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!


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!!


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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Sluuuuuurp!

I was out with my intern a few weeks ago looking for caterpillars and showed her some spicebush swallowtail and black swallowtail caterpillars before we made our way to the pipevine to look for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. She hadn’t ever seen the pipevines, so I pointed out a few and we started looking around to see how many we could find on the plants.  I peered into the leaves trying to find a big caterpillar that was about to pupate when I saw a really odd-looking, shriveled caterpillar.  I assumed it was dead, but when I looked a little closer it moved.  So I looked even closer and saw this:

Jumping spider eating a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

If that spider could smile, it totally would!  He (or she) looked quite pleased with himself and was dragging the wrinkly carcass around with him as he tried to hide under a leaf.  He was NOT letting that thing go – it was probably the score of a lifetime!

Isn’t nature grand?


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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Racing Snails

I found the most adorable little snails gliding down the door to the Prairie Ridge offices a few weekends ago!  They looked like they were racing to the bottom:

racing snails

Racing snails

The snail on the right made it to the bottom first, though only after a massive blowout collision between the two of them.  :)


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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Jumping Spider

Last week I posted a photo of a little jumping spider I found at work that I took with my point and shoot camera.  I decided that I needed a better shot, so I  scooped the spider into a container, drove it home, and put it in my white box for a quick photo session before taking it back to work and releasing it the next morning.  Here’s one of the photos from my little shoot:

Jumping spider

Jumping spider in white box

I just love the little tufts of hair coming off the head of this little saltie!  I believe this is a Phidippus female, but I’m not 100% sure.  If anyone can give me more information, I’d love to figure out what this little beauty is with more certainty!

Happy Fourth of July to all you Americans out there!  Hope everyone’s enjoying  it.


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

Circus of the Spineless! (No. 71)

Ah, the joys of winter!  Snowy, cold weather (at least if you live somewhere other than sunny, warm Arizona like I do!).  The air is crisp, icy, and clean.  Crunchy dead leaves crackle underfoot as you walk.  Weak sunlight filters through spindly, naked tree branches in a feeble attempt to warm the earth.  Everything seems to be frozen in place and time.  And, apparently, hardly anyone has anything to say about invertebrates!  This month’s Circus is compliments of six hearty bloggers, braving the elements to bring you the latest and greatest in spineless news!


African Common White, Belenois creona. Photo by Colin Beale at

Of course, not everyone blogs in cold places.  For example, there was a fantastic migration of butterflies in Tanzania early in February.  Hundreds of white butterflies flew past the awe-struck Colin Beale each minute, and he gleefully documented the event on his blog Safari Ecology.  A man after my own heart, he decided to collect some data and invited readers to map their sightings, then posted some preliminary results!  Everyone give Mr. Beale a round of applause for taking the initiative to write about an amazing event, then turning the experience into a meaningful scientific data gathering exercise!  I for one think this is completely awesome.

Hermit crab changes its shell

Hermit crab changes its shell. Image courtesy of The BlennyWatcher Blog, Hermit crab changes its shell.

A few other intrepid bloggers from warmer climates posted about their own experiences.  Anna DeLoach of The BlennyWatcher Blog contributed an excellent story about night diving in Indonesia, hermit crabs, and the joy of new experiences.  Ever wonder what the back part of a hermit crab looks like?  Now’s your chance!  Head on over to BlennyWatcher and take a peek at some naked crabs.

Another marine story comes from Zen Faulkes of NeuroDojo who recently discovered a beach full of Portuguese men of war while collecting data.  The description of the pain these creatures inflict with a flick of their tentacles is fascinating and the alien blue color of the animals spread across the beach is just wonderful.  The post also details the trials and tribulations researchers experience in the pursuit of data.  Check it out!

Snow fly

Snow fly. Photo by Rebecca Deatsman at

And then there’s Rebecca Deatsman from Rebecca in the Woods, the one lone, brave soul who ventured out into the snow-covered north woods for her post’s information.  But oh!  Is there anything better than insects that live on the snow?  I think not!  Read about Ms. Deatman’s discovery of snow flies in her fascinating post.  You won’t regret it.

Several other bloggers kept us up to date on the news of our favorite spineless animals.  A giant amphiphod made headlines in February.  Happily, Mr. Faulkes of NeuroDojo was there to fill in some gaps in the news coverage.  While the BBC and other news outlets suggested the giant crustacean was new to science, Mr. Faulkes sets us straight: it’s likely a rare species of deepwater marine amphipod called Alicella gigantea.  However, even if the species isn’t new to science, there are still a lot of unknowns, so head on over to NeuroDojo to read more about the fascinatingly unusual “superprawn!”


Jumping spider

Ever wonder how a spider moves with its freaky unpaired leg muscles?  Many small spiders contract their leg muscles and then use hydraulic pressure to move the legs back into place because they lack the second set of muscles necessary to do so.  But do bigger spiders do the same thing?  Once again, Mr. Faulkes comes to our rescue, presenting a new paper that suggests that jumping spiders do things a little differently.  Check it out.

Did you hear about the flying squid?  No, this isn’t the start of a bad joke, and boy does Danna Staaf have the story for you!  Some squid species launch themselves out of the water and “fly” occasionally rather than swimming constantly.  Want to know why?  Over on Squid a Day, you’ll learn more about this fascinating behavior, and get to see some of the data from the Ocean Sciences meeting that prompted the recent media frenzy.

You know how creatures around deep-sea vents tend to do crazy weird things?  In another fascinating post over at NeuroDojo, you’ll learn about the Pompeii worm, a denizen of deep-sea vents that supposedly* holds the record for the animal able to withstand the highest temperature.  Head on over to NeuroDojo for a glimpse into the lives of these bizarre worms and how they are able to survive those super hot temperatures.

(*Editorial comment: I disagree with the researchers’ statement about this being the most heat tolerant animal!  Hello?  Tardigrades?  You can BOIL those little guys without harming them, AND they can survive temps close to absolute zero!  I’m sorry, but Pompeii worms don’t hold a flaming hot candle to tardigrades in the heat tolerance category.)

Dicosmoecus gilvipes

Dicosmoecus gilvipes larva. Redrawn from Limm and Power 2011.

My own contribution to science news featured a paper demonstrating how one species of caddisfly, a funky little aquatic insect that builds cases and drags them around, uses Douglas fir needles to help keep the bugs upright in fast flowing water.  Caddisflies are amazing insects.  I think everyone should know at least a few things about them, so I hope you’ll check it out!

And finally, I’ll end this month’s Circus with a fabulous music video, compliments of Deep Sea News.  Thanks for bringing this spineless gem to our attention!

COTS survives because people volunteer to act as hosts.  Next month the Circus is headed over to Deep Sea News, so look for more great spinelessness there in early April!  Interested in hosting yourself?  You can find information at the Circus hub.  Volunteer and help spread the joy of invertebrates to others!  (You know you want to!)  After all, even the spineless need love.


For my regular blog readers who have NO idea what this is, the Circus of the Spineless is a blog carnival, a monthly collection of posts written by bloggers and submitted to a host blogger, focusing on the backbone-less animals of our planet. These are the posts sent to me by lovers of spineless creatures!  Hope you enjoyed this foray outside of the realm of insects, but we’ll return to our regularly scheduled broadcast on Wednesday.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright ©

Things You Can Do To Promote Invertebrate Conservation

stonefly adult


Yesterday I discussed a paper that covered 7 impediments to invertebrate conservation, problems that prevent invertebrates from being considered worthy/fundable conservation targets.  The authors of that paper ended by saying that it all ultimately boiled down to public perception, that until people understand that invertebrates play an important part in our world, we’re not going to see any changes.  That got me thinking and I came up with a list simple ways that everyone can help save invertebrates.  I’m going to split this up into two sections: things that scientists can do and things non-scientists can do.

Simple Ways Scientists Can Promote Invertebrate Conservation

There is, I believe, a huge gap between scientists and non-scientists.  Scientists often have a hard time communicating with the public because they are so engrossed in their work that they sometimes forget how to talk to people who don’t work on similar topics.  We scientists also have our own language, Science, that works smashingly well in scientific journals, but doesn’t translate into plain English (or other languages) very well.  It’s no wonder that people don’t appreciate invertebrates when the people who study them seem incapable of sharing what we know with non-scientists.  But there are ways we can help bridge the scientist/non-scientist gap!  Some suggestions:

Crab spider

Crab spider, species unknown

1) Use social media.  People are getting more and more information about their world from the internet.  Guess what:?  YOU can be one of the people that provides that information!  Start a blog about your invertebrate research so that people can learn about what you do and why it is important.  Twitter is a surprisingly good source of science news – start contributing to the conversation!  Why not offer to write guest posts for other bloggers/media outlets?  By making the public aware of your research and by explaining it in terms that anyone can understand, you can really help boost the public image of invertebrates.

2) Do talks/lectures/events aimed at educating the public about invertebrates.  Scientists sometimes have a hard time sharing what they know with the world outside.  Try getting out of the lab and talking to non-scientists every now and then!  Give a lecture for a garden club.  Do an outreach program at a school.  Set up an educational booth at an event, or create your own event to celebrate invertebrates!  Answer a few questions if a nature show calls and asks for information.  Doing even a few of these sorts of things a year will help!

Spotted orbweaver spider

Spotted orbweaver, Neoscona crucifera

3) Develop citizen science projects.  Nothing helps people understand the importance of your research like participating in it.  I’ve already discussed the value of citizen science in a recent post so I won’t rehash everything again here, but note that amateur scientists/naturalists have a lot to offer if you only give them an opportunity to contribute.  Citizen science.  Try it.

4) Develop educational resources for the public, especially K-12 students.  Guess what?  People WANT to learn about invertebrates!  Providing educational information online can help them appreciate the value of invertebrates in their lives.  People want to know about the work you do, but how can they learn about it if you don’t make the information available somewhere they can actually access it?  And you know who really loves to learn about insects?  Kids!  Helping young children understand the role of invertebrates in the environment and teaching them to appreciate insects is a fantastic way to do a little invertebrate PR!  Hook ‘em while they’re young and they’ll also go on to become people who support conservation and invertebrate research funding as adults.


Leaf cutter bee

Leaf cutter bee, Megachile sp

You don’t have to be a scientist to help prevent invertebrate extinction!  Here are some things non-scientists can do:

1) Get to know your area.  Go outside and pay attention to what you see.  People who carefully observe their local areas are in the best position to notice when something is changing, and scientists can’t be everywhere at once.  Consider yourself a scientist’s eyes and ears on the ground!  By simply getting out, walking around, and recording a few observations, you can potentially make an important contribution to invertebrate conservation.  The exercise and fresh air will do you good too!

2) Ask questions.  Don’t know what an invertebrate you observe is?  Ask someone who knows!  Snap a photo and submit it to for a free identification.  Talk to the entomologist at your local extension office.  Got a land-grant university in your area?  They likely have collection curators who are expected to field calls from the public, so feel free to call them!  Consult field guides, especially ones specific to your area.  Get involved with citizen science projects and talk to the project leaders.  Learn learn learn – and ask if you can’t figure out the answer to a question yourself.

Hemiphileurus illatus beetle

Beetle, Hemiphileurus illatus

3) Keep records!  Memory is a troublesome thing.  Unless you have a photographic memory, chances are you’ll start to forget details soon after you observe something.  Jotting down notes, snapping a few photos, keeping a nature journal – these things will help you remember what you see in much greater detail.  You’ll be able to accurately track which species you see when and where and compare past notes to new observations.  That way, you can see if it really is weird, for example, to see a flower blooming in January or a fairly routinely event.

4) If you notice important changes in your area, share your findings.  If you pay attention to the things around you, keep records, and have proof that something is changing the invertebrate communities in your area, consider sharing your findings.  Local conservation groups will often be interested in what you have to share, so give them a call!  Or call your extension entomologist or your land-grant university collection curator.  If what you’ve observed is nothing to worry about, they’ll tell you.  But if something is happening  to the invertebrates in your area, they can help get the ball rolling on new conservation efforts.

Long jawed orb weaver spider

Long jawed orb weaver spider, Tetragnatha sp

These are just some of the many ways that everyone can participate in protecting invertebrates and ensuring that our world functions properly well into the future.  If you’d like to contribute any additional ideas for ways scientists and non-scientists can help conserve invertebrates, please leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you!


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Science Sunday: Impediments to Invertebrate Conservation

Hadrurus arizonensis giant hairy scorpion

Giant hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis)

Back in October, the New York Times Green Blog featured a post about a paper that had been recently released covering seven major reasons why invertebrate conservation isn’t garnering as much attention as it should nor being acknowledged as an important use of conservation resources.  I liked the blog post, so I recently read the paper that it was based on.  I think the paper makes some great points, so I’d like to take you through it here.

Insects and other invertebrates make up the majority of the described species on the planet Earth.  About 80% of all described species (this includes everything – plants, mammals, bacteria, fungi, insects…) are invertebrates.  Beetles alone make up 25% of described species and outnumber vertebrate species ten to one.  Clearly, invertebrates are an important part of the world.  They also perform an enormous array of environmental functions, from decomposing organisms and fixing nitrogen in soils to controlling pest species and processing leaf materials in streams to begin the nutrient cycling that drives freshwater ecosystems.  The services invertebrates provide are important for a wide range of other organisms.  Thus, it is important that we consider invertebrates and their role in biological and chemical processes when making plans for the conservation of organisms.

Water scorpion, Ranatra quadridentata

Water scorpion, Ranatra quadridentata

However, that’s not what’s happening.  Invertebrates are widely ignored by conservationists in favor of the showier organisms, the warm and fuzzy creatures that make people say, “Awwww…” before reaching into their pockets to fund research.  Far fewer people who say, “Awwww…” and shell out a few bucks to protect a parasitic wasp, a spider, or an aquatic beetle.  In fact, many people would probably rather let an insect species go extinct than pay to protect it.

This sort of attitude is also reflected in the endangered species lists, such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.  These lists rarely include insects and other invertebrates so that the representation of invertebrates does not reflect their abundance and diversity in the natural world.  This is a problem, especially when you start to really think about the necessary services that invertebrates provide, the medical and research advances we’ve made based on invertebrate models (think fruit flies and C. elegans), and their the utility of invertebrates as indicators of ecological health.


Katydid (I think this is the common short winged katydid, Dichopetala brevihastata)

Scientists recognize the value of invertebrates in the environment and are aware of the fact that invertebrates are often neglected when it comes time to conserve species.  Why, then, are there still so underrepresented?  Pedro Cardoso, Terry Erwin, Paulo Borges, and Tim New discussed seven reasons why these problems exist and recommend actions to solve them in their important paper.  Let’s go through each of them!

Problem #1: Invertebrates and the services they provide are not widely known among the public.  It’s hard to convince people that they should allocate funds (or at least support allocation of those funds) for invertebrate conservation when they’re not aware of the diversity of invertebrates or the valuable things they do to keep the world running smoothly.  Even worse, most people come to believe that most invertebrates are either pests or dangerous (neither is true) and fail to understand why anyone would want to prevent their extinction.  Solution: Cardoso et al recommend increasing awareness of invertebrates through media and outreach, a sort of invertebrate PR campaign if you will.  Even simply using common names when communicating with the public might be a step in the right direction.

Banded argiope, Argiope trifasciata

Banded argiope (Argiope trifasciata)

Problem #2: Politicians are largely unaware of the issues surrounding invertebrate conservation.  When our policymakers, the people who will ultimately determine the fate of research finding, are mostly unaware of invertebrate conservation issues, it’s hard to them to justify why invertebrates are important enough to deserve funding.  Solution: Educate the policymakers!  Working toward  better representation of invertebrates on the IUCN Red List and similar lists will also allow people to lobby on behalf of invertebrates to ensure that their conservation becomes a priority.

Problem #3: Basic taxonomic, ecological, and behavioral research is becoming increasingly understudied and underfunded.  It’s hard to determine which species demand our attention for conservation when we don’t even know what their role in the environment actually is.  Basic research helps answer these questions, but is becoming increasingly unpopular and funding for such work continues to decline.  Solution: Citizen science to the rescue!  Amateurs come across new species more often than you’d think and are able to provide useful data on distribution and abundance.  There are more non-scientists than scientists, so why not make use of hundreds of extra eyes and ears to cheaply answer some of the basic questions that are becoming hard to procure funding for?

Blue eyed darner, Rhionaeschna multicolor, flying

Blue eyed darner (Rhionaeschna multicolor)

Problem #4: Most species remain undescribed.  Estimates of the total number of invertebrate species in the world vary widely, but one thing is certain: we have probably only scratched the surface of invertebrate diversity.  According to Cardoso et al, a new invertebrate species is described every 35 minutes, but at that rate it’s going to take another hundred years or more to describe every species.  Just think of how many species might go extinct in that time!  Solution: Careful use of indicator species or surrogate species might be useful in applying conservation efforts to undescribed species.  Increased support for both taxonomic research and the speed of publication of new species descriptions will also help.

Problem #5: We don’t know the distribution of most species.  Describing a species is a start, but to protect it you need to know the extent of its distribution – where it actually lives.  Many species descriptions are based on 3-4 insects from a single location, so we don’t know the range of most species.  Solution: It is important that survey projects such as the Planetary Biodiversity Inventory continue to catalog and document life on Earth so that we know where species are actually located.  Online databases of distribution data such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility will also help decrease the amount of time a researcher or conservationist must search for distribution information.

Problem #6: Changes in abundance over time and space are unknown for most species.  To conserve a species, it’s essential to know where that species is located, when, and how abundant it is.  We don’t, however,  have abundance data for most species.  Solution: By developing standardized sampling protocols, an effective biological inventory of an area can be undertaken by nearly any researcher for whatever purpose, yet provide information that is valuable to conservation efforts and other researchers.  Long term ecological and monitoring projects will also provide valuable information for conservation efforts.

crane fly side view

Crane fly (Tipula sp.)

Problem #7: Life histories and sensitivity to changes in the environment remain unknown for most species.  If we don’t know which ecological services a species requires or provides, it’s hard to develop invertebrate conservation strategies that will actually work.  Solution: Indicator taxa in an area might alert researchers and conservationists to problem within an environment (protect the environment, protect the species within it).  Determining which species make good indicators within an environment is a good way to start conservation efforts in an area.

Cardoso and colleagues identified seven impediments to invertebrate conservation, but they admitted that, in the end, it all boils down to one overarching issue: public perception of invertebrates.  We aren’t going to be able to solve any of Cardoso et al’s list of problems without the support of the public – support for invertebrates, support for science and research, support for conservation.  It is thus vitally important to get the public on board if we’re going to save invertebrate species from extinction.  And why should we save invertebrates?  I think Cardoso and his colleagues sum it up best: “Only by preserving all species and guaranteeing interactions and ecosystem services may we reach the goal of overall biodiversity conservation.”  And, ultimately, what’s best for invertebrates is best for us too.

Literature Cited:

Cardoso, P., Erwin, T., Borges, P., & New, T. (2011). The seven impediments in invertebrate conservation and how to overcome them Biological Conservation, 144 (11), 2647-2655 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.07.024


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