Friday 5: New Books

I recently read an article on NPR’s website about the Christmas Book Flood in Iceland.  Apparently, the people of Iceland are huge readers and giving a loved one a book has been considered a really classy, wonderful gift ever since World War II.  I ask for and receive a lot of books every year myself, so I think this is a marvelous tradition!  I have my own little one-woman Christmas Book Flood each year.  I received about 20 books altogether this year, including several about insects and other invertebrates.  These are the ones I am most excited about reading (click on the title to view the book on Amazon):

Every living ThingEvery Living Thing by Rob Dunn

I had heard that Rob Dunn was an excellent writer before I met him in person and my limited experience with his writing (mostly work e mails – woo! – and the occasional guest blog post) convinced me that I really needed to read some of his books.  So, I asked for Every Living Thing for Christmas because I like the subject matter: the classification of life on Earth.   There are some truly crazy stories about the quest to classify life and this is something that has fascinated me for a long time, so how could I resist?  I love these kinds of science stories!  And I know Dunn’s storytelling ability is going to make the book a really  great read.  I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, but I already know I’m going to love it.

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet WormsHorseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms by Richard Fortey

I read one of Fortey’s other books a few years ago, one about his time at London’s Natural History Museum, and was entranced.  That book made me long to work at a natural history museum so that I could have some of the same amazing experiences that Fortey had during his tenure in London.  However, I expect I will like this book even more.  Fortey is a paleontologist who specializes in trilobites, but this book deals with living creatures, those that have existed in a highly primitive state for many millions of years, and describes how they reveal the evolutionary processes that have shaped life on Earth.  I am really excited to learn about the most primitive plants and animals, horseshoe crabs, chitons, hellbenders, clubmosses, and the like.  These sorts of ancient creatures are just so darned interesting.  I know I’m going to love this book!

Sex Drugs and Sea SlimeSex, Drugs, and Sea Slime by Ellen Prager

Anyone who had a subscription to National Geographic as a kid will probably confess to having some level of fascination with marine invertebrates.  Who doesn’t love a good cuttlefish or nautilus?  This book is, according to Prager’s introduction, intended to be an entertaining introduction to the lives and survival of a variety of sea creatures (including a lot of invertebrates) and how their place in the environment is important to mankind.  I’ve heard many bizarre stories of marine invertebrates in the past (lobsters are AMAZING!), so I’m excited to read more of them.  The fact that the author is a marine biologist only makes me more excited.  Who knows more than a marine biologist when it comes to the strange, amazing, and hilarious lives of the creatures of the deep?

How Not to be EatenHow Not to Be Eaten by Gilbert Waldbauer

How can anyone resist that title?  In this book, the wonderful entomologist/writer Waldbauer introduces the reader to the world of insect predator-prey relationships and some of the amazing adaptations insects have undergone to both find food and prevent being eaten.  I’m sure the book is full of poisons and traps and death-defying chases – rather like a James Bond book, if it were filled with insectoid characters instead of British people.  Insects are just so weird!  I really enjoyed Waldbauer’s A Walk Around the Pond, so I expect to love this one just as much.  As a scientist who works with large, predatory insects, I am eager to explore the topic in more depth.

The-Sound-of-a-Wild-Snail-EatingThe Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

This is the only book not written by a scientist on my list here, but I feel that it needs to be included with the rest.  This book is less about science than it is about the joys of close observation of the natural world.  The author, Bailey, was bedridden with a mysterious virus when she received a potted violet from a friend.  The friend had also tucked a snail under the leaves  and Bailey soon found herself enthralled by her snail’s behaviors.  The title of the book is based on an early experience with the snail, one in which she fed a violet to the little creature and realized she could hear it chewing the petals.  Bailey soon created a bigger, better habitat for her snail and began to learn everything she could about it, so the book does delve into the science of snails to some extent.  I love the idea of this story, a person finding some meaning in an otherwise terrible experience through something as small and seemingly insignificant as a snail.  It makes me happy when people become attached to the spineless creatures of the world, so I think this is going to be a thoroughly enjoyable book to read.

But before I read any of these books, I have to finish my current book and one completely frivolous book: Redshirts by John Sclazi.  I know I’m going to love it, but considering my husband told me, immediately upon opening the book mind you, that I had to read it immediately and then I had to let him read it as soon as I was done, I have a feeling he really bought it for himself.  Ever get that feeling when you open gifts?  :)

Did anyone else get any good insect or science books for Christmas?  I’d love to hear about your personal Christmas Book Floods in the comments below!  You all have great book recommendations, so I’m interested to hear about what you’re looking forward to reading.

(In the interest of full disclosure, none of the images in this post are my own.)


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

Friday 5: Holiday Shopping for That Special Entomologist on Your List

The holidays are approaching and everyone is about to make a mad dash to shopping centers to do Christmas shopping.  Me, I do most of my shopping online or make handmade gifts just so I don’t have to brave the malls and other stores before Christmas.  (I hate, hate, hate malls in general, but when you have to walk half a mile across the parking lot only to face panicked, stressed hoards of people…  No thank you!)  For those of you with that special entomologist or bug lover in your life, I thought I might provide a handy-dandy holiday shopping guide for the hexapod inclined people of the world.  Behold, the Entomologist Christmas List!  Because it’s Friday, there will be the standard Friday 5 appropriate 5 categories, but there are a few choices within each category as an extra special holiday treat.  Feel free to skip right to the section that interests you as this will be a long post!

The Fashionable Entomologist

In my experience, no self-respecting entomologist will ever say no to a great bug t-shirt, so if you have a tight budget you can’t go wrong.  I personally recommend the Moth Collector tee from Threadless:

moth collector

It’s modern, hip, and isn’t white, all points in its favor as far as I’m concerned.  I have one of these shirts and can say from personal experience that the Threadless shirts are made of lovely, soft fabric and they’re great to wear.  I am also very fond of The Bug Geek’s line of tees:


I love Crystal’s acorn weevil photo and it makes a marvelous graphic for a shirt!  You’ll also be supporting a great ento grad student/insect blogger, and if you’ve ever been a grad student you know how tight cash can be.  Every little bit helps!  And don’t forget to accessorize!  Those with a little more to spend might consider this awesome, spectacularly handmade silver mayfly belt buckle:

mayfly belt buckle

It’s hip, rugged – perfect for the manly, outdoorsy entomologist.  Belt buckles are cool.  But maybe your entomologist leans more toward the girly side…  Try these fabulous handmade weevil hair combs:

weevil comb

I’ve got a set of dung beetle bobby pins made by the same woman.  I LOVE them!  Highly recommended.  And, if you’re like me, you can wear your enormous insect belt buckle AND your delicate little dung beetle hairpins on the same day and really rock the insect attire!

The Well Decorated Home

You’ll often find a lot of bug decor in the homes of entomologists, so if your special bug fanatic is one of them, bug decor can make a good gift.  Did you know that Alex Wild is having a sale on select photographs for the holidays?  The sale photos are incredibly priced, and might make his work accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it.  My second favorite of Alex’s photos (right behind the whirligig beetle), this one…

honeypot ants

…is part of the sale.  Woo!  Imagine the joy your entomologist will get from seeing one of Alex’s photographic beauties on their wall every day!  But maybe your bug geek is into more graphic representations of insects.  In that case, you really can’t go wrong with a Thomas Shahan original insect woodcut, such as his gorgeous tiger beetle print:

tiger beetle woodcut

If you read my blog, you likely know Thomas’ name as one of the Bug Shot instructors and a phenomenal photographer of jumping spiders.  He is equally skilled as a woodcut artist and does beautiful work.  But buying art for other people can be difficult if you don’t know that person REALLY well.  Or maybe your recipient simply has more whimsical or three-dimensional tastes.  I love these little nickel wall dragonflies:

dragonflies on the wall

They remind me of a dragonfly swarm, so I might be a little biased.  :)  Still, how awesome would it be to have a set of these swirled across a wall?  If your special entomologist is still a kid at heart, you can go even more low brow and fun and gift this fun firefly in a jar:

electronic firefly

I can’t tell you how much happiness my butterfly in a jar has given me.  I keep it on my computer desk so that I can tap the lid and watch the little animatronic butterfly flutter around inside the jar more often than I like to admit.  It’s a great distraction when you need a quick mental break from work.  And think of how great that little firefly would look in a dark room!  This is a great little toy that lets you relive your childhood without waking up to a jar of dead fireflies in the morning.  Plus, it’s currently on sale!

The Photography Addict

A lot of entomologists gravitate toward photography eventually, so if you’re able to afford it (or you suddenly win the lottery), I’ve got a few suggestions.  The Canon MP-E 65 lens is an obvious choice:

Canon MP-E

Several of the better known insect bloggers (Alex Wild and Ted MacRae, for example) have this lens and use it very effectively.  It’s not supposed to be an easy lens to work with and might require a bit of practice, though most insect photographers won’t mind seeking out more photo taking opportunities to build their skills.  But, the MP-E lens is very expensive and requires that your recipient already have a Canon DSLR camera body.  Canon also offers a line of great point and shoot cameras that will still let you take some awesome shots, the PowerShot G series:

Canon G15

I have a Canon PowerShot G11 myself, which is two models out of date now, but I love it.  The G11 and the G12 both feature a swiveling screen that allows you to see what you’re photographing from all sorts of awkward angles, something that you’ll find yourself doing now and again if you like shooting insects.  The newest model, the G15 pictured above, is great but it unfortunately does not have the swivel screen.  Sigh…  However, the G12 is likely to start going on sale here pretty soon.  If you see one for less than $400 new, you’re getting a good deal!

I am a Nikon gal myself (though I wouldn’t say no if someone wanted to give me a Canon body and/or an MP-E lens!), so I am fond of the Nikon R1 flash system:

R1 flashes

While most people will tell you that Canon is the way to go if you want to photograph insects (largely due to that one lens), the Nikon macro flash system will make your Canon loving photo buddies swoon.  It comes with two wireless flashes that you can position anywhere you’d like along the ring – or remove entirely from the camera as needed without any special adapters or cables.  It really is a great flash system, and one reason I love my Nikon gear.

It can be really fun to photograph insects in whiteboxes from time to time!  If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly photo gift, there are several commercially available whitebox options, such as this one:


There are cheaper models than this on the market (like the one I own), or you can make your own whitebox out of a cardboard box and printer paper for far less than this swanky model, but this one looks really nice.   My whitebox also has the whole front of the box open so the insects readily escape if I don’t pay close attention.  The whitebox above looks like a great way to both contain the insects you want to photograph AND provide a crisp white background that will highlight even the most drab insect’s beauty.

The Bookworm

You probably all know that I’m a huge book lover.  Seriously, I have 9 large bookcases FULL of books, plus a Kindle filled with hundreds more.  It would feel wrong if I didn’t mention at least a few books on my holiday gift guide!  You really can’t go wrong with field guides.  Just pick a topic that the special entomologist in your life loves and look for something appropriate for the region where he/she lives.  I, for example, would love for someone to send me either the Field Guide to Freshwater Invertebrates of North America or Damselflies of the Northeast for Christmas.  They’re great books!

Coffee table books can make fun gifts too.  I recently discovered a photography book called A World in One Cubic Foot that I’m very excited about.  It features photos of organisms that were found in a one cubic foot area over a 24 hour period – and the results are AMAZING!  I added it to my personal Christmas wishlist.  Anything by Piotr Naskrecki is well worth the money as well.  I especially love The Smaller Majority, though Relics is also a superb book.

For the right kind of person, vintage entomology texts can make great gifts!  Find a great used bookstore in your area and take a look in the insect section and you might walk away with an old gem of an insect book.  I especially love the ones that have lots of engravings in them.  Every now and again you’ll come across something really special, like a book with hand printed engravings.  These can be very expensive if the bookstore knows what it’s doing or specializes in old/rare books, but library book sales, rummage sales, thrift stores, and garage sales can sometimes yield very cheap, very interesting finds!  Plus, it’s fun to hunt for something and then find the perfect gift lurking under a pile of old toys.

The Adventurous gourmand

Last, but not least, I give you insect gift ideas for foodies!  There are tons of edible insects out there, if you know where to look.  Thai import shops can have some interesting options, such as this giant water bug chile dipping sauce:

Water bug dipping sauce

Honestly, I’m not even sure what you’d use this sauce for, but perhaps you can consider that part of the adventure!  The same website offers several other edible insects options, including bags of freeze-dried giant water bugs, centipede infused whiskey (though I really don’t recommend trying that – centipedes are venomous, and the bottle looks more like it belongs in a natural history museum than your kitchen…), and chocolate covered silkworm pupae.  Most of the imported edible insects have been dead for quite some time, however.  Let’s say you want to make chocolate chirp cookies for an insect loving giftee and you need some of these:


Head to your local pet store and buy bulk crickets there!  They’re in the reptile section usually, or sometimes with the fish.  You can also order them online from places like Fluker Farms.  The insects raised to be fed to reptiles and amphibians are generally safe for human consumption, though you might want to ask for more details about how the crickets or mealworms are reared just to be sure.

Once you have your delicious edible insects and/or insect infused beverages, you’re going to need something to serve them on/in.  I absolutely love Catherine Reece’s whimsical insect pottery, particularly her line of cockroaches:

cockroach mug

I drink about 10 cups of tea a day out of a mug just like this one!  Who wouldn’t want to drink tea out of a mug with cockroaches on it?  I am also very fond of these insect dishes by Laura Zindel Design:

insect dinnerware

The set claims to have a walking stick, a water strider, and a ladybug, though that’s actually a water measurer, a water strider, and a ladybug.  TWO aquatic insect plate options!  They’re just fabulous.  Expensive, so I am unlikely to ever have any of these beauties, but they sure are cool!

There are so many great options for the insect lover in your life!  I high recommend places like Etsy for cool, funky handmade insect things and check out the websites of your favorite insect photographers for awesome gift ideas.  Anthropologie often has some surprising insect finds, as do import shops.  People put insects on just about anything these days, so you’re bound to find something for the insect obsessed people on your list if you just look around.  I hope this list will at least get you started and give you a few ideas!

(In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t take a single one of these photos.)


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 ©

Damselfly Taxonomy Fail

People who know me in person learn one thing soon after they meet me (assuming they don’t know already): how to tell damselflies and antlions apart.  Even friends and relatives who have no interest whatsoever in insects still know how to tell these apart.  This is because the general inability of people to distinguish these two insects is one of my biggest pet peeves.  It really shouldn’t bother me – after all, the ratio of entomologists to non-entomologists in the world is probably tiny and I certainly don’t expect everyone to know more than a handful of basic facts about insects – but it bothers me nonetheless.  It bothers me so much, in fact, that people quickly learn the difference if they spend time with me.  It might have something to do with the fact that I loudly point out every instance of misidentified antlions masquerading as damselflies or dragonflies that I see.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that I see this mistake ALL THE TIME!  Drives me nuts, and the people who are with me when I rant about how antlions and damselflies aren’t the same thing tend to pick up on the differences really fast.  I think it’s a defensive mechanism.  If someone shopping with me preemptively points out an antlion misidentified as a damselfly, I am less likely to make a scene and embarrass them.  :)

I’m sure the vast majority of people in the world wouldn’t even notice how often antlions are mistaken for damselflies on products.  The only reason I notice is because I happen to really like damselflies and dragonflies and I actively seek products depicting them.  As an entomologist, people also give me insect gifts all the time.  Because I love odonates, I get more odonate gifts than anything else.  But not all of them actually depict dragonflies.  These are a small handful of things I’ve been given that had the word “dragonfly” somewhere on the label:


This was a wedding gift from one of my husband's friends.


I got two of these glass plates from my mom for my birthday in 2009



My sister gave me this shirt a few months ago. I'm thrilled that outdoor clothing maker Columbia is using insects in their designs, but...



One of my best friends' moms gave my husband and me two of these hand towels for our wedding.



This was the first thing my husband gave me after we started dating. He didn't know better at the time.

Did you notice what all of these things have in common?  If you didn’t, here’s a close up of the offensive body part:



Look at those antennae!  Big, long antennae!  Damselflies and dragonflies have short, bristly antennae.  They’re basically little hairs that stick off the front of their heads.  No adult odonates have long antennae, so as far as I’m concerned, none of the insects depicted in the items above are damselflies and are all antlions instead.  It might say “damselfly” on the label, but the people who named these products are wrong.  Wrong wrong wrong!

This pet peeve of mine is so stupid.  I don’t really care what insects are on the things people give me.  I will display nearly any insect in my home.  I am just as happy with things that have antlions on them, long, showy antennae and all, as I am with things with damselflies and dragonflies on them.  Antlions are fabulous insects worthy of being included on products for people to buy.  And I like every one of the gifts pictured in spite of the misidentification.  After all, someone I care about bought me something he or she thought I would like.  I’m darn well going to like it!

I also realize that antlions and damselflies look so similar that most people aren’t even aware that they’re two different animals.  Artists who make odonate images often don’t draw from life and assume that odonates have antennae like most other familiar insects.  It’s not a bad assumption.  Unless you’re an entomologist, there’s very little reason why you might be taught the difference between damseflies and antlions.  Still, it gets to me every time I see an antlion labeled as an odonate.  Ultimately, it all comes down to that label, the proof that the person designing the product doesn’t know what they’re putting on a t-shirt or assumes that the consumer won’t notice the difference.  And the really stupid part is that if there was no label identifying it as a dragonfly or damselfly, I wouldn’t even care! Like I said, the pet peeve is really stupid.  Wish I could get over it.  I welcome suggestions for how to do so!

Before I end my little odonates-don’t-have-long-antennae rant I just want to point out a few things.  Damselflies and antlions might look similar, but they are really nothing alike.  Odonate nymphs are aquatic while antlion larvae bury themselves in sand.  Odonates fly during the day while antlions fly at night.  Odonates can’t fold their wings flat over their backs while antlions can.  Antlions are holometabolous while damselflies are hemimetabolous, so they’re not even remotely closely related.    In fact, they are so distantly related that they have a taxonomy fail index value (as defined by Myrmecos) of 67.02.  That means that this misidentification is almost 3 times as bad as mistaking an opossum for a cat!

I imagine that all of you will now start noticing antlions misidentified as odonates.  Welcome to my world!  You will find them everywhere.  And if you ever happen to hear a loud woman in the next aisle complaining about long antennae on a damselfly shirt that she would have bought except she can’t bring herself to do it thanks to the misidentification, come say hi.  It’s probably me.  :)


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