Ramp traps: A simple design

Together with a group of undergraduate students, I am comparing the trapping efficiency of standard pitfall cups and ramp traps. Preliminary results suggest that the ramp traps perform quite well. They catch a similar diversity of insects and don’t trap as many non-target critters like lizards and salamanders. But, we are still sorting and identifying samples from the Hopland Bioblitz, where we ran the traps, so I don’t have the final word yet.

 

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Trap components- Left to right, sheet metal flashing square; a pair of ramps; modified pipette tip box trap

 

The basic trap components are shown in the image above. The ramps are made from 5x7in sheet-metal flashing (on left) that you can buy at a hardware store in packs of 10. It would be cheaper to cut your own, but then you have to cut a lot of sheet metal, which is a hassle. For me, the precut pieces are worth it. Each ramp (in middle) has the sides bent up about 3/8in and a small tab cut and bent (image below) so that it fits and is held in the notch in the box. The box (on right) is a standard, empty pipette tip box with a notch cut out of each side. The lid is a handy, snap-on rain shield.

 

The sheet metal is slippery and so to make it rough and easy for insects to climb up, the inner surface of the ramp is painted with a mixture of metal priming paint and clean playground sand.

Assembled, the trap looks like the images above. When set up the field propylene glycol is put in the box. When you place the trap, be sure to push the ends of the ramps down into the dirt or leaf litter so that insects will walk right up the ramp and not go under it.

Building the traps takes more work than just going to the store and buying cups, but in the field, there is no digging, which means they can be set up quickly and easily. In the paper based on our study, we will explore in detail the pros and cons of each trap style, but it seems clear that ramp traps have a place in our standard insect collecting kit.

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Ramp v. Pitfall

Part of the Hopland Bioblitz effort is comparing two styles of traps for ground active arthropods, ramp traps and pitfall traps. There is a lot more sorting and identifying to do, but the tenebrionid catch visually appears to tell us something. Just in terms of absolute numbers of tenebrionid beetles, the ramp (R) traps did about the same as the pitfalls (PF) for habitats 1-4. Habitat 5 looks different.

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Samples from Hopland REC. Ramp traps (R) and Pitfall traps (PF) from sites 1-4.

 

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Hopland REC’s blind silverfish brought to light at the bioblitz

 

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An immature, blind soil-dwelling silverfish (Zygentoma: Nicoletiidae) found at Hopland REC. (about 6mm long) Photo by Joyce Gross.

 

The recent Hopland Bioblitz was a chance to really dig in and sample insects. One exciting find was a wee beastie in a family of silverfish that is very little-known in California. These blind soil-dwellers were only recently recognized from the state when a new species was described from Mt. Diablo just two years ago [1]! Three specimens were found during the bioblitz effort appear to be another undescribed species (see image above). Two individuals were first collected in buried traps and the third was found by searching under rocks at night in a cool gully on the property.

We continue to sort and identify the insects and spiders collected during the bioblitz and expect to report  more new records and new species.

Espinasa, L. and Botelho, J.  (2014) A New Species of Speleonycta (Insecta: Zygentoma) from the Bay Area of San Francisco, California. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 127(2): 335-339.

p.s. I want to mention I collected two nicoletiids at Mangini Ranch near Mt. Diablo in 2013 in buried traps but didn’t know their significance at the time.

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Participate in our bioblitz online

Please share: You can participate remotely!

Our big Hopland scientific bioblitz is this weekend (9-10 April, with some events on the 8th) and I look forward to seeing some of you there. If you can’t make it to HREC, there are many ways you can remotely help us and check out what is happening all weekend long.

HELP US OUT. http://www.inaturalist.org/ Many people will be using iNaturalist to make and share observations. Helping out the effort is easy. Look for observations at the iNaturalist site by searching for “Hopland” in the “Projects” pulldown menu and choose “Hopland Research Extension Center”. Once there, you can browse the plants and animals needing identification and needing confirmation. Every identification counts toward our goal of massively increasing the knowledge of the HREC’s flora and fauna.

VOTE ON IMAGES. http://www.hoplandbioblitz.org/ We are hosting an image contest for the plants and animals of HREC. Great prizes will be given for images that get the most votes(REI gift cards and a GoPro grand prize!). Please visit the site and vote for your favorites frequently during the weekend and share them and then sit back and what the slide show.

CHECK US OUT. http://geoportal.ucanr.edu/# Our new app will graphically show you our progress for the bioblitz observations. Results will be updated every 15 minutes. See how your favorite groups are doing in the challenge to document as many species as possible.

Look for #HoplandBioblitz on Twitter and Instagram

Follow along on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HoplandREC/

 

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Two Ph.D. student positions available at UCB and SDSU

Students will be team members in an NSF-funded multidisciplinary research project: The Genetic Basis, Biosynthetic Pathways and Evolution of Geadephagan Chemical Defense that includes collaborations among researchers at UC, Berkeley; San Diego State University; University of Arizona; and Steven’s Institute of Technology.

The Will Lab, ESPM Department and Essig Museum of Entomology, University of California, Berkeley, is seeking a graduate student interested in working on understanding the function and evolution of defensive chemistry in Adephagan beetles with a preference for students with a master’s degree and a background or strong interest in insect chemical ecology, molecular biology and phylogenetics. This student could start as soon as fall 2016 if he/she makes the 1 Dec 2015 application deadline (http://ourenvironment.berkeley.edu/graduate-programs/admissions/), but if not filled in 2016, this and additional positions may be open in 2017.

The Renner Lab, Evolutionary Biology, San Diego State University, is searching for a graduate student with a background or strong interest in molecular evolution, phylogenetics, and bioinformatics. This student could start as early as fall 2016 if he/she makes the December 14th priority deadline (http://www.bio.sdsu.edu/eb/jdapplications.html), but if not filled in 2016, this position may be open in 2017.

Short project  summary (see also this post)

Geadephaga is the largest clade of organisms that use a single homologous gland system to produce no less than 19 distinct classes of chemical compounds for defense. This project will develop a detailed functional and evolutionary understanding of defensive chemistry evolution by focusing on eight species from the four lineages of quinone producing carabid beetles, including four species commonly known as the bombardier beetles, which chemically blast their defensive quinones at extremely hot temperatures (up to 100 °C). Using a multidisciplinary approach, this project will identify and comparatively examine transcriptomes for genes involved in quinone production, elucidate chemical biosynthetic pathways, and describe the genetic architecture of quinone evolution. From gland-specific transcripts candidate genes related to the production of defensive secretions will be identified and gene function will be validated experimentally by blocking gene transcription and looking phenotypic changes in compounds produced and transcription activity in the chemical secretory cells. Biosynthetic pathways of quinones will be confirmed by injection of labeled amino acid precursors and analysis of compounds produced in the beetles’ glands. In order to study the evolutionary history of quinone biosynthesis in carabids we will infer the phylogenetic history of candidate gene families and the tree topology and branch lengths will be analyzed to test whether genes are ancient and shared among taxa, or if gene diversification is recent and specific to certain lineages. We will test the hypothesis that the genes up-regulated in secretory cells during quinone synthesis are closely related to those involved in quinone production in arthropod cuticle. Thus the project will empirically address the well-known, but untested, scenario of how the bombardier beetle evolved its explosive defense abilities. With the bombardier beetle as a model, the project will help develop elementary school level lesson plans on topics in chemical ecology and biological chemical defense evolution that will reinforce the Next Generation Science Standards. Additional outreach materials will be produced including a high-quality children’s book and web-based resources will be produced that target the prevalent misinformation about bombardier beetle evolution found online.

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DIY, heavy-duty, weather-proof UV light and photo-switch system

Perhaps you are like me and need to run a UV light for insects even when it rains, or especially when it rains (think rain beetles). I have chewed through a bunch of the off the shelf UV lights over the years because they are not made to get wet. Neither the ballast nor the photoelectric switch from BioQuip is designed to be exposed to rain. Plastic bags and duct tape can only do so much.

At lest BioQuip is up front about the limits of their gear.

At lest BioQuip is up front about the limits of their gear. “Protect from dampness?” When am I not damp in the field?

Given my need for a ‘rain or shine light,’ I looked at the kind of materials used in off-road vehicles, marine applications and home, 12 volt solar systems to see what was being used to run lights that must stand up to the elements day in and day out.

The system I built has a number of advantages over the pre-made systems; 1. minimum 16 gauge wire for better flow of current and less heat, 2. fully sealed aluminum circuit box protects the ballast from water and acts as a heat sink, 3. in-line fuse protects ballast from over amping, 4. the marine-grade photoelectric switch is completely weather proof.

The cost of materials is very similar to the pre-made systems, with the DIY one a bit cheaper ($115 v. $134).

Itemized list of items needed to make the UV light system w/switch and costs compared to standard BioQuip equivalent. Shipping and tax not included in prices.

Itemized list of what is needed to make the UV light system w/switch and the costs compared to the standard BioQuip equivalent. Shipping and tax not included in prices.

The BioQuip light + switch system is smaller and lighter. If you need light weight for a long hike then this is not the design for that. If you use cheaper materials you can make a very basic fair weather light cheaper still, but you get what you pay for. There is the advantage that when you buy a system you don’t spend the time and effort to build it and if it fails you might be able to return it for repair or replacement (But not if you leave it out in the rain. Remember “protect from dampness.”)

But if you like to DIY then here is some more information that can help you see how I built mine.

The complete system looks like this. The numbers refer to items in the table above. The wires are quite short for my application, but given the gauge they could be much long and still work very well.

The complete system looks like this. The numbers refer to items in the table above. The wires are quite short for my application, but given the gauge they could be much long and still work very well.

This shows the circuit box with the ballast mounted inside. The red 'a' indicates where I drilled a hole to run the wires through the external mounting holes. This was then filled with marine-grade silicon sealant (10).

This shows the circuit box with the ballast mounted inside. The red ‘a’ indicates where I drilled a hole to run the wires through the external mounting holes. This was then filled with marine-grade silicon sealant (10).

In order to hold the ballast firmly in the circuit box I made a small clip out of sheet aluminum (c) and used the tab on the ballast (a) to hold one end and the internal grounding screw (b) to mount it to the box.

In order to hold the ballast firmly in the circuit box I made a small clip out of sheet aluminum (c) and used the tab on the ballast (a) to hold one end and the internal grounding screw (b) to mount it to the box.

The photoswitch (4) was mounted using one of the box's external mounting hole and the wires were run out the other. Marine-grade silicon sealant (10) was used to seal around the wire exit hole.

The photoswitch (4) was mounted using one of the box’s external mounting holes and the wires were run out the other. Marine-grade silicon sealant (10) was used to seal around the wire exit hole.

The end of the tubes fit perfectly into a cut off standard 50ml centrifuge tube that was drilled for the wires (b). The ends then are wrapped in shot sections of the tube mesh cover and secured with a zip-tie (11).

The end of the tubes fit perfectly into a cut off standard 50ml centrifuge tube that was drilled for the wires (b). The ends then are wrapped in short sections of the tube mesh cover and secured with a zip-tie (11).

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Nevada Carabids: Part 5: Death March to Dead Lake and Heading West

See also part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Day 5 – June 13, 2015 [by Riva Madan]

Another storm brewing on the horizon.

Another storm brewing on the horizon.

         Our last day going out in the field at GBNP. We started off by picking up all the traps we had put out. Unfortunately, with the fairly cool weather and scattered rains, many of our ramp traps weren’t that successful; in some we got nothing, others only a bunch of ants. The only common beetles were more Pterostichus, lots of Calathus and Tenebrionidae.

Ramp traps. Beetle activity wasn't a high as we hoped.

Ramp traps. Beetle activity wasn’t as high as we hoped.

After all our trap samples were picked up we went on an adventurous hike to Dead Lake, a small lake well off the main trails and one that we were told dries up in the summer. Given it had been a dry year it may already not be a lake, rather a dead lake, as it is appropriately named.

Hey, Kip. Are you sure you know where you are going?

Hey, Kip. Are you sure you know where you are going?

The road along Snake Creek toward the lake was not open to the public because they were renovating campgrounds, building new trails, and camp sites. It gave us a feeling of being very remote even though the access was easy. When we got to end of the road at the trailhead parking, there were three possible trails to take instead of the one shown on the topo map. Following Kip, we took the trail to the far left, it went up and up, and opened onto a vista of beautiful scenery, but shortly  Kip told us we had taken the wrong trail and were now heading in the opposite direction from the lake. Back down we go.

A beautiful view from the wrong trail if you want to get to Dead Lake.

A beautiful view from the wrong trail if you want to get to Dead Lake.

Right about that time we started to hear thunder and see rain falling hard on the other side of the mountain ridge. Back at the trailhead, we had two trails left to choose from and Kip decided to take the one to the very right thinking it would split into another trail at a point further up. This ended up being the trail that was shown on the map, but not the one that heads directly to Dead Lake (the path not taken), but our trail came close to the lake. Using Kip’s GPS, when we got about 800 meters from the lake and we decided to head off trail and dead-reckon our way to the lake. It didn’t seem too far based on the straightline distance, but what we didn’t realize was how steep the terrain was going to get. Climbing over and walking on top of huge logs and debris, and breaking brush, it kept getting steeper and steeper. It seemed like we were just walking, at times almost climbing, straight up the side of the mountain. Kip was always about 100 feet ahead making it look easy, I was behind him, not too worried, having done things like this before, and Frank was behind me. It was his first experience of going off-trail and hiking up something this steep. By the look on his face, not an experience he’ll soon forget. The whole time we heard thunder in the distance and were hoping it wouldn’t start pouring on us. A big rain could make getting back down to the truck hellish.

Finally, we made the crest and got to the area where the GPS indicated the lake should be. At first we didn’t see any lake. Kip thought it might have totally dried up, but Frank and I thought the area didn’t look like a dried up lake, but open rocky campsite. Having made the hike up, I didn’t want to just leave without finding the lake, regardless if it was dead or not. Gretchen had told us that a flagged trail led to the lake. I was determined to find the flagged trail so we could avoid climbing back down the side of the mountain through the forest.  We searched around and I did find the small lake and then found the flagged trail to take back down. I admit I was unimpressed with the little pond at the end of the big hike. Dead Lake was almost entirely dried up.

The last bit of this year’s life at the edge of Dead Lake.

The last bit of this year’s life at the edge of Dead Lake.

Luckily, it was worth the effort. We found many additional beetle species here and they were abundant. When we were done collecting around the lake, we picked up the flagged trail that would more easily take us back down and as we guessed, it turned out to be the middle trail at the trailhead, the one we didn’t take going up. Despite what seemed like very threatening weather, with thunder and some moments of rain, we collected on the way back. We made frequent stops to looked under the bark of dead, fallen trees. At one deadfall suddenly Kip was very excited thinking that he may have found the rare “stink beetle,” Nomius pygmaeus, (we have never seen him that excited before). Sadly, when he checked it under the microscope, it was only the common smelly beetle Psydrus piceus. But at least it was another species to add to our list for the GBNP.

Searching for beetles under the bark of the dead fall.

Searching for beetles under the bark of the dead fall.

We wound our way back down the trail and drove back to camp. It had been a long day already, but after a quick dinner, we went back out that night for headlamp collecting at a higher elevation near Wheeler Peak Campground. Even though it was quite cold at that elevation, there were a lot of beetles out walking, mostly Calathus, but we found a few species to add to our list.

Day 6 – June 14, 2015 The finale.  


Packed up and headed home! The trip back to California was uneventful, but our work on the project continues. Samples to sort, specimens to pin and lists to make. Between our trip and, mostly from specimens we have looked at in museum collections, we have easiy more than 60 species to add to the list of carabids of Nevada.  

California. That way...

California. That way…

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