The end of this year has brought a clearer focus for the new year ahead. I have projects to complete, and travel plans already. What else materializes will be dependent on my health, my initiative, what my wife has planned, and how the ongoing pandemic plays out.
In November I received forty-five (45) boxes of pinned insect specimens from Colorado that I am under contract to identify to the best of my ability. They are currently stacked around my office in the spare bedroom of our house. I am grateful for the work, and always find it exciting and challenging. Nearly every insect order is represented in this particular project, save butterflies, moths, and aquatic insects.
I am beginning with the flies, which is one of the orders I struggle with. One of the first specimens I looked at was the male dance fly, family Empididae, shown below. I am working with a dichotomous key, the usual method for identifying specimens. Each couplet in the key describes contrasting conditions in one or more physical characters. You follow the option that matches to get to the next couplet and repeat the process until it dumps out a genus name in this case. It is easy to get this wrong, and sure enough I kind of bogged down at one of the couplets.
I did happen to notice that this specimen had a highly obvious character that was not in the key: an opposing pair of huge teeth on each side of the "knee" joint on the hind leg. You'd think the authors of the key could maybe lead with that? I went to an online resource to look at various images of relevant genera and quickly deduced that I had a male Empis, in the subgenus Enolempis no less. The female fly does not have those impressive leg modifications. There are over fifty species in this subgenus, so I am not taking these any farther, even if I could find a key.
The insect identification project is going to take much time, but I have additional work. I am enrolled in a virtual course, Wildlife Conservation Photography 101, from the Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy. Our instructor is the acclaimed wildlife photographer, and academy founder, Jaymi Heimbuch. This has been surprisingly challenging because it requires me to think visually when my mind thinks in words first. I am behind, but Jaymi, her colleagues, and other students, are owverwhelmingly supportive and empathetic. It is a multigenerational cohort, and I love that. Brainstorming potential stories alone has led me to possibly another book idea.
Immediately after the new year I start attending a wasp identification course, also virtual, sponsored in part by Pennsylvania State University. This will at least dovetail perfectly with the Colorado specimen project I have to work on. If wasps interest you, too, consider entrolling.
A friend from social media land invited my wife and I to meet them in southeast Texas this spring, so hoping I can finally find certain insects, spiders, and reptiles that only occur along the gulf coast. We went to the annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in November, but Harlingen, Mission, and Brownsville are in an entirely different ecosystem. We did get some "lifer" birds on that trip, though, as did a third person in our party. Where else will we go in 2022? Who knows. We are unlikely to fly, due to both pandemic and carbon footprint considerations.
I am available for virtual group and individual consultations, conversations, or presentations, so please feel free to reach out to me via e-mail. I will post links to archived podcasts and meetings when I have permission from the individual or organization hosting the event.
Lastly, I do plan to continue posting here, and working harder to recruit diverse voices for guest blog posts or interviews. Have a non-profit initiative or organization you would like to advertise here? Please let me know. Keep up your own great work, and thank you as always for following this blog.