Saturday, June 12, 2021

Spheksology

© Alie Ward

Last Tuesday evening I had the privilege of recording an episode of the popular podcast Ologies with Alie Ward. All about the study of wasps (spheksology), it should drop this Tuesday, June 15.

I have no idea whether it is pronounced SVEEKS-ol-o-gee or SFEX-ol-o-gee, or whether it matters, but I thought we might be coining a new word. Spheksophobia is the fear of wasps, but I could find no reference to “spheksology.” Alie managed to, so there you go.

Me, pointing to the paper wasp nest I mention in the Ologies interview.

Alie received close to four hundred (400) questions from her ardent followers on Patreon, and I think we might have answered about six. If you listen to the episode, and still have a question, please feel free to drop it in the comments for this post. I will attempt to answer in a timely fashion, but I do have various engagements on the near horizon that demand I properly prepare for them.

Solitary wasp, Trypoxylon sp., Leavenworth, Kansas, USA

It is my hope that we will spark a movement away from spheksophobia, and towards spheksophilia (love of wasps) among the audience for this interview. At the least, please consider following Ologies from now on. It is highly entertaining and educational. Thank you, followers of this blog, for your continued support.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Our (New) House

My wife, Heidi, and I moved into our new home in Leavenworth, Kansas on May 17. Our house is a very, very, very modest house, with a front yard and a back yard, and a detached garage. It will take some getting used to, as our former townhouse in Colorado Springs had little outdoor space we could truly call our own, and it was maintained by a homeowners’ association (HOA). We have not yet met our human neighbors, but have become acquainted with the wildlife.

While we are still cramped by unpacked boxes here and there, it has been the weather that has been most frustrating and depressing. Colorado Springs boasts over three hundred days of sunshine per year. Here, in a little more than two weeks, we have had two full days of sun. Otherwise, it has been overcast, dreary, often raining, and unseasonably cool. Yesterday it barely made it over 60° F. Heidi insists it is warm and humid, I say it is cool and damp. On the days when it has been dry, my allergies to grasses and spring trees have made my mood just as miserable as the cloudy and wet days.

Back yard, before mowing. The federal penitentiary is visible behind us, and brightly illuminated at night.

Despite the inclement weather, we have been exploring our property and keeping a list of the animals we find. While unloading the U-haul, Heidi tallied thirteen species of birds. I turn the porch light on at night, and on two occasions deployed a blacklight, and many insects have revealed themselves. Our accounting now numbers over 190 taxa (anything from phylum to species, depending on our familiarity with a given organism).

Tiny, adorable weevil, Lechriops oculatus, on the back fence.

So far, our home seems to be spider city and weevil central. We appear to have a resident Eastern Gray Squirrel inhabiting the huge oak tree in the front yard; and American Robin and Mourning Dove often bask on the wires over the garage and back yard. Reluctantly, we mowed what passes for our lawns, but kept the cutting level as high as we could, leaving the herbaceous vegetation along the fence line in the back as intact as possible. We have Ground Ivy, clover, dandelion, and even some violets growing among the grass and leaf litter.

A nomad cuckoo bee, Nomada sp., on a dandelion in the back yard.

Leavenworth is a rather quaint town, the residential neighborhoods being almost literally the All-American communities one thinks of in the “fly-over” states, but no one has been overly welcoming, let alone ringing the doorbell with pies and other foods in hand. I imagine that the continuing pandemic has something to do with the abortion of traditional greetings and offerings, but I also suspect a growing pall of suspicion and distrust that has always been there, but is now pervasive and….normal. Is everyone on the block talking about us on the Nextdoor app, speculating about why I am prowling around with a camera, and stretching a sheet and a UV light off the front porch?

Small, horned darkling beetle, Neomida bicornis, drawn to the front porch light at night.

Driving around in the course of picking up items for our household, and running errands to establish our residency in the civic sense, it is apparent that the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing, and the county of Leavenworth, have a good deal of untamed greenspace among the agricultural fields and commercial enterprise districts. It will be interesting to explore, provided the weather improves.

Bumble bee-mimicking robber fly, Laphria flavicollis, alond a paved trail in 10th Avenue Park, along Five Mile Creek.

I was telling a friend back in Colorado Springs, one of the few people we saw immediately before we left, that I feel cheated by the pandemic year. I had an entire twelve months where I saw almost no one outside of my spouse, and now I am being swept away without having much in the way of meaningful parting encounters.

A male White-jawed Jumping Spider, Hentzia mitrata, on our front porch railing.

Here I am now, knowing no one but my in-laws, and having met a couple of Heidi’s high school classmates briefly, two years ago. Being a sudden stranger is hard, folks. I am likely to retreat to the comfort and familiarity of the insect world where I actually recognize some old friends.

An ornate pomace fly, Chymomyza amoena, related to the "fruit flies" that hover over the bananas in your kitchen.

UPDATE: Concerning my health, my respiratory issues have almost completely resolved themselves. The cause was apparently a severe allergy I developed to our pet bird, a budgerigar (“budgie”). My wife’s parents visited us in Colorado about three weeks before we moved, and we sent the bird away with them. My symptoms of coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath vanished almost immediately. I will sincerely miss the sweet tweeting of our “boy named Sue,” but am grateful to be sleeping soundly, in our bed instead of a chair, with no need of an inhaler.

Green Oak-slug Moth, Euclea incisa, at our porch light at night.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Moving, Again

Anoplius aethiops female speeding along with wolf spider cargo, Cape May, New Jersey

Almost ten years ago, back at the end of September, 2011, I relocated from Tucson, Arizona to my current city of residence, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Now, my wife and I are in the process of purging and packing to move to Leavenworth, Kansas. We are doing so voluntarily, as this has nothing to do with the federal penitentiary. Her parents live in Leavenworth.

I do love my in-laws, but I’m not sure I’m keen about a town that is all about prisons, the military (Fort Leavenworth), and churches. I’ve visited plenty of times, and it does have its charm (weekly farmers’ market, a couple nice coffee shops, and a handful of good restaurants), but at least we are not far from Kansas City (both of them).

What is truly exciting is that for the first time since my childhood, I’ll be back in an actual house, complete with front and back yards. The neighborhood is classic residential, so it remains to be seen how far we can go in rewilding our little lot without objections. There is a detached garage that I hope is full of spiders. We can see the “big house” from our house, the dome looming almost literally across the street behind us. There is a bison herd that grazes on the grounds there. No, seriously.

Meanwhile, I have developed chronic respiratory problems independent of Covid-19. Doctors are still trying to assess the cause, but it seems to be home grown, as I breathe fine everywhere but inside our townhouse. I have my theories, but I have plenty of speculative help on social media trying to solve the mystery. We do know my lungs are perfectly healthy. The problem appears to be getting a proper volume of air in and out of them without breaking into a coughing fit. I’ve been sleeping mostly upright in our recliner, and not all that well.

These bronchial issues have also halted my ability to publicize the Wasps book via interviews. I simply don’t have the endurance to talk very long. Hoping that improves drastically once we move, as I have interest from some stellar podcasts. Please see the sidebar on this blog for a promo code you can use for a discount when you buy the book from the publisher.

Leavenworth is on the Missouri River, and represents more or less an ecotone of where the Great Plains meets the eastern deciduous forest, heavily compromised by agriculture. It is hilly rather than the flat fly-over stereotype. Looking at range maps in my field guides, this intersection of Kansas-Missouri-Nebraska-Iowa is a veritable “black hole” where geographic ranges for various species abruptly stop. Everything is farther south, farther north, farther east, or farther west. This can’t be for real, and I’m anxious to see what really does live there.

We do see road trips in our future, but probably parceled-out rather sparingly, and no doubt dictated by the locations and interests of extended family.

Yes, my wife is more optimistic, and less of a sporadic nomad, than I am. I usually enter a new residence with enthusiasm that is eventually worn down by politics, sprawl, and other disappointments, so maybe the reverse will happen this time. Maybe we could start a nature center. Maybe I could find a partner and open a comedy club. Hey, the place could use a little….”levity.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Black in Entomology Week This Week!

This blogger apologizes for being late in promoting Black in Entomology Week, February 22-26. The event is most heavily publicized on Twitter under various hashtags, with the goals of fostering community for Black entomologists, creating funding opportunities, and simply sharing passion for the subject and inspiration for each other. This is a long overdue celebration, and I intend to continue highlighting Black entomologists throughout the year via guest posts, and spotlighting historical figures in the field.

Black in Entomology is not confined to the professional scientific community, by the way. According to the Black in Ento website, students of entomology, amateurs, and hobbyists are also invited to answer the #rollcall of #BlackInEnto.

Much of the focus this week is on changing institutional structure that has failed to adequately recruit, mentor, train, and retain Black students and researchers in entomology. This includes #intersectionality that recognizes additional identities such as non-binary individuals, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the disabled. There should be a place for all, and all should be equally welcomed and accommodated fully.

Panel discussions are being held, and archived in some cases, to address issues specific to the Black experience in entomology, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in general.

There is also a need to promote Black entomologists to positions of leadership. Universities, corporations, foundations, and other formal entities need to participate in this endeavor. Inclusiveness does not mean merely inviting traditionally disenfranchised demographic groups to “the table,” but to elect or appoint them to roles where they direct and guide the course of the organization.

Black in Entomology Week is sponsored in part by the Entomological Society of America, Societas Entomologica Canadensis, BASF, and Corteva. Various individuals and organizations have also stepped forward to offer prizes and scholarships, with donations accrued via GoFundMe.

It is highly encouraging to finally see a commitment to redeeming the colonial, discriminatory history of entomology and begin to embrace a future with equality, justice, and diversity as overriding priorities. This is going to take more than one week of recognition, of course. Please give generously of your time, experience, and finances to keep the momentum going. Thank you.