This Week in History: Seaweed and the bugs that love it!

Thanks to our mild winters, the beautiful beaches all over the Island, and the Gulf Islands, are popular destinations all year round.

And the seaweed found on those beaches is popular for gardeners, looking to bolster their soil, and also for bugs, looking for a home.

“Every gulf island might have different flies on them – we don’t know yet” says entomologist Joel Gibson, who joined the Royal BC Museum one year ago.

“I came from Ontario. We don’t have any ocean there, or at least, not where I lived in Ontario, so ocean was new to me, and I went out to beaches and realized this was a totally different habitat that I’d never looked at before.”

And he’s making it his mission to find, and catalogue, these minute creatures.

“When I look at some of these things we’ve collected, it’s the first time we’ve seen them in BC.

“They’ve probably been here for thousands of years, but no one’s studied them before.

“There have been studies in California, Europe, a lot in Australia, but not along the BC coasts, so there might be things that have washed over with the tsunami, on different types of seaweed.

“If we start finding different types of seaweed wrack, we might find different flies on them, or different beetles in it, and unless we start to study them, we wouldn’t know.”

BC’s mild winters will keep Gibson busy.

“Especially on the beaches, you get a lot of things, even through the winter.”

Many flies and beetles live in seaweed.

“They eat each other, they eat the seaweed, they eat the bacteria growing on the seaweed” explains Gibson.

“If they weren’t there breaking it down, then it would just kind of wash out into the ocean, so it’s a huge impact on the environment, these insects there, breaking it down.”

Gibson points to an insect in his collection that he’s particularly proud of.

“These ones up here are really interesting: they’re barnacle flies….

“They lay their eggs inside of barnacles, and then the larva will eat the inside of the barnacles and get sealed up when the high tide comes in.

“We didn’t have a record of them in the province, previously, but I found a bunch of these flies crawling around and mating on the barnacles on Arbutus Cove, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find them on a whole lot of beaches up and down the coast if we looked.”

Ensuring the expansion of the entomology collection, one beach at a time.