already appointed their first (as well as one of the country's first) female professor, Cynthia A. Smith. In 1922, the Kansas University
Science Bulletin put out Wiley's Life History Notes on Two Species of Saldidae (Hemiptera) Found in Kansas. Her enthusiasm in the field was also recognized by her male academic advisors in Kansas. Her professor H. B. Hungerford wrote in The Life History of The Toad Bug, "The live insects supplied by Mrs. Wiley [from her home in Chanute] thus made possible the notes here reported, and I wish to acknowledge my gratitude to her for her kindness".
1923, Wiley became the curator of the Minneapolis
Public Library’s natural history museum. Although it is now defunct, this
position made her one of the first female zoo curators in the world. This was
also the year she announced her discovery of a new species of Rheumatobates from Texas in The Canadian Entomologist. She donated
her private collection of reptiles which included 150 species and 330
individuals to the zoo and her reputation as a reptile expert took off. She
quickly became the first person (man or woman) to successfully breed
rattlesnakes in captivity.
believed that deadly snakes could be tamed and she refused to use hooks or
other safety devices to handle them. Instead, she would gently stroke them and
speak to them (snakes are deaf). Her unorthodox
methods caused friction within the Zoo’s administrators. They
demanded that she stop handling the snakes even though they were her own collection. Although she was never bitten at the Zoo, she was gavin a choice to either use safety equipment or leave. Wiley left, took her
snakes with her and started a new job at the Brookfield Zoo outside of Chicago. This
new zoo wanted to display reptiles in a more natural setting. Their displays replicated the snakes' natural habitats and were big enough to hold multiple snakes at once. Before
then, it is was customary to keep reptiles in separate metal cages without any
stimulation. Yet again, Wiley’s habits of leaving the reptiles’ cases open caused problems between herself and the Director. She was fired after 19 venomous snakes escaped.
she packed up and moved. This time to Long Beach,
California where she established a roadside zoo relatively close to L. A. Her
snakes were featured in a few of the sensational movies of the time such as The Jungle Book, Trade Wind and Cobra
Woman. During filming she was always on set and appeared onscreen as a snake
charmer in the 1940 film Moon Over Burma. She charged 25 cents to join her, wander her roadside property and handle the snakes. She moved twice because neighbors complained. She had
been bitten many times and lost two fingers to her Komodo Dragon.
July 20, 1948 the renowned freelance journalist Daniel Mannix was visiting her
zoo to finish an interview and take some photos. While posing with one of her
new Indian Cobras, it bit her on her middle finger. Cobras have short fangs and
need to chew on their prey to transfer their venom. Unfortunately, the cobra
was able to chew on her finger for 30 seconds before Wiley was able to remove
it. She was 64 years old. She calmly put the snake back in its cage and told
the journalist to get her snakebite kit. Sadly, the kit was about 20 years old,
the syringes were corroded and the serums were broken or evaporated. Wiley fell
into a coma, was placed in an ambulance and died 65 minutes later at Long Beach
Municipal Hospital. The hospital only carried anti-venom serums for North
her unexpected death, Wiley had planned to sell her reptile collection to the
Griffith Park Zoo. However, her estate was not able to find a buyer. As a
result, her exotic collection was auctioned off bit by bit to the highest
bidders. Overall, it was worth $3,000. The Indian Cobra that fatally bit Wiley
was purchased by a man who displayed it as the “Lady-Killing Cobra” at a
tourist spot in Arizona.
career as an entomologist was relatively short but productive. So much of it can be overpowered by her mystical, dangerous and high-profile herpetology career. Yet, we are still reaping the benefits of her work in entomology today. The green pegs on the map represent the various locations from which plant bugs were collected by Grace Olive Wiley. These specimens are located in the AMNH collection, the United States National Museum of Natural History, the University of Massachusetts Museum, the Oregon State Arthropod Collection, the University of Minnesota at St. Paul and the University of Kansas.
References and Suggested Further Reading:
Maps built using google.maps.com and the Specimen Database
Photo of G. O. Wiley from http://www.chicagoherp.org/bulletin/41(Supplement).pdf
Article by Becky Fisher: TTTCN Intern and Masters candidate at Columbia University in Museum Anthropology.
While digitizing specimens in the collection, we gloss over thousands of
names of collectors worldwide. Although the main intention is to map and study the lives of the insects, we have wondered if we were also mapping the lives of
the collectors. This series is an opportunity to use the digitized collection to
map the lives of women who have contributed to the American Museum of
Natural History collection and the Tri-Trophic TCN project. Who were
they? What are their stories?
Like many entomologists at the time, Edith Marion Patch’s first
recorded interest was butterflies. In her senior year of high school she wrote
an essay about monarchs that won $25.00. With her prize money she purchased the
Manual for the Study of Insects written by John Henry Comstock and
illustrated by his wife, Anna Comstock. The Comstocks were entomologists at
Cornell University whom Patch would later befriend.
Edith Patch attended the University of Minnesota in 1897 and
graduated in 1901 with a Bachelor in Science. Despite her qualifications, she
couldn’t find a job in entomology so she took a position teaching English at a
high school in Minnesota for two years. Finally, in 1903, she was invited by
Dr. Charles D. Woods to organize a Department of Entomology in Orono, Maine. Today
UCBs Department contains digitized plant bugs collected by E.M. Patch in Orono,
Maine. Three specimens of Cryptomyzus
(Cryptomonyzis) ribis and five of Eirosoma
ulmi are currently in the database.
EM Patch 1916 - edithpatch.org
Initially, she wasn’t offered a salary and Dr. Woods was
“ridiculed for appointing a woman in a man’s field” (http://www.edithpatch.org/). To earn a
living wage, he arranged for Patch to teach English in the area while she
organized the Entomology department. Within a year, Patch had proven herself to her male coworkers, established the department and earned herself a salaried
For her masters degree she attended the University of Maine in 1910. Although a few websites say that Patch earned her PhD from
Columbia University, she actually attended Cornell University in 1911 for her
doctorate. At Cornell she became colleagues with the Comstocks.
In 1930, Patch
became the first female president elected to the Entomology Society of America.She was ahead of her time in the early 1900s. It is said
that she warned against the indiscriminate use of pesticides, such as DDT, forty
years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) was published. She was concerned about the devastating impact pesticides would have on songbirds amongst other
dangers. She was one of the original environmentalists and advocated for
education of the natural world, especially for children. Despite her busy career
in entomology, she also published books for children starring accurate, insect
characters. She retired to her home in Orono, “Braeside," in 1937 as “Entomologist Emeritus” and lived there until she passed away in 1954.
Check out her children’s literature: Hexapod
Stories, Bird Stories, Dame Bug and her Babies and Elm Leaf Curl and
Wooly Apple Aphid: http://amzn.to/1mf9OAc
The Tri-Tropic Database Thematic Collection Network recently finished up an exciting course about present best practices for specimen-level data management. The two-week Short Course on Biological Specimen Informatics (Specimen Short Course; syllabus and more information: tcn.amnh.org/home/specimen-course) was designed as a first introduction to biological informatics with early career graduates students in mind. The Specimen Short Course gathered individuals from 18 different institutions across the United States at the Richard Gilder Graduate School (American Museum of Natural History - rggs.amnh.org) in order to specifically address research specimen data capture issues through training, from the field to preserved collections. Instructors for the course were staff were Mike Bevins (Information Manager, NYBG), Christine Johnson (TTD co-PI, AMNH), Rob Naczi (TTD PI, NYBG), Randall Schuh (TTD PI, AMNH), Katja Seltmann (TTD Project Manager, AMNH), Steve Thurston (Image Specialist, AMNH), Melissa Tulig (TTD co-PI, NYBG), and Kim Watson (TTD Project Manager, NYBG).
Unarguably, biological research generates a great deal of specimen level data. These data can be complex and include familiar collection level data (the focus of many broad museum digitization efforts) as well as highly specific data depending on the research question/s. Researchers have the additional need of high accessibility to all of their data, either through bulk download, or by direct database access, in order to perform analysis. The results of early training for students is mutually beneficial, as improved specimen handling techniques facilitates research, and well-managed data according to community standards allows for greater dissemination of the end products. In order to create a workflow that fits their research needs, participants in the Short Course learned about, and worked on, projects with several tools including: Arthropod Easy Capture (sourceforge.net/projects/arthropodeasy), Specify (specifysoftware.org), ScratchPads (scratchpads.eu), SimpleMappr (simplemappr.net) and others. At the same time students gained valuable expertise mapping datasets to DarwinCore, manipulating data with Open Refine (openrefine.org), Excel, and MySQL.
Enabling students to manage research was one aspect of the Specimen Short Course. The second was to place these efforts in the context of the larger biodiversity informatics community. The course involved visiting research areas at the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Botanical Garden, allowing participants to gain a sense of what the various workflows at these institutions are like, as well as the collection requirements for vouchering specimens at the end of a research project. These experiences helped participants develop techniques and collecting protocols that they could use in their own research.
Imaging was another important component discussed as a means of data capture. At the New York Botanical Garden, participants in the course got hands-on experience photographing plant specimens. At AMNH, insect specimens were the focus. Participants got to see how high-quality images of small insects are taken, and visited the museum’s imaging lab to learn about the technology at work there. They also learned about how images could be incorporated into their databases to strengthen specimen records. As the course progressed participants began to plan how they will use databasing techniques and other resources discovered through the Specimen Short Course. Each participant brought some of his or her data to the course and began to develop a workflow that best matches their individual research needs. As a culmination of the course, each participant delivered a presentation on how they will continue to incorporate the techniques they had learned into their own research.
By the end of the course, each participant had gained not only a better understanding of specimen informatics techniques, but also a sense of how they could apply these techniques to their own research. The goal of the course was to train students in present best practices for specimen-level data management from the field to preserved collections, and how a specimen management plan can facilitate addressing research questions. The experiences they gained through the course will aid them in producing and making available datasets that will be of great use to them and countless other researchers.
Authors: Jeremy Frank (Short Course Participant) & Katja Seltmann (TTD Project Manager, AMNH)
With the three 17-year species of Magicicada from Brood II emerging this year in the eastern United States, the Staten Island Museum, co-founded by cicada expert William T. Davis (1862 – 1945), is focusing on making the most of this infrequent event. Their current temporary exhibition, "They're Baaack! Return of the 17-year Cicadas," along with planned workshops and nature walks, will inform visitors about these unique bugs in the coming months. This event happens to coincide with the our digitization of the cicada collection at the Staten Island Museum, which includes many specimens from previous emergences of Brood II, as well as the other broods of the 13 and 17-year cicadas. Posts on the Staten Island Museum's Tumblr and Blogspot sites offer information about local ecology and news about the museum, including their relation to the TTD.
Post by Alexander Bolesta: Database Assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, and Curatorial Assistant at the Staten Island Museum
One of the exciting aspects of the Tri-Trophic Database project is the cooperation that occurs between different institutions in the name of science. Each of the 30+ museums involved with the project offers a wealth of experience in addition to the diversity that comes from adding their collections to the database. Of these, the Staten Island Museum in New York City offers a cicada (family Cicadidae) collection of about 35,000 specimens: the second largest collection of cicadas in the world. Since cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera, this comprehensive collection is a perfect addition to the Tri-Trophic Database.
Staten Island Museum main entrance. Downloaded
Specimen collection room where the cicadas are housed at the
Staten Island Museum. Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.
The Staten Island Museum, previously the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences, and the Staten Island Association of Arts & Sciences, was founded in 1881 as the Natural Science Association of Staten Island by a group of 14 local naturalists who were concerned that overdevelopment would lead to the destruction of Staten Island’s natural history. By pooling their resources, these environmentalist pioneers were able to put together a collection worthy of drawing public attention, and, in 1908, the museum opened its doors. Associates of the museum have since kept a continuous record of the changing ecosystem and environment on Staten Island, while inspiring the creation of establishments including the Staten Island Zoo, Staten Island Historical Society, Staten Island Greenbelt, and the New York Botanical Garden. To this day, the Staten Island Museum carries out specimen acquisition and field work, in addition to special events like annual bird counts in conjunction with the Audubon Society.
Permanent natural history collection at the Staten Island Museum. Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.
The Staten Island Museum has been amassing a collection of specimens from the areas of natural science, art, and history since the days of the founders, and now boasts a collection of over half of a million specimens and pieces of art. One of the founders, William Thompson Davis, took a particular interest in the insects known as cicadas. Born in 1862 in New Brighton, Staten Island, Davis played a big role in the development of the Natural Science Association of Staten Island and its derivatives, despite being, for the most part, self-taught. His sense of wonder resulting from his study of cicadas can be seen most succinctly in his choice of name for the genus of 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas: Magicicada.
William T. Davis in the field. Downloaded
His efforts over half of a century resulted not only in the accumulation of the world’s second largest cicada collection, as noted above, but it led to him formally describing over half of the known species of cicada in North America. As a result, the Staten Island Museum’s cicada collection includes many of the type specimens that were used by Davis as the official examples of these species. During his career, Davis was published extensively in the Journal of the New York Entomological Society, and even held positions there as treasurer and as delegate to the New York Academy of Sciences. Davis passed away in 1945, leaving behind an impressive list of accomplishments. In 1955, the 51 acre New Springfield Bird Sanctuary that was created in 1933 thanks to efforts by Davis and the National Audubon Society was expanded to 260 acres and was renamed the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge: a fitting dedication to one of New York City’s premier naturalists.
Sample from the William T. Davis Collection of Cicadas.
Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.
Abbott, Mabel. The Life of William T. Davis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1949. Print.
"Collections: Natural Science Collection." Staten Island Museum. N.p.. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/RV8kwn
Davis, William. Days afield on Staten Island. New York: L.H. Biglow & Co., 1892. Print. <http://bit.ly/TCLebD
Davis, William. North American cicadas. 1. New York: Society Quarterly, 1921. eBook. <http://bit.ly/UAqZC2
"Freshkills Park." Official New York City Web Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/X37UtG
Journal of the New York Entomological Society. 30. New York: Society Quarterly, 1922. eBook. <http://bit.ly/TXFdL2
Journal of the New York Entomological Society. 31. New York: Society Quarterly, 1923. eBook. <http://bit.ly/TXFdL2
Pratt, Jr., George O., G. K. Schneider, and Mathilde P. Weingartner. "The William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge and its Environs." Proceedings of the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences. 24.2 (1969): n. page. Print.
"Staten Island Museum." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 09 Oct 2012. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/TCLlUp
"William T. Davis." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 03 Feb 2012. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/SYVJcZ
Zelasnic, Laura. "Records of the Herbarium (RG 4) CHARLES ARTHUR HOLLICK RECORDS (1873-1979)." The New York Botanical Garden. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/TGApqY
Article by Alexander Bolesta: Database Assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, and Curatorial Assistant at the Staten Island Museum
Here at the University of Minnesota Herbarium (J.F. Bell
Museum of Natural History), we have reached our first milestone – we have
finished photographing our first plant family, the Pinaceae (almost 1200
Anita F. Cholewa, Curator of the UM Herbarium (MIN) and Hannah Conley in front of their digitization light box and workstation.
The Pinaceae also will probably be our most difficult. Since pines produce thickened bulky cones,
these were often removed from the branches during the collecting stage to make
filing in the museum more efficient, but it now meant cones had to be reunited
with their branches, both barcoded, and both photographed. Given the thickness of some cones, this
was not always an easy task.
(Pinus lambertiana, sugar pine, branch and cone)
Additionally, spruces and hemlocks have a tendency to lose
their needles upon drying, leaving specimens looking like winter collections of
plant skeletons. Thankfully
most needles are captured during the drying stage and kept in small packets
attached to the specimens, but the flip side required us to remove some of
these needles so they could be photographed with the branch skeletons.
Although a difficult and time-consuming group of plants, the
Pinaceae also included some interesting specimens. Among our Minnesota plants was a collection of Tsuga canadensis (Canadian hemlock) that
consisted of a cross-section through the trunk of the most northwestern and
isolated population in the state.
And because our specimen database includes numerous collections from
national parks and adjacent states these were also photographed. These included historical
collections by Joseph Whipple Congdon from Yosemite, among the earliest
botanists collecting in that region.
canadensis, Canadian hemlock; right: Congdon collection of Pinus albicaulis, whitebark pine)
Article by Anita F. Cholewa, Curator of the UM Herbarium (MIN)
During our digitizing work, one name that we come across quite often on specimen tags is L. B. Woodruff, or just the initials L.B.W. This is Lewis Bartholomew Woodruff, a prominent collector from the New York area. Woodruff was born in New York City on January 1, 1868 into a distinguished family of lawyers and politicians; his grandfather, with whom he shared a name, had been a U.S. Circuit Court judge nominated by President Ulysses S. Grant. Previous members of the Woodruff family founded towns in Farmington and Litchfield, Connecticut. Like his father and grandfather before him, Woodruff attended Columbia Law School, and received his degree from New York Law. After being admitted to the New York Bar in 1893, he joined the practice of Hornblower, Byrne, Miller & Potter, where he stayed until 1917. In the meantime, he married his wife, Helen, in 1904.
In 1919, Woodruff was able to concentrate fully on his natural science research and studies. He was considered an expert in both ornithology and entomology. His scientific memberships included the American Ornithological Union, the Entomological Society of Ontario, the New York Entomological Society (president in 1918, 1919, and 1920), the Academy of Science of the State of New York, and the Linnean Society of New York (treasurer 1902-1921). Much of his collection, which we are now encountering as part of the Tri-Trophic Thematic Collections project, focused on the fauna of the Atlantic seaboard. Woodruff was also sent by the AMNH on a three-month entomological survey to the Virgin Islands in 1925.
In addition to having a desk at the AMNH, Woodruff contributed to the Leng's Catalogue of the Coleoptera of North America and published numerous papers. He is listed in our TCN database as the author of over 15 species of treehoppers, mostly in the Cyrtolobus and Ophiderma genera. The New York State Museum holds the type specimen for Cyrtolobus parvulus, described in 1924 (Jour. N.Y. Ent. Soc. 32:31). One species, Cyrtolobus helena (now known as Atymna helena) was likely named after his wife.
Helen Woodruff died in 1924, and Lewis Bartholomew Woodruff died one year later at the age of 57. He left behind a body of work and a collection that is still being studied by entomologists today. A selection of his publications is listed below.
Many thanks to Dr. Lewis Deitz at North Carolina State University for the information on L.B. Woodruff.
L. B. 1915a Woodruff, Louis Bartolomew. 1915. A new membracid
from New York. (Homop.). Jour. New York Entomol. Soc. 23:44-47.
[Cyrtolobus helena n. sp.] Special
Collections call no.: MC 220.226
Woodruff, L. B. 1919a Woodruff, Lewis Bartolomew. 1919. A review
of our local species of the membracid genus Ophiderma Fairm. (Hemipt.
-Homop.). Jour. New York Entomol. Soc. 27:249-260. Plate(s): 23.
[Key to species of this genus; several n.
spp.] Special Collections call no.: MC 220.226
Woodruff, L. B. 1920a Woodruff, Lewis Bartolomew. 1920. Further
notes on the membracid genus Ophiderma Fairm. (Hemip. -Homop.). Jour.
New York Entomol. Soc. 28:212-214. [Describes the male of O.
grisea.] Special Collections call no.: MC 220.226
Woodruff, L. B. 1923a Woodruff, Lewis Bartolomew. 1923.
Supplementary notes on Ophiderma Fairm. (Hemip.-Homop.). Jour. New
York Entomol. Soc. 31:188-190. Special Collections call no.: MC
Woodruff, L. B. 1924a Woodruff, Lewis Bartolomew. 1924. Critical observations in the membracid genus Cyrtolobus Goding.
If you ever enjoyed collecting insects as a kid, you probably put some in a jar and watched them fight. It seems only in keeping with the rules of the natural kingdom that insects of differing species would try to eat one another. But if you think that the spirit of cooperation is a uniquely human trait, you might be surprised to learn about the relationships between certain treehoppers and ants.photo credit: Yon Visell
Pictured above are a treehopper, Thelia bimaculata, and an ant from the collection. This hopper is common in the United States east of the Mississippi River, as well as in Canada. It makes its home on the Black Locust tree, which has been widely planted around the country. Treehoppers like these are a common sight around the TTD-TCN office, but the ant is unusual and intriguing.
The reason these two different insects have been pinned together is because of the mutualistic relationship that they share. In mutualism, two organisms cooperate so that they both benefit. This is opposed to parasitism, in which one-organism benefits and the other is harmed, or the rarer commensalism, in which one organism benefits and the other is neither benefited nor harmed.
Thelia bimaculata, like many other treehoppers, may use its unusual thorn-like appearance to blend in with their host plant and avoid predators. However, this may not always be enough to protect the treehopper colonies. In this case, they are protected by ants. These ants will surround the treehoppers, eliminating predators on the Black Locust trees that would otherwise eat the colony. With the pressure of predation diminished, the treehoppers are free to feed and reproduce as they please, causing the population to grow.
In exchange for the protection, the treehoppers allow the ants to collect a reward. This reward takes the form of a nutritious sugary substance called honeydew that the hoppers secrete. As anybody who’s been on a picnic can tell you, ants enjoy sweet substances, and they will vigilantly defend the hoppers so that they can harvest honeydew. This also has a secondary benefit for the hoppers, as the excess buildup of honeydew is harmful to them. In this manner, both the treehopper and the ant benefit and have a greater chance of survival than they would alone.
The insect world is fascinating and surprising, and the distinctive partnership between the treehoppers and ants is just one aspect of it. As we continue to digitize the plant bug collections, we will gain a better understanding of their place in the ecosystem.
Treehoppers (Aetalionidae, Melizoderidae, and Membracidae)
Morales, M. A.
Survivorship of an ant-tended membracid as a function of ant recruitment. 2000 Oikos 90: 469–476.