My life with bugs

In the field: Erie trip #3

Well, that is it for collecting trips this season.

With the much cooler weather and the other problems with the traps, I don’t expect there to be much to prepare from the samples gathered. Which is a good thing, I suppose, as this project is only meant to occupy two days of my time each week.

Hopefully the spring will bring better collecting and less disruption (either humans or animals) to the site.

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In the field: Erie trip #2

What a day.

Attempted to get out the door early, get a jump start on the two and one half hour drive up to the Erie site, only to be faced with multiple delays. All in the collecting party were grumpy by the time we reached the sites.

Once in the field, the day quickly revealed its theme. It was not going to be a day of simply doing some hand collecting, demonstrating set up of malaise traps and pitfall trap sample recovery as was planned. No, the day turned into Erie Apocolypse, Redux. As in, all sixty pitfall traps that had been carefully and time consumingly placed by a large team of help a couple of weeks ago had been disrupted in some way. Evidence pointed both to wild animal and human interference. So the day was spent mostly helping to reset these traps.

It was a chilly day and the dew point was reached well before sundown. I hope our efforts do not go unrewarded with this weather, I hope at least a few bugs are caught for our trouble.

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In the field: Erie set up

Even though September is an odd time to set up a survey, I was up along the Erie bluffs setting up a new survey today. It is a bit of funding that will keep me alive, I seem to have become THE local biotic inventory gal.

This particular will run until the end of November and then pick up again in the spring through June. There are singular trips into the field for me this round, once a month to take care of hand collecting and picking up samples from the folks taking care of the light, malaise and pitfall traps.

There will be a larger cast of characters in the target taxa list, outside of the usual suspects, which will be interesting. It is a broad inventory to see what is on the property before construction begins on new structures and buildings.

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Back from bioblizting in Erie county. Bioblitz is a new phenomena, it is a noun and a verb. Different from a week long bio-foray, a bioblitz is a 24 to 48 hour event where specialists of every sort come together to collect, identify and tally as much biological information as possible. There were over 120 specialists involved. Malacologists, mammalogists, ornithologists, botanists, mycologists, of course we entomologists, herpetologists: all bioblizting the newest state park in our state.

I was very Carabid-centric, spending most of my time in wetlands, streams and on the shore of Lake Erie searching for the ground beetles in mud, muck, sand and gravel. Many a rock was flipped, much bark was peeled and leaf litter was sifted through. We found a sweet spot on the pristine stream for the beetles during the day and returned after dark for a few hours to collect the nocturnal beasts. Our beetle sweet spot was also the sweet spot for the mist nets for bat collecting. I was flanked up and down stream with mist nets and paused in my work to admire a red bat that had been collected.

Every time I go into the field at night I separate myself from the other collectors to have time to myself in the dark. I turn off my head lamp and enjoy the darkness and sounds of the habitat that I happen to be in. I was in an old growth forest, the canopy high and dense above me. It was pitch dark without my light on. I stood silent, observing for a while until fifteen minutes later I saw the light of someone else’s headlamp approaching. As soon as my light was on I saw the reflection of a pair of eyes 20 feet away in the brush ahead of me. It noiselessly skirted away. I did not see what it was, it was just out of the range of my headlamp’s beam.

Later I found out that a red fox, a gray fox and coyote were spotted in the area I was in around the time I was there. Was I silently being watched in the darkness? I heard nothing approach me. I was following my own path which I had baited with banana slices earlier in the day, was my banana trail attracting more than just beetles?

The under-story was exceptionally healthy and diverse, which is refreshing in PA, I am fortunate to get to see forests that have not been devastated by the gross overpopulation of deer. Forests whose floors are blanketed by ferns and lack numbers of wild flowers, whose youngest trees are 70 years old or whose lowest branches are over six feet high are like that because the deer have eaten everything. Current deer densities are 60-70 deer per square mile in PA. Studies in our state involving deer ex-closures and population thinning demonstrate that to have a return of sapling survival for tree species the numbers need to be around 40 per square mile. And to bring back rapidly disappearing wild flowers, the numbers need to reach a healthy 20 per square mile. I’ve hiked around and then through one of these deer ex-closures and the difference side by side is so shocking and striking.

Pennsylvania forests are in crisis. Our trees and wildflowers are in crisis. Actually, all forests are in crisis, this problem is ubiquitous. If you have been in a healthy wood lately, you understand. And it’s getting harder and harder to even see a healthy forest. There certainly are few near here. Deer are not beautiful, they are devastating.

That’s too depressing. The trip was fun, the site was lovely, the weather wonderful and the people fantastic. Bioblitzes and forays are positive events involving the public and media and presents a fun and exciting venue to highlight local biological diversity.

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In the interest of science or rather… entertainment

I went outside this evening, admiring the fireflies, watching the fleeting pale blink of a slow low flying tiny species, noting the long swooping blink of a mid-level species and those high in the giant oak out front. Excited to see what looked like a synchronized blink across the whole lawn of another species. All the while seeing, for the first time really observing, the complex strata and strategies of the differing species.

There are about 33 different species of Lampyridae in our state, each with its own species specific flash pattern. The Lampyridae of our state is a focus of one of the projects at work this summer, one steeped in controversy. Our state insect is a firefly, but the controversy lies in that the species listed as such isn’t known to actually occur here. The study is a bit more involved than just going out and looking for the beast, but it certainly makes for an interesting story to instigate a research project.

I was struck with a brilliant idea as I watched out on the lawn. I should collect some and bring them inside to set them free for Greenbean to play with! There are now at least a dozen floating and flashing in our darkened living room.

What a spoiled kitty she is, we bring her live sparkling toys to get excited about. She is very happy, buzzing all around me, tail and eyes attentive and perked looking around for the next bug. Not that she knows what to do with one once she catches up to it, she is a naive cute indoor cat.

And fireflies are tricky little bastards to catch! How did we used to do it with such ease when we were kids, quickly filling a jar. I got serious tonight. I brought out my insect collecting net and made short work of bringing them inside. I’ll need to hone my firefly capturing technique for work :)

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I’ve been to the Promised Land and it is beautiful there

I am back from a week in the field collecting at Nescopeck State Forest and Promised Land State Park, which I highly recommend camping at the latter site, it is gorgeous there, heaps of trails, lots of excellent camping spots. Overall it was a fantastic trip and will leave you with a few of the highlights:

The collecting was excellent, even with a few chilly nights and drizzling rain, the bugs were out scurrying about in numbers. A number of very rare or new state occurrences were collected, every bug was a new county record for the state in the museum collection since I recently went through and recorded county records from the state of over 430 species. The trip was made well worth it from those few exceptional finds.

I am thankful for my water proof tent which stood the test of several blustery thunderstorms which quickly passed through the nights. I am especially thankful for my $12 knee high rubber boots which kept my feet dry and my prAna pants which dry out almost instantaneously, which most of the collecting occurred in swamps, bogs, creeks and lake edges. I wore the same pair of pants all week, I over packed thinking I would, at some point, fall into a body of water. I need more pants like that.

I went walking along white sand beaches at midnight and meandered through the giant elephant ears of skunk cabbage highlighting the edges of the tannin stained black swampy murk with vibrant pale green. I hiked and strolled in cathedrals of the forest in bright sun, drizzling rain and in the pitch darkness and stillness of night.

There was the almost deafening chorus of spring peepers and bull frogs serenading us, their eyes peering back at us gleaming from the pond water surface from the headlamp light.

The beetles that were sought after were jewels glittering in the deepest hues of emerald, sapphire, gold and vermillion, iridescent surfaces with reflective and refractive hairs covering their tiny shiny black bodies.

Stomping and treading over thick mats of sphagnum moss amongst the laurels and cattails, not knowing how deep the water was below my feet as I slowly sank down into the swampy edge of the lake.

How many miles of hiking did I accumulate each day as we first scoped out and investigated trails and potential collecting sites during the day, then returning to the sites after dark in pursuit of the nocturnal beasts.

Apologizing to the red-backed salamanders and red-spotted efts, of whom I disturbed dozens of each in my rock flipping, log rolling and bark peeling in my search for beetles. They are so tiny and beautiful yet ill appreciated

I was burned by bombardier beetles, their mixture of quinones and hydrogen peroxide and other glandular secretions that defensively explode a burst of boiling hot gas in a squeaking pop of white smoke as I picked them up off of the mucky substrate.

Our campsite was on the tip of a peninsula into the Lake, surrounded on three sides by water, with our own private little beach. We had a pair of Mallard ducks frequent the site.

On an early night in from collecting, early, meaning we were back to camp by eleven pm, we built a small bon fire under a star filled sky reflecting off of the impossibly smooth and black mirror surface of the lake, the sky complete with a large silvery green meteorite splashing across a back drop of the Milky Way.

We renamed ‘Conservation Island’ to ‘Infinity Island’ as we missed the exit trail with our heads and headlamps pointing straight down to the ground searching for beetles and circled the island 1 3/4 times, realizing, ‘Hey, that’s the second time we�ve passed that light trap glowing in the distance,’ and, ‘it only took us fifteen minutes to reach the beaver lodge from the exit, why is it taking us over an hour to get to the exit?’ Laughing hysterically for the hours following realizing how silly it was to get ‘lost’ on a singular circular trail that, for all intents and purposes, was a straight line.

Mustn’t forget Honey Hole Road to Nescopeck and collecting on Park Ave in The Promised Land nor the 50-cents-for-three-minutes of a desperately needed hot shower mid-week.

I have been to The Promised Land and it is beautiful there.

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Five days a week

Today I have officially returned to working five days a week. This is care of a personal service contract arrangement with the Forest Service, for whom I will be working for one day a week until July. It is contract work for technical and laboratory services for a number of projects involving monitoring invasive bark beetles (Scolytidae).

I do not have guilt for the time I come into work ‘late’ although, where I work is pretty flexible and there is no set schedule per se. But there are days that I show up later than I would like to and then have to leave by a certain time to catch my bus home regardless of what time I arrive. But I do not have guilty feelings about this because I am working the entire time I am there. I happen to have a strong and good work ethic and am proud of the fact, I am proud of my job, of doing a good job, of being effective and efficient.

I have issues with smokers, sometimes I am openly hostile towards them and today I witnessed yet another reason for my hostility. Why is it so socially acceptable for smokers to take a ten to fifteen minute break once an hour to feed their addiction? If I stopped working for fifteen minutes out of every hour by just going to stand outside, to get some air, or wonder the halls aimlessly, I think an employer any employer would view this as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal. At the very least, if I chose to take a break to eat carrot sticks every time the smokers did to smoke and my boss said anything to me, it would be discrimination toward non-smokers.

Yet, there it is, happening every day, all day, wasting hours of time. I’ll be needing a lot of carrot sticks.

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Up to my patella in Siphonaptera!

I’m getting rather intimately familiar with the flea collection at work, doing a bit of consolidation and reorganization, primarily involving thousands of slide mounted specimens. I have to think a while and do some strategizing before I can tackle the alcohol collection.

But, geez! I’m up to my knees in fleas!

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Getting my learn on

Wrapping. Head. Around. Large. Complex. Relational. Database.

I’ve had brief “AHA!” moments and I realize that I am way too intimately familiar with this data.

Almost there, learn, learn, learn… I really just want to make pretty graphs and reports :)

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Closer… almost there!

Only the Odonates are left from the Susquehanna survey to id and database! I finished up the identification of the general non-target taxa today, they only need to be identified to Order and in some cases to Family for the purposes of this survey. One of the beetle specialists is having their hand at the Odonates, even for Odonate workers, species identification is difficult.

Rapidly approaching the VERY end!


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I know this sounds a bit strange to most humans but, I am excited!

In my databasing today, my survey project just passed the 10,000 specimen mark!!!


It is significant for me because this in an end task, this is the completion of something. When something has been data based, that means it has been prepared holding to high standards of care, properly identified and ready to be incorporated into its rightful place in the collection. I always have a great sense of accomplishment when a project is completed, when I have finished the databasing. With over 10,000 insects already entered, there are only a handful left to go.

Go bugs!

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Billy and Willie

I don�t know how we got onto the topic, but Mark and I were talking about weevils as well as discussing children�s books and how easy it would be to write one involving insects. It is a topic that has come up before at my work place, how there are so many cute insects that could fill the role of a hero or protagonist.

We started talking about Willie the Weevil, actually my idea at work was to have Billy the Brentid (pronounced brontid) be the main character. The brentids are related to weevils taxonomically speaking. I am fascinated by weevils in general; they honestly look like tiny elephants. Go ahead put a weevil under a microscope and you will see what I mean. Brentids are a sort of weevil, but with a long slender body and a long straight �snout� on them.

So once I had given the bugs their names and told Mark what they were and how they were different, he quickly generated the outline of the story of Billy the Brentid and Willie the Weevil. You can just see how these stories write themselves!

So the story goes: a brentid egg is accidentally laid with a bunch of weevil eggs. When all the weevils and the one brentid hatch, Billy has no idea he is different, he is raised side by side with all the other weevils� his partner in his adventures is Willie the weevil. There is a situation in which Billy the brentid saves the day by having a different kind of snout. Much hilarity and wonderful adventures ensue… there are many more adventures in store for Billy and Willie�s future.

Willie and Billy:
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I am also long over due to write my ‘Ode to Omophrons: the most un-carabid-like carabid’

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A very good week

All week I have had amazingly productive days at work. Everything has been coming together, or rather wrapping up, quite nicely with the Susquehanna project. All raw samples have been sorted, all light trap samples have been pinned, the beetle preparation should be completed by next week, all data sheets have been translated and entered, already half of the moths have been identified and data based and most of the beetles have been identified and data based as well–the count so far in my file is 5500 insects identified and entered, my fingers have been very busy this week! Still quite a few more to go!

It feels so good to be so close to completion! The sense of accomplishment and relief is building within me, having been involved from the beginning of this survey, it has been my baby, resolving problems as issues were brought up, being in the field collecting every two weeks for the past six months and soon I will be able to deliver the final product.

This has been a trial by fire. I have never done anything like this before, but I stood up to the challenge, exceeded expectations all around and have learned a great deal.

It feels good to have a job that I love, to have this feeling of accomplishment and growth.

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This is the end

In the field trip #13!

Today is the very last trip into the field for bug collecting along that wretched river Susquehanna. Do not let that river fool you, it has lost all its charm to me. The never ending flooding of this exceptionally wet year, the mud that I carry with me always in my shoes…

I will miss the collecting and the camping and wandering through the woods at night in the moonlight… but I will not miss this river.

It’s going to be *long* day… with sunset at 5:01 on the other side of the state we’ll be heading home tonight after an hour or so of night collecting… Hopefully I’ll be home before midnight.

At least it is gorgeous today, high of 75, clear skies, there will be a spectacular fall foliage show along the way. A nice way to end the season!


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In the field trip #12

The highlight of this trip was the moon and fog. The moon was nearly full and the sky crystal clear. We almost didn

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Here I go again…

I’m heading into the field today, this was originally going to be the last trip for bug collecting this season. But alas, there will be another. The next trip though, that will surely be the end! The plan is to take disassemble the sites on the next trip.

It’s a bit more seasonal today, gorgeous really, high in the mid 70’s, not a cloud in the sky, low tonight will be around 50. Hopefully, even with a waxing full moon there will be bugs aflight, it was just too cold to make a trip worth while last week. We even had a frost.

Now to the toasted bagel with peanut butter waiting to be consumed!

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I am evil

So, I may have mentioned before that the project I

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In the field trip #11

The reset mission wasn

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In the field trip #10

This had better have been worth while. We made this extra trip to reset the pitfall traps that were submerged last week in order to avoid having a hole in the data. Instead of only one trap at each site, there are now seven.

We had a disheartening revelation when we reached each site; that over one week

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In the field trip #10

We should have just stayed at home. I didn

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Potential for extinction

Not so good news today.

I approached my boss yesterday for a mini meeting. I needed to question him on my funding status, where I stood and what my security would be in the coming months. Point blank, I needed to know how much time I had left. Mostly out of concern for time management and project strategizing to make sure there will be sufficient time for completion. It turns out, after he had the chance to look at actual numbers, that I only have funding to last me until October 8th. Ugh!

There is talk of an additional collecting trip in mid-October. I will have to set aside two days of pay, as my first priority is to make sure all of the field work is taken care of. There are baited lines in the water, hopefully I can latch onto another project or find a smaller grant to sustain me, to maintain my employment. Much effort is being put into ensuring that I do not have another hiatus of any length of time from work. There are long range possibilities out there as well, but I need something to hold me over.


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In the field trip #9

The highlights.

Water 7 feet lower.
Reset washed out traps, yet again, starting to feel like an excercise in futility.
Even though it was warm and no significant moon, very few moths flying.
Ditto for beetles out.
So, few bugs from hand collecting and traps.
Three more trips to go.

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In the field trip #8

Flooding. Unbelievable flooding. The water has not been this high since April, we could not get anywhere close to where most of the pitfall traps were placed.

The one site the river was moving very swiftly past the structure that has come to be known as ‘The Shrine to Knotweed’ aka ‘The Shrine.’ It is a raised spiral platform in the middle of the woods on the island that has been neglected for whatever its intended purpose and is heavily overgrown with knotweed. The whole island is overgrown with knotweed. Hence, ‘The Shrine.’

It was a trip for going through the motions, it was chilly and the air was thick with lingering moisture and fog. Just cool enough and wet enough that there were not very many bugs out.

4 more trips to go now. Earlier in the season I thought by now we would be in our usual drought conditions and there would be large swaths of cobble beds to collect off of. Silly me.

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In the field trip #7

I went into the field yesterday for work expecting to be met with chilly air and thunderstorms. Instead, it was comfortable cool and ended up with perfectly clear skies by nightfall. I did not get the soggy soaking of my gear and clothes as I had expected.

Collecting was fairly poor. Not much out, most of what was out was teneral, or just recently hatched with soft bodies, the beginning of another cycle, in a few weeks or so we might see another spike in numbers.

We were not alone last night either. How exciting, the mammal team was on the island where we camp and collect, mist netting for bats. It was a nice diversion. Their nets even snagged some large beetles for us.

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In the field #6

Not much to report. Very few insects out. With flooding from over the previous weeks finally subsiding we were able to reset new traps and finally get representation from all of our vegetation zones.

Tried my best to kick their butts into gear early so I could get back home with time to spare to finish last minute packing, shower, decompress and be ready for my 8:20pm flight to meet up with Mark in California.

Here I come! It’s vacation time! Two weeks to relax and enjoy! No thinking about bugs for me!

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