Giving Thanks

Okay, let’s try this post again! Here’s hoping the blogging gremlins aren’t out to get me two days in a row…

I have never been a big Thanksgiving lover. I rarely stuff myself silly, I hate turkey with a burning passion, and I really, REALLY hate going around the table saying what I’m thankful for each year. When I was a kid, I always wondered if anyone would notice that I recycled the list of things I was thankful for – my family, my pets, the dinner – when it came time for the dreaded thanksgiving roundtable. I don’t know. There’s something about Thanksgiving that just doesn’t suit me.  I am not a group sharing kind of person.  I was incredibly shy as a kid and being forced to talk about my feelings…  Well, I didn’t like it.  It soured me on Thanksgiving, maybe forever.

That’s not to say that I’m not thankful for things. I am grateful for so, so many things! Today I’m going to share 5 insect and science related things I’m thankful for this year. They include…

Belostoma flumineum in the pond

Upper Pond

Upper pond at Prairie Ridge, home of the Belostoma

I spent several summers trying to find the giant water bug Belostoma flumineum in Arizona. It’s not an uncommon species there and both my students and I would find them all the time on field trips. However, without fail, as soon as I wanted even 10 to do some sort of experiment, they were absolutely nowhere to be found. Imagine my delight when I discovered a huge population of them in one of the ponds at the field station where I work last month. I’m FINALLY going to be able to do a few experiments I’ve wanted to do. Exciting!

Dramatic Changes in the seasons

Fall

Fall foliage

I’ve mentioned before that I come from the land of unimpressive falls, so I have been particularly fascinated by the seasons in North Carolina. One of the best parts has been watching the insects disappear for the winter in succession. While I am sure I’ll miss going out on a warm December or January day to find a whole slew of insects like I did in Arizona, there’s something about the finality of fall, the approach of the cold weather, that I find appealing. Besides, nothing is more exciting than seeing something completely out of place. I was leading a tour group last week and actually squealed out loud when a monarch flew past. I couldn’t help it. She was ratty, worn, and hardly able to fly in the cool weather, but there she was, a whole month after I saw my last adult. That wouldn’t have been so exciting in Arizona, but it’s terribly exciting here.  Now I can’t wait for spring to watch everything reappear!

Comet darners

comet darner female

Comet darner female

You know when you’ve spent your whole life looking at photos of something, hoping you’ll have a chance to see it in the wild one day? That’s how I felt about comet darners from the moment I learned to appreciate dragonflies. They’re huge, showy, fantastically beautiful creatures, so I’d always hoped that I would run into one someday. Then I saw one the very first day I visited the field station. I’ve since learned that they’re often at the pond, so I now see them on a semi-regular basis. I feel so lucky to be close to comet darners! A five-minute walk down the hill and there they are, zooming around over the water.

Carnivorous plants

Venus fly trap

Venus fly trap

I’ve been fascinated by carnivorous plants as long as I can remember. Now I live in one of the best places in the world for finding carnivorous plants! I was so excited to see that venus flytrap up there, I almost cried with happiness. I am not a weepy woman by any means, but some things are just so exciting that you start to feel teary. I am thankful to live close to so many carnivorous plant species.

5. My job

Whales

Whale skeletons

It occurred to me the other day that deep down, I’ve always wanted a job at a natural history museum. I’ve never wanted to be a taxonomist or systematist though, so I had always assumed that I would never get the museum job I dreamed of. Suddenly, I find myself working at a natural history museum!!! Right when I needed it, everything I love to do was wrapped up into a single museum-based position and dumped right in my lap. I have awesome coworkers and I work in a beautiful place with people appreciate the natural world the same way I do.  I love the variety of tasks that I get to do and the fact that I get to work at both the swanky museum buildings downtown and the field station. Honestly, I don’t think I could ever find another job as perfect as this one. I am very thankful that I have it.

These are only a few of the things I’m thankful for, but it’s a start. Anyone else want to share an insect or science-related thing they’re thankful for? I’d love to hear them if you’re willing to share! Just leave a comment below.
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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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Friday 5: I Am Thankful to Be An Entomologist

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US, a time to eat tons and tons of food (enough that you either want to die, just a little, or pass out into a total food coma) and give thanks for the good things in life.  Regardless of whether I spend Thanksgiving with my family or my husband’s (my husband’s this year), there is one tradition that we follow: we go around the table saying what we’re thankful for before we eat.  I’m thankful for many things, but some things I choose not to share at the table.  Like how I love insects and I’m thankful to be fulfilling my long-term dream of becoming an entomologist.  But I can write about that here!  In the spirit of a good, old-fashioned American Thanksgiving, I thus present my entomologically themed list of thanks: why I’m thankful to be an entomologist.

There are so many insects!

You all know that there are a lot of insects in the world.  The number of insects on the planet at any given time is astounding.  (How do you even conceptualize the idea of a quintillion, the number of insects a quick online search suggests are on Earth at any given time?)  There are also more insect species on the planet than all other animal species combined.  If you want to be a scientist and you need to find a little niche to call your own, you could definitely do worse than entomology.  There are so very many research opportunities!  It’s a big field and many subjects are still wide open, ready to be researched, so it’s a great science to be a part of.

insect display

Insect display. This is a tiny handful of the species on the planet!

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INSECTS ARE UBIQUITOUS

There are insects nearly everywhere on Earth except the ocean (a topic for another time).  They can be found living on land, in streams and lakes, in wastewater, in soil, in trees, in plants, in sheep, in humans, on humans, in little pools of water inside tropical plants, in grain storage facilities, in cheeses, on snow fields, and at the base of glaciers.  There’s even a type of aquatic fly larva that is found in pools of petroleum!  Nearly anywhere you go on our planet you can find insects to study.  I think that’s simply amazing.

Carpenter bee nest

Carpenter bee nest. There are insects in there!

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Insects are beautiful

I feel that people would appreciate insects more if they would take a moment to discover how incredibly beautiful they are!  It makes me so happy that artists such as Joseph Scheer and Thomas Shahan share the beauty of insects with the world.  Even if you hate spiders, how can you not appreciate the charisma and stunning structure of one of Shahan’s jumping spiders?  How can one not see beauty in the delicate perfection of the wing scales on one of Scheer’s giant moth images?  Even something like my water bugs, which the vast majority of people I meet think are rather gross, are beautiful to some extent.  The structure of their eyes, the leafy patterns on the backs of the bigger species, the different structures used to breathe… All stunning if you take a moment to look.

Libellula saturata

Female flame skimmer, Libellula saturata

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Entomologists make great friends

I find entomologists to be, by and large, incredibly kind and wonderful people.  I have friends who don’t like insects of course, but those friends sadly don’t share my intense love for a group of rather unloved animals the way other entomologists do.  Entomologists get each other in a profound way.  I knew i was joining the right group of people when I came to Arizona to interview for grad school, saw a tarantula hawk (a REALLY big wasp for those of you who aren’t familiar with them) fly overhead, and nearly everyone in the group looked up and watched it fly by like it was the most interesting thing in the world.  I love being around other entomologists (and here, I’m including all of you non-scientists or non-entomologist scientists with entomological leanings) because they share my love for insects, and are really, really good people to boot.  And, if you’re not an entomologist, it’s still good to have us around!  Who else can tell you whether the spider in your house is poisonous (probably not) or whether the strange pile of lumps under your beam is caused by termites?  :)

Friends Collecting

Some of my entomologist friends collecting together

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Insects make me appreciate the natural world

Nothing makes you appreciate how marvelous the natural world is like insects.  Just ponder it for a moment: there are approximately a million insect species described in the world, and there may be 1-10 million more than we don’t even know about yet.  Insects live nearly everywhere (see above), exhibit some of the most bizarre and/or beautiful behaviors imaginable, and display hugely diverse structures and color patterns.  The fact that all these species, all these forms, all these behaviors exist in a single animal group is nothing short of miraculous.  I see the wonderful beauty of the natural world reflected in insects.  And for that reason alone, I am thankful to be an entomologist.

Leafhopper

Something as common and mundane as a leafhopper can be marvelous

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

The ants (and one ant mimicking spider) wish you a very happy holiday:

Thanksgiving ants

(Okay, okay, so I drew this myself, but it IS possible to actually get ants to spell words like this with live ants.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Biocreativity’s post on making fire ant art!)

I hope everyone has a very great Thanksgiving!  Or just a great day if you don’t live in the US and are not stuffing yourself silly with poultry and starches today. :)

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