by Leo Frampton
Purchase College undergraduate, Environmental Studies major
Hello to all the bug nerds, bird lovers, friends, family, and people reading this who represent various combinations of those categories! My name is Leo and I am happy to send out my first blog post to all of you. I would have gotten to it sooner, but I’ve been spending a fair amount of time clinching tiny bugs with thin metal tweezers and trying to gracefully drop the specimens into a labeled ziplock bag. Doesn’t always work.
Maine is stunning in its raw and rugged elegance. Waves crash against cliffs which jut out from spruce-covered shores. Rocky mountains tower over coast lines. Although I’ve clearly done my fair share of sightseeing while here, there is a reason I am working on this project which is even more important to me than ecotourism: getting the chance to study phenology.
Even if you don’t know what phenology is, I am sure you have noticed phenology happen around you. Here is a list of ways you may have observed the phenology of an organism:
You may have:
To notice these events is to observe phenology. It is the study of how organisms’ habits or appearances change in different temperatures, climates, and seasons.
In these beautiful surroundings, I have been lucky enough to study both bugs and (for a day) trees. I got to help out at the nearby Schoodic Institute on a project comparing the growth of native Maine trees to non-native species within a series of different spots on a mountain. The researchers are documenting when the trees sprouted from the ground, when the leaves unfurled, and the differences in height. Comparing the timing of these growth events may give them an idea of what may happen when climate change causes Maine to become drier and hotter because some of the sites on the mountain have these conditions.
Above is Matt and an intern from Schoodic Institute working on the aforementioned tree project. Notice how the garden is organized into small squares of string (like a graph.) In each square, a single species of tree is planted about 25 times
Our bug project has many focuses (mercury contamination, the involvement of citizen scientists, etc…), one of which is the phenology of insects which are born as swimming freshwater larvae and transform into flying species. A famous example of these insects is the Dragonfly, which lives underwater for quite a while before its wings are finished growing and it leaves its aquatic dwelling for good. A skinnier and similarly charismatic species is the damselfly, slender and shiny as it hovers around ponds glinting in the sun. Famous also is the elusive mayfly species, which spends most of its life in the water and then in a blaze of glory flies into the air for about two days to mate before passing away. My question is: when do these insects leave the water, and what are some factors which may influence the timing of these ‘emergence’ events?
The week of July 8th I checked the traps in our Gilmore Marsh site and found about twenty tiny green flies in each (not sure yet what they are). The next week when we went back I had one to two full grown damselflies (they’re just about the size of dragonflies) in all five traps! And so, if someone was to go back the next summer, they would likely look to see if there is a single week in July where a burst of damselflies emerge from Gilmore Marsh.
If we can figure out patterns like these, it is possible that local birds which feed on these flying specimens have understood these same emergence patterns for years. Perhaps a bird at Gilmore, particularly fond of Damselflies, can feel in its gut that it’s the time of the summer when the big juicy damselflies fill the air near the marsh. A July feast.
Weather factors such as temperature may be a driving force which influences when these insects fly from the water. Their emergence is a process which will hopefully be watched for years to come in Acadia as temperatures and weather conditions change due to carbon emissions. By examining the yearly cycles of these insects, we may better understand another gear in the complex machinery of our local ecosystems. I still cannot believe my luck that I have the chance to be a part of such a cool project (thanks to my Professor)!
Here’s to learning something new every day!