Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Bug Fair 2023 Recap

I had not attended the annual Bug Fair at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (California) since about 2011, so I was overdue in seeing old friends and making new ones. Heidi and I had a wonderful time, and stayed in the area for the week afterwards to enjoy some of the natural areas in the greater Los Angeles region, as well as spend time socializing. The fair itself is a major event, one that regularly sets museum attendance records for the year. During the global pandemic, there was no Bug Fair until 2022, and even then it was a scaled-down version. This year it was back to full strength.

My table at the Bug Fair

Bug Fair happens the weekend before the Memorial Day weekend every year, and takes over two halls, plus the rotunda, and various outdoor extensions of the museum. It includes vendors of entomological supplies, live specimens, and preserved specimens. Many organizations and government agencies have tables as well, and there are a fair number of artists. I was the only author with a dedicated table.

Monarch Art, if I recall correctly
BioQuip Bugs, which was purchased when BioQuip folded
Greg Lewallen's booth
Micro Wilderness live insects and arachnids
We were next to a vendor selling carnivorous plants
The museum rotunda featured some educational exhibits
UC Riverside booth in the rotunda
Beetlelady's table display
Outside, on the back patio, museum personnel dressed as bugs played music for lunching guests

Lisa Gonzalez, one of my friends from prior Bug Fairs, is now the Program Manager of Invertebrates. Among her multiple talents is macro photography. Her images of museum specimens, taken with a focus stacking camera apparaatus, were on exhibit during the fair. I love that the interpretive text was in both English and Spanish.

I grossly underestimated the enduring popularity of the printed word, and sold out of some of my books the first day. The following day, we were taking prepaid orders and promising free shipping. I will know better next time, but when that will be is anyone's guess. I am currently working on another book, for which I do not yet have a publisher. An agent is reviewing the proposal, and hopefully we can begin shopping it around to various houses in the near future.

What do you do after a long day at the Bug Fair? Enjoy dinner out with Beetlelady, of course.

It was rejuvenating to see old friends like the Beetlelady, Dr. Stephanie Dole, who has built a pop-up insect museum she deploys at various venues upstate. She is also a gifted artist, cosplay enthusiast, and mother to two wonderful children.

Business cards I collected during the fair

I would highly recommend Bug Fair as an event worth planning a vacation around. The greater Los Angeles region has a surprising number of parks with unique flora and fauna, a perfect complement to the exotic specimens to be found at the fair. There are plenty of cultural experiences, too. Shoot, I'd go back for the churro cart in Long Beach alone.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

I Am Unable to Reply to Comments, and I'm Sorry

Visitors to this blog need to know that Blogger will no longer allow me to reply to your comments and questions on my posts, or even make my own comments. I understand your frustration, as it is mine, also. I can sometimes reply in a different browser than I normally use (Mozilla Firefox), but even that seems unreliable. Eventually, I want to have a dedicated author and writer website, where I can transfer this blog. Until then, I appreciate your understanding and patience. Let me address a few recurring themes, though.

I am forced to moderate comments because of a ridiculous amount of spam, mostly attempts at self-promotion by pest control companies, but many are other business interests that have no relation to the subject matter of this blog. I try and go through pending comments at least once per week. I will only delete comments if they contain profanity or defamatory content. If people have stories they want to share, good or bad, I am happy to entertain them. I appreciate what are mostly kind and appreciative comments. Thank you.

"Does it bite?" and "Will it hurt me/my pets/plants, etc?" are recurring queries. If I do not mention that the creature is threatening, then it is not, provided you do not handle it or try to kill it. There is always the possibility that you do not see the insect or arachnid and squash it accidentally, or it gets trapped in clothing...The more aware you are, the less likely you will have negative encounters with any animal.

"Can I post a picture...?" is also a query I receive routinely. I wish I was able to allow that, but the potential of hidden malware, even in links to images, prohibits this. What I can recommend instead is sharing your images on a website like iNaturalist or Bugguide. Both websites (and a complementary app in the case of iNaturalist) are free to join. The only danger is in getting addicted to everyone else's observations. Even Facebook interest groups, like "Insect ID," and Twitter (X), and Instagram are viable avenues for learning what your mystery creature is. The beauty of those other paths of inquiry is that you can receive multiple opinions, from professional entomologists and amateur naturalists alike.

I am using Google-generated advertising here for a meager revenue stream. I apologize for the intrusion of that advertising, but my former company sponsors no longer exist. I welcome alternatives to those ads.

Thank you again for your loyalty, and for tolerating the imperfections of this blog. I do plan on retaining the archive of posts at this URL for the forseeable future.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Guest Post: "Friend or Foe?"

by Caity Judd

Caity Judd is one of those people who I put in the category of “best friends I haven’t met in person yet.” She is curious, adventurous, and a tireless advocate for all things unsung and underappreciated, including fellow humans. The following is a post she made to a Facebook group that we both subscribe to. It is so eloquent and passionate that I asked if I could publish it here as a guest post. I am grateful that she agreed. I will have a brief postscript at the end….

Sphinx moth caterpillars, like this Manduca rustica, consume a LOT of foliage; but they turn into lovely moths which pollinate flowers that bloom at night.

”I want to take a minute to talk about how we think about our exoskeleton-wearing neighbors. People really like to label things and put things in boxes. I get it. I love labeling things and putting things in boxes. That’s part of why I like the ID/taxonomy part of entomology and arachnology so much. But sometimes the boxes we try to put things in are so black and white that they end up missing any nuance about very complicated situations.

‘Friend or foe?’ is one such example. There are very few examples of any kind of animal (including humans) that are all-beneficial or only problematic. Even if we only look at animals who have been dubbed ‘invasive’ in an area, if you look at how that animal exists within its home range ecology, things get complicated again. So, maybe it’s fair to say that spotted lanternflies or emerald ash borers are “foe” outside of their native range. But the vast majority of animals can’t be wrapped up neatly into those labels, even within a certain range.

Did you know that the particular species of ladybugs, mantises, and honey bees that most US gardeners seem to believe are “friends” aren’t from here? They all have negative impacts on local ecologies when introduced to places they don’t come from. Are they ‘friend’ just because they are useful to us? They’re really not even as useful as people seem to largely believe; adult ladybugs and mantises often don’t stick around long enough to serve their utility for the person who introduced them. The idea that honey bees are solely responsible for pollinating food crops is hogwash. Instead, these animals displace their native counterparts, throwing off the balance even further.

’Friend’ and ‘foe’ are labels that artificially limit your understanding of the interactions of plants and animals in a geographic area. There’s nothing wrong with fondly calling something you happen to like ‘friend’; that’s different than trying to smush everything into a one-or-the other category. Instead of asking ‘friend or foe,’ perhaps we should attempt better, more complete understanding, by asking ‘how does this animal interact with the environment around it?’

If you try that route, you may learn that aphids, while they do drink your plants’ juices, are also hosts for tiny little parasitoid wasps who rely on aphids to continue their own life cycles, and act as a natural control for their numbers. You may learn that while we all love ourselves a house centipede, they’re not actually native in the U.S. You may learn that termites play an immensely important role in breaking down wood fiber, and feed all sorts of insectivorous animals. You might learn that dragonfly naiads and mayfly nymphs are good indicators of unpolluted water. You might learn about ants’ incredible seed-dispersing capabilities. The natural world, even the one in your backyard, has so much richness and complexity to be discovered, if only we don’t put limits on our curiosity in the first place.”


As I mentioned previously, Caity is a fierce protector of persecuted human demographics as well, and I think it is important to note that we too frequently extend this “friend or enemy” mindset to fellow Homo sapiens. We are told that immigrants and refugees are “pests” in a manner of speaking because “they take our jobs.” Nonsense. We do not own resources of any kind, we share them. The more we frame our lives that way, the more peacefully we can coexist and solve the larger problems of the day, like climate change and species extinctions.

Thanks again, Caity, for a wonderful summary of how we can approach the natural world in our yards, gardens, and on our doorstep.

Friday, May 12, 2023

City Nature Challenge 2023 Recap

Pearl Crescent butterfly, Phyciodes tharos

Here, in our neck of the woods in Leavenworth, Kansas, USA, the 2023 City Nature Challenge was, well, challenging. Our county is part of the Greater Kansas City Metro as defined for the City Nature Challenge. Besides unseasonably cool temperatures, and viciously windy weather, there was the competition of the National Football League draft in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Despite those circumstances, the results were excellent.

I kept an eye out for birds, too, like this Red-tailed Hawk

There were 294 "observers," or people who recorded observations of flora and fauna, making a total of 3,640 sightings, beginning Friday, April 28, and ending May 1 (Friday through Monday). Currently, the observations represent 807 species, and climbing, thanks to the work of more than 300 "identifiers," people proficient in the identification of various organisms. This is an increase over last year's totals of 239 observers making 1,944 observations of 651 species.

A tiny lace bug, Corythucha sp.

Personally, I ventured out only Friday, April 28, and Monday, May 1, both very windy days. We also put out a blacklight and sheet in the back yard the night of May 1 to see what night-flying insects we could attract. We had an invitation to make observations in Topeka, a non-participating city, on Saturday, April 29, which was of course the best weather day in the span of the event.

Plants and fungi accounted for about half the total observations. Over half the animal observations were insects and arachnids.

Cute and camouflaged Blanchard's Cricket Frog

Most of my own observations were in Havens Park, the only "wild" park within walking distance of our home. My partner, Heidi, needs our car for work. Havens has lawns with a few trees, plus extensive oak-hickory forests, and glades dominated by Eastern Red Cedar at the summit of the park. The area has been abused by illegal dumping, and was notorious as a place for drug deals, but these crimes have subsided drastically. Illegal off-road vehicle traffic remains a problem, with the resulting erosion and gouging of the landscape. I see few people on any of the trails, including paved biking and walking trails, but I am usually there on weekdays.

An assassin bug, Sinea sp, in waiting

I found a surprising diversity of butterflies in spite of the periodic strong wind gusts. It helped that a few flowers were blooming, and there were some mud puddles persisting from previous rain.

Eastern Tailed-blue butterfly
Juvenal's Duskywing skipper, Erynnis juvenalis
Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus
Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis
Juniper Hairstreak, Callophrys gryneus
Questionmark butterfly, Polygonia interrogationis

Few moths were seen, though turning on our porch light on one night, and deploying a blacklight on another, helped to reveal them.

Unidentified geometer moth
Tiny ribbed cocoon-maker moth, Bucculatrix sp.
A phycitine knot-horned moth, family Pyralidae
Celery Leaftier Moth, Udea rubigalis

The most diverse and conspicuous insects were flies, with several families represented.

Drosophila sp. pomace fly in the kitchen
Large Bee Fly, Bombylius major
Root maggot fly, Eutrichota sp
Shore fly, Brachydeutera sp., on the surface of a mud puddle
Shiny Bluebottle Fly, Cynomya cadaverina
Pufftail flower fly, Sphegina sp.
Narrow-headed Marsh Fly, Helophilus fasciatus
Blue-green Bottle Fly, Lucilia coerulieviridis
Muscid fly, Lispe sp.

Beetles were disappointingly scarce for the most part. Even lady beetles were mostly absent. Next year, I might try putting out pitfall traps.

Two-lined Soldier Beetle, Atalantycha bilineata
Striped Cucumber Beetle, Acalymma vittatum
Jewel beetle, Dicerca lurida
Rove beetle, Lathropinus picipes?

Springtime is bee season, and they did not disappoint. Most families were present, representing several genera. Some, like large carpenter bees, I was unable to get images of.

Non-native mason bee, Osmia taurus
Sweat bee, Lasioglossum (Dialictus) sp.
Mining bee, Andrena sp.
Nomad cuckoo bee, Nomada sp.

Sawflies and wasps were more challenging to find, and photograph, but I was happy to see any at all.

Mason wasp, Ancistrocerus sp.
Eastern Yellowjacket queen, Vespula maculifrons
Ichneumon wasp, Erigorgus sp.
Spider wasp, Priocnemis minorata
Unidentified sawfly, family Tenthredinidae
Nocturnal ichneumon wasp, Netelia sp.

I only managed to find two kinds of grasshoppers, representing pygmy grasshoppers and short-horned grasshoppers.

Pygmy grasshopper, family Tetrigidae
Green-striped Grasshopper, Chortophaga viridifasciata

Did you know that cockroaches and termites are now classified in the same order? I uncovered both kinds of insects by turning over boards and chunks of wood from logs and limbs.

Eastern Subterranean Termite, Reticulitermes flavipes
Wood cockroach nymph, Parcoblatta sp.

Spiders were surprisingly abundant and diverse, representing several families of web-weavers, ambush hunters, and active predators.

Antmimic spider, Castianeira sp.
Orbweaver, Gea heptagon
Triangulate Cobweb Weaver, Steatoda triangulosa
Brown Recluse, male, Loxosceles reclusa
Crab spider, Mecaphesa sp.
Hammock weaver, Pityohyphantes sp.

Overall, this year's City Nature Challenge was an exciting exercise in discovery and sharing. Thanks to all who participated, in every city, and to iNaturalist (my observations in the hyperlink) for providing the platform to register individual projects and record the observations. I'm already looking forward to the 2024 edition.