“Poke nature”

“Poke nature” is a phrase taught to me by one of my professors at McGill, and a philosophy I have lived by my whole life. Not everyone may agree with it (many environmentalists think we should leave nature alone completely), but I believe that interacting with nature is one of the best ways to learn about it. Keeping something in captivity for a little while, or photographing it, can  bring behaviors to light you wouldn’t otherwise observe. I have been greatly inspired by watching and poking at the Acronicta caterpillars I am studying.

Here are a few shots of cute creatures we came across at Hurd State Park. Of course I had to scoop them up.

We think this little caterpillar might be an Acronicta species. It was probably in its first instar.

I spotted this elaterid beetle in flight while we were eating lunch. I could tell it was an elaterid (click beetle) by the way it held its elytra while flying. It wasn’t until it landed that I realized how large it was – it was an eyed elater (Alaus oculatus)! I had never seen one in the northeast before, only in Texas and Arizona. It turns out this species would prefer to play dead, as opposed to clicking to right itself. It clicked once (only got a couple inches into the air) and then decided to sit still for the next hour.

Not an insect, but still awesome. A grumpy little american toad (Bufo americanus). It peed on me.

Over the years I have gotten better at controlling my “must catch it” instincts in order to make observations of natural behavior. And I have learned that it isn’t always worth it to catch a snake and smell like musk for the rest of the day. But there is a reason I don’t take up bird watching as a hobby – it’s no fun (to me) if you can’t catch the birds to get a closer look.

I have learned that toads will pee if you pick them up, frogs can scream like a baby, slug slime is almost impossible to get off your hands, different species of snakes have different strategies for musking, great spangled fritillaries are one of the hardest butterflies to catch, ambush bugs can bite hard, click beetles only click as a last resort, some caterpillars will fall off a leaf on purpose while others will cling tightly, wolf spiders are gentle and can be loving mothers, snapping turtles smell gross, giant water bugs will eat goldfish… you get the idea.

What have you learned from bothering nature?

Posted on June 18, 2012, in Invertebrates, Vertebrates. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. No birding!? I sidelined birds for a long time until I took a 3rd year Ornithology class in Undergrad and realized how interesting bird behaviour can be. If you want to grip ’em you just need to learn how to mist net. I’ve helped with a few bird banding projects, including one where we banded Saw-whet owls and they were all amazing experiences.

    • I must say I do love birds (had a pet parrot I adored!)- but in my ornithology class I spent just as much time poking around the underbrush as I did looking for birds. My attention span is too short to wander around with binoculars, I’d rather be doing something physical like flipping rocks. Though I really enjoyed mist netting at the bird observatory at McGill!

  2. Brian Ogilvie

    Vinegar takes off slug slime, as I discovered after removing several invading slugs from my ground-floor flat in England last year.

  3. That’s my girl!

  4. Frogfish feel like sandpaper.

  1. Pingback: The Weekly Flypaper – Long Weekend Edition » Biodiversity in Focus Blog

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Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

Trying to make sense of the world through science and language.

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