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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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Cyrtolobus fuscipennis specimen from our collections at the AMNH was collected exactly one hundred years ago today! This female was collected from an oak tree by Lewis B. Woodruff in Litchfield, Connecticut, the locality from which the holotype of the species (Van Duzee 1908) was collected.
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d discover the process of collection digitization with the digitizers themselves.
Even as we bring the plant bug
collection into the modern age through digitization, it is important not to
forget the collectors of the past. Their endless devotion to the study and
appreciation of insects helped to build up the American Museum of Natural History's insect collection into a
world-class resource containing millions of specimens.
Each insect in the collection has a
tag which indicates the location where it was collected and who collected it,
among other information. As many of these specimens were collected half a
century ago or longer it can be easy to forget that each one was collected by
an entomologist with a unique story to tell. This entry focuses on one
particular collector whose name continually reappears in our mirid and
membracid collection as we carry out the digitization effort.
Annie Trumbull Slosson made
innumerable contributions to the field of entomology in addition to botany and
fiction. Born in 1838, her interest in biology began early with a passion for
botany. Although this interest in natural sciences originated when she was
young, her studies in entomology did not begin until she was 48 years old. Once
she began, however, she quickly amassed a notable insect collection containing
many rare or newly discovered species including specimens from areas where she
was among the first collectors. In doing so she earned the respect of her
colleagues, though she had no formal training in the field. In fact she was so prolific in her collecting
that close to 100 species of insects have been named in honor of her.Zethus slossonae
,one of the many insects named for Annie Trumbull Slosson.
(Photo Credit:Sean McCann, under Creative Commons from Flickr.com)
In July 1892, the New York Society
of Entomologists was formed. A few months later, Annie Trumbull Slosson became
the first woman to join the society. At the time, women were mostly excluded
from science and she recalled how the men of the Society had “startled,
embarrassed faces” upon her first arrival.
She herself was unfazed, and in just a few minutes “all were at our
ease.” She was an influential member of the society, writing the first article
for the first issue of the society’s journal and donating rare specimens to
their fundraising auctions. The society
often met in her home and later she arranged for meetings to be held here at
In addition to writing in the
Journal of the New York Entomological Society, Slosson had articles published in
virtually all of the entomological journals of the day as well as several
botanical journals. She was well known for this work but also for an entirely
different kind of writing as well. She was a prolific author and was well known for her short stories. Humorously, fans of
her stories were mostly unaware of her scientific pursuits and were often
startled when they visited and found her shelves filled with boxes of insects
rather than books.
Her dual passions for science and
literature enhanced each other rather than conflicting. Her stories were filled
with rich details from the natural world, while her scientific papers were
praised for their entertaining and fascinating style. She believed that
literature and entomology were complimentary, and commented that each made “a
good running mate for the other.”
Annie Trumbull Slosson passed away
in 1926, but her work lives on. It remains in her numerous published papers and stories as well as in the AMNH collection, to which she donated her 35,000 insect specimens. It
also remains as we remember her today, as a pioneering scientist and author who
shared her boundless love and enthusiasm for nature with the world.
“Annie Trumbull Slosson”, Wikipedia.com
“A Short History of the Society”,
New York Entomological Society.
Davis, Wm. T. “Annie Trumbull
Slosson.” Journal of the New York Entomological Society, 34, 1926.
Slosson, A.T. “Entomology and
Literature.” Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society, Volume 11, 1916.
Slosson, A.T. “Reminisces of The
Early Days of the New York Entomological Society.” Journal of The New York
Entomological Society, Volume 26, 1918.
To celebrate the milestone of the
first batch of plant bugs being digitized, here's a closer look at the
digitizers who made it possible and continue to work hard on the second batch!
Juan Pablo (foreground) and Nat (background) Juan Pablo
A little bit about yourself:
“I’m from Guatemala, originally. I really like working here at the museum because I feel this is one of those jobs where you’re building something, creating something. Most of the jobs I see out there on the street are hurting the world, they’re hurting us as a species, and I think this is one of the ones which is doing the opposite, it’s helping.”
Favorite part of working on the project:
“I have to be honest, it’s kinda selfish but it was always a dream of mine to work in the museum.”
A little bit about yourself:
“I’m a digitizer. Being that there’s so many people working on this project from other museums as well, there’s a lot of going back over things and making sure everything jives. I’ve been doing a bit of that sort of overseeing in addition to the bug cataloging. I think it’s a project where at first, when people hear about it they say “What usefulness does that have?”, but once you actually explain we’re cataloging the bugs and the parasites and the plants, they realize insect study is helpful. There are a lot of questions people will be able to ask with our data.”
Favorite part of working on the project:
“I like learning new things. Learning the biology, that’s pretty cool. And the museum itself, which is frankly my favorite place in New York. Never thought I’d actually get to work here. And this is kinda silly, I guess, but I really like when tourists see my tag and ask for directions or say “I really enjoyed your museum!"
Signe (left) and Elaine (right)
A little bit about yourself:
“I’m currently working on a master’s degree in Anthropology. I have a BA in archeology. Before I was working on this project in Invertebrate Zoology, I started off volunteering at the museum in collections at Paleontology, and as an intern in the fossil prep lab. I’ve always wanted to work in the Natural History
Favorite part of working on the project:
“I really like working with collections, and I think that research that comes out of collections is a really important thing. We’re making all this data available for people all around the world to study, and I’m really happy to be a part of that."
A little bit about yourself:
“I’m one of the databasers here. I’ve been here since March. Katja and I are both musicians, so that’s how I ended up finding out about the project.”
Favorite part of working on the project:
“I’m really interested in information mining, both creative and logistical things that can be done with large amounts of digital information. It just fascinates me that once this data is entered, on a theoretical level, a practical level, a policy level, what can come out of this information."
Here at the TTD-TCN office at AMNH, we’ve just finished digitizing our first batch of bugs! This milestone in the project marks the digitization of over 9000 individual insect specimens. The data from this batch joins information on other bugs, their plant hosts, and their parasites from over 35 institutions, bringing us closer to our goal of creating a unique and useful resource on these economically and ecologically important bugs.
When most people hear the word bug, they think of it as a catchall term for insects, and maybe even some arachnids too. But the word also has another more specific meaning. When we say we’re creating a database of bugs, we’re talking about the insects in the group Heteroptera. One of the largest groups within the Heteroptera are Hemiptera, often known as the plant bugs. Hemiptera have needle-like mouths and many have wings that are half leathery and half membrane-like.
(Photo Credit:Brad Smith, under Creative Commons from Flickr.com)
Entomologists, researchers who study insects, refer to some insects in the order Hemiptera as plant bugs because they have mouthparts adapted to pierce plants and suck out the nutritious juices inside. This makes some species serious crop pests. For example, many plant bugs favor legumes like beans or peanuts as a food source. While they drain these important crops of their nutrients the bugs may transfer disease from one plant to another. The plants that these insects live and feed on are referred to as their hosts. Some of these hosts, like legumes, are an important food source for humans as well. In order to better understand the interactions between these bugs and their plant hosts the database also includes images and data from plant collections, focusing on those species known to be hosts to plant bugs. This effort will enable critical agricultural studies of the relationships between plant bugs and plants to be carried out.
In addition to the plant bugs and their host plants, the database also stores information on plant bug parasites as well. These small wasps use the unsuspecting plant bugs as a key part of their life cycle. In order for these wasps to reproduce and thrive, they must lay their eggs on or in a plant bug. Once the wasp egg hatches the newly born wasp larvae begins the slow work of consuming the doomed plant bug. Eventually, the plant bug perishes and the wasp reaches adulthood ready to continue the cycle. Because some species of plant bugs are pests these parasitic wasps can be considered a natural control
method to limit their numbers. This plant bug/parasitoid interaction makes understanding their life cycle, along with the life cycle of plant bugs, of considerable agricultural and economic interest in addition to scientific interest.
The addition of this first batch of specimens to the database is an important step closer to the overall goal and these data will undoubtedly prove useful in the future.