Swarm Sunday – 9/23/2012 – 9/29/2012

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

The swarming activity picked up a little this week, though perhaps not quite as much as I’d hoped.  Swarms occurred in the following locations:

USA:

Mystic, CT
Apopka, FL
Cape San Blas, FL
Destin, FL
Gulf Breeze, FL
Santa Rosa Beach, FL
McLeansboro, IL
Hoboken, NJ
Lawrenceville, NJ
North Arlington, NJ
Hastings-On-Hudson, NY
Lumberton, NC
Ocean Isle Beach, NC
Raleigh, NC (3 reports)
Cedar Park, TX
Kyle, TX
Kenosha, WI

There’s a strange distribution of swarms this week.  About half of them are in the northeast (New York and New Jersey) and the other half are in the southeast (North Carolina and Florida).  It’s a little odd that there’s nothing in between, but at this point I’m giving up trying to explain what’s going on until the season’s completely over.  Maybe I’ll have a better idea of why the end of the season is so strange if I can look at the whole season.  Or maybe not!  Guess we’ll have to see.

While there seems to be little activity happening in most of the rest of the country, the field station where I work, Prairie Ridge, has been quite the hotbed of dragonfly activity!  Between my coworkers and me, we’ve seen 7 swarms on the grounds over the past two weeks.  The last few days have been especially exciting.  Right around 4:30 or 5pm everyday, we’ve been seeing groups of dragonflies flying over the prairie.  They’re green darners mostly, though tonight there were some black saddlebags mixed in too.  The dragonflies fly from about 4 feet to 20 feet in the air, swooping back and forth over the grass.  I get a thrill from each and every swarm I see, but these swarms have been especially thrilling: immediately above the area where the dragonflies have been flying are chimney swifts, 100 or more.  Many people have told me about swallows flying above the dragonfly swarms they’ve seen – it happens often.  However, chimney swifts are not commonly reported.  It is really something to look out toward the sun in the distance and see big swarms of both dragonflies and chimney swifts!  I hope they’re eating all the mosquitoes that keep biting me.  :)

Please keep reporting swarms if you see them.  The season normally ends in a couple of weeks, so it will be interesting to see how this very strange season plays out!

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

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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!

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

Friday 5: Report Your Monarch Sightings!

It occurs to me that although my job involves connecting people to citizen science projects, I’ve done next to nothing to promote citizen science on my very own blog apart from my own project. That changes today! It’s Friday, so it’s time for Friday 5, citizen science style!

I’ve found that when I talk to people about citizen science, there are two major criteria that make projects attractive to the majority of potential participants: they’re easy and they involve something that the general public finds appealing. Guess what a lot of people find very appealing? Butterflies! Monarchs seem to be especially popular, and there are good reasons why. Monarchs are big, showy, and beautiful insects. They’re poisonous, so they’ve got just a hint of danger about them. They also migrate thousands of miles each year from the northern US into a very restricted part of Mexico. You all probably know by now that I tend to be prejudiced against butterflies, but even I’ll admit that monarchs are pretty darned cool. Not surprisingly there are several citizen science projects that focus on monarchs to some degree, projects that tap into that general love for monarchs to do some great science. If you see monarchs in your area, please consider participating in one of these 5 projects:

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project

MLMP is a little more involved than some of the other citizen science projects dealing with monarchs, but I did this once a week all summer and found it very rewarding. To participate, you find a patch of milkweed with 50 or more plants and monitor the patch weekly for monarchs. You count every egg, larva, and adult you see following the protocol, record the data on a datasheet, and send it off on the MLMP website. If you want to get even more involved, there are five total projects wrapped up into MLMP and you can participate in as many you’d like. This project has gone a long time and it’s produced some excellent results that are available for all to see. Everyone knows more about breeding habits of monarchs and seasonal shifts in their reproduction because citizen scientists have monitored fields in their areas and contributing data through MLMP. Plus, what’s not to love about getting outside and looking for caterpillars?

Have you ever come across a monarch with a little ID sticker attached to its wing? If so, you saw a butterfly that was being tracked by Monarch Watch! This project tracks the migration of the monarchs into Mexico every year by sending citizen scientists out to tag butterflies. To participate, you order tags from Monarch Watch, collect monarchs, affix tags to their wings, record some data about the individuals tagged, and then release the butterflies. Monarch Watch scientists can then track the progress of individual butterflies as they move from the US into Mexico. It’s a fun project and lets you handle the butterflies while you learn about migrations. I love tagging butterflies!

Journey North also tracks monarch migrations, but it does so in an easier, much less time intensive and hands on manner: participants simply report sightings of butterflies in their area. What makes Journey North fun is that you can track the southward progress of the monarchs on their website on a weekly basis to see how far the butterflies have traveled at any given time. You can then follow the progress of the return trip north in the spring. Journey North has a smart phone app, so submitting data is incredibly easy – a few taps on your screen and you’ve helped track the progress of the migrations. The project’s simplicity and easy to use web and smart phone interfaces also make this a great project to do with young kids.

Like other animals, there are many things out there that make monarchs sick. Among them is a protozoan parasite that impacts their ability to survive by inhibiting normal growth. To understand how widespread these parasites are in the wild, MonarchHealth asks participants collect samples from adult butterflies. Sampling is fairly easy. After you catch a butterfly, you use a sticky tab (they’ll send them to you!) to collect a sample from the abdomen, stick the tab onto a card with some info about the butterfly, and then send the sample off for analysis. The project leaders are great about keeping everyone informed of their progress and provide personalized information to each participant to let them know the results of their specific samples. This is another good hands on project – and really fun to do!

Nature’s Notebook is the web and smart phone based interface for the National Phenology Network. I love Nature’s Notebook and use it often on my iPhone to record sightings of seasonal shifts in several plant and animal species. While the project doesn’t specifically focus on monarchs like the other projects, this is another very easy way to help scientists learn more about monarchs. Like Journey North, a few taps on a screen or a few clicks of a mouse are all it takes to send your sightings of eggs, larvae, adults, and migrating adults off to NPN. Nature’s Notebook also has some great visualization tools and educational resources available, which make this a really fun project to participate in with tours, in classrooms, in homeschool groups, etc. This summer, I found myself pulling my iPhone out each week in our MLMP milkweed patch, then tapping away and sending valuable data off to needy scientists.  It can take less than a minute to send the data off – truly quick and easy!

That should get you all started. The monarchs are on the move right now, so get out there and collect some data!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Pipevine Caterpillar

I have only just recently learned to look for and appreciate caterpillars.  There are some crazy looking caterpillars out there too!  This is one great example:

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

Pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) are one of many species of caterpillars that use a stinky eversible horn called an osmeterium as a defense against predators.  The fact that they are bright yellow against their purple-black bodies makes the osmeteria incredibly striking.  What a beautiful animal!

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

Swarm Sunday (on Monday) – 9/16/2012 – 9/22/2012

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

Another very slow week!  Swarms occurred in the following locations:

USA:

Lilburn, GA
Boody, IL
Quincy, MA
Clarksboro, NJ
Raleigh, NC
Ovilla, TX

Six swarms last week.  Six!  Note to dragonflies: do you call that a migration?  Huh?  Pathetic…

This is getting weird.  Allow me to place this week’s swarm data into perspective.  During the same 7 day period last year, I got 147 reports.  The year before I got a third of that, but it was a much slower year and Hurricane Irene was’t wreaking havoc on the behavior or the American dragonfly population.  I got many reports each week into mid-October.  This year, I got 6 reports and it’s only September.  Based on my last two years of data collection, I would expect many, many more reports than this, maybe 10 times what I got last week.  Instead, I got 6.  This should be the peak migratory season, and hardly anyone is seeing anything out there!

I had been debating publishing my findings for this project after only three years of data collection, ]i.e. at the end of this season, rather than waiting the full five I had been planning for.  I thought I had this behavior under control and knew what to expect.  However, this year’s migration is reminding me of something that’s important to consider when you’re dealing with biological phenomena, particularly those that are dependent on weather: no matter how well you think you understand a system, nature has a way of throwing wrenches into your data collection.  She’s throwing a big wrench in the works this year!

I’m still hoping there will be one more surge in activity, a clear indication of the migration in the eastern US, before mid-October when the season usually ends.  It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks!

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

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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!

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

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

Friday 5: Bugs Books the Dog Ate

This is my dog Monkey:

Monkey

Monkey

Even though a lot of people think he’s a big, scary pit bull (he’s not), Monkey’s a big lump of a 65 pound lap dog wannabe that absolutely adores being around people.  Monkey spends the majority of his non-sleeping life trying to get one of two things: food or a good chest rub/head scratch from whoever is closest to him.  I love him to pieces and I did from the first moment I saw him at the shelter.  It was truly love at first sight, so I was ready and willing to nurse my new puppy through a long series of illnesses (parvo first, then several others) that started two weeks after I got him.

While he was sick, I never really got to see his true personality.  Boy did we see that personality as soon as he came through the last illness though!  Once he was well, what I’d thought was a nice, sedate dog revealed himself to be an incredibly energetic puppy.  That would have been okay, except he also had serious separation anxiety and hated our leaving the house without him.  So, for nearly a year, we would come home to scenes such as this:

naughty dogs

Naughty dogs.  This took FOREVER to clean up!

He chewed everything!  He destroyed a coffee table, dozens of pillows, several dog beds, a couple of couch cushions, a dozen pairs of shoes, and several items of clothing.  Worst of all, he realized early on that the best way to punish me for leaving him was to chew up my beloved books.  For months I would come home to at least one book with nibbled corners sitting in the middle of the living room floor.  My insect books were, unfortunately, particularly hard hit.  Let’s look at a few examples, shall we?

Comparative Biomechanics

Comparative Biomechanics

Comparative Biomechanics

I’m the kind of person who randomly decides that I need to learn something, like biomechanics, and buys a textbook.  I hadn’t even gotten to start reading this one before it fell victim to Monkey and appeared on the living room floor.  The damage is comparatively tolerable on this book at least.  The spine is mostly intact and none of the pages were harmed at all.  That was the best you could hope for at the time.  This book was also brand new when Monkey entered the chewing phase:

Physiological Systems in Insects

Physiological Systems in Insects

Physiological Systems in Insects

This was recommended to me on Amazon at some point.  It sounded good and was actually relevant to what I do, so I bought it.  Then Monkey chewed the spine off.  The front cover is still physically attached to the book, but the back cover is not.  I intend to repair this one eventually, but I never seem to get around to buying the book repair tape I need to do the job properly.  Other books did not get the proper treatment, such as…

Dragonflies of the World

Dragonflies of the World

Dragonflies of the World

Duct tape really doesn’t make a good book repair material, as much as I love the stuff.  The sad thing about this book: it was the SECOND copy of it that Monkey ate!  He absolutely destroyed the first one, so I bought a used copy on Amazon to replace it.  I carefully sprayed it with bitter apple spray and set it lovingly on the shelf.  Two days later it was out on the living room floor with the covers laying 10 feet away.  Buying a third copy was going to be too expensive because it’s out of print, so I just slapped some duct tape on and hoped it would work.  It’s a little sticky, but it’s otherwise holding up alright still.

Living Jewels

Living Jewels

Living Jewels

Second copy of this book too!  Darned dog…

Dragonflies of North America

Dragonflies of North America

Dragonflies of North America

In this last example, you’ll notice that there is no cover at all on this book.   This is Dragonflies of North America and at the time that Monkey ate both the front and back covers and the spine of this book, the cheapest used copy I could find was close to $400.  Hence, I tidied it up and put just the text block back on my shelf.  Happily, a new edition of this book is coming out soon, so I can replace my sad little topless book with something new and shiny.  Can’t wait for that day!

About a year after Monkey started his chewing phase, he suddenly stopped eating books.  We would come home to chewed books once a month, then once every 3 months.  It was like a switch was flipped and book chewing was simply turned off.  I like to think he realized that chewing up books wasn’t doing any good, that we were still going to leave him regardless of what he chewed.  Maybe he finally realized that even if we left him, we would always come back.  Whatever the reason, I’m so glad those days are behind us!  Now, he’s okay with our leaving.  He hasn’t chewed a book in ages.  And if any of you were wondering why I put up with his chewing up my stuff every time I left the house for a year, this is why: nothing beats coming home to a happy, healthy dog who tackles you the moment you get home – every time – to let you know how much he missed you.  It was worth trading a few books for the sappy little love of a dog he’s become.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Not an Ant

When I photographed this animal…

Antlike flower beetle

Antlike flower beetle

… I could have sworn it was an ant.  I knew something looked a little odd about it, but I didn’t stop to think about it and posted it on Flickr with a caption stating that it was an ant.  Thankfully, Matt Bertone set me straight!  It’s not an ant at all.  Instead, it’s an ant mimicking beetle in the family Anthicidae!  That is one crazy good ant mimic.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.  You think you have it all figured out and along comes a beetle like this.  :)

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

BugFest!

mantid

Mantid

I’ve written about how I love doing outreach events several times in the past, so it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to participate in one of the biggest insect festivals in the country.  BugFest is a gigantic celebration of insects and their arthropod relatives put on each year by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the museum where I work.  This event is truly huge: over 30,000 people visit the museum on the day of BugFest alone.  Just imagine: 30,000+ people crammed into a museum to learn about bugs!  I absolutely loved it, so let me walk you through my experience.

I started my day with a fantastic mantid (this year’s BugFest theme insect) when I picked it up from my coworker’s house for use in the Prairie Ridge booth:

Brunneria borealis

Brunneria borealis

That’s Brunneria borealis, the stick mantid.  They’re native to North Carolina and are one of the coolest insects I’ve encountered here so far.  Most excitingly, they’re parthenogenetic, so there are no males in this species.  I packed this little guy (or gal) into my car with two other live mantids and the rest of the things that we needed for the Prairie Ridge exhibit at BugFest and off we all went!

Once I arrived at the museum, I quickly set up our table in the Nature Research Center (NRC – the new wing of the museum) so it would be ready when my coworker arrived and changed into my official BugFest staff t-shirt before heading up to the Arthropod Zoo.  The curator, Bill Reynolds, is a great guy and likes for his people to have the best possible day at BugFest.  We were given a lot of freedom to move around and fill in anywhere we were needed, so I spent a good part of the first hour wandering around the fourth floor of the museum talking to the other exhibitors.  I talked to the APHIS people about citizen science projects, learned that there are vet students who want to treat arthropod illnesses (imagine taking your tarantula to the vet – they’re trying to make that possible), did a mantid papercut under the direction of a local papercut artist, applauded the bookstore people for having aquatic insects in their coloring sheet collection, and viewed some live butterflies from the live butterfly exhibit across the hallway:

BugFest butterfly table

BugFest butterfly table – very early into the morning, before the big crowds started to arrive.

What a great range of things to see!  And that was just the fourth floor, the most sparsely filled space in the main museum building, too.

At that point it was time to see how my coworker was doing at our table in the NRC.  Everything was working well and people were excited about seeing the live mantids that we had on display, so I didn’t stay long.  I made a quick detour through the biodiversity lab:

Biodiversity lab

Biodiversity lab

… on my way back to the Arthropod Zoo.  One of the great things about the NRC are these labs, glass enclosed research spaces where scientists go about doing their science as usual, but behind glass where everyone can see them.  For BugFest, however, the research labs were open and people were streaming through.  There’s always something interesting happening in the lab pictured during these big museum events, so it’s a great place to visit.

I planned to check in at the Arthropod Zoo to see if anything specific needed to be done before making rounds to check on exhibitors, but I got sidetracked: Art Evans was there with his friend Chris Wirth, getting a behind the scenes tour from Bill.  I had made plans to have lunch with Art that day anyway, but I was delighted to talk with the three of them for ten or fifteen minutes.  Art’s book An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles has been one of my most treasured books since I was in high school, so I couldn’t have been happier to finally meet him.

I had promised that I would man the Prairie Ridge table so everyone else could have a lunch break, so I went back to the NRC.  The crowds were getting bigger at that point:

BugFest crowds

BugFest crowds!  This was the last photo I took of the crowds – after this it was so crowded I spent all my time simply trying to get from point A to point B and didn’t stop to take photos.

… so it was more difficult to get through.  It was worth it though: I had carefully scheduled my time at the table so that I could see the one talk I didn’t want to miss, Mark Moffett’s:

Mark Moffett

Mark Moffett in the Daily Planet Theater

The Daily Planet Theater has a 40 foot tall presentation screen and I’ve got to say that Mark Moffett fills that space beautifully!  He is a very entertaining speaker (I recommend his bot fly YouTube video as a great example of his speaking style, even though it’s quite gross) and seeing his National Geographic photos on that screen was really something.  I was lucky that the traffic to our booth was slow enough and we were close enough to the theater that I caught most of his talk.

Then it was time for lunch!  I spent the next hour chatting with Art and Chris over tasty Mediterranean food and it was an entirely pleasant hour.  I couldn’t have asked for better lunch companions!

After that, it was a whirlwind of activity.  I saw a brief talk that Bill gave on North Carolina’s insects, helped man the eastern Hercules beetle cart, chatted briefly with a friend I haven’t seen for a few years, manned the Prairie Ridge table for another hour, and packed everything up when I was done.  I helped organize a few things in the Arthropod Zoo and was headed out when BugFest’s organizer told me that one of my former Insect Behavior students had asked if I was around.  He’s a grad student in Wake Forest now, so I went to say hi before I left and was thrilled to see that he’s doing so well.  There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing one of your students (especially the good ones you really hope will go on and do something great) presenting their awesome research at something like BugFest.

What a great day!  I didn’t have a chance to see everything (and I barely even touched on the things I saw and learned here) and the crowds were absolutely insane after I got back from lunch, but I went home in a lovely euphoric state.  I learned new things, made some new professional contacts, promoted Prairie Ridge, got to play with cool bugs, talked to several people I know, and got to meet Art Evans.  My first BugFest was fantastic – and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

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