Leafminers

I am currently working on a book about North American leaf-mining insects.  These 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 attempted to compile this information into a usable guide.  For this project, I am attempting to compile all of the known natural history information for leafminers occurring in the continental US and Canada.

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 bulk of my book will consist of photographically illustrated keys to leaf mines organized by host plant, with notes on biology and distribution provided for each species covered.  It will also give an overview of the natural history of leafminers in general and of each group of leaf-mining insects, supplemented with photographs of adult and immature stages.

I have completed a massive literature review and have just recently finished constructing the keys and writing species accounts, so I am now putting together the introductory chapters.  In addition to the literature review, this project is also incorporating a substantial amount of original research.  I have been obsessively collecting and rearing leafminers for several years now, 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 occasionally discovering new species.  In addition to intensive work throughout New England, I have spent several 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.

If you are interested in supporting this project, there are a few 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 I’m creating, 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.

Finally, I would welcome financial support.  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, you can click the button below.



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).