Monday, May 27, 2013

Featured Photographer: Derek Holzapfel, Scuba Diver

There are hundreds of nature photographers participating in building the species photo galleries on E-Flora BC and E-Fauna BC. They range from professionals to amateurs, and use equipment that ranges from point and shoot cameras to iPhones to top-of-the-line photographic equipment.  Many of them have tales to tell of their adventures while photographing wildlife or plants in BC, but only one has mentioned being attacked by a North Pacific Giant Octopus--Derek Holzapfel.

Derek is a retired computer professional who is now a scuba diver and nature photographer living on Pender Island.  He has more than 30,000 photos in his collection, 5,000 of those are underwater photos of marine life in BC.  Originally from Ontario, Derek moved to BC in 1992, and to Pender Island in 1999.  He now aims to document BCs marine species and is a significant photo contributor to E-Fauna.  This hobby, however, has its dangers, such as his wild octopus encounter.

Derek provides an account of the octopus attack on his web site, NatureDiver Photography. He says:

"Having waited until late afternoon for a slack tide, I hauled my gear down one of the ocean access trails. My dive started with a curious whitespotted greenling darting around me, and some macro photography of the delicate white gills of the frosted (alabaster) nudibranch. To my disappointment, the ambient light slowly faded and the batteries died in my primary dive light, leaving me in the dark. I decided to continue the dive using the camera's (very dim) LED spotting lights.

Down at 21 m, in near darkness, I was concentrating on some super macros shots of the intricate red patterns on the back of a vermilion star when a shadow emerged from the gloom. As I recognized a Giant Pacific Octopus coming towards me, I thought, "A friendly octopus coming to say hello--this should make for some great photography!"  How wrong I was. To my utter amazement, this huge creature lunged forward and latched onto me and my camera with four of its tentacles, while using two others to anchor itself around a rock.  I initially thought, "So this is how my life is going to end," followed by "Sure would be nice to get some more photos,"  and then "Okay, how do I get out of this?"  In a desperate move of self defence, I pushed my dead flashlight into its body, but to no effect, and I was being pulled down by the cephalopod's incredible strength. My mind raced:  should I use my knife, or drop my weights, or let go of the camera gear, or inflate my suit?  Fortunately, I was able to swing my fins onto a rock below me and push straight up. After a tug of war and much effort on my part, the octopus decided I was not fit for dinner and released me. I quickly moved to shallow water..."

This underwater adventure hasn't stopped Derek from continuing with his underwater photography. He still takes photographs, mostly in the winter months:  "The winter months are ideal for underwater photography, as the plankton dies off during the shorter days, and the silt runoff from the mainland is reduced by the mountain snow pack".

About E-Fauna BC, he says:  "My reasons for sharing on E-Fauna is to provide another venue to share my photos and educate people on the amazing biodiversity living in our local waters."  All of Derek's photos come with location coordinates, allowing us to map his species records, and providing another example of citizen science at work.

A few of Derek's photos:  

Golden Dirona (Dirona pellucida)

 Orange Peel Nudibranch (Tochuina tetraquetra)

 Frosted (Alabaster) Nudibranch (Dirona albolineata), by Derek Holzapfel

View more of Derek's photos on his web site.
View more of Derek's photos on E-Fauna BC

Friday, May 24, 2013

To Pen a Tale of Pens: New article now posted on Sea Pens

 Orange Sea Pen (Ptilosarcus gurneyi), photo by Derek Holzapfel 

Have you ever seen a sea pen?  Did you  know they might be one of the world's most abundant cnidarians and are cousins of the jellyfish?  Did you know that although they are sessile--anchored on the ocean floor--they can move if they need to?

Marine biologist Ron Shimek knows a lot about sea pens and has now posted an article on them on E-Fauna BC.  Here are a few nuggets of knowlege from his article:  Sea pens are octocorals; sea pens are odd looking colonial sea creatures that look a lot like a quill pen; sea pens are very abundant in the soft sediments of the deep sea;  sea pens are generally found in depths greater than 10m; colonies of sea pens occur in waters off the BC coast, where a colony can spread for dozens of kilometers.

In general, Ron says: "[Sea pens] are surprisingly abundant and, in fact, may be the dominant cnidarians over large regions of the earth’s surface; areas where stony corals, other octocorals, and most sea anemones are essentially absent, the deep sea soft-sediment bottom. The largest of Earth’s ecosystems, much of this area is characterized by the presence of sea pens. I doubt anybody has made the calculations, but I suspect that it would a sure bet to say that the biomass of sea pen living tissue exceeds that of all other benthic cnidarians combined."

Read more about sea pens in Ron's article (now posted in our Notes and Articles section) and visit our sea pen atlas pages for distribution maps.  To view the atlas pages, just type 'sea pen' in the quick search box on the home page.

Four species of sea pens are listed for BC, including Ptilosarcus gurneyi, the Orange Sea Pen.

Read Ron's article here.
View Ron's photos on E-Fauna BC here.
Visit Ron's blog.

New to E-Fauna BC: Search by Family Name

New to E-Fauna BC!  You can now use the Quick Search on E-Fauna to search by family name.  Enter any family name and call up all species in that family. Browse the thumbnails to find the species you are interested in.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New on E-Flora BC: the ability to search by family name

While we continue to add species information to E-Flora on a regular basis, we also continue to work on fine-tuning the atlas.  This week, our programmer has brought online the ability to search for a species by family name--on your laptop, desktop, or on your smart phone. Just enter the family name in the search box.  This is a very useful feature, especially if you are out in the field and come across a species that you don't recognize   If you can recognize the family it is in, then search by family name and call up all species in that family. Browse through the thumbnails until you find your plant. 

Profile: Robb Bennett, Spider Researcher

Robb Bennett collecting in the Flathead, photo by Mike Roelofs. 

"...spiders are ruthless storm troops in the matriarchal anarchy that is the arthropod world: theirs is the most diverse, female-dominated, entirely predatory order on the face of the earth. As such, spiders are key components of all ecosystems in which they live." ---Robb Bennett, 1999

There is something about spiders that triggers an automatic negative response in people. We are often very fearful of them, and we worry about how poisonous they are.  Yet, for the most part, they are harmless and play a good and significant role in our ecosystems.  In spite of that, the fear about spiders results in a continuous stream of 'spider inquiries' at E-Fauna BC. Every week, several times a week, our readers ask us about spiders:  how to identify them, where they live, what they eat, and (the number one inquiry) if they are poisonous.  Fortunately, we can handle these inquiries because of the support for the E-Fauna project by one researcher who is happy to share his knowledge of spiders.
Robb Bennett is a professional entomologist who has studied the natural history of spiders for several decades.  He responds to every inquiry,  including the ones containing misconceptions and misinformation about poisonous spiders, Brown Recluse spiders, Hobo Spiders, and more.  Most people are concerned about big spiders they have seen, and wonder if these are harmful to their children. Some people are just plain terrified of spiders and want to know how to protect themselves.  Some are curious about spiders in general, some hear spiders singing, and some are absolutely certain they have Brown Recluse spiders living in their homes.  Robb is particularly interested in clearing up misconceptions about poisonous spiders, and notes that some doctors erroneously consider some human medical symptoms to be the result of spider bites--even though there is little or no evidence to support their view.  He is passionate about this--about the misdiagnoses that are  made by some medical practitioners, the clear lack of confirmed evidence about the toxicity of species like the Hobo Spider, and the facts that true spider bites are very rare and the chance of medical complications resulting from one is vanishingly small.

So how does one get to be a spider expert? Robb began studying spiders when he was an undergraduate studying entomology at the University of Guelph in Ontario in the mid-1970's. Subsequently he earned a M. Sc. and a PhD in spider taxonomy/systematics.  Since then, his interest in spiders has never waned and, today, Robb continues to collect and study spiders.  His collections have been placed in relevant museums, primarily in Canada (the Canadian National Collection) and the USA (primarily the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Smithsonian Institution, and the California Academy of Sciences).  He has collected in the USA and much of Canada, including  the maritime provinces, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, the prairies, and Ontario. He has also collected in eastern and southern Africa, parts of South America, the Caribbean, and other neotropical localities. He wishes more people would collect, because specimens are usually needed to identify spiders to the species level (especially so for the most interesting species which are almost always very tiny--perhaps only a millimetre in length).

Until recently, Robb was a researcher with the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, working with insects that feed on cones and seeds, and was the editor-in-chief at The Canadian Entomologist (2007-2011). In addition to volunteering time with E-Fauna BC, Robb has also contributed to work on species-at-risk in BC and to the work of COSEWIC--the national Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife. He is currently a research associate with the Royal British Columbia Museum, collaborating with two other spiders experts, museum collections manager Claudia Copley and museum volunteer Darren Copley, to document the full diversity of spiders in British Columbia. These days their research is focused on spiders that occur in alpine and sub-alpine areas in British Columbia. They aim to publish a field guide for the identification of British Columbia spiders which will include information on species' ranges and habitats. 
Here are some of Robb's responses to common questions about Hobos, Brown Recluses, and Black Widows:

1) Brown recluse spiders (Loxosceles reclusa) do not occur in Canada (and other recluse spider species have only ever been recorded in Canada a couple of times). 

2) The hobo spider (Tegenaria agrestis) is common in southern BC and is often mistakenly identified as a brown recluse, and is also mistakenly believed by many to be a medically important spider. 

3) Many other spiders in BC and other parts of Canada are often misidentified as brown recluse spiders. 

4) Pest control companies offering brown recluse control services in Canada are preying upon public paranoia and misinformation.

5) Some common spiders are large enough to bite people if provoked, and a bite from some of those spiders can be painful.  However, spiders do not seek out people to bite and true bites from spiders are rare.  Almost all reports of spiders biting people are fallacious. 

6) In BC, the only medically significant spider is our local species of black widow, which is very common in some areas of southern BC including parts of southwestern Vancouver Islands and in the south Okanagan.  Black widows, however, are generally shy and retiring and bites from them are extremely rare, even where the spiders are abundant.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fabulous Photos: The Knobbed-lip Fairy Shrimp

Knobbed-lip Fairy Shrimp (Eubranchipus bundyi), photo by Ian Gardiner

New E-Fauna Atlas Pages: Clam Shrimps of British Columbia

 Holarctic Clam Shrimp (Lynceus brachyurus), photo by Ian Gardiner

The tiny freshwater creatures that inhabit our lakes and ponds are often 'invisible' wildlife for most of us.  But now the work of Ian Gardiner, as he samples ponds and lakes in BC, is bringing some of these species to light.  We have now added atlas pages for the two species of clam shrimps found in British Columbia:  the Holarctic Clam Shrimp (Lynceus brachyurus) and the Hookleg Clam Shrimp (Lynceus mucronatus). Clam shrimps are tiny freshwater bivalved crustaceans.  Take a peek at Ian's fabulous photo set for the Holarctic Clam Shrimp here and read Ian's introductions to our two clam shrimp species.