Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Monitoring for Monarchs

At work we participate in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, a great citizen science project that aims to track monarch reproduction and populations through space and time.  We have a great group of volunteers that help us monitor, so each Wednesday we make a quick trip through the milkweed patch to look for monarch eggs, larvae, and adults.  Look at them go!

Monitoring for monarchs

Monitoring for monarchs

If you happen to be in the Raleigh, NC area and are interested in learning how to participate in MLMP, one of my coworkers and I will be hosting an MLMP training workshop at Prairie Ridge this Friday from 8am-noon.  We’d love to have you!

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

Moths All Night

Moth

Green cutworm moth, Anicla infecta

I hosted a public moth night for National Moth Week over the weekend.  I was really ready.  I had enough lights, traps, and baits to have about 8 moth viewing stations spread across the grounds.  I had a good 50 people signed up to come, several of whom were planning to stay the full 8 hours, and four entomologists ready to teach people about moths and help with identifications.  I had a computer ready to go so we could start uploading photos to a citizen science website and even had coloring sheets for the kids in case they got bored.  I was so excited!

You know what they say about the best laid plans.

Rosy maple moth

Rosy maple moth, Dryocampa rubidunda

I met the visitors out by the entrance gate and looked off into the distance.  There were some really dark clouds out there, but they looked like they were headed a different direction and wouldn’t cause us problems.  I decided to press on with the event, hoping that we could sit out any rain in the outdoor classroom and then carry on as planned.  I took everyone down to our outdoor classroom and did my little introduction to the moths.  Then we wandered out to some of the lights.  A few people disappeared down the path to see the trap and baits that one of the entomologists had set up and I took people over to my blacklight.  But the clouds kept coming.  It was soon clear that it was going to rain, so about half the people left.  The other half headed inside the classroom and watched as a wall of black clouds engulfed us.

Then it rained.  Oh boy did it rain!

Ailanthus webworm moth

Ailanthus webworm moth, Atteva punctella

It was what I imagine sitting through a hurricane would feel like!  I am never one to shy away from watching a storm, but it’s one thing to watch a heavy storm from the safety of the indoors and quite another to watch from a glorified screened porch.  It was unbelievably noisy.  Rain slammed down onto the roof.  There was lightning crashing all around.  Thunder boomed as wind blasted through the room.  Rain started blowing over everyone taking shelter in the classroom and everything got wet.  I’ll admit: it was a little scary.  But, oh!  It was so beautiful!

Sadly, most of the remaining people bailed as soon as the rain let up well over an hour later, but some hearty souls stuck it out.   A couple of people stayed after midnight and one person stayed until close to 1 am.  In the end it was just me and one other bug person from the Museum sitting on the porch of the classroom watching the moths that came to the mercury vapor lights.  We were out there until 3:30 am, watching moths and talking about bugs.  I even saw my very first flying squirrel and that alone would have made the whole night worth it.

Unidentified moth

White-dotted prominent, Nadata gibbosa

But we saw a lot of moths too!  It certainly wasn’t the explosion of thousands of huge moths that I’m used to from the Arizona monsoon season and we never did get any of the big silkworm moths or hawk moths, but we still saw several gorgeous species.  Nearly all of them were new to me and therefore exciting.  I didn’t start photographing the moths until late in the evening and I missed documenting several of the early evening species, but I still walked away with photos of thirty species.  (You’ll notice I don’t have the species names on two of the photos here – I’m waiting for confirmation so I don’t reveal my abysmal moth identification skills!)  The moth expert with the trap sent me a list of the things he caught and brought my total up to 40 species.  A very few participants also left photos with me before they left and added another five.  45 species ain’t half bad, especially considering the circumstances.

Southern pine sphinx moth

Southern pine sphinx moth, Lapara coniferarum, the largest moth I saw

And now I have a moth evening program planned too!  I can easily do another one of these moth nights as I have all the equipment, books, and handouts I need ready to go.  I’m thinking of trying again in a month or so.  It won’t be National Moth Week anymore, but I love spending nights by blacklights and sharing that with the public is so much fun.  It will be good to get back out there and work on my moth identification skills too.  I really need some more practice with that.

So, my National Moth Week event wasn’t the huge success I hoped for, but I still walked away happy.  I can think of worse ways to spend an evening than sitting through a gorgeous storm, talking to people about bugs, photographing insects, and seeing a flying squirrel.  Not a bad night.  Not bad at all.

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

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

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!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: There Are Insects In There

Do you have any idea how many insects are out there in the grass?

Prairie Ridge

Prairie Ridge

More than I will ever be able to count and more than I’ll ever be able to document.  Instead of trying to see it all, I think I’ll just enjoy the things I find as I uncover them and always look forward to seeing something new.

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

Prairie Ridge Ecostation’s Aquatic Habitats

You all know that I am in love with water.  That’s one thing my new home state of North Carolina has in abundance!  There’s water in the air, water falling from the sky on a fairly regular basis (though I’m told it’s been a particularly rainy summer so far), and there are aquatic habitats practically everywhere I turn.  I used to have to drive several miles in Tucson to get to the closest water, a city park with couple of tiny ponds filled with reclaimed water, but now I’ve got 4 sizable “ponds” mere blocks from where I live and the Neuse River is less than a 1/4 mile away.  The idea of getting a boat has crept into my mind more than once and the thought isn’t completely laughable anymore.  I could actually carry a lightweight craft to the nearest body of water!  I absolutely love it.

The nature center where I’m working also has water.  Let me take you on a brief tour of the aquatic habitats.  I mentioned the little water garden in the demonstration garden last week:

Water Garden

Water garden

It’s small, but I still enjoy poking around in there to see what I can find.  I’ve always loved water lilies, and the carnivorous bladderworts fascinate me:

bladderwort

Bladderwort

I hope I can see one trap an insect sometime!  There is also a little bog garden in the demonstration garden that is filled with plants capable of surviving in saturated soils for at least some length of time.  But these two aquatic areas are nothing compared to the other aquatic habitats at the ecostation.  This is the pond:

Prairie Ridge pond

Prairie Ridge pond, in the rain

It’s not entirely natural and has a man-made earthen dam at the lower end, but it is fed by rainwater coming off the prairie.  I think it’s beautiful!  There aren’t any fish in the pond (yet at least), so the top predators in the pond are snakes and aquatic insects.  The pond is also where you find the biggest diversity of dragonflies on the Prairie Ridge grounds.  There are a lot of dragonflies there, including the comet darners:

comet darner female

Comet darner female

This individual was caught by a mist net that was set up to trap birds so that they could be banded and released.  Comet darners are widespread in the eastern US but aren’t especially common in any given place.  I feel fortunate to have seen both males and this stunning female at a pond that is so close that I can visit it on a quick break from work.  I find myself down there often!

This is also on the grounds:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream

This stream is absolutely beautiful and winds its way through the wooded area of the property.  The water is clear and I’m told that the quality is quite high. However, there is an Army National Guard base across the street and all the water from the extensive parking lots there flows into this stream.  The result is it floods quite frequently and there is a lot of visible erosion:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream showing erosion of the banks

I got to see a bit of flooding firsthand last week.  I visited the stream briefly to take the photos above and then revisited the same spot three hours later to help another entomologist set up some light traps for moths.  It had started raining in the interim and the change in flow in the stream was quite impressive! All that flooding unfortunately means there aren’t all that many aquatic insects in the stream, but I’m still looking forward to poking around in the water to see what I can find.  Might actually be a fun place to determine how flooding impacts aquatic insect recolonization in a humid region.  The moth traps turned up quite a variety of predaceous diving beetles, creeping water beetles, and other aquatic insects, so there’s got to be at least some good stuff in there!

Overall, I feel very lucky to be working in such a beautiful place.  My new coworkers have seen dragonfly swarms over the prairie, and I’m living less than 2 hours from one very heavily traveled route on the migratory route for green darners, so it’s a good place for my dragonfly research.  I can pop down to the pond in minutes and check up on what’s there easily, including the giant water bugs.  The stream is absolutely gorgeous and there are bugs simply everywhere.  Honestly, I couldn’t have picked a better place to work.  I hope you all enjoy hearing about my adventures there!

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

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:

prairie

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):

garden

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

Friday 5: Very Different

I kept telling you I had big news and here it is: I took at job at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences!  So, I moved from Arizona to North Carolina last week and have loved every minute of the new job.  I’m the manager of citizen science for the Museum, so I have the very fun task of bringing scientists and non-scientists together to do science together, both in person and online.  This is absolutely the perfect job for me as it’s something I’m passionate about, I get to work outside much more than I used to, the Museum is amazing, and I’m working with a fantastic group of people.  I’m based primarily at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation, a 45 acre tract of land on the outskirts of Raleigh where the Museum does a lot of outdoor and environmental education, so I’ve gotten to spend a good part of each day wandering around the grounds so far.  And have you ever heard of a little event called BugFest?  I get to participate in BugFest!  Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with this job and I am looking forward to what I am going to help build for the Museum.

As you might imagine, North Carolina is very different from Arizona, so I thought it would be fun to do a little comparison between the two for my first Friday 5 in my new home.  Up first we have, of course…

Humidity!

clouds over prairie

Clouds over prairie

Wow, there is crazy humidity in North Carolina!  As a lifelong southwesterner, humidity is a very different experience for me.  My shoes don’t dry when I get them wet.  Sweat doesn’t dry off your skin very easily and you don’t get nearly the same cooling effect that I’m used to.  The light from the sun isn’t as bright.  When it gets cloudy, the temperature doesn’t go down more than a few degrees and it’s often as warm when it rains as it was before the clouds rolled in.  That last one is the strangest thing for me because rain cooled everything down (sometimes A LOT!)  in the southwest.  On the plus side, I haven’t had to apply lotion since I got here, AND there have been clouds everyday since I arrived.  It’s the dry season in Arizona now and there will be practically no clouds at all until July, so June clouds are a fantastic sight!  Who knew what a little moisture in the air could do?

Ticks

tick

Tick

We had ticks in Arizona. My little longhaired dog got several over the 5 years she lived with me there.  I almost never saw them otherwise though.  Here in North Carolina, I got through a whopping 8 days before I got my first tick.  The photo is terrible as it was a very active little guy and kept running around after I removed him from my belly, but that’s him up there in the picture.  I believe it might be a lone star tick, but if anyone knows better I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Grass

prairie grasses

Prairie grasses

Arizona has grasslands, but the southern part of the state also has a lot of desert with little to no grass most of the year.  If you happen to remember the photo of the grass near my field site I posted last year… well, I was beyond excited to see that.  That photo above is where I’m working now.  It’s going to look like that ALL SUMMER too!  Crazy!  That grass might be full of ticks and I might be allergic to it, but I love it.

Bumblebees

bumblebee

Bumblebee

You know what you never see in southern Arizona?  Bumblebees!  There are lots of large carpenter bees that sort of resemble bumblebees, but they’re just not as fuzzy and adorable as their fluffy cousins.  Happily, there are scads of bumblebees in North Carolina!  I see them all over the flowers at Prairie Ridge, several species even.  It’s so nice being back in a place that has them.  I didn’t realize I’d missed them until I moved here and saw my first bumblebee out in the prairie.  I was so excited to see a very common bee!

Dragonflies Everywhere

skimmer

Common whitetail

I always became giddy when I saw dragonflies in my yard or the parking lot for my housing complex in Tucson.  They usually only appeared when the drip system sprang a leak and sprayed water all over the parking lot, and often not even then.  Now I head out to walk the dogs and see 5 dragonfly species within a few feet of my front door!  I am living in a big apartment complex for a while, so I’m shocked, yet thrilled, that there are so many dragonflies flying around the perfectly cut grass.  The dragonflies I’m seeing at home are all common eastern species, but several of them are new to me and a few I haven’t seen in a decade.  Fun!  I’m also looking forward to doing a sort of informal survey to see how many of the 103 species known in Wake County I can find at Prairie Ridge.

So far I think North Carolina is a pretty great place!  I am really happy with my life here, so I hope you’ll all enjoy the posts as I explore the bugs in my new area.  I’ll kick things off Monday with a post about the fabulous facility where I’m based at the Museum.  But first, look for a new, rather short Swarm Sunday this weekend.  Swarming season is about to begin in earnest, so I hope you’re all ready!

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