Merry Christmas from the Dragonfly Woman

I know I’ve been terrible about blogging recently and it’s because I have a whole lot of family and personal stuff going on right now that is sucking up all of my free time, but it wouldn’t be a proper Christmas if I didn’t at least post a Christmas insect for you all!  This year, the hat went on one of my favorite beetles, the delta flower scarab:

Santa scarab-2

Santa scarab

I even got to use a Christmas toy to make this year’s Santa insect: my husband got me a Wacom tablet! Woo!

Hope all of you out there who celebrate Christmas are having a wonderful, spectacular day!  And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you are having a wonderful, spectacular, everyday sort of day instead.

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

Friday 5: New Books

I recently read an article on NPR’s website about the Christmas Book Flood in Iceland.  Apparently, the people of Iceland are huge readers and giving a loved one a book has been considered a really classy, wonderful gift ever since World War II.  I ask for and receive a lot of books every year myself, so I think this is a marvelous tradition!  I have my own little one-woman Christmas Book Flood each year.  I received about 20 books altogether this year, including several about insects and other invertebrates.  These are the ones I am most excited about reading (click on the title to view the book on Amazon):

Every living ThingEvery Living Thing by Rob Dunn

I had heard that Rob Dunn was an excellent writer before I met him in person and my limited experience with his writing (mostly work e mails – woo! – and the occasional guest blog post) convinced me that I really needed to read some of his books.  So, I asked for Every Living Thing for Christmas because I like the subject matter: the classification of life on Earth.   There are some truly crazy stories about the quest to classify life and this is something that has fascinated me for a long time, so how could I resist?  I love these kinds of science stories!  And I know Dunn’s storytelling ability is going to make the book a really  great read.  I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, but I already know I’m going to love it.

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet WormsHorseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms by Richard Fortey

I read one of Fortey’s other books a few years ago, one about his time at London’s Natural History Museum, and was entranced.  That book made me long to work at a natural history museum so that I could have some of the same amazing experiences that Fortey had during his tenure in London.  However, I expect I will like this book even more.  Fortey is a paleontologist who specializes in trilobites, but this book deals with living creatures, those that have existed in a highly primitive state for many millions of years, and describes how they reveal the evolutionary processes that have shaped life on Earth.  I am really excited to learn about the most primitive plants and animals, horseshoe crabs, chitons, hellbenders, clubmosses, and the like.  These sorts of ancient creatures are just so darned interesting.  I know I’m going to love this book!

Sex Drugs and Sea SlimeSex, Drugs, and Sea Slime by Ellen Prager

Anyone who had a subscription to National Geographic as a kid will probably confess to having some level of fascination with marine invertebrates.  Who doesn’t love a good cuttlefish or nautilus?  This book is, according to Prager’s introduction, intended to be an entertaining introduction to the lives and survival of a variety of sea creatures (including a lot of invertebrates) and how their place in the environment is important to mankind.  I’ve heard many bizarre stories of marine invertebrates in the past (lobsters are AMAZING!), so I’m excited to read more of them.  The fact that the author is a marine biologist only makes me more excited.  Who knows more than a marine biologist when it comes to the strange, amazing, and hilarious lives of the creatures of the deep?

How Not to be EatenHow Not to Be Eaten by Gilbert Waldbauer

How can anyone resist that title?  In this book, the wonderful entomologist/writer Waldbauer introduces the reader to the world of insect predator-prey relationships and some of the amazing adaptations insects have undergone to both find food and prevent being eaten.  I’m sure the book is full of poisons and traps and death-defying chases – rather like a James Bond book, if it were filled with insectoid characters instead of British people.  Insects are just so weird!  I really enjoyed Waldbauer’s A Walk Around the Pond, so I expect to love this one just as much.  As a scientist who works with large, predatory insects, I am eager to explore the topic in more depth.

The-Sound-of-a-Wild-Snail-EatingThe Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

This is the only book not written by a scientist on my list here, but I feel that it needs to be included with the rest.  This book is less about science than it is about the joys of close observation of the natural world.  The author, Bailey, was bedridden with a mysterious virus when she received a potted violet from a friend.  The friend had also tucked a snail under the leaves  and Bailey soon found herself enthralled by her snail’s behaviors.  The title of the book is based on an early experience with the snail, one in which she fed a violet to the little creature and realized she could hear it chewing the petals.  Bailey soon created a bigger, better habitat for her snail and began to learn everything she could about it, so the book does delve into the science of snails to some extent.  I love the idea of this story, a person finding some meaning in an otherwise terrible experience through something as small and seemingly insignificant as a snail.  It makes me happy when people become attached to the spineless creatures of the world, so I think this is going to be a thoroughly enjoyable book to read.

But before I read any of these books, I have to finish my current book and one completely frivolous book: Redshirts by John Sclazi.  I know I’m going to love it, but considering my husband told me, immediately upon opening the book mind you, that I had to read it immediately and then I had to let him read it as soon as I was done, I have a feeling he really bought it for himself.  Ever get that feeling when you open gifts?  :)

Did anyone else get any good insect or science books for Christmas?  I’d love to hear about your personal Christmas Book Floods in the comments below!  You all have great book recommendations, so I’m interested to hear about what you’re looking forward to reading.

(In the interest of full disclosure, none of the images in this post are my own.)

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

Friday 5: Add Some Insect Cheer to Your Holidays!

It’s getting closer and closer to Christmas (and Hanukkah is well on it’s way), so a lot of people are rushing about trying to fit in last-minute shopping and trying not to go completely crazy as they deal with family.  If you’re from the northern hemisphere, chances are that insects don’t play a very big role in your holiday plans because it’s much too cold for them to be out and about at this time of year.  But you can do something about that!  Why not add some insect love to your holidays?  I love crafting things, so I thought I’d share 5 easy holiday projects that you can do to bring some insects into your celebrations!

Butterfly Ornaments

feather butterflies

One of my best friends sent me a photo of her tree last Christmas: it was COVERED with butterflies!  And she had made her ornaments too.  Her secret: those little feather butterflies you can get at craft stores or silk flower shops.  I decided to make a few for my own tree this year, and it couldn’t have been any easier.  The ornament you see above took all of 2 minutes to make!  Simply add a drop of glue where the wire is inserted into the butterfly and let it dry.  Then bend the wire to form a hanger (I simply made a V-shape in mine) and trim the excess wire.  Then attach it to your tree!  So easy, and they look spectacular when you have a bunch of them scattered about the branches.

Beaded Dragonfly Ornaments

beaded dragonflies

Another friend of mine was given some beaded dragonflies for Christmas a few years ago and we got together one day to make our own.  All you need is some thin wire (24 or 26 gauge works well) and an assortment of small glass beads (seed beads and a few bigger ones).  If anyone happens to want instructions for how to make these, I have hand-written instructions available, but if you have any experience with beading you can probably figure it out simply by looking at the example in the photo.  They look great hanging from Christmas trees, or you can use them to make hair pins, etc after the holidays if a dragonfly decorated tree isn’t quite your thing.

Gift Wrap

wrapping paper

Printing your own gift wrap is easy!  All you need is some rubber stamps (or relief printing blocks if you want to go all out and carve your own designs), an ink pad, and a roll of blank paper.  I like to use kraft paper that you  can get at office supply stores because it comes in big rolls for very little money and I like the natural look if it.  I print 4-5 different patterns on my paper, so I stretch the paper out along my table, print with the first stamp along the section, repeat with the rest of the sections until I reach then end of the roll, and then repeat with the other stamps.  One thing to think about though, something I learned as my sister, another bridesmaid, and I printed table runners the day before my wedding: if you get the black stamp pads they sell at office supply stores, look to see if they are permanent ink before you get it all over your hands.  When they say permanent, they really mean it!  (It doesn’t show up in any of my wedding photos, but my table runner crew and I all had black insect parts printed on our hands throughout my wedding.)  Insect paper doesn’t scream “holidays!” but it can still look quite elegant.

Gift Tags

Why buy gift tags with snowflakes and reindeer on them when you can have fabulous insects tags?  Just choose a heavy paper or card stock you like, cut out a shape, and either rubber stamp or draw an insect on one side!  Then all you need to do is cut a hole in the top and run some string through and you’ve got yourself some sytlin’ gift tags for your gifts!  The ones I have pictured here are all simple rubber stamps.  The dragonfly was done in red ink and embosssing powder, the flower/butterfly was done in clear ink with brown distressing powder, and the other two were done in that very permanent black ink.  I really love the look of black ink on kraft paper, so I use this combination a lot.

Thank You Cards

When the holidays are over, it’s time to send thank you notes.  Why not make your own swanky insect thank you cards?  These were very simple: two rectangles in contrasting colors of card stock, one slightly smaller than the other.  I used a craft punch to punch the butterflies out and then used a glue stick to attach the punched card to the solid card.  Then I rubber stamped the text.  All I need to do now is write the thank you notes on the back, slip them into envelopes (available at craft, paper, and office stores), and mail them off!

I don’t ever do the standard Christmas crafts because I just don’t like them, but I enjoy bringing insects into every holiday.  I hope everyone gets at least one insect related thing over the winter holidays this year!  Happy holidays!

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

The Nightmare After Christmas

Lethocerus as Santa

Santa Water Bug

Black Friday marks the start of the Christmas season, so I want to get a jump start on the holidays by sharing an entomological Christmas story with you!  This is no happy Miracle on 34th Street type story though.  Oh no!  This is more like Nightmare Before Christmas.  Except it happened after Christmas.  Hence the title.

Let’s start at the beginning.  About 5 years ago, I got a call from my dad saying that he was going to come visit me for Christmas.  I was ecstatic!  It was going to be the first Christmas I hosted at my house.  I was only going to have one guest and make a fairly small dinner, but I finally felt like an adult.  Imagine my subsequent disappointment when my dad told me a few weeks later that something had come up and he was no longer able to come visit me for Christmas.

So, rather than my first Christmas at my place, I ended up visiting my dad for a few days before Christmas, then went back home December 23.  Going home two day before Christmas to spend Christmas alone is a rather depressing activity.  I also knew my Christmas would consist of a trip to drop some friends off at the airport at 6AM and then a day at home alone.  I felt sorry for myself when I got back to my empty apartment.  I don’t like feeling sorry for myself, so I decided to do something fun to cheer myself up.  On Christmas Eve, I decided that the thing that bummed me out more than anything was not having the Christmas tree I was so excited about.  Then I went out and bought one.

The tree I chose was Canadian and maybe 3 feet tall.  It was kinda spindly.  It was shockingly expensive for a tiny, spindly Christmas tree that I bought after noon on Christmas Eve.  (Who else is still looking for a tree 12 hours before Christmas?!)  It had this little white piece of fluff near the top that I couldn’t get off.  I ended up calling nearly every shop in town trying to hunt down a Christmas tree stand and 2 hours later I finally tracked one down.  It was gigantic, the kind of stand we used for the 17-foot Christmas trees my family had when I was growing up.  The screws were barely long enough to hold the tree up and it looked ridiculous.  I didn’t care.  I lovingly decorated my tree with the little box of ornaments I’d collected since I first went away to college, wrapped tons of lights around the branches, and then stepped back to admire my handiwork.  I was really happy with the result (though apparently not happy enough to take a photo that was in focus – my apologies!):

Christmas tree

My first Christmas tree! I cleverly hid the flat, spindly side in the back. :)

Having my little tree made me feel so much better about being stood up on Christmas.  It made me really happy and I spent a lot of time staring at it. And, because I had bought it so close to Christmas and it was completely fresh, I knew it would last well beyond Christmas.  I was determined to keep it up as long as it lasted.  “Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!  Let’s gather around the tree!”  MY tree wasn’t coming down until it started drying out.

And then one day in late January, I woke up, walked into my living room, and realized in an instant what that little white fluff on the tree was.  I was greeted that morning by hundreds or thousands of tiny baby spiders crawling on a MASSIVE web they had built in my living room.  It was a spider egg sac!  The warm temperatures in my house must have let them hatch and then they started building.  The web stretched from the wall behind the tree clear across the room to my couch.  There were spiders all over my CD player, my insect books (oh, the irony!), the floor, the bookshelves, the art on the wall.  They were EVERYWHERE!

Now I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of spiders.  I’m good with a lot of them and don’t care if they crawl on me if they’re the right kind of spider, but they still elicit this serious shivers-down-the-spine creepy feeling on occasion.  And let me tell you, starting a lazy weekend morning off with thousands of baby spiders in the house sort of short circuited my brain.  I couldn’t get the tree out of the house fast enough!  Off came the ornaments, off came the lights, off came the tree stand, and the tree was flung hastily and utterly unceremoniously out the back door.  Then came the arduous task of vacuuming up the spiders and the web.  Two hours later, I flopped down on my couch exhausted, but secure in the knowledge that my Canadian spider scourge had been vanquished and my living room was once again free of the tiny arachnids.  Of course, I imagined them crawling on me for the next week, but what can you do.

And that’s my holiday spider story!  I hope everyone has a marvelous Thanksgiving and has fabulous plans for the upcoming holiday season!

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