”What the….?” must be the reaction of many a motorist sharing the highway with this RV, decked out in snazzy graphics depicting North American wildlife, especially insects. The story behind this rig is truly intriguing, and we owe it to our neighbors to the north for coming up with the idea.
I had the pleasure of spending a day with the Bio Bus team at Picacho Peak State Park north of Tucson, Arizona on April 20, 2010. It was the culmination of a desire to meet one of the members of the crew since about 2002.
While soliciting photographers to contribute images to the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, I had the good fortune to cross paths with Jay Cossey, a professional nature photographer in Canada. He has stayed in touch ever since, and was delighted to inform me that he had gotten this job a couple years ago. Jay figured that at some point the Bio Bus would be passing near Tucson, and sure enough, here it was.
The Bio Bus is a research effort of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, based at the University of Guelph. It has been on the road since 2008, traveling across Canada for the most part, but also venturing into the U.S. as spring and summer slowly creep northward. The goal of the mission is to collect mostly invertebrate specimens for DNA “barcoding,” a method by which one gene with species-specific variation is used to identify a species. The result is that many “species” formerly recognized by mere morphological (physical) characteristics turn out to be a complex of species that are discernable only through genetic analysis.
The RV, which rides like a dream, amazingly enough, can accommodate four people along with all the gear necessary for navigation, collection, and day-to-day living. Graduate students and others rotate along the route, but Jay has been a pretty constant presence since last year.
This year’s organizer, Jill, has been there, too, making certain that permits are secured for collecting in state and provincial parks, making contacts ahead of the bus’s arrival, and generally being an incredibly diplomatic ambassador for the project.
Our day at Picacho Peak was reasonably productive, though the most abundant insects were large blister beetles (Lytta magister) that eventually became rather annoying with their droning flight drawing our attention from other creatures. We ended the day with a tasty dinner at a steakhouse in Tucson.
Thank you Jay, Maneer, Rene, and Jill for the warm welcome and camaraderie in the field. May you have a successful journey up the west coast and back across Canada this summer.