Friday 5: My Favorites Places to Collect Aquatic Insects in Arizona

I shall begin today’s Friday 5 with a quick true story.  Imagine a girl of 21 who loves insects and is applying to grad school.  She knows she wants to be an entomologist, but she hasn’t narrowed down her area of focus.  All she knows is she loves dragonflies, those gorgeous aquatic insects that flit happily around streams, wetlands, and ponds.  She applies to schools and then has to choose which one to go to.  She eventually chooses Arizona, where she will work with an aquatic entomologist.  She tells her family members the good news: she’s moving to Arizona to work on dragonflies!  Hooray!  Now imagine the look of dismay on the face of each relative when she tells them.  That look is followed by what quickly becomes the dreaded question: “You’re going to Arizona to study AQUATIC insects?!”

So, yeah.  My family generally thought I’d lost it when I told them I was packing up and moving to Arizona for grad school.  Never mind that a good number of them had been to Arizona several times themselves and know that there’s a decent amount of water here.  I myself remember trips to the local spring-fed oasis and several streams in the mountains when I lived here as a young child and came back to visit my grandparents.  I knew there was water here and I wasn’t going to let any of those naysayers get me down.  I was going to study aquatic insects in the desert, gosh darn it!

Since I started grad school, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many, many aquatic habitats in Arizona.  Some of them, like the area where I do my summer field work, are appallingly disgusting.  Others are gorgeous and pristine.  Today I’m going to share my top 5 places to collect aquatic insects in Arizona.  Some are favorite locations due to the insects they contain and others because the area itself is so amazing, but they’re all special to me.

Arivaipa Creek

Arivaipa Creek

Arivaipa Creek. I just wrote about this creek, so I won’t say much more here.  This creek is one of my favorites because getting to go there is something special in and of itself.  The area is also incredibly beautiful and is home to some fantastic insects.  Really love this creek!  Check out the post linked above if you would like more information about the area or my recent trip there.

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon.  I’ve been going to this canyon stream all my life.  In fact, some of the very first photos I ever took were at Madera!  Madera Canyon is in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson and east of Green Valley, AZ.  The creek flows mostly over the big rocks you see in the photo, and for the most part it flows year round.  (Yes, I count that little 4 inch wide trickle you sometimes get in the summer as “flow!”).  Madera is very pretty, but I also love the insects I find there: lots of caddisflies, sunburst beetles, two types of whirligig beetles, water scorpions, fly larvae, lots of other beetles and bugs.  The creek is even home to a unique beetle (an riffle beetle)  that is thought to be found only in this one creek!  The downside is the canyon is VERY popular for birding (there are some rarely spotted birds there), so there are usually a lot of people there.

Reynolds Creek

Reynolds Creek

Reynolds Creek. I recently wrote about aquatic insects with suction cups and described my joy at discovering net-winged midge larvae for the first time.  I found them in this creek.  Reynolds Creek is in the mountains south of Young, AZ and north of Globe.  It’s way out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s usually visited only by campers and hikers.  The pine forest surrounding the creek is stunning and the water is cold and clear, so it is an entirely pleasant place to spend a few hours or the night.  There are all kinds of interesting things in this creek too.  However, the sheer elation I experience every time I find the blepharacerid fly larvae here would be enough to keep me coming back, even if there was nothing else to find.

Salt River

Salt River

Salt River (a few miles upstream of Roosevelt Lake).  The Salt River is one of the few big, perennial rivers in Arizona.  As such, it is heavily utilized by people who enjoy water sports (tubing and rafting are both very popular – the location in the photo is a raft pullout point) and is therefore far from pristine.  However, this is still one of my favorite places to collect.  The water flows swiftly and powerfully, and it gets quite deep in places.  This means that there are some excellent flow-adapted insects in the river.  My favorite: the gigantic hellgrammites this river produces!  They’re close to 3 inches long and they’re fierce.  In fact, I tell my aquatic entomology students to put them into their own bags when they collect them from this river.  The hellgrammites will eat everything else in the bag before they expire, leaving you with a single bloated hellgrammite floating amongst an assortment of insect legs.  This river is also one of the only places I’ve found sisyrid larvae, but I’ll discuss them further in a future post.

Three Forks

Three Forks

Three Forks. Three Forks is located in the White Mountains east of Alpine, AZ at the confluence of the East Fork of the Black River, Coyote Creek, and Boneyard Creek.  The photo doesn’t do this location justice at all as the bright sun at the high elevation consistently causes me problems when photographing this area.  Three Forks is a high elevation, cold, fast flowing stream, so it’s got some great insects in it.  My favorites are the water pennies, the flat mayflies (heptageniids), and the aquatic moth larvae.  You can only collect in specific areas of Three Forks though.  It has become a conservation site for an endangered snail that is being decimated by invasive crayfish, so you now need special permission to access the protected area.

So those are my top 5 areas in Arizona for collecting aquatic insects!  If you ever visit Arizona, any of these places are well worth visiting even if you have no interest in collecting.  I think they are some of the most beautiful areas of Arizona.

I wish everyone a happy New Year!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

The Gift of Aquatic Insects

Today I thought I’d share an artistic project I’ve been working on recently.  It’s not a scientific research project so it’s not the usual kind of project I talk about on my blog.  It does involve aquatic insects, though, so I’m going to talk about it anyway.  But first, a brief story to explain the history behind this project.

I took a limnology (the study of inland waters) class the semester I started my Ph.D.  The professor was a man who eventually became my Ph.D. minor advisor and I’ve gotten to know him well.  This particular professor was originally hired as a teacher (as opposed to devoting 80% of his time to research like most of the profs at my university) and it shows.  At my school, a big research-one university, it is unusual for profs to give much attention to their students.  Many of them would rather be doing their own work and teaching is just another responsibility they’re forced to take on that distracts from their research.  My limnology prof is different because he puts a lot of effort into his courses and genuinely enjoys the work.  As a personal touch, he brings snacks for his students, often every class period.  In my limnology class, he made coffee and brought some sort of baked yumminess to every class.  He only asked that you write your name on your styrofoam cup and use the same cup the entire semester.

During our break, I’d get some coffee and go straight back to my seat.  I usually had 10 minutes to kill after I finished, so I started drawing aquatic insects on my cup.  They weren’t terribly accurate because I drew them from memory and I’m far from the best illustrator anyway.  I didn’t care.  It was a fun way to pass some time.  About halfway through the semester, the prof noticed me drawing on my cup.  Nearly every class period he would come over and talk to me about the drawings I was making.  Eventually, the last day of class came along and the prof asked if he could have my cup.  Mind you, I’d been drinking black coffee out of this single disposable cup the entire semester.  It was pretty nasty, stained brown on the inside and had my germs all over it.  But I gave it to him anyway and he put it on a shelf in his office.  Several year’s later, my cup’s still sitting there every time I go into his office.  I consider it an honor!  The cup has also become a sort of inside joke between me and my ichthyologist  friend, who has my limnology prof as her co-advisor.  She keeps me updated on my cup and we laugh about how disgusting it must be now that it’s been collecting dust for several years.

This brings me to my project.  I’ve admired the work of artist Aya Rosen for some time.  Among other things, she paints colorful, gorgeous animals on dishes with porcelain paints and sells her work in her Etsy shop Louche Lab.  (I am lucky to own one of her insect pieces, a small butterfly vase.  I used it as a wedding cake topper at my wedding!)  Earlier this year, Aya taught a class at Etsy on porcelain painting and described her process for making her fabulous artwork.  Her tutorial popped up right before my wedding, so I didn’t have much time to mull it over and start thinking of ideas.  I forgot about it for several months.

Then my ichthyologist friend gave me a white teapot for my birthday.  Because we’ve joked about it so many times, the teapot ended up reminding me of my styrofoam cup.  And that, in turn, reminded me of that porcelain painting tutorial I read way back in March.  Suddenly, it was all clear: I had to make a new cup for my limnology prof, one that can be washed, microwaved, and otherwise used.  One that’s not disposable and swimming in 5-year-old germs and dust.  The cup will be my gift to my minor advisor to thank him for his service on my Ph.D. committee.  Seems fitting considering that cup was the reason we started talking to each other in the first place.  When I upgrade my highest degree earned, he can upgrade his cup!

So, I bought some black porcelain paint pens.  I bought some white coffee mugs.  I followed Aya’s tutorial, and this is my prototype:

mug

My aquatic insects mug.

It’s rather like the original cup.  Nothing’s to scale.  There are too many or not enough abdominal segments on several of the insects.  The proportions aren’t quite right.  It’s got the same sort of haphazard look to the way the insects are crammed on it.  But, I think he’ll like the result because it’s very true to the original.

I’ve spent most of my days off from work doing things like this.  I’ve been making stuffed animals and painting coffee mugs, crocheting and cooking up a storm!  I’m going back to work in a few days, so I’ll also be getting back to the more scientific posts soon.  But first, a completely non-scientific Friday 5!  The scientific posts can wait until 2011.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Friday 5: 5 Insects You Might See on a White Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve, so today’s  Friday 5 will have a winter theme!  If you live somewhere outside of the southernmost parts of the United States like I do, you have probably been experiencing some real winter weather.  This usually means that the insects have hunkered down for the winter and very few things are active.  However, there are several insects that are still active even when it’s close to zero degrees and the ground is covered with several feet of snow!  These are 5 insects that you could see running around on top of the snow on a white Christmas, assuming you live in the areas where they are found:

Grylloblattaria

Rock crawler. Image by Alex Wild, from myrmecos.net

1. Rock crawlers. Grylloblattodea is a funky order of insects that contains very few, highly specialized species.  These insects are very well suited to living on snow and have all sorts of adaptations that allow them to do so.  In fact, they are typically only found at very high elevations, high latitudes, or on glaciers!  These insects are scavengers that run around on top of the snow and collect aerial plankton that is swept into their cold habitats on the wind.  Few people even know these insects exist, let alone have actually seen one.  Want to see them in action?  There’s a great, short video on YouTube created by a rock crawler researcher that’s definitely worth watching!

Capniid stonefly

Small winter stonefly (family Capniidae). Photo by Tom Eisele and from http://bugguide.net/node/view/175731.

2. Winter stoneflies. Stoneflies in at least two families (Capniidae and Taeniopterygidae) have adults that actually emerge in the winter and are commonly seen on top of the snow.  Unlike most of the other insects in this post, these insects actually have wings.  Whether they fly around on very cold days is an entirely different matter though.  These are cold blooded animals after all, and insect wing muscles require a certain amount of heat to function.  If they can’t warm up their wing muscles, they can’t fly!  But even if they can’t fly, there are certain advantages to being an insect that emerges in the winter.  Probably the most important is related the fact that very few animals are active outdoors when it’s very cold, including many animals that might like to eat a sluggish insect that can’t warm it’s wing muscles up enough to fly.

snow fly

Snow fly (Family Limoniidae, Genus Chionea). Photo by Cosmin Manci, from http://iz.carnegiemnh.org/cranefly/limoniinae.htm.

3.  Snow flies. Snow flies are close relatives of the crane flies and are active during the winter.  They are wingless, though like all flies they do exhibit halteres.  These flies run around on the snow and have been observed sucking the snow with their mouthparts to drink.  Like their crane fly relatives, they are not thought to feed.

Snow scorpionfly

Snow scorpionfly. Photo by Stephen Luk, from http://bugguide.net/node/view/169476/bgimage.

4. Snow scorpionflies. Like the rock crawlers, I would dearly love to see one of these wingless scorpionflies on the snow!  These insects belong to the order Mecoptera, though, unlike the rock crawlers, the entire order is not adapted for life in cold weather.  Instead, there are just a handful of species within the family Boreidae that survive well on the snow.  But those species need the cold weather.  Supposedly, the heat from your hand is enough to kill one of these bugs!

5. Snow Fleas. These aren’t technically insects, even though they have 6 legs, and therefore aren’t real fleas.  However, they are hexapods, so they’re very closely related.  Snow fleas are members of the order Collembola, the springtails.  The snow fleas are quite active, sometimes in very large numbers, during sunny winter days and look like pepper on the snow.  Though it’s not exactly known what these creatures do on top of the snow, they’re thought to be eating algae that grows on the surface of the snow.  How’s that for specialized?!

There you have it!  If you’re out and about on a sunny white Christmas in the northern parts of North America, keep an eye out for these insects running across the snow!

I wish all of my readers who celebrate Christmas a very happy holiday.  And to the rest of you, I wish you a happy winter!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Collecting in Arivaipa

Arivaipa near first road crossing

Arivaipa near first road crossing

This year, one of my good friends and I decided that we were going to avoid all of the Black Friday nonsense in our city by going on an insect collecting trip.  We were originally planning to go to Sycamore Canyon, an area we’ve both been to many times near Arizona’s border with Mexico.  However, my friend is a fish scientist (ichthyologist for those of you don’t know) and happens to have access to a protected stream where I’ve never been able to collect.  She was granted permission for us to collect from the stream in exchange for our sharing our findings with the land managers.  So, we packed up my tiny SUV bright and early on Black Friday and drove 3 hours to the eastern end of Arivaipa Creek.

Arivaipa is this wonderfully magical place that people have told me about since I arrived in Arizona.  I’m always told stories about it in hushed tones like the place is sacred.  Naturally, I’ve been dying to go.  And Arivaipa really is a special place.  For one, it has flowing water year round, uncommon for small streams in southern Arizona these days.  For another, the creek is relatively clean with minimal runoff from roads and no sewage effluent.  There may be some contamination by heavy metals from nearby mines, but the creek is largely unimpaired.  It is also home to several native fish species, an increasingly rare quality in Arizona.  Because is a sort of last-of-it’s-kind type of place, access to the canyon and the creek is restricted by the Bureau of Land Management.  You can only hike in the Canyon with a permit and you have to cross Nature Conservancy land to get there, so you have to have double permission to enter.  Only 50 people are allowed in the Canyon each day, so getting to go there is a real treat.  And getting permission to collect aquatic insects from a relatively pristine Sonoran Desert stream there is even better!

Arivaipa Creek looking toward the canyon

Arivaipa Creek looking toward the canyon

We couldn’t have asked for a better day!  It was supposed to be very cold in Tucson (it was supposed to get down to 26 degrees that night, which is positively frigid by Tucson standards), so we were a little worried it was going to be uncomfortably cool and we prepared for the worst.  We lucked out and stepped out of the car to a bright, perfectly warm, gorgeous day!  We both strapped on some impeccably clean waders and hauled a bunch of gear to the stream.  we were pleasantly surprised the water wasn’t as cold as we’d expected.  (Granted, I was still happy I was wearing my wool socks under my waders!)  We each strapped on some gear, grabbed our strainers (best aquatic insect  nets ever!), and waded into the stream.

Arivaipa Creek looking upstream

Arivaipa Creek looking upstream

We spent the next 4 hours wandering around in the stream hunched over, peering into the water and dipping our strainers into the creek in an attempt to collect as many different insects as we could.  We were surveying the stream for the land managers after all!  Due to the perfectly warm weather, there were clouds of adult mayflies swarming over the stream and I managed to catch a few of them with my strainer.  We pulled several things out of the water that I’d expected to find in in Arivaipa Creek, things I knew other people had collected there.  We didn’t get any specimens of other things that I was surprised were absent.  My friend and I both had to be back in the early evening, so we couldn’t hike too far downstream.  Thus, we missed out on some of the insects that are typically only found in Arivaipa Canyon, a 10 mile stretch of stream flowing between high, steep rock cliffs, or further downstream.  That’s where all the hellgrammites are.  Sadly we didn’t find a single specimen in the section of the stream where we were collecting.  We did collect some exciting things though!  We were feeling quite pleased with our day by the time we headed back home.  Great day!

(AND, we stopped to the The Thing on the way home.  I’ve been driving past this roadside attraction in Arizona nearly my entire life and I’ve never seen it.  Since we had some time to kill, we stopped, paid our $1, and saw The Thing.  I’ve known what it is since I was a kid, but it was high time I actually visited!)

Vials

Vials of insects collected from Arivaipa.

The following week, we sorted through all of our bugs, removed them from the debris (we “picked” them), separated the insects into groups according to genus, and identified them to the genus level.  In all, I collected 23 genera, including water bugs, water scorpions, several caddisflies, lots of beetles (including crawling water beetles – family Haliplidae – my favorite aquatic beetles), and some damselflies.  The most exciting find of the day for me was collecting two different genera of dixid flies in one stream, something I’ve never experienced before.  My friend also caught a beetle I’ve never caught on any of my many Arizona collecting trips, a marsh beetle (family Scirtidae).  Overall I think we collected about 30 different insect species.  That’s pretty good considering we only sampled a very tiny section of the stream during late fall/early winter!

My collecting trip to Arivaipa made me really happy.  Rather than sitting around at home avoiding shopping, I got outside, visited a beautiful place that I’d never been, collected a bunch of great insects, and spent most of a day talking to a good friend.  We got some really great bugs, saw The Thing.  I got to drive through the creek several times where it crossed the road.  (I have a secret dream to be a stunt driver for truck commercials, so I LOVE driving through rivers!)  Much better than spending the day hiding in the house!  Now, where to go next year…

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Friday 5: Aquatic Insects that Suck

For today’s Friday 5, I’m going to discuss five aquatic insects that suck.  No, not that kind of sucking!  These are insects that have suction cups, or suction cup-like structures, that allow them to live in their aquatic habitats.  Now I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty amazing that there are insects with suction cups on their bodies, so I feel the need to share the love!  In no particular order, I present 5 aquatic insects that suck:

water penny

Water penny, top view

water penny

Water penny, bottom view

1. Water pennies.

Water pennies are funky insects – and yes, that IS an insect!  As adult beetles, most species aren’t that exciting, just nondescript black beetles.  But the larvae, pictured here, are bizarre!  These insects don’t have suction cups on their bodies like most of the other insects on my list today.  Instead, their whole broad, domed shaped bodies work like suction cups!  I’ve written about how water penny larvae work before, so I won’t go over it in detail again here.  However, if you think of the little plastic suction cups you use to stick things onto windows, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the suction works.  You’ll find these living on the tops of rocks in cold, fast flowing streams.

Blepharicerid larva, top

Net-winged midge larvae, top

Net-winged midge larvae, top

Net-winged midge larvae, bottom. The dark, round discs are the suction cups.

2. Net-winged midges.

Ah, blepharicerids.  I can remember the first moment I found one of these in a stream.  I nearly yelled out in utter joy!  It’s one thing to see pictures in a book and quite another to find hundreds of them all over rocks in a stream.  These fly larvae are truly amazing.  They’re bizarrely shaped, even by insect standards, with constrictions along the length of the body.  Each constricted section also contains a suction cup.  Like the water pennies, they live right out on top of rocks in cold, fast flowing streams, so they’re constantly being slammed with water as it flows downstream.  The suction cups keep them from being swept away!  (If you think the larvae of these flies are interesting to look at, I highly recommend that you take a look at the pupae.  Weird!)

predaceous diving beetle

Predaceous diving beetle (Thermonectus nigrofasciatus)

dytiscid foot

Predaceous diving beetle foreleg. The suction pad is made up of several individual suction cups.

3. Predaceous diving beetles.

These are the only adult insects I know of that have suction cups.  And, they don’t use their suction cups to prevent their washing downstream like most aquatic insects with suction cups.  Any idea what they might be used for?  Hint: only the males have them.  These suction cups are used during mating!  Predaceous diving beetles are extremely well adapted for swimming and exhibit very smooth, domed bodies that allow them to move through the water with surprising grace.  If you’ve ever tried to pick one up with forceps, you know how slippery these little buggers are!  This causes problems when a slippery dome-shaped male wants to climb onto his slippery domed-shape mate’s back and get down to business.  So, they evolved suction cups on their forelegs!  You can see them there in the photo – lots of little suction cups making up a big suction pad.  The male presses the suction pad onto the female’s back and is able to hold on long enough to mate.  Pretty neat, eh?

Rhithrogena impersonata

Rhithrogena impersonata. Photo from http://www.troutnut.com/specimen/482.

Rhithrogena impersonata

Rhithrogena impersonata, bottom. Photo from http://www.troutnut.com/specimen/482.

4. March brown mayflies.

Mayflies in the genus Rhithrogena (family: Heptageniidae)  are rather similar to the water pennies in that they do not have true suction cups.  Instead, they have flat bodies and their abdomens are ringed by broad, flat gills.  The space between the gills works like a suction cup and keeps these mayflies attached to the rocks on which they live in streams.  While these nymphs are not dome shaped like the water penny larvae, their suction cup works in a similar manner.

Leech

Leech. Leech sucker is inset.

5. Leeches.

Leeches are not insects.  In fact, they’re not even arthropods!  However, they are aquatic and they definitely have suction cups, so I’m including them in my list.  Leeches use their suction cups to grab the substrate or to hold onto their prey as they suck their fluids.  I also personally think they add to the overall distasteful appearance of these animals.  I mean, what’s not to love about an animal that uses a sucker at one end to attach to you and a sucker at the other end to suck your blood?  :) (Okay, I’ll admit that I do actually like leeches.  Ever seen one swim?  It’s both horrifying and mesmerizing and I can’t tear my eyes away!)

Don’t know what I’ll do next week!  I have a long list of ideas, so it will depend on my mood when I sit down to write.  Maybe something Christmasy!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

The Economics of Insect Collections

collecting

As part of the insect systematics class I TAed this semester, the student were required to put an insect collection together.  It was a lot of fun helping them collect their insects by leading collecting trips and watching them curate their collections throughout the semester!  I also got to help grade the collections for the class, the first time I’ve graded non-aquatic collections.  I loved it!

The requirements for the collections were quite reasonable – not exactly easy, but certainly not hard if you put some effort into collecting early in the semester when the insects were still abundantly available.  However, regardless of how much you collect, it’s common to discover last minute that you’re missing an order or you never collected that family you could have sworn you’d collected.  Thus, the students eventually started to trade insects with one another.  As the deadline for the collections grew nearer, I noticed that more and more trades were taking place.  So, I organized an official trading session.  Students could bring their extra specimens (properly labeled) to the classroom an hour before lab and trade them with their classmates for things they needed.

collection

Much to my surprise, nearly every student showed up an hour before class to trade insects!  Most of them had gone through their collections and knew what they had and what they still needed.  Most had a box of their “extras” that they traveled around the room with, hawking their wares in an attempt to procure something better.  They all traded away quite happily and most people ended the trading session with all of the things they needed to complete their collections.  I considered the event a success!

What really fascinated me about the trading session, as an outside observer who wasn’t participating in the actual trading, was the little economy that evolved.   The insects being traded had no value beyond the boost to a trader’s grade they represented, but a whole value system spontaneously developed nonetheless.  Different insects definitely had different values.  Furthermore, the value of these insects changed over the hour of the trading session and according to supply and demand.  Allow me to share what I observed.  From most valuable to least valuable, the initial value system worked like this:

1. Insects that are not found in Arizona.  These insects, regardless of how many were available, were worth the most.  For example, we do not have scorpionflies in Arizona, but one of the students had his brother collect about 30 of them in another state and send them to him in the mail.  The student with the scorpionflies could trade for nearly anything he might want because the only way the other students could get them was through him.  They were thus very valuable.

 

 

Alaus zunianus

 

2. Spectacular looking, rare insects.  People loved the showy insects and they were worth a lot – but only if there weren’t a whole lot of them in the room.  The students with the big showy beetles were able to trade for better things than the students who only had common things to trade.

3. Insects from orders that were hard to find in southern Arizona. Very few of the students were able to collect earwigs.  (I don’t care what anyone says – they’re just not that easy to find in AZ!)  Earwigs are also in their own order of insects.  Thus, the students all wanted earwigs.  Only one or two students had extra earwigs though.  Therefore, earwigs were worth a lot in trade.  Earwigs, stoneflies, fleas, lice, walking sticks – anything that was hard to find or hard to collect in our part of the state was worth a lot in trade.

 

 

damselfly adult

 

4. Insects that are normally common, but weren’t collected by many people in the class. This, I think, was based solely on scarcity.  If the supply had been high, no one would have cared about these.  The fact that only a few people had particular families made them worth more.  For example, hardly anyone seemed to have collected narrow winged damselflies.  They’re very easy to collect and there’s no reason people shouldn’t have them in their collections, but they were largely overlooked.   Thus, their value increased – but only this year and with this group of students.  The insects falling in this group would vary from year to year for sure.

 

 

crane fly top view

 

5. Common insects. Common insects weren’t worth as much as a lot of other things.  However, you could sometimes trade several common insects for a better insect if the recipient didn’t have the families they represented in their collections already.

6.  Things from laboratory cultures.  If someone on campus raised it in the lab or mass collected it in an agricultural field, the insect was virtually worthless, even if it was something that no one in the class would have in their collection if a student hadn’t brought them in.

This initial value system changed throughout the trading session.  At the beginning of the session, people tended to make the biggest, best trades.  That’s when one student traded a scorpionfly to a student for a rare, showy fly and another student traded her extra earwig for a webspinner that she just didn’t seem to be able to collect during the semester.  Later in the class, people started to trade the less valuable things.  Maybe an insect was common, but you didn’t have it in your collection yet either.  It was thus worth trading one of your lesser insects for at that point – or maybe 2 of your insects for three of that other student’s insects.  And then at the end of the session, it became a sort of free-for-all.  People started giving away the worthless things.  A student might have been the only person who brought whiteflies into the class, but he had tons, more than enough for everyone to have one.  No one was willing to trade for those because he had so many.  He eventually gave them away to everyone who wanted them without expecting anything in return.

I LOVE insect behavior.  It’s my very favorite science and something I intend to do for the rest of my life.  That said, I find people almost as fascinating as insects.  The fact that entire mini-economies rise and fall in something as simple as an insect trading session just blows my mind!  I had actually planned to trade a few things myself, but I got so wrapped up in watching the trades (and filming the hellgrammite I posted about a few weeks ago) that I forgot all about it!  Fascinating.  Simply fascinating.

Up next is another Friday 5.  It’s going to be a fun post, so look out for it Friday morning!

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