Category: environmental science

For first time in 45 years, endangered American burying beetle found in Ohio:


This federally endangered beetle hasn’t had a reproducing population in Ohio since 1974. For the last ten years, conservationists from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have released captive-reared beetles, but have been unable to find any surviving offspring after the released adults finish their short lifespan.

This last year conservationists released 472 captive-reared beetles from large, more cold-hardy stock and finally found new, overwintered beetles. Another participating institution, the Cincinnati Zoo, also found overwintered beetles for the first time this year.

Burying beetles are one of the few beetles to show monogamy and extended parental care. When it’s time to reproduce, a mated pair of burying beetles finds the carcass of a small bird or mammal, digs underneath it to submerge the carcass in the earth, and then raises their larva inside the carcass (larva even beg for food from their parents like baby birds).

While it may sound gross, burying beetles do important work cleaning up dead animals, recycling nutrients, and limiting the spread of disease.

It’s unclear what caused the American burying beetle to decline in the first place, but one theory is that the extinction of the passenger pigeon harmed them by removing a large source of appropriately-sized carcasses (though multiple factors were likely involved). 

“Our mission is to make sure that we’re looking out for all wildlife, not just the cute and fuzzy ones.”


July 10, 2019


I am SO EXCITED. This mole crab I found on Mustang Island last month [link] has been identified! I’ve spent a lot of time digging around, trying to identify the species (or even the genus!) and was having a really hard time. There are very few mole crabs observed on iNaturalist, and I’m not familiar enough with decapods to know where to look. But today, somebody on iNat ID-ed it! And it’s THE FIRST of this species to be observed on iNat (!!!!!!!!)

My observation page on iNaturalist [link].

This mole crab is Lepidopa benedicti. Here is the species page on iNat [link].

Reposting from January 20, 2017, this triumphant moment.

Note: this creature does not have a tail. It’s a decapod (relative of lobsters, crabs, shrimp). It has antennae. Can you find the eyes?

Reposted July 8, 2019


@hunteno64​ submitted:

So I just got out of an interview, and I see this QT. Any idea and what they are?

Why yes, I do. Looks like your bab was fixing to molt, so he appears a little unusual, but still easily identifiable. This was actually one I learned when I was a little kid, and was quite pleased with knowing as the smart-ass 7-year-old I was back in the day, although I didn’t know there was more than one species of these then

Here’s a sibling of your friend from my yard. Look at those cute little legs! His face is that TINY little thing at the very end at the front. He is a larva. When he pupates, he will look like this:

You can see his old baby clothes around the base of his pupa where it connects to the grass. And when he emerges as an adult, you will probably recognize him!

Your friend is specifically an Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis. These can look quite variable, especially depending on where you live (in Texas, there are some that are BLACK with RED SPOTS, or GRAY with BLACK spots!). Most places, they are red or orange with black spots… or with no spots at all! In MOST places, the easiest way to identify them is by looking at their pronotum–the shield that covers their thorax. In the red varieties, it will be white with a black “W.” The other species of lady beetles (and there are SO MANY OF THEM!!!” will have different patterns there, and typically have a specific pattern of spots!

After this photo, though? You get these:

They have fun eggs! If you see a ton of lady beetles, it means there are lots of tasty aphids (and other plant-parasitic insects) around. And that usually means there is a lack of biodiversity somewhere, which allows the plant parasites to flourish. I get a huge swarm of lady beetles whenever the invasive grasses pop up in my yard. But that also meant plenty of opportunities to watch their larvae grow up and emerge from their pupae!

Thanks for asking!

July 8, 2019

I just wanted to say that it's grasshopper and cicada season where I live now. There so many grasshoppers that if I walk in any patch of dry sand and rock, anywhere from 10 to 100's of them start jumping at once and just cascade and fly into my face and I love them so much. What neat grasshopper facts do you have?

It’s grasshopper season here, too! I’m a bit of a grasshopper dunce, but I do still know some neat grasshopper facts.

One of my favorites is about grasshoppers vs. locusts. They’re essentially the same thing! There are some species of grasshoppers that will turn into massive swarms if they get too crowded, and they will destroy everything they will find. Some researchers looked into this, and it turns out, brushing their hind legs releases serotonin in their brains, and that’s what causes their behavioral changes! [link to LiveScience article] 

The Australian Department of Agriculture has a great page about locusts, including their life cycle, I highly recommend checking it out, it’s a great brief overview [link].

Another grasshopper fact, which I discovered by obsessively photographing every bug I see and then having people identify them for me on iNaturalist, is that… the same species can come in MANY different forms! Here are are bunch of photos of Short-winged Green Grasshoppers:


Thing is, when I first encountered this species name, I assumed all of them would have… short wings… and that they would maybe, be green? NOPE!!! There is a LONG WINGED form (See the babe in the top left? Long wings!) And I don’t think I need to point out the ones that aren’t green. These are ALL THE SAME SPECIES! Don’t believe me? Bottom left corner, a green lady is mating with a brown gentleman. Definition of species, right?

Grasshoppers are so good at camouflaging, holy carp. Take these Aztec Grasshoppers for example. There are two in the photo. This is at Bastrop State Park, where some of the dirt is red from the iron content:


Or what about this Broad-horned Grasshopper I saw in Malawi?


And while we’re in Malawi, I HAVE TO SHARE this Gaudy fellow (seriously, the family is commonly called “Gaudy grasshoppers), a Dictyophorus sp. babe I saw hiding out in plain sight on a Cycad, which I didn’t see until I’d been staring at a wasp for several minutes:


Coming back to Texas, I’ve seen SEMI-AQUATIC GRASSHOPPERS???? NO REALLY, THEY WERE ALL SWIMMING ON PURPOSE, AND THAT’S THEIR THING????? I still don’t know wtf these things are besides pygmy grasshoppers.


Showy Grasshoppers (that’s their name!) that look like aliens:


Aztec spur-throat grasshopper nymphs that look like candies:


The Bird grasshoppers, named because, I presume, they are so huge they are mistaken for birds when they fly:


One of my fondest grasshoppers memories, though, was of this Red-shanked Grasshopper, who was waiting outside my building at UT Austin when I was a grad student. I was leaving my lab late one night (1 am! Hey, I said I was a grad student!), and he was just waiting for me. I wasn’t a naturalist quite yet, this was 2014. So I did what came naturally to me when faced with a giant grasshopper:


Grasshoppers are awesome! I hope you get to meet some fun ones!

July 6, 2019



Okay I don’t know if ABC news just fucked up whatever this lady actually said but this information is catastrophically wrong.


Kissing bugs are like bed bugs; they enter homes and they feed on the blood of large mammals, such as humans, while those mammals are asleep. They’re an indoor, nighttime threat, not something to be careful of “outdoors” which is outright dangerously misleading.

“Most people experience flu like symptoms after being bitten” is also completely false.

Chagas disease is contracted when an infected kissing bug defecates on a host’s skin and the host subsequently scratches the fecal matter into the bite wound. The bite itself does not cause any symptoms other than itchiness, and a kissing bug only carries the disease if it has recently bitten someone else who was infected.

There are an estimated 300,000 people in the United States who have Chagas and this is another thing articles keep bringing up, but almost all of them contracted it while out of the country. Almost no chagas-carrying kissing bugs exist in the U.S. and almost no people have ever been infected while within the U.S.


THIS. IS NOT. A KISSING BUG. I’ve already seen more than one news story use photos of non-parasitic assassin bugs like this wheel bug. There are thousands of species of assassin bug and only a COUPLE are blood-drinking kissing bugs. Assassin bugs are everywhere and they are beneficial.

No that it’s particularly relevant to most people living outside of central and south america, but I think it’s interesting enough to be worth nothing that chagas can also be contracted orally from contaminated sugercane and acai juice, since those plants are common resting and defecating areas for the triatomines:

“Between 1968 and 2005, a total of 437 cases of acute Chagas disease were reported in the Brazilian Amazon region. Of these cases, 311 were related to 62 outbreaks in which the suspected mode of transmission was consumption of acaı (Nobregaet al., 2009; Valenteet al., 2006). Pintoet al. (2003) reported the occurrence of a family microepidemic of acute trypanosomiasis probably transmitted orally, involving 12 people, of whom two died, in the municipality of Igarape-Miri (PA) in July 2002.In an outbreak of acute Chagas disease affecting 17 people belonging to three families, which occurred in the locality of Rio Bispo municipality of Mazagao (Amapa state) in October 1996, researchers were able to elucidate the transmission mechanism: ingestion of acai juice infected with the feces of wild triatomines. Acai juice was prepared at night and the insects attracted to the electric lights fell into the juice being prepared in the machine and were ground up with the fruit pulp (Valenteet al., 1999, 2002, 2006, 2009).“

source, sci-hub link

FYI, the next time your doctor tells you it was a spider bite…

Doctors ARE NOT ENTOMOLOGISTS and just because they went to medical school doesn’t mean they can’t still be dumbshits who read the same untrue anti-bug garbage on the internet their patients come across and believe it wholeheartedly.

July 6, 2019


Walking to the bus stop on campus, I hear a racket and bunch of birds in the tree above me freaking out. I thought a branch had fallen based in the noise. I shrug and keep walking. Then I hear a hawk call and look up–a hawk had grabbed a bird out of the tree and flown to another. I stood under the tree and watched. Feathers were falling like snow.

This happened sometime in 2015. Of course, nobody else noticed. This was on campus at University of Texas at Austin. A Red-Tailed Hawk unwraps dinner.

reposted July 6, 2019

Hello! do you have any recommendations for field-work appropriate clothing? NC is very spicy right now and the only thing I can get out of my mentors is 'wear shoes and sunscreen', which is good advice but not especially helpful. Thank you!

Oooh boy spicy is right. I have been digging and digging for photos other people have taken of me at bioblitzes, and the best I could find were these:


Photo credits to my BFFs Sam (left photo, from 2017! outside of Palestine, TX)[link], Chris (Center photo, this April in Del Rio, TX)[link], and James (Right photo, also Del Rio)[link]

They’re not… uh… too helpful. But notice there’s one thing you can see in all of them? LONG SLEEVES. Sam’s photo was taken in 91°F/32.8°C (in a swamp—very humid!). James’ photo was taken in 84°F/28.9°C. This may seem counter-intuitive, but I am adamant about long sleeves All The Time (and actually, in James’ photo, I am legitimately wearing a jacket). Several reasons: (1) I hate the way sunscreen feels but I’m paler than a blind cave newt’s belly (2) I hate wearing bug spray (3) when it’s hotter than balls out, you’re not going to feel any cooler in short sleeves (4) long sleeves actually help you cool down better by maximizing convective cooling aka the reason you sweat in the first place. Also, related to (2) I hate wearing bug spray: you can spray your clothes with permethrin, an insecticide which chemically binds to the fabric of your clothing and lasts for weeks and through several washes. If North Carolina is anything like Texas, you know that insecticide is not exactly optional. One thing to note: permethrin, when it’s wet, is extremely toxic to cats, so if you have pets, spray outside or in a garage where they can’t get exposed.

Anyway, I took the liberty of staging some photos so y’all can see what I look like in My Natural Habitat. Temperature was 95°F/35°C in these photos. I also included supplies/accessories because they have been very helpful for me and y’all not may know about them!


Headlamp: You don’t realize you need a flashlight in the middle of the day until you don’t have one. Or maybe it’s not the middle of the day! A headlamp lets you see in the dark and use both hands (amazing!)

Wide-brim hat: Protects your face/neck from the sun, and makes it a lot easier to take photos and use binoculars.

Wet bandana: Take a normal bandana, get it wet, and tie it around your neck. Offers extra sun protection AND keeps you cool. If it’s really hot out, wrap it around your forehead.

Hand sanitizer: Hopefully self-explanatory. Look out, if it’s hot out it will be HOT and RUNNY. Shake the bottle before opening!

Camera support clips: I have a superzoom camera which is pretty heavy. These clips let me take all that weight off my neck, since my backpack is supported by the waist strap.

WATER WATER WATER: WATER WATER WATER WATER. My backpack holds a 64 oz water bladder. In the morning, I will fill it all the way up with ice water and it will stay cold all day. Drink A TON OF WATER.

Long sleeves/quick dry shirt: This may or may not be one layer. My neon green/yellow shirt is one thing (also thin and breathable!) but I frequently layer a button-down shirt over a shorter sleeve shirt to avoid using sunscreen.

Sweep net: If you’re doing field work already, you know if this is useful for you or not. If you aren’t familiar with sweep nets, these are great for finding bugs that are hiding in tall grasses. The net is a sturdy canvas (lightweight mesh nets will easily tear). Usually you’ll catch a ton of grasshoppers and spiders.

Nitrile gloves: I only wear these when mosquitos are really bad. Because most of my body is covered, all they have to go for are my hands and face. And oh boy, mosquito bites on your hands are the worst. Also helpful if you have a tendency to manhandle plants while chasing bugs before realizing … wait… is this poison ivy…? Also useful if you wanna touch something real gross without touching something real gross!

Man-pouch: It’s not actually called a man-pouch, but that’s what I call it. These are molle pouches or something like that, and they’re like a tactical military thing I guess? It’s basically a fanny pack with belt loops and a carabiner instead of straps. They are pocket paradise. More on this next photo.

Quick-dry underwear: Nothing is worse than wet sweaty underwear chafing you all day. I wear synthetic undies, typically marketed as activewear, but any synthetic material will work to be honest.

Long pants: If you stay on trail all day, shorts are probably fine. But… who does field work from a trail? I wear quick-drying hiking pants, preferably a lightweight fabric but when I do manage to overheat, it’s not my legs, so I’ll also wear pants designed for cooler weather. Benefits of long pants: tucking them into your socks and/or boots to avoid ticks and chiggers; nobody noticing the mis-matching socks you threw on because you were running late.

Waterproof boots: I don’t know about you, but if I see something in the water, I’m gonna go in the water to see it better. In this photo I’m wearing my rubber boots, but I also have waterproof hiking boots that are more comfortable for longer distances. For my swamp trip in 2017, I also bought super expensive/super fancy waterproof socks, which were a lifesaver because we crawled through the swamp first thing that morning, and I definitely went in way deeper in the water than the tops of my boots, but my feet were dry all day.


pStyle: If you don’t have the anatomy that lets you pee in the woods without getting half-naked, I highly recommend this particular product. I did a TON of research on pee funnels, and this one got the best reviews and I can see why. It’s more of a spout than a funnel (so it won’t overflow), it eliminates the need for toilet paper, and it’s easy to use one-handed. If you’re out in the field for a long time AND/OR it’s super hot out, you will need to go eventually. Before I got this thing, I would just… not drink water to avoid dealing with this issue. That’s bad when the heat index is 120°F! Drink tons of water—NO EXCUSES!

Snacks: Ya gotta eat! I like clif bars and skittles! 😀

Man-pouch II: The Pocketing: This thing has so many pockets. I keep lots of stuff in my backpack, but it’s a hassle to take it off every time I need something. So I keep things I might need in an emergency in it: extra snacks, ruler, first aid supplies, and extra batteries/memory cards. You may want to hold a notepad, collection supplies, magnifying glasses, etc. If your pants are deficient in the pocket department, this is a great solution.


The other side, for good measure. My backpack has lots of pockets for extra layers (either to put on or take off, depending how the weather changes). If rain is a possibility, I’ll shove my rain-proof shell in there. I also have my backpack loaded up with my knee/wrist braces and my cane.


More fashion accessories!

Gold Bond Rapid Relief anti-itch cream: This is the only anti-itch cream that works for me.

Emergency eyewash: I typically only need this at night, when eye gnats kill themselves in my eyes. I thought they were attracted to my headlamp, until I read up on it. No, there are flies which specifically fly into mammals’ eyes and I hate them. They’re horrible. If you need this, get the kit with the cup, and keep the cup in a mini-travel pill zipper bag as shown to keep it clean.

Moist towelettes: I don’t keep these in my backpack. I keep these in my car in the cooler with ice. Do this, trust me.

DEET wipes: I hate bugspray, but sometimes ya gotta. When I went to Malawi (you know, where the mosquitos carry the lethal strain of malaria?), I didn’t want to mess with a dinky travel size bottle of bug spray. These wipes fit in a pocket and you can take as many on an airplane as you want and nobody can stop you. Also, you can have them in a hot car and they won’t explode! Fun!

Sunscreen on a Stick: I hate sunscreen, but oh man I keep getting sunburns on my hands and it’s silly. This stuff doesn’t feel like sunscreen, so maybe I’ll experiment with short sleeves someday? (ha ha ha ha ha)

Emergency backup camera: Ya never know! Mine is a waterproof camera I bought 12 years ago, still takes great photos (and it’s WATERPROOF!)

Keep in mind: this is what I wear, and not necessarily what I recommend for everybody. You’ll need to try a few things out before you discover what works best for you. Plenty of people I go on bioblitzes with wear t-shirts and shorts, but plenty of people I go on bioblitzes with aren’t crawling through poison ivy and trampling through fire ant nests. Also, it’s possibly worth noting I have chronic health conditions which mean I’m (1) extremely sensitive to cold and (2) in pain all the time. This translates to (1) when normal humans are sweaty messes, I’m still wearing a jacket because I’m cold (2) when it *does* get a bit warm for me, I don’t notice because my shitty body lost attention privileges ten years ago.

Hope this helps!

June 10, 2018



Feb 19, 2017, Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory, Austin TX 

Texas leaf-cutter ants. There were so many of them that they have carved out their own trail and I could hear them cutting the leaves. Leaf-cutter ants use these leaves to grow the fungus they cultivate for food.

Learn more about Texas Leaf-cutter Ants [link]

Texas is full of leafcutter ants and they’re amazing.

Reposted July 4, 2019

@jabercoll My guess is they made their nest (the nests are MASSIVELY HUGE), but then they have to find leaves from whatever plant their fungus will eat, which may or may not be nearby depending on the season. It could be there is a nice bush right next to the nest, but there isn’t a huge trail to it because they don’t go to it in an organized line.

In Texas, we do have a few evergreens, though I’m not sure if the leaves they are carrying is one of them. One winter, I saw a nest near a juniper, and they had used the opening of the nest as a ramp, which they just… rolled a bunch of juniper berries into??? It was hilarious. But! The opening of this nest was not near any leafy tree… so, priorities, I guess!

Leaf-cutter Berry Ants, above

The ants also have to consider predators and competition in where they place their nests. Too close to the trees, and their nest is vulnerable to their tree-dwelling predators, and falling leaves and branches can block the entrance to their nest as well.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but there’s a reason, even if I don’t know what it is! Anybody in antblr, feel free to chime in!

July 4, 2019







I cannot stress enough that you do not need a degree to become a naturalist / discover new species… you just need to care about living things and have a passion for them. Going to college just gets you closer to good resources (museum collections and career biologists) but you do not NEED a degree to access either of those things. 

It can be useful to get one if you can! But you do not NEED one and there is no time limit for getting one.

FYI to all my followers: I am not a “real” entomologist

I went to college and have a masters degree… in engineering.

I have never taken any course in animal biology, taxonomy, let alone entomology.

Everything I know about nature and wildlife, I learned by myself because I was interested in these topics. I went out on guided hikes the state parks put on with experts, and I made connections with people who had gone to college and studied wildlife biology.

I raised moth and butterfly eggs I found in my yard, sometimes hatching parasites instead. I reached out to people online through bugguide forums and via iNaturalist, and got to submit parasitic wasps that hadn’t yet been documented in Io moth eggs, to the entomologist at Texas A&M University who was revising the genus they were in—before I could have told you the difference between an assassin bug and a leaf-footed bug. I raised stick insects I found in my yard, and ended up shipping some to a real entomologist who had never photographed the species, and needed one for a field guide he is writing.

You will be amazed what resources you have available to you if you just ask. Lamenting your lack of access to museum specimens in the back storage areas? Contact the curator for your area of interest at your local museum, explain you are an amateur x-ologist, and you are interested in studying y species. Is there a time you could arrange to view the collections? THEY WILL SAY YES!!!! You’re a high school student, worried they won’t take you seriously? EVEN BETTER, THEY WILL LOVE YOU!!! Aim for a university collection if there is one nearby.

College is great if that’s your thing, but it won’t make you a naturalist. You will make you a naturalist.

June 27, 2019

GOD YES THIS *slams fist on table*

I have a degree in animation and I’ve worked for ten years as natural history curator in various natural history museums, with entomology being my focus. You definitely don’t need a science degree as long as you’re willing to learn.

Also, as a natural history curator I can confirm that we WILL say yes if you want to study the collections. That’s what museums are there for!

I will add!

I have a friend who got his PhD in physics who was the entomology curator at a natural history museum for several years, and currently works as a research scientist in an entomology research lab at a university. He studies the various ways insects manipulate light with nano-structured features on their bodies (hey, physics!) to understand how they might be able to see their environment.

Whatever skills you already have are useful for whatever naturalist-centric lifestyle you want to lead! I’ve got the adhd hyperfixation curse and a penchant for staying online for 36+ hours straight. Of course I surged to the top of the iNaturalist leaderboards (and doing my bug IDs on there is how I learned everything I know!).

What skills do you have? How can you use them to be a naturalist? Who can you network with to put those skills to work in a way that’s meaningful for you? The naturalist community is full of people with a common mission. Any newcomer is welcomed with open arms and we love helping newbies.

June 28, 2019

A news article about people like me (and you?!):

Link to article: Species Sleuths: Amateur Naturalists Spark a New Wave of Discovery

June 28, 2019

this just makes me feel like the degree I’m pursuing is useless


Environmental Biology degree who? if it’s supposed to give me more opportunities but in what

If people can get jobs in my field without experience (which is wonderful and inspiring trust me!) I just, what’s the point for me

Okay so, @freakingbbc what I’m saying is, anybody can be a naturalist. Anybody can go out and make discoveries as an amateur and have an impact on the world.

But dose of reality: getting paid employment in a field where you are competing with people who have specialized training and experience requires excessive amounts of dedication, time, skill, luck, dark magic, ritual sacrifice, and time travel. I wouldn’t drop out of school just yet if I were you.

I have been applying to jobs with Texas Parks and Wildlife (including a job that I am the most qualified person in the state for, who my good friend Sam K up there begged me to apply to because he knows I am the most qualified person in the state), but the jobs require a BS in wildlife biology, which I don’t have. And they’re government jobs, so they screen out everyone who doesn’t have the degree, and my applications never sees the light of day.

For now, all my naturalist work continues to be a hobby I squeeze into spare moments. Maybe someday I can turn this into a legit non-profit and make scicomm my job. But it’s not happening now.

Another dose of reality from A Tumblr Old Who Has Been There: As I said in my first post at the top, your degree will not make you a naturalist. Similarly, your college degree will not get you a job.

I repeat: Your college degree is worthless.

I made this mistake in 2005 and I’m still dealing with the consequences now: you cannot simply take your classes, get your degree, and expect to get a job. Everybody has a degree now. It doesn’t make you employable anymore. Entry-level jobs all require experience, but how are you supposed to get experience, you only just graduated? You were supposed to be doing internships, undergraduate research, or student club projects, except nobody tells you that!

Want to make absolutely certain you muscle all these uneducated naturalists out of your way when you are applying for jobs? Get experience! There are amateur naturalists who set up legitimate research labs in their homes and publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals. You have access to academic research facilities with cuttting-edge technological capabilities they don’t.

Do a search for jobs now, see what the requirements are. You’d be hard-pressed to find one somebody without your degree could land. It will be much easier for you to find your way in!

June 29, 2019

So it hailed in Texas today [link]

Above photos are not mine, I took them from the thread linked above. My area (Austin) only got the standard size hail, but San Antonio got hail up to 3 inches in diameter, which is large enough to crack a car’s windshield.

We had a thunderstorm (complete with tornado warning!) last weekend, too. And on Wednesday, we broke the high temperature record across the state. Del Rio reached into the mid-100F range. Austin was mid-90’s. What climate change?

April 13, 2019