Five Bad Photos of California’s Winter Invertebrates (Friday 5 – on Saturday)

Whew! It’s been a really busy few weeks! I recently received a grant to start up a citizen science after school program (which you’ll hear all about at some point – it involves bugs!!) and have poured almost every moment of my work time into that since the beginning of February. Then, right in the middle of that chaos, I attended the first ever conference for the Citizen Science Association. That took me to San Jose, CA last week! One conference activity that I really wanted to do and couldn’t was a bioblitz of downtown San Jose. If you don’t know what a bioblitz is, it’s a comprehensive biodiversity survey of an area, typically done over a short (or at least limited) time frame. People participating in the San Jose bioblitz were encouraged to photograph any species they saw and upload their sightings to iNaturalist, my favorite wildlife sighting website/app, throughout the meeting. I lead biodiversity survey programs that use iNaturalist all the time and I very much wanted to see what the people who oversee iNaturalist do when they lead programs, but I unfortunately needed to be somewhere else during the organized part of the event. However, the moment I had a few minutes free, I dashed outside with my superzoom camera to add some of my own sightings to the survey! Because it was California, it was lovely and warm and there were actually insects out in the middle of winter. I still haven’t worked out how to use my superzoom to take decent macro shots (I remain unconvinced this is even possible with my particular model…), but here are my five favorite invertebrates I saw in downtown San Jose!

Hover Fly

Hoverfly 1

I wasn’t at all sure I was going to get anything close to a focused shot of the many hover flies buzzing around the area, but this one’s not too bad, if a little far away… I honestly have no idea what type of hover flies these were (Toxomerus perhaps?), but I was thrilled to see them. Dozens of hover flies flying around in mid-February! Don’t think I’d realized how much I missed that sort of thing until I found myself standing on sidewalk in downtown San Jose grinning like a fool and pointing excitedly at hover flies. I would bet several passersby thought I was totally nuts, but whatever. I was just so happy to see insects in winter again!

Another Hover Fly

Hoverfly 1

Found this beauty sucking on a rosemary flower! I mistook it for a bee from a distance (how embarrassing!), but was very pleased to see it was really a hover fly when I got close. The spectacularly speckled eyes make me think this might be something in the hover fly genus Eristalinus (which would probably also make it non-native), but if you couldn’t tell from the previous insect, these are well out of my identification skill wheelhouse. Whatever it is, it’s crazy pretty if you get a good look at it! Makes me feel a little sorry for all those people out there in the world who don’t even know something like this exists.

Garden Snail

Garden Snail

I found dozens of these huge snails in a planter outside an office building and was instantly struck by their beautiful form. One of the nice things about iNaturalist is that you can ask other iNat users for identification help. It’s no BugGuide for insects and other invertebrates, but a lot of people came up with the same ID for this one and I think they’re probably right: garden snail, Helix aspersa. Though we do have a lot of snails in North Carolina, these snails were quite large and were a surprise in the dry environment.  They are non-native and considered a pest in California, though these are also one of the snails that end up in escargot in Europe, so apparently edible!

Aquatic Worm

Aquatic worm

Confession time: I have embarrassed many companions by squealing happily when I come across standing water and crouching down beside puddles to poke around for invertebrates. I found this little worm and about a dozen more just like it in a tiny puddle, just 1/4 inch deep, that had formed in a depression at the top of a light fixture in a park. Seriously, people must think I’m nuts… I was wearing a nice skirt, nice shoes, and a nice shirt with my hair pulled back in a tight bun – all business-like – when I yelled “Oooh! Water!!!” to no one in particular and plunged my hands into a random puddle. If you’re ever out in public with me, be warned that I might do the same thing to you. I have zero shame!

Isopod

Hoverfly 1

Who doesn’t love a good roly poly? This one didn’t roll up when I picked it up (sad!), but I thought its brown pattern was especially lovely for an isopod. These little guys are land-dwelling crustaceans, the lobster of the land! I love that there are little land crustaceans running around all over the place. If I can trust the iNaturalist users, this lovely brown one is the same species as the horde of more standard grey ones I found with it. Was hoping I had two species, but apparently I just found a weird one instead.

I absolutely loved getting out and looking for bugs in San Jose! I didn’t find all that many species, about 15 invertebrates in all, but that’s certainly more than I’ve seen in Raleigh for a while. I was also thrilled to discover that I was hot in the February sun! That happiness was short-lived however. After 11.5 hours and three flights back home, I stepped off the plane in flip-flops and shorts into 25 degree weather. It started snowing/sleeting a few days later and some schools have been closed ALL WEEK because of it! Nothing like being snapped back into reality the moment you get home…

For those of you that live in places that aren’t buried in snow or covered in a massive sheet of ice, what’s the best invertebrate you’ve seen recently? I want to live vicariously through you – I miss warm winters!!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Great Teaching Moments of 2014 (Friday 5)

One of the best parts of my job is getting to lead a variety of educational programs for the public at the field station where I work.  Though I don’t get to form the bonds with my students that used to be a part of teaching at a university, it’s still great fun to watch people learn new things and see things clicking in their heads.  For today’s Friday 5, I’m going to share 5 great teaching moments I had last year.  All of these moments still make me smile when I think about them, and are great reminders of why I love my job on days when things just aren’t going my way or I feel overwhelmed.

Photography for Science

Photography for science

As much as I love doing insect programs, I think my very favorite program is one I call Photography for Science.  The program is aimed at photographers, amateur or professional, who love nature and want to use their photography to support conservation efforts and science.  We spend about 1/3 of the program going over citizen science projects that invite photographs and how to take photos that are useful to scientists.  We spend the other 2/3 of the class out in the field taking nature photos and practicing the things they learned.  What I like about this program are the people who attend it.  They are the happiest, most enthusiastic bunch of people and they absolutely love learning.  The women in the photo above were among those that attended the program last January on what ended up being one of the very coldest days all winter.  We have no heated indoor space for teaching at the field station and I warned everyone it was going to be cold, but every single person who registered for the program showed up!  They were all very cold the whole time, but not one complaint and they still all went away with a smile.  That group was hard-core and I loved every moment of that program.

Intro to Tracking

Millipede tracks

I met an awesome state park ranger last year.  In addition to being a park ranger, she and her husband lead science classes for kids at a science toy store they own in the area, so we met when she wanted to make a citizen science program and came to me for suggestions.  A few months later, we began offering a program together on tracking.  She is a great tracker and I really love doing the program with her.  The second time we offered the program, we came across the long, double lined tracks above.  The group spent quite a lot of time debating what it was and eventually someone suggested millipedes.  We looked it up on my phone and sure enough, it WAS a millipede!  Rather, a whole bunch of them, roaming about in this one sandy area on the trail.  I loved that we saw all sorts of great mammal prints – coyotes, deer, foxes, raccoons – but everyone was most excited about the millipede tracks that day.  Those are my kind of people!

Flow Dynamics and Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Communities

High school kids

The group of high schoolers in this photo…  I can’t say enough good things about them!  They come out to the field station after school every three weeks and sample aquatic insects in a couple of locations in the stream and we have a big ID session at the end of the semester.  They are all polite, personable, funny, wonderful people and I just love working with them.  They’re also all wicked smart and would give some of my very best former aquatic entomology students a run for their money with their insect ID skills.  Any day spent with this group of kids is a good day, AND we’re learning some interesting things about the stream and its aquatic insect community to boot.

Teaching Teachers Citizen Science

Teaching teachers

North Carolina State University has this awesome fellowship program for K-12 teachers called the Kenan Fellowship.  Teacher selected spend 5 weeks in an intensive internship program with researchers in a variety of fields and then develop curriculum for K-12 students based on their experiences.  Kenan Fellows tend to be amazing teachers who love what they’re doing and are always a joy to work with.  Last summer, I got to work them twice.  The museum where I work is part of a grant called Students Discover that aims to bring citizen science into schools that partners with the Kenan Fellows program to bring teachers into the Museum’s research labs.  The first day of their fellowship, I led them in a dragonfly citizen science program.  Let me tell you that few things beat watching a bunch of adults running around with bug nets catching dragonflies with huge grins on their faces!  I also teamed up with one of the teacher education staff at the Museum and led a full day workshop on citizen science for ALL of the Kenan Fellows for 2014.  It was such a great experience.  Hope I get to work with them again this year too!

Family Safari

Blacklighting

The museum where I work is free to visit, so those that are willing to pay for a membership get some pretty awesome perks.  Last year, we hosted our first ever member camp out at the field station and offered several evening programs as entertainment.  I set up the great blacklighting sculptures that Sigma Xi donated to us and talked to people about nighttime insects.  Most people spent just a few minutes at the sheets looking for insects before moving on, but the little boy in the photo above was absolutely riveted!  His mother kept telling me about how he had already decided he wanted to be an entomologist and how much he loved insects.  She practically had to drag him away when it was time for bed.  Funny how one person can make up for an otherwise lackluster crowd!  Loved that little guy.

Yep, teaching can be a really great thing when it’s something you enjoy and you have a great group of people.  I know a lot of you out there are also teachers of various types.  Want to share some of your best teaching experiences?  I always find it inspiring to hear other people tell me stories like that, so leave comments below if you’d like to share!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

More Insect Haikus (Friday 5)

The insect activity was a bit sparse this week, in spite of some lovely warm days and some exciting things that happened.  Because there are so few insects to report, I’m going to share some haikus of recent insect and insect-related observations I’ve made over the past few weeks.  Hope you enjoy them!

Ode to the Fall Cankerworm

Female cankerworm

Wingless cankerworm
crawling up a maple tree,
lays her eggs while cold.

If you’ve followed my blog recently, you’ve already read about the fall cankerworms I’ve watched recently.  They disappeared from their usual spot for a couple of weeks during some very cold weather and an ice storm, but they’ve come back!  I was more excited about that than I probably should have been…

Burning the Prairie

Prairie burn

Snap crackle and pop,
winter prairie fire burns, 
insects flee the flames.

The natural resources guy at the field station leads a controlled burn of a third of the prairie every winter as part of the prairie maintenance, and it took place yesterday.  It’s always exciting to watch, but for the first time I noticed a lot of insects out and about near the burn area, some of which had clearly been roaming around in the ashes.  Made me think that the rabbits, cotton rats, and mice aren’t the only things that flee as the fire advances!  Interesting to see so many insects roaming around after the burn.

Stuff of Insect Nightmares

Brown headed nuthatch

Tap tap tap it goes,
the nuthatch looks for a treat,
insect under bark.

I’ve fallen in love with brown-headed nuthatches recently!  They’re adorable and it’s fun to watch them breaking off pieces of bark to get to the tasty insects hidden underneath.  They’re rather resourceful little birds!

Wasps in Winter

Wasp nest

Huge paper wasp nest,
high up in a winter tree.
Glad it’s cold today!

I got to go on a fantastically fun trip with a bunch of other environmental educators to the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge last weekend.  It’s an overwintering site for tens of thousands of tundra swans, snow geese, and red-winged blackbirds, and you can see flocks of 30,000-40,000 birds.  It’s absolutely and indescribably amazing!  But, I got excited about a few insect sightings as well.  I’m going to write about one of them in a longer blog post sometime soon, but one of the other women on the trip noticed the awesome wasp in the photo high in a tree.  It was truly massive, so I think both of us were actually just fine with being cold at that moment as it meant we weren’t going to be inundated by angry wasps while we milled around under their beautiful nest.

The Birds

Red winged blackbirds

The red-winged blackbirds
flying over winter fields
look like clouds of gnats.

I couldn’t resist throwing in this haiku about the red-winged blackbirds, even though it just alludes to insects.  There were just SO many of them at Pungo!  If any of you ever make it out to eastern North Carolina in the winter, it’s well worth a visit to Pungo or nearby Lake Mattamuskeet to see the birds.  The photo doesn’t give you a good sense of what it feels like to have several thousand birds swirling around in a huge mass in front of you only to have the entire flock fly right over your head only 10 feet above you.  It was like a black wall that was about to engulf you, but it swerved upward at the last moment and disappeared over the trees.  It was magical!

It’s winter, but there’s always great stuff to see outside and I’ve really been enjoying exploring recently.  Anyone want to take a stab at a winter themed haiku?  Pick any topic of your choice, so long as it focuses on winter.  Would love to read anything you come up with, so leave poems in the comments!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Beetles at Blacklights (Friday 5)

Last summer I spent almost an entire month blacklighting in my backyard every night.  I’m going to share my blacklighting setup with you all in the not too distant future so you can see what it involves, but I turned on my lights just before it got dark and then went out multiple times each night to document the things I found.  I focused on moths as I was participating in National Moth Week at first, but I saw a bunch of other really cool things too.  Though I have no interest at all in studying beetles (except maybe how various aquatic beetles breathe), I have always rather enjoyed looking at them.  I got some really great ones coming to my lights too!  Today I’m going to share 5 of my favorite beetles from my blacklighting adventure last summer.

A note about my identifications: I’m not 100% certain about any of the IDs I propose for these beetles!  I bought Art Evans’ wonderful book Beetles of Eastern North America, which anyone who has an interest in insects and lives in the eastern US should own, just before I started my month of blacklighting.  I used it for most of my identifications and though it is a remarkably comprehensive field guide that covers 1406 species, beetles are incredibly diverse and the book certainly doesn’t cover all of the species found in the eastern US.  It’s entirely possible (maybe even likely) I have some of these wrong – I welcome corrections if you see a mistake!

LeConte’s Seedcorn Beetle, Stenolophus lecontei

Stenolophus lecontei

LeConte’s Seedcorn Beetle, Stenolophus lecontei

This gorgeous little fellow is found throughout most of the eastern US and is known to come to lights at night.  They’re active from spring into late summer and belong to the ground beetle family Carabidae.  They’re common in fields, gardens, and suburban yards where they feed on live and dead insects and the occasional fruit, seed, or plant.

Prodaticus bimarginatus

Prodaticus bimarginatus

Prodaticus bimarginatus

This little pond dwelling predaceous diving beetle is found throughout the southeastern US as well as the Bahamas and Cuba.  It is surprisingly hard to find information about this particular species, but I would suspect that they are predatory like most of their relatives in the family Dytiscidae and feed on other insects in ponds.  You can tell this one is a male because he’s got suction cups on his front feet.

Leptostylus asperatus

Leptostylus asperatus

Leptostylus asperatus

I was thrilled when this gorgeous longhorn beetle from the family Cerambycidae showed up at my porch light!  It was pretty high up and I didn’t get a good shot of it before I bumped it and it flew away, but wow!  What a spectacular beetle!  These beetles are common throughout the southeastern US and range into New England and are frequently seen at lights in spring and summer.  They feed on oaks and sumacs as larvae.

Long-necked Ground Beetle, Cosnania pensylvanica

 

Cosnania pensylvanica

Long-necked ground beetle, Cosnania pensylvanica

This is a very interestingly shaped member of the ground beetle family Carabidae, with its long, extended prothorax separating its head from the rest of its body.  These are found in the southeastern US and into New England and are common in open grassy areas (like my backyard, for example), on plants along the edges of wetlands, or under piles of debris.  They’re most common in the spring and summer and are known to be attracted to lights.  They are thought to be ant mimics and are suspected to feed on aphids.

Black turfgrass Ataenius, Ataenius spretulus

Ataenius spretulus

Black turfgrass Ataenius, Ataenius spretulus

During my month of blacklighting, I learned that these small, black beetles are far and away the most common thing I find at lights at night in my yard.  There were sometimes hundreds of them!  They belong to the scarab beetle family Scarabaeidae and are active most of the year throughout large parts of the US and into Ontario in Canada.  They are definitely attracted to lights!  They are also a turfgrass pest, which made me worry a bit for my yard.  Not that our grass is perfect anyway (it’s more a collection of neatly trimmed weeds than grass), but there were SO many of these that I was surprised I had any grass left at all!

Apart from this tiny handful of beetles that came to my lights, I found awesome click beetles and loads of aquatic beetles.  There were several scarab species, some of which were very numerous, and some wonderful long-horned and wood-boring beetles.  Some of the beetles had crazy antennae and others were comparatively uninteresting.  My very favorite beetle didn’t stick around long for me to photograph it, a click beetle with absolutely wild antennae!  The experience reminded me, as nature so often does, that there are seemingly endless beetle species in the world of countless colors, sizes, and shapes.  Makes me excited to see what I will find when I start blacklighting again this spring!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Five Things I am Better At Thanks to Blogging (Friday 5)

It’s a new year and I like reflecting on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come over the last few years. I’ve been thinking recently about how my blog has impacted my life, and I can safely say that it has only improved it. Today, I’m going to tell you five things I’m better at thanks to blogging. Who knows? If any of you are considering starting a blog, maybe this will convince you to take the plunge!

Explaining Scientific Concepts

I’m sure I don’t always do this perfectly, but knowing that ANYONE can read what I post on my blog makes me think twice about how I explain things. I try to remember a phone conversation I had about a year into blogging with an 8-year-old who wanted to interview me for a school project. That kid was reading my blog – and understood it. That was a proud moment, and one that has stuck with me as a reminder that I have a very broad audience and shouldn’t talk (well, write) like a scientist. The best part: this has bled over into other parts of my life, which makes me a better teacher, a better speaker, and a better communicator overall.

Marketing

When you start a blog, you are REALLY excited when you get your first view that isn’t your significant other, a friend, or family. Eventually, and ever so slowly, your blog takes on a life of its own. At some point, I suspect most bloggers think, “Wow, I’m getting 100 views a day and that’s awesome! I wonder how I can get more…” That’s when you start exploring what’s out there and you start to try new things. Maybe you start a Facebook page. Twitter, of course! Google+, why not? You update the look of your blog, start looking for ways to self-host so you can fully customize your site. You reach out to people everywhere, learning what grabs attention in a variety of online audiences. You start learning how to link everything together.   You develop a brand and a voice for yourself.  Eventually you look around and realize that, in addition to writing a blog, you manage a little social media empire and you’ve learned some mad marketing skills! And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I actually have to use the marketing and social media skills I’ve acquired through my blog in my job almost every day, so I’m very happy to have them.

Writing

This one should be a no-brainer! The more you write, the better your writing becomes. It gets easier too! Now, I’ll admit that I wrote a LOT before I started my blog. I love writing. That love for writing is a big part of why I was interested in starting a blog in the first place! But, writing has become easier and even more enjoyable since I started my blog and it’s because I’m practicing all the time.

Identifying Insects Outside of my Focal Groups

I draw a lot of inspiration for my blog from the chance insect encounters I have, strange things I’ve observed insects doing, or photos of cool insects I’ve taken.  Most of my observations and photos aren’t that useful as blog posts if I don’t know what I’m looking at!  I’ve said it before and will say it again: I am not a taxonomist and while I’m certainly better than most non-entomologists at identifying random terrestrial insects, I would bet that most entomologists are better at identification than I am.  However, thanks to my blog and my desire to research the insects I want to write about, I have discovered many excellent online resources and books that have been a huge help.  I am still pretty slow at identifying unfamiliar things, but I am getting better because I practice a lot.  I wouldn’t do that if it weren’t for my blog.

And finally…

Photography

This is the first photo I posted on my blog:

palo verde beetle

My first blog photo!

At the time, I was terribly proud of it. I had, only shortly before, gotten my first DSLR camera and I was convinced I was going to take amazing photos with it right out of the box.  I had used a completely manual antique SLR film camera for years and had been taking a ton of macro insect photos with my first digital camera, so my Nikon D80 was going to revolutionize my photography! Yeah, not so much… at least at first. It took me ages to figure out how to make that stupid thing do what I wanted it to. I posted photos on my blog that I increasingly understood were mediocre, but they were the best I could do. I kept at it, but I eventually reached the limits of what I could teach myself and still wasn’t getting the shots I wanted. So I sought help by attending the first BugShot insect photography workshop in 2011. That one workshop did wonders! Then I attended two more and got a little better each time. I got to the point that I had to buy a better camera and lenses because the camera wasn’t good enough.  The first photo of a dragonfly nymph I posted on my blog in 2009 looked like this:

Dragonfly nymph

Green darner nymph

Now it might look like this:

Green darner nymph

Green darner nymph

I’ve seen a HUGE jump in my photography skills, and it’s largely because I was posting photos on my blog that just weren’t making me happy.  My blog pushed me out of my photography comfort zone early on and I am SO happy it did!

So those are 5 skills I’ve boosted significantly thanks to my blog. I’m curious: for the other bloggers out there who read this, what things have you gotten better at because of your blog? I’d love to hear some stories, so leave them in the comments below!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5 (on Saturday): Insect Haikus for the End of Summer

For some reason, I was feeling poetic today.  I started making up poems in my head on my way home from work and made excellent progress on a multi-stanza educational poem about dragonflies I might share with you sometime.  But I also came up with a series of haikus, inspired by the changing seasons and some of the insects I’ve seen recently.  Without further ado, I give you five illustrated insect haikus!

Woolly Bear

Woolly bear caterpillar, Pyrrharctia isabella

Little fuzzy worm
Brown and black on the dirt road
Winter is coming

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Brunner's stick mantid

Brunner’s stick mantid, Burnneria borealis

Green stick-like mantid
Lurking in the tall prairie
As fall quickly comes

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Pipevine caterpillars

Pipevine caterpillars, Battus philenor

Black caterpillars
Munching on a pipevine leaf
At the summer’s end

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Swarm over upper prairie

Dragonfly swarm over upper prairie

Shorter summer days
Bring a swirl of dragonflies
Over goldenrod

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Whirligig beetle swirls, Dineutus sp.

Whirligig beetle swirls, Dineutus sp.

Whirligig beetles
Dart on the water’s surface
A riot of life

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I love writing haikus!  Anyone want to add to what I’ve started here?  I welcome original insect haikus in the comments, or post one on your blog and paste the link to it below.  Remember, haikus follow a 5-7-5 syllable structure and traditionally were about nature and the seasons.  My whirligig haiku is, for example, not a traditional haiku because it is all about the beetles and doesn’t address how they are tied to a season.  I’d love to see what other people can come up with, so I hope some of you will take me up on my haiku challenge!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: All The Right Bugs in All the Right Places

I told you about my trip to Ireland a couple of days ago, and prepping for and going on that trip sucked up close to 4 weeks of blogging time.  Here’s what I’ve been up to since I got back from my trip!  There will be bugs, oh yes, there will be bugs.

LOTS of Work

Dragonfly swarm!

Dragonfly swarm!

I have had three days off in the month of September.  Total.  A lot of those abundant work days were long days too.  However, it’s also dragonfly migration season, so there has been a LOT of dragonfly swarm activity.  I still haven’t gotten what I’d consider a “good” photo of a swarm that really represents what you see when you come across one, but at least you can see 7 individuals easily in one shot in this photo.  Most of the dragonflies in these swarms have been common green darners, but some have been black saddlebags, wandering gliders, and the Carolina saddlebag makes an occasional appearance.  I’ve stayed at work late several nights this month watching dragonflies.  They are 100% worth staying late for!

My First Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

I took this photo with my phone and it’s really not great, but I was showing my intern around the field station where I work on her first day and wandered over to the spicebush in the off-chance that I was going to see a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on it for the first time ever.  My intern is doing a project focused on pollinator gardens this semester, so I was familiarizing her with the garden plants, and I always feel the need to check that spicebush.  I’ve looked for those stupid caterpillars dozens of times and was just telling my intern how we weren’t actually going to get to see one given my track record when I spotted one on the very first branch I saw!  It was heading downward, presumably to pupate and turn into one of the gorgeous black and blue swallowtail adults that have been flying around lately.  These are really stunning caterpillars, so I was thrilled to see one.  Those little eyespots and the way they curl themselves up is just so cute!

Caterpillar Hunting

Florida predatory stink bug eating a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Florida predatory stink bug eating a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Bolstered by my successful spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sighting, I took one of my coworkers out to the spicebush when she was lamenting that she couldn’t find any caterpillars to use in the weekly nature storytime for young children that she heads. She is a herpetologist and relatively new to North Carolina, so I took her to the spots I KNEW we could find caterpillars.  Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on the woolly pipevine, check!  Black swallowtail caterpillars on the fennel, check!  Silver spotted skipper caterpillars on the American wisteria, check!  Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the… oh god no!  Our one lone spicebush caterpillar sighting was the one above, of a Florida predatory stink bug sucking the caterpillar dry.  Still, that particular day was fun because I was incredibly busy prepping for programs and a couple of upcoming presentations and had a zillion things I needed to do on my computer and I worked something like 12 hours that day, but for an hour I went outside and looked for caterpillars with someone who knows virtually nothing about them and was able to convince her that insects are just as cool as those sea turtles she studied for her master’s degree.  It was a good day.

Pollinator Garden Extraordinaire

soldier beetle

soldier beetle

Speaking of prepping for presentations, one of the presentations I did was a 6-hour citizen science workshop at an environmental educator’s conference that a couple of my coworkers and I developed.  We had some time to kill on the drive there, so one of my coworkers suggested that we stop at a “killer pollinator garden” in Pittsboro, NC she knew of.  This pollinator garden is, turns out, just outside a co-op health food grocery store, which seemed like an odd place for it to be (I constantly marvel at how much my museum coworkers know about all the nooks and crannies of North Carolina!), but it was stunning!  We have a lot of the same plants in the native plant garden at work, but the plants in Pittsboro were a good 3 weeks behind ours, so many of them still had a lot of flowers on them.  Lots of flowers, of course, means lots of insects!  One of my coworkers has a master’s degree in entomology, so the two of us regaled our turtle researching coworker all about the wonders of insects as we wandered through the plants sipping cold beverages and eating snacks.  After so very many hours working and looking forward to three more days at a conference, it provided a much-needed break as well.

The Workshop

robber fly

robber fly

Pretty much the whole month was leading up to the citizen science workshop so it was really exciting when the big day finally came!  Personally, I think we nailed it, and I was completely pumped after it was over.  It’s lovely when something works exactly as you envisioned – and people seemed to have a good time too!  At one point we were outside doing a photographic biodiversity scavenger hunt and I found this little guy dead on the ground.  A robber fly!  And a really big one at that!  This was easily the most impressive thing we saw that day though.  Given that the conference was held at a summer camp facility in the woods, it was strangely lacking in biodiversity.  We had a hard time finding BIRDS there!  It’s a strange day when a big robber fly is one of the best things anyone sees.

So that’s my last month and a half or so!  Hope you all have been doing fun things while I’ve been offline.  Anyone want to share what you’ve been up to?  Would love to hear some stories if you’d like to share!

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