There is a type of artifact found in British Columbia that I suspect archaeologists have been missing during the process of excavation. Some have a minimum of grinding on the ends and are difficult to identify if they are not carefully examined. These are artifacts made from the tubular shaped shell or tunnel cast of the Teredo mullosc, the common shipworm.
These Toredo tube shells have been used in historic times as hat ornaments (figures 1-3) and as smaller beads (figure 4-5) in ancient times.
The Teredos are intertidal species of salt water clams famous for eating holes in ships and other wooden objects. It is the wood tunnel lined with calcareous material extruded by the mollusc that creates a round sectioned tube. This tube was used by Indigenous people for making body adornment artifacts such as the beads and hat ornaments shown here. The tubes can be up to 600mm long and often range from 4-12mm in thickness (figure 4).
There are six shell tubes strung on leather cords that can be seen as ornamental design on the Bella Coola hat (figure 1). Their length ranges from 40 to 62mm. Only a few of the tubes show evidence of grinding on the ends. This hat was collected in Bella Coola in 1893.
The larger of the two tube beads (figure 4-5) is from archaeological site DeRv-107 in the Maple Bay area of Vancouver Island. It is 21mm long by 13mm wide and has been ground on the ends. The small bead from site DeRt-9 at Lyall Harbour on Saturna Island is 8mm long by 7mm wide. It has been ground on the ends as well as the sides. The ground ends of the two beads can be seen in figure 5.
In 2006, the “Spirit bear” was adopted as the provincial mammal of British Columbia.
The term “Spirit Bear” has to a large extent been overused as a media hype word. It has often been misinterpreted as a direct aboriginal name of a unique type or species of bear. The circular movement of information between indigenous peoples and popular writers, have created some modern myths such as comments that white bears, also referred to as “ghost bears” were not traditionally hunted. Today they are referred to as a subspecies of black bear called Ursus americanus kermodei.
The environmental movement of the western world has over-simplified the portrayal of all white coloured black bears by using them as a symbol of political opposition to the destruction of our valuable ecosystems. In a positive way this has produced an expanded awareness of the role of bears in the forest eco-systems of British Columbia and resulted in the protection of some of our valuable habitats. However, we must see the protection of habitats and the genetic diversity of all plants and animals as important. Discussions need to expand beyond what we call “endangered species” to what we think of as “common animals” that have, and continue to be, extirpated from many parts of our Province. Caribou (which are reindeer) once expanded over large areas of the Interior of the Province. It should not be necessary to find ones with red noses to justify saving their habitat.
The Strategic Plan for our planets biodiversity developed by participants to the 2010 Convention on Biological diversity adopted 20 targets. Target 11 involves making 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas into conservation areas (Piero et al 2019). By world standards British Columbia is a leader in developing conservation areas like the Great Bear Rain Forest. However, as Piero and colleges emphasize, we cannot use square kilometers as a measure of success but need to document the biodiversity impacts of conservation areas. By placing a focus on protecting white coloured black bears we need to understand what effect are we having on the bigger long term picture of the genetic diversity of black bears.
The white fur coloration in bears is caused by a single recessive gene called Mc1r, a melanocortin 1 receptor which is involved in melanin production. Melanin is primarily responsible for the pigmentation of the skin, hair and eyes of humans and other animals. The chemistry involved here is called melanogenesis. The Mc1r gene produces enzymes such as tyrosinase which play an important role in melanin synthesis. The same chemical process is used today in making tooth whiteners, where chemicals are used to suppress the tyrosinase enzyme and stop the production of colouration (see Reimchen and Klinka 2017; Hedrick and Ritland 2011; Klinka and Reimchen 2009; Marshall and Ritland 2002; Ritland et. al. 2001).
The chemistry produced by this gene causes some bears fur to be white or black. If both a female and male have the recessive Mc1r gene, one of their four offspring will have white hair and two of them will have recessive genes for white hair. A white furred bear mating with a bear with the recessive gene will have two white bears and two with the recessive gene. There are other genes related to thyroid hormone production that create combinations of white and black fur colours in bears (see Crockford 2006; 2003).
There is currently discussion as to how one uses genetics (with or without obviously physical morphology) to define an animal subspecies. It is likely there are genes with currently unrecognized functions that are far more important for the survival of black bears than genes that affect hair colour. Today we could target and edit out the single gene that produces the tyrosinase enzyme that affects pigmentation, and make all black bears white albinos if we choose to. Responsible people, of course, would not do this, but it emphasizes how such minute genetic differences can affect cultural attitudes and land use policies that affect species diversity and the future of animal and human survival.
The flogging of the name “spirit bear” stems out of activities of the early 1900s when there was an over-abundance of new species and sub-species of bears named on the bases of sometimes flimsy physical evidence (see Merriman 1918; Holzworth 1930). In 1905, we saw the naming and promotion of black bears with the recessive genes for white fur being mistakenly given status as a separate species, Ursus kermodei – after the Provincial Museum director Francis (Frank) Kermode.
White coloured bears were documented in Northwestern North America as early as 1805, during the Louis and Clark expedition. In the 19th century British Columbia Indigenous people were known to bring in white bear skins to fur traders. Mayor Findlay of Vancouver wrote about his observations of white bear skins: “I have in my possession a skin which I secured in 1896. In Bella Bella in the store of John Clay, five skins at one time, brought there by the Bella Bella Indians of Princes Royal Island. I have at other times seen skins of this bear in Robert Cunningham’s store at Port Essington, as well as one or two in cannery stores in Rivers Inlet” (Daily Colonist Nov. 23, 1912, p. 6).
It was Robert Cunningham, of Port Essington, who previous to 1904, provided Francis Kermode of the Provincial Museum with the first white furred bear specimens which included a mother and two cubs. These were mounted at different times in two museum display cases seen in figure 2a&b. It was reported that Kermode was “at a loss to classify it” and sent the skin of a female bear to Dr. W.T. Hornady, the director of the New York Zoo. Hornaday was in Victoria in 1900, where he “was led to believe that such a white bear existed by the discovery of a skin at the premises of J. Boscowitz” (Daily Colonist 1905; 1925). The mother bear and cubs were mounted specimens that were not catalogued into the Museum collection at the time they were received. The Provincial Museum’s 1909 Natural History & Ethnology Catalogue, in referring to the Ursus Kermodei (Hornaday) notes that: “now the species is represented by a group of five specimens” (1909:18). This reference seems to refer only to those five mounted bears shown in the display case in the same publication. At this time only four specimens had received catalogue numbers, which did not seem to include one or two of these mounted bears. The two cubs shown in the exhibit case were later given catalogue numbers RBCM 020317 and RBCM 020318.
The Museum received a male partial skull and white skin of a bear from Gribbell Island in May of 1904 (RBCM 001369). This became the type specimen for what was later seen as a species and then a sub-species. Other specimens of white coloured black bears in the Royal B.C. Museum collection include another two from Gribbell Island. One was the skull of an immature bear (RBCM 001371) collected May 22, 1906 and the other a mandible of a young bear (001638) collected May 28, 1907. Two specimens were later collected from Princess Royal Island, an adult skull (001367) collected on June 1, 1908 and an adult male skull and skin (001370) collected May 22, 1910. Future DNA analysis will be needed to match a few of the skins with the other catalogued remains.
In 1911, “One whole specimen Kermode’s white bear” was shipped to Vienna Austria for an exhibit at the international Sportman’s Show which was reported on by B.C. hunter Warburton Pike (Daily Colonist 1911). This resulted in an international interest in acquiring specimens of the white bear. In 1912, the Victoria Daily Colonist reported that Dr. French of Washington was willing to pay $250 for a live white bear (Daily Colonist 1912b).
A live six month old white colored black bear was captured on Prince Royal Island in 1924, by Indigenous people and brought to Ocean Falls where it was sold to a Virginian, O.W. Flowers for $60. Flowers brought the bear to Powel River and then to Vancouver. It was seized by the Game Commission in Vancouver and sent to Kermode in Victoria. It was put into a cage in Beacon Hill Park on July 31, 1924 (figure 3). It remained in the Park until it died in December 1948. The skull and skin where put in the Provincial Museum collection on December 5, 1924 (RBCM 005526).
Much later two specimens came to the RBCM from the Terrace area, an immature male skin and skeleton collected in September 1, 1974 (RBCM 009047) and a skin, skull and hyoid bones collected in May 1985 (RBCM 016007). A specimen from the Penticton Game Farm that died at the age of 19 years was acquired on January 26 1990 (018558).
More recent summaries based on morphological studies have defined five subspecies of black bears in British Columbia: ursus americanus altifrontalis, ursus americanus carlottae, ursus americanus cinnamonum, ursus americanus kermodei and ursus americanus vancourveri (Hatler et. al. 2008). Ongoing DNA studies have, so far, identified three subcontinental clusters (lineages or haplogroups), which are further divided into nine geographic regions. The Western genetic population cluster included the region from western Alaska along the Pacific Coast to the American Southwest (Puckett et. al. 2015). More extensive whole genome research will be needed to gain a better understanding of the range of genetic diversity and the extent of the various recessive genes found in black bears in British Columbia.
In traditional societies, indigenous people were very aware of the complex physical and behavioral diversity of animals. The term “Spirit bear” is a little more complex in its meaning than what is generally presented in the media. Indigenous peoples knew that this was a variation of the black bear. If we were to go back in time and observe Indigenous bear hunters we would probably label them all – to use the modern jargon – as “bear whisperers”. Before the introduction of the rifle, bears were hunted in their winter dens and caught in dead fall traps (see appendix 2. Bear Traps and Indigenous Laws Pertaining to Bear Hunting). Detailed knowledge of bear behavior was crucial for survival. First or second hand observations about bears by Indigenous peoples are scattered through the ethnographic and historic literature. A selection will be presented here that make reference to the complexity of bear fur colours and the in depth relationship of Indigenous peoples with all bears.
The term Moksgm’ol (different ways of writing it) which can be interpreted as “spirit bear” is used in a Tsimshian Raven creation story. Various Tsimshian and Niska families have held family crests with names translated as “white bear”; “white grizzly”; “robe of white bear”; “hat of white bear”; “grizzly of winter”; “robe of white breast [of bear]”. There are both grizzly and black bears with various degrees of white as well as albino bears (Sapir 1915). Figure 4, shows a person dressed in a bear costume in a theatrical ceremony that demonstrates the alliance of the Fort Wrangell Tlingit chief Shakes with the bear family from whom he traces his descent (Niblack 1888).
Tlingit and Tsimshian stories mention bears with unusual white markings. The “Story of the White-faced Bear”, is about a bear that was once a human who had killed too many bears. As a bear he had killed many humans. He was considered invincible: “Each time that he kills a man he tears him, and examines him carefully, as if he is searching for some marks on his body. He is unlike other bears, in that his head and feet are white” (Golder 1907).
Some of these stories are told as more recent historic events and others in the context of a man marrying a bear-woman or a woman marrying a bear-man in the distant past. A Tsimshian story relates how their clan is descended from the survivors of a great flood – a woman and a bear with white fur. A Tlingit hunter killed a bear with a “white furred belly”, which after he skinned it, turned into a woman who helped him (Swanton 1908:228-229). Stories of bears transforming themselves into humans and marring humans are common – such as the story told by Tsimshian, Henry Tate (Maud 1993) or the story told by indigenous peoples of Hartley Bay of a marriage to a female bear with a “very white belly’ (Cove and McDonald 1987).
In 1972, I had discussions with the late Leo Taku Jack (1909-1979) of Atlin, who told me about the variations in white markings on the belly, sides and necks of black bears that he hunted along the Nakina and Taku rivers in the 1930s to 1950s period (see figure 5).
Indigenous bear hunters were good observers and aware that black bears came in variations of browns and various degrees of creamy white, as well as the white of albinos. When I talked to the Bella Coola bear hunter, Clayton Mack in 1969, he would specify white markings on grizzly bears when telling stories of hunting episodes. This seemed to be a way of remembering events surrounding individual bears.
Individual bears might be noted in stories because of their distinct colour patterns – but they were all recognized as being black bears (Ursus americanus) or grizzly bears (Ursus horribilis) and noted as such in the various indigenous languages. Because of genetic variation there is a greater propensity for certain colour variations to be located in specific regions. Pale blue-grey, coloured individuals of a black bear litter were more common near glaciers in the area from Mount Saint Elias to the Skeena River. Hunters often called these “glacial bears”. George Emmons recorded observations of Tlingit hunters in the 1890s. The Tlingit called all black bears “tseek” but recognized colour phases. They called glacier bears “klate-utardy-seek or klate-ukth-tseek” meaning “snow like black bear” or “tseek noon” meaning “grey black bear” (Emmons 1991:133).
Based on hunter’s accounts and fur trade records, the all white black bears were once more widely distributed along the mountains of the mainland coast from the Skeena River to the Bella Coola regions but have since been extirpated from much of the area. White bear skins were rarer and therefore more highly valued. Cultural selection in the past may have played a role in reducing the gene pool that allowed for the recessive genes to take affect and produce more white furred bears in some areas.
It appears from early written accounts that there were a greater occurrence of regional colour and or size variants of both black and grizzly bears (see appendix I). Over hunting in the last one hundred and fifty years may have exterminated some of these regional genetic variants. In 1909, Richard Pocock presents the state of knowledge of non-indigenous peoples about bears of the northern coast forests:
“The White bear (Ursus Kermodei), a few specimens of which have been shot at points along the extreme northern coast, are confined to a very limited area; but a similar variety, ranging in colour from almost pure white to a dirty grey, are seem or shot occasionally in the Western Cascades from Bella Coola north to Taku River, including the lower reaches of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers. These bears are small in size, and called by the various names of white bear, rock bear, white rock bear, blue bear, glacier bear and ice bear” (Pocock 1909).
Pike notes in referring to “Ursus Kermoda” in 1910, that: “this little white bear has so far been found only in that part of the coast range of mountains which lies immediately South of the Skeena River and on the adjacent islands known as Gribbell and Princess Royal Islands, and perhaps a dozen specimens in all are to be seen in the museums of North America. It has lately been classified by American naturalists as an entirely distinct species of bear; but there is still no record of any white man having seen this animal in the flesh, although now and then an Indian brings in a skin to one of the small trading posts of the mouth of the Skeena.” (Pike 1910)..
Holzworth, while on Admiralty Island in 1928, noted that an elderly Indigenous person told him of “a very peculiar type of bear, a dark brown with a yellow stripe which runs all the way down its sides from the shoulders to the rump, about four inches either side of the back bone. He saw two or three hides himself, all from the same locality on Admiralty Island. They were killed by Anderson a white man about fifteen years ago, who found them in the interior of the northern section of the island. An Indian had killed two or three similar ones on Chichagof Isle” (Holzworth 1930:73-74).
It was generally believed by indigenous peoples that the spirit of a bear (as with other animals) could be acquired as a guardian spirit. Bear spirits were considered one of the more powerful spirits. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears.
The bear hunter had to purify himself by bathing and fasting. It was important for the hunter to refrain from announcing that he was going bear hunting for it was believed that a bear could hear and understand everything that humans said and be forewarned of its approaching death. When a man killed a bear he and those with him painted their faces and sang a bear song or prayed to the bear as a way of appeasing or thanking it for allowing itself to be killed. When being butchered it was believed that the bear could sing through the body of the hunter. Sometimes certain parts of the black bear would be ritually burned during a prayer ceremony (see Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95).
In 1970, I was told by the late Jack Koster of Canoe Creek a story of an experience of his father in the 1920s when he went hunting with an Indigenous uncle who was an old bear hunter from the Canoe Creek Reserve. After the bear was killed, the old hunter chanted a prayer and “cut off the tip of the nose and tongue and took out the bear’s eyes and eardrums to bury together. They believed that a bear’s spirit would return in the form of a bad man to seek revenge. This was necessary to eliminate the senses so the bear – as the Indians said – ‘will not find me again’.”
The importance of bears in the cultures of Siberia and their similarity to those of cultures of the New World was brought to the forefront of academic discourse by the publication of A.I. Hallowell on Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere (Hallowell 1926).
On the Eastern Pacific Coast bear imagery can be seen on everything from monumental poles and house screens, to boxes, rattles and combs. These physical objects are a manifestation of a complex way of life that involves Indigenous beliefs and practices. Bears have played a role in the ceremonialism and magico-religous practices of human cultures across the northern forests of the world for thousands of years.
Indigenous traditions suggest that bears are the shamans of the animal world. Skinned bears resemble humans. On the northern coast bears are considered ancestors due to the earlier encounters, and sometimes resulting marriages, between transforming bears and humans. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears (for example see: Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95) .
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, the butchered remains of bears are commonly found in cave and rock shelter sites. One recorded site, that was briefly visited, is reported to have contained 22 bear skulls in four piles. Bears appear to have been, at least, partially butchered in these more remote locations away from village sites (Keddie 1994). There are still stories to be told about human-bear relationships waiting to be revealed by archaeology.
Black bears with the genetic variants that produce white or partly white furred bears are believed by indigenous peoples to have special spirit powers – but so do all bears. Bears that have unusual markings and more extensive white in their fur may be seen as being of special significance because they occur more rarely. Indigenous peoples, however, did not see all white bears as a separate and distinct species and give them distinct names meaning “spirit bear”. Older traditions show that white markings allowed individual bears to be identified, and that indigenous understanding was much more complex than that presented in the media.
Non-indigenous people from the cities related to bears in the 1950s in a way that we would find appalling by current standards (see appendix 3). The spotting of white coloured “Spirit bears” or “Ghost bears” is increasingly become a focus of the Tourist industry and sometimes the cause of a romanticized view of the natural world. We need to step back and think about how this behavior will be looked upon 50 years into the future
David Thompson, while travelling in western Canada in the 1798-1807 time period noted that: “The only bears of this country are the small black Bear, with a chance yellow Bear, this latter has a fine fur and trades for three Beavers in barter, when full grown” (Thompson 2009:122). He notes that the black furred bears trade for one or two Beaver skins depending on their size. As Thompson discusses the grizzly bear elsewhere, it appears he is referring here to the “yellow Bear” as a variation of the black bear.
Daniel Harmon was an early observer of bears in the Interior of B.C. In 1810, around Ft. St. James, he observes: “The brown and black bear differ little, excepting in their colour. The hair of the former is much finer than that of the latter. They usually flee from a human being. …The brown and the black bear, climb trees, which the grey, never does. Their flesh is not considered so pleasant food as the of the moose, buffalo or deer; but their oil is highly valued by the Natives, as it constitutes an article of their feasts, and serves, also, to oil their bodies, and other things. Occasionally, a bear is found, the colour of which is like that of a white sheep, and the hair is much longer than that of the other kinds which have been mentioned; though in other respects, it differs not at all from the black bears.” (Lamb 1957:260).
Black, travelling on a branch of the upper Stikine River on August 3, 1824, with an Indigenous Slave notes bears of a pale white colour. Black explains “there are Bears, Black, blue or Grizzly & brown of different shades & they all appear large, the Old Slave is by no means inclined to attach them, the other day Mr. Manson & the old Slave in Company saw two Bears of a pale white colour, but the old Gentleman would not consent to attach them, such is the Idea of these Indians regarding Bears” (Rich 1955:153).
Crompton, who travelled extensively in B.C. in the mid 19th century stated: “The black bear is subject occasionally to albinism like most for the other animals on this coast thus I have seen white (black) bears, white otters, white racoons, white martins and white minks. The Indians set a great value on the white bear skin & I was shown one which was supposed to be the paternal originator of the Tsimpsean race after the flood for their tradition of the deluge is that only a woman & a bear were saved on a mountain & that from this peculiar miscegenation the Tshimsean race arose.” (Crompton 1879:51).
Frederica De Laguna acquired information from both Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in the territories of Tlingit peoples in the 1930s to 1950s, which shows the confusion of bear descriptions at the time: “The Yakutat people; face a variety of large brown bears and grizzlies. These have never been classified to the satisfaction of biologists, but for the native all these large species are “the bear” (xuts; Boas, 1917, p. 158, xuts), the prize of the intrepid hunter and an important sib crest. The very large, dark grizzed Dall brown bear, Ursus dalli, lives northeast of Yakutat Bay, especially along the Malaspin Glacier. The forester, Jay Williams (1952:138),
reports this huge bear at Lituya Bay, it may be another variety, or there may be a break in its distribution between Yaktat and Lituya Bays. Apparently confined to the south-eastern side of Yakutat Bay is the Yakutat grizzly, U.nortoni, a large true grizzly with yellowish or golden brown had and dark brown rump and legs, the whole looking whitish from a distance. It seems to range as far south as Lituay Bay (Williams, 1952:138). Also known at Yakutat is the giant brown bear of Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and Prince William sound, U. Middendorffi. The Alsek, U. Orgiloides, a cream coloured medium sized bear with long narrow skull, ranges the foreland east of Yakutat, especially along the Ahrnklin, Italia, and Alsek Rivers. It is not known whether this bear, or the closely related Glacier Bay grizzly, U. Orgilos, is the form found at Lituya Bay. Between Cross Sound and the Alsek delta is the large Townsend grizzly, U. Townsendi, the exact range of which is undefined.
The black bear (sik), found along the coastal glaciers form Lituya Bay (or Cross Sound) northward to the eastern edge of Prince William Sound or Cape Saint Elias, is very much smaller than the ordinary American black bear. Furthermore, in addition to the usual black and brownish colors, many from the same litter are blue-gray or maltese. These are called glacier bears, U. Americanus emmonsii, formerly Euarctos emmonsee or Ursus glacialis. The Indians make no distinctions, as far as I know, between the color variants, unless what Boas (1891:174) recorded as the “polar bear” (caq, i.e., cax) is really the blueish glacier bear. A few bones of the black bear were found in the site of Knight Island.” (Laguna 1972:36-37).
Swanton (1905:58-69) was told the story of a bear hunter and his traps by a Haida, Jimmy Sterling. In telling the story he gets a detailed description of how the traps are constructed. Haida names were provided for each part of the deadfall trap.
In the Haida bear path deadfall trap shown in figure 9b, the letters indicate: A- Four posts, two on each side of the bear trail. B-Short cross posts tying each set of vertical posts together. C- Between the posts lays a post on the ground. D- The deadfall log that drops on the bear. E- The suspended end of the deadfall post is held by a loop which passes over a short stick E. Stick E is supported by post B. A rope is fastened to the inner end of stick E and carried down to a notched in stick F which is tied to a stake pounded into the ground on one side of the bear trail. Other cords G are fastened across the two front posts and down to the same loop. The bear steps over the log and comes against these latter cords causing the rope to slip out of the notch and the deadfall log to fall (Swanton 1905:6).
Koppert gives one of the better explanations of the use, design and traditional laws around the subject of bear traps or “Chim mis yek ”. Koppert was informed that, if one eats “bear meat or venison, one must abstain for two months from eating fish, especially salmon and halibut”.
In regard to the hunting grounds of bears: “There are no special districts set aside for hunting. Traps are set in places frequented by the animals. An Indian has full right to an animal trail as long as his traps are there. Once he removes his trap, any other Indian may put his trap there and claim all the animals on the trail. An exception to this law is made with regard to the bear trails. The bears are a very valuable animal to the Indians, and the trail is, therefore, owned by the individual whether he has his trap set or not. No one may hunt on such ‘roads’, even though no trap is set. Such bear trails, as well as creeks in which certain Indians have the sole right to fish with trap-boxes, are called ha-how- thle, meaning: belonging to so and so”. These (ha- how- thle) are inherited in the same manner as “house grounds”. They may, however, be ‘leased’, or given away and be lost forever to the family and descendants. A traveller may not take or capture an animal if traps are set in the vicinity.
Koppert describes how bears are trapped in the following manner: “poles driven closely together into the ground near a stream where the bears follow the creek. These poles are about four feet high and arranged in a semi-circle with a diameter of about three feet [See Fig. 10]. The top and sides are covered with branches and sod to make the trap and ‘cave’ appear natural and to make the interior dark. The entrance, at the center of the semi-circle, is just large enough to admit the head and shoulders of the bear. Over the entrance are erected two uprights and a cross-piece. Resting on this cross-piece and projecting about six inches, is a pole reaching back to the farther end of the ‘cave’. A strong string is tied to the inner end of the pole and let down into the ‘cave’; three stakes are driven into the ground at the back of the ‘cave’; to the tops of these stakes and lashed to cross-pieces forming a V …the V is closed by a stick held in place by the pull on the cord which in turn is tied on the ‘tripper’; the ‘tripper’ suspends the weighted log at the entrance of the ‘cave’. To the same stick, a stout string is tied at the end of which is the bait of salmon. Above the entrance, a log is suspended by a thong from the end of the pole resting on the cross-piece. The log at the other end has a dozen or more other logs resting on the top of it as well as heavy stones. When the bear snatches the fish he releases the string that suspends the weighted log over the entrance, and is crushed under the weight of the fallen log. This effective dead-fall is still commonly used. It either kills the bear outright or so cripples him that he cannot run away.” (Koppert 1910:78-80).
In the type of trap shown in figure 10, the bear sticks its head into the cave-like structure and pulls the bait on the rope. The rope pulls a short post out from the edge of a rectangular structure that is holding down, by a rope, one end of a long pole that extends across the cave and over a post across the entrance to the cave. The other end of this post is tied to the large heavy deadfall log. The release of distant end of the long post causes it to flip up over the entrance post causing the deadfall log to come crashing down on the bear.
Father Morice wrote how the Carrier of the Interior began to ritually prepare “a full month previous to the settling of his snares. During all that time he could not drink from the same vessel as his wife, but had to use a special birch bark drinking cup. The second half of the penitential month was employed in preparing his snares. The omission of these observances was believed to cause the escape of the game after it had been snared. To further allure it into the snares he was making, the hunter used to eat the root of a species of heracleum (tse’le’p in Carrier) of which the black bear is said to be especially fond. Sometimes he would chew and squirt it up with water exclaiming at the same time: Nyustluh! May I snare you! Once a bear, or indeed any animal, had been secured, it was never allowed to pass a night in its entirety, but must have some limb, hind or fore paws, cut off, as a means of pacifying its fellows irritated by its killing. …The skulls of bears whose flesh had been eaten up are even to-day invariably stuck on a stick or broken branch of a tree. But the aboriginals fail to give any reason for this practice (Morice 1893:107-108).
In the type of deadfall trap in figure 12, the bear crawls part way into the wooden structure to get the bait on the inner end of a bait stick. The outer end of this bait stick has resting on it a short post holding up the deadfall log. This upright support post is in a notch on the bait post. When the bear swings the bait post around the short upright support post slips out of its notch and causes the deadfall log to crash down.
In the 1950s bears were often seen as entertainment animals with little understanding of their relationship to their natural habitat. As bears lost their fear of humans they mingled together (see figure 13). When I camped in Banff and Jasper as a child it was common to see large line-ups of cars on the highway feeding bears. Ice cream cones were their favorite treat. My father would drive us to the local open garbage dumps where large number of bears came at dusk (figure 14a&b). In one incident a large bear climbed up onto the front of our car and looked at us through the windshield. My father (not a “bear whisperer”) blasted his car horn causing him to be required to explain later how his company car received some very large scrape marks down its entire front. We know today that feeding of wild bears usually ends in them having to be shot. We need to continually educate people not to do this.
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Emmons, George Thornton. 1991. The Tlingit Indians. Edited with additions by Frederica de Laguna and a biography by Jean Low. Douglas & MacIntrye, Vancovuer/Toronto. American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Emmons, George Thornton. 1911. The Tahltan Indians. University of Pennsylvania. The Museum Anthropological Publications, Vol. IV, No.1. Philadelphia.
Golder, F. A. 1907. A Kadiak Island Story: The White-Faced Bear. Journal of American Folk-Lore. Vol. XX. No. LXXIX, Oct. to Dec. pp. 296-299.
Hatler, David F. David W. Nagorson and Alison M. Beal. 2008. Carnivores of British Columbia. Royal B.C. Museum Handbook. Vol. 5. The Mammals of British Columiba. Royal B.C. Museum Victoria, Canada.
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Hedrick, Philip W and Kermit Ritland. 2011. “Population Genetics of the White-Phased ‘Spirit’ Black Bear of British Columbia,” Evolution vol. 66, no. 2.
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Klinka, Dan R. and Thomas E. Reimchen. 2009. “Adaptive Coat Colour Polymorphism in the Kermode Bear of Coastal British Columbia,” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society vol. 98, no. 3.
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Reimchen, Thomas E. and Dan R. Klinka. 2017. “Niche Differentiation between Coat Colour Morphs in the Kermode Bear (Ursidae) of Coastal British Columbia,” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.
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Sapir, Edward 1915. A Sketch of the Social Organization of the Nass River Indians. Canada Department of Mines. Geological Survey. Museum Bulletin No.19. Anthropological Series, No.7. October 15, 1915. Ottawa. Government Printing Bureau.
Swanton, John R. 1908. The Story of the Grizzly- Bear Crest of the Te’qoedi. Tlingit Myths and Text. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. Bulletin 39. Washington D.C.
Swanton, John R. 1905. A Story Told to Accompany Bear Songs. Haida Myths and Text. Skidegate Dialect. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. Bulletin 29, Washington D.C.
I recently spent an enjoyable day hunting Common Wall Lizards to help Camosun College students with a research project. Lizards were easily caught with nooses, by hand, and using elastic bands. These lizards are to be used in a diet study to see whether there is any pattern between historic and current arthropod diversity in pitfall trap samples, and to determine what lizards are selecting from the available invertebrates.
We sampled at Haliburton Farm in Saanich, here on Vancouver Island. Lizards were everywhere – and that is no exaggeration. Every few steps would cause one or more lizards to skitter way into the forest of potted plants and garden veggies growing at the farm.
My Google Earth Map totally under estimates the number of lizards because I couldn’t map the location of each one. There were hundreds of lizards in each section of the farm. Adults were predominant in the heavily modified areas, and yearlings seemed to be occupying peripheral areas that were almost semi natural – young ones likely avoided the main farm to avoid cannibalism.
The tree and a closer view of the knot-hole where the Wall Lizard sought refuge.
One lizard stuck out in my memory – because it was trying to shed the “wall lizard” stereotype by living in a tree. I spotted an adult male well up a tree – and as I approached, it bolted into a knot-hole. The knot-hole led to a significant cavity inside – I used a long dry grass stem to get an idea how large the cavity was. It was at least 20 cm long, plenty of room for an adult Wall Lizard. Years ago Richard Hebda noted that Common Wall Lizards had started to occupy grassy habitat as well as the typical more solid habitat. This lizard seemed more interested in becoming a Tree Lizard – sorry Podarcis, you can change habitat, but not your taxonomy. Luckily Urosaurus ornatus does not live here and won’t have to deal with this arboreally inclined invader.
The armoured glyptodonts and ankylosaurs are one of my favourite examples of convergent evolution, the evolutionary phenomenon in which distantly related animals evolve similar structures or body shapes. Ankylosaurs are the armoured dinosaurs covered in bony plates called osteoderms, and are one of my favourite groups of dinosaurs. Glyptodonts, on the other hand, are mammals – they’re an exinct group of giant, herbivorous armadillos that disappeared about 10 000 years ago. The last time glyptodonts and ankylosaurs shared a common ancestor – a great-great-great-great-grandparent, if you will – was over 300 million years ago, but these two groups of animals evolved similar anatomical features. Most unusually, both ankylosaurs and glyptodonts evolved weaponized, sledgehammer-like tails.
In this study, I worked with my colleague (and former postdoctoral supervisor) Dr. Lindsay Zanno at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to figure out whether or not ankylosaurs and glyptodonts had followed similar evolutionary trajectories when evolving their unusual tail weaponry. Lindsay and I have previously worked on understanding the evolution of bony tail weapons across amniotes (turtles, lizards, crocodilians, birds, mammals, and their extinct relatives) and found that certain anatomical features like armour, large body size, and a stiff backbone were correlated with bony tail weaponry. For our new study, we dug deeper into the anatomy of ankylosaurs and glyptodonts. We wanted to know whether or not ankylosaurs and glyptodonts evolved some of their distinct features in the same way – did certain features evolve before others in both groups? By studying fossils in museums around the world, we were able to map features onto the family trees for ankylosaurs and glyptodonts and see at what points different features first evolved. It turned out that, despite a few differences, the overall pattern was the same: both groups evolved armour, large body size, and stiff backs before weaponizing their tails, and tails became stiff before the tip of the tail was expanded.
What does this similar pattern tell us about how or why tail clubs evolved in glyptodonts and ankylosaurs? When we see similar adaptations in unrelated species, it tells us that there might only be a few good solutions to the challenges that nature throws our way, or in other words, similar features evolve when species are faced with similar selective pressures. In this case,
Lindsay and I speculate that a heavy, expanded tail tip might not be able to evolve unless the tail is already modified to support the extra weight. Similarly, swinging a heavy tail club around might be easier if you have a stiff backbone to help brace against impacts. And lastly, the rarity of species with tail clubs in the fossil record also suggests that tail clubs aren’t easy structures to evolve, and might only be able to evolve when a lot of other anatomical features (like armour) are already in place.
Funding for this research was generously provided by NSERC, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the Jurassic Foundation.
Arbour VM, Zanno LE. 2019. Tail weaponry in ankylosaurs and glyptodonts: an example of a rare but strongly convergent phenotype. The Anatomical Record.
Abstract: The unusual clubbed tails of glyptodonts among mammals and ankylosaurines among dinosaurs most likely functioned as weapons of intraspecific combat or interspecific defense and are characterized by stiffening of the distal tail and, in some taxa, expansion of the distal tail tip. Although similarities in tail weaponry have been noted as a potential example of convergent evolution, this hypothesis has not been tested quantitatively, particularly with metrics that can distinguish convergence from long‐term stasis, assess the relative strength of convergence, and identify potential constraints in the appearance of traits during the stepwise, independent evolution of these structures. Using recently developed metrics of convergence within a phylomorphospace framework, we document that convergence accounts for over 80% of the morphological evolution in traits associated with tail weaponry in ankylosaurs and glyptodonts. In addition, we find that ankylosaurs and glyptodonts shared an independently derived, yet constrained progression of traits correlated with the presence of a tail club, including stiffening of the distal tail as a precedent to expansion of the tail tip in both clades. Despite differences in the anatomical construction of the tail club linked to lineage‐specific historical contingency, these lineages experienced pronounced, quantifiable convergent evolution, supporting hypotheses of functional constraints and shared selective pressures on the evolution of these distinctive weapons.
Last summer my wife and I bought a new car – it is less than a year old and has already transported quite an assemblage of BC species (Southern Resident Killer Whale foetus, Mule Deer, River Otter, Red Fox, Northern Alligator Lizard, Common Wall Lizard, Commander Skate, and 49 species of birds – including the museum’s first Brown Booby). The most recent passenger was a 1.2 meter Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrhinchus) which easily fit into the back of a 2018 Nissan Leaf. Chalk up another reason why electric cars are awesome.
The Mako Shark (wrapped in plastic) arrives at the RBCM loading bay.
As far as I know, this is the second Shortfin Mako Shark specimen from BC waters. The first specimen, from 185 nautical miles west of Cape St. James (Haida Gwaii), was made into a taxidermy mount and only a few of its teeth were deposited in the Royal BC Museum collection (993-00039-001). You have to wonder how often they range this far north?
The mako shark thawed and ready for a long soak in formaldehyde.
This new mako, found September 27, 2016 on shore in Florencia Bay, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is almost perfect. It had been studied by Jackie King (Fisheries and Oceans Canada), tissue samples were taken, and then was shuttled to the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) in Sidney. I picked up the fish at IOS and kept it frozen until I had the time to prepare the shark for the Royal BC Museum collection. Mako sharks are most streamlined representatives of the Family Lamnidae, the same family containing the Great White Shark. It was a thrill to see this amazing fish up close. Its only damage came from scavengers – the left eye is missing, and something – a wolf(?) – had ripped at the gills on the left side.
Tooth rows are easy to see in the jaws of this Shortfin Mako.
The teeth are amazing – and let’s face it – this is what most people want to see on a shark. But have a look at the tail! Without an efficient tail – the teeth would have nothing to bite. Mako sharks are amazingly fast and almost appear nervous when they are swimming – they are certainly the Formula-e cars or jet fighters of the shark world.
The base of the tail on our new mako shark.
Makos have a lateral keel at the base of the tail which allows the fish to efficiently oscillate its tail fin from side to side. In lateral view the base of the tail is narrow – in dorsal / ventral view – the tail base is broad. Salmon Sharks (Lamna ditropis), Porbeagles (Lamna nasus) and Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) have this same feature – it is all about efficient locomotion – hydrodynamics which submarine designers envy. Even the Ninespine Stickleback (Pungitius2) has this basic tail structure – but on a far smaller fish. Evolution is awesome.
Enough fish worship – back to the task at hand. Preservation of a large fish. You have to make sure the internal organs and muscles fix – and since formaldehyde takes time to infiltrate tissues – you inject 10% formaldehyde deep into the muscles to make sure the specimen fixes from the outside in, and inside out.
If the specimen does not fix fairly rapidly – then decay of the tissues begins. The specimen degrades and gas is produced. A gas-filled specimen displaces fluid and can result in a bit of a mess in the lab. When I was a student, we put a sizable sample of suckers in a vat of formaldehyde, closed the lid, and then left them to fix. Oily suckers are always a challenge to fix, and these were no exception. They bloated over night and displaced formaldehyde – which spilled out of the vat. The spill was large enough to draw the attention of the University of Manitoba’s Workplace Health And Safety team. Ooops.
Reptiles also can be tricky to fix – their skin slows the uptake of formaldehyde. As a dewy-eyed student I was keen to check out all the specimens in the vertebrates lab – and was particularly happy to find a forgotten jar with dark brown glass – a mystery. I had to know what was inside. When I reached in and grabbed the snake – it simply fell apart – ribs straining through my fingers. The mouth and cloaca allowed formaldehyde to enter and so the snake’s head and tail preserved well. Its body though, had rotted from the inside out and was mush.
The rattle from the rotten Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus).
I now use a needle to perforate reptile legs and tails to make sure formaldehyde infiltrates everywhere. I also inject 10% formaldehyde into the body cavity to make sure the internal organs of reptiles fix rapidly.
This mako shark was no different – I injected about 500 ml formaldehyde into the body cavity to make sure the internal organs fixed well – then left for the weekend. After a day in formaldehyde, the body already was rubbery and well on its way to making a decent specimen (yes I came to work on a Saturday to check on my precious). It also was not floating – that is a really good sign that the specimen is fixing well and not filling with decay gases.
The mako shark after a day in formaldehyde.
Once the mako shark is fixed (maybe three weeks in formaldehyde just to be sure), then it will get a rinse in water for a few days, and will go into a vat of alcohol for permanent storage. Alcohol is far easier on the eyes and nose than formaldehyde. Ethanol or Isopropanol are our preservatives of choice. Call me crazy, but I am guessing this shark will be a popular item during museum collection tours, so it better be stored in a manner that is fairly safe for visitors. I may as well get a few more larger fishes preserved while the formaldehyde vat is fresh – next up is a 1 meter Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) and a similarly sized Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus).
Museums contain the commonplace, normal, typical specimens as well as the specimens we call TYPES which serve as the golden standard when doing systematics research. But the real attention goes to the oddities – they seem to naturally draw your eyes away from all other specimens. Leucistic birds, albinos, a marmot with overgrown incisors, an Orca with nasty dental issues, an Orca with spinal deformity – these are the specimens that get the WOW vote on collections tours.
Albino Starlings in the Royal BC Museum Ornithology collection – abnormal specimens certainly do catch your eye.
A year or so ago we were clearing out an area we referred to as Room 17 (our version of Area 51), and found jaw fragments from a Sperm Whale mixed with the bones of other whales. Sperm Whales have teeth along the lower jaw but no teeth along the upper jaw and Sperm Whale jaws are long and straight. It does not take a scientific eye to notice what is wrong with these jaws.
The section of Sperm Whale jaw in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Both dentary bones are hooked to the left and it looked like the teeth were fairly normal with decent sized sockets. We have no idea what the upper lip looked like – but I assume these jaws just hooked out of alignment and hung out to the side of the animal. What a drag that would have been. The jaws are large – so this animal was able to feed – the teeth towards the back of the jaw probably functioned normally and it certainly could have performed suction feeding to catch fishes and cephalopods.
Strangely enough, there is no information with these jaws to say when and where the animal was caught. Whaling here in BC ended within my lifetime (including the live capture of Orcas as a form of whaling – some would say jailing) – so I can only assume this jaw was collected pre-1970s when whaling stations were still actively processing Sperm Whales.
Sperm Whales with normal straight jaws (Image A-09221 (top) and Image A-09220 (bottom) courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives).
Jaw deformities are not that rare in Sperm Whales – there are several reports published and some of the deformities are shocking – some are stubby, others in a tight spiral like a conispiral snail shell (see: Murie 1865, Thomson 1867, Nasu 1958, Spaul 1964, and Nakamura 1968).
This specimen is not cataloged in the Royal BC Museum Mammalogy collection, there is no record in our database, and no mention in the museum’s annual reports. Perhaps whaling records will mention this animal – I can’t imagine this whale was processed in the ‘fishery’ and the set of jaws saved with no comment made of the deformity. Time to go CSI on this dentary record.
To dig deeper:
MURIE, J. 1865. On deformity of the lower jaw in the cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus, Linn.). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1865: 396-396.
NAKAMURA, K. 1968. Studies on the sperm whale with deformed lower jaw with special reference to its feeding. Bulletin of the Kanagawa Prefecture Museum of Natural History, 1: 13-27.
NASU, K. 1958. Deformed lower jaw of sperm whale. Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute, 13: 211-212.
SPAUL, E. A. 1964. Deformity in the lower jaw of the sperm whale (Physeter catodon). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 142: 391-395.
THOMSON, J. H. 1867. Letter relating to the occasional deformity of the lower jaw of the sperm whale. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1867: 246-247.
When reptiles and amphibians take shelter from the cold, they seek refuge above freezing, but not too warm – maybe 2 to 4°C. If it is too cold, tissues freeze and for most animals, this is fatal. Death comes from ice crystal growth which essentially shreds body cells at a microscopic level. Some animals like the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) are freeze–tolerant, and consequently are our northern most ‘herpetile’ along the coast of the Arctic Ocean/Beaufort Sea.
Wood Frog photographed in a ditch near Winnipeg.
If the refuge is too warm, the animal’s metabolism burns stored fat and the animal loses weight. My father had a pet Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) when he was a child – and in winter, his parents put the tortoise in a box, surrounded it with hay, and placed it in the boiler room to hibernate. The boiler room was too warm for hibernation – the tortoise starved or died of dehydration. Consequently, my grandparents bought a new tortoise each year after burying its ‘hibernating’ predecessor. I am not shore how many tortoises they went through.
Hermann’s Tortoise image from Wikipedia.
On March 5th (2019) I received a set of photos of a frozen adult Wall Lizard found by John Hunter, a Colwood resident. It appeared that the cold, frosty nights of Late February and Early March 2019 had claimed at least one lizard life. The lizard had taken refuge in John’s gardening shoes. Its body was placed on a rock in the garden – presumably nature would deal with the remains. March 6th – the lizard awoke and ran off.
Resurrection? No. The Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), like the Wood Frog, has a physiological ace up its sleeve. It can freeze up to 28% of its body water and still survive. As long as the cold snap is not too long or too severe, they usually survive without trouble. The mild winters of southern Vancouver Island were almost tailor-made for these invaders.
However, shoes obviously were not ideal shelter from the cold. Shoes keep our feet warm because our feet produce heat – the shoe only slows heat loss to the environment. Has anyone ever said to you, “Here, this blanket will warm you up.” Truth is, a blanket doesn’t provide heat, only slows heat loss – just like winter boots. With no source of heat, and with the open cuff/collar, footwear would act more like a sci-fi cryo-tube than a cozy refuge. At best the shoes shielded the lizard from scavengers.
I left my gardening boots outside last week – they were a bit too muddy to bring indoors. But since lizards are still about 60 meters north of my garden – I don’t think I will find any lost souls lining the insole.
Robert A. Cannings¹
1 Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
Since Corbet’s thorough 1979 overview of Canadian Odonata, hundreds of regional works on taxonomy, faunistics, distribution, life history, ecology and behaviour have been written. Canada records 214 species of Odonata, an increase of 20 since the 1979 assessment. Estimates of unrecorded species are small; this reflects the well-known nature of the fauna. A major impetus for surveys and analyses of the status of species is the work of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada which provides a scientifically sound classification of wildlife species potentially at risk. As of 2017, six species have been designated “Endangered” and two “Special Concern” (only five of which are officially listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA)). The Order provides a good example of molecular bar-coding effort in insects, as many well-accepted morphological species in Canada have been bar-coded to some degree. However, more bar-coding of accurately identified specimens of many species is still required, especially in most of the larger families, which have less than 70% of their species bar-coded. Corbet noted that the larvae of 15 Canadian species were unknown, but almost all larvae are now well, or cursorily, described. Extensive surveys have greatly improved our understanding of species’ geographical distributions, habitat requirements and conservation status but more research is required to better define occurrence, abundance and biological details for almost all species.
barcoding, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, climate change, identification, Odonata, species at risk
Jade Savage¹, Art Borkent³, Fenja Brodo¹¹, Jeffey M. Cumming², Gregory Curler⁴, Douglas C. Currie⁵, Jeremy R. deWaard⁶, Joel F. Gibson³, Martin Hauser⁷, Louis Laplante⁸, Owen Lonsdale², Stephen A. Marshall⁹, James E. O’Hara², Bradley J. Sinclair¹⁰, Jeffey H. Skevington²
1 Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada 2 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 3 Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 4 Mississippi Entomological Museum, Mississippi State University, Starksville, Mississippi, USA 5 Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 6 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 7 California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento, California, USA 8 Unaffiated, Montreal, Quebec, Canada 9 University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 10 Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 11 Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The Canadian Diptera fauna is updated. Numbers of species currently known from Canada, total Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs), and estimated numbers of undescribed or unrecorded species are provided for each family. An overview of recent changes in the systematics and Canadian faunistics of major groups is provided as well as some general information on biology and life history. A total of 116 families and 9620 described species of Canadian Diptera are reported, representing more than a 36% increase in species numbers since the last comparable assessment by JF McAlpine et al. (1979). Almost 30,000 BINs have so far been obtained from flies in Canada. Estimates of additional number of species remaining to be documented in the country range from 5200 to 20,400.
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Diptera, flies, systematics
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
The Mecoptera are represented in Canada by 25 extant species in four families, an increase of three species since the prior assessment in 1979. An additional 18 or more species and one family are expected to occur in Canada based on distributional records, recent collections and DNA analyses. The Bar-code of Life Data System currently lists 24 Bar-code Index Numbers for Canadian Mecoptera. There are nine species of fossil Mecoptera known from Canada
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Mecoptera, scorpionfly
James Miskelly¹, Steven M. Paiero²
1 Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St., Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 School of Environmental Sciences, 50 Stone Rd. East, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In the last 40 years, the number of species in the orthopteroid orders has increased by ~10% from that known in 1979. The largest order, the Orthoptera, has increased from 205 to 235 species known in Canada. The number of Blattodea has increased from 14 to 18 species, while Dermaptera has increased from 5 to 6 species. The number of species of Mantodea (3) and Phasmida (1) known in Canada have remained unchanged. Most new species records reported in Canada since 1979 have resulted from new collections along the periphery of the range of more widespread species. Some species reported since 1979 are recent introductions to Canada, including species restricted to homes or other heated buildings. The taxonomy of these orders has also changed, with only the Dermaptera having maintained its order definition since the 1979 treatment. Additional orthopteroid species are likely to occur in Canada, particularly in the orders Orthoptera and Blattodea. DNA bar-codes are available for more than 60% of the species known to occur in Canada
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Blattodea, cockroaches, crickets, Dermaptera, earwigs, grasshoppers, katydids, mantids, Mantodea, Orthoptera, Phasmida, stick insects, termites
David W. Langor¹
1 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, 5320 – 122 St. NW, Edmonton, Alberta, T6H 3S5, Canada
Based on data presented in 29 papers published in the Biota of Canada Special Issue of ZooKeys and data provided herein about Zygentoma, more than 44,100 described species of terrestrial arthropods (Arachnida, Myriapoda, Insecta, Entognatha) are now known from Canada. This represents more than a 34% increase in the number of described species reported 40 years ago (Danks 1979a). The most speciose groups are Diptera (9620 spp.), Hymenoptera (8757), and Coleoptera (8302). Less than 5% of the fauna has a natural Holarctic distribution and an additional 5.1% are non-native species. A conservatively estimated 27,000–42,600 additional species are expected to be eventually discovered in Canada, meaning that the total national species richness is ca. 71,100–86,700 and that currently 51–62% of the fauna is known. Of the most diverse groups, those that are least known, in terms of percent of the Canadian fauna that is documented, are Acari (31%), Thsanoptera (37%), Hymenoptera (46%), and Diptera (32–65%). All groups but Pauropoda have DNA barcodes based on Canadian material. More than 75,600 Barcode Index Numbers have been assigned to Canadian terrestrial arthropods, 63.5% of which are Diptera and Hymenoptera. Much work remains before the Canadian fauna is fully documented, and this will require decades to achieve. In particular, greater and more strategic investment in surveys and taxonomy (including DNA barcoding) is needed to adequately document the fauna.
Arachnida, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, checklists, Entognatha, Hexapoda, Insecta, Myriapoda, surveys, taxonomy, Zygentoma
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
The Neuroptera of Canada consists of 101 extant species, an increase of 26 (35%) since the previous assessment of the fauna in 1979. More than 48 additional species are believed to occur in Canada based largely on recent DNA evidence and new distribution records. The Bar-code Of Life Data System (BOLD) currently includes 141 Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs) for Canadian Neuroptera. Canadian fossils have thus far yielded 15 species in three families of Neuroptera.
antlion, aphidlion, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, lacewing, mantidfly, Neuroptera, owlfly
Robert G. Foottit¹, H. Eric L. Maw¹, Joel H. Kits¹, Geoffey G. E. Scudder²
1 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa Research and Development Centre and Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, K. W. Neatby Bldg., 960 Carling Ave., Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0C6, Canada 2 Department of Zoology and Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada
Th Canadian Hemiptera (Sternorrhyncha, Auchenorrhyncha, and Heteroptera) fauna is reviewed, which currently comprises 4011 species, including 405 non-native species. DNA bar-codes available for Canadian specimens are represented by 3275 BINs. Th analysis was based on the most recent checklist of Hemiptera in Canada (Maw et al. 2000) and subsequent collection records, literature records and compilation of DNA bar-code data. It is estimated that almost 600 additional species remain to be discovered among Canadian Hemiptera.
Barcode Index Number (BIN), biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, DNA barcodes, Hemiptera, true bugs
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
There are eight species in two families of Raphidioptera known from Canada, an increase of one species since the prior assessment in 1979. Another four species are likely to occur in Canada based on DNA evidence and distributional records. The Bar-code of Life Data System currently lists ten Bar-code Index Numbers for Canadian Raphidioptera.
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Raphidioptera, snakeflies
Robb Bennett¹, Gergin Blagoev², Claudia Copley¹
1 Department of Entomology, Natural History Section, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, 579 Gordon Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In 1979 nearly 1400 spider species in 32 families either had been recorded (1249) or were believed to occur (~140) in Canada. Twenty years later, although significant progress had been made in survey efforts in some regions, Canada’s spider inventory had only increased by approximately 7% to roughly 1500 species known or expected to occur. Th family count had increased to 38 but only two additions were truly novel (fie family additions and one family deletion were the result of advances in family-level systematics). The first comprehensive taxonomic checklist of Canadian spider species was published in 2010 documenting the regional distributions of 1376 species representing 42 families (three novel since 1999). From 2010 through 2017 new national records steadily accumulated resulting in the current (2018) Canadian inventory of 1477 species classified in 45 families (one novel since 2010). Although there has been close to a 20% increase in the number of spider species recorded in Canada since 1979, much greater increases have occurred in some of the regional species checklists, indicating increasing knowledge of the regional distribution of species previously recorded elsewhere in Canada. For example the regional checklists for Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island have increased by 69%, 339%, and 520%, respectively. The national and regional increases reflect significant advances in the fist two decades of the 21 st Century in spider faunistics research in previously under-sampled habitats and regions and the development of molecular techniques and consequent bar-coding of spiders. Of the 1477 species recorded in Canada, 92% have been successfully DNA bar-coded resulting in 1623 unique Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs). At least 25 of the BINs are associated with relatively easily distinguished but undescribed morpho-species. Th majority, however, appear to indicate the existence of many cryptic species within Canada’s known spider fauna. Thse data, coupled with the fact that novel Canadian or even Nearctic spider species records (including of undescribed species) continue to accumulate annually (especially in habitat-diverse regions such as British Columbia), suggest that Canada’s tally of spider species may approach or even exceed 1800.
Araneae, BINs, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, checklist, classification, DNA barcoding, faunistics, spiders
Lettuce is shipped to Canada regularly. Plastic-wrapped-produce crosses our border every day – it is inspected and then it goes to grocery stores across the province. The lettuce then gets purchased, bagged and taken home – sometimes for sandwiches, salads, or maybe for juicing.
Green goodness at a local grocery store.
This November 27th, a bag of leafy goodness was opened after crossing the international border with a stowaway – a small frog in lettuce from California. It emerged – and was taken to the local SPCA. From there it was sent to me at the Royal BC Museum for identification.
The stowaway was sent to me in a container filled with damp moss.
On first glance this refugee looks like our Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla) which ranges south of BC to California. The taxonomy of the Pacific Chorus Frog is quite contentious though. Historically only one species was defined – P. regilla. In recent years, mitochondrial DNA suggested three species exist in California in what was once a wide-ranging Pacific Chorus Frog. Based on mtDNA, our Pacific Chorus Frog was thought to only range into extreme northwestern California. To the south, the Sierran Chorus Frog (P. sierrae) ranged across central California, and Baja California Chorus Frogs (P. hypochondriaca) were scattered across southern third of that state. If that wasn’t enough to upset a frog’s personal identity, work in 2016 placed the Pacific Chorus Frogs in a new genus Hyliola. Then in 2017, after referring back to a 2014 analysis of nuclear DNA, the three species were once again lumped into Pseudacris regilla. Or is it Hyliola? I bet the frog is confused too.
The range of the three chorus frog species based on mtDNA, from: http://www.californiaherps.com/frogs/maps/pregillamap3species3.jpg
Call me lazy, but if they are all lumped into one species – P. regilla – that makes my life easier. If the Pacific Chorus Frog was split into three species, then either I’d need to take a tissue sample to get an identification (and the frog would not enjoy that), or I’d need to know exactly where the lettuce came from. Odds are grocery records are pretty tight in this era of E. coli-tainted tracheophytes, but I have some doubt we’d ever know exactly where a given bag of lettuce originated.
A Pacific Chorus Frog from just north of the Nighthawk border crossing in the Okanagan.
Let’s just assume we are lumping all the Pacific coast Pseudacris into one species – then this refugee regilla is the same species as our Chorus frogs in BC. If this is the same species, can I just let it go? No way. It is genetically distinct since it comes from so far away, and there always is the risk of disease transmissions posed by exotic frogs. At least this Californian frog didn’t come from a pet shop where it could encounter a range of other exotic frogs and their diseases.
To be honest, I am really impressed that the frog was contained in the first place – people have a habit of releasing stowaways rather than turning them in for examination. Years ago a couple returned home from Mexico and found a red and black snake in their luggage. The snake didn’t seem well, but they released it somewhere in Metchosin. Presumably that snake died, but if it had been a gravid female, it could have deposited 7-10 (or more) eggs, and we’d have an instant population. What species had infiltrated their luggage? I have no idea – it could well have been venomous. When I was an undergrad student, a red and black snake appeared in the pet trade in Winnipeg – it was labeled Honduran Milk Snake and looked like this. I assumed it was harmless based on the old rhyme:
Red-on-Black, Safe for Jack.
Red-on-Yellow, Kill a fellow.
I was wrong – the snake in the pet shop was rear-fanged and bit me. It was my first (and currently only) venomous snake bite. Bottom line is: Better to be safe than sorry. And as a member of IMISWG (Inter-Ministry Invasive Species Working Group) we always say that it is better to not release something, than try to clear out exotic species later. Turn in stowaways to your local SPCA or Natural Resource Officers. It is safer for the environment. Frogs obviously are harmless, but if you think you have something dangerous in your groceries – an Eyelash Viper in a bunch of bananas or a Brown Widow Spider in your Californian cauliflower – call your local Natural Resource office and arrange for a professional to remove the offending animal.
Above all else, don’t let it loose.
I recently came across a small batch of letters while I was looking for something else. The letters, described as PR-1615, were to Matilda John of Victoria. They were written to her in 1899 and 1900 by her young boyfriend Harold Penn Wilson as he traveled from Victoria to Bennett and later Atlin. Wilson worked for the Merchants Bank of Halifax and had been sent to their new office in Bennett. The letters are mostly interesting in how they describe the journey from Vancouver to Bennett, and what it was like to live in the North at the turn of the century for a young bank clerk. But there is also some gentle romance; Harold asked Mattie for a lock of her hair and claims that he is wearing her “badge”. Harold was 19 and Mattie was about 16.
Harold and Matilda never married, he eventually married someone else in Prince Rupert, and died back in Victoria in 1975. I haven’t been able to find out anything about Matilda. There is a photograph of a Matilda John in our portrait files which may be her. She is dressed in what looks like a nurse’s uniform.
Matilda kept the letters and they made their way to the Archives at some point. They are quite fragile so they have been digitized by the Preservation team and now anyone can read them by clicking on the letter showing in the description and downloading the pdf file.
When it was never published in the first place.
The Royal BC Museum fish collection contains a specimen which had been locked securely in one of our type cabinets since the 1980s. It was designated as the holotype for a new species – Sebastes tsuyukii – there was even a manuscript noted on the specimen label (Westreim and Seeb 1989). It sounded legit – and no one checked until recently.
Jody Riley – my ever diligent volunteer – flagged this record when she was re-organising the fish collection. She checked what is in our old paper catalog, checked the electronic database, then looked to see if the actual specimen exists. When Jody hit Sebastes tsuyukii, and found no record of the species online, yet here in her hands was the jar with a big yellow tape label saying Holotype for Sebastes tsuyukii, she knew something was fishy.
In the end, we can take this large jar out of the cabinet designated for type specimens, Sebastes tsuyukii now is a nomen nudum (a naked name), and I can delete the species from the taxonomy in our museum database. Some database problems are easy to solve.
But this reminds me to get my fingers in gear and type the type descriptions for species I have yet to publish.
Last year I came across an interesting document. It is a Memorandum of Cooperation between British Columbia and the State of Washington and was signed in July 1972 by Premier W.A.C. Bennett and the Governor of Washington, Daniel J. Evans. It is a simply written two-page document outlining the desires of both parties to protect the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and their adjacent waters from oil spills.
The document came to the BC Archives in 1973, from the Office of the Deputy Provincial Secretary and had been stored offsite with just a control number.
I rehoused it and made a descriptive record and recently our preservation team scanned it at my request. Now anyone can read the document by clicking on the image and downloading the pdf, GR-0160
Along with some 1977 photographs of oil spill experiments, it offers a glimpse into some of the prevailing issues in that decade.
Nitinat (T12A) was a well known Orca along the BC coast. Born in 1982, he was a fixture along the BC coast and an active participant in the 2002 attack on a Minke Whale in Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island. This animal – with its characteristically wavy dorsal was found dead off Cape Beale near Bamfield, September 15th, 2016. Funds weren’t available to prepare the entire skeleton, so I had to settle for the skull and jaws.
As you can imagine, the head of an orca would pop the frame of any domestic chest freezer, and it blocked the aisle of the walk-in freezer at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. It was also no small feat to fork-lift the head into the museum’s van, and then get it back out of the van and wheel it to the museum’s walk-in freezer. It also was a surreal experience driving around with an orca head in the truck. The head is heavy – and slippery – and difficult to tie down – so I drove smoothly to avoid having the head roll around behind me. Imagine explaining to an insurance company how an orca head caused you to lose control of your vehicle?
Nitinat’s head was prepared by Mike DeRoos and Michi Main – their internationally acclaimed business, Cetacea, focuses on cleaning and articulating whale skeletons. While preparing this skull for burial, they noticed that Nitinat had broken teeth. Given that I broke a molar on a frozen Reese’s Piece in a Dairy Queen Blizzard, I could imagine how Biggs Orcas could break a tooth when biting down on a sea lion or elephant seal. Large pinnipeds have dense bones.
Once the skull was cleaned, Mike and Michi found that not only were teeth broken, there also is a nickle-sized hole in the palate and many teeth were abscessed. The hole in the palate is particularly interesting. It has smooth sides and so certainly had healed before Nitinat’s death. Was it a puncture and the source of the infection that caused the distortion of the teeth? Or was it a channel for the abscess to weep into Nitinat’s mouth (not a pleasant thought regardless).
Normal teeth (left) have a long root and recurved crown, with natural wear for their ecotype – but the abscessed teeth were stunning with their broken crown and expanded root. They almost remind me of some squash varieties that are available.
One of the teeth is so swollen that it couldn’t be removed from its distorted socket.
Red lines beside the skull indicate expanded tooth sockets – perhaps age and infection combined to create this effect. The sockets for the abscessed teeth were eroded and far larger than normal sockets (in this non-mammalogist’s opinion). Erik Lambertson made a great scale bar.
Nitinat’s teeth are enough to make anyone who has had a toothache cringe, and a dentist’s eyes pop with fascination. I am just waiting for the day someone requests to see Nitinat as the focus of a pathology research paper. For now, he is a permanent addition to the Royal BC Museum collection and will soon get his official catalog number.
I don’t know if the title of this article is an accurate way to say fork-tailed lizard in German, but the Gabelschwanz-Teufel – the P-38 Lightning (the fork-tailed devil) could take a lot of punishment and still get home at the end of a sortie. A fork-tailed lizard has a parallel story – it has taken a beating and survived.
It is common to find lizards with regenerated tails or tails that are recently dropped – with their tell-tail stump. Sometimes the tip is lost, others about 90% of the tail is lost. The regrown tail segment is never as nice as the original and has different scale patterns and colouration.
This male Wall Lizard photographed by Deb Thiessen, lost its tail near the base and the regenerated tail is obvious. Its meal had a perfect tail.
I have seen fork-tailed, even trident tailed lizards in photos – I remember images like this in the books I poured over earlier in my ontogeny. Had I ever seen one in person? Not until now. During my PhD thesis work, the only fork-tails I thought about were thelodont fishes known from Early Devonian rocks of the Northwest Territories.
This July, Robert Williams, a colleague from University of Leeds in England was here working on Wall Lizards. He was trying to determine if our native Northern Alligator Lizards react in any way to the scent of the European Wall Lizard.
Live animals are not allowed at the Royal BC Museum, so Rob had to perform scent trials in my dining room. The lizards were held in containers in my kitchen – and I thank my wife for her patience.
The work helps give a frame of reference to reactions between the native Sand Lizard in the UK and introduced Wall Lizards, but you’ll have to wait to hear the results. While hunting Wall Lizards on Moss Rocks here in Victoria, Rob caught a fork-tailed specimen.
Since this was such a neat specimen I requested it be saved intact for the Royal BC Museum’s collection. Here is a photo of a fork-tailed Wall Lizard from England, but Rob had to come all the way to the Pacific coast of Canada to catch one.
In museum collections, space is critical. We can’t waste space. Every millimeter of shelving is critical. If you can arrange cabinets more efficiently, do it. Can you pack more jars in a given area? Do it. If you can make space. Do it.
I have been on a binge of deaccessioning lately. What is deaccessioning? It is the museum practice of removing accessioned/cataloged specimens from the collection. Once deaccessioned, we either send specimens to other museums where they are relevant, or give them to teaching collections or perhaps to nature centers. Only rotten specimens are destroyed. We try everything we can to re-purpose specimens before we resort to destruction.
This surfperch, Embitoca lateralis, is a rare candidate for destruction. It has been deaccessioned – someone had cranked the clamp too tight years ago and the glass at the apex of lid popped. Alcohol evaporated and by the time it was noticed, it was too late. If the fish in the jar could speak, they’d say, “There’s a fungus among us.”
Deaccessioning allows me to make space in the collection for new material. Since I am trying to keep the Royal BC Museum’s vertebrate collection focused on British Columbia, the eastern North Pacific Ocean and any adjacent territory, specimens with no relevance to this region obviously have my attention. Specimens with incomplete information (or no information), also flare my obsessive nature and are on my deaccession hit list. Space is created on a jar-by-jar basis.
Putting ‘incomplete information’ in everyday terms – if we are going to meet somewhere, you generally expect some level of detail. If I say I want to meet in Tofino in June, what would you say? Imagine now that I didn’t even give you my name – but still wanted to meet in Tofino in June. I am betting you’d put on your best Monty Python-esque King Arthur and say, “You’re a Loony.” Incomplete or missing data is a real issue.
My long suffering volunteer Jody found a jar of flatfish this weekend which had never been cataloged, but was in the collection. It was only a 125 ml jar – so not a huge waste of space. On closer inspection the fishes were identified (Parophrys vetulus, English Sole), there was a location (Tofino), and a date (June 1985).
Where was I in June 1985 – oh yea – just about to graduate from grade 12. Oh the 80s – I am listening to Duran Duran while typing this – RIO – the obvious choice with its maritime theme.
Yep, that was me in 1985.
Parophrys vetulus is a common fish here in BC, so it is likely you can catch them all around Tofino in June – but it would be nice to know which beach relinquished its sole. And when did it happen? Was it at night? Was it a full moon? On the 1st of the month, or mid month? Were they in ankle-deep water or at 10 meters depth? Open beach or a tidepool? Caught by hand or with a net? Inquiring minds may want to know. And with no collector noted in the hand-written label – I can’t even badger someone by email to jog their memory or review old field notes.
These are the lost soles Jody found. Is one of them yours?
To a museum, data is everything. If you collect and preserve a specimen, record as much as you can about the event. If you are giving me your sole, then tell me its secrets.
Don’t say that too quickly.
I recently enjoyed looking through an old photograph album that was given to the Provincial Library and Archives in December 1937. The album was donated by Major Harold Brown, Managing Director of the Union Steamship Co. Provincial Librarian W. Kaye Lamb noted that the photographs were probably taken around 1924-1925.
We don’t know why Brown created the album, maybe it was useful to have photographs of the Union Steamship Co. ships (and others) to hand when doing business.
Over the years we have scanned about 147 of the 250 photographs in the album. They can be viewed online with their description MS-3079.
I am interested in the ones that show some kind of port activity like this one of the tug Helac and the Kaga Maru at what looks like the Vancouver Harbour.
But this one is quite sad, it’s the Toyama Maru in Vancouver Harbour. Twenty years later it would be sunk by the USS Sturgeon, killing over 5000 Japanese soldiers and sailors.
Saturday was International Archives Day. This year’s theme is Governance, Memory, and Heritage. It’s a broad subject, but it really covers the essence of what we do.
Part of my job involves giving tours of the BC Archives, often to groups of people that have never used an archives or considered doing archival research. In my 10 minute “Archives 101” introduction I start with one of the main tenants of why we keep records: because archives are a mainstay of democratic governance. Embedded in democracy is the right of the people to access information about themselves and their government. In theory we keep about 5% of all the records created by government, but that small percentage should capture the good stuff: decision making documents, policies, annual reports, and other summary records that illustrate what a particular government office was doing at a moment in time.
Government records are great for giving an overview of society, but they can be somewhat dry – and so much of society operates outside of government. For this reason, the BC Archives long ago adopted a “total archives” approach, seeking to fill in the gaps in the record by acquiring the records of individuals, families, businesses, and organizations whose impact was provincial in scope. Of course, deciding what records fit this mandate is subjective, and institutional interests or priorities can be evident in collecting practices over time. Ensuring that the spectrum of humanity and experiences in BC are reflected in the archives is a challenge, and we must continually evaluate the work that we do, recognizing that there will always be silences in the record, and that often what we don’t find in the archives is as important as what we do find.
One thing you can be sure to find in the archives is variety. From the people and the places described, to the format that the information is found, there is more to the archives than most people expect. A record is any recorded information: textual (written records), cartographic (maps, plans, architectural drawings), audio-visual (sound recordings and moving picture recordings), graphic (photographs, paintings, drawings and prints). For International Archives Day, we wanted to highlight a few of our diverse collections. But how can we choose among the thousands of series? I’ve selected a few today, but the @BCArchives twitter account will continue to highlight our records by tweeting a “Featured Collection” twice a month from now on. Although some of what we share may have restrictions on access, we hope they give a sense of the fascinating information found in the stacks at the Archives!
GR 3571 – Premier’s Correspondence. 131 m textual, photos, audio, ephemera. These records cover the period from 1974 to 2008 and document ordinary peoples’ reactions to “hot topic” issues of the day such as old growth forestry logging, RCMP officers wearing turbans, the tainted blood scandal, and government funding of AIDS medication. Included are some children’s letters and art from school groups. This collection is may have some restrictions on access.
PR-2086 Philip Borsos fonds. 22 metres of multimedia material including film reels, magnetic tracks, optical tracks, optical discs, video reels, videocassettes, audio reels, audio cassettes, audio compact discs, photographs, technical drawings, maps, prints, production boards and computer disks. Borsos was a filmmaker with a career spanning 1970 – 1995. The film projects chronicled include the documentary shorts “Cooperage”, “Spartree”, “Phase Three”, “Nails”, and “Racquetball”, and the features “The Grey Fox”, “One Magic Christmas”, “Bethune”, and “Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog.” The fonds also includes Borsos’ journals and miscellaneous personal papers.
GR-3377 – Provincial Archives of British Columbia audio interviews, 1974-1992. Consists of 440 sound recordings. The series consists of oral history interviews recorded by staff members and research associates of the Provincial Archives of B.C. Major subject areas include: political history (especially the Coalition era, the W.A.C. Bennett years, and David Barrett’s NDP government); ethnic groups (including Chinese- and Japanese-Canadians); frontier and pioneer life; the forest industry; B.C. art and artists; the history of photography, filmmaking and radio broadcasting in the province; and the history of Victoria High School. This is one example of many oral history collections at the Archives!
GR-0419.34A – Attorney General documents, 17 (1887). 235 pages. File includes correspondence and other records relating to the so-called “Kootenai Uprising.” Records describe the dissatisfaction of the Ktunaxa with their assigned reserve lands; the accusation of two Indigenous men of murder, followed by the arrest of one called Kapla, and his subsequent escape with the assistance of Chief Isadore; and the deployment of the North-West Mounted Police, led by Sam Steele, to the region. Of particular note is a verbatim transcript of a speech delivered by Chief Isadore in July 1887.
PR-1380 – Frederick Dally fonds. 7 cm of textual records, 466 photographs, 1 map. Frederick Dally was born in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England in 1840. He arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1862, on the China Clipper “Cyclone.” In March 1864, Dally leased a store at the corner of Fort and Government streets, and in 1866 he opened a photographic studio in Victoria. Between 1865 and 1870, he took extensive photographs around Vancouver Island and in the Cariboo District.
I have said before that European Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) will eat smaller conspecifics – there are a few photos online from elsewhere on Earth – but until now I didn’t have solid evidence of lacertophagy (lizard eating) here on Vancouver Island.
However, this last week, Deb Thiessen took a few videos of a Wall Lizard eating a yearling Wall Lizard on her property just north of Victoria. These are really good videos and clearly show that Wall Lizards can stuff down a huge meal.
Posted by Deb Thiessen on Friday, June 1, 2018
In this first video the smaller Wall Lizard is already dead, and I suspect that the larger lizard killed it. Looks like another lizard had thoughts of stealing the meal. Sure looks like breathing is an issue while stuffing down so large a meal. Snakes solve the problem of eating and breathing by pushing their trachaea (windpipe) out of the mouth so that food does not block air flow.
Posted by Deb Thiessen on Friday, June 1, 2018
The victor looks like a male, and in the second video you can see how quickly it disposes of the tail rather than having that part of the meal hanging out of its mouth for a few days.
Almost all of the victor’s own tail had been lost some time ago. You can always see where its original tail ended and the re-growth takes over – the new tail is never as neatly patterned.
Be glad Wall Lizards aren’t the same size as Varanus prisca, otherwise we’d be on the menu.
Last summer I worked with some really interesting records that illuminated the “Home Front” situation in British Columbia during World War 2.
Activity, particularly in the realm of Air Raid Precautions (ARP), was a curious mixture of official and civilian partnership. In 1942 Premier John Hart formed the Advisory Council, Provincial Civilian Protection Committee to assist and advice the official Provincial committee in the organization of air raid precautions in the province.
The Advisory Council took on a lot of administrative work in distributing grants to BC communities to buy equipment, train volunteers and disseminate information.
The records of the Committee are with the BC Archives and are described as GR-0268. Last year I found three boxes of missing records and added them to the series. The series description can be viewed here.
The records are open for access but are stored offsite so can take a few days to bring in.
There are also some photographic records created by the Advisory Committee which I had a lot of fun working with. One series, GR-3644, consists of 77 b&w photos of ARP activity. Our preservation unit has scanned these so they can now all be viewed online.
Some of my favourites include I-78009 (children learning to use respirators), I-78029 (volunteers receiving training), I-78002 (recruiting poster) and I-77973 (gas decontamination crew during practice)
Or if you are an astronomer, then your science is Sirius. If you are a geologist, then your science is pretty gneiss. Don’t take science for granite.
I have been tracking Wall Lizards now for a while – and I am sure my wife will say lizard tracking has become an obsession – a serious obsession. I look at rock walls as we drive around town. I look for lizards on our weekend hikes. I watch for lacertids when I walk our daughter too and from school. Science is serious.
I have been watching the range expansion of two nicely segregated populations of lizards in Victoria – one population is about 0.63 km SSW from our house west of Hillside Mall, and the other is about 0.24 km north of us near Doncaster School – not that I have measured.
Each year I walk the perimeter of these populations to get an idea how fast lizards disperse in urban environments – again – this is serious science. Stop laughing. I can hear you laughing. Rolling your eyes does not help.
Wall Lizards seem to spread 40 to 100 meters – and it is the young ones that do the dispersing. Why? They race off to new habitat to avoid the cannibalistic tendencies of their parents. Parents with a 40 year old trekkie in the basement may want to consider this option as an incentive to get kids to move out.
Young lizards head for the relative safety of boring lawns – garden areas with lots of structure are occupied by hungry adults. Homeowners sometimes claim their lawn is crawling with young lizards in August – when all the summer’s eggs have hatched. In contrast, adults are relatively sedentary – once they find good sunny, rocky (complex) territory, they tend to move very little from year to year.
Now imagine my surprise when I walked up my driveway last night (May 23rd, 2018) and heard the characteristic rustling sound of a lizard in our food forest (yes, the lawn is gone and we have a food forest – the entire front garden is devoted to plants we can eat, and plants that attract bees to pollinate the plants with edible bits – but I digress). The lizard I found is at least 0.24 km from the nearest known population of lizards in my neighbourhood, and is an adult – with a perfect tail too – must have lived a charmed life free of bird and domestic cat attacks. Did this adult go walkabout? I doubt it.
The new colonist in the food forest at UF1510 (yes, as sci-fi nuts we gave our place a code name Urban Farm1510)…
Furthermore, the lizards nearest to my house are not brightly coloured – in fact they are kind of drab as far as Wall Lizards go. But our new lizard is gorgeous – more like ones from Triangle Mountain or farther north on the Saanich Peninsula.
This male is from Durrance Road – far more colourful than the ones near Doncaster School or Hillside Mall.
Is this a case of seriously good science prank? Was this a drive-by lizarding? Did a neighbour just buy some new garden supplies and a stow-away lizard emerged to find utopia in our food forest? I may never know.
My daughter has named the lizard Zoom. I guess he is there to stay.
Here’s a link to a new paper by: Luke R Halpin, Jeffrey A Seminoff, and myself.
Source: Northwestern Naturalist, 99(1):73-75.
Published By: Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology
This new paper provides the first photographs of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) from west of Vancouver Island. The species has been spotted in the region before and as far north as Alaska, but until now, there were no photographs or specimens as solid evidence.
While the photos in this paper are black and white – the original photographs by Luke Halpin are color and van be viewed upon request. PDFs also are available – just send me an email.
British Columbia is now within the range of 4 species of marine turtle. This Loggerhead survived into February of 2015 because of the unusually warm water in the eastern North Pacific Ocean (the Warm Water Blob), whereas Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) wash up dead (or near dead) in early winter. Unfortunately, the fate of the Loggerhead from 2015 is unknown.
Years ago after coming off parental leave, I found a series of photographs of Wall Lizards and a Google Earth image of a road intersection marked to show locations for a lizard colony. Quick search in Google Earth showed that this colony was in Nanaimo. I fired off a fast blog article to generate interest and get people looking for Wall Lizards.
It worked. Reports came in.
Jump forward a few years and now that street (Flagstone – site 1) is crawling with lizards according to eyewitnesses. But we now also have another site (2) along the Nanaimo Parkway near Douglas Avenue and Tenth Street. Oh wait, there’s also a third site (3) in the Chase River Estuary Park, and as of this weekend, there’s another (4) – way north of the rest along Arrowsmith Road. The report of the lizards in the Arrowsmith Road area was accompanied by video – there was no doubt as to the identification of those lizards – and that was a big jump from previous known occurrences.
There you go Nanaimo, the invasion has picked up pace. Keep your eyes peeled for lizards with a green tint to their scales, minute scales on their back, and generally more delicate proportions than the native Alligator Lizard.
Look at this post to help identify any lizards in your neighborhood.
If you find suspected Wall Lizards – email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you find a lizard that is not a Western Skink, Northern Alligator Lizard, or European Wall Lizard – I definitely want to know about it.
Please record the date and street address (or prominent landmark) to pin down exactly where the lizard was seen. A photo would be really helpful to confirm the lizard’s identification. Happy hunting.
It is always satisfying to update taxonomy in the museum’s database or find and correct mistakes. This week I spent some time sorting out details on Royal BC Museum specimens of California Yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis) and Great Amberjack (Seriola lalandi). Turns out that since these fishes were collected, Seriola dorsalis has been sunk, and all our fishes are Seriola lalandi (as noted by Gillespie 1993). This carangid fish is known to move into our waters in warmer years.
While reviewing what we knew about the first BC specimen (979-11312) it became obvious that the Royal BC Museum’s database was missing some information for that fish. Fortunately, this information was easily updated – the original report was published in the Royal BC Museum’s extinct periodical Syesis (see Nagtegaal and Farlinger 1980).
Drawing of Seriola dorsalis – oops lalandi (979-11312) by K. Uldall-Ekman.
In fixing that record, I noticed that some online sources had given incorrect coordinates for this fish. Contrast the capture location of 54°35’N, 131°00’W in Caamaño Passage as reported by Nagtegaal and Farlinger (1980), with online sources which state the fish was caught at 54°35’N, 31°00’W. That missing 1 in the reported longitude determines which ocean is linked this fish.
The takeaway message? Always check the original paper rather than relying on internet sources. Precise data is everything – and in the words of a well known scoundrel: “Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it.” Or in this case, you’d be landing southwest of Iceland to look for Great Amberjack.
Gillespie, G.F. 1993. An Updated List of the Fishes of British Columbia, and Those of Interest in Adjacent Waters, with Numeric Code Designation.Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 1918. 116 p.
Nagtegaal, D.A. and S.P. Farlinger. 1981. First record of two fishes, Seriola dorsalis and Medialuna californiensis, from waters off British Columbia. Syesis 13:206 –207.
I’ve received a steady series of emails this year detailing European Wall Lizard locations here on Vancouver Island, and it’s now April and wall lizards certainly are active. However, an email arrived April 11th which gave me a WTH (What The Herp) moment. The email contained a beautifully focused photo of a new turtle for BC. Then it occurred to me that I’d lost count of how many turtle species have been dumped here – unwanted pets that outlived the interest of their owners.
I really like when people send me photos of things they think are unusual – and this week’s email was no exception. We know that Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), Yellowbelly Sliders (Trachemys scripta2), and a Map Turtle (Graptemys sp.) have been dumped in Goodacre Lake, and Red-eared Sliders into Fountain Pond, but this new turtle photographed by Deb Thiessen (see below) certainly was not just an odd coloured slider, nor was it another map turtle. As an aside, I haven’t had a chance to catch the Map Turtle in Beacon Hill Park to get a good look at it, but I have seen it at a distance, and ID’ed it based on photos from Darren Copley and James Miskelly. It looks like a False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica). I think that’ll be a summer goal, to get good photos of that turtle to be sure which species it represents.
A Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) from Fountain Lake, Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC. Photograph by Deb Thiessen, retired CRD Parks naturalist.
As you can see from Deb Thiessen’s photograph, this new turtle has a large shell for the size of the head, and the stripes on the neck are crisp, and bold yellow offset by black. The bold markings to me suggested Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis). The short claws on its forelimb indicate it is female. Males would have claws double the length of those in the photo. This animal is way outside its normal range – Peninsula Cooters are from Florida.
This animal brings our list of pet turtles to 10 species abandoned in BC ponds and lakes – that we know of. Here is the list I have of turtles that have been found in BC – way out of their native range – and (shockingly) it parallels species available in the pet trade here in BC.
Trachemys scripta (Pond Slider – both T. s. elegans and T. s. scripta)
Pseudemys peninsularis (Peninsula Cooter)
Pseudemys concinna (River Cooter)
Chrysemys picta marginata (Midland Painted Turtle, possibly also Southern Painted Turtles, C. p. dorsalis)
Graptemys pseudogeographica (False Map Turtle)
Emys orbicularis (European Pond Terrapin – always did like the word Terrapin – a bit of nostalgia from my British roots)
Chinemys reevsi (Reeve’s Turtle)
Malaclemys terrapin (Diamondback Terrapin)
Apalone spinifera (Spiny Softshell Turtle)
Chelydra serpentina (Common Snapping Turtle)
Fortunately most turtles are dumped one at a time and do not reproduce. Sadly though, I can’t say the same for the Red-eared Sliders – they now can reproduce successfully here in British Columbia (I have two pets from the first successful clutch found on the south coast of BC, ca. January 11, 2015). Red-eared Sliders now are common in artificial and natural ponds and in lakes here in southwestern British Columbia – and until recently, we were sure that each adult represented an abandoned pet (or maybe the occasional escapee). Now males are finding females. Females are finding decent nesting locations. And eggs are surviving to hatch.
Knowing that sliders can breed here, I stopped to check whether sliders and cooters can hybridize, and it has been suggested to be possible – but no solid proof. And since it is better to be safe than sorry… Does anyone know how to neuter a Cooter?
This time of year, my garden is one big mudslide. Sunny days with a blue horizon are not that common here on Vancouver Island in winter – but when they occur, we certainly enjoy them. So do our slim little European Wall Lizards.
This January and February I collected lizards which were active when the air temperatures were between 5° to 7°C. As a survivor of the Canadian prairies, collecting lizards in winter seems about as strange as an empty room in a museum collection.
I found lizards along Derby Road in my neighborhood, on Moss Rocks, at Gardenworks Nursery in the Blenkinsop Valley – winter lizard activity is nothing new here on Vancouver Island.
Lizards were found in south-facing locations with full sun exposure and when caught, were very warm to the touch. It is obvious that they are effective solar collectors and can elevate their body temperatures well above that of the chilly air – even when it is a bit windy. It is not uncommon to see lizards only exposing their head for a while, then the rest of the body. Perhaps this is a low-risk way to warm blood via blood vessels in the throat before they venture out and deal with intruding conspecifics. I haven’t seen any wall lizards feeding in winter – but that doesn’t mean they don’t. I’ll have to examine museum specimens to see what’s in the stomachs of winter-caught lizards.
An adult European Wall Lizard caught on Derby Road in Victoria, February 26th, 2018.
As of this February, the Royal BC Museum collection has 30 lots of European Wall Lizard specimens representing surface activity for each month of the year. Some people collect trading cards to get a complete set, I collect lizards to get one per month. Wall Lizards are active in winter as far north as Denman Island, and given that range, probably could extend further north of Campbell River in areas with a warm microclimate.
The collection of lizards for each season put a song from 1971 into my head – so I reworded the chorus a bit…
Winter, spring, summer or fall,
All they have to do is crawl,
And I’ll be there, yes I will,
Their spread has to end.
I would like you to consider for a moment a poem.
One of the losses in the story of Canadian literature was the murder, at the hands of her husband, of the brilliant, Vancouver-born poet Pat Lowther. She herself is a loss—and I will take up the issue of cultural loss in a moment. But she also has a sharp eye for describing loss: for describing the long movement of history and what may so easily, if we are not careful to preserve it, disappear.
In her “Elegy for the South Valley”, Pat Lowther writes that in Canada “we have no centuries / here a few generations / do for antiquity.”
In the poem—as the rains “keep on and on” and the South Valley silts up—we see
the dam that served
a mine that serviced empire
crumbling slowly deep
deep in the bush
for its time
for this country
it’s a pyramid
it’s Tenochtitlan going back
to the bush and the rain.
This is, I think, quite astonishing, for here is the recognition that the culture that surrounds us, however plain, however modest, however workmanlike, is a monument. A concrete dam in British Columbia is an Egyptian pyramid. It is the capital of Aztec Mexico. And like them, though in only “a few generations”, it too can disappear into the wilderness.
 Pat Lowther, “Elegy for the South Valley” in Time Capsule: New and Selected Poems (Victoria, BC: Polestar Book Publishers, 1996), pp.205–7.
In an earlier post I mentioned that Luke Halpin was out surveying marine mammals and birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish was estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
But until the paper announcing his find was accepted by a scientific journal, I didn’t want to spill the beans and say what he had found. His research paper (Halpin et al. 2018) will be published in the spring issue of the Northwestern Naturalist.
Photo by Luke Halpin, September 5th, 2017
This picture says it all – there is no debating what this fish is – only one species that fits the bill. Swordfish are known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species right along our coast.
A Google Earth image showing where the Swordfishes from 2017 and 1983 were found relative to Vancouver Island.
A previous record from 1983 (see Sloan 1984, and Peden and Jamieson 1988) was from just inside of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and barely qualified as a BC fish. The 1983 specimen was caught as by-catch at 47°36’N, 131°03’W, during an experimental fishery survey by the M/V Tomi Maru. The rostrum and tail were preserved in the Royal BC Museum’s fish collection (RBCM 983-1730-001). I am guessing the edible bits in between were cut into steaks, and ended up on someone’s dinner table. At least Luke’s Swordfish was left alone and for all we know, is happily cruising south to slightly warmer water.
Halpin, L.R., M. Galbraith, and K.H. Morgan. 2018. The First Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) Recorded in Coastal British Columbia. Northwestern Naturalist, 99(1): XX-XX. (pages not set)
Peden, A.E., and G.S. Jamieson. 1988. New distributional records of marine fishes off Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 102(3), 491-494.
Sloan, N.A. 1984. Canadian-Japanese Experiental Fishery for Oceanic Squid off British Columbia, Summer 1983. Canadian Industry Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences No. 152: pp. 42.
Keep your eyes peeled for deep-sea fishes while strolling along our shores. In the last month, three King-of-the-Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis) have washed up in the Salish Sea. Two were found in September (21st and 26th) in the Oak Bay area, Victoria. One of these was still swimming when found. A third was found October 3rd in Hood Canal, in Puget Sound. The first Oak Bay specimen will be preserved for the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney, the second was not recovered, and the third will be preserved in the Burke Museum’s collection. The Royal BC museum has 18 Trachipterus specimens, with several of these from the Salish Sea area.
The King-of-the-Salmon from Hood Channel, photographed by Randi Jones.
Is this species new to the region? No. The species ranges from Alaska to Chile, and knowledge of this species pre-dates European arrival on this coast. Is this trio of King-of-the-Salmon a case of post-spawn mortality? A sign of change in our oceans? We don’t know. Actually, when you look at the diversity of marine fishes off our coast, there is a lot of basic biology that we don’t know. We also get Longnose Lancetfishes (Alepisaurus ferox) washing up from time to time, although it has been a few years since I have heard report of a Lancetfish in the Victoria region.
King-of-the-Salmon swim by passing a sine wave down their dorsal fin – they can get a fair bit of speed just by doing that. They can also reverse using the same fin flutter. They slowly turn by putting a curve in the body. However, in the first few seconds of the linked video you can see that they also swim in a more typical fishy way (using eel-like body oscillation) when they need a burst of speed or a really quick turn. If you’d like to see this form of locomotion in person – you can see it in a pet shop. Knife fishes use the same basic locomotion method – except they use their anal fin rather than the dorsal.
Close up of the head of the King-of-the-Salmon showing the premaxillary (red) and maxillary (green) bones extended, photographed by Randi Jones.
Note also in the video that the fish has a very short face compared to the Hood Channel specimen photographed onshore. As with many fishes, the jaws of the King-of-the-Salmon are protrusible – the premaxillary and maxillary bones swing out to create a tube – the gill chamber dilates, and water rushes into the mouth along with the prey. The same sort of suction pump mechanism is used by a wide variety of fishes – from tiny seahorses to giant groupers. Once the prey item is inside the fish’s mouth, the mouth closes, water is released through the gills and the prey is swallowed. The entire sequence is lightning fast – even in pipefishes and seahorses – blink and you miss it. In some fishes, the process is even audible – you can hear a snapping sound when seahorses slurp up crustaceans (and fishes). You can’t hear the same snapping sound when larger fishes engulf their prey, but it is no less dramatic an effect.
In 2014, a Louvar and a Finescale Triggerfish were found in BC – a double-header of interesting southern fishes in our waters. But wait… it looks like 2017 is also a double-header for cool coastal fish.
This summer of 2017 (and in 2016), Basking Sharks were sighted here in BC. I think every Basking Shark is newsworthy given that they were nearly eliminated here in an ill-conceived plot to protect BC fisheries (see Wallace and Gisborne 2006 for that sad story). This year’s Basking Sharks were found in Caamano Sound in July, and near the Delwood Seamounts in August. Was it one roving shark? Or two? Are there others?
This September however, Luke Halpin was out surveying marine birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish is estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
We are really fortunate that it was sunny and seas were so calm – because his picture leaves no doubt as to the fish’s identification. The best part about the story is that the fish is still out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved to have the fish as a specimen for the museum’s collection – but then again, it would require a custom vat – three to four meter fishes don’t fit in jars.
This species is known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species as a new addition to our coastal fish fauna. Which species did he find? You’ll have to wait until he publishes his observations in a scientific research paper. Consider this a trailer – a teaser – there’s a big fish out there – it is cool… and I am jealous. I would love to see this fish alive.
The Doncaster population of the European Wall Lizard probably is 6 years old based on conversations I have had with home owners. In the Google Earth image – the white dots are known locations – the green dots are new locations for 2017.
How do I know these are new? Homeowners specifically said they had no lizards in 2016 – but they certainly do now. That’s the power of local knowledge and citizen science. The green dots along Oak Crest Drive were newly reported in the spring of 2017, with at least three adult lizards now known on the property. The two green dots along Cedar Avenue to the northeast are based on sightings of at least three young lizards – probably lizards that hatched this year and got well-clear of their parent’s territory. Cannibalism is a good emigration motivation.
Based on where lizards were known in 2016, these 2017 records represent range extensions from 20 to 100 meters. Compared to their body size, that’s pretty decent dispersal given that adult lizards only grow to 21 cm (those fortunate enough to have a perfect tail), and in many cases, the dispersing lizards are young-of-the-year at 8 or so centimeters in total length.
If younglings continue to bolt at this rate and make a bee-line south, I will have lizards in my garden in 2 years. More realistically, it will be another 3 years before we see them along our raised beds or in our greenhouse – not that I’m counting.
We now have 21 orca specimens at the Royal BC Museum—the latest to arrive was T-171, a 6.07 meter female Biggs Orca which was found near Prince Rupert, October 19th, 2013. She had pinniped skulls, vibrissae (whiskers) and partially digested bones in her gut but was emaciated. Why was she emaciated?
During the necropsy, researchers discovered that T-171 had mid-cervical to lumbar vertebrae with severe overgrowth of the neural arches and lateral processes (noted as spondylosis in the necropsy) – the overgrowth looks roughly like popcorn or cauliflower – and had the effect of interlocking some vertebrae. This likely explains her emaciated state. Was she able to hunt? Was she supported by her relatives?
The skull of T-171 (ventral (palatal) view [left], right side [center], and dorsal view [right]) awaiting its catalog number and final place in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Comparison of T-171’s vertebra (left) with overgrowth of bone vs. the normal vertebra of another Biggs Orca (12844) (right). The two vertebrae are not from the exact same position along the spine, but the difference between the two is still shocking.
Many of T-171’s vertebral centra are eroded and porous – not like those of a healthy animal (12844).
The overgrowth of the neural arches pinched the spinal chord of T-171; compare to a neural arch of 12844 (right). The vertebral malformation must have limited this animal’s mobility. It is hard not to anthropomorphize and imagine the discomfort due to this deformation.
T-171 originally was prepared for exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, but they wanted a clean articulated skeleton for exhibit. In contrast, we were interested in T-171 because of its skeletal malformation. To make a short story long, we came to an agreement with the ROM to transfer T-171 to the Royal BC Museum, and since, the ROM has acquired L95 (Nigel), a 20 year old southern resident who was found near Esperanza Inlet, March 30th, 2016.
Which Orca is next? In most cases we have no clue – it is not like we hunt orca just to add them to the collection. And we don’t usually have a production line of specimens in preparation. New specimens are acquired when a body washes up, and we make a snap-decision to cover the cost of specimen recovery and preparation. However, September 15, 2016, T-12A (Nitinat) was found off Cape Beale and towed to Banfield. I was contacted September 16th to see if the Royal BC Museum was interested (obviously that was a YES), and now his massive skull is being prepared. Once degreased, Nitinat’s skull will be added to the Royal BC Museum collection – sometime in 2018 – and made available for scientific research.
As a kid I collected many things – from reptiles and amphibians to model airplanes to Star Wars cards – and now look where I am. I dress in black and white as a Stormtrooper with the 501st legion and collect black and white delphinids – Killer Whales – for the Royal BC Museum. Life sure takes you to unexpected destinations.
A little while back I was musing over a spot on my Wall Lizard map that shows a large expanse east of Highway 17 between Cordova Bay Road to Mt Newton Cross Road that appears to be Wall-Lizard-free turf. Wall Lizards are crawling everywhere just the other side of the highway on Tanner Ridge. Either no one has reported lizards from this area – and it seems unlikely given how many reports I receive each year, or lizards have not been able to cross HWY 17.
Cedar Hill Road in the Southeast Cedar Hill area also seems to be a decent barrier even though it is not a particularly busy road. Lizards have been in that area for about 6 years(as of 2016) and have crossed Derby Road without a problem – but not Cedar Hill Road. Cedar Hill may be just busy enough to limit the survival of adventurous lizards.
It seems interesting that a lizard as fast as the Wall Lizard could not cross – but then again – why would they? Young ones disperse to avoid cannibalism, but perhaps the noise, vibration and sight of passing vehicles is enough to dissuade all but the most suicidal of lizards.
I recently tripped across an article detailing road crossing behaviour in snakes (Andrews and Gibbons 2005). In their study, smaller snakes seemed to avoid crossing roads, whereas larger snakes have no problem with the concept. I wonder if the same is true for Wall Lizards? Interestingly, all snake species they studied crossed perpendicular to the road’s length – an adaptive behaviour minimizing distance and time on the tarmac. Some species froze in place when a car passed – that is maladaptive – and significantly increased an animal’s exposure to vulcanized rubber.
I have not seen Wall Lizards crossing a street – but would be interesting to see if they too cross perpendicular to the curb, and whether they blast across or dart and pause – unintentionally increasing their risk of catastrophic z-axis reduction.
Andrews, K.M., and Gibbons, J.W. 2005. How to Highways Influence Snake Movement? Behavioural Responses to Roads and Vehicles. Copeia 2005(4): 772-782.
Another lizard arrived in BC last week. We can add Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) to our list of accidental imports – but this certainly is not the first one to have arrived by accident in BC. Many lizards travel the globe as stow-aways. This one travelled here in its egg along with a Snake Plant (also known as the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue). Sansevieria are popular houseplants – Snake Plants are easy to keep and look neat. My wife bought one for our living room – no lizards in our plant though.
Where was the plant from? Who knows. This plant could have come from anywhere. Brown Anole’s have invaded Florida, and southern parts of Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. They also have invaded Hawai’i, southern Texas and southern California along with their relative the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis). The Green Anole is native to the south-eastern United States, and in their native range, Green Anoles may be forced out of their usual habitat by their exotic relatives. Brown Anoles are native to Cuba and the Bahamas.Even if it got loose, this anole would not survive our winter. It was no real threat to our environment or fauna, but does show that the transport of exotic species is ridiculously easy – an egg in the soil in a plant pot. This time we are fortunate. Only one egg was present. Anoles are light-weight arboreal lizards which lay one egg at a time, and they are not parthenogenetic. Anole eggs develop in alternate ovaries at about a two week interval – if I remember correctly. This ensures the female lizard is not excessively encumbered, and for us it meant that only one egg likely was present in the pot (or any other pot at the home hardware store).
Brown Anole eggs are a bit bigger than a Tic-Tac candy, so no wonder they are overlooked – they also are buried a centimeter or so in the soil – so they’d be out of sight. As long as the soil was not disturbed, was warm and moist – but not too wet, and the egg was not rolled, the developing embryo would survive transport.
I wonder where this lizard’s brothers and sisters ended up? They could be anywhere. Since the lizard travelled here in an egg, I vote we name it Mork. Na-Nu Na-Nu.
Just tripped across this fish while sorting out odd records in the RBCM fish database.
999-00114-001 – unidentified fish – Family Triglidae (Searobins, Gurnards)
Well, it turns out to be Prionotus stephanophrys – a Lumptail Searobin – and a new family, genus and species for BC. Three other triglid species (two of them are Prionotus species) are known to stray into Atlantic Canada.
This one was caught in 1998 on La Perouse Bank, it was added to the RBCM collection in 1999, and sat there ever since. No one had taken a second look at this specimen – until today. It was completely new to our system and as such, I had to add the genus and species to our database’s taxonomic tree.
Until now, its northern record was off the mouth of the Columbia River – this new(ly rediscovered) record extends this family north about 260 km in the eastern North Pacific Ocean.
I took these photos of Royal BC Museum lizard specimens with my iPhone 4 through the eyepiece of the old dissecting microscope in my lab. Then sent the photos via two emails to office thanks to WiFi – and to think – this is the “low-tech” way of doing things these days. Low-tech – sending files through the air from a hand held device… I have to laugh how technology has changed since I was a kid with my first pet lizards. The nerd in me can’t help but hear James Earl Jones’ voice – “Several transmissions were beamed to your inbox. I want to know what happened to the scans they sent you.”
In earlier blogs I have mentioned scale differences between BC lizards – so I thought I may as well take close-up shots to clearly show the differences. Under a dissecting microscope (diss-secting, not die-secting), you can easily see the shape of the bead-like back scales of the European Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis). It’s like a microscopic cobblestone pavement. Each scale is about the diameter of a standard sewing pin.
European Wall Lizard (2112)
The larger back scales of the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulescens) are painfully obvious, and each scale has its own raised keel. The keel gives each scale an angular appearance.
Northern Alligator Lizard (1358)
The Pygmy Short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii) has a really complex squamation with tiny granular scales interspersed between clusters of larger keeled scales. The larger scales are raised into spires above the general scale-scape (the lizard equivalent of landscape).
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard (323)
Western Skinks (Plestiodon skiltonianus) by contrast are painfully even and smooth – yawn. It’s a good thing they have speed-stripes and a bright blue tail to make them stand out in a crowd.
Western Skink (1964)
Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) have scales each with a trailing spine – characteristic of all Sceloporus species. Some, like the Crevice Spiny Lizard in the United States have really robust spines on their scales, others like the Sagebrush Lizard have tiny spines. Cordylids in Africa take spiny scales to a whole new level.
Western Fence Lizard (705)
Sorry, I forgot a scale bar in the photos, but the images were fairly close to the same magnification.
You’d think that sharks and rays would be pretty well known along our coast. Did you know that two Hammerhead Sharks have been found off Vancouver Island? Even a Tiger Shark has strayed north to Alaska. Did it swim along the BC coast, or did it take a more direct route from Hawai’i? We’ll never know. However, in 2016 a new shark was added to our fish fauna – the Pacific Angel Shark (Squatina californica) – based on a clear photograph by Mark Cantwell and his detailed description of the dive location.
We have known since 1931 that Angel Sharks ranged north to Seattle, and there is a single record from Alaska. The specimen label for this 35 cm Alaskan female had been lost (Evermann and Goldsborough 1907) and we cannot pin down its collection location with certainty. Until now, we had no Angel Shark records for British Columbia – but it was only a matter of time.
On the 30th of April, 2016, a single adult Angel Shark was sighted by a diver off Clover Point right here in Victoria. The shark’s gender cannot be determined from the photograph since claspers, if present, are not visible. The Angel Shark was found in about 12 meters of water, about 30 meters off the point. The diver estimated the shark’s length at about 1.1 to 1.2 meters in length. The specimen was not collected, but it would have made a fantastic museum specimen.
King and Surry (2016) published the discovery of this shark in BC in a recent issue of the Canadian Field-Naturalist. While this now is not breaking news – in fact it is a year late – people may still want the primary reference to our latest elasmobranch.
PDFs are available here [as a new paper, King and Surry (2016) is available by subscription to The Canadian Field-Naturalist or by contacting the primary author]:
Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) usually take fishes – why else would they be called kingfishers. They sometimes take crustaceans and frogs, and I’d be shocked if they turn their beaks up at big juicy insects. However, mammal predation is quite a dietary shift. Apparently no one explained the meaning of “fisher” to a kingfisher in the southwestern Yukon.
A paper came out in a recent issue of the Canadian Field-Naturalist (see Jung 2016) detailing the capture of a Western Water Shrew (Sorex navigator) by a Belted Kingfisher. That would make a decent meal and a real energetic boost for the Kingfisher. Jung (2016) mentioned that Belted Kingfishers have been known to take Eastern Water Shrews (Sorex albibarbis), and he (Jung 2013) also reported on a kingfisher trying to subdue a Spotted Bat (Euderma maculatum).
Imagine if kingfishers changed tactics to regularly prey on other small animals? Their ecology could converge on that of butcher birds (shrikes). What’s next? Lizards and snakes?(Yes, shrikes impale their prey on thorns (or barbed wire) to age a bit).
Keep your eyes on the sky. And as for that specific Water Shrew, all you can say is: “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”
PDFs are available here:
Was this an odd title? Actually I think the song went,
“On top of spaghetti… all covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meat ball… When somebody sneezed.
It rolled off the table… and onto the floor.
And then my poor meat ball… rolled out of the door.
Wow that was a dredged from deep cephalic crevices…
Anyway, I got a tip from Purnima Govindarajulu, my herpetological counterpart in the Ministry of Environment that she’d seen a European Wall Lizard on Mount Tolmie here in southern Saanich. Given how fast and far Wall Lizards are spreading, it was only a matter of time before they colonized this rock. This pocket of lizards will form another expanding sub-population – pretty-much midway between the single lizard I saw at the University of Victoria and the lizards near Doncaster School.
This morning (April 27th) was nice and sunny, and I hiked up to the summit after dropping my daughter at daycare. What did I find first? A Northern Alligator Lizard. That made me very happy – I don’t see those everyday and this lizard was more than patient with the iphone-wielding twit who wanted its picture.
Then less than 2 meters away were the Wall Lizards – five of them. A meter or so along the road, another Wall Lizard. Up along the southeast corner of the reservoir – another large male Wall Lizard.
Yep, looks like they have found a solid toe-hold in this region. Cedar Hill X Road may make a decent barrier to northward dispersal (not that Wall Lizards aren’t north of there anyway) – but they will easily spread southeast and southwest into gardens adjacent to the park. Note the small scales and green colour on this Wall Lizard’s back, compared with the larger coppery scales on the Alligator Lizard (above).
Keep your eyes on rock gardens, rock walls, woody debris, and any bedrock with decent cracks for shelter. The photo below shows just how slender the Wall Lizards are – this one with an intact tail is the largest lizard I have caught to date (21.2 cm total length). After checking the RBCM’s herps database, I see that the only months where I haven’t caught Wall Lizards are January and February – too bad that this spring was consistently cold and wet. I have missed my chance to get a full year’s worth of lizards in 2017.
Yesterday I worked with Chris O’Connor from our Learning Department – we took some children on a tidepool tour. The main point was to chat about museum collections and things we record or measure when we are out sampling. We didn’t go crazy catching fishes, only taking 3 Tidepool Sculpins (Oligocottus maculosus) in the end. But we talked about our role as museum researchers, and why we take more than 1 specimen (if possible) to get an account of variation within and between species.
You can see slight differences between these fishes – even an injury – just like the subtle, or not so subtle differences we see in each other.
The three fishes will be added to the Royal BC Museum’s ichthyology collection, but before that, they are fixed in 10% Formaldehyde. Researchers used to drop fishes directly into Formaldehyde – many fishes died horrible deaths. When I accidentally get Formaldehyde in a cut – it stings intensely – I couldn’t imagine being dunked directly into that chemical.
Today we are more humane, and give fishes an overdose of anaesthetic before immersion in Formaldehyde. They are dead before they are fixed, and are preserved with a relaxed posture. The primary anaesthetic I use is 2-Phenoxy-Ethanol, but it is hard to get without ordering from a chemical supply company, and the chemical is a suspected carcinogen. I still have about 500 ml of the stuff – so I will use up what I have. Do I really want to buy more? Maybe not.
Do we have safer options? Yes, Clove Oil is a good anaesthetic if mixed as an emulsion in a small volume of 99% Ethanol. But you have to carry a jug of 99% Ethanol everywhere you go – that may not go over well at a Police check-stop. The up-side to this chemical mix is that you smell spicy at the end of the day if you accidentally spill some on yourself.
People have tried Alka-Seltzer tablets. They fizz and release CO2, which knocks-out fishes – but the process is slow and some fishes (those like catfish that gulp air to survive in low oxygen conditions) are resistant and survive way too long in a stressful condition.
A few months ago I tried using Oragel (20% Benzocaine) on European Wall Lizards – colleagues had found it worked well on amphibians. They put Oragel along the spine of an amphibian and it soaks into the skin; I give lizards an oral dose. It renders bullfrogs and wall lizards unresponsive in 20 seconds to a minute. Oragel seems to be a convenient anaesthetic for these invasive herpetiles.
Yesterday, I told the tidepool group that we’d be performing an experiment – I tried Oragel for the first time on the 3 sculpins we caught. As I hoped – less than 20 seconds and the fishes were out cold. 2-Phenoxy-Ethanol takes about the same time on similar sized fishes.
The beauty of Oragel is that it is readily available, and if you run out, you can stop by the nearest pharmacy. It also is safe – we use it on sore teeth or gums. Perfect – it works fast on specimens and is safe for the researcher.
Perhaps someone needs to do a larger scientific study to see how effective over-the-counter Oragel is on larger fishes. Maybe this is an effective over-the-counter tool for preserving new museum specimens.
A specimen with no data is not worth keeping. A specimen with vague data is not worth keeping either. The Royal BC Museum’s ichthyology collection contains a vertebral centrum with cartilaginous remnants of its respective haemal arch and neural arch from a shark that washed up November 5th, 1975 (only a few months after Jaws was released in cinemas). It was cataloged as 976-00052-001 in the fish collection (with a variant of the catalog number listed as a previous number ~ B.C.P.M. #97652). Our electronic database only had a collection date for this centrum (no location, no collector).
Flip to our original paper catalog, and we find that there is indeed a collection location: Ahousaht Village, Flores Island – but this never got translated to our electronic database. The paper catalog states that the shark washed up on a beach – but there was no latitude and longitude provided for the record beyond 49°N, 125°W. If you plot the western-most limit of 125°W, it is nowhere near Flores Island – so the location is questionable. Ahousaht Village’s nearest beach is at about 49°16’N, 126°03’W.
Worse yet, the vertebral centrum indicates that this was a big shark – we don’t have a lot of big sharks here…
Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) reaches 6 meters
Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus) reaches 5-6 meters
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) reaches at least 9 meters
The shark centrum in the Royal BC Museum collection is about 7.3 cm in diameter – it spans most of the palm of my hand. This must have come from a decent-sized shark. Was it a small Basking Shark? A large Great White? A large Sleeper Shark? It’s not ‘reptilian’ so we can rule out Cadborosaurus (whew). Hang on, Cadborosaurus’ so-called “type specimen” was a photograph of a digested basking shark – Hmmm…
It is a shame no one bothered to take a skin sample – the scales may have been diagnostic. What about teeth? A sample of teeth – even one tooth – would have been enough to identify this fish. Sadly though, nothing remains other than this centrum and a bit of cartilage. It was fixed in formaldehyde and stored in isopropanol – so I think we can forget sending a chunk to Guelph for DNA barcoding. DNA barcoding wasn’t a thing back in 1975, so tissue samples were not preserved for future analysis.
If no one in Ahousaht has a photo of this shark on the beach, or some teeth stashed away, all I have to say is , “Sorry Charlie, the Royal BC Museum wants specimens with good data.”
This winter has been cold here in Victoria – relatively speaking. We have had lots of rain, several rounds of snow – and I even had to shovel my driveway and sidewalk. Actually I have had to shovel several times this winter. The rest of the country is not all that sympathetic to the wintery-woes of its Pacific Islanders.
One odd feature of Victoria is that Anna’s Hummingbirds are present year-round – because people feed them. Without artificial feeding stations, they likely would migrate south in autumn with the Rufus Hummingbird and return each spring. It still strikes me as strange to see a hummingbird in winter – given that I moved here from Winnipeg.
In my neighbour’s yard there is Holly bush that is a regular nesting site for our resident male Anna’s Hummingbird – the spot must be coveted because the prickly leaves are a great deterrent to would-be nest thieves.
This nest from 2005 was near the junction of Government Street and Niagra Street in James Bay – also in a Holly bush.
Our hummingbird – yes we are possessive even though we don’t feed hummingbirds in winter – is a regular visitor to our veggie garden and flowers in summer. It stayed this winter even though it was snowy and cold. Someone nearby must have a hummingbird feeder.
Not all Anna’s Hummingbirds were so lucky this year. Today I received a nest containing two feathered nestlings which were snuggled together in their soft little lichen-cup nest. This is certainly an early nesting attempt – they are known to nest from February to August, but nesting this early in the spring is a big risk.
The fate of the female is a mystery (males don’t raise their young). Did she hit a window? Run short of food and die? Did a free-range domestic cat get her? These two nestlings were in a sheltered spot alongside a house here in Victoria, but without a parent, they didn’t last long. Natural selection can be as cold as this winter.
In 2006 I spent a month at sea on the CCGS W.E. Ricker, collecting hundreds of deep sea fishes during a Tanner Crab Survey. Most fishes were identified the traditional way using anatomical features, but we didn’t have an extensive library on board, so many ‘field’ identifications were wrong. Such is life on the high seas when you are rushed to process samples.
Several snailfishes and of course the poorly known Flabby Whalefishes were only identified to genus. One snailfish with its distinctive pelvic girdle resembling a pair of bat’s wings – was simply labeled as “Batwing.” It was a few years later while sorting out some of the samples, that I tripped across a paper by David Stein (1978) describing our “Batwing” species in detail – Osteodiscus cascadiae. Keep in mind that the last comprehensive book on BC fishes – Pacific Fishes of Canada – was published in 1973… I was 6 years old. Pacific Fishes of Canada needs an update – it is woefully out of date.
This week I have been cataloging the last of the fishes caught on the 2006 Tanner Crab Survey – Screech – I know what you are thinking. A decade has passed since these fishes were caught. I am not a slacker – well, some would argue that – but there are many reasons why I am only now sorting and cataloging the last of the Tanner Crab specimens. Forgive me if progress is slow.
Many of the specimens we collected in 2006 had a small plug of tissue removed for DNA Barcoding. Three specimens (DNA barcode field tags from left to right, G5036, INV792, and 0738-Bo2), from Queen Charlotte Sound and west of the northern end of Vancouver Island were identified as Careproctus canus. If this is correct, they are the first for British Columbia.
The same can be said for specimens (barcode field tags from left to right, R5826 and G5026), both from Queen Charlotte Sound which were identified as Careproctus attenuatus. If correct, they are the first of their kind for BC, and both species C. canus and C. attenuatus, are way-south of their known ranges in the Aleutian Islands. We also caught one other snailfish identified as Paraliparis melanobranchus (15943) – if correct, it is the second specimen for the RBCM.
When I got down to the last few unidentified fishes to catalog in the RBCM database, I found that they had tags from the DNA Barcoding project. Obviously I looked up the molecular identification, but I have to wonder whether a genetic sequence was used to identify these new snailfishes, or whether the DNA barcoding team used our field identifications. We certainly do not carry an exhaustive library at sea, and we do our best to identify fishes with what we have at our finger-tips while the decks are heaving and rolling. Since I don’t trust my own eye regarding snailfishes – these noteworthy records need to be verified – and I think I’ll send them to a snailfish expert that I know just south of the border.
However, two specimens of Gyrinomimus (lovingly known as Flabby Whalefish) were identified as G. grahami (barcode tags, left to right INV0718 and R5828), and both were from west of the northern end of Vancouver Island. They don’t look much better in person. We left these specimens identified to genus because we had no literature for Flabby Whalefishes on board. As a result, I know the species-level identification did not come from me – and had to be based on molecular information. YAY, Gyrinomimus grahami (15942, 15935) is new to BC.
These interesting records alone justify the time taken to collect and send DNA samples to Guelph for the barcoding project. I may not be a gene-jockey, but if the identifications of these fishes are correct, we will rack up another three new species for BC, boost our knowledge of biodiversity, finally have two of our whalefish specimens o-fish-ally identified. Now to compare the newly identified whalefish specimens to the other 10 jar-loads of specimens to see if we have one or more species in our collection.
Thanks all you DNA barcoders – particularly Dirk Steinke who was out with us in 2006 – couldn’t have done this without you.