Friday 5: Why I Love Outreach

Last weekend I participated in the Arizona Insect Festival, the first celebration of insects of its kind hosted by the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona.  It was a really great event (look for a whole post about it soon!), and I really enjoyed it.  After the Festival, I pretty much collapsed in a heap on my couch and got absolutely nothing accomplished for the rest of the day, but it did get me thinking about all the outreach events I’ve done.  I realized two things.  First, I’ve done a lot of outreach events!  Between a whole semester of visiting schools for Insect Discovery (I worked with kids from 18 different schools!), Meet the Beetles last fall, the Tucson Festival of Books in the spring, Big Bugs earlier this month, and the Festival, I have rocked the entomological outreach events the last year!  Second, there are five things that I really love about doing insect outreach events.  And you all know what I do any time I come up with a list of 5 insect-related things…  Friday 5!  Let’s get right to it, shall we?

1. talking to the Public


Crowd at Meet the Beetles last fall. There were so many people there!

I am an entomologist.  It definitely doesn’t apply to all of us, but we tend to be an introverted lot and we can be socially awkward at times.  (What, you don’t regularly talk about parasitic maggots that infest sheep during dinner?)  We are often much more comfortable talking to other entomologists than the average Joe because other entomologists “get” us in a way non-entomologists never will.  However, when you see us at outreach events, we’re absolutely in our element!  Outreach events are super fun because non-entomologists enter our world for a brief period of time and we suddenly become social superstars!  When the event is over, many of us return to our dark offices/labs and return to our quiet lives, but just for those few hours we have a chance to talk about the things we love with a rapt audience.  It’s fantastic!  As an extra bonus, my blog’s been online long enough now that I meet readers at nearly every event I do.  I might not get to spend more than a few seconds talking to you if things are busy, but I do appreciate it when you introduce yourselves.  And I’ll remember you too!

2.  Socializing with Colleagues


Some of the fabulous colleagues I worked with in the Insect Zoo at the Arizona Insect Festival.

This only happens at the bigger events, but it’s really nice to have a chance to interact with a lot of entomologists all at once.  Big events tend to draw people out of the woodwork, so you get to see colleagues you might rarely see otherwise.  Doing outreach gives me an opportunity to talk to people and catch up on new developments in their lives.  I enjoy getting to socialize with other entomologists – and outreach events are a great place to do it!

3.  Playing with Bugs


Who wouldn't want to play with this gorgeous animal? It's a hickory horned devil, or the caterpillar for the regal moth, and totally harmless.

Okay, so I know I do this practically all day every day, but I still really love getting to play with bugs at outreach events.  It’s such a thrill to pull one of the big Lethocerus giant water bugs out of a jar of water and watch it spread its forelegs menacingly or to poke a dragonfly nymph and see it jet around its container.  Visitors also love it when you grab something and pull it out of the water so that they can get a closer look – or hold the insect themselves if they’re brave enough.

4. Getting People Excited About Bugs


This kid was SO excited about that queen caterpillar!

I think I most love doing outreach because I can help get people who’ve never really thought about insects or who have been scared of insects their whole lives excited about something having to do with bugs.  Of course there are some people who say something like, “Ewww!  Bugs!” and keep right on walking, but most people walk away a little bit better informed and a little more enthusiastic about bugs.  It’s a great feeling!

5.  Wardrobe Upgrades


Some of my recent volunteer shirts. The tarantula was actually from the Tucson Festival of Books and not an insect-centered event (though I was part of an insect outreach booth), but I still love it. The tarantula is made up of letters!

There is usually some incentive provided if you volunteer for outreach events.  I love getting tickets to go on tours at places like the Biosphere II or getting to see the Big Bugs sculptures for free.  A lot of the events I’ve done recently have provided t-shirts, so I get a wardrobe upgrade!  It’s always nice to get free t-shirts, especially when they’re covered in bugs.  :)

Does anyone else out there do science outreach events?  If so, I’d love to hear what you love about them!  Fill up the comments section below!


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Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Eggs in Strange Places

I find insects in strange places sometimes. For example, I was out of town for one of several family emergencies this summer and left my bike chained to the tree in my front yard while I was gone. I was about to lock my bike to a bike rack on campus after I got back when I saw these attached to my front wheel:

lacewing eggs on bike

Lacewing eggs on bike spoke

Lacewing eggs! Apparently a female lacewing had decided the spoke of the front wheel of my abandoned bike was a great place for her children to be born.  Good thing they all hatched before I started riding my bike again!


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Gilbert Riparian Preserve

During my trip to Phoenix a few weeks ago, I had a lot of free time on my hands on Saturday before the event at the Desert Botanical Gardens began at night.  I felt like I needed to go out and do something in Phoenix.  I’d read a lot about the Gilbert Riparian Preserve from dragonfly enthusiasts and bloggers in the Phoenix area and it sounded really great, but I had never had an excuse to go.  I finally had some time to kill there!  It was over 100 degrees and humid the day I went, but I went anyway.  As I pulled into the lot at the preserve, I prepared to roast myself in the desert sun while taking dragonfly photos for a few hours.

Gilbert Riparian Preserve map

Gilbert Riparian Preserve map. Image from

The first thing I noticed was that it was very hot.  I arrived around 3PM, which is generally a bad time to be wandering around alone in the desert in the summer.  I had plenty of water and there was ample shade, so I knew I could stay safe.  The second thing I’d noticed was that I’d seriously underestimated the size of the preserve!  I had given myself 2 hours to explore.  I realized 30 minutes into my visit that it wasn’t going to be nearly enough.  I hadn’t researched the preserve before going, so I didn’t realize that it covered 110 acres and housed 8 separate ponds.  There was no way I was getting it all in during my two hours!  I only visited two of the ponds and a stream that flowed between two of the others.

water ranch lake

The water ranch lake, the fishing pond at the preserve.

The Gilbert Riparian Preserve is a really interesting site.  The story goes like this.  In 1986, the city of Gilbert, AZ decided it wanted to recycle 100% its treated wastewater.  The preserve was built to help the city accomplish this goal.  Effluent from the wastewater treatment plant is released into the preserve where it flows into one of seven recharge ponds.  The sun and the plants growing in and around the ponds help to clean the water up a bit.  The water also trickles down through the soil below the ponds, getting cleaner and cleaner the deeper it goes thanks to the natural filtration soil provides.  The water eventually seeps into the shallow aquifer below the preserve.  From there, the water is pumped into the eighth pond, a pond stocked with fish and open to fishing, or into other areas around Gilbert for other uses.

female mallard

A female mallard, taking a vigorous mid-afternoon bath.

While the water filtration is important, the preserve also provides a great resource for wildlife and the public.  As you probably know, the Phoenix area is in a desert and water can be scarce.  The large amount of open water at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve provides valuable habitat for animals such as insects, birds, and fish and provides water for larger animals.  It also gives the people in the Phoenix area a great place where they can go to see animals that depend on water, learn about water resources in Arizona, fish, and enjoy being outside near water.  The preserve hosts several interpretive walks and talks, weekend star-gazing via the on-site observatory, and gives people a little respite from the dry desert of the surrounding area.


One of the ponds at the preserve, Pond 5

We have a facility like the preserve in Tucson (you can read more about it next week), but I have to admit that I liked the Gilbert Riparian Preserve a lot better.  The managers seem to really care about providing a great educational experience to their visitors.  The site is well laid out so that you can see both ponds and small stream-like habitats.  There’s also clearly been a lot of money devoted to the site to keep everything running smoothly and looking great.  It’s a really nice place!

But I was there mostly for the dragonflies.  I’ve seen species lists for the site and lots of pictures of dragonflies that people have photographed there, so it seemed like a good spot.  (Pierre Deviche and Kim Hosey have taken some great photos there if you’re interested!)  In spite of arriving at the preserve in the middle of a hot day when most of the dragonflies were hiding in the shade to prevent overheating, I still saw several species.  As someone who went to the site primarily to photograph dragonflies, I was pretty happy with what I saw!  Perhaps not quite so happy when I got back to my hotel room and noticed I’d been shooting at 400 ISO and my photos were all kinda grainy, but what can you do?  Some of my favorite shots were of the super common species in Arizona:

Pachydiplax longipennis

Blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) male, hanging out on a cattail leaf near the Water Ranch pond.

Blue dashers might be common, but I still love them.  Look at that lovely blue!  And the bright green eyes are just gorgeous!  In this photo, you can see the split between the parts of the eye that look up and the parts that look forward and to the side.  The light at this particular moment and location really highlighted the two parts of the eye.

Another really common Arizona dragonfly:

Sympetrum corruptum

Variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) male.

Sympetrum corruptum head on

Another variegated meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum, head on

Like the blue dashers, the variegated meadowhawks are common, but very beautiful.  Note the position of the male in the upper photo.  He’s tilting his abdomen away from the sun to stay cool!

These little orangey-yellow Mexican amberwings always seem to be out:

Perithemis intensa male

Mexican amberwing (Perithemis intensa) male.

They like to sit out on vegetation that’s hovering horizontally out over the water away from the bank and about a foot or two up from the surface.  They spend hours at a time looking out toward the water, waiting for prey, females, or males to enter their territories and respond accordingly when they do.  They seem pretty laid back as far as dragonflies go though and don’t fly around nearly as much as the others.

These little damselflies are also common, but I see a lot fewer of them:

Ischnura ramburii

Desert forktail (Ischnura barberi ) female.

I love all the different colors on the desert forktails!  And they come in a lot of different color combinations too.  This is a female with the typical male coloration, but there are other color variants in females too.  This one was hiding in a shady place near one of the little streams that ran between two of the ponds.

All in all, I thought my trip to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve was fabulous!  I ended up drinking 3 liters of water I’d brought with me while I was there, but it was still a great trip.  Lots of dragonflies, a fun place to visit, and another aquatic habitat in Arizona to check off my list.  I’m going to have to go back sometime though and check out the other 6 ponds I didn’t see, maybe when it’s a little cooler or earlier in the day.  I barely even scratched the surface of the preserve!

Next Monday I’m posting about a similar site that we have in Tucson.  I stopped on my way back to town from Phoenix and finally got one good photo of a flying dragonfly there!  Woohoo!


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Swarm Sunday – 9/18/11 – 9/24/2011

dragonfly swarm banner

It’s Swarm Sunday!  Another good week of dragonfly swarms, though things slowed down a bit compared to the last few weeks.  More swarms popped up in southern states this week and there were a few more migratory swarms reported, but the dragonflies still seem to be mostly staying put.  I expect I’ll start to get a lot more migratory swarm reports in the next few weeks as they start to move south for the winter, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Swarms occurred in the following locations over the last week:


Rose Hill, KS
Little Hocking, OH
Peaster, TX
Lawrence,  KS (5 swarms)
McArthur, OH
Baldwin City, KS
Stilwell, KS
Goldsboro, NC
Soldier, KS
Terre Haute, IN
Indianapolis, IN (2 swarms)
Paoli, IN
Waverly, OH
Cannelville, OH
Portsmouth, OH
Shippensburg, PA
Joplin, MO
Gettsyburg, PA (4 swarms)
Stillwater, OK
Harrison, OH
Naples, FL
Luray, VA (5 swarms)
Clinton, AR
Norris, TN
Eatonton, GA
Emmitsburg, MD
Fayetteville, NC
Martinsburg, WV
Pitcairn, PA
Cincinnati, OH (5 swarms)
Parkersburg, WV
Clarksburg, WV
Gibsonia, PA
Huntington, WV
Bellevue, KY
McClure, IL
Reading, OH
Romney, WV
Indianapolis, IN
Athens, GA
Greenville, OH
Sandy Springs, GA
Eldorado, OH
Louisville, KY (2 swarms)
Guysville, OH
Pikesville, MD
New Castle, DE
Lerona, WV
Altoona, PA
Littlestown, PA
Champion, PA
Biltmore Forest, NC
Selinsgrove, PA
Reading, PA
Bellefonte, PA
Orange, PA
Keisterville, PA
Indiana, PA
Hanover, PA
Marion, NC
Oberlin, PA
York, PA
Ranson, WV
Chambersburg, PA
Adolphus, KY
McCoole, MD/Keyser, WV/ Rawlings, WV area
Boyertown, PA
Lexington, GA
Weaverville, NC
Lewisburg, PA
Lexington, KY (2 swarms)
Chambersburg, PA
Mulvane, KS
Hanover, PA (2 swarms)
Sparks, MD
Boswell, PA
Fallston, MD
Parkersburg, WV
Cumberland, MD
Whitefish Bay, WI
Easley, SC
Inwood, WV
Crozet, WV
Bowling Green, KY
Liverpool, OH
Pittstown, NJ
Cottontown, TN
Winchester, VA
Sandersville, GA
Goose Creek, SC
Wilmington, NC
Sand Springs, OK
Keyser, WV
Reading, PA
Fayetteville, NC
Malta, OH
Vineland, NJ
Mamaroneck, NY
Danville, VA
Newark, NE
North Wales, PA
Baltimore, MD (2 swarms)
Annapolis, MD
Crestview, FL
Pottsville, PA
Charlottesville, VA
Lansdale, PA
State College, PA


Hamilton, ON


La Ciotat

This is an important time of year for dragonfly migrations, so I hope you’ll all keep submitting reports!


Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!


Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!


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Friday 5: Submit Your Photos, Help Scientists and the Public!

I am a big fan of citizen science.  I love that anyone, even if you have absolutely no training as a scientist and only the smallest interest in what scientists actually do, can contribute something meaningful to science.  I myself am amazed by the results that citizen science projects can produce. I have collected nearly 1400 dragonfly swarm reports in the past two years for my own citizen science project and it’s so exciting to see the data flow in!  People who might not otherwise ever participate in science send me valuable data that is helping me really understand how dragonfly swarms work.  It’s great!

Because I’m on a big photography kick thanks to my recent participation in BugShot 2011, I thought I should share some of my favorite citizen science projects that involve photography.  These are all projects that collect photographs of animal and plant sightings and create massive, searchable databases from the information they collect.  These databases can be a help to scientists who are interested in how biological organisms are distributed or the movement of those organisms into and out of particular areas, hence citizen science.  However, many of these are also incredibly useful if you are a non-scientist hoping to identify an insect (or plant or other animal) that you’ve seen.  So, be a do-gooder and help out by contributing your insect photos to one of my five favorite projects:

Odonata Central

Odonata Central

Odonata Central  was born out of a desire to accurately map the distribution of the dragonflies and damselflies of the US.  Now it is a fantastic resource that allows users to create species checklists for their counties, compare their sightings to the photo library as an identification aid, and learn about dragonflies.  The project is currently accepting mostly late and early season sightings of dragonflies and damselflies, new county records, and species with no photos, so you’ll probably need to know a  bit about dragonflies to participate right now.  However, progress is being made toward making this a more open system where anyone can submit any photo of any dragonfly from anywhere in the world and have their sighting added to the database.  So, save up those common dragonfly photos for now, but remember to submit them later!  And definitely make use of this amazing resource in the meantime.

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Butterflies and Moths of North America is a place where anyone can submit photos of lepidopterans they’ve sighted in North America.  User submitted photos are linked to species pages so everyone can see the range in coloration some species exhibit.  Your submissions help create invaluable information about the distribution of each species too.  If you don’t have photos to contribute, use the website as an excellent identification tool!  The photos and regional checklists make identifying your butterflies and moths relatively painless.

Bug Guide

Bug Guide

I know I rave about BugGuide, but it’s such an amazing resource!  While I think this site is less helpful to scientists than some of the others, I think it’s still well worth the effort to submit your photos because it is an invaluable resource for people who wish to identify North American insects.  If you know what species you’ve got, you can simply add your photos to the site with information about when and where you found the bug in the photo(s) and it will be added to the database.  If you don’t know what your bug is…  Submit your photo as an ID Request!  Someone might be able to tell you what it is and then add it to the appropriate species page.  Bug Guide is a great website, made possible in part by people like you.

Project Noah

Project Noah

I’ve mentioned Project Noah in another Friday 5 post, but I think it’s a great organization  and I want to point it out again.  Like Butterflies and Moths of North America, users submit photos of things they’ve seen to the site with information about the sighting.  Like Bug Guide, you can request identifications or submit your own identification if you know what you’ve photographed.  Unlike either website, Project Noah both A) deals with all biological organisms (plants AND animals) and B) has a smart phone interface that is pretty fun.  Snap a photo of an insect (or plant or other animal) with your smart phone and upload it to Project Noah and you won’t even need a computer to participate!  There are some really magnificent photos on the site (my favorite is this fruit bat), plus you can see the diversity of plants and animals that live in your area with location tools.  I encourage everyone to check it out!

Encyclopedia of Life

Encyclopedia of Life

The goal of the Encyclopedia of Life is to document all life on the planet, gathering together information from journals, databases, collections, and the public and sharing it with everyone online in an accessible way.  You can help EOL in several ways.  One is to create an account on the EOL website and send in photos, articles, etc for inclusion in the archives.  Even easier, you can contribute photos to EOL directly from Flickr (click the link for instructions!).  Public participation is essential for EOL to continue making progress toward its lofty goals, so help make it the astounding resource it has the potential to be by contributing photos!

Your photos and sightings are incredibly valuable to all of the citizen science projects listed above.  If you’re taking insect photos and are happy to share them with others already, why not make the world a better place by contributing images to one of these great organizations?  With little effort, you can help both scientists and the public can learn about, identify, and document the insects of the world.  There’s a lot of them, so let’s get photographing!


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Arizona Insect Festival this weekend!

If you happen to be in the Tucson area this weekend, I hope you’ll come out to the Arizona Insect Festival on Saturday morning from 8AM – noon!  The festival is a new event for the University of Arizona and brings together most of the Department of Entomology, the Entomology and Insect Science graduate students, and a whole bunch of local entomologists and insect enthusiasts from outside the University to celebrate the pure, unadulterated gloriousness of insects.  The event is free and there’s something for everyone.  Bring your kids for some fun, hands-on activities including Build-a-Bug and the Insect Olympics.  Don’t have kids?  No problem!  There are still many things to do, including sampling insect cuisine, learning about insects in one of several interactive booths, and getting up close and personal with a slew of live Sonoran Desert insects at the Insect Zoo.  It’s going be a really fun event!  And there’s even free parking in the Tyndall, Park, and Main Gate garages if you arrive before 11AM.

I know this comes as a shock, but I’ll be working with aquatic insects (I know – big surprise!) in the Insect Zoo.  If you happen to come to the festival, I hope you’ll stop by the aquatics area and say hi!

Want more information (details about the different activities/booths, parking maps, etc)?  Check out one of the following websites!

The official Arizona Insect Festival website

The AZ Insect Festival Facebook Page

UA News article about the event

Hope to see you there!


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Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Morning at the Field Site

I am not overly fond of one of my field sites.  It’s in a part of the desert that has been severely overgrazed for way too long, so I travel through scraggly, comparatively desolate desert for 45 minutes to get there.  I’m also not a morning person in any small way, so getting up early to travel through scraggly desert so I get into a stinky, disgusting pond and work isn’t exactly my idea of fun.  However, every now and then I’m there so early that I get to see the sun come up.  Then that overgrazed bit of scraggly desert transforms into something very, very beautiful:

morning at the field site

Morning at the field site



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