House Centipede

Last month, while walking in to work,  I saw this specimen of Scutigera coleoptrata (the house 2014-03-18 HouseCentipedecentipede). Centipedes are fast, but the morning was cold, so I was able to get a photo (hooray for a homeothermic metabolism!). This is a household predator, and can be thought of as beneficial (if you actually need to sort species as such – and if so, where do you place yourself?). I am always amazed that large household predators (e.g. spiders) always seem to exist at densities higher than one would expect given the household prey base (which seems non-existent). Perhaps this is because I am much larger, or perhaps I should study my household ecology a little more closely.

This is an introduced species and has done very well in North America because of our habitat manipulations. Being able to coexist with humans does have some advantages, but do not make the mistake of cuddling the house centipedes you may find – they can (and will) bite.


Why Cartoons?

It seems I have always been drawn to cartoons, even if I am not very good at drawing them. Strips that I have done or been part of that have seen the light of day in print: The Further Adventures of Captain Death, Johnny Asilid: Danger Force Nine, and Super-Mega Botanist Friendship Friends. The nameless strip that remains captive in this blog is useful for me, and I thank you for tolerating it.

I actually spend a fair amount of time reading comic strips. When I actually have a newspaper in front of me, the editorials and the comics are the first places I turn to. The Mark Trail strip was an early inspiration for me in comics that were about ideas. The Virtue of Vera Valiant was a newspaper strip I loved to read. It was a hilarious and absurd exploration of life that did not ‘try’ to be funny. This strip contains elements of every strip I have ever read, but not in a copyright infringing sort of way:

why cartoons

Bed Bugs

I have identified numerous bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) in the past few years, but I have never found my own. My first bed bug encounter was when I stayed at the Mizpah Hut in New Hampshire in 1976. The hiking was amazing. I did not get to see bed bugs, but a couple of the people I was with had marks that told of their nocturnal encounters with Cimex.

I first became aware of the resurgence of bed bugs in 2006 when Kelly Tindall showed me some live bed bugs that had been brought into the Twin Falls County (University of Idaho) Extension office. Since then it seems everywhere I go there are bed bugs, that other people show me for identification or confirmation of their identification.

2014-01-28 19.13.26-1Recently, Kelly and I were staying at the Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston, Iowa and in our initial room survey Kelly found a beautiful, adult bed bug and I got to see a bed bug in ‘the wild’. I am sure I will get to find my own before too long…

To learn how to avoid and deal with bed bugs I highly recommend this video. The bed bug registry allows you to see if hotels and apartments have had reported bed bug incidents, but not all incidents are reported.

The really cool thing about bed bugs is they depend on us. They have evolved to feed on our blood and have been associated with us for a very long time. They like us, they really like us, but their love of us is unrequited.


Scientific thought is a huge collaborative effort. The data, thoughts, hypotheses, etc. of others are fair game for any researcher to utilize in their work. The caveat is that all such work must be properly attributed. Students will often make ‘petit plagiarisms’ where it is clear that they are referring to a certain work, and then quote it verbatim without quotation marks. I have also seen where students will list references, but not cite within the paper. Occasionally, a reference may be omitted, but the student is not claiming to have developed the concept of niche partioning – all this is within what I would call an honest mistake. When a student hands in a paper that is the wikipedia entry verbatim, they are blatantly claiming another’s work as their own and this is bad.

In the huge collaborative effort called scientific thought there is peer review, where we read each other’s paper prior to review. This process is extremely flawed and helpful. There are the before submission reviews where the manuscript goes to friends who make comments and the post submission reviews where unknown reviewers make comments. The anonymity of these reviewers is essential, but also means that there is no credit given for extremely hard work – it is done for the common good of the collaborative effort.

By the time somebody has published a couple of scientific papers, and maybe gotten a Doctorate, it is assumed they should know how to avoid plagiarism. I still make mistakes citing items and very much appreciate when a reviewer helps me out. This is a very not funny cartoon about a very not funny subject. I am still trying to make sense of this paper I was asked to review that blatantly claimed another person’s concept as their own.



Everything poops!

Often, biologists identify animals by their sign. This can be the characteristic scratches some species leave on trees, a unique nest, or some other artifact. Often this artifact is poop. It is no big secret, that when it comes to animals, everything poops. Today, as I was processing dung beetles from some samples from 2011, I came across something I have never had the opportunity to see before – dung beetle poop – specifically Onthophagus taurus poop. This is a poop made by animal that eats poop, or poop squared.

2014-01-01 10.00.40The specimen in question must have defecated when it hit the antifreeze that I use in the pitfall trap and then the poop remained excreted, but attached, through the alcohol storage and subsequent pinning before microscope examination for specific determination. Needless to say, this is a most auspicious start to a new year that I hope will be filled with exciting discoveries!

I hope that 2014 is filled with interesting and wonderful discoveries for all of you also – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Encounter with a scorpion!

I have been lucky enough to find scorpions in my waders, in my boots, in Berlese funnels, and once had them come visit my blacklight rig in Arizona to feed on the insects, but I have not been able to find scorpions just being scorpions. Earlier this week in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, I was lucky enough to encounter a scorpion, Centruroides vittatus, while looking for beetles under logs in a dry, pine woodland on sandy soil.

23 Dec 2013 - Bienville Parish, LA

23 Dec 2013 – Bienville Parish, LA

The weather was kind of cool, and the scorpion did not move at all. I took a couple of really bad photos with my cell phone and replaced the log.

Non-insect arthropods are worthwhile and and groovy. All of the Thomas Eisner millipede work comes to mind. In this case, there were no great scientific discoveries or flashes of insight, just a simple ‘GEE WHIZ!’ and the joy of seeing a bit of wildlife doing what it does (in this case trying to overwinter undisturbed). This is in area with a large feral hog population and I wondered if the hogs are a problem for the scorpions and if that influences choice of overwintering site, but a sample size of one and limited time meant I needed to move on. I have seen scorpions kept as pets and know that they are eaten, but as mentioned above: I just replaced the log. Maybe next time.