Category: text post

If it’s in a postable format, I’d …

If it’s in a postable format, I’d love to see your list of species you’ve seen in your yard!

I keep track of my species on iNaturalist, so my species count is available for anybody to look at! And when I say “list,” I mean, photographs. Because I’m a scientist, and if it’s not verifiable, it doesn’t count 😉 The links below are organized by species, if you want to see my specific observations and photographs, click the little links for “# observations” above the organism’s name and it will take you to them.

The full, unfiltered “list” only shows the top 600 before it stops loading (by design), but here it is [link]

A tiny bit of background: This list covers 0.10 acres in east Travis County, Texas (my address says I’m in Austin, but I’m not, it’s a lie). My neighborhood is a housing development surrounded by agricultural land, and my house (and the development) was built starting around 15 years ago. My back yard is backed by a row of hackberry trees, and I have neighbors on either side. I bought this house in June 2016 and have been neglecting the back yard ever since, besides occasionally planting a few trees/bushes/bird feeders. I need to post some pictures of the yard over time because it’s starting to look like a legitimate forest. If I ever need to sell this place, oh boy.

The Spider Haven Species List – Numbers By Kingdom

Protozoans [link] 1 species (so far just Dog Vomit Slime Mold, but I have two other unidentified slime molds that don’t go into the numbers yet!)
Bacteria [link] 1 species (a plant disease–I need to get a microbio setup started for cultures bwahaha)
Fungi [link] 8 species (I’ve been slacking, I know I have more in my fridge ALONE right now)
Plants [link] 70 species (there’s more, I have photos from September 2018 I haven’t uploaded yet… ugh)
Animals [link] *cough* over 900 species… uh, I’ll need to break that down a bit…

Animals in my yard

Vertebrates [link] 72 species (birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians)
Annelids [link] 1 species (earthworms creep me out, sorry)
Mollusks [link] 10 species (missing my tiny little slugs!)
Flatworms [link] 2 species
Horsehair Worm [link] 1 species
Arthropods [link] 828 species. Okay….

ARTHROPODS

Crustaceans [link] 2 species (pillbugs!)
Myriapoda [link] 3 species
Arachnids [link] 75 species
Insects [link] 747 species. *SIGH*

I N S E C T S

Springtails [link]1 species (not easy to find!!!
Silverfishes [link]1 species
Cockroaches and Termites [link] 11 species
Butterflies and Moths [link] 279 species
Beetles [link]148 species
Earwigs [link] 2 species
Flies [link] 58 species
Webspinners [link] 1 species
Mayflies [link] 3 species
True Bugs & Allies [link] 124 species
Ants, Bees, Wasps, & Sawflies [link] 63 species
Mantids [link] 1 species, but I saw a mating pair and the male was missing a head [link]
Scorpionflies, Hangingflies, etc [link] 1 species 
Alderflies, Dobsonflies, Fishflies [link] 1 species
Antlions, Lacewings, Owlflies, Mantidflies [link] 4 species
Dragonflies and Damselflies [link] 23 species
Grasshoppers, Katydids, Crickets [link] 20 species
Stick insects [link] 3 species (but I think it should be 2, need to double check)
Stoneflies [link] 1 species
Barklice, booklice, and parasitic lice [link] 1 species
Thrips [link] 2 species
Caddisflies [link] 1 species (note: these are near-impossible to ID so I don’t really spend too much time on them)

They key take-aways appear to be: MÖTH, beetles, & true bugs. Not too much of a surprise, given I do a LOT of my snooping around the yard at night, and with my UV patio light on. Best $14 I ever spent! (I got it on sale, looks like it’s $20 now) [link]

Note: These species counts were accurate on the date I posted this list, April 12, 2019 at 12:47 am. The links will continue to work (oh please), but the numbers will change! They may go up as I add observations, or down as I my current observations are reclassified (happens ALL the time!).

April 12, 2019

Regular

botanyshitposts:

lads. i have 3 brain cells 

i think i have shin splints

from going on a long walk multiple days in a row with 20 pounds of cassava books in my backpack

I have about the same number of brain cells and I read 20 lbs of cassava roots in your backpack and thought you were like, a method research-paper writer.

April 11, 2019

Regular

slytherfriends:

nanonaturalist:

thelepidopteragirl:

zoologicallyobsessed:

Anyways where’s my lgbt scientists at? Let’s talk about how we’re queer + scientists.

yoo

Y’all I am so queer but the last time I tried to date it was a disaster (she lied about being interested in bugs to initially catch my attention–then literally screamed when I booped a spider in my yard and asked what I use for pest control… um), so I’ll stick to kissing caterpillars and moths until I run into another hot mess crawling through the bushes with a camera.

April 7, 2019

i’m not a biologist (i wish! i should’ve become a herpetologist tbh) but i’m a lesbian working in STEM! (r&d engineering)

‘Sup. I’m a chemical engineer and worked in polymer/advanced materials R&D before my company moved out of Texas and left me unemployed. I did my masters in Biomedical Engineering, but otherwise have no formal education in biology besides my Texas Master Naturalist training (it’s a volunteer-based service organization). I talk about biology for fun cuz why not?

You can still go chasing herps on the weekends! Hobbies are a thing! I met up with other people interested in nature during bioblitzes (some are professional wildlife biologists, some are just in it for fun like me), and it was a great way to learn more and visit new places. City Nature Challenge is coming up (last weekend of April), and a lot of places will have these kinds of events if you’re interested!

citynaturechallenge.org

April 8, 2019

Watching you raise bugs takes me back to eleme…

Watching you raise bugs takes me back to elementary school when I caught a bunch of little green caterpillars and stuck them in a bowl with leaves, twigs, etc in my room. They ended up forming cocoons on the walls, and I had to shoo them out through the window when the hatched. Probably not best practice for etymology, but I was 7, and it worked out in the end. The point is you do work and it brings a smile to my face! Thanks!

Awww thanks. I did the same thing with the furry caterpillars in Washington (Isabella tiger moths and Virginian tiger moths), except I used a shoe box. Initially, I’d keep the lid on it, but over time, we would “develop trust” and the caterpillar would “stay in the box” until one day, he would disappear and I would be sad… until I’d find a cocoon on a random object in my room (like, a book). I loved their furry little cocoons. Right now, the outside of my house is covered in them, I had an outbreak of Virginian tiger moth caterpillars last fall. I think most of the moths have emerged and flown off, but I’ll probably leave the cocoons up forever.

Thanks for writing in and sharing about your moths!

April 5, 2019

Regular

p01y3thy13n3:

nanonaturalist:

pterygota:

systlin:

witchyatwork:

systlin:

madamehearthwitch:

systlin:

systlin:

But seriously, when we got our property, it was all just…grass. A sterile grass moonscape, like a billion other yards. With two big old maple trees. Just grass and maples, that was it. 

But then I got my grubby little paws on it, and I immediately stopped fertilizing, spraying, and bagging up grass clippings and leaves. I ripped up sod and put in flowers and vegetables. I put down nice thick blankets of mulch around the flowers and vegetables. 

When I first was sweating my way through stripping sod, I saw a grand total of 1 worm and 0 ladybugs. The ground was compacted into something that would bend shovel blades. 

Now, six years later, I can’t dig a planting hole without turning up fourteen earthworms, and there are so many ladybugs here. Not the invasive asian lady beetles; native ladybugs. They winter over in the mulch and in the brush pile. I see thousands of them. 

The soil is soft and rich. There are birds that come to eat, and bees of many sorts.

Like this is something that you, yourself, can absolutely change. This is something that you, personally, can make a difference in.

Like, last year I watched no fewer than twenty-nine monarch caterpillars grow up on my milkweed and fly away as butterflies. I watched swallowtails and moths grow. There are hummingbirds fighting over flowers now.

I did that. Me. You can do the same.

I would like to learn how to do this. Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming. I just want to find someone who can come over for a cuppa, and we can wander the yard and they can make me a plan. 

Preferably a very easy to follow, doesn’t take too much time every day plan.

It’s not nearly so intimidating as it sounds.

You can do a whole lot of good just by not spraying your yard, not mowing it so often, and not raking up leaves and grass.

But as a certified Lazy Ass Gardener, I can tell you for 100% certain that this is attainable, and requires absolutely zero, none, nada, zilch expensive or complicated equipment.

I don’t even have a plan. I just do things.

Wait so, dont mow as much, dont pick up the grass when you mow, and dont pick up leaves and your grass is healthier? my dad likes to mow the lawn every one to 2 weeks in the summer💀 what other tips do you guys have?

Yup. Those grass and leaf clippings rot down and fertilize the soil.

Grass does BETTER when it’s not mown short, and gives more hiding places to all sorts of insects.

Don’t spray. Let the bugs and ‘weeds’ live.

i have a 10’x10’ piece of garden that i initially used to grow things, but i abandoned it completely and now its absolutely covered in “weeds” and i even have a volunteer shrub that makes berries! the amount of native bees and other insects i attract is incredible. and all i do to maintain it is nothing.

For reals. I have to mow my front yard (I live in an HOA… ugh), but I don’t bag my clippings. I never water my yard (and I live in Texas!), but my grass is green all year. The clippings and mulched leaves keep in moisture and they’re nature’s fertilizer! Lizards and frogs hide under the leaves and clippings, and when you remove those, you are removing their habitat. Bugs will show up and munch on the clippings, and their waste adds more nutrients as well. I don’t fertilize. I don’t spray. I let nature do its thing. Even just in the front, there are bugs everywhere. I’ve found the tiny green sweat bees nesting in the ground under my rose bush, and the giant cicada killer wasps had a nest somewhere in my front yard last year–I couldn’t find it, but they were pollinating the sorrelvine that randomly showed up and decided to climb up my oak tree (which was the host plant for the Vine Sphinx moths and the first batch of sawflies I raised!)

In the back? I planted a few things in a small garden area, and I intentionally planted three (3) trees, but I’m busy/lazy and the back yard became the paradise jungle it is when I was writing my Master’s thesis after moving into this house, and I never had the heart to start mowing it. A bunch more trees decided to start growing on their own and I constantly have to murder soapberry and hackberry and elm saplings. My yard is covered in a mix of native plants and invasive bunch grass, in addition to random grains and sunflowers growing under the bird feeders. They all serve as hosts for insects. 

In less than three years, I have documented almost 1000 species of plants, insects, birds, fungi, slime molds, and mammals. My yard is 0.10 acres. I have ladybugs crawling out of my ears. The larvae are pupating all over my horse skeleton!!!

So yeah. Want species diversity in your yard? Plant native plants. Are you a lazy ass like me and want species diversity? Then don’t do anything, congratulations, nature still wins (just look out for all those invasives, and have fun pulling out catchweed -_-

April 5, 2019

READ THE LAST PARAGRAPH OF THIS THREAD!!! YOU CAN JUST LET IT ALL GROW THE HELL OUT!!!!!!!!!!! REMEMBER THAT

plus catchweed, or cleavers, IS EDIBLE!!!!!! (but you must boil it for a some time so that the hooked hairs on it dont irritate your esophagus. The younger cleavers require less cooking.*)

*also some people are allergic to it, so do a skin test by rubbing on skin to see if you develop a reaction, and eat a small amount of it first

Funny Story!

I do not react to poison ivy (apparently). And I can’t tell the difference between the mature vines and boxelder maple (apparently):

^ that’s poison ivy

^ this is the same poison ivy

I had no idea until somebody on iNaturalist corrected my ID and asked me if I felt itchy. Pro-tip, maple doesn’t have berries, dummy.

But: I am so allergic to plants in general that I can’t eat most fruits and vegetables raw. I can’t carve a pumpkin for Halloween without wearing gloves. When I was a teenager and my allergies were a lot worse, I couldn’t sit in the grass if I was wearing shorts without getting a huge rash. When I had my first prick test at the allergist, I reacted to oregano. When the pollen count is high, I have to enter a Zen meditative state to keep from clawing my eyeballs out they’re so itchy (like right now, and this is after I’ve taken my allergy meds). One time I went for a short spring hike, and my allergies got so bad, my throat became so swollen, and my sneezing became so powerful, that I launched out a tonsil stone I didn’t even know I had (!!!). 

But I can manhandle poison ivy all I want, I guess.

I wear gloves when I go out on catchweed-killing missions (I’m not joking, my entire back yard is getting overtaken with that crap), but if I’m wearing short sleeves, and it touches my bare arms? I basically want to die for the next couple hours. My arms look like I got the worse chiggers ever. It’s all those damn hooks breaking my skin and letting all that pollen in!

Which reminds me, chigger season is coming! It’s not getting me three years in a row, I’m PREPARED! (*change/wash your clothes and take a hot shower ASAP after wandering around in tall grasses/vegetation!)

April 5, 2019

Regular

pterygota:

systlin:

witchyatwork:

systlin:

madamehearthwitch:

systlin:

systlin:

But seriously, when we got our property, it was all just…grass. A sterile grass moonscape, like a billion other yards. With two big old maple trees. Just grass and maples, that was it. 

But then I got my grubby little paws on it, and I immediately stopped fertilizing, spraying, and bagging up grass clippings and leaves. I ripped up sod and put in flowers and vegetables. I put down nice thick blankets of mulch around the flowers and vegetables. 

When I first was sweating my way through stripping sod, I saw a grand total of 1 worm and 0 ladybugs. The ground was compacted into something that would bend shovel blades. 

Now, six years later, I can’t dig a planting hole without turning up fourteen earthworms, and there are so many ladybugs here. Not the invasive asian lady beetles; native ladybugs. They winter over in the mulch and in the brush pile. I see thousands of them. 

The soil is soft and rich. There are birds that come to eat, and bees of many sorts.

Like this is something that you, yourself, can absolutely change. This is something that you, personally, can make a difference in.

Like, last year I watched no fewer than twenty-nine monarch caterpillars grow up on my milkweed and fly away as butterflies. I watched swallowtails and moths grow. There are hummingbirds fighting over flowers now.

I did that. Me. You can do the same.

I would like to learn how to do this. Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming. I just want to find someone who can come over for a cuppa, and we can wander the yard and they can make me a plan. 

Preferably a very easy to follow, doesn’t take too much time every day plan.

It’s not nearly so intimidating as it sounds.

You can do a whole lot of good just by not spraying your yard, not mowing it so often, and not raking up leaves and grass.

But as a certified Lazy Ass Gardener, I can tell you for 100% certain that this is attainable, and requires absolutely zero, none, nada, zilch expensive or complicated equipment.

I don’t even have a plan. I just do things.

Wait so, dont mow as much, dont pick up the grass when you mow, and dont pick up leaves and your grass is healthier? my dad likes to mow the lawn every one to 2 weeks in the summer💀 what other tips do you guys have?

Yup. Those grass and leaf clippings rot down and fertilize the soil.

Grass does BETTER when it’s not mown short, and gives more hiding places to all sorts of insects.

Don’t spray. Let the bugs and ‘weeds’ live.

i have a 10’x10’ piece of garden that i initially used to grow things, but i abandoned it completely and now its absolutely covered in “weeds” and i even have a volunteer shrub that makes berries! the amount of native bees and other insects i attract is incredible. and all i do to maintain it is nothing.

For reals. I have to mow my front yard (I live in an HOA… ugh), but I don’t bag my clippings. I never water my yard (and I live in Texas!), but my grass is green all year. The clippings and mulched leaves keep in moisture and they’re nature’s fertilizer! Lizards and frogs hide under the leaves and clippings, and when you remove those, you are removing their habitat. Bugs will show up and munch on the clippings, and their waste adds more nutrients as well. I don’t fertilize. I don’t spray. I let nature do its thing. Even just in the front, there are bugs everywhere. I’ve found the tiny green sweat bees nesting in the ground under my rose bush, and the giant cicada killer wasps had a nest somewhere in my front yard last year–I couldn’t find it, but they were pollinating the sorrelvine that randomly showed up and decided to climb up my oak tree (which was the host plant for the Vine Sphinx moths and the first batch of sawflies I raised!)

In the back? I planted a few things in a small garden area, and I intentionally planted three (3) trees, but I’m busy/lazy and the back yard became the paradise jungle it is when I was writing my Master’s thesis after moving into this house, and I never had the heart to start mowing it. A bunch more trees decided to start growing on their own and I constantly have to murder soapberry and hackberry and elm saplings. My yard is covered in a mix of native plants and invasive bunch grass, in addition to random grains and sunflowers growing under the bird feeders. They all serve as hosts for insects. 

In less than three years, I have documented almost 1000 species of plants, insects, birds, fungi, slime molds, and mammals. My yard is 0.10 acres. I have ladybugs crawling out of my ears. The larvae are pupating all over my horse skeleton!!!

So yeah. Want species diversity in your yard? Plant native plants. Are you a lazy ass like me and want species diversity? Then don’t do anything, congratulations, nature still wins (just look out for all those invasives, and have fun pulling out catchweed -_-)

April 5, 2019

The World Just Got Closer to a Controversial M…

The World Just Got Closer to a Controversial Mosquito ‘Wipe Out’ Experiment:

the-awkward-turt:

eartharchives:

Using the ‘molecular scissor’ editing technique CRISPR,
a gene known as “doublesex” in the bugs has been altered. The gene
transforms female mosquitoes, taking away their biting ability and
making them infertile.

Is anyone else ridiculously nervous about this? Wiping out something that’s so low on the food chain and plays roles in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems seems…ill-advised. There’s no way we can fully predict the ecological ramifications.

I know that the diseases spread by mosquitoes are horrible, but there have also been studies suggesting we could modify mosquitoes to make them incapable of carrying those diseases without wiping them out.

People say there would be “no significant ecological consequences”, but we really can’t possibly know that for sure. I will remind everyone that ecologists once signed off on releasing cane toads into Australia and thought it would have “no significant ecological consequences”.

In February, I participated in a live debate (on stage, with a microphone, unscripted, no internet to look stuff up, etc.) on this topic. Should we eradicate mosquitos? I was on the “HELL NO!!!” side.

I argued my point so well that by the end, my opponent’s only option was to spin his side as an argument for total annihilation of the human species via ecosystem collapse, starting at the bottom of the food chain. Do I need to say I won by a landslide?

Apparently, one of the native mosquito genera in Texas, Psorophora, has larvae that are predatory on other mosquito larvae (including the invasive species that spread disease). These include the monstrously huge gallinippers.

Conducting this research is ethically irresponsible. Once this gets out, you can’t put it back, that’s it. We know enough by now to know not to do this.

Who is getting rich from this work? I guarantee you somebody is retiring off the money they make from this.

March 18, 2019

Regular

Officially Spring!

That magical time of the year when the conehead katydids start the earsplitting scream outside my kitchen window, the mockingbirds do their 1 am to 4 am rehearsals, and the fire ants remember that they must inhabit my walls!

March 9 (1:30 am, to the sound of a mockingbird warming up), 2019

Can’t wait for summer, when CICADAS

thelepidopteragirl: nanonaturalist: thelepid…

thelepidopteragirl:

nanonaturalist:

thelepidopteragirl:

nanonaturalist:

thelepidopteragirl:

the-awkward-turt:

myfrogcroaked:

zoologicallyobsessed:

Tommy McElrath‏ @monotomidae

The giant bee wasn’t “lost to science”. No one got grants to go study or monitor their populations for >20 years because no one would find it. That’s the real story here. We are constantly undervaluing and underobserving basic natural history about small creatures like bees.

In the light of everyone reblogging about the rediscovery of the Wallace’s Giant Bee (Megachile pluto) no one is acknowledging (besides us zoologists) the fact that this has already happened with this bee. It was thought lost since 1859 until it was rediscovered in 1981 and now 2019. This is because of lack of funding going towards conversing and discovering insects like this bee! 

This is the important missing part of the story!!!!!

I face the same challenge in my work to study and protect frogs.

http://www.frogrescue.com/

If you search a list of “critically endangered invertebrates” at least a third of them are listed as “possibly extinct”.

POSSIBLY. Because no one has the funding to even got and check if they still exist. That’s where we are at with invert conservation.

this is why i hate pandas

Hell, this is where we’re at WITH BIRDS.

I have some tiny bug friends on iNat who have been valiantly going through all the unidentified tiny bug photos and trying to identify them (and I mean, true valor). One of them will comment on some random photo of a thing I snapped with my phone in my yard two years ago before I knew what I was doing “Oh hey THIS IS A RARE BLAH DE BLAH” and I’m just like, oh yeah I just randomly found it in my yard I probably have hundreds of those.

Sometimes, I will find a bug, identify the bug, upload the bug to iNat, and iNat will helpfully tell me, OH YEAH THIS IS CRITICALLY ENDANGERED IN TEXAS. Like, one of the spittlebugs I find sometimes in the fields might go extinct because THE FIELDS KEEP GETTING DESTROYED.

Another aspect of this story that isn’t getting told: a lot of the natural sciences are no longer even teaching natural history and organisms the way they used to. Taxonomy is all about genetics these days. Museums are switching over to hiring… people who can’t identify specimens without running PCR??? Like, they cannot look at an animal and tell you what it is unless they analyze cellular tissue. So universities aren’t teaching the “old way” anymore? So, nobody tries to get grants and study ecology because all people care about is genetics and blah blah who cares??? 

Both are important, but the funding institutions clearly do not agree. And the way science is funded these days, people HAVE to go for what they know will get them money to do the work they know is important. Just add a little bit of genetics to get some money to do the ecology work, right? But over twenty, thirty years… ecology work doesn’t get funding anymore. 

Anyway, don’t listen to me, I picked engineering and I still can’t find a job. I’ll just be muttering to myself in this ditch over here collecting microscopic hemiptera and getting gnats in my eyes.

February 23, 2019

Sooo having been in museums & done projects that involved molecular work I have a few comments. Taxonomy =/= genetic work. We call classification w molecular work systematics. Molecular data has let us really learn a lot, but it needs to be balanced with morphology especially in cases with cryptic species complexes. I used museum specimens both for morphology & molecular work to describe new species.

In my experience, museums are not hiring people who only do molecular work, it it’s instead universities. Phylogenetics & systematics is sexy & gets funded. In museums, everyone I know & work with has training & background in their organism. You have to be able to identify things & know shit before they will hire you. That is part of why it can be so hard to get into museum work. There is a limited number of positions & you have to truly be an expert. This also goes for curators besides collections managers & assistants.

There simply isn’t the same amount of opportunities that there were 20-30 years ago to learn this stuff. A lot of people retired. Universities moved away from teaching natural sciences in some cases. However in my degree(s), natural sciences are taught & are very popular classes. It just really depends on your faculty on what is offered. If you’re going to be a entomologist, chances are you aren’t going to not take entomology bc it’s the fundamental course.

If we look at the popularity of courses like the bee course, the lep courses, etc that are offered to people taught by experts – it’s obivous there is this want for natural history. Even though I work w bee people I wouldn’t be able to get into the bee course bc the wait list is so long.

And that brings me to the final point. How do we get things listed as endangered? Museum specimens . That’s how we got the rusty patch bumblebee listed– there was the historical data. I am seeing a movement back to the importance of natural sciences.

Also if you’re going to do molecular work? You do have to know some taxonomy to be able to sort your samples from traps to prep them for pcr.

NSF had big funding for taxonomy & collections but with budget cuts that decreased around 2016.

I suspect my museum experiences are very different yours bc every insitution is different, but this is what I’ve seen in general.

There is a HUGE overlap between universities and museums in many places. I wasn’t able to get much museum experience besides taking a few general seminar courses where I was the only scientist in a room with historians and artists. I took this course the year UT Austin defunded the only science museum in the city and removed its collections. Any chances I ever had at working in this museum in an official capacity were destroyed by the state government. So all the context I have for discussing “Issues in Museums” (title of the seminar) were articles and news stories and experiences from all my classmates who did get to work in museums.

I am happy to hear it’s not as dire as some stories led me to believe. The genetics work is absolutely essential, but it’s just a small piece of a bigger story.

February 23, 2019

Yah fuck the government, my friends who worked at the Smithsonian got royally screwed over – especially the collection assistants who were contactors. (This is why u shouldn’t rely in government contractors to be your staff…😒).

It is worth mentioning: when I say “removed its collections,” I am using museum terminology that the random non-museum person probably doesn’t know, so let me clarify!

I am talking specifically about the Texas Memorial Museum. It is the only science museum open to the general public in Austin, TX. It is a natural history museum, it is still open (although admission is no longer free), and it’s still as great as a museum as it can be given the circumstances! All the permanent exhibits are still up, but they are… old and dusty. The top floor is a rotating exhibit space, which is for visiting exhibits, but I have no idea what they have in mind for that area (maybe I can ask the director and find out, bwahahaha). 

Before I add another huge wall of text with some kinda depressing stuff, here’s a photo and some great stuff and it’s not all bad!

I volunteer at their big Texas Wildlife Day event every January (which Texas Memorial Museum removes the admission fee for, so everybody can visit for free), and this year they had almost 1700 visitors that day! That breaks THEIR ALL TIME ADMISSION RECORD! Keep in mind: this is A TINY museum (not everything is bigger in Texas! Especially not our funding for the sciences!). Our table had mammal skulls, pelts, and tracks, and I brought in my alligator gar skeleton which people LOVED. And yes, all this stuff is for touching. Kids were going to TOWN on this fish skeleton, which (remember) I found by the river in Austin, which I made sure to tell all those kids so they could know, these guys are swimming in the river IN YOUR CITY, RIGHT NOW, and this was A SMALL ONE! They get TALLER THAN YOUR DAD!!!

Their scales are armored plates composed of bone covered in a mineral similar to enamel. Their scales are essentially like teeth. Back in the day, people used to use their scales as spear-tips. I had a kid who came up to the table, who was talking to me and told me that he collected arrow heads, and I was telling him that about the scales, and he thought it was really neat, so I secretly snapped a scale off and handed it to him. Hey, it’s MY fish skeleton, I can DO WHAT I WANT!

This event is just one of many ways that their director, Dr. Pamela Owen (she’s amazing) is helping the museum continue to be relevant even in the face of stagnant collections. She and her staff have put together these kits for educators to bring museum concepts to their classrooms free of charge [link].

And lest you think there’s no reason to visit the museum?

One of my friends was the Entomology Curator at TMM (coincidentally, this is also the guy who keeps taking me to the magical place with all the fish skeletons by the river!). He did this. My photo does it absolutely no justice. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in a museum in my life. To give you a sense of scale, the two Luna Moths are smaller than the Blue Morpho. There’s more than I could fit in the frame of my camera. 

He also makes earrings out of cockroach wings lol


What Are Museum Collections Anyway?!

When Museum People talk about Collections, they are talking about What’s In The Back. Museums are not just places for fun to learn about science (but they are definitely for that!), they are also places for storing knowledge, for academics to develop their expertise in their education, and for conducting research (creating NEW knowledge!). Those news articles you read about NEW MAMMAL DISCOVERED!!! Guess what? People didn’t see it scurrying in the forest. Some grad student was researching a rodent, and found a mouse in a drawer that didn’t quite look right, and looked into it, and it turns out it’s a NEW TO SCIENCE mouse, and oh no, wait, it might already be extinct, GO FIND IT!!! And *WHEW* they did find one, good, it’s just critically endangered.

Museum Collections don’t just happen. They accumulate over hundreds of years of dedicated, laborious work, and they are irreplaceable. In many cases, the only way for us to know how climate change has impacted biodiversity is by seeing what kinds of species somebody collected in a pit trap in a location 200 years ago.

Let me talk specifically about the Texas Memorial Museum collections. They still exist–don’t worry about that part! But, the collections that used to be owned by the museum included an obsessively detailed mosquito catalogue of Texas dating back to just before the invasive species arrived. How did the Aedes mosquitos affect the diversity of native species? Well, we can figure that out! Another example of what the collections contain: A ton of specimens from the Galapagos islands. Guess what you can’t collect anymore?

So what happened to these specimens? They are all still within the University of Texas at Austin. The more recently living specimens are all part of the Biodiversity Center [link] now (meaning, preserved animals, but not rocks and fossils). Good news, these specimens are all still available for research, education, and sharing with other institutions. Bad news, you can’t go see them. If they had remained part of the museum collections, and if they had retained enough funding to pay curators, they could rotate exhibits, and you could have seen them

(Small aside, though, curator for the Entomology section of the Texas Biodiversity Center is Alex Wild, bug photographer extraordinaire who you may recognize as the ant guy who gets grumpy about copyright and stupid politicians on twitter, who also Knows What’s Up and set up the Insects Unlocked program where they are trying to take as many high quality photographs of the items in these collections as possible [link], and make them available CREATIVE COMMONS – NO ATTRIBUTION online! So, if they’ve managed to get to it, and it’s a bug, YOU ACTUALLY CAN SEE IT!! [link TO PHOTOS])

Rotating exhibits on display is good for several reasons. 

1) The museums can come up with fun and interesting ways to make people who normally wouldn’t want to visit a museum… want to visit a museum. Some tired examples are putting together gimmicky “Real life Pokemon” exhibits (ya gotta do what ya gotta do). But what about the frenzy that overtook Seattle when the real life transformation mask that inspired the Seahawks logo was rediscovered and displayed at the Burke Museum? [link] When a museum doesn’t have the flexibility to change out any exhibits, they lose out on this kind of opportunity.

2) Constant exposure to light, dust, and little to no maintenance/upkeep results in slow degradation and diminished lifespan on specimens. Rotating specimens on display allows the museum to avoid looking “dated” as newer methods in preservation and modeling are more life-like. In some museums, looking old in dated in part of the experience (I’ll give the Natural History Museum in London a pass on the faded hummingbirds. TMM… please, just… have somebody vacuum the wolves?)

3) Even people who like visiting science museums will stop visiting if everything is the same ALL the time, especially if your museum is small enough that the entire thing can be visited in under two hours by somebody who reads all the labels. Some things should stay the same for nostalgia’s sake, yes, but… At least switch out the pickled fish, they’re expired!


In terms of My Personal Museum Journey who knows. For what it’s worth, prior to my subjecting a theater full of people to The Pooping Caterpillar Video [link](bwahahahaha), Alex Wild did tell me I was welcome back at UT anytime and not only did I tell him I’d hold him to that, but I *also* wanted money (and there might be a little bit of grant money for digitizing stuff, so we’ll see). He’s seen me around enough Bug Events and I know enough Bug People that perhaps he thinks I’m like a normal Bug Person* with Credibility and not a crazy engineer who really wanted to be a Bug Person and Who Needs Sleep When There’s An Extinction Going On?! I’ll end up being the digitizing productivity gremlin and I’ll mentor all the undergrads and they won’t be able to get me to leave.

*note: normal Bug People are still… I mean… they’re a bit off. The bug people think I’m weird.

February 24, 2019

thelepidopteragirl: the-awkward-turt: myfrogc…

thelepidopteragirl:

the-awkward-turt:

myfrogcroaked:

zoologicallyobsessed:

Tommy McElrath‏ @monotomidae

The giant bee wasn’t “lost to science”. No one got grants to go study or monitor their populations for >20 years because no one would find it. That’s the real story here. We are constantly undervaluing and underobserving basic natural history about small creatures like bees.

In the light of everyone reblogging about the rediscovery of the Wallace’s Giant Bee (Megachile pluto) no one is acknowledging (besides us zoologists) the fact that this has already happened with this bee. It was thought lost since 1859 until it was rediscovered in 1981 and now 2019. This is because of lack of funding going towards conversing and discovering insects like this bee! 

This is the important missing part of the story!!!!!

I face the same challenge in my work to study and protect frogs.

http://www.frogrescue.com/

If you search a list of “critically endangered invertebrates” at least a third of them are listed as “possibly extinct”.

POSSIBLY. Because no one has the funding to even got and check if they still exist. That’s where we are at with invert conservation.

this is why i hate pandas

Hell, this is where we’re at WITH BIRDS.

I have some tiny bug friends on iNat who have been valiantly going through all the unidentified tiny bug photos and trying to identify them (and I mean, true valor). One of them will comment on some random photo of a thing I snapped with my phone in my yard two years ago before I knew what I was doing “Oh hey THIS IS A RARE BLAH DE BLAH” and I’m just like, oh yeah I just randomly found it in my yard I probably have hundreds of those.

Sometimes, I will find a bug, identify the bug, upload the bug to iNat, and iNat will helpfully tell me, OH YEAH THIS IS CRITICALLY ENDANGERED IN TEXAS. Like, one of the spittlebugs I find sometimes in the fields might go extinct because THE FIELDS KEEP GETTING DESTROYED.

Another aspect of this story that isn’t getting told: a lot of the natural sciences are no longer even teaching natural history and organisms the way they used to. Taxonomy is all about genetics these days. Museums are switching over to hiring… people who can’t identify specimens without running PCR??? Like, they cannot look at an animal and tell you what it is unless they analyze cellular tissue. So universities aren’t teaching the “old way” anymore? So, nobody tries to get grants and study ecology because all people care about is genetics and blah blah who cares??? 

Both are important, but the funding institutions clearly do not agree. And the way science is funded these days, people HAVE to go for what they know will get them money to do the work they know is important. Just add a little bit of genetics to get some money to do the ecology work, right? But over twenty, thirty years… ecology work doesn’t get funding anymore. 

Anyway, don’t listen to me, I picked engineering and I still can’t find a job. I’ll just be muttering to myself in this ditch over here collecting microscopic hemiptera and getting gnats in my eyes.

February 23, 2019