Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Gift Ideas for the Holidays and Beyond

Here at Bug Eric blog, we like to promote excellence and encourage innovation, inclusion, equality, and diversity in the professions of entomology, science communication, citizen science, research, and biodiversity education. To that end, you may wish to bookmark this post for reference at any time of the year.

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Make a Difference

The voices of non-Caucasian scientists have too often been absent, or outright silenced in publications, at conferences, and elsewhere. This must change. It is without hesitation that I suggest making donations to Entomologists of Color. Consider taking the next step and inviting a featured “scientist of the month” to address your organization, classroom, or citizen scientist group. Black in Ento is another avenue to sponsor and support Black entomologists. Both initiatives enjoy the support of professional societies and organizations.

© SpiderdayNightLive.com

The leading global invertebrate conservation organization continues to be the Xerces Society, and they keep getting better. An annual membership gets you many benefits, not the least of which is the stellar journal Wings. What began with an emphasis on butterflies has now blossomed into advocating for every taxon.


Reward Good Work

There is no shortage of ambitious and important citizen scientist initiatives and platforms. Please donate to the ones that serve you best. As for individuals doing vital work in entomology, few compare to The Bug Chicks, Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker. They are leaders in science communication, curriculum development, professional development, entomology consulting, and media production. They will debut some “bug dork” merchandise soon to help fund their ever-growing business.

© TheBugChicks.com

Aussie friends, you have a fierce advocate for your native bees in Dr. Kit Prendergast, the Bee Babette. She has published a booklet about Creating a Haven for Native Bees that is applicable virtually everywhere, not just Australia. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook for more of her accomplishments.

Dr. Kit Prendergast, © Researchgate.net

My good friend Nancy Miorelli is based in Ecuador where she runs tours that benefit local and indigenous people. She also has a Youtube channel, is “queen” of the “SciHive” on Facebook, and has a sustainable jewelry-making business. All of this falls under her SciBugs banner. Did I mention she is a talented artist?

Dr. Stephanie Dole © BeetleLady.com

Those of you in California, USA, will want to book the new Bug Pop-up Museum created by the “Beetle Lady,” Dr. Stephanie Dole. Not in California? No problem, she also does virtual classes. I know Stephanie, Nancy, and The Bug Chicks personally and can attest to the quality of their enterprises.

”Merch”

You want something tangible? Check out some of the books I have reviewed this year. Patronize your local booksellers, toy stores that emphasize science and learning, and museums, zoos, and aquaria. There are locally-owned outdoor stores selling gently used gear for hiking and camping to get you out into the wilderness, even if that is simply your own back yard or the grandparents’ farm.

Speaking of gear….Idea Wild furnishes equipment to indigenous and local scientists in countries all over the globe, enabling underfunded scholars to do important conservation research work. Idea Wild is over thirty years old, with many success stories under their belt.

Thank you for taking the time to read the above. Please let me know of other worthy endeavors that I can promote here. Happy holidays!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Book Review: Insects & Kin of the Colorado Front Range

If you live along, or frequently visit, the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, and are excited by this title, please curb your enthusiasm. This is the anvil you probably want to avoid: 1,104 self-published pages of “a natural history & photographic survey,” part of the lengthy subtitle. Ideally, natural history books should be “how can I help you?” exercises. This is a “look at what we did” book.

Lynn and Gene Monroe are authors of two other specific and obscure books, Desert Insects & Kin of Southern California, specific to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Butterflies & Their Favorite Flowering Plants, also specific to Anza-Borrego. The common theme here is the assumption that one can extrapolate to surrounding environs. On page one of Insects & Kin of the Colorado Front Range, the authors state: “The scope of this book is the Front Range region mainly in Boulder and Larimer Counties and east of the Continental Divide….However, the insects and their kin that are considered here would be expected to also be found elsewhere along the Front Range….” As one who has lived in Colorado Springs and explored farther south, I can say with some authority this is simply not true. Even residents of Denver are not fully served.

A number of common and/or eye-catching species, especially among the beetles, are absent from this book because they were not found by the Monroes at their favorite sites, most of which appear to be outdoor recreation destinations and other sites they visited regularly.

Pam Piombino is the contributing photographer to this project, and the book is lavishly illustrated. Unfortunately, that translates to “many images are redundant.” Further, the print quality is inconsistent in its ability to bring out fully the details in the images. Many images are too dark to be of much value. Some images of very small insects are out of focus, or appear to be.

The organization of the book is somewhat haphazard, in that material one would expect in the front of the book is instead part of the back matter. There are some spelling and grammatical errors. Eight insect orders are covered in depth, the remainder not given their due. Under the discussion of the jumping plant lice (psyllids), there is an image of a barklouse, an insect in a completely different order. Such obvious errors, however few, make an entire work suspect.

Because there are so few popular, contemporary treatments of insects and other invertebrates, it pains me to be writing a poor review of this one. Certainly, it is not wholly without merit, and could serve as a solid, if slightly unwieldly, introduction to Rocky Mountain fauna. Overall, however, the impression one gets is that this is a book of privilege, literally born in retirement by authors who can afford to live away from the urban and suburban centers composed of the people they should consider to be their audience. That is not to say that I do not respect and admire what the Monroes have accomplished, but I would sooner recommend two other works: Guide to Colorado Insects (Westcliffe Publishers, Inc., 2006) and Bagging Big Bugs (Fulcrum Publishing, 1995), both by Whitney Cranshaw and Boris Kondratieff.

The best thing about this book is that the proceeds of sales go to benefit the Granite Ridge Nature Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is for that reason that it is a pity there were only 250 copies of Insects & Kin of the Colorado Front Range printed. Inquiries for purchase should be addressed to Lynn Monroe, lynnmon35ATgmailDOTcom.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Book Review: Wasps, by Heather Holm

That “other” wasp book, the one that is not mine? Spoiler alert: It’s good. Excellent in fact. It is tempting as a niche author to view your colleagues as competitors, but that does a disservice to the profession, and undermines the common goals of influencing public perceptions and initiating actions. This book is a fine complement to Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect, and exceeds it in certain respects.

This is a surprisingly large (11 ¼ x 9 ¼ inches), heavy, hardbound volume of 415 pages, with much larger images than Holm’s previous books. Holm self-publishes through Pollination Press, LLC, and exercises great attention to detail and organization in all her works. Personally, I am not a fan of the liberal use of codes, tables and sidebars, but compared to the two other books of hers in my library, those strategies are minimized here. The book is decidedly not as “busy” in its layout as I was expecting. Considering the digital age, my minor complaint may reflect the literature I grew up with, and be out of step with contemporary audiences. The species accounts include large images labeled with key identification characters. This is an outstanding idea that is absent even from most field guides.

While I have not read the book from cover to cover, I have read enough to conclude that Holm’s research was exceedingly comprehensive, and highlights the historical role of women in contributing to our knowledge of wasp biology. She includes an extensive bibliography of her sources, plus a glossary, and her trademark “planting guide” for which native plants in your region are most attractive and beneficial to wasps and other pollinators. Holm conducted a survey of flower-visiting wasps for eastern North America via iNaturalist to crowdsource observations of pollinator associations, and also drew from other contemporary resources to complement the existing scientific literature. We need more innovative approaches like this.

There are two subtitles to Wasps. One is “A Guide for Eastern North America,” and the other is “Their Biology, Diversity, and Role as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants.” No matter how you define eastern North America, the contents of this book work for you. Considering Holm is from Minnesota, I was pleasantly surprised to see many wasp species from the southeast U.S. included in the book. The natural history information presented is accurate, thorough, and captivating.

There are certain limitations to Wasps. This book is driven by an interest in plants, especially native plants and how they can and should be used in landscaping. This is the overarching theme for all of Holm’s books. Consequently, wasps that do not visit flowers regularly are given only passing mention in this book. Sawflies, horntails, gall wasps, ichneumon wasps, braconid wasps, and most of the chalcidoid wasps are absent in the species accounts. All of our friends among the social wasps, the mason wasps, sand wasps, spider wasps, and their conspicuous kin, are treated in detail. You would not want a book that could double as an anvil anyway.

The bottom line is that this is an exquisite volume deserving of consideration for literary awards, and certainly worthy of inclusion in the library of all naturalists. Placing insects in the larger context of ecology and human enterprise needs to be a more common treatment across all media. Holm is a master of subtle advocacy for underdog insects, and other authors can learn from her style and presentation. Please visit the Pollinator Press website to place your order.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Talking Feral With Paul Boyce

Earlier this month I had the occasion to record an episode of the podcast Talking Feral. The host, Paul Boyce, is a doctoral candidate in Canada, but is originally from New Zealand, so his accent alone is worth the listen, but he asks insightful questions that ignite the minds of his guests and audience. Our conversation touches on a number of topics related to science and academia, so strays into arenas I usually reserve for my Sense of Misplaced blog. It was refreshing to talk about the bigger picture, and how different scientific disciplines, social constructs, and economic interests are interconnected, both personally and at large.

Please do not stop at my episode. I will not be offended if you skip it entirely, in fact, but do lend and ear to other installments of the show. Podcasts, I am happy to report, are free of the formality and constraints of traditional media, and allow us to confront issues and topics at a more visceral level. No sound bites here, but far better connections with those who tune in.