ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Any visitor to the Schoodic section of the park this past weekend who saw people wearing glass vials around their necks would have been correct in assuming something unusual was going on.
But it would not have been correct to conclude that the vials were part of some new fashion trend. The vials, along with nets and traps of soapy water, were part of the equipment more than 70 people used during a 24-hour “bio blitz” at Schoodic to collect bees, ants and wasps within the park boundary. It was the eighth annual zoological collection effort held at Schoodic.
“The purpose of the blitz is to find out what kind of insects live in the park and in Maine,” Charlene Donahue of Maine Forest Service, which co-sponsored the event, said Saturday. Donahue, who also is president of the Maine Entomological Society, was serving as the blitz’s “lab czar” on Saturday, overseeing efforts to clean, dry, identify and catalog the collected specimens.
Donahue said that about 10 taxonomists, biologists who specialize in classification of organisms, were involved in the effort, with graduate students, professors and amateur enthusiasts making up most of the rest. The 24-hour window of the blitz helps focus the collection effort, she said, and provides a snapshot of the variety of the targeted insects at Schoodic.
“We’ll be catching hundreds of species” and thousands of individual specimens, Donahue said Saturday a few hours after the blitz got under way.
Donahue said collectors do not hunt all night. They go well into the evening, as long as light and insect behavior allow, and resume at daybreak.
Acadia will keep a representative sample of the insects collected, while other scientists involved in the blitz will be able to keep extra specimens they may want, according to Donahue.
David Manski, head of Acadia’s resource management division, said Monday that the bio blitz netted about 40 bee species and around 20 species of ants so far, though cataloging all the specimens likely will take more time to complete. He said finding 40 bee species, when there are only maybe 70 in Maine, was surprising, given the spruce forests that dominate the Schoodic Peninsula.
“That’s not the best of bee habitats,” Manski said.
The turnout of more than 70 people was the highest Acadia has had yet for a bio blitz, according to Manski. Having a good number of people, but not too many, who use a variety of collecting techniques helps provide the park with a midsummer snapshot of what types of targeted insects are present in Acadia, he said.
The park is charged with protecting the natural resources within its boundaries, he said, and blitzes are among the best scientific ways to document what those resources are, even the small ones many people never notice.
“We recognize it’s not a complete inventory,” Manski said of the more than 100 insect species collected over the weekend. “Those [insects] are just as important to us as the more charismatic species.”
Some participants used nets to catch the insects, but traps and aspirators and other methods also were used.
One method was to collect a handful of forest litter or soil and, after bringing it back to the lab, to put it in a large funnel with a strong light placed directly on top. The light and heat of the lamp forces any insects to crawl down through the bottom of the funnel, where they fall into a trap of soapy water. This collection method can be more effective than sifting through the litter by hand.
“It’s particularly good for [collecting] the very small things that are in the soil,” said Eleanor Groden, professor of entomology at UMaine.
Some traps, placed at various locations around the Schoodic property, were paper cups brightly painted to mimic the colors of flowers and then filled with soapy water, to prevent the insects from crawling or flying away.
The aspirators are glass vials or jars with a glass tube and a rubber tube protruding separately from the top. The collector places the tip of the glass tube next to an insect and sucks it into the vial by breathing in through the rubber tube. A screen blocks the end of the rubber tube in the top of the jar to make sure the collector does not inhale the insect.
According to two University of Maine graduate students who were collecting ants near Blueberry Hill, there are drawbacks to using an aspirator. Ants, as a defense mechanism, sometimes emit an acrid-tasting acid that collectors sometimes taste through the tube, said Beth Choate, who is studying entomology at UMaine. Other things also can get sucked up with the insect.
“You have to be careful with the aspirator,” she said. “You can get dirt sometimes.”