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.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Mayfly Analogy

Metamorphosis is a wonderful thing. It is physiologically compulsory for insects, many other invertebrates, amphibians, and some fish. It is a conscious choice in humans from the perspective of emotional, social, and intellectual maturity. Some people choose to remain forever neotenous, never advancing their ability to empathize with others, or accept that diversity and equality enhance our species rather than impede our collective evolution.

Small minnow mayfly, Callibaetis sp., Mueller State Park, Colorado, USA

Mayflies, aquatic insects in the order Ephemeroptera, are best known for their ephemeral adult lifespans, often only a day or two, several days maximum, and as short as one hour. As underwater naiads, their youth may last three months to three years, depending on the species.

Mayflies are the only insects that molt after reaching adulthood. The naiad emerges from the water, splits its exoskeleton down the middle of the thorax, and a winged insect slowly draws itself out. This is the subimago, or “dun” in the parlance of anglers who model their imitation flies after certain mayflies.

The dun flies to another perch, such as foliage overhanging the water, or a bridge abutment, or similar platform. There, it repeats the molting process, becoming a fully-fledged, sexually mature imago that fly fishermen call a “spinner.” These adults lack functional mouthparts, as there is no time for feeding. There is only mating and, in the case of females, laying eggs. At least one species, Cloeon dipterum of the British Isles, births live naiads, having incubated the eggs within her body.

Common burrower mayfly, Hexagenia sp., along the Missouri River in Leavenworth, Kansas, USA

The evolutionary origin of mayflies dates back to the middle of the Carboniferous Period in the Paleozoic Era, about 325 million years ago. This places them near the most basal root of the phylogenetic tree of all winged insects.

The Ephemeroptera are the “E” in EPT, a biological index that informs water quality in environmental health assessments. Together with stoneflies (Plecoptera) and caddisflies (Trichoptera), mayfly naiads vary in their sensitivity to pollutants, overly turbid, and warmer-than-normal streams, rivers, and lakes. Generally, the more species diversity in these insect orders in a given watershed, the healthier the aquatic ecosystem is.

Our own children thrive best in environments devoid of toxic ideologies, and well-oxygenated with empathy, equality, justice, and peace instead of turbidity. The more diverse our neighborhoods, schools, and institutions are, the better.

True, the naiads of prongill mayflies, in the family Leptophlebiidae, ensconce themselves in crevices and shun the light, and burrowing mayflies in the family Ephemeridae tunnel into the silt or sand of streambeds and lake bottoms. That does not mean we should bury our own heads in the sand, stubbornly clinging to outdated social strategies that further divide us.

Small square-gilled mayfly, Caenis sp., Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

Adult mayflies often emerge synchronously, in overwhelmingly abundant “hatches” that anglers attempt to time appropriately with their feather-and-thread imposters. Major rivers are often the site of these eruptions, and the Great Lakes are beginning to see a resurgence in numbers that have been at a historic ebb for decades thanks to pollution. Bulldozers are often necessary to sweep the dead insects from roadways lest they become a slick, greasy hazard.

Homo sapiens has been on this planet for barely the geological equivalent of one day, so perhaps we are all subimagos, having not yet graduated to full adulthood in appreciation of our own diversity. I like to think that I have entered that stage, aware, yet still awkward in my attempts to help others out of their own prejudicial entanglements, their ecdysis mired and twisted by privilege and entitlement.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am a cicada, and thirteen or seventeen years hence I will realize I knew nothing. Still, the idea that just when you thought you were done, you are only a dun, resonates more. We may never arrive, never become spinners, but we are certainly farther away than we think we are.

A "slate drake" mayfly, Isonychia sp., from Leavenworth, Kansas, USA

Sources: Fauceglia, Ted. 2005. Mayflies: Major Eastern and Midwestern Hatches. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. 196 pp.
Grimaldi, David, and Michael S. Engel. 2005. Evolution of the Insects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 755 pp.
McGavin, George C. 1998. The Pocket Guide to Insects of the Northern Hemisphere. London: Parkgate Books, Ltd. 208 pp.