More Insect Haikus (Friday 5)

The insect activity was a bit sparse this week, in spite of some lovely warm days and some exciting things that happened.  Because there are so few insects to report, I’m going to share some haikus of recent insect and insect-related observations I’ve made over the past few weeks.  Hope you enjoy them!

Ode to the Fall Cankerworm

Female cankerworm

Wingless cankerworm
crawling up a maple tree,
lays her eggs while cold.

If you’ve followed my blog recently, you’ve already read about the fall cankerworms I’ve watched recently.  They disappeared from their usual spot for a couple of weeks during some very cold weather and an ice storm, but they’ve come back!  I was more excited about that than I probably should have been…

Burning the Prairie

Prairie burn

Snap crackle and pop,
winter prairie fire burns, 
insects flee the flames.

The natural resources guy at the field station leads a controlled burn of a third of the prairie every winter as part of the prairie maintenance, and it took place yesterday.  It’s always exciting to watch, but for the first time I noticed a lot of insects out and about near the burn area, some of which had clearly been roaming around in the ashes.  Made me think that the rabbits, cotton rats, and mice aren’t the only things that flee as the fire advances!  Interesting to see so many insects roaming around after the burn.

Stuff of Insect Nightmares

Brown headed nuthatch

Tap tap tap it goes,
the nuthatch looks for a treat,
insect under bark.

I’ve fallen in love with brown-headed nuthatches recently!  They’re adorable and it’s fun to watch them breaking off pieces of bark to get to the tasty insects hidden underneath.  They’re rather resourceful little birds!

Wasps in Winter

Wasp nest

Huge paper wasp nest,
high up in a winter tree.
Glad it’s cold today!

I got to go on a fantastically fun trip with a bunch of other environmental educators to the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge last weekend.  It’s an overwintering site for tens of thousands of tundra swans, snow geese, and red-winged blackbirds, and you can see flocks of 30,000-40,000 birds.  It’s absolutely and indescribably amazing!  But, I got excited about a few insect sightings as well.  I’m going to write about one of them in a longer blog post sometime soon, but one of the other women on the trip noticed the awesome wasp in the photo high in a tree.  It was truly massive, so I think both of us were actually just fine with being cold at that moment as it meant we weren’t going to be inundated by angry wasps while we milled around under their beautiful nest.

The Birds

Red winged blackbirds

The red-winged blackbirds
flying over winter fields
look like clouds of gnats.

I couldn’t resist throwing in this haiku about the red-winged blackbirds, even though it just alludes to insects.  There were just SO many of them at Pungo!  If any of you ever make it out to eastern North Carolina in the winter, it’s well worth a visit to Pungo or nearby Lake Mattamuskeet to see the birds.  The photo doesn’t give you a good sense of what it feels like to have several thousand birds swirling around in a huge mass in front of you only to have the entire flock fly right over your head only 10 feet above you.  It was like a black wall that was about to engulf you, but it swerved upward at the last moment and disappeared over the trees.  It was magical!

It’s winter, but there’s always great stuff to see outside and I’ve really been enjoying exploring recently.  Anyone want to take a stab at a winter themed haiku?  Pick any topic of your choice, so long as it focuses on winter.  Would love to read anything you come up with, so leave poems in the comments!


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

Dragonfly Haiku

Symetrum corruptum femaleIf there’s one thing that I find particularly appealing about Japan (and other Asian cultures), it’s the attitude the Japanese have toward dragonflies and damselflies.  In contrast to most Western cultures, cultures that have typically feared and hated dragonflies (look for a whole post about this soon!), the Japanese have a much more positive attitude about their odonates.  Dragonflies are seen as harbingers of life and prosperity, birth and renewal, happiness and strength.  Dragonflies inspire art, literature, textiles, and design.  They have also inspired many Japanese poets, especially those who compose haiku.  I love the neat, short little dragonfly haiku!  They are so happy and full of natural imagery that I find calming and good for the soul.  Last week was a busy one for me, so I’m going to kick off this week right by sharing some lovely dragonfly haiku.  Let’s all ease into the new work week together with a warm cup of green tea and some haiku, shall we?

But first, a few things to note about traditional Japanese haiku.  This should be obvious, but the standard form of the haiku (three lines with 5-7-5 short syllables) doesn’t always translate into the proper number of syllables in English.  That doesn’t diminish the essence of the poem as far as I’m concerned, but it explains why some Japanese haiku don’t fit the haiku form in English at all.  There were also rules regarding appropriate subject matter for haiku.  They were supposed to conjure up memories or feelings and usually featured natural subjects.  They were also supposed to include a word or phrase that indicated a season.  Dragonflies were popular subjects for haiku because they were associated with the spring and the fall and thus could act as the seasonal element in many poems.  One example seems to indicate the fall and the harvest:

Crimson pepper pod
add two pairs of wings, and look
darting dragonfly.
(by Basho) 

This one is a lot more obvious about the season:

The beginning of autumn
decided by
the red dragonfly.
(By Shirao)

As is this one:

Dyed he is with the
Color of Autumnal days,
O red dragonfly.
(by Bakusui)

Sometimes the poems evoke the beauty and wonder of both dragonflies and nature more than a specific season.  A good example:

The dragonfly!
Distant mountains reflected
in his eyes.
(by Issa)

Other Japanese haiku say something about the dragonflies themselves.  This haiku seems to conjure up images of a species that flies at dusk (prime time for swarming and other feeding activities!):

Dance, O dragonflies,
In your world
of the setting sun.
(poet unknown) 

Combat between male dragonflies is common around ponds and streams as each tries to attract mates by defending territories.  This behavior has been immortalized as haiku:

Meeting in flight,
how wonderfully do the dragonflies
glance away from each other!
(poet unknown) 

Can’t you just feel the dragonflies coming together and sizing each other up before one male gives way to the stronger male?  It certainly conjures up this image for me!

Catching dragonflies has been a very popular activity for Japanese children for hundreds of years.  (A friend once sent me an article about a traditional method of capturing dragonflies with nothing but a short thread tied to two small rocks!).  The popularity of this activity and the joy it brings the participants are clear in these two poems:

Catching dragonflies!
I wonder where he
has gone today.
(by Chiyo of Kaga)

The naked child has been
catching dragonflies at the road crossing,
heedless of the noon sun!
(poet unknown) 

And last, I give you an example of a haiku that shows how much haiku writers appreciate the dragonfly:

have you come
to save us haiku poets?
red dragonfly
(by Issa)

Ahhh…  What a lovely quiet celebration of dragonflies!  There’s nothing quite like a dragonfly haiku to help you appreciate the natural world.  But I think I need to contribute something original here too, so I wrote my own haiku.  Let’s see if you can figure out the behavior and season is conjures:

Northerly wind blows,
Dragonfly moves slowly south,
Going to warm home.
(by The Dragonfly Woman) 

The subject should be quite obvious to readers who have followed my little blog here for a while!

Anyone else want to contribute a dragonfly haiku?  Or a haiku about another insect?  I’d love to hear what the rest of you can come up with, so feel free to add your haiku as comments below.  Have a great week everyone!


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

Ode to an Odonate on Valentine’s Day

I’m stepping WAY outside my usual comfort zone for this post and trying my hand at a little poetry!  To the dragonfly Pantala flavescens (the wandering glider) on Valentine’s Day:

Pantala flavescens flying

Pantala flavescens (wandering glider) flying

Ode to an Odonate

Oh Pantala flavescens!
How your mighty wings
carry you on the wind,
taking you further than
most of your kind
can only dream,
and gliding
across continents
and vast oceans
and the field behind
the farmer’s house.
Your titanic eyes see
the tiny animals
on which you feast,
the air a veritable smorgasbord
of delicious delicacies
that you sample voraciously
until you’ve had your fill.

And, oh!
How happy
your circular unions,
living depictions of
the circle of life
to which you owe your existence,
as do we all.

Oh, Pantala flavescens,
scourge of biting insects,
our unsung and unappreciated
defender of humanity,
plucking us from the grips
of cold death
at the hands of pathogens,
expecting nothing
in return but satiety.
We salute you!

Long live Pantala flavescens!
Your beauty unsurpassed,
your habits alarming and pure,
your grandeur supreme
and everlasting.
Fly forever at
the edges of cool pools
across the lands,
and into the future.

Pantala flavescens

A wandering glider (Pantala flavescens)

This poem was inspired by a fabulous Valentine’s-themed Twitter campaign promoting biodiversity and conservation called Love Species.  If you wish to participate in their campaign too, it’s easy!  Visit the link above, find your favorite of the animals listed in the ARKive collection of images, and tell everyone on Twitter which is your favorite and why.  Makes sure to include the hashtag #lovespecies so that others will be able to find your favorites.  And if you don’t know what ARKive is, it’s worth browsing their site even if you don’t want to participate in Love Species!  The goal of ARKive is to document life on Earth by collecting the best wildlife photography and movies and archiving them.  They then publicly share these brilliant images in hope of inspiring people to appreciate and conserve the organisms that share our planet.  The organization has some really big names in biology, photography, film making, education, etc. supporting their efforts and the results are stunning.  ARKive is definitely worth a look!

I wanted to take Love Species a step further and declare my undying love for one of the species represented on ARKive for my Valentine’s Day post!  Valentine’s scream poetry to me, so it seemed appropriate to make my declaration in poetic form.  I used to write a lot of poems when I was a teenager (LOTS of poems – I needed something to do in all those study halls I was forced to sit through!), but I haven’t done it for a long time.  I also never shared my poems because, well, I don’t know why exactly.  I guess it made me nervous to think that someone else might read one and hate it.  To that end, to any of you sticklers who read my poem: please note that I am fully aware that my poem is not truly an ode because it doesn’t have the proper structure nor the correct (i.e. any!) rhyming scheme.  But how can anyone possibly pass up the chance to name their poem Ode to an Odonate?!  :)

I encourage everyone to publicly declare their love for a species!  There are so many ways you could do this too and you don’t certainly need to use Valentine’s as an excuse.  Write a blog post, buy a t-shirt with your favorite organism and wear it proudly, or post a fabulous photo you’ve taken to Flikr.  Just get it out there!   Love a species and share it with the world and maybe you’ll inspire others to do the same.

Happy Valentine’s to everyone!


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