Category Archives: Education

4H insect presentation

On 4 April 2013, I was in the Missouri Bootheel to help a 4H group with an insect program. The kids were super well-behaved, in fact a little too restrained for my tastes, so we explained the holometabolous life style using interpretive dance.

I am leading a mass interpretive dance to tell the story of holometabolism. In this photo we are in the larval stages.

I am leading a mass interpretive dance to tell the story of holometabolism. In this photo we are in the larval stages.

After shaking it to a natural history beat, we got down to business – enjoying some bugs. I left our awesome and gee whiz bug drawers at home. The 4H leader told me she wanted to talk about native insects. So I brought a drawer of ladybugs, a drawer of dung beetles, a drawer of Lepidoptera, and a drawer of Hemiptera from out of the storage facility where the collection was living at the time. One of the 4H kids, Lawson, is also an entomologist and he brought his collection to the meeting also. So we set up the insects at half court in the gym and had an insect

Insect encounter! I love having children rapid fire questions and observations about insects - it is so cool to have them excited about the subject.

Insect encounter! I love having children rapid fire questions and observations about insects – it is so cool to have them excited about the subject.

encounter session with the drawers of insects. Children and insects seem to go together so well – it is fun to formally introduce them.

This summer I will get to go blacklighting with the 4H group. That will be a blast!

Respect those who went before

I am honored to provide a post written by Steve Bouffard. This was originally written as a comment to a previous post. I simply can not say enough good about Steve.

Your post and picture of Gattinger reminded me that in most Western cultures we don’t honor and respect our elders enough. We don’t value their accumulated knowledge and wisdom. I was educated to this fact in summer 1968. I worked for VT Fish & Game Dept. doing an inventory of VT wetlands. We had to identify riparian and wetland plants. This was a challenge for a college freshman who never had seen or heard of taxonomic keys, especially early in the summer when there were no reproductive structures on the plants. Our ace in the hole was Frank Conkling Seymour, curator of the Pringle Herbarium at the University of Vermont. He had to be in his 70’s, having completed and retired from a previous nonbiological career. I brought him 3 full plant presses. He rattled off genus, species, variety and authority faster than I could write them down. I was duly impressed, but what he did later that summer left me awestruck. We collected a pink water lily (Nymphaea sp) that we couldn’t identify to species. He took one look at it and pronounced it not native to VT. He pulled out a book and keyed it out. Pondering for only a moment he said the author was wrong. I was dumbfounded; at my level of knowledge and education, if it was in a book it must be true. I never met anyone who had the knowledge an self assuredness to proclaim a book wrong. He pulled out a second book. He said “this is interesting, this author disagrees with the first author; they’re both wrong”. Double WOW! He pulled out a third book and said “this author got it right”. The next summer he published “The Flora of Vermont” and “The Flora of New England”.  If that wasn’t enough, he was writing  keys for plants of Nicaragua from his annual collecting trips. A few years later he published a checklist to Nicaraguan plants. These quiet, unobtrusive men who contributed so much to biology deserve our profound respect.

Flora of Tennessee

Among the many benefits of the internet is wealth of information available from the comfort of your FOThome, or even mobile device. One of the really cool things that organizations like Biodiversity Heritage Library, Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg offer is a treasure trove of out of print books, journals, and information. The Internet Archive has a copy of the book “The Flora of Tennessee and a Philosphy of Botany” written by Augustin Gattinger and published in 1901. It is always exciting to have information on historic plant distribution, taxonomy, and botanic community composition. I look forward to utilizing the flora as I explore my new home.

Even more exciting is the Philosophy of Botany portion of this book. To read the portion of the book where Augustin is arguing passionately for the creation of the Appalachian National Park (Great Smoky Mountain NP) is inspiring and has much to offer anyone interested in conservation and conservation history. The section that begins on page 263: “Modern thoughts on Origin, Evolution and Significance of Life” is a century-old call for reason, enlightenment, and a scientific theosophy – in which a higher criticism is brought to religion. This is all the more impressive when you consider the publisher of this fine book is The Gospel Advocate Publishing Company of Nashville, TN. I hope that my travels in Tennessee bring me more insight into Augustin and I find more of his writing and works. For now, I am grateful that somebody thought digitizing an old flora was a good idea.

From the mouths of babes 2…

In this recreated photo Steve Bouffard is in the exact pose in which he fielded the ULTIMATE QUESTION during the cub scout's museum tour.

In this recreated photo Steve Bouffard is in the exact pose in which he fielded the ULTIMATE QUESTION during the cub scout’s museum tour as he demonstrated the diversity of bird eggs.

Today was the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History  work day. If you are in the Boise area, the work days are must attend events. You will learn so much from a truly great group of people. Today Steve Bouffard was giving a tour to a group of cub scouts when one of the cub scouts asked Steve the ultimate question (as explored in a previous posting): “Why are all the animals here dead?”

Steve’s response was swift and awesome: “Because if all the animals were alive, this place would be a zoo.”

Nothing we do is more important than educating children. I am so proud of Steve.

Weed management

Since the last couple of posts have dealt with weed management/ biocontrol weevils, I thought I

Ol' Cirsium vulgare is in for an ass kicking today!

Ol’ Cirsium vulgare is in for an ass kicking today! Idaho July 2012.

might post about some weed control paradigms. The photo at left shows me at work managing weeds at a mine exploration site in a National Forest utilizing perhaps the most expensive weed control methodology known: a trained botanist unleashed on a low density weed. As readers of the blog are aware, Rhinocyllus conica will feed on this noxious weed species, but removal before pollination guarantees that no seed will be set by this individual plant. The intensity of human response to weed threats is correlated to what is being protected and potential for effecting change. This is true whether the weeds are in wildland or agricultural situations. The area in the photo is a zero tolerance zone for weed occurrence due to sensitive nature of native plant populations and the economic activity occurring on site.

Amazingly, I have had people tell me that I shouldn’t kill plants. A blood-(sap)-thirsty approach approach to invasive species shows that I am not in tune with Mother Nature (who sent these species to tell us something) this is a statement I have heard more than a couple times. However, I have seen: wetlands become a monoculture of Lythrium salicaria, sage steppe converted to a sea of Bromus tectorum, and bean fields not harvested due to Amaranthus palmeri; to do nothing and just let these plants have their way with our ecosystems is something I just cannot do. This isn’t to say I don the weed management cape and tights every time I see noxious weeds – if I did they would never come off. So, what can we do?

  1. Learn your plants. Until you know your targets you are just a green murderer.
  2. Learn how to prevent movement of noxious weeds: clean seeds from your socks, vehicle undercarriage, etc.
  3. Clean up your yard, that Lonicera japonica bush isn’t as beautiful as you think…
  4. Be aware that many invasive plants (e.g. Lonicera japonica) will support some native wildlife, try to replace that function with native plants as the invasive is removed.
  5. Report populations of noxious plants to land managers when on public lands. GPS data, photographs, and specimens will all help land managers to act.

Pass me the glyphosate please…

From the mouths of babes…

If you ever really want to test your skills, go into a third grade class room and present about your passion. A group of inquisitive 8-year-old kids can reduce even the most hardened field biologist to rubble. There is simply nothing more fun or rewarding than sharing biodiversity with kids – and it may be the most important activity given the state of natural history education in our nation.

Normally, I go into a classroom setting armed with four stations and three helpers (yeah, we make the teacher work too). We try having a cage of live insects collected within a half mile of the school, all life stages of at least one insect, and two Cornell drawers full of gee whiz bugs. This is big fun – it is awesome to leave a classroom of kids buzzing about insects.

The event depicted only happened once, but it was a magnificent question. I didn’t go into R and K selection, rarity, focused collection vs. backyard bug lights, documentation, or anything else – the question was pure and the answer this kid was seeking went far beyond my activities. As long as our schools produce kids who can ask good questions, the future will be in good hands.

Enjoy the comic: really happened, but everything is changed.Murder

What beetle should I study?

The question above was asked by a friend. This friend (who will remain anonymous), is primarily a Odonatologist (dragonfly guy), but is also the preeminent Lepidopterist (butterfly guy) in his neck of the woods. I mention this because I too feel his pain – the world is simply too large and diverse to comprehend. I just hope he doesn’t look too closely at Diptera (flies) or Hymenoptera (bees, ants, wasps) or, heaven forbid, crawfish or spiders (best spider name ever = Neon nelli)!

Of course, lichens are pretty cool. Fungi, bacteria, viruses, plants, etc. are all worthy and interesting subjects to study. It seems a bunch of people study animals other than arthropods (like birds, snakes, or primates), but insects have a special hold on many good hearts.

It is rewarding to master a subject, but it is so difficult to choose that subject. Some people are brilliant and can master big subjects like: ‘insect fauna of North America’. I have to choose smaller subjects (but they are still challenging for me) like: ‘beetle fauna inside stems of an introduced plant’. Even this simple topic has much I don’t understand – for me that is the fun. I want the answers, I just don’t want them given to me. The sense of wonder is what makes it wonderful.

My advice to this person is to study what is fascinating. Learning new things, leads to new questions, which in turn leads to learning new things. In the science dance of: observation, hypothesis, testing, analysis, repeat we are all dancing beautifully. Embrace the idea that a human lifetime is not long enough to quench the thirst of inquisition – if you are living right! Wave your freak flag – HIGH!