What Visited My Blacklight Last Week (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I am part of a grant that is bringing together science and writing by partnering science museums, like the one where I work, with local chapters of the National Writing Project to create K-12 educational programs.  I’ll share more specifics about the activities we’re offering later (they’ll be online, so you can participate too!), but the activity that my team is developing and rolling out to the public next month explores nocturnal insects.  As my team’s science museum representative, it falls to me to create the science-related content that supports our activities – field guides, photos, videos, etc.  One of the things the English teachers and poets on my team really wanted was a time-lapse video of my blacklight sheet.  So, I took a camera out a few nights ago, snapped 2700 photos of my sheet, and this is the result:

Now, what I get on my blacklighting sheet in North Carolina is nothing compared to what I used to see in Arizona, but it’s still interesting to see what came to the light.  My favorite part: the damsel bug that shows up in about the last 30 seconds and starts eating other insects on the sheet.  :)

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy a glimpse at the insects I’ve been seeing at my backyard blacklight recently!

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

Why I Carry a Huge Camera With Me Everywhere I Go (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This photo…

snowberry clearwing moth on Lantana

… is a good example of why I get itchy any time I leave my camera behind. My husband and I went to a local shopping center last weekend and I debated whether to bring my camera with me or not. I thought to myself, “Surely I won’t find anything there worthy of carrying my bulky, heavy camera!” and left my trusty point and shoot that almost never leaves my side on my table at home. Moments after we arrived at the shopping center, I spotted some insects flying around a Lantana. That snowberry clearwing moth in the photo  was one of several on that stupid plant! I have been hoping to see another one for TWO years so I could get a good photo, and there were half a dozen of them. Luckily, the camera on my iPhone is pretty decent and I got some reasonably good shots anyway, but I’m still kicking myself for that one. Gonna go back tomorrow and see if I can find more moths – and this time I’ll be prepared!

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

Collecting Dragonflies with Girls in Science (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This post is going to be a bit longer than my usual Wednesday posts.  It’s not going to live up to the Well-Nigh Wordless name today, but I feel the need to tell a longer story, you know?

A while back, I posted a photo and told a story about a group of girls that I worked with last year that was particularly wonderful.  This group of girls included mostly low-income, mostly minority, teenage girls, a combination that often (in my experience at least) means that the students aren’t at all interested in what I have to teach them and they don’t want to do the activity I have planned.  Anyone who’s worked with groups of teenagers knows how important appearances are to that age group and how it’s often not cool for a teen, especially a teen girl, to show an interest in something like a dragonfly.  Few things break my heart like seeing that one kid who really wants to play with some bugs, who wants to learn, but pretends to hate it like everyone else so he/she doesn’t stand out.  That was 100% not the case with the group I worked with last summer!  They were THRILLED about the dragonflies and were completely and utterly engaged the entire two hours I spent with them.  I practically had to drag them back inside when our time was up.  That experience ended up being one of the highlights of my year.

I returned to do the same presentation for the new group of girls attending this year’s camp today and was worried: surely lightning doesn’t strike twice?  To my very great pleasure, this group was even better than last year’s!  EVERY girl in the group, even the two who were screaming every time a butterfly came near them, ended up catching at least one dragonfly.  Two girls caught 10 dragonflies each in the 40 minutes we were outside and another couple of girls caught 7 and 8 respectively.  Girls who probably haven’t intentionally run in years were chasing dragonflies down with the nets and made some of THE most impressive catches I’ve ever seen.  It was AWESOME!!  Here’s the group headed down the trail after successfully catching nearly a dozen dragonflies at the little stream that runs near the center where the camp is held:

campers walking down the greenway

I just have to say that, as someone who LOVES teaching people about insects and getting people outside to learn about the natural world, moments like these remind you of why you put up with any crap you have to deal with in your job.  These are the moments that make up for anything that’s ever gone wrong, any group that hated what you presented, and completely validate your career choices.  I am still on this amazing high from working with this group today – and I hope it lasts the rest of the week!

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

Taking Flight (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Last week was National Moth Week, so I have once again been taking countless photos of moths both at my annual moth night at work and in my own backyard.  Many of my photos turn out well enough to help me get an ID for the things I see, but every now and again I get one like this:

Photo of a moth flying away from the camera

Almost…

SOOOOO frustrating!

(I’ve been away at a conference and busy as heck at work recently, but I should get back to my normal schedule here for a while.  See you Friday!)

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

Lifer (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Many people keep life lists of the species they’ve encountered.  Getting to add a new species to that list, whether the species is uncommon or not, is always a thrill.  This painted skimmer was a lifer for me:

Painted skimmer, Libellula semifasciata

Painted skimmer, Libellula semifasciata

I was headed to the back gate as I was closing up at the field station and slammed on the brakes when I saw a flutter of orange over the prairie.  We’ve had a lot of similarly colored Halloween pennants around recently, but this was much too big and flew differently.  Was absolutely thrilled to discover that the dragonfly I caught out of the corner of my eye was a painted skimmer, a new species for me!  I rushed back to see if it was already on the species list for the site and was mildly disappointed that I was not the first to see one on the grounds, but checking that species off in my field guide more than made up for it.  :)

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

June Beetle Mob

It’s been a long week, so though I started a Friday 5, I’m not going to finish it before I fall asleep… Instead, I wanted to quickly share a video of some eastern green June beetles I encountered today as I walked past a bald cypress.  There was a lot of frantic buzzing going on, so I peered into the tree and saw this:

Apparently there was a shortage of female June bugs in the area as a good dozen males were flying around the immediate area and several males were attempting to mate with the one female in this video at one time.  I felt a little sorry for her, pursued by so many amorous males at once…

The June bugs appeared about two weeks later than usual here this year (that seems to be the case for many species in my area of North Carolina), but they seem more numerous than I’ve ever seen them too.  SO many Jung bugs flying around!  But I love it.  What gorgeous, fun animals.

I am going to try to get the post I started up tomorrow, but we’ll see if I get it finished.  Here’s hoping I’ll feel a little more energetic tomorrow!

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

My Buggy Week (Friday 5 – a Day Late)

Happy weekend everyone!  I for one am quite thrilled to have a day off tomorrow.  The last week was exhausting and oh so hot.  But, the week was full of great buggy adventures too, so it wasn’t all bad!  Last weekend, for example, I ended up staying after work a couple of hours to photograph things.  This little grasshopper nymph was one of the things I saw:

Grasshopper

Hopper on the Gator

Isn’t he (or she) cute?  For me, few things beat heading out with my camera and seeing what I can find.  It’s a great way to see nature, keeps you in tune with seasonal shifts and the timing of biological events, and sometimes you’re lucky to see something amazing.  Like a groundhog 8 feet up a tree.  That I didn’t get a photo of.  Because I had my camera zipped up inside it’s carrying bag rather than in my hands when I wandered over to the area where I keep seeing groundhogs.  However, struggling to get my camera out for the groundhog means that I got a shot of this little guy moments later when the groundhog scampered away.  It’s no groundhog in a tree, but I was still happy to see it.

Last week involved a lot of teaching.  On Wednesday, I met with the new cohort of middle school teachers that will spend the next several weeks in the research labs at the museum where I work doing some real science.  Those teachers will spend the next year developing curriculum to get middle schoolers involved in citizen science.  It’s an awesome project, and we kicked things off with a ladybug hunt:

Ladybug hunters

Ladybug hunters

It was ghastly hot and late in the day, so a few of the teachers wilted a bit in the heat, but it was still a ton of fun.  Plus, they were the first group that has ever found more native ladybugs than non-native ladybugs at our field station.  I hope their results will be repeated with other groups!  Their data are headed to the Lost Ladybug project next week so it can be used in a variety of studies looking at the distribution of ladybug species and the interactions between native and non-native ladybugs.  I’ll work with this group again next week, with dragonflies next time!

On Thursday, I got to travel toward the coast and work with a group of 5th grade teachers exploring biodiversity and phenology (the study of biological events that occur periodically, such as flowering in plants or rearing young in animals).  The park where I met the group has this amazing cypress-gum swamp:

Swamp

Cypress-gum swamp at River Park North in Greenville, NC

If you haven’t ever seen a swamp like this, I highly encourage you to make a trip to see one!  They are amazing, biologically rich wonderlands.  The number of dragonflies flying around at this location was spectacular!  A lot of the teachers got photos of many of the species we saw and I’m looking forward to uploading them to our biodiversity project.  I also finally got to see a swamp darner in nature.  I was in the middle of talking to a group of teachers about a tree they were interested in when I saw it so I didn’t get a photo, but I was still thrilled to check it off my list!

We had a new group of summer campers at the field station this week, and I did a biodiversity activity with them.  The most popular find was this little guy, by a wide margin:

mantid

Mantid, I suspect of the Chinese persuasion, posing for photos with one of the camp leaders

All the kids swooped in with their iPads when I picked it up, venturing out into the hot sun so they could see it.  At one point it jumped energetically off my hands onto the iPad of a kid who was photographing it.  Scared the frass out of the kid, but he held it together long enough that he neither dropped the iPad nor crushed the mantid before I had a chance to take it back.  I was rather impressed by the kid’s ability to manage his fear.  Many of the other campers would have screamed and dropped the iPad if the same had happened to them.

And finally, yesterday meant another afternoon in the blissfully cool stream with the summer camp!

Kid collecting aquatic insects

Aquatic insect collecting

This boy was far and away the best insect hunter of the campers this week.  While his campmates were splashing around in the deeper water to avoid doing what we were actually there to do (looking for insects to assess the water quality), this kid was flipping rocks and sampling riffles and stirring up the substrate to find as many types of insects and other invertebrates as possible.  The stream doesn’t have many species in it, but he ended up finding most of the ones we know are in there: three types of caddisflies, riffle bugs, water striders, and crayfish.  We did also find one new thing, a damselfly in the genus Argia.  I’ve never found a damselfly in that stream that wasn’t an ebony jewelwing, so it was very exciting to hang out with a really happy kid and make new insect discoveries together!

And with that, I begin my weekend!  Anyone want to share an insect encounter they had this week that made you especially happy?  The swamp darner was my highlight, so I’d love to hear about yours!

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