#11: Charley Eiseman – Naturalist, Author, Innovator, and Leaf Mining Insect Specialist

#11: Charley Eiseman – Naturalist, Author, Innovator, and Leaf Mining Insect Specialist Nature's Archive

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My guest today is Charley Eiseman. Charley is the lead author of the innovative and fascinating “Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates”, which digs deep into the details of insect identification through the clues they leave, such as egg masses, cocoons, galls, burrows, leaf mines and more.

This initial treatment of leaf miners led him to his current 10 year obsession, learning about and documenting these specialist insects. Leaf miners are insects whose larvae live part of their lives in between the epidermal layers of leaves, each with fascinating life histories and survival strategies. There are thousands of leaf mining species of moths, flies, beetles, and sawflies. Despite being so prevalent, there was very little readily available information about them – that is, until Charley turned his sights on them. Over the last decade, Charley has turned himself into the foremost expert of North American leaf miners and created an 1800 page guide to the leaf miners, which is also referenced against their host plants.

This is a truly fascinating subject – leaf miners are literally everywhere, and serve as a creative “hook” to open people’s eyes to incredible nature that is easily overlooked. I’ve included several fascinating photos below! 

In this episode we discuss Charley’s background, the unique University of Vermont Field Naturalist Masters program he completed, the challenges of breaking new ground in publishing his Tracks and Signs of Insects book, how he has identified and described 50+ previously undescribed leaf miner species, the process of documenting those discoveries, the process of rearing leaf miners at home to identify the species, and much more. Charley offers a few pearls of wisdom as well, including approaches to continuous learning and developing structure and deadlines for audacious goals like his 1800 page leaf miner guide.

Charley offers occasional webinars and online courses that I highly recommend, so be sure to check out his bugtracks blog, or charleyeiseman.com to see his upcoming schedule of events.

Charley on the Washington coast with a piece of driftwood riddled with gribble holes

Links To Topics Discussed

People and Organizations

In chronological order

Noah Charney – co-author of Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates

John Carlson, MD – also an entomologist contributed a chapter on “sign of insects on vertebrates” such as stings and bites.

Paul Rezendes – Charley took a mammal tracking class that helped cement his approach of “following the trail of things he doesn’t know well”.

Owen Lonsdale – PhD that helps Charley document new species.

Dave Smith – Smithsonian sawfly expert Charley works with

Viburnum leaf mine example

Books and Other Things

In chronological order

Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates – a wonderful guide book to insect behavior.

Mammal Tracks and Sign – A Guide to North American Species – by Mark Elbroch, this and Bird Tracks and Sign by Mark Elbroch were inspirations for Charley’s Tracks and Sign of Insects book.

Leafminers of North America – Charley Eiseman, a PDF guide

bugguide.net – amazing insect identification and natural history resource

A Hard-Won Moth – the interesting story of Charley’s mystery viburnum leafminer, previously undescribed – which was ultimately named Marmara viburnella.

Leafminers of North America iNaturalist Project – Charley curates this project – share leafminers you find here!

Bugs In Winter – Charley’s online class he’s working on – availability starting in January 2021.

Note: links to books are affiliate links

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

Example Leaf Miner Photos

Thanks to Charley for providing these first three photos:

Diversity of moth leaf mines displayed on a single white oak leaf (Quercus alba), clockwise from upper left: Stigmella (Nepticulidae), Cameraria, and Phyllonorycter (Gracillariidae). [Massachusetts]
Backlit leaf mine of the beetle Pachyschelus nicolayi (Buprestidae) on American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). [North Carolina] The squiggly line is the frass, and you can see the larva.
Amazing patterns! Backlit leaf mine of the fly Nemorimyza posticata (Agromyzidae) on leafcup (Polymnia canadensis). [Tennessee] Notice how the leaf ribs formed a barrier for the larva.
If you have a rose bush, you should look for this one! This is from a Stigmella centifoliella, aka Narrow-barred Pigmy Moth. It is an introduced species from Europe, and is found on both coasts of the United States [photo by Michael Hawk]

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