Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Looking Ahead to 2022

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.

My office

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.

Daunting, but thrilling, too

An assortment of flies in this box

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.

Mr. Empis dance fly

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.

Mrs. Empis

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.

Ringed Paper Wasp, Polistes annularis, from Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma, on our way back from Texas in November

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.

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.

See BioQuip Products for these and more

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.


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.


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, ©

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 ©

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.


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.

Friday, October 15, 2021

How Baskettails Got Their Name

I cannot be everywhere at once, nor witness every amazing behavior that insects do, so I am exceptionally grateful to friends and followers who share their illustrated stories with me. Such was the case when I noticed a post to a Facebook group from Cindy Baranoski. She happened upon a female Prince Baskettail dragonfly, Epitheca princeps, preparing to oviposit.

All photos © Cindy Baranoski

Baskettails are rather generic, non-descript dragonflies in the family Corduliidae, which includes the "emeralds." Both kinds of dragonflies have brilliant green eyes as adults. Otherwise, they can be mistaken for the more abundant "skimmer" dragonflies in the family Libellulidae. Baskettails tend to fly in spring and early summer, with some exceptions like the Prince Baskettail that is at the center of our story here. At first glance, it might be dismissed as a Twelve-spotted Skimmer, but the abdomen is longer, and narrow.

Cindy describes her amazing encounter as follows:

"It was a beautiful day, so my husband and I decided to go for a hike at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville, Illinois. They have a lovely array of forests, lakes, prairies, and wetlands. I had my camera in my backpack, as usual, waiting to get going into our walk before dragging it out. We had just started out around the first body of water, on a path about twenty feet from the water, and dense with plants. As we walked I saw a dragonfly whizz past us and land on a plant.

All photos © Cindy Baranoski

My first thought was of someone I knew who had shared a photo of a beautiful red dragonfly, and I wondered if this one was like that, or even just different from all the others I'd seen this summer. My husband remained on the path while I slowly and stealthily walked over to see. The dragonfly was in a vertical position on a plant, as usual, but what stuck out immediately was the movement of its tail: A slow and steady rhythmic back and forth movement I had not seen a dragonfly do before. I've seen them do a lot, this was new. I hoped that the dragonfly was ok, or maybe this was some new movement that helps them cool off, like the obelisk position. So I slowly backed away, and frantically pulled out my camera to be sure it was all on the right settings, mentally crossed my fingers, and snuck back over.

By that time I could see a bit of something now on the tail, as it gently waved back and forth. The dragonfly didn't fly away, didn't move, as I kept moving in closer to snap pictures with my camera, which was obnoxiously loud it seemed, and messing up my stealthiness. A bit of time passed and the small spot on the tail grew; and I was pretty sure this dragonfly was laying eggs. The dragonfly became a 'she' now, and she was extruding eggs.

All photos © Cindy Baranoski

I squealed mentally and out loud, and asked my husband to come peek to be sure this was happening. He looked, and said 'yep.' She continued to push out her eggs, and got quite still, and the slow waving of her tail ceased. I kept snapping pictures, praying at least one of them might be clear enough to share with others and document what was happening. Only a matter of minutes passed by, but it seemed forever, and not a thing around me was happening save for this moment. A breeze blew and she did not move. I was nearly on top of her snapping away and she didn't move, intent on what was happening in her own world.

All photos © Cindy Baranoski

Suddenly, in a moment, she took off and was gone. I want to believe that she quickly landed on the water to deposit her eggs. We walked away and I continued to squeal out loud how over absolutely amazing that was to see, and so grateful I was given that moment by her to trust this human observer. When we got home, of course I immediately opened up the pictures to see that many had come out in focus, and I pulled a few I felt were worthy of sharing on Facebook and Instagram. Not as many were as giddy about seeing this as I was, save for Eric and a few others. No worries, it was my special gift she shared with me."

All photos © Cindy Baranoski

Female baskettails quite literally put all their eggs in the one "basket" of her subgenital plate, just prior to laying them. In flight, the tip of the egg-laden abdomen is held aloft in a distinctive posture. They practice what is called exophytic oviposition, meaning that they do not land and insert their eggs singly into aquatic vegetation, bottom sediments, or mud in locations which flood. Instead, they drag the abdomen through the water as they fly, trailing a rope of eggs behind them. They favor tangles of floating and emergent plant stems as locations for their strings of eggs, which may be several feet long. The eggs are suspended in a gelatinous fluid that expands in the water.

All photos © Cindy Baranoski

I want to thank Cindy again for agreeing to let me publish her photos and story. Please consider contacting me if you have something to share that was exciting to you: bugeric247ATgmailDOTcom.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Arachtober, Part XV!

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of “Arachtober,” an event initiated on the photosharing website Flickr by my good friends Ashley Bradford and Joseph Connors. Since then, it has extended its silky reach to social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, where searching on #Arachtober will bring up stunning images of spiders, scorpions, solifuges, ticks, and mites, oh my.

© Ashley Bradford & Joseph Connors

The banner shown above was hand drawn by Ashley, and digitized by Joseph. They both have acute powers of observation, and are supremely talented photographers who are constantly experimenting. They have inspired literally thousands of others to focus their lenses on our eight-legged friends, and come together as a global community for at least this one month each year.

You should join in the fun! It is a window on an overlooked, seriously maligned group of organisms, illuminated in a positive light by photographers and scientists. I learn something new almost daily thanks to the stories attached to the photos.

I will forever be indebted to Ashley and Joseph for their supportive friendship, and starting something truly unique, valuable, and enduring. More details about the origin of Arachtober can be found in this article.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Talking About Writing, Entomology, and SciComm With Arthro-Pod

After recording an episode of Ologies with Alie Ward that focused on wasps, I was delighted to be invited to interview with the three hosts of the Arthro-Pod podcast more recently. Our discussion ran the gamut from my career trajectory in science communication to unresolved problems in the entomology profession, and conflicts between science and the corporate sector. This was a much more personal conversation.

Dr. Jody Green (@JodyBugsMeUNL on Twitter), Jonathan Larson (@bugmanjon), and Dr. Michael Skvarla (@mskvarla36) are the hosts of Arthro-Pod. All three currently work at separate universities, but have a common passion for public outreach. According to Jody, I was “SciComm before it was SciComm,” and until she said that it had never occurred to me that I was any sort of pioneer. It is true, though, that I have witnessed, and often participated in, the evolution of the public face of entomology in the digital age. She added that she frequently uses my blog to research a particular insect or topic and enjoys the jargon-free, conversational format. Wow, how cool is that?

The hosts of Arthro-Pod from a prior recording

In the course of talking about my personal experiences in academia, and my sentiments about them, ancient as they are, it was surprising to learn how much still resonates with students of today. That is a great thing in terms of empathy, but it also indicates there is much that still needs rectifying in the university environment. How do we make the sciences more friendly to a diversity of students? How is virtual learning online succeeding or failing its target students? We did not even discuss the problems with academic publishing, but maybe we can do another episode about that.

Jody is an outstanding example of the new generation of entomologists who are creative in how they reach the public

Entomology is a broad field with many niche careers that were not even in existence when I was a student. The profession is also now faced with the conflict that is the continued need for pest control versus the ever-increasing challenge of conserving biodiversity. Our global knowledge has been obtained largely through colonialism. There has been rampant sexism and, until recently, little effort at welcoming all races and ethnicities, and recognizing the full gender spectrum. Thankfully, the current generation of entomologists is prioritizing positive changes to those issues.

I hope you will join me in following Arthro-Pod here on the Blogger platform. My interview was the 96th episode, so I have a lot of catching up to do. You could not ask for a more friendly and inquisitive trio to take you on a tour of entomology and its influences on history, your daily life, and ecosystems at large.

Hahaha, I didn't know anyone would take a photo during our Zoom

Note: I have several events upcoming. They include a virtual presentation about wasps for Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) Region Nature on Monday evening, September 27. On October 4, I will be recording an episode of Talking Feral with Paul Boyce, topics to be determined. I will be recording a wasp-themed episode of In Conversation With with David Lindo, for BBC radio if I have the correct information. Lastly, on November 6, I will do another wasp-themed virtual talk for the Entomological Society of Pennsylvania (USA). Please join me for the talks, and/or book me for your own event by e-mailing bugeric247ATgmailDOTcom. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Book Review: In One Yard: Close to Nature Book 2

I was introduced to Warren A. Hatch several years ago by a mutual friend. He sent me a copy of the original In One Yard: Close to Nature, which I regretfully never got around to reviewing. I will not make the same mistake with Hatch’s sequel. This book has much to recommend it, no matter where you live.

Mr. Hatch resides in Portland, Oregon, USA, and every organism shown in the book was discovered on his property, the yard of which is only one-sixth of an acre. Clearly, exploring even this small an area can result in constant discovery and astonishment. A reader is going to be inspired to put the book down frequently so as to go looking for mosses, lichens, insects, arachnids, algae, and other living things right outside their door.

This “ignition switch” alone is what makes this book unique and critically important. One could consider it an exercise in vanity (the first book was self-published), but by documenting various species in depth, and showing the reader how he captured the detail and drama of each creature, it becomes a blueprint for how you can do the same. Why you should go to the trouble is self-evident in the countless, captivating images.

The text both explains the natural histories of the organism, and challenges the reader to make their own observations. The stories are an interesting and effective mix of the author’s personal experience, additional knowledge gleaned from literature and correspondence with world-renowned experts, and a periodic, friendly “Mr. Rogers” query to the reader. The author does not put himself above the reader. He defines scientific words with each use, and understands that occasional repetition is a good thing.

The first book was a large, magazine-like paperback. Book two is a smaller, hardback volume. Both are slightly “busy” in their design and layouts, and if there is any fault to the new book, it is in the literal fine print of “Extra Notes” that may be difficult for those with poor vision to easily read. The images are so overwhelming in their excellence and detail that almost anything else can be forgiven anyway.

The one thing that surprises and disappoints is that this book is flying under the public radar. Mr. Hatch’s prior works have rightly received critical acclaim from the scientific community. Hatch has produced posters and DVDs that have also garnered generous reviews; and he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 2003. This is an exceptional honor, as the society was founded in 1788 and has only about 2,000 members. Admirably, Hatch lives a car-free lifestyle.

In One Yard is the perfect complement to Douglas Tallamy’s books Bringing Nature Home, and Nature’s Best Hope. Hatch’s books show you exactly what can result if you cultivate native plants and make even minimal effort to observe and record. Yes, he has invested heavily in the equipment needed to produce what you see on the pages of the book, but what a payoff.

Ideally, we need more Warren Hatchs. More people should do an ongoing bioblitz of their home and property, and share the results widely through blogs, vlogs, Youtube, Instagram, and other media, if not an actual hardcopy book. Be creative. Buy this book as an inspiration and model. In One Yard: Close to Nature Book 2 is available exclusively through Wild Blueberry Media, LLC for a very reasonable $35.00 (postage paid). Don’t take my word for it, just ask Sir David Attenborough who effuses that the book is “splendid” and “it spurs me on.” When a world class, globe-trotting naturalist asks “….whether I haven’t looked at my yard with the concentration and insight that you have,” that is high praise indeed.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Home Bioblitz, Ongoing

Ever since we moved into our house in Leavenworth, Kansas, USA, in mid-May of this year, we have been keeping a tally of all the species of animal life we see on our property, or from it in the case of flying birds. As of August 12, we have surpassed seven hundred (700) taxa, and that is likely conservative.

Rove beetles, like this one I have yet to identify, have been a dominant taxon (family Staphylinidae) in our home landscape

A taxon is any level of taxonomic classification: Domain to Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Family, Genus, or species, and various divisions in between. It is often impossible to distinguish various species, or even genera or subfamilies, from images of the living creature in the “wild,” so many of the insects and arachnids we have observed may never be identified specifically.

Leafhoppers abound in diversity, too, including Idiodonus kennicotti....

....and Colladonus clitellarius, the Saddled Leafhopper

A bioblitz is typically a twenty-four-hour event at a specific location that is intended to inventory every kind of living organism within the boundaries of said property. More recently, bioblitzes have been conducted over two days, sometimes more, to enhance the experience of participants and get a more thorough survey accomplished. Sometimes, bioblitzes target one particular taxon of interest, like dragonflies and damselflies, for example.

No water feature in our yard, but still we get visits from odonates like Skimming Bluet, Enallagma geminatum

The website and smartphone app iNaturalist has become a handy platform for recording the results of bioblitzes, such as this one at Corral Bluffs Open Space, a new park near Colorado Springs, Colorado, internationally famous for the discovery of several new fossil species, especially early mammals. Making such data and observations widely accessible to the public, as well as to scholars, is an overriding priority for bioblitzes, and it inspires more bioblitzes.

Ants, like this Temnothorax sp., are always abundant, but more diverse than you think

I have been slowly uploading observations of wildlife at our home, and elsewhere we have traveled, to iNaturalist, but I am over one month behind.

Insects are always making more of themselves, like these Black-backed Grass Skimmer flower flies, Paragus haemorrhous

Our property is modest, with a front and back yard, a back porch and a side porch, and a detached garage. We have not yet planted anything new, save for a handful of daisies and coneflowers from a local nursery. We do mow what passes for the lawn, and intend to replace most of it eventually with native plants, and maybe add a small water feature and bird feeders. The front yard is dominated by an enormous red oak.

Daisy Fleabane, a "weed" that volunteered in the back yard, has a long bloom cycle, attracting insects like this Wavy Mucksucker flower fly, Orthonevra nitida

How have we amassed so many species in so little time? We are privileged to have the luxury of unlimited free time at present. Heidi spends most mornings looking and listening for birds in both yards, and beyond. The pigeons are usually flying over the federal penitentiary located two blocks behind us. A pair of Eastern Wood-pewees raised a family in a tree across the street from our front yard. I make a circuit around the yards at least once per day, usually.

We have lots of spiders, and Blue Mud Daubers like this one hunting them

We have not yet tried much in the way of trapping for insects. We did hang up a bee block under the eave by the living room window, but apparently weren’t watching it at the right time of day. About a week ago I noticed two of the holes had been plugged with mud, likely the work of a mason wasp. We occasionally set out overripe fruits, but those are quickly overrun with ants unless we take precautions like standing a section of log like a pedestal in a container of water that acts like a moat.

We have fireslies that flash, like this Big Dipper Firefly, Photinus pyralis!

We do blacklight fairly regularly, though at present my camera flash has ceased to work. My back-up cameras have repeated lens error issues whereby the extendable lens gets stuck. Finding another camera has been problematic as there are shortages of almost every item now due to the pandemic. That said, blacklighting has been the overwhelming source of our diversity. I frequently find “bonus” insects in images where the intended subject was something else entirely.

Blacklighting has brought us gems like this Black-dotted Glyph, Maliattha synochitis

Here is my challenge to you: although we are no longer confined to our homes by the novel coronavirus, consider staying put anyway and devoting time to bioblitz your own place. Even the most sterile apartment is likely to have a few dozen species. You might have to break out a magnifying lens, but they are there. Share your results on iNaturalist, Project Noah, or similar platforms. Ask for help if you are at a loss for ideas on how to get started. Happy hunting!

Saturday, July 31, 2021

National Moth Week 2021 Review

This year, National Moth Week ran from Saturday, July 17 to Sunday, July 25. It was our first moth week spent in eastern Kansas, at our own home, and my in-laws’ home, in Leavenworth.

Tiger moth, Apantesis sp.

A couple of things conspired against us, unfortunately. The moon was waxing, and full by July 23. Moths are most attracted to lights during a new moon (no moon). Secondly, the owner of the neighboring property had allowed his lot to become overgrown with many native and weedy plants. He chose the first day of moth week to mow and/or remove all of that vegetation, leaving only hedges of some exotic evergreen. Thanks! Both of these circumstances reduced our productivity. We blacklighted twice in the front yard, once in the back yard, and once two miles away at my spouse’s parents’ home.

A Brown-shaded Gray, Iridopsis defectaria

Despite the setbacks, we still managed a fair diversity of species. Most of them remain unidentified in the i-Naturalist website projects for National Moth Week because there are only so many moth specialists, and not every specimen can be determined to species, or even genus, from mere images alone. So far, I have approximately sixty-eight (68) taxa, including some moths I found in daylight hours.

Spotted Thyris Moth, Thyris maculata

The Orange Wing,Mellilla xanthometata, Lansing, Kansas

We started blacklighting in our yard on a fairly regular basis in late May. The results have been reasonably consistent in that the insects attracted are overwhelmingly caddisflies, rove beetles, and leafhoppers. Click beetles, ground beetles, water scavenger beetles, scarab beetles, ichneumon wasps, and longhorned beetles are also prominent.

Red-necked Peanutworm Moth,Stegasta bosqueella

When it comes to moths, there have been few large, spectacular moths. We do not run our lights all night long, though, and some of the giant moths apparently fly well after midnight. Most of our sessions are concluded by about 12:30 AM, if not earlier. We have had no giant silkmoths (family Saturniidae), and only one sphingid, a Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis), weeks before moth week.

This Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae, was....

....unfortunately murdered by a Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)

I have conditioned myself to closely examine the “little stuff,” five or six millimeters and under, to find the greatest diversity. Many tiny moths are also among the most beautiful. Sometimes I cannot tell if the insect is a microcaddisfly (family Hydroptilidae), a miniscule leafhopper (family Cicadellidae), or a tiny moth until I zoom in with my camera. Even then it can be a difficult exercise.

A concealer moth, Callima argenticinctella

In the process of editing photos, I frequently find additional species that I did not notice “live” at the sheet. Opening an image file can be like opening a Christmas present or a box of chocolates (“….you never know what you’re gonna get,” to quote Forrest Gump).

Pygmy leaf-mining moth, Stigmella sp, only 2 mm

We also made a feeble attempt at “sugaring,” mixing beer with overripe bananas and aging it a couple of days. That effort drew exactly zero moths. I think I saw a fly or two during the day. Maybe. We might try again at a later date, as underwing moths have only recently started flying.

Kermes Scale Moth, Euclemensia bassettella

The White-speck, Mythimna unipuncta

It will be interesting to track global observations for National Moth Week over the years, to see what changes and what remains constant. Is climate change pushing some species farther north as the planet warms? Are some species declining because they cannot adapt? Are some locations disappearing to the plow or urban sprawl? How do we mitigate these destructive impacts?

The Wretched Olethreutes,Olethreutes exoletum

It is also ironic, and perhaps hypocritical, that we preach an end to light pollution while deploying lights to attract moths. Entomologists and citizen scientists should probably settle on a message that reflects the need to gather data periodically, while dimming unnecessary lighting in general.

Yellow Nutsedge Moth, Diploschizia impigritella, 4 mm

If you have not yet participated in a National Moth Week, please consider doing so. That might mean attending a public event (or initiating one), or simply turning on your porch light and recording what comes to visit. Meanwhile, enjoy seeking moths, and their caterpillars, pupae and cocoons, all year long. Visit the National Moth Week website for more. Visit iNaturalist for all of my National Moth Week observations.

A male Chickweed Geometer, Haematopis grataria