Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Ant Invasion!

As soon as the monsoon starts each year, my husband and I are witnesses to a massive emergence of winged ants – INSIDE OUR HOUSE!  We usually end up with one wall of the living room/dining area completely covered with writhing ants:

ant invasion!

Ant invasion! All of the black specks on the wall are ants.

This is a very light emergence day and this is the smaller species of ants – we sometimes get thousands of the larger ants in a single night!  I take care of the problem by sucking them all up with the vacuum.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

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A Visit to the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion

cactus flower

Cactus flower

My husband and I celebrated our first anniversary a few weekends ago.  Because we both had to go back to work the day after our wedding, we never went on a honeymoon.  So we went all out on a three-day trip to Phoenix to celebrate our anniversary as a sort of belated honeymoon.  We stayed at one of the swanky resorts, ate a lot of great food, and mostly just relaxed.  Each day we ventured away from the resort for 3-4 hours to visit some of the sights in Phoenix.  On the last day of our trip, we went to the phenomenal Desert Botanical Garden.  I’ve been there before, but I wanted to go again because it was the first time I’d been to the Garden while they had their butterfly exhibit open.

garden

One of the landscaped gardens at the Desert Botanical Garden

I LOVE the Desert Botanical Garden!  Although I adore flowers, I am not much of a plant person (just ask my poor rosebush!) and botanical gardens don’t hold my interest the way going to a zoo or a really spectacular art or science museum does.  Staring down at the ground at plants is simply less exciting to me than watching animals.  But the Desert Botanical Garden is different.  It is stunningly beautiful.  It’s laid out perfectly.  It’s huge and has a fantastic combination of landscaped gardens and native Sonoran Desert land.  It’s got desert plants, the ones I love the best.  And, for a few months each spring, they’ve got a butterfly exhibit.

exhibit

Butterfly exhibit

I’ve been to a lot of butterfly exhibits over the past 15 years.  I enjoy them immensely.  There’s definitely something magical about sitting in a room with butterflies flitting around you, watching them feed like little gluttons on orange slices and flowers.  The vast majority of the butterfly exhibits I’ve been to so far have featured tropical butterflies and moths, so you usually get a mixture of giant blue morphos, any number of butterflies in the genus Heliconius, some atlas moths, and other flashy and/or big lepidopterans.  It’s always nice to see these guys because I’ve never been anywhere tropical to see them in the wild.  Tucson has a botanical garden with a great little tropical butterfly exhibit, so I go there when I want to get my tropical butterfly fix.

butterfly tree

Lots of butterflies in the trees!

The Marshall Butterfly Pavilion was a bit different.  You wander inside and are greeted not by tropical beauties, but by several hundred native butterflies.  Most of the butterflies in the exhibit are native to the Sonoran Desert and all of them can be found flying free in southern states of the U.S.  I thought it was fabulous!  While it’s fun to see tropical butterflies, it’s great that people at the Desert Botanical Garden can learn about some of the amazing butterflies they will find visiting their own yards.  If they take their guide to the butterflies in the exhibit home with them, they’ve got a head start on identifying their backyard butterflies.  Brilliant!

And our native butterflies are spectacular too!  Check out this giant swallowtail:

swallowtail

Giant swallowtail (Papilio cresophontes)

These butterflies are native to the Sonoran Desert.  In fact, if you read my blog last fall, you’ve already seen the caterpillar of this butterfly!  It looks like bird poop and then turns into this gorgeous animal.  Fantastic butterfly.  And look at this julia butterfly:

Julia butterfly
A julia butterfly (Dryas julia)

You probably won’t find this one in Phoenix, but it’s found in Texas and occasionally wanders as far north as Nebraska.  They’re a lovely orange color so I ended up with a WHOLE lot of photos of these!  Or what about the elegant luna moth:

luna moth

A rather shabby luna moth (Actias luna)

I’m pretty sure these don’t make it quite as far west as I live, but my mom sees them all the time in Missouri and sends me specimens now and again.  They’re so, so gorgeous!  Someday I’ll get to see one in the wild, but I was thrilled beyond belief that they had them in the butterfly exhibit in Phoenix.  This was the only one I saw and was rather worn, but it was still exciting to see a live one.

butterfly bowl

Butterflies sucked on orange juice in one of several of these glass bowls.

The butterflies were fantastic, but I was very impressed with the exhibit itself.  The space was large and open.  There was enough room for 50-100 people to share the space at one time, which was about how many people were in the exhibit when I was there.  They had a lot of docents wandering around answering questions – and getting them right.  (Entomological Pet Peeve #1: people who don’t know the answer to a bug question making something up that’s totally wrong…)  The exhibit space included a lovely garden full of butterfly plants that you can plant in your own yard, so it was part live butterfly exhibit and part butterfly plant demonstration garden.  There was a little pond in one corner, though the docents had to rescue several butterflies from the water while I was there.  The best part of the exhibit: the space was enclosed, but it was enclosed by a fine mesh.  There was lots of fresh air in the space and because it was a wonderfully cool and overcast the day we went, it was cool and overcast in the exhibit.  A lot of butterfly exhibits I’ve been to, especially those with the tropical butterflies, have been stiflingly hot inside, so this was a lovely change of pace.

Once outside the exhibit, there were educational displays about butterflies where you could touch dead butterflies (awesome) and learn more about them.  There were also some of those painted wooden boards with the holes for the heads cut out.  They amuse me greatly.  I got the best picture ever of my husband as the butterfly, but he refuses to let me put it online.  Sigh…

blooming palo verde

Blooming palo verde tree with honeybee

The trip to the butterfly exhibit was a great way to spend the last few hours of our vacation before going back home!  It was so peaceful and the people in the exhibit were so happy to be there.  I was really blown over by the whole experience.  If you ever visit Phoenix in the spring, I highly recommend a stop at the Desert Botanical Gardens.  Wander the beautiful gardens while everything is in bloom and spend some time with butterflies.  What could be better?

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Friday 5: Home Invasion!

A lot of insects have moved into my house over the past few years.  They’re kind of annoying and some of them are kind of destructive.  I put up with them mostly because I can’t stomach the idea of inviting a pest control company (i.e. Terminix, the dreaded Terminix, because my landlord has a contract with them and we can’t use anyone else…) into my home and having them tell me that they need to fumigate.  Fumigating isn’t a trivial matter.  I live in half of a duplex and judging from the three other duplexes in the complex that have been fumigated over the last two years, they can’t just fumigate half of the building.   That means moving out five people (including 2 kids next door), three dogs, and some live insects that need to stay alive while they tent our entire building and pump it full of chemicals overnight.  Bleagh…  Unfortunately, this is probably going to happen thanks to my recent discovery of this:

termite poop

Termite evidence

Termites!  That’s the one thing I can’t get away with “forgetting” to tell the landlord about because they will damage the building itself.  I have an appointment with Terminix coming up so they can tell me what I already know: I have dry wood termites in the beam above my front window.  The little pebbles in the photo are clearly not the termites themselves, but they are evidence that the termites are chewing their way through the beam.  They’re frass pellets, or termite poop.   They’re all over the table below the beam, but there are also little piles of pellets under the suspiciously round holes in the beam.  Stupid termites!  Why did they have to chew on MY beam?!  Their eating the wood of the one person in the entire complex that dreads the arrival of Terminix the way children dread booster shots.  Grrr…

On the other hand, if Terminix recommends fumigating, we will get rid of some of the other insects that have made mi casa their casa.  I’ve already mentioned these:

booklice

Booklice at home on my paper flower bouquet.

The booklice disappeared from my paper flowers for a while, but then they came back, so I’ve got a nice big colony of them going on top of one of my bookshelves.  I find booklice all over my home, but I don’t even care that they’re there.  If they’ve infested something really badly, I just chuck it into the trash can out front where they are sure to die a hot, stinky death in the Arizona sun.

These guys are a little more annoying:

Silverfish

Silverfish

Most of the silverfish live behind my couch somewhere and have a bad habit of walking across my face while I’m stretched out watching TV.  Scares the bejeezus out of me every time!  I just brush them off and move on, but they really bother my husband.  He has been known to squeal like a girl when they emerge from their dark happy place behind the couch and crawl onto his bare skin.  Mr.  Dragonfly is not amused by silverfish!

My personal least favorite insects (other than the Terminix-inducing termites of course) are these:

ants

Ants on my kitchen counter.

We have at least 4 different species of ants living in our house now.  I find them living in strange places.  One nest lives under the carpet along the wall in the dining area.  Several live in the wall between the bathroom and the kitchen.  Still others live in the pots my plants are growing in.  The strangest place I’ve found an ant nest in my house: inside one of the cups of a bra in my underwear drawer!  And they weren’t just under the bra – they’d actually burrowed down inside the fabric.  I froze the bra (I know, I know – it sounds like a bad slumber party prank!) and then tried to extract the ants, but I couldn’t get them out and had to chuck it.  Sigh…  The ants bother me because they like to sting me (not the ones in the photo, but some of the others).  I have been known to occasionally lose it when they’re out in force in my kitchen and get so frustrated that I squish a couple hundred of them, laughing maniacally as I do so.  And check out Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday (as I’m now calling it) next week for photographic evidence of what happens when indoor ant colonies meet the monsoon!

This is the most recent addition to my home’s insect fauna:

moth

Moth

I’m not entirely sure what these are (they fall into the LBM – little brown moth – category and I’m hopeless when it comes to IDing them), but I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re happily living in a closet somewhere and helping themselves to some delicious pieces of rarely worn clothing.  They seem to be concentrated in the bedroom, which supports this hypothesis, but I find them in other rooms now and then too.  If anyone happens to know whether this little 5mm long, nondescript brown moth is actually a clothes moth, I’d love to hear from you!  But until I figure out what they’re destroying, I couldn’t care less about these little guys.  They flutter around my lamp at night occasionally and sometimes get in my face, but they’re just kinda there otherwise.  And honestly, the damage my dog does to my clothes when he decides to pull a piece of my clothing out of the laundry basket and chew his rawhide on it is WAY worse than anything some little weenie moths are going to manage.

Five different types of insects living in my house!  I was a little shocked when I came up with the idea for this post that I actually had five to talk about.  If I count the little tiny spiders that seem to love our baseboards and windowsills (don’t know what they are) and all the ant species separately, we’ve got 9 species living in our house with us.  If I’m wrong about having brought the 3 brown banded cockroaches I’ve found in the house  over the past 3 years home with me from work (not just wishful thinking, I swear!), that brings the number up to 10!  And that doesn’t even take into account the things that live just outside the front and back doors that make their way into the house every few days…  But my insects are lucky.  They live with one of the very few people in the city who will tolerate their presence and hates the Terminix man more than she hates her bugs.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Carpenter Bee Nest

One day I was sitting on my front step waiting for someone to pick me up and I happened to notice a few carpenter bees buzzing flying into and around a hole in the trunk of the  mesquite tree in front of my apartment:

Carpenter bee nest

Carpenter bee nest

They were digging tunnels in the wood so they could lay their eggs and flying in and out to provision their nests!  It’s a little hard to see the tunnels they were excavating, but I’d never seen carpenter bees at work before and this photo always reminds me of how excited I was to see it for the first time.  I love carpenter bees!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Insect Outreach

crowd of people

Crowds in the Tucson Festival of Books Science Pavilion

Because I’m part of an insect outreach program this semester, I gave been doing a ton of outreach events!  I’ve had kids come to the Insect Discovery classroom from their schools and I run the workshop myself one day a week.  I’ve gone to schools to do presentations in classrooms and at science days.  I’ve worked with the Boys and Girls  Club after hours with this cool program where the kids learn about nature through photography.  And last weekend I manned a booth at the Tucson Festival of Books.  I’ve carried insects between the building where Insect Discovery lives and my car so many times that I really ought to be given a personal parking space near the building.  (You can make that happen for me right?  Because the parking situation near that building sucks…)  The poor bugs have been jostled and prodded and dropped and squeezed and screamed at more time than I can count.  But it’s SO MUCH FUN!  I thought I might share some of my experiences so that can all see how much fun I’m having – and how much fun it can be to do these sorts of activities yourself.  I’m going to focus on the Festival of Books booth because I was actually able to take photos.

booth

The Insect Discovery booth at the Tucson Festival of Books

I was at the booth at the Festival for 7 hours straight.  It was a little intense.  Toward the end of the day it started getting really warm too.  Luckily, I had a crew of 4 undergrads from Insect Discovery rotating through and helping me out.  The best part: being able to stick them out in the sun while I cowered in the shade inside the tent all day!  Actually, I rarely have another person with me when I do outreach events, so it’s fantastic when there are other people with me.  I don’t have to answer EVERY question the visitors have and I can actually breathe now and again.  I get to take photos.  Having the Insect Discovery students with me was fun because they have learned a lot about bugs in class and were able to test their knowledge as we were asked a steady barrage of questions.  We also had enough people so that everyone could take a break now and again and we could have several different activities going on in the booth at once.  And did I mention that all the undergrads who volunteered were there during spring break?  That guy in the red shirt at the right of the photo above was even a friend of the girl in the black tank top, visiting over his spring break!  Fantastic!

inside booth

This kid is clearly unsure about the live stuff on the table!

For our booth, we brought several things that we use in the Insect Discovery workshops we run during the week.  We didn’t give anything away, which turned some people off (the swag at the festival was pretty impressive and people tend to get a bit greedy), but we had a very steady stream of visitors the whole time I was there.  In our booth, people had the opportunity to rummage about in a big box of soil that is home to a variety of decomposers (omg do kids loooove the millipedes!), a big fancy display of Arizona insects, a camouflage activity where they tried to find the insects in the photos, a bunch of live ladybugs that they used to determine whether all ladybugs of the same species look exactly the same or not (no, they do not, in case you’re wondering), and a couple of boxes of pinned insects where they were asked to find the two insects that were exactly the same out of a group of about 25-30 insects.  We also had a cage of Madagascar hissing cockroaches and we took turns holding them and showing them off all day.  People could also pet or hold the roaches if they wanted to.

There are things I like about these kinds of events and things that I don’t like.  There are definite downsides.  People asking if they can have a ladybug or one of the camouflage photos all day because nearly every other booth was giving things away – not cool.  Being out in the sun on one of the first really warm days – not cool.  The super squeamish parents who don’t let their kids play with the bugs or muck about in the dirt, even if they really want to – not cool.  People who refuse to believe you when they tell you about some super scary poisonous insect they saw that shoots venom out of their feet and can kill you just by looking at you (okay, bit of an exaggeration, but I hear stories like this from parents all the time!), in spite of your clearly superior entomological knowledge and your ability to show them evidence of your claims via your smart phone – not cool.

decomposer box

Kids were crowded around the decomposer box all day! One of my students is showing off a millipede, visible across the top of his hand..

But there are so many fantastic things about these sorts of events too!  I met two kids who wanted to become entomologists.  One of them was a high school girl, so I could totally relate to her and give her encouragement and advice about where to go to college for entomology.  I was a high school girl who wanted to be an entomologist once!  The other budding entomologist was a 11-12 year old boy.  That boy = brilliant!  He asked one of my Insect Discovery students whether the Hercules beetle in the box was a Grant’s Hercules beetle.  I thought the, “Uhhhh…  I think you should ask Chris that question…” response he got from my student was very entertaining.  I ended up talking to the kid for a good 20 minutes until his mom literally dragged him away.  I swear he knew more about Arizona’s insect species than most of my fellow entomology grad students!  And yes, he did know a few species that I did not.  Super cool.

Lots and lots of kids wanted to hold the roach, and lots of their parents were willing to let them, even if they didn’t want a thing to do with the roach themselves.  I also got to hear all of these great fisherman style stories where people told me about giant insects that were “thiiiiiis big!” with hugely exaggerated lengths.  The kids in our booth were enthralled by the live things and almost all of them did all the activities.   All in all, I think we probably had close to 1000 people come through the booth while I was there and nearly every one of them walked away having learned something new.  I consider that a success!

Toward the end of the day, we were upstaged by another event.  In the back of our tent were 100 bottles of Diet Coke and 50 or 60 rolls of mint Mentos.  You probably know where this is going…  They rounded up 100 kids, gave each a bottle of Coke and half a roll of Mentos, and had everyone make two big circles.  One of the circles was right outside our tent, so I got to see 50 kids drop their Mentos into their bottles of Coke at one time!  And if you don’t know what happens when Mentos and Coke interact, I got it on video:

Fabulous!  Except for the one kid who set his off a few seconds before the main explosion (at 32 seconds, off to the left) who had his head directly over the bottle when he dropped the candy in and got slammed in the face by exploding Coke.  Poor little guy…

The Festival was a ton of fun and I wandered back to my car in this euphoric state of happiness that I can only get from a really successful outreach event.  Even though I’m terribly, terribly busy this semester trying to write my dissertation and teach both undergrads and K-3 kids in Insect Discovery workshops and outreach events, I’m loving every minute of it.   Semesters like this remind me that I am on the right career path because I can’t imagine anything else making me feel this good.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Friday 5: Great Works of Insect Art (by 7 year olds)

In the Insect Discovery program I am a part of this semester, we split whole classes into four groups and rotate everyone through four stations.  At each station, the kids learn about scientific concepts through hands-on activities with insects.  After all 30 or so kids have worked through all four activities, we get everyone together for one final activity: a drawing.  It’s a very simple activity where we ask the kids to draw an insect, either real or imaginary.  When they finish with their drawings, we have them write or tell us where their insect lives, what their insect eats, and how it protects itself.  We then give them each a blank sheet of paper, distribute markers throughout the room, and set them loose.  The kids LOVE this activity!  And, when they’re done, they’re given the choice of keeping their drawing or donating it to Insect Discovery so we can use their art to decorate the room the following year.  We have a really big pile of drawings already, even though we’re only a third of the way through the semester and most of the best drawings end up going home with the artists!

Today I thought I’d share some of my favorite drawings the kids have done so far this semester.  Narrowing it down to 5 was actually quite hard and I had to develop criteria for deciding which pictures were worthy of making my “top 5” list.  I eventually settled on creativity, those drawings that I thought were particularly well thought out or so bizarre that they made me laugh.  So, without further ado, I give you my favorite 5 insect drawings done by 7 year olds:

The Strong Bug

Strong Bug

Strong Bug

As you can see, Strong Bug lives in a hole in the ground, eats dirt (not terribly nutritious, but hey – to each his own!), and uses his super strong legs to protect himself.  However, I also imagine that this bug also stomps a lot of other bugs, maybe the ones he doesn’t like or that annoy him.  Or maybe he uses his giant body builder style legs to stomp the people who teased him as a kid for having scrawny chicken legs.  Remember that Gary Larson cartoon with the ant child wearing shoes in the house and stomping his siblings?  This bug reminds me of that, a scourge of smaller bugs that get in his way.  Love it!

The Rocket Bug

Rocket Bug

Rocket Bug

The Rocket Bug is a continental Italian omnivore that dines on ants with a light salad on the side.  When she is disturbed, the rocket bug fires up her rocket and blasts herself into the sky to get away from predators.  Rocket bug flies super fast when she needs to.  Pretty cool, huh?  Perhaps she’s powered by formic acid…

The Acid/Lightning Bug

Acid/Lightning Bug

Acid/Lightning Bug

The Acid/Lightning Bug is really amazing!  He lives in the desert and has a hard shell to protect himself.  But that’s not all!  Oh no.  This bug is also capable of shooting not only acid out of its butt, but lightning bolts as well.  Predators beware the butt lightning!  Did I mention he’s also invisible?  Probably makes him great for sneaking up on the things he likes to eat, though I’m not exactly sure what his favorite foods are.  The kid who drew this didn’t ever tell me what this bug eats.  Still, don’t you wish you were an invisible, acid-and-lightning-shooting bug with an impenetrable shell?  Acid/Lightning Bug rocks!

The Smoke Bug

Smoke Bug

Smoke Bug

The kid that drew this picture was about the most annoying second grader I’ve ever encountered, but that doesn’t stop me from loving his drawing!  Thankfully, he told me all about it because he didn’t record its natural history in writing.  This is the Smoke Bug.  He protects himself by waving those three tendrils coming off his head, giving the predator the impression that the bug is actually a small fire that’s giving off smoke.  Most things don’t like fire and will leave the bug alone.  But say a predator isn’t fooled by the miniature, rather improbable fire it encounters.  Never fear!  Smoke Bug has a backup plan!  See those eyes on each tendril?  They help smoke bug see, but when threatened they turn into laser shooters that fire lasers at the predator.  Don’t f*** with Smoke Bug!  He be shooting lasers out of his eyes!

Eater of Loved Ones

The Eater of Loved Ones

The Eater of Loved Ones

I nearly shot the water I was drinking out of my nose when I came across this one!  The description, written in that horrible nearly invisible yellow writing, really says it all:

“This insect is in my imagination.  It lives in my heart.  It eats my loved ones and ceeps track of them.  I protects its self by camouflaging with my heart because it’s red.”

I hope that this child didn’t mean that this bug eats her loved ones.  Maybe the bug is supposed to watch over her loved ones instead?  I’m also convinced that she didn’t think things through enough when she decided to make her cute little bug (though let’s not forget that this insect is a vicious man-eater!) a parasite of her heart.  I have this horrible picture in my mind of this bug that eats her relatives and then burrows into her chest to hide next to her heart…  Of course, I’m not exactly sure which part of the drawing is the insect.  I think it’s the stick person with the heart for a head that’s happily embedded in the heart.  Disturbing on so many levels, but you have to appreciate the creativity!

Aren’t these drawings fabulous!  I just love the thought that went into them.  It’s great working with children because they don’t see anything wrong with a bug that literally lives in their hearts or pretends it’s smoke to avoid being eaten by a predator.  I love looking through the drawings!  I’m thinking of posting some more of them on Flickr.  If you’re interested in seeing more, leave a comment below so I know if it’s worth the effort to scan/upload them!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Wordless Wednesday: Horseshoe Crab

I went to visit my sis the park ranger in the Everglades over a spring break one year and was lucky enough to be allowed to do some “hurricane assessment” with her and 3 others while I was there.  It involved us going on a long boat ride down the coast, then jumping into the ocean and wading to a stunningly beautiful beach comprised entirely of shells and horseshoe crab exoskeletons:

horseshoe crab

Horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus

Horseshoe crabs are considered “living fossils” because they have changed very, very little in the last 250 million years.  Aren’t they magnificent?!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com