BioBlitz showcases unfamiliar creatures

Riham Feshir

A desire to learn how many different species of insects, mammals and birds live in Minnesota inspired a 24-hour biological survey at the Valley National Wildlife Refuge, hosted by the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History.

Event participants started collecting the assortment of living creatures Friday evening. Volunteers walked through the field in Bloomington, Minn., trying to discover new species or species that were unfamiliar to them. Using pooters – kits for collecting insects and small animals – nets and jars, participants were able to collect butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies and ants.

The event, called BioBlitz, has been an annual event in other states for the last 10 years, but it began in Minnesota in 2004.

Volunteer Kathy Hubert collected butterflies in a small envelope using a special technique: She caught them using a large net, closed their wings with her fingers and then took them out of the net to the envelope. Kathy Hubert, along with her husband Ron Hubert, enjoyed the collecting process, she said.

“It was fun,” she said.

Susan Weller, a professor in the entomology department and a co-organizer for BioBlitz, explained the process of collecting insects overnight. She said that because night insects are attracted to light, participants hung white bedsheets on clotheslines with a black light in front. The light attracted the insects, which landed in the sheets, making it easier for people to catch them in jars.

John Moriarty, a research associate with the Bell Museum, said that because participants couldn’t collect animals for the entire 24-hour period, they also live-trapped mammals overnight and retrieved them in the morning.

“It is passive collecting. We don’t actually go for 24 hours. It is hard to look for plants at night and the birds stop singing,” Moriarty said.

David McLaughlin, a scientist with the Bell Museum, said the wet weather was also favorable for mushrooms.

“Mushrooms don’t fruit unless it is wet enough,” he said.

He said the event will give people a different idea of what species live and grow in Minnesota.

“Wildlife managers don’t look at mushrooms. They don’t have a sense of what part of the natural cycle this plant is,” McLaughlin said.

Carrie Olson, a student in the entomology department, said people often don’t realize how many animal species live in Minnesota.

“This event raises awareness of how much diversity we have here,” she said.

The BioBlitz is targeted to all ages, according to the event’s press release.

Weller said, “Many children, when they look at adults, they can’t imagine themselves being scientists, but when they see an undergraduate who looks like an older brother or sister, they can make the connection and say, ‘I could be that person, I could be a scientist.’ “

McLaughlin said University graduate students are using the BioBlitz for doctoral theses.

Jennifer Menken, a BioBlitz coordinator, said that this year participants found 912 species, 162 more than the 2004 BioBlitz tally of 750.