How Many New Species?

I am often asked how many new insect species I have found (or “discovered”). I’m never quite sure how to answer this. I’ve certainly reared dozens of undescribed species of moths, for instance, that are now sitting in my office or in various museums, waiting to be named. The number for parasitoid wasps is probably even higher. But simply having “found” new species doesn’t count for much if they haven’t been properly documented and named. Also, to me the credit for “discovering” a new species mostly belongs to the taxonomist who does the hard work of comparing it with all the similar species in the world to demonstrate that it is really something new. Of all the species I have coauthored, Marmara viburnella is the only one I felt certain was undescribed (because I went to the trouble of reviewing the larval biology and adult morphology of all the previously described species) before I passed it along to a taxonomist.

With that said, for my final post of the year, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of all the species that have been either described in papers I coauthored or described based (at least in part) on specimens I collected. (This was partly inspired by my realization that I never got around to writing anything here about most of the 30 fly species I recently described with Owen Lonsdale.) With any luck, this list will continue to grow. What limits the number of new species I’m able to help describe is a shortage not of “new” species to name, but of time that my collaborators and I have available to devote to this task. So the take-home message from this post should not be “Wow, look at all the new species Charley has found!”, but rather, “Wow, we have so much left to learn about our natural surroundings, and we need to support more funding for taxonomy!”

For species I’ve written about before, you can click on the name to see the relevant post.

First, the species I did not coauthor (of these, Orchestomerus eisemani is the only species for which one of my specimens was designated as the holotype):

1. Celticecis cornuata Gagné, 2013 – A hackberry gall midge I found in Kentucky while traveling with Noah to check out the periodical cicadas in Nashville and Sam Droege’s bees in Maryland.

2. Orchestomerus eisemani Yoshitake & Anderson, 2015 – A leafminer of Virginia creeper I found at work one day in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. This seems to be its northern range limit; although I’ve since found it in Nashville and at several sites in Ohio, I have found it just one other time in Massachusetts, at Lake Chaubunagungamaug.


3. Brachys howdeni Hespenheide (in Hespenheide & Eiseman, 2016) – I first found this trailing arbutus leafminer while hiking along the ridge just above the house where I now live. I see the mines in just about every sizable patch of the host plant I encounter.


4. Liriomyza limopsis Lonsdale, 2017 – Owen had already given this species a name based on Canadian specimens collected as adults, but no host plant was known until I reared it from white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) and whorled aster (Oclemena acuminata) in New York and Massachusetts.


5. Liriomyza pilicornis Lonsdale, 2017 – Similar story, except that Graham Griffiths was the first to rear this species, 45 years before Julia and I found it mining leaves of bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata) in Massachusetts.


6. Liriomyza pistilla Lonsdale, 2017 – Ditto, except in this case the host is cow-wheat (Orobanchaceae: Melampyrum lineare) and Griffiths reared it 40 years before me. I find the leaf mines pretty regularly.


So that’s six in the first category. I just happened to give specimens to the right taxonomists at the right time: Ray Gagné was finishing up a revision of all the gall midge species on hackberries; Henry Hespenheide was (and is) in the midst of revising the genus Brachys, and Owen Lonsdale was finishing up a revision of the Canadian species of Liriomyza. In the case of Orchestomerus eisemani, Bob Anderson was inspired to revise that genus after having initially identified the weevils I had reared as O. wickhami Dietz, then discovered his error after I had published a note documenting their natural history. For the 43 species listed below that I have coauthored, I’m extremely grateful to the taxonomists who took time away from whatever other projects they were working on to help me put names to my natural history observations.

1. Scolioneura vaccinii Smith & Eiseman (in Smith et al. 2015) – A sawfly that mines leaves of huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), which Julia and I found in western Washington on our first cross-country trip in search of leafminers (though we only were able to rear parasitoids, and the type specimen was reared from a larva Noah and his wife Sydne collected the following year).

2. Megaselia nantucketensis Eiseman & Hartop, 2015 – A scuttle fly that emerged from a midge gall on black oak, collected on Nantucket during the gall and leaf mine survey I’ve been conducting there since 2011.

3. Megaselia risoria Hartop, Wong & Eiseman, 2016 – The naming of this species was a byproduct of my having reared specimens of M. globipyga from a dead tussock moth caterpillar I found at work.

4. Platygaster pruni Buhl & Eiseman, 2016 – A platygastrid wasp that emerged from a midge gall on black cherry, which I collected at work one day in western Massachusetts.

5. Platygaster uvulariae Buhl & Eiseman, 2016 – A platygastrid wasp that emerged from a midge gall on wild oats (Uvularia sessilifolia)—again collected at work in western MA. No one has yet been able to rear the midge that causes this gall.

6. Platygaster vitisiellae Buhl & Eiseman, 2016 – A platygastrid wasp that emerged from a midge gall on wild grape, collected as part of the Nantucket survey. The midge species is probably undescribed (but I was able to rear some adults, which are sitting in the Smithsonian waiting for someone to decide to revise the genus Vitisiella).

7. Zygoneura calthella Eiseman, Heller & Rulik, 2016 – A dark-winged fungus gnat that feeds in leaves and petioles of marsh marigold. Julia and I first found it while surveying for four-toed salamanders in western Massachusetts.

8. Fenusa julia Smith & Eiseman, 2017 – A sawfly that mines leaves of wild rose, which Julia spotted in Colorado on another leafminer-hunting road trip.


9. Marmara viburnella Eiseman & Davis (in Eiseman et al. 2017) – Another product of the Nantucket survey. The larva of this moth begins as a leafminer, then disappears down the petiole and spends most of its life feeding in the stem. Julia and I reared it from arrowwood, but mines have also been found on various other viburnums.

10. Platygaster tephrosiae Buhl & Eiseman, 2017 – Another one from Nantucket; I reared the two known specimens from midge galls that happened to be on some goat’s rue leaves that Kelly Omand collected for me to feed some leaf-tying caterpillars. I failed to rear the caterpillars, and I haven’t been able to rear the midge yet either.

11. Platygaster vaccinii Buhl & Eiseman, 2017 – The single known specimen emerged from a gall on lowbush blueberry that I collected at the 2016 Berkshire BioBlitz on Mt. Greylock—caused by another midge that has never been reared.

12. Macrosaccus coursetiae Eiseman & Davis, 2017 – Another one Julia and I collected on our first cross-country trip; this one from Arizona, mining leaves of a shrub called rosary babybonnets (Coursetia glandulosa).

13. Phytosciara greylockensis Eiseman, Heller & Rulik, 2018 – Another one from the Mt. Greylock BioBlitz; a dark-winged fungus gnat that mines leaves of bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis).

14. Agromyza fission Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – Owen had already named this species based on a specimen collected in the DC area in 1914, but the type specimen is one Julia and I collected at MJ Hatfield’s “Red Oak Prairie” in eastern Iowa on the way home from Colorado. One of the paratypes came from a larva we collected the next day on Marcie and Mike O’Connor’s land in Wisconsin, and Mike Palmer provided two from Oklahoma. The larvae mine leaves of hackberry.


15. Agromyza soka Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This is another one that Owen had already named based on a 1914 specimen from the DC area, but as with A. fission its host was unknown. It turns out to be responsible for leaf mines on black locust that since 1982 have been attributed to Phytoliriomyza robiniae (Valley), adults of which were repeatedly associated with black locust but never actually reared. Some paratypes came from specimens Julia and I reared from larvae we collected at the 2016 Connecticut BioBlitz, and the rest came from larvae Tracy Feldman found mining both black locust and wisteria in North Carolina.


16. Melanagromyza palmeri Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – The only known specimen is one that Mike Palmer reared from a sunflower stem (or possibly the roots) in Oklahoma. Stem feeding members of this genus are borers rather than miners, meaning that they don’t form any externally visible trails. So rearing them takes special dedication and/or luck.

17. Ophiomyia euthamiae Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This species mines leaves of grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), mostly on the lower surface. I first noticed mines like this on Nantucket, but those were possibly made by O. maura; the whole type series of O. euthamiae came from my yard.


18. Ophiomyia mimuli Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This species mines in stems of monkeyflower. I first found it at a bioblitz on Julia’s family’s land in southern Ohio, and some paratypes came from the swampy woods right behind our house in Massachusetts.


19. Ophiomyia parda Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – Another species whose holotype I collected in my yard. It is a common leafminer of asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) and seems to be responsible for all of the mines previously attributed to O. quinta.

20. Calycomyza artemisivora Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This species is known only from two specimens I reared from leaf mines on Artemisia ludoviciana that Mike Palmer collected in Oklahoma.


21. Calycomyza avira Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – Another one that Owen had already named before I reared it; there are several specimens at the Smithsonian from Connecticut, New York, and West Virginia, dating back to 1929. The larvae mine leaves of beggar-ticks (Bidens spp.). I reared some from mines I collected at work, and Tracy Feldman provided some from North Carolina.


22. Calycomyza eupatoriphaga Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This belongs to the same species complex as C. artemisivora. It has been reared from three plants in the tribe Eupatorieae: I found it on white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) in Massachusetts and on blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) in Tennessee, and Mike Palmer found it on late boneset (Eupatorium serotinum) in Oklahoma. In teasing apart the members of this complex, Owen found a specimen that was collected in Ontario in 1947, which he included as a paratype. The holotype is from the woods right behind our house.


23. Calycomyza vogelmanni Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I reared the only known specimen from a leaf mine on thin-leaved sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus), which I collected near Burlington, Vermont, where I went to grad school. I named the species after Hub Vogelmann, who founded my graduate program (the Field Naturalist program). He had retired long before I attended, but he was very enthusiastic about my first book when it was published, and he was supportive as I got started on my leafminer book project.


24. Cerodontha edithae Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This species is an iris leafminer, the only known specimen of which Julia and I reared as part of our Nantucket surveys. I named it after Edith Andrews, who died in 2015, a day after her 100th birthday. She lived on Nantucket for most of her life and was an enthusiastic naturalist to the end. Birds were her main passion, but not long after Julia gave her a copy of my book, Julia went to visit her and found her and her daughter Ginger on their hands and knees in her driveway, getting a closer look at some wasp burrows. When I first met her, I was amazed at the memory of this nearly 100-year-old woman as she quoted from various parts of my book.


25. Cerodontha feldmani Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – Another species known from a single specimen; in this case one I reared from a sedge leaf mine that Tracy Feldman collected in North Carolina. Tracy has been intensively collecting leafminers in North Carolina and elsewhere for the past few years and has found numerous new state records, new host records, and new species.


26. Liriomyza ivorcutleri Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I reared the single known specimen from a leaf mine on cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) that Julia and I found in Iowa. When Owen told me this yellow fly was a new species, I couldn’t resist naming it after Ivor Cutler, the Scottish recording artist responsible for “Yellow Fly,” along with other classics like “I Believe in Bugs.”


27. Liriomyza valerianivora Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I found the leaf mines of this species in a scrappy wetland in north-central Massachusetts where I was conducting botanical fieldwork with Sally Shaw. I was lucky she was with me, because I never would have recognized the basal leaves of garden valerian, which are totally different from those on mature plants.


28. Phytomyza actaeivora Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I tried for several years to rear adults from leaf mines on red baneberry (which I’ve found in Vermont and Ohio) before finally succeeding with some mines I found on white baneberry in my neighbors’ woods. I also found mines of what is probably the same species on black cohosh (these are all Actaea species) at Jason Dombroskie’s house in Ithaca, NY, but these were all parasitized like the ones on red baneberry.


29. Phytomyza aesculi Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I first became aware of this species because of photos of buckeye leaf mines that several different people posted to One spring when Julia was visiting her parents in Ohio (the Buckeye State), she managed to collect a bunch of larvae, from which I reared the type series. This species is active only in spring, with a pupal diapause lasting nearly a year. The author of this article was grateful when I let him know that his mystery “buckeye leafmining fly” now has a name.


30. Phytomyza confusa Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I named this fly “confusa” because everything about it was confusing. I found the leaf mines at the base of a tree in the middle of a lawn in a big park in Iowa. I tentatively identified the plant as Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), but it looked a little weird to me (not to mention that Virginia waterleaf is normally a forest species). Iowa botanist John Pearson suggested that it might be a buttercup such as Ranunculus fascicularis. When Owen initially determined the flies as belonging to a new species in the Phyomyza aquilegiae group, this seemed to fit, since all members of this group feed on plants in the buttercup family as far as is known. I showed my photo of the plant to several other botanists, and they all shared my initial impression that it was Virginia waterleaf, but most were also willing to believe it was Ranunculus fascicularis, and one even examined some herbarium specimens of that species that she said matched in every respect. But Owen later determined P. confusa to be closely related to another new species that I reared from two species of waterleaf (see below), and decided both flies probably are better placed in the P. obscura group, all species of which feed on plants in the mint and borage families (waterleafs are in the latter). This species was also confusing because the leaf mines were hard to characterize—some began with a distinct linear portion and some did not, and by the time the adults emerged the leaves were so crumpled and degraded that I couldn’t decide whether the puparia were formed inside or outside the mines.


31. Phytomyza doellingeriae Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – While working in Maine in July 2013, I collected leafminers from flat-topped aster (Doellingeria umbellata) that Owen determined to be a new species near P. solidaginivora Spencer based on the genitalia. Both of the adults I reared were underdeveloped (as shown here), so when I returned in August I collected some more. I reared some good specimens this time, but Owen determined them to be a different new species, which I named P. doellingeriae. Meanwhile, he decided the first flies were close enough to P. solidaginivora to call them that for now. Incidentally, Spencer (1969) reared P. solidaginivora from a plant in Alberta that he thought was goldenrod (Solidago; hence the name), but Graham Griffiths examined his pressed leaf mines and didn’t think they looked like any goldenrod that occurs in Alberta. Spencer’s drawing of the leaf looks exactly like a flat-topped aster leaf, so that fly is probably misnamed.


32. Phytomyza erigeronis Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I first found this leafminer of daisy fleabane (Erigeron) in my front yard. Some of the paratypes came from the 2016 Connecticut BioBlitz.


33. Phytomyza hatfieldae Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – When Julia and I stayed with MJ Hatfield in northeastern Iowa on the way home from Colorado, we spent a little time exploring the woods on the bluff next to her house with MJ and John van der Linden. Leaf mines that we collected there on sweet cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii) yielded the holotype of this new species. The paratypes also included a number of specimens Graham Griffiths had reared from various Osmorhiza species in the 1970s, plus a few that Ed Stansbury reared in Washington just in time to be included in the paper.


34. Phytomyza hydrophyllivora Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This species is common on broad-leaved waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense) in Ohio, and I collected the mines several times from the woods by Julia’s parents’ house before I finally got a few adult flies instead of parasitoid wasps. I later reared one from the same host in Tennessee (during our brief trip to see the solar eclipse last year), and one from a mine I found on Virginia waterleaf while conducting a rare plant survey in the Berkshires.


35. Phytomyza palmeri Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This is another species (like Melanagromyza palmeri) known only from Mike Palmer‘s yard in Oklahoma, and although he gave me a number of leaf mines, only he has been able to rear adults. The larvae mine leaves of coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus).


36. Phytomyza palustris Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I found this leafminer of swamp saxifrage while conducting botanical fieldwork in the Berkshires. I check this plant for mines every time I see it, but as far as I can tell the range of this species is limited to one square meter in the town of Washington, MA.


37. Phytomyza sempervirentis Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – Julia and I first found this species when we visited Cane Creek Canyon in northern Alabama on our way home from Florida in spring 2013. The larvae form mines on coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) very similar to those formed by the closely related P. nigrilineata (Griffiths) on limber honeysuckle (L. dioica) in Alberta. I found more (including the holotype) three years later at the Montague Plains in western MA. Tracy Feldman also provided a bunch of specimens from North Carolina, and Mike Palmer reared a few from orange honeysuckle (L. ciliosa) in Oregon.


38. Phytomyza tarnwoodensis Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I reared the only known specimens of this species from leaf mines on bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) I collected in my parents’ yard in western MA. “Tarnwood” is the name my parents gave to their property many years ago, and when I was little this sign that my mother painted used to be on a post at the edge of our yard by the road:



39. Phytomyza tigris Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – The larvae of this species mine leaves of foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). The leaf mines are very common, but it took me many tries (always getting only parasitoid wasps) until I finally managed to rear a few adults—in my neighbors’ woods right near where I finally found unparasitized puparia of P. actaeivora. The name Phytomyza tiarellae was already taken, so I named this one “tigris” after the tiger stripes on its puparium (going with the “big cat” theme Owen had started with Ophiomyia parda).


40. Phytomyza triangularidis Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – This is another one Julia and I found on our first cross-country trip, this time in northern Idaho. The larvae mine leaves of arrowleaf ragwort (Senecio triangularis).


41. Phytomyza vancouveriella Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – Although Julia and I found a few leaf mines of this species on the Olympic Peninsula on that same trip, the only known specimens are a few that Mike Palmer reared in Oregon five years later. The host is Vancouveria hexandra, whose common names include “white inside-out flower.”


42. Phytomyza verbenae Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – One last species (for now) from that first road trip; Julia and I found the mines on western vervain (Verbena lasiostachys) in California.


43. Phytomyza ziziae Eiseman & Lonsdale, 2018 – I reared the holotype and some of the paratypes from leaf mines on golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) I collected while conducting botanical fieldwork in western MA. Another came from the same Berkshire BioBlitz that produced the only known specimens of Phytosciara greylockensis and Platygaster vaccinii. There are also a few specimens that Graham Griffiths reared from heart-leaved golden Alexanders (Zizia aptera) in Alberta in 1973. It’s a bit curious how many agromyzid species are known only from Alberta and Massachusetts…


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The Long-Lost Snow Fly

This morning as we were shoveling the season’s first snowfall from our driveway, I wondered aloud whether this would be the winter I finally get to see another one of those wingless crane flies, sometimes referred to as “snow flies” (Limoniidae: Chionea spp.). They’re not quite as glamorous as snow scorpionflies, but they’re interesting curiosities nonetheless. It’s been eleven years since I last saw one, which means I’ve never had an opportunity to photograph one since acquiring a decent macro lens.

After we finished shoveling, we headed out for a quick walk in the woods behind our house. We had only made it to the corner of the yard when I had to dash back inside to get my camera, because a Chionea was standing there waiting for us! Julia kept an eye on it while I was gone; it wandered into one of our footprints, and had just finished climbing back out when I returned:


It alternated between walking and standing still for seconds at a time, so I was able to try various angles and levels of magnification:


Something I didn’t realize until I was processing these photos is that these flies aren’t quite wingless. In all true flies (Diptera), the hind wings have been reduced to little knobby-looking things called halteres. I knew that Chionea species had these, but on this individual you can see that the forewings are still present too—they’ve just been reduced to a fraction of the size of the halteres. If I had known that when I was taking these pictures I could have done a better job showing it, but in this cropped-down side view you can at least see what I’m talking about:


The onset of winter is no reason to stop looking for bugs, as I’ve previously written about here and here and here.


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Discovering New Species Along the Driveway

In this photo from May 2015, I was celebrating our newly installed solar panel’s generation of its first kilowatt hour. But unbeknownst to me at the time, the photo also shows where I collected the type specimens of two new speciesthe descriptions of which have just been published in a paper I coauthored with Owen Lonsdale*.


Along the driveway at the left edge of the frame, in September 2013 I had collected some basal leaves of daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) that were being mined by fly larvae.


When finished feeding, the bright yellow larvae popped out of the leaves and formed shiny black puparia.


In my “Fixing the Lawn” post I showed one of the two female flies that emerged a few weeks later, noting that “I won’t know exactly what they are until Owen Lonsdale examines the specimens.” Fortunately there was also a male among them, since agromyzid taxonomy is largely based on details of the male genitalia.


Owen determined that these flies belonged to an undescribed species, so we named it Phytomyza erigeronis, and this male was designated as the holotype. The rest of the type series consisted of six other specimens from my front yard, plus nine reared from leaf mines Julia and I collected at the Connecticut BioBlitz in 2016. Two other North American Phytomyza species are known to form linear mines in fleabane leaves; so far this is the only species I’ve managed to rear, but based on published descriptions the mines of P. erigerophila and P. peregrini are shorter (3-6 cm vs. well over 7 cm).

A year after the solar panel was installed, I collected a few leaves like this one from an aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) that was growing right under the panel.


This mine appears to be empty, but the sneaky larva switched to the lower leaf surface at the last minute and formed its puparium there (in the upper left corner of the photo below).


This distinctive leaf mine, with the frass deposited in large, widely spaced lumps along its length, is attributed to Ophiomyia quinta in Tracks & Sign of Insects. Here’s the story behind that: In 1969, when Kenneth A. Spencer revised the Agromyzidae of Canada, he had a whole bunch of undescribed Ophiomyia species to deal with that had nothing known about their natural history. So he just named some of them O. prima, O. secunda, O. tertia, O. quarta, O. quinta, O. sexta, O. septima, O. octava, O. nona, O. decimaO. undecima, and O. duodecima.  When he revised the US species with Steyskal in 1986, he determined O. decima to be a synonym of O. congregata, and he identified some flies reared from asters and goldenrods as O. quinta.

With a number of new specimens at his disposal, Owen made careful comparisons and found that nothing matched the holotype of Ophiomyia quinta. All of the specimens reared from mines like this on Symphyotrichum asters belonged to a new species, which we named Ophiomyia parda because (if you use your imagination) the mines are spotted like a leopard (Panthera pardus). The type series includes specimens I reared from heart-leaved aster (S. cordifolium), smooth aster (S. laeve), panicled aster (S. lanceolatum), and purple-stemmed aster (S. puniceum) collected throughout Massachusetts, plus one from Short’s aster (S. shortii) in Ohio. But Owen chose one from under my solar panel as the holotype. I don’t have a good photo of that specimen, but here is his sister:


As far as I can tell, leaf mines with frass spots like this do not exist on goldenrod or even on other aster genera. The same observation was made by S. W. Frost nearly 100 years ago, and it was his specimens reared from goldenrod that Spencer had identified as O. quinta. Owen examined Ophiomyia specimens I reared from a variety of goldenrods (Solidago spp.), and they all proved to be the very similar species O. maura. Although Owen was unable to examine the US specimens of “O. quinta” that Spencer had examined for his 1986 publication, it seems reasonable to conclude that they were actually a mixture of O. parda and O. maura and that the host and larval habits of O. quinta remain to be determined.

These are just two of the thirty new species described in our new paper. The rest were not found right along my driveway, but a number of them were only a short walk from there. I’ll get to some of those next time…

* Eiseman, Charles S. and Owen Lonsdale. 2018. New state and host records for Agromyzidae (Diptera) in the United States, with the description of thirty new species. Zootaxa  4479:1-156.

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Introducing Phytosciara greylockensis

You know I’ve been way too busy when I let weeks go by without celebrating the publication of a new species description in a BugTracks post. Julia and I spent much of July exploring Michigan and Ontario (including visiting the Canadian National Collection of Insects and attending the combined annual meeting of the Lepidopterists’ Society and Societas Europaea Lepidopterologica), and ever since I’ve been catching up on fieldwork and report-writing, trying to reclaim the parts of our yard that we don’t want to revert to forest, and wrapping up a series of papers on leaf-mining flies I’ve been working on with Owen Lonsdale. Oh, and I spent an intense and thoroughly enjoyable week teaching my Tracks & Sign of Insects… course at the Eagle Hill Institute in Maine. I’ve had to take a break from the leafminer book, but I’m looking forward to getting back on track with that in the coming weeks.

The last book installment I sent out covered all of the monocots except the order Poales (grasses, sedges, rushes, and cattails), and as it happens the July issue of Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington included two papers of mine that supplement this chapter. One of them answers the riddle of the agave leaf mines shown in the second half of this post. The other* describes the species of dark-winged fungus gnat (Sciaridae) I showed here. I always like to tell the tale of a species’ first discovery, so here goes…

Back at the 2016 Berkshire BioBlitz on Mt. Greylock, as Julia and I set out on the Rounds Rock trail loop, we passed some bluebead lily (Liliaceae: Clintonia borealis), and I suggested she keep an eye out for leaf mines on this plant.

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Although it was not known to host any leafminers, three years earlier our friend Jesse had spotted some little squiggles on the leaves while we were standing in a parking lot, and ever since I’ve been hoping to encounter some with larvae inside.


Less than a minute had passed when Julia said, “You mean like these?”


Sure enough, she had spotted some mines, but as you can see, they were not like the ones I’d seen before. Rather than being narrow, yellowish lines that meandered freely across the leaf veins, these were transparent, elongate mines that tended to be bounded by the veins. But having already established that nothing was known to mine leaves of this plant, I knew these were worth investigating too, so we spent several minutes filling a big peanut butter jar with leaves containing larvae.


I could see that the larvae were long, narrow, and legless with distinct, brown head capsules, and I thought of Zygoneura calthella, the dark-winged fungus gnat we’d found mining leaves of marsh marigold. Unlike that species, these larvae soon exited their mines and began to window-feed on the lower surfaces of the leaves.


In about a week, they began to gather up bits of leaf and other debris to construct cocoons, which they attached to the undersides of the leaves despite having the option of burrowing into soil.


A few days later, pupae popped out of the cocoons, and out of these popped the adult sciarids.


That last photo shows the single male among the seventeen adults that emerged—but one was enough! I sent the specimens to Kai Heller and Björn Rulik, the same Germans that had helped me with the marsh marigold miners, and their morphological and DNA analysis confirmed that it was a new species—a member of the genus Phytosciara, which has three European species and (until now) none in North America.

I decided to name it Phytosciara greylockensis after the type locality, and not after the host plant, because based on the single collection I didn’t know whether it was specific to Clintonia or a generalist like the two European species whose larvae are known. I have been checking every patch of Clintonia I’ve encountered since 2016, without any further sign of P. greylockensis—until last month, when I found some empty mines near Jason Dombroskie’s cabin in Ontario. So maybe it’s a Clintonia specialist with a northern distribution, and we happened to catch it at its southern range limit on the highest peak in Massachusetts? If anyone else bumps into this species, I’d love to hear about it!

* Eiseman, Charles S., Kai Heller, and Björn Rulik. 2018. A new dark-winged fungus gnat (Diptera: Sciaridae) mining leaves of Clintonia borealis (Aiton) Raf. (Liliaceae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 120(3):500-507.

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Fellow Leaf Mine Enthusiasts

The other day I went out to pick some spinach for breakfast, and I noticed this fly resting on one of the leaves:


This is a lauxaniid fly in the Minettia obscura species group, which I recognize mostly by the orange-tinted wings. I often see them resting on leaves, but they usually only let me get one imperfect photo before flying away. This one clung steadfastly to the leaf even after I picked it and continued to fill my hand with other spinach leaves. As I was walking back to the house, it wandered away from its perch and revealed that it had been sitting on this leaf mine, which was small enough to be obscured by its body:


This is a very early mine of Pegomya hyoscyami (Anthomyiidae), another fly. The larvae would devour the entire leaf within a few days if I let them, but as long as we eat spinach regularly we’re able to stay ahead of these flies for the most part (and the occasional leaves that become too infested for us to want to eat go to the chickens instead). Anyway, the lauxaniid moved to the underside of the leaf and proceeded to probe the Pegomya eggs with its mouthparts.


It continued to do this even as I walked inside, set down the rest of the spinach leaves in the kitchen, and placed the fly’s leaf on my desk to take these photos. (By the way, all the tiny spheres on the leaf are calcium oxalate crystals that originate from the leaf’s stomata salt bladders—see Eric LoPresti’s comment below.)


As you can see, by the time I started taking pictures it had stepped away from the eggs a bit, but still showed no interest in abandoning the leaf. Finally, I took the leaf back outside and had to blow on the fly as hard as I could about five times before it finally decided to take off.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the larvae of some lauxaniids (including some Minettia species) are leafminers in decaying leaves on the ground. Others feed externally on decaying plant matter. I suppose this one was attracted to the compromised tissue where the Pegomya larvae had begun to mine the leaf, but it seemed odd that it was so unwilling to leave this leaf behind.

Yesterday I went for a walk in the woods and spotted one of the mystery leafminers I’ve been trying to rear for the past few yearsan unknown scathophagid fly on painted trillium (Melanthiaceae: Trillium undulatum).


I had never encountered this phenomenon before, but just three days later, here was another lauxaniid sitting on a leaf mine! I believe it was another Minettia, though not in the obscura group.

I didn’t have my good camera/lens with me, but the fly obligingly sat there while I took several photos until I’d gotten the best shot I could with the camera I had.


It stayed on the leaf after I picked it, departing only after I rolled the leaf up and slipped it into a rearing vial.

So what’s going on here? It’s tempting to think these flies are laying eggs on or in the leaf mines and their larvae will develop as secondary invaders in the mines, maybe after the original miners have left. For that to be the case, of course, both of these flies would have to be females, and I’m not familiar enough with these to be able to tell from the photos. Naturally, I ate the spinach leaf and destroyed whatever evidence might have been there, but I suppose I’ll hang onto the trillium leaf for a while after the scathophagid larvae exit it and see if any lauxaniid larvae appear.

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Portraits of a Sedge Muncher

I haven’t been going for many walks with a camera lately. I spend so much time viewing the world through various lenses and screens that it’s refreshing to experience it through my own bleary eyes from time to time. But the other day I spotted a Calligrapha beetle on our mulberry tree, and it was sufficiently fancy that I had to dash inside to get my camera. Once I finished with the beetle and was already outside with my big old macro lens, I figured I might as well take a quick stroll through our woods and see what else I could find.

What I found was a furry Ctenucha virginica caterpillar munching on the tip of a sedge leaf (Cyperaceae: Carex). It was just small enough to fit comfortably within the 2-cm field of view of the MP-E 65mm.


I didn’t notice as I was taking the above photo that there are a few little green crumbs of sedge leaf on the left side of the caterpillar’s face. You can also see, in this photo and in the two below, the tiny barbs on each of its hairs, as well as the serrations on the margins of the sedge leaf that give it its rough texture. But what really caught my attention as I zoomed in was the structure of the caterpillar’s prolegs that grasped either side of the leaf.


The curved, translucent structure, I just learned, is called the “planta,” and the tiny gripping hooks that come out of it are called “crochets” (as in crochet hooks). Virtually all butterfly and moth larvae have these hooks, even leafminers that don’t have anything that looks like legs, and this is an important feature in distinguishing them from sawfly larvae.

Ctenucha virginica, by the way, grows up to be a kind of tiger moth (Erebidae: Arctiini) called (get this) the Virginia Ctenucha. Apparently I haven’t photographed one in well over a decade, but they are distinctive day-flying moths that visit flowers, so they’re not hard to find. Here’s one sipping some Queen Anne’s lace.


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In Search of Spring Beauties

Although spring is technically already half over, it only really got started around here in the past week or so. Yesterday I saw my first spring beauties (Montiaceae: Claytonia caroliniana):


These little wildflowers are only around for a few weeks before they disappear along with their leaves, as do trout lilies, wild leeks, Dutchman’s breeches, and squirrelcorn. It’s striking how few of the spring wildflowers host any leafminersnot just these true “ephemerals,” but even many with persistent leaves: bloodroot, wild ginger, blue cohosh, early meadow rue, starflower, and goldthread are all entirely lacking in miners.

So I was excited to find some mines on spring beauty three years ago (May 17, 2015) during a walk in Marshfield, Vermont:


Here’s a backlit view of a different leaf, showing a larva feeding at the tip:


A look at the undersides of the leaves revealed tiny white eggs at the beginnings of the mines:


There are two eggs in the above photo, one of them unhatched. If you think they’re hard to spot, try finding them on a life-sized leaf! Here’s a closer view of a hatched one, next to a bit of pollen:


They were so tiny that I failed to recognize them as eggs of Pegomya (Anthomyiidae)the genus that includes the flies that are already ovipositing in earnest on the spinach in our hoop houseand mistook them for Scaptomyza (Drosophilidae). As a result, after collecting them I didn’t provide the larvae with soil to burrow into, which is generally necessary when rearing anthomyiids. They began to pupate within two days, and although I had collected many larvae, I only ended up with one adult (on June 11):


As discussed in my paper on leaf-mining muscoid flies that was published earlier this year*, this was a female, and a male would be needed to identify the species with certainty. I sent it to Brad Sinclair at the Canadian National Collection and he said it might be Pegomya flavifrons, but he noted that it was dark compared with the much more yellow specimens of that species in the CNC. Pegomya flavifrons normally feeds on plants in the pink family (Caryophyllaceae). Here is one I reared from mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum) in Maine:


Although this P. flavifrons is a darker gray, it does have a lot more yellow on its abdomen and face.

So this spring I’m hoping to find more larvae and rear some males to get a definite answer. However, I rarely encounter spring beauty where I live, and I have only seen mines on it that one time, so I’m hoping this post will inspire some of you to keep an eye out for them. If you find any larvae, please either try and raise them, or pass them along to me, or at least tell me where you found them!

* Eiseman, Charles S. 2018. New rearing records for muscoid leafminers (Diptera: Anthomyiidae, Scathophagidae) in the United States. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 120(1):25-50.

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