Leafminers

Leafminers are larvae of certain moths, flies, beetles, and sawflies that feed between the epidermal layers of leaves. These insects are typically quite host-specific, and the form of the mine varies considerably depending on what insect produces it. As a result, it is often possible to identify the responsible insect using only the host plant and mine characteristics, but no one has previously attempted to organize this information into a usable guide. In 2011 I began compiling all of the published natural history information for leafminers occurring in the continental US and Canada, and in January 2018 I began self-publishing the first edition of Leafminers of North America as an e-book in 18 monthly installments.

Mine of an undescribed species of Stigmella (Nepticulidae) in Garry oak (Quercus garryana).

Mine of an undescribed species of Stigmella (Nepticulidae) in Garry oak (Quercus garryana).

The book begins with a 30-page overview of the natural history of leafminers, followed by over 100 pages about their parasitoids and predators, and then nearly 250 pages devoted to overviews of all the different groups of leaf-mining insects, supplemented with photographs of adult and immature stages. These introductory chapters include checklists of the described species of North American leafminers: 37 sawfly species, over 200 beetles, several hundred flies, and over 1200 moths. The bulk of the book consists of photographically illustrated keys to leaf mines organized by host plant, with notes on biology and distribution provided for each species.

The main reason I’ve decided not to pursue putting this book in print just yet is that I want it to be a complete guide, and after seven years I’m still finding new things to add on an almost daily basis. Although my literature review has been exhaustive, this project is also incorporating a substantial amount of ongoing original research. I have been obsessively collecting and rearing leafminers since I started it, and I am continually adding my own observations for species with incomplete or no published natural history information, documenting new host plant and parasitoid records, and working with taxonomists to describe new species I’ve found. In addition to intensive work throughout New England, I have spent months traveling throughout the US to photograph and collect leaf mines.

An adult of Cameraria corylisella (Gracillariidae), the larvae of which mine in leaves of several members of the birch family.

An adult of Cameraria corylisella (Gracillariidae), the larvae of which mine in leaves of several members of the birch family.

I wanted to start making the keys available to other naturalists, but I also wanted to be able to keep updating them with new findings, and offering the first edition in installments on a subscription basis seemed like the perfect solution. You can subscribe by visiting my Patreon page (recurring monthly payments) or using the dropdown menus below (monthly or yearly). If you would prefer not to have recurring monthly payments, you can also pay a lump sum upfront, either by check or using PayPal:

  • $60 for a 1-year subscription. After the year is up, you can decide whether to sign up for the rest of the first edition ($30) or for another full year (I expect I will begin issuing the second edition immediately after the first is finished).
  • $90 for the full first edition. In June 2019, when I send out the last installment, you will have the option of signing up for the second edition.

If you feel moved to contribute to my research* beyond a book subscription, I will offer the same “thank you” gifts as on Patreon:

  • $120 or more: a 1-year subscription plus a signed 8 x 10 print of one of my photographs (you get to choose which one).
  • $240 or more: all of the above plus a 12-month leafminer-themed calendar, which will be sent out in October.

To pay by check, please email me at ceiseman@gmail.com for my mailing address. To use PayPal (including credit card orders), you can use the dropdown menus and buttons below. (In case it influences your decision, PayPal takes a cut of 2.9% plus $0.30 for each transaction, but this doesn’t affect the amount that you pay. Patreon takes a 15% cut from my earnings, so obviously the other options are better from my perspective.)


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* I am conducting this research independently, and my expenses are considerable: travel; photography equipment; collecting vials; pins, vials, and other materials for preserving insects; postage for sending specimens to specialists around the world; page charges for publishing my discoveries in scientific journals; and so on. If you are aware of a foundation that gives grants to fund projects of this sort (to unaffiliated researchers without PhDs), please let me know, and if you would like to make a donation of your own without purchasing the book, you can do so by clicking the “Make a Donation” button in the right sidebar of my blog.

If you are interested in supporting this project in non-monetary ways, there are a few other ways you can help. Working as a field botanist, I have a good grip on plant identification in New England, but I need help figuring out some of the leafminer host plants I’ve found elsewhere in the US. I have been uploading photos of these here, organized by location, and I would appreciate any comments.

I am also interested in seeing photos of leaf mines. Feel free to submit images of unidentified mines to this page on BugGuide.net, which I check regularly. Reviewing these helps me refine the keys, and often alerts me to the existence of leaf mines that are unknown to science. Ideally, photos should show both sides of the leaf, and backlit shots can be very helpful.

For an introduction to the world of leafminers, see chapter 10 of my first book, or you can see all of my blog posts about leafminers here. There are also several great websites dedicated to European leafminers:

Leafminers and plant galls of Europe
British Leafminers
The leaf and stem mines of British flies and other insects
Belgian leafminers (in Dutch)

Leaf mines of Coptodisca splendoriferella (Heliozelidae) in a leaf of black cherry (Prunus serotina).

Mines of Coptodisca splendoriferella (Heliozelidae) in a leaf of black cherry (Prunus serotina).