Friday 5: From the Garden

I am in love with the native plant garden at work.  It’s full of beautiful flowers, and those flowers attract a lot of insects, so it’s a fantastic place!  I haul my camera out there and photograph insects sometimes when I have a little downtime and I’ve been surprised by the diversity of insects I’ve come across.  Here are a few of my favorite insects I’ve found out there so far:

Thick Headed Fly

Wasp Mimic

Wasp mimic fly. Family Conopidae, genus Physocephala

This fly is an amazing wasp mimic!  I honestly thought I was photographing a wasp and it wasn’t until I looked at the photo later and noticed that it didn’t have hind wings and had those little knobby structures (the halteres) instead, that I realized it was a fly.  What a beautiful insect!


Bumblebee on Milkweed

Bumblebee on milkweed

Most people probably don’t get as excited about bumblebees as I do, but I have always loved them.  In fact, when I started grad school I wanted to work with one of two insects: dragonflies or bumblebees.  I didn’t end up working on either, but that didn’t diminish my love for bumblebees one bit.  It’s so nice to be back in a place where I can see them regularly!  There are tons of bumblebees flying around the garden and if I didn’t have a million other things to do at work I could spend hours and hours watching them buzz about the flowers.

Tumbling Flower Beetle

Tumbling Flower Beetle

Tumbling flower beetle

I’d never seen one of these beetles before I came across this one!  I love the little torpedo shape.  They strike me as particularly cute for some reason.  I know hardly anything about these beetles, but I intend to fix that sorry state of affairs as soon as I have a few spare minutes to delve into some literature.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars

We had these in Arizona and I even knew exactly where I could find them on my campus, but I never quite seemed to make it over there to look for them.  Luckily, we have a woolly pipevine in the garden at work and the swallowtails have been going to town on it.  There are quite a few larvae happily munching away out there, and lots of adults flying about too.  As many of you know, I’m not all that fond of butterflies in general, but there’s something about a beautiful black butterfly that’s irresistible and the velvety texture of the larvae is wonderful.

Delta Flower Beetle

Delta Flower Beetle

Delta flower beetle

I was beyond excited when I saw this beetle!  Those colors make this one of the most beautiful beetles I’ve ever seen and, unfortunately, this is the one and only shot I got of this beetle before it flew away.  I was so happy it was even halfway in focus considering I had about 5 seconds to pull my camera out and get the shot before it flew off.  I really hope I get to see more of these.  What a stunning insect!

Clearly I’m still loving my new job and my new city.  Hope you’re all enjoying exploring my new area with me!


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

Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Although I am now working at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, my office isn’t actually at the Museum.  Instead, I’m housed at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, a great piece of land about 6 miles from the main Museum buildings.  It is “the backyard of the Museum” as it is intended to meet the outdoor education needs of the Museum and provide the scientists there with a field site where they can do research.  It’s a fantastic place to work too!  Allow me to take you on a partial tour.  I’m going to save the aquatic habitats for next week, so today is all about the prairie.

The PR staff works in a trailer just beyond the entrance gate, but it’s better than it sounds.  We’re surrounded by science books and field guides and educational materials and I work with the four nicest people on the planet.  I’m already starting to feel like part of a little family and I feed off everyone’s enthusiasm for their work and their Carolina home.  My coworkers LOVE what they do!  Plus, my desk overlooks a little piece of forest where there are all kinds of birds and insects flying around.  Nearly every time I look up from my computer I see something.  Because I’m so new to the state, it’s usually something I’ve never seen before too!  Today I saw what I am 99% sure was a red bellied woodpecker and a firefly.  The former was new, the latter was not, but both were exciting.

The trailer is certainly nothing to look at on the outside, but if you look right past it you see this:


The prairie!

Gorgeous, tall grasses!  PR was originally a cow pasture and has been restored to a more native condition, so to the best of my still rather limited knowledge that’s pretty much what this part of the country used to look like.  I think it is incredibly beautiful, and, even though I know there are numerous ticks out there just itching to latch their little mouthparts into my skin, I absolutely love that I get to wander around among the grass as part of my job.  As much as I loved the southwest, something about this just feels right.  Fluffy clouds, green as far as you can see, insects buzzing all around.  It’s just perfect.  Except for the ticks.  I did mention those, right?  :)

Further down the little road through the ecostation is the nature neighborhood garden.  It’s a demonstration garden that highlights how you can grow gardens to attract wildlife to your yard.  It’s also an example of a green space that uses water harvesting, rooftop gardening, and natural runoff control.  The garden is fenced and you enter through this amazing gate:

Garden gate

Garden gate. Notice the plants growing on top of the roof of the entrance!

Inside there are flowers (of course):


The garden

… and lots of insects:

soldier beetles

A pair of soldier beetles getting busy making new soldier beetles in the garden

… and a couple of little bog gardens.  One of the kids at a program I took part in last week found a dragonfly husk on the underside of one of the plants in the water garden:

Dragonfly leftovers

Dragonfly leftovers, after emerging as an adult

… so there are apparently some good insects in there.  There are also carnivorous plants in the water garden, bladderworts.  North Carolina is supposed to be one of the best places to find carnivorous plants in the US.  I’m going to have to find some of those for sure!  Carnivorous plants are just so cool.

A little further down the hill is the outdoor classroom:

Outdoor classroom

Outdoor classroom

It’s a fantastic building!  It’s an example of a green building built by a well-known architect who specializes in these sorts of structures (Frank Harmon) and built it using recycled materials and environmentally conscious products.  One of the great features of the building is that the support structures were designed with the resident black rat snakes in mind: they’ve got grooves so the snakes can climb up the beams and coil up along the foundation of the building.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that black rat snakes aren’t something I’m completely in love with and I’m probably going to have a heart attack the day I open one of the nest boxes:

Nest box

Nest box

… and find a rat snake who’s just eaten all the eggs/baby birds inside.  I’m hoping I’ll get over that because there are a lot of nest boxes:

birdhouses and turbine

Purple martin houses and the wind turbine

… and solar power and a wind turbine and harvested rainwater operated toilets.  It’s a really nice place to be as someone who cares about the environment.  As a biologist, I’m extra excited because there’s just so much life out there!  And I haven’t even shown you the aquatic habitats yet.  Oh, the dragonflies!  There are so very many dragonflies!  And you know how I was raving about seeing a comet darner a few weeks ago?  That was at one of the PR ponds.  But I’ll give you a look at the pond next week.  I think this is enough for today.

All in all, I am incredibly happy to be here and I think the future looks bright!  I hope you’ll all enjoy hearing about my adventures as I explore my new home and settle into my new job.  If you happen to live in the area, feel free to stop by and say hi!  And, if you want to learn about the plants and animals of the prairie, I am now the writer of What Time is it in Nature, a weekly feature on the PR website that highlights species or natural events at the ecostation.  I’m going to write about things other than insects occasionally there!  Bet you didn’t know I could do that.  :)


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Science Sunday will be late!

It’s been a busy week and I finally had a chance to spend a little time to do fun things like running errands with my husband yesterday.  As a result, I didn’t finish my blog post and Science Sunday will be late today.  To tide you over until the post goes up (and it’s going to feature a very interesting group of aquatic insects, the caddisflies), I offer this photo of a scene that will soon be making an appearance in Arizona:

Honey bee on palo verde blossoms

Honey bee on palo verde tree blossoms

Check back this evening for the Science Sunday post!


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Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Saguaro Bloom

One of the best parts of living in the Sonoran Desert are the cacti that the desert is known for: the saguaros.  I’ve always loved saguaros, but they are SPECTACULAR when they do this:

Saguaro flowers

Saguaro flowers - with bees!

Simply gorgeous!


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