My life with bugs

Butterfly books for kids

Lepidoptera are near and dear to this household.  Our garden is full of native and other flowering plants to attract butterflies.  We rear anything we can find the eggs for.  We’ve also participated in the citizen science of tagging our reared Monarch butterflies.  We have found many great reads for this theme that is so fun revisit every spring and summer.

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Rearing and Releasing Monarch Butterflies

Just in time for our unit on insects, the “Fireflies” unit in Moving Beyond the Page, we have our first reared Monarch butterflies to release this year. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, she knows the host plant, can spot the eggs and small caterpillars. Jana has, unsurprisingly, been exposed to a number of entomological experiences throughout her life.

As a naturalist, she is a natural. She has a good eye at spotting something new and different. She continually adds to her collection of “treasures” whether it’s a shell, smooth stone, acorn, interesting leaf or feather. She acted as one of the guides when our garden featured on our neighborhood garden tour, identifying plants, flowers and vegetables (much more knowledgeable than a number of our neighbors I might add). She also has a quick hand, strolling down our driveway she snatched an Eight Spotted Forester day flying moth out of the air asking, “what’s this Momma?” That quick hand is also a gentle hand, befriending a Katydid for six or so hours over the course of a day; or playing with a spider in the kiddie pool for over half an hour floating it on boats and letting it climb up and down her arms. Her general lack of fear of wildlife comes into play while fishing with her Dad as well, she has no qualms reeling in, grasping fish and removing hooks on her own, of which she can identify many common species. But I digress as a proud biologist Momma.

So this year with our Monarchs, we’re taking our “citizen science” a step further and participating in a tagging program through Monarch Watch. It’s just a small way to participate in the “bigger picture” with Jana. She’s four and a half. She gets it; although she was a little sad to let the butterflies go (she really wanted to keep them), she knew we have to help take care of “her little buddies.”

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2009 Year in Review

(better late than never, belated posting)

What a year we have had! Most of which dominated by one event. At the beginning of January, we decided to “pull the pin on that grenade” and go ahead and have a baby. In what seemed to be the longest pregnancy ever, starting with the twenty two weeks of nausea and vomiting, I eventually really enjoyed being pregnant. Epsilon got to be a very well traveled fetus, starting in Barcelona and making three trips to France, not too mention the day to day mundanity of flitting about England. Jana arrived two weeks late in December, a fantastic way to end the year.

I participated in making a video for an exhibit in the new Darwin Center. Capping off my tour of duty at the NHM before going on maternity leave by meeting Prince William and participating in the opening of the Darwin Center.

Jana’s arrival completely overshadowed our three year anniversary of moving to England (December 1st). This will be our fourth winter here. It still feels like we’ve only just arrived. That first walk down the footpath behind our house is so fresh in my mind. But that may be because I/we walk on it so much.

Jana is the best souvenir we could be bringing home from our time spent living here.

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VIP Opening of DC2 or where I met Prince William

Deb on the screen and in the "fishbowl" labI made HRH Prince William laugh. How you ask? I was approached by one of the Directors of the museum two weeks ago. My presence was being requested to man the SPA in the new Darwin Center for the VIP opening day, “are you available to work that day? We have some very important VIP’s coming and we would like you to be there.” Even though I would officially be on maternity leave, I would make an exception and come back for this. I didn’t know who I would being seeing that day, I was only told to provide a brief biography of myself and describe the work I would be doing. Later that week, the afternoon session of the VIP day was then referred to as “the Royal bit.” There were rehearsals and walk throughs scheduled and even a debriefing on Royal protocol followed by yet another run through. I was told the Prince would have three minutes scheduled at the SPA to talk to me. He would know information about me and was going to ask questions.

HRH Prince William opens the Darwin CenterI made HRH Prince William laugh. How you ask? It was with the answer to one of his questions. Having asked me how I liked being on display, I said it wasn’t so bad, especially when children ask questions. He then asked what sort of questions are asked and I was honest, the number one question when you’re sitting there poking pins through insects and surrounding them with brace pins is, “are you torturing them? are you hurting them?” and he laughed a genuine surprised sort of laugh and then asked about what sort of more serious questions are asked. To which I explained about amateurs and beginners looking for advice on collecting and preparation techniques. It was a fun experience.

I stayed in the SPA for the rest of the evening, entertaining questions from other VIP guests. These included Trustees of the museum and who had very different questions and concerns than what the public would ask. Certainly, the whole issue of, “You’re not going to get much actual work done in there with people interrupting you all the time,” seemed at the forefront of their minds. I also fielded many completely irrelevant questions such as, “Judging from your accent, you’re not from around here are you?” and of course, despite my trying to camouflage it, “So when’s the baby due? Are you having in it in the UK?”

Without the promised break in visitors, I was famished by the end and was hovered over the remaining hors d’oeuvres as the Director of the Museum, with tears of pride in his eyes, toasted everyone involved after the guests had left. Again, a fantastic way to spend one of my last days at work.

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My Life With Bugs

Remember a few months back I posted about being filmed for an exhibit at the museum? Well, this is it! This short video is part of one of the exhibits, “Making It Part of the Collection” in the new Darwin Center which opens to the public this week. It airs outside the “SPA” (Specimen Preparation Area) a windowed lab where the public can interact with staff as they work. At the rate museums change exhibits, I’ll be there for quite some time and am glad to be a part of it :)

“Watch Deborah Denovich, scientific preparator at the Museum, as she demonstrates how beetle specimens are prepared before they can go into the collections.”

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Maternity Leave

British Natural History Museum during half termToday was my official last day of work before I start maternity leave. Although I will be returning on the 14th and 15th of this month to take part in opening events for the new Darwin Center. I’ve made an exception to be a part of the VIP and public openings and it should be a lot of fun. Just you wait to see the posts I make from that week! Hopefully soon the website will go live that also features the preparation video I star in that will be an exhibit in the Darwin Center for years to come. A fantastic way to show friends and family who will probably never make to the museum in person to see it and a sampling of the odd job I have.

I chose to start my maternity leave at the earliest date allowable, eleven weeks before my due week. High on the deciding factor: the three and a half hours of commuting a day. It’s already uncomfortable for me. But other factors contributed too.

It was a bittersweet day as I was tying up loose ends and cleaning up my work space. It really has been an amazing experience to be a part of this museum and this department. I’ve learned so much, met some truly remarkable people and hopefully have left a positive contribution in my wake. Even though today I knew it wasn’t going to be the last time I would be there, I was sad as I walked away from the building today. I hope to return, even for a brief stint, before we return to the US sometime next year.

This has been a big part of an exciting chapter in my life. But soon, the next chapter will begin and the plot is taking a wildly unexpected turn.

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Verrall Supper

Verrall SupperTonight I stayed in London late to attend the Verrall Supper and the lecture that preceded. The supper is a tradition started in 1826 as a social dinner club and Entomological Association. There is surprisingly little information on the interwebs about the history of the Verrall Association, although there is a book out there. You can only attend if you’ve been invited by someone who has attended before. I was half expecting there to be a secret handshake or something. Women entomologists were only invited to join starting in the 1960’s it was traditionally such a club for men. At the start of dinner a number of people were introduced. International visitors were recognized from traveling in from all over (including Quentin Wheeler with whom I had the chance to talk quite a lot with), former members who passed on were given a moments of silence. I was told in previous years it was also tradition to announce the newest members and they would have to stand up and say what you’re working on. This year was apparently a bumper crop of new members for The Verrall so that bit was passed over. After a toast to the Queen and grace that consisted of, “Thanks for friends, food and bugs!” we tucked in to a nice dinner, wine and lots of socializing (and networking for those new to the crowd). I’m glad I went and was a part of the tradition.

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Happy 200th Birthday Darwin!

Today is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and there are all sorts of Darwin-centric events happening at the museum today, this week, really all this year as it is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species.” The “nature live” lecture today was on Darwin’s life and achievements and there was promise of birthday cake. There were so many people there, they were turning people away at the door. Which included me. No cake for me. They should have known the promise of cake would have drawn out a larger crowd.

I’m a biologist, a naturalist, an entomologist, a taxonomist, it should be no mystery to anyone how Darwin inspires me. I’m fortunate to work at a place that houses his collections, that celebrates all these fields, that supports people whose livelihoods and passions are fueled by Darwin’s unifying law of biology. Yes, I said it is a law of science, it is one of those ideas that are so unifying, so observable, so proven that it is a fact of reality, and evolution by means of natural selection is one of them and it drives research and advances in many fields in biology.

So here’s to you and your brilliance (and to be fair, Wallace’s brilliance as well)! I enjoy seeing your statue watching over the halls of the Natural History Museum.

Keeping an eye on natural history

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Filming at the Museum

“Making It Part of the Collection”

Several months ago I agreed to be a part of an exhibit demonstrating beetle pinning. One of the many “fish bowl” windows looking in on staff in the new building will be into a preparation room/lab where insect pinning and plant pressing is slated to occur. When no one is in the room, say on weekends or something, there will be videos, photos and displays as a public offer.

My kitA couple months ago I met up with the film crew to talk about what a scientific preparator does. This involved me demonstrating pinning and pointing of beetles, labeling, talking about sorting accessions, a little bit about collecting and how a person ends up with such an odd job anyway. I talked and demoed for about forty minutes.

Last week I received “the script” or basically highlights of what I do distilled down to a dozen or so sentences that when read out loud would last about one minute thirty seconds. This wasn’t the verbatim script to be used, but included language and terms to make sure I said for clarity and to match up with what will presumably be on other related exhibit materials. For insect pest management purposes I also sent three drawers of specimens (aka more props) to be frozen for a week before being allowed in the new building.

A few days ago I received the call sheet which outlined a dress code for the people being filmed. No bright colors as they might flash hot on film, no stripes or patterns, no black, but to wear something you would ordinarily wear to work.

Yesterday morning porters arrived in my bay and packed up my kit, or basically most of my bay, to take to DC2 (Darwin Center phase 2), the new building that will be housing the botany and most of the entomology collections and staff soon. I was to be filmed there to make it look like I was working in the lab. So, not only did my microscope, tools, points and glue go, but also books and even desk lamps (as the labs don’t yet have lamps in them) to populate the desk as props.

Trying to point while looking at a video screenThis morning, I arrived early, I didn’t want to chance being late with public transport falling apart this week due to all the snow. Which was fine, this gave me over an hour to take care of a few things before the start. I would be the first to be filmed today, all three of us with activities that fit into the “Making it Part of the Collection” theme. Me, preparing insects, another woman preparing genitalia slides, and some one from botany showing how plant specimens are pressed and prepared.

There was the hair and make up girl who, after plastering on a good deal of foundation, actually came up to me between shots to touch up, blot and powder my nose. First, they filmed me walking in and working through everything quietly without me talking to get an “over all” shot. After that they broke down each tiny motion into a shot filmed from multiple angles. A lot of, “so, can you place those specimens back in the vial and pour them out into the tray again?” or, “can you do that with your left hand so it fits in the screen better?” There was also the, “we’ll film your hands while you are doing things, then we’ll film your face while you’re talking explaining what you’re doing while you pretend to do these things.” The woman filming was very excitable. You would think she captured the money shot for a porno once the macro lens was on and an inch away from and focused on the tiny weevil I was pointing.

Almost five hours of filming for what will be a video under two minutes.

I really enjoyed myself. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product and how all these strange scenes will be cut together to tell a cohesive story. I will be seeing a preview and blooper reel to comment on before anything gets put in the exhibit. I hope I don’t sound like an idiot.

(I took a few photos from this day, stay tuned!)

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How Many People Have Seen This?

Me in museum video promoting scienceThere I am, in a still photograph, in a promotional video about the numbers of specimens and the science done in the museum. It’s in the main lobby and runs every few minutes. I honestly don’t know when I was photographed for this. The only time I was in front of a camera was with a film crew putting together a “pilot video” trying to pitch an idea of documentary for the BBC showing what goes on behind the scenes in the museum and associated weird jobs. This must be from then. I was pinning and pointing beetles for the segment. I think this was about a year ago too. And, no, I haven’t heard any news about the proposed documentary since.

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Two Years

Two years! TWO! It’s our second anniversary of living abroad today. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were piling out of that giant rental car loaded down with luggage? It seems easy now, even after all the planning and paperwork, were we making the right decision? I wouldn’t change anything.

It’s almost hard to believe that we could have been heading home for good soon. The time has honestly flown by. Each year has had a distinctly different flavor.  Our first year was all about travel, how many days were we on the road? 140?  160?  I’ll have to look up the exact number, but it was A LOT.  Year two has been all about settling into a routine of living and working in England.  I never expected to find a job in my field, or work at all for that matter, so it’s been its own adventure commuting into London everyday.

There are so many adventures yet to be had. I wonder what flavor of life this third year will have.  Here’s to the start of year THREE!

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NHM During Half Term

British Natural History Museum during half termThis is a sight I won’t see at home. It’s half term in the U.K. and that brings people and their families into the city in incredible numbers. It’s days like this when you can’t deny that the Natural History Museum gets up to 15,000 visitors in a single day (free admission too). There is literally wall to wall throngs of people. Everywhere. Every corner. I hesitate to leave the department on days like this, just getting to the loo or making it out for lunch is a harrowing obstacle course. It will be this packed all this week and possibly next week, as it seems schools stagger their half term breaks. My friend and I seemingly had the Carnegie to ourselves in April visiting the newly remodeled dinosaur hall.

An interesting connection to the museum back home: taking center stage in the main hall greeting every visitor to the museum is a cast of the Diplodocus carnegii skeleton whose original is housed in the Carnegie. The BM has it’s own Dippy.

The cast was given as a gift by Andrew Carnegie, after meeting with King Edward VII who was fascinated by the fossil animal. Carnegie arranged for a cast to be created at his own expense, at a cost of £2000, copying the original. The pieces were sent to London in 36 crates. The new exhibit was unveiled in May 1905. It created a bit of a stir as the original skeleton had yet to be articulated and mounted back home. Nicknamed “Dippy,” the news of the new exhibit spread. Carnegie eventually paid to have additional copies made for display in most major European capitals, making Dippy the most-seen dinosaur skeleton in the world.

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England: One More Year!

Our long December shadows with StonehengeWell, I suppose it’s officially official now. We are staying in England for another year. Mark’s original contract was for two years and those two years are just about up. That time has flown by! A blip! Now, after months of promises and waiting for contract negotiations, coming up with an offer we could live with, it finally happened. One more year.

Honestly, we were getting a bit frustrated and just mere weeks ago we were uttering the words to ourselves, “maybe it is time to go home.” Mentally, we were starting to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead at home. We have plans, big plans, that we have been dreaming about for years. Hell, we picked up and lived abroad for two years, anything is possible, it’s just a matter of acting on it and doing things sooner rather than later.

Our minds are switching gears again, knowing now that we are staying. We have plans, big plans, places to go, people to see. We went ahead and actually bought a coffee maker, something we had been putting off for two years because, well, it is silly really, we were only going to be here so briefly, the French press was fine to tide us over.

As for me, I am now able to remain and finish my own contract with my job at the museum and I’ll get to see the “big move” into the new Darwin Center. I am actually going to be part of the new exhibit in the public offer. I’m working with a film team to create a video about insect preparation. (This will go along side two other videos by other people on slide preparation and plant mounting outside one of the many windows looking into “the cocoon” where people will be working). I’m excited to be a part of the staff that’s going to be captured in snippets and snapshots for the world to see what goes on behind those doors. And I’m excited that I’ll be there to witness its start.

One more year. Yeah, we can do that, we can do that standing on our heads.

(the photo above is one of the first we took after moving here in 2006, our long December shadows on nearly the shortest day of the year)

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Netherlands: Amsterdam, Artis

Mark is working today so I’m up to my old tricks and entertaining myself in the city for the day. I had all these grand designs for visiting places, including the Troppenmuseum (the Tropical Museum), the Hortus (the botanical gardens) and possibly making it to Artis, the zoo. Since there wasn’t a deluge pouring from the sky, I thought I would start with the out of doors attraction and headed straight for Artis.

The walk was fabulous. Chilly, but at least sunny. It was nice to see the canals by daylight. Amsterdam is a city of concentric half circles of canals with radiating branches throughout. A watery spider web outlined with cobbled roads and impossibly narrow and slanting buildings. Every single road had a bicycle lane, I have never seen so my bicyclists, or bicycles, period. The city caters to and is designed for bikes. Crossing intersections, it’s not the motorists to look out for, it’s the people on bikes who will run into you.

I ended up spending my entire day there. It is not just a zoo. Inside its grounds is the University run Zoological Museum, the Aquarium, a Planetarium and an Insectarium (I kept thinking of the “orphanarium” from Futurama when I saw this!) complete with an enormous butterfly house, I’m talking thousands of butterflies, a photographer’s paradise. With so much on offer, it’s easy to see how I spent so much time here. After seeing some of my photos of butterflies, Mark actually said this is a place he’d like to go (this from a person who does not like museums or zoos). But there was so much else to do, maybe next time. Photos forthcoming, at some point, we are months behind in processing photos.

I found a “New York” bagel shop for lunch and was sat in a window seat with a latte for a session of people watching. I kept seeing the twins of a close friend’s mother, I don’t think they’re Dutch, but the resemblance was uncanny.

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England: Dorset, Bloody-Nose Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Timarcha tenebricosa

A lumbering, flightless leaf beetle, often seen plodding across paths or through grass. In this case, he was fighting against the stiff breeze on the top of a cliff on the Jurassic Coast at Lulworth Cove. When disturbed, these beetles exude a drop of bright red, blood-like fluid from their mouth. I must not have disturbed him, he didn’t spew any goo at me. This photo doesn’t capture the color very well, but the elytra had a metallic purple sheen too it.

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast.

More Durdle Door

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast. This coast line is riddled with interesting geology and features. If you can imagine a layer cake with three cake layers turned on it’s side: a layer of vanilla, a layer of chocolate and a layer of carrot cakes, you can imagine what this coast looks like geologically. The layers of rock have been uplifted and tilted, revealing interesting patterns in the strata, eroding differentially making these coves and arches.

We sat on the pebbly beach and dipped our feet in the cold cold water. Mark was significantly braver than me and went for a swim. Just to say he swam through Durdle Door. Mark remarked on the fact that we knew we were going to the coast, to the beach, and at no point did we even consider bringing swimsuits or towels. I was bundled up in a sweater. It was a gorgeous sunny day, no doubt, but the stiff breeze was chilly.

There is so much more to explore on the southern coast, we’ll need to make another trip, or a longer trip :)

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My Life With Bugs

I realized that I’ve been asked quite a bit about my job recently and have sent out many an email explaining what it is I actually do, that this would make an excellent post. I often feel I get the strangest reactions to this, I do have an odd job.

I am knackered. With just a few weeks of my working full time under my belt, I’m starting to get used to the commute. It is rough though. I’ll be able to last, I think, to the end of the year doing this…

I am excited about the new job though, it’s going to be a lot more challenging than what I was doing. In recent weeks I’ve been training someone new as a preparator. It really is an art pinning and pointing insects for a collection. It takes patience and a good eye. We recently had an open house with heaps of artistically arranged spectacular collections on display. That is all well and good to ogle and “Ooooh!” and “Aaaaah!” at. However, in active scientific collections used for research, specimens need to be prepared in a way that helps best preserve and conserve them. It’s an art, but with a practical side to it. I’ll still be involved in the insect preparation on the side.

The rest of my time, I’ll be involved with curation activities. I’ll be in charge of getting beetles that have been “accessioned” by the museum, which are housed separately and are unorganized, and putting them in order. These are collections of beetles that have either been donated, are from staff field work, or from research projects that haven’t been integrated into the main collection. I’m a generalist. I’ll be making sense of them and getting them into the main collection so that they are somewhere accessible where they can be identified, used and studied by the experts.

Museum collections, whether it’s bugs, plants or dinosaur bones, are like libraries. If the books are not where they’re supposed to be, organized in a rational manner, no one can find them to read them and get information from them. The characters used to identify the family, genus and species are chapters, pages and individual words in these books. So, basically, I’ll be cleaning up old stacks of beetles (identifying to family, etc.) and putting them where they belong in the drawers in the right order (curation) or putting certain groups in front of the eyes of specialists. It’s a much more challenging job than it sounds, I’ll be learning quite a lot about beetles in the process (as most of my training is in lepidoptera).

The commute is going to be rough, but I’m excited about the work. It’s all about the right trade offs. I feel they have been working so hard to get me hired full time, it’s hard to say no to the job, I’m really quite flattered. And it’s set for 6-9 months, depending if we’re here beyond the end of the year. They know about our situation and are being very accommodating with my contract.

And paid time off! This is such a novel idea for me! I have a pile of days of pto (if it were a one year contract I would *start* with 27 pto days). All those years of working at my former position, I never had any sort of benefits. I am almost beside myself with the idea :) This example really driving home the stereotype of stingy benefits for Americans in the US. In fact, this coming Friday I’ll be taking off for a holiday, it feels so strange. I wonder how many of my coworkers will get it.

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Happy National Insect Week!

It’s National Insect Week in the UK this week. For our part, there will be an open house on Thursday and Friday afternoon from 12:30-4:30. Come see what entomologists at the Natural History Museum are up to and do. I’ll be there preparing crowd pleasing large and colorful beetles, talking about preparation, the importance of well prepared specimens in active scientific collections to preserve and conserve the condition of the specimens as best as possible and the exciting world of field work.

Happy National Insect Week everybody!

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* Le Sigh *

My first week as a curator is finished. I. Love. My. Job. I feel like I don’t have enough hours in the day to get all that I want to get done, done (but want to leave at a reasonable time so I actually get home at a reasonable time with the long commute). This commute is going to be very hard, it is incredibly draining to spend that much of my day on trains and the underground. I’m completely knackered by the time I get home and have usually fallen asleep on the train. One of these days I’m going to wake up in Oxford or beyond :)

All I want to do right now is go out and celebrate, have a drink and share this good feeling with friends. Mark is in Germany (until 2am Sunday) and I’m far away from everyone I know (both UK and US friends). Because of this, for the first time in a long time, I’m a little homesick and really missing people.

I’m not going to drink alone, but I might cook up some Eggs Benedict for dinner as my own little celebration.

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Lucanus cervus – Stag Beetle

Male and female Lucanus cervusa.k.a. our evening’s entertainment. This stag beetle is the U.K.’s largest beetle, Lucanus cervus. Apparently, these beetles are rare outside the Thames valley and populations have declined or are extinct beyond southern England. Fortunately, we live in the Thames valley and the males have been buzzing through the air tonight like miniature helicopters in numbers. The larva spend four years feeding in rotting wood, when they emerge as adults, they live for a few months simply to reproduce.

I nearly stepped on a female who was casually hanging out on our gravel walkway. What a perfect subject for a little macro photography. She is a photogenic beetle. Shortly thereafter we caught a male that flew close enough to the ground to capture. We kept seeing them silhouetted against the pale lit dusk sky up near the tree limbs and leaves.

Mating pair of Lucanus cervusOnce inside and with my expert beetle wrangling and Mark’s lighting idea, we had plenty to amuse ourselves. We improvised a soft light box with a laundry basket and a white sheet. We photographed them individually and then brought the two love birds, er, love beetles together. Only in this house would this constitute a fun Saturday night, capturing and photographing insects!

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London Commuting

This is a post I’ve been meaning to post since February, but kept adding to it.

Deb on train into LondonAs I’ve been settling in to a regular schedule at work, I’ve had some time to reflect on the train and on commuting. I promise, I really don’t mean to sound trite when I say this, but, honestly, I feel like I’m getting the full Londoner experience. Before, when I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time on my own, often not wandering far from my village. Only occasional jaunts into London where I felt like a tourist, like an outsider.

Now I feel like I am a part of that living, breathing, city machine, with its cogs that are in constant motion. It’s not a special trip, it’s just my way to get to work. Along the way there are the little details that make this ordinary activity special to me.

First I hop on to my local little train. It’s two train carriages long and takes ten minutes to travel to the station on the main line in Maidenhead. From there I catch any train heading inbound to Paddington, some being faster than others. Usually, I saunter off my local train right across the platform and have just a couple minute wait for the next train. Occasionally, I need to sprint across to a train waiting because my first train hesitated a second too long in getting rolling or failing catching that train, the next one arrives about twenty minutes later. This is part of what makes my commuting time into work fluctuate wildly.

Bourne End trainOne of my favorite parts of my morning commute involves looking down into the almost comically long and narrow back yards and seeing which ones seemed to be inspired by Ground Force. The ones with a rose arbor dividing the yard in two, the little painted garden sheds, the tastefully outfitted stone patios. They stand out between the ones that are simply long stretches of grass.

I am puzzled though, at the sheer numbers of trampolines in the yards. If my commute is at all a representative sample, England must be blanketed in trampolines. Mark and I joke about this all the time. There was an old SNL skit, Rob Lowe impersonating Stone Phillips on Nightline or some other hour long evening news shows with three twenty-minute vignette stories. Imagine in a serious voice, “Trampolines. Children’s play toy… or vicious back yard killer?” Although, most I see do have a “cage” around them to keep the kidlets from falling to their doom.

I imagine most other people get annoyed by fellow passengers having loud animated conversations on their cell phones or even with the person in the next seat. When we’re crammed in like sardines, you know everyone is listening in to that one fantastically loud person speaking. I actually enjoy listening to the spectrum of English accents out there. I can sit there staring at my book, all the while linguistically teasing apart the language in my mind. It took me a moment to realize that the two teenagers were not simply mimicking Katherine Tate’s character Lauren in an ironic manner, but rather, that was really the way they spoke. I smile to myself, adding further to my ruminations on language.

Then there’s the “Metro,” the daily paper that is made for the cars of public transport. I see them on trains and in the underground. It’s distributed in piles in the morning. It’s full of gossip pages and extremely brief news stories and reviews of movies and shows. Not a very meaty product but it serves its purpose well, to fill the short spans of time between stops with something to read or to read over someone’s shoulder in the cramped close quarters during the morning rush hour. A copy always seems to make it into work on the lunch table.

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The Linnean Society and E. O. Wilson

This afternoon, I joined a few coworkers and went to a talk given at the Linnean Society of London. The speaker? E. O. Wilson and the topic was Carl von Linne.

Earlier this year Mark and I were in Lund, Sweden. Linneas attended Lund University, and this year being his 300th birthday anniversary year, there were talks pertaining to Linne (in Swedish) and exhibits at the university library of some of his works and school papers. He was only there a year and rumored to be a poor student.  I am a student of taxonomy, of Linneas, and am following in his footsteps in my own way.

Under portraits of Linneas, Darwin, Wallace and other like minded biological greats, Wilson talked about Systema Naturae and binomial nomenclature. No surprises in the talk to anyone in attendance, I think we were all biologists. Wilson even touched on the plight of the natural historian, a favorite rant of mine, which made my heart sing to hear some of my personal feelings being spoken by such an influential biologist.  He made pleas that we should all be working to get more “-ologies” (taxonomy courses) taught in universities and increasing interest in taxonomy and systematics.

I’m glad I went to see him speak. After all, as a coworker put it, you need to see people like this speak before they’re gone.

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Newly Employed at BMNH!!

Well, that was fast. Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago when I was quickly poached from Botany by the Entomology department as a volunteer?

Yesterday was my first day as an official employee of the Entomology department at the British Museum of Natural History! It’s for temporary contract work (sounds familiar) working in the coleoptera collection which is located in the main museum building (lepidoptera is in a separate much further away building). I’ll be involved in the usual sorts of bug work, beetle prep, sample sorting, curation (there is a new building going up right next to the museum that will house both bot. and ento. in short order).

From day one that I was in those rooms someone was trying to figure out how to get me hired. Each day I was in I had someone new peering over my shoulder, commenting on how unique and well done my insect preparation was. I’ve given credit where credit is due. I’m a product of my training! I’ll just say the Carnegie way is making waves. When approached about the position I asked, “do you want to see a copy of my resume?” the response, “I don’t need to, I’ve seen your work.” The new people I’ve been working with and meeting have been extremely enthusiastic and not short on praise. It feels great to be back doing work that I genuinely enjoy and have missed.

Commuting into London is a bit surreal.  I find myself saying almost in disbelief, “I commute into London!”  on the same line of thought when we randomly exclaim to one another as if we forgot, “We live in England!”   We’ve lived here a year, you would think we would be over that teeny detail by now.   Anyway, two trains, the underground, some walking and (on average) two hours door to door.  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  With a good book and cuppa in hand it makes it seem much shorter than what it actually is.   When everything is on time, no train delays, no problems on the Circle line, it works beautifully and cuts almost half an hour off.  But the days where everything is running perfectly happen as often as not.

Today was a perfect commute day.  Even coming home I was on the single Bourne End train of the night, one that goes straight to Bourne End from Paddington.  It’s a fast train, it even runs on the special “fast track” commuter train rails and makes two stops (one at Slough, then at Maidenhead) before turning off toward home.  That translates into: I can safely doze off and not miss my stop when it’s the end of the line, ha!

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I smell like bugs

Or rather, I should say, my fingers smell like bugs. I’m now volunteering in the Entomology department at the British Museum of Natural History, on Wednesdays. When another person who worked in both Entomology and Botany found out more about my background, I was quickly brought into the fold of the bug rooms. My skills in preparing and pinning bugs, it turns out, is highly prized there.  Apparently, the folks at the BM outsource the majority of their specimen preparation. They mail samples out of the country to have other people prepare them and have the mounted specimens returned. I dazzled them with my bug pinning and pointing prowess. Today I got to prepare beetles from Madagascar and now, I smell like bugs :)

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Why I love my husband reason #476

Some husbands bring home flowers or chocolates for their wives. Mine? He brings me a butterfly! A Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) he saw on his way home in this case, and wow did its feet tickle!

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Butterflies in the classroom

I was invited into a classroom of 5 year olds today to talk to them about butterflies and bugs. They’ve been raising Painted Lady caterpillars as well as reading books on the topic Caterpillar Butterfly and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I caught a butterfly that was inside the school, how handy to have a ready made prop! It was a huge hit! I showed the kids how to use a field guide I brought along to identify it, they quickly found the mostly dark brown with small eye spots of the Ringlet butterfly in the photo. We then released it during a break in the rain and saw that there were dozens of them flying about. Later several of the kids went around stalking the butterflies that were everywhere.

One of the little girls observed (showing how well she paid attention), “when it’s sunny out, we come out to play and the butterflies come out and when it’s raining, we go inside to play and the butterflies go inside too (they hide away in the rain)” It was all very cute and they asked surprisingly good questions about insect eyes and if butterflies can make noises, “can they sing?” They told me all about what they learned about the butterfly life cycle and drew me pictures.

Maybe I helped to inspire a budding entomologist out there :)

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