Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Beetles on the Ground

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beetles—the Group Everyone Knows

Ground (carabid) beetles typically hide by day under logs, or among rocks by the edge of ponds and rivers. The shiny black or metalic backs of these predators dart across the soil surface while we are asleep. Some reach sizes of 30mm while others (in relation to their body length) are among the fastest land animals on Earth. Have you spotted them?

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2012-2013 public lecture series, Nature Beneath Our Feet, continues with the second presentation October 18, “My Favourite Insect Group—Ground Beetles (Carabidae).” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

This month’s lecture will be presented by Dr. Henri Goulet, research scientist emeritus with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Henri will give us a tour of the diversity and beauty of his favouite group of insects, which will be generously illustrated with species found in Lanark County.

Not surprisingly, the formative years of many great biologists, such as Charles Darwin, included the study of beetles. Beetles are easy to recognise and are attractive subjects for study. The 350 million species worldwide are found from pole to pole. There are more named species of beetles than there are named species of any other group.

Ground (carabid) beetles, in particular, contribute 1,700 species to the insect fauna of North America. Typically they hide by day under logs, or among rocks by the edge of ponds and rivers. The shiny black or metalic backs of these predators dart across the soil surface while we are asleep. Their diet varies wildly from the insides of snail shells to springtails (the hopping “black specks” on the snow on mild winter days). Some reach sizes of 30mm while others (in relation to their body length) are among the fastest land animals on Earth. Have you spotted them?

Consider just one amazing group of ground beetles—bombardier beetles. These bluish or black little beetles, with reddish-yellow legs, are like skunks of the insect world. When threatened, they point the tip of their abdomen toward the intruder and release a blast of hot (100oC), caustic chemicals. The beetle’s abdomen acts like a two-chambered gun. When the chemicals are mixed with enzymes, heat and oxygen are produced and the material is explosively propelled from the anus with a notable pop.

It is easy to understand why Dr. Goulet fell in love with ground beetles and would like to share his repertoire of intriguing beetle secrets in his MVFN presentation, “My Favourite Insect Group—Ground Beetles (Carabidae),” at 7:30p.m. on Thurs. Oct. 18, 2012, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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Fun with Soils at Inaugural MVFN Lecture

Thursday, Sept 20, 2012

 The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2012-2013 public lecture series, Nature Beneath Our Feet, begins September 20 with its inaugural presentation, “Lanark County Soils FUNdamentals.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

 The opening lecture will be presented by David Kroetsch from the Canadian Soil Information Service in Ottawa. This service publishes soils data, maps and reports; Canadian soil science methods and standards; and maps of soils showing their properties and suitability/capability for various uses. David has taught the soils section of the Lanark Envirothon, an environmental training program for high school students, for the last 10 years. Just this summer, David was out in the field studying our county soils. What did he learn?

 Natural landscapes—typically we think of landscapes as vegetated trrain over varying topography, but soils can also be described as landscapes. David will take us beneath the surface for a tour of the county’s soil landscapes. What would the early settlers give to be in the audience?

 Soils contribute tremendously to biodiversity by providing plant and animal habitat. Did you know that the total mass of living organisms below-ground generally equals or exceeds what we see above-ground and that biodiversity is greater in the soil than it is on the surface by orders of magnitude? A handful of grassland soil, for example, will typically support tens of thousands of different single-celled organisms, such as bacteria, and hundreds of other species.

 Our well-being depends on the nature of our soils. For example, they provide us with food and fibres. They store, filter and transform nutrients, substances and water. They provide a source of raw materials, regulate climate, and archive geological and archaeological history. What has new research regarding the relationships between soils and climate change, greenhouse gases, and carbon sequestration uncovered?

 Soil is a natural resource. What are the soil conservation issues in our area, who is responsible for monitoring soil condition, and how is that being done? Are there any citizen science soil-related programs that we should know about? Ask David.

 Go beyond soil as the brown stuff in the garden or the residue tracked onto your kitchen floor. Develop an appreciation for Lanark County’s soils, their diversity, and the important role they played in our settlement history by attending David Kroetsch’s MVFN presentation, “Lanark County Soils Fundamentals,” at 7:30p.m on Thurs. Sept. 20, 2012, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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