Friday 5: My Other Hobbies

Okay, this post is going to be completely non-scientific, but I want to post it anyway.  Be forewarned!

When I’m not working, spending time with friends or family, or photographing things, I typically have  SOMETHING in my hands I’m working on.  I am a huge craft geek.  I don’t think I am an expert at any of the crafts that I do, but I enjoy the process of creating something from raw materials regardless of how the final product turns out.  It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that insects make their way into a lot of the crafts I do!  I think insects are beautiful and, apart from a few “cute” insects like butterflies, ladybugs, and dragonflies (I really don’t understand why dragonflies make the “cute” insect list…), they are entirely underrepresented in most crafts.  So, I make insect things.  Today I’m going to share a few projects that I’ve particularly enjoyed making.  Please note that I only photograph the things I make so that I remember what they looked like after I give them away (because I give nearly everything I make to someone else), so these photos are FAR from spectacular.


I am hard on clothes.  Any biologist that does field work is going to have an occasional catastrophic wardrobe malfunction, and I am no exception.  However, I am also a tremendous clutz and I walk too close to walls, so I have ripped more holes in knees and torn more pockets entirely off by catching them on doorknobs than I care to admit.  So, patching holes in my clothes is something I have to do on a semi-regular basis.  But why settle for a boring patch when you can embroider an awesome invertebrate one?  Though this isn’t an insect, it IS an invertebrate and it IS aquatic, so it’s my very favorite patch to date:

Daphnia patch

Daphnia patch

Is there anything cuter than Daphnia?  I think not!  And how many people have Daphnia embroidered on their pants?  Probably not very many.  I’m sure some people think I’m weird for sporting a large Daphnia on my pants, but I don’t care.  I think it’s fun!

Block prints

One of my very favorite things to do is carve things.  I don’t know why exactly, but one day when I was 10 or so, I picked up a piece of wood and a pocket knife and two hours later had a pretty decent kachina doll on my hands.  I was hooked from that moment on!  Block printing is my very favorite art form entirely because it involves carving things.  I have a limited ability to draw so my prints tend to be rather simple, but I enjoy it anyway.   This was my first attempt at a large print:

Luna moth print

Luna moth lino block print

It was too boring with just the outline, so I turned the series of prints into mixed media pieces with the block print as the base, guache for the color fills, and metallic marker for the detail on the body.  I like the way they turned out.


I have always enjoyed decorating t-shirts, ever since I was a kid.  I use a variety of techniques from drawing directly on the shirt with Sharpies or bleach to screenprinting to using my linoleum blocks to stamp the design on.  For this shirt, I painted the rectangle with metallic silver paint (because silver glitter paint = feminine) and then block printed the beetle on top:

Dung beetle shirt

Dung beetle shirt

I have a thing for dung beetles.  They have the most beautiful, elegant shapes yet spend most of their lives seeking, forming, rolling, and otherwise working with dung.  I also really like the juxtaposition of entirely non-girly things with super girly things.  Hence, dung beetle printed on a women’s tee with glittery paints.


My second favorite artistic medium behind linoleum is metal.  I’ve done everything from casting shapes from molten metal to upcycling soda cans.  You can make really fun luminaries by drilling holes in empty, clean cans, though they are surprisingly time-consuming to make.  I timed how long it took me to make this one as an argument against my sister making luminaries for her wedding:



I’m sure they would have been beautiful at her evening reception, but she had dozens of other projects planned and that simple little dragonfly took me close to an hour to do with a hand drill.  Probably would have gone faster with a drill press, but neither I nor my sister have one.  (Yet at least.  I’ve had a drill press on my Christmas wish list for 3 years now. Someday…)


When I’m in the mood for a fiddly project that takes a long time, I always start a new handmade book.  But, they’re a ton of fun to make!  This the only book I’ve made that I’ve kept for myself, and only because it is covered with this amazing paper one of my best friends sent me a while back.  The paper features three different aquatic bugs, including two of my all-time favorite insects:

Blank book

Aquatic insect covered book

Coolest paper ever?  I made this book quite a while ago, but still haven’t used it for anything.  Has you ever gotten that feeling where you have a blank book and are paralyzed by the possibilities of what you can put inside?  I should just suck it up and use this book for taking meeting notes at work because my current meeting notebook get a lot of use.  Otherwise, I’m going to spend forever trying to come up with something “good enough” to put in my aquatic insect book…

Do any of you do any sort of insect crafts or artwork?  Got photos online somewhere?  If so, I would LOVE to see what you’ve done!  Just leave a comment below and I’ll be right over to take a look.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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!


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

Friday 5: Making a Bee House from Recycled Wood


A native bee I came across recently.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for bees, especially native (i.e. non-honey bee) bees.  I like them so much, in fact, that I considered studying bees in grad school when I first started.  Luckily, I have a friend who is a native bee expert.  One of the many things I’ve learned from her is how many cavity nesting bees there are in the world, bees that don’t build their own nests.  Instead, they fly around looking for suitable pre-existing cavities, holes made by other creatures.  They lay their eggs in these cavities and provision the nests with food before sealing them up.  The larvae/pupae develop inside and then chew their way out of the nest when they become adults before flying off and starting the whole process over again.

One great way to attract native cavity nesting bees to an area is to give them a lot of cavities that they can use for nests.  You can do this by making a bee house!  My friend has made tons of bee houses and writes about to make them on her blog, and I decided I finally wanted to make one this year.  However, I didn’t have a piece of wood that was deep enough to make the right sort of cavities.  I also didn’t want to buy a whole new board because my yard is small and I don’t really need more than one bee house.  Then I remembered the big pile of cut tree branches in my back yard.  Last summer, a HUGE branch from my eucalyptus tree fell during a storm and I cut it up and piled the pieces in the yard.  They were still there, and I thought that if I clumped a bunch of them together, they just might work!

For this week’s Friday 5, I present you with 5 steps I took to make a bee house from recycled tree branches.  This was a very easy project and took less than an hour altogether.  Here we go:

Step 1.  Gather supplies and equipment


Supplies and equipment

You can use hand tools to make a bee house like mine, but it’s going to take forever.  I used a power saw (just a little jigsaw – a table saw or circular saw will work well too!) and a power drill (or a drill press – oh, how I would love a drill press!) to speed things up.   You’ll need drill bits (I used 1/4 and 7/32 inch bits), a sanding block or power sander with medium grit sandpaper, and some jute twine.  You of course also need some dry tree branches.  Some of my branches were about 3 inches in diameter and others were less than 1 inch.  Use several different sizes if you have them!

(If you’re going to make one of these bee houses, it’s a good idea to pull out some safety equipment too, at least a dust mask and safety glasses.  If you have a workbench, use it to clamp your pieces down while you cut and drill to keep your hands well out of the way of your power tools.  As with any project involving power tools, please be very careful that you don’t accidentally remove a finger as you remove parts of the branches with your saw.  It’s probably going to hurt a lot if you do.  Your fingers also work just fine without perforations, so keep your drill far from them.)

Step 2: Cut the branches into equal length pieces

Cut your branches into pieces.  You want to have several nearly cylindrical pieces, so cut off any smaller branches coming off the main stem.  I cut 7 inch long pieces using my jigsaw.  It’s okay if they’re not perfectly even or exactly the same length.  Sand any sharp pieces down so the edges are smooth.

Step 3: Drill holes


Drilled branches

I made two different sized holes (different sizes will attract different bees!) in my tree branches.  I made my holes about 5 inches long, which is a little short for some bees, but I didn’t want to buy special long drill bits just to make my bee house.  6 inch holes are better for some bees, so if you have the long drill bits, now’s a good time to use them!  I left some space between the holes in the larger branches and only drilled one hole in the smaller branches.

Step 4: Wrap and tie branches together


Wrapped branches.

Lay a long piece of jute twine on the ground and start stacking your drilled branches on top of them, centering the pieces over the twine.  Make sure all the holes face the same direction!  Tightly wrap the twine around the whole bunch of branches 7 or 8 times and tie off with a secure knot.  You don’t want any loose pieces sliding around, so wrap the twine around the smaller branches as you’re stacking if you think they’ll come loose.  My branches are in a roughly rectangular layout, but you could make a circle or another shape easily too.

Step 5: Hang your new bee house!

completed bee house

Completed bee house.

After I wrapped the bundle of branches together, I cut a long piece of jute twine, folded it in half, and tied it to the twine on either side of the bee house.  This left a long loop I could use to hang my bee house.  I hung my house from a hook I embedded in my tree a while back.  I hung mine in the shade because I worry about my bees steaming to death inside the branches in the sun, but it may be better to hang the house in the sun in cooler climates.

That’s it!  Very easy to make.  I don’t know whether my design will work or not, but I’m hopeful I’ll have some bees checking in soon.  If my bee house is a success, I’ll write another post highlighting some of my visitors this summer!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011

Friday 5: My Favorite Insect Books for Kids and Pre-Teens

I liked making my list of books last week, so I’m going to continue the theme this week by focusing on children’s books.  I love children’s books!  I don’t have kids and all of my friends with kids live far away from me, but I still love to wander through children’s book aisles and see what they have to offer.  Children’s books have a way of condensing important concepts down into easily digestible chunks that I find admirable and I think everyone should read them.

Kids often LOVE insects, so there are tons and tons of great insect books out there for kids and pre-teens.  Here are five of my favorites from my own collection!

Children’s Classic: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric CarleWho doesn’t love The Very Hungry Caterpillar?  I was hooked on this book when I was a kid, and now I give it to my friends as a baby gift so they can share the love with the next generation.  I think it’s brilliant!  The illustrations are outstanding, the text is perfect for young kids, and there’s an educational message to boot.  Eric Carle is beloved by millions of children for a reason: his books are darned good!  If there’s one children’s insect book everyone should have in their collection, it’s this one.  (Carle wrote several other entomologically themed books as well, so I encourage you to check them out!)

Insect Poetry: Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman

Joyful Noise by Paul FleischmanThis book is a ton of fun if you’re a kid!  It was released when I was in 5th grade, so I was just the right age to fully appreciate it when it was first given to me.  Joyful Noise is a collection of lovely Newbury Award winning insect poems accompanied by drawings.  What makes this book better than your average insect poetry book is that the poems are meant to be read aloud – and by two people.  In my experience, you really need to practice with your poetry partner to pull one of these poems off well, but trying is half the fun!  And, you don’t even realize you’re learning something in the process.

Great Insect Art for Children: Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman

Song of the Water BoatmanThis is my absolute favorite book for kids!  A friend of mine told me about it while we were in the field collecting insects for the National Park Service.  I knew I had to have it and I hunted it down the moment we returned to civilization.  I was instantly smitten!  Like Joyful Noise, this book is full of poems, this time focusing on aquatic animals.  But this book is ultimately my favorite children’s book because it is full of complex and expertly executed woodcut prints as illustrations.  Woodcuts and linocuts are among my very favorite art forms, so I think the illustrations make this book phenomenal.  And I’m not the only one – Song of the Water Boatman won a Caldecott Medal for its illustrations, securing its place in history as one of the most spectacularly illustrated books ever!  The poems teach kids about life in ponds and feature a lot of information about aquatic insects.  As you might imagine,  I rarely come across a book that combines my passion for aquatic insects with my love of woodcut art prints, but this book accomplishes it spectacularly.  Buy it, read it, love it.  Send it to your friends and family with nature loving kids.  I certainly do!

Insect Crafts for Kids: Crafts for Kids Who Are Wild About Insects by Kathy Ross

Crafts for Kids Who Are Wild About InsectsImagine that you are doing an outreach activity for kids that involves insects, or going to your child’s classroom to teach them something about science using insects.  You need a hook, something to get them really into the subject.  How about having them make the sucking mosquitoes from pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and eye droppers featured in this book?  I’ve been into crafts since I was about 4 years old and I’ve read hundreds of craft books for both children and adults over my lifetime.  As far as I’m concerned, this is THE best insect craft book for kids.  It’s great because it is full of wildly creative craft ideas that require only simple materials, are easy for almost any kid to do (that kid in the back who eats glue and can’t draw a straight line? He can make the things in this book!), and are surprisingly educational.  And kids love to make the things in this book!  I might not have my own kids, but I’ve done a ton of outreach activities with all ages of children.  The crafts in this book are a huge success every time I incorporate them into my sessions.  I highly recommend it!

For Older Children or Pre-teens: There’s a Hair in My Dirt! by Gary Larson

There's a Hair in My Dirt!Yes, THAT Gary Larson, creator of the entomologist-beloved The Far Side.  And because it’s Larson, save this book for older children or pre-teens.  This story isn’t about insects, but it does feature another invertebrate, the humble earthworm.  The narrative is quite cute and innocent on the surface, but it has darker undercurrents that are wickedly pro-environment and vividly illustrate the reasons why its necessary for humans to understand our world.  It also highlights the ecosystem concept, how things in an environment tie together with each organism playing a specific role, and illustrates how things can go terribly wrong if humans interfere.  The story is a little dark, but it makes some excellent points that everyone should acknowledge.  I use excerpts from this book to explain ecosystem concepts to nearly everyone – kids, teens, and adults.  It’s clever and entertaining, but it teaches you something very valuable about the world in the process.  And, it’s done in Larson’s signature style, so you know it’s going to be good!

There are so many other great insect books for kids out there that I might have to do another post on the subject.  For next week’s Friday 5, however,  I’ll get away from the literature and head back into the realm of insects.  I hope you’ll check back!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010