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When opportunity strikes

On monday several of my labmates and our advisor went on a trip to the New York State Museum in Albany NY. Mostly we went there to pick up some bees for our lab’s bee databasing project, but I also wanted to look at their Acronicta specimens and talk to the entomology curators at the museum. It was a quick visit, but very helpful and a lot of fun.

On the way back, our advisor started craning his neck to see the plants on the side of the highway as we were driving. This wouldn’t be so bad, if he wasn’t the one driving. He thought he caught a glimpse of a tree he really needed to feed some of his caterpillars.

So there we were, crawling along in the slow lane, looking for a tree. We pulled over into the breakdown lane once, but there was no tree.

Finally we did stop near the right tree, and he hopped right out with his clippers (always handy, of course) to grab a branch.

To us this seemed fairly normal. Though I wonder what the people in the passing cars thought!

Moth curation party

On Saturday our lab had its yearly “moth curation party”, where my advisor invites a swarm of lepidopterists into the lab to identify and organize our collection of moths.

I had buried Petunia the bunny that morning so I wasn’t at my usual level of enthusiasm, but the chaos was a welcome distraction. So many people, drawers, labels, specimens… sounds of the printer, paper cutter, drawer lids, shouts of excitement at a correct identification…

I spent most of the day identifying moths in my study genus, Acronicta. With the aid of the collection and help from the other lepidopterists I did a decent job. Some of them are pretty tricky. Here is one of the drawers… as you can see they aren’t exactly the most exciting moths in the world.

And here is some of the pandemonium in the lab:

I also assisted with drawer labeling, which satisfied some of my organizational urges. It feels great when everything is clearly and consistently labeled, if only we had the time to do everything that needs to be done!

Sad day

I struggled for the past few weeks with the decision to get my rabbit Petunia spayed. She was about 1.5 to 2 years old, older than the recommended age of 1 year for getting spayed. She was adopted, and wasn’t spayed by her previous owners. I finally decided that the risk now was worth taking so she would live a longer and healthier life. Female rabbits are pretty much guaranteed to get uterine cancer once they’re more than a few years old.

I dropped her off at the vet this morning. She made it through surgery just fine, but couldn’t handle the effects of the anethesia. She passed away this afternoon.

I am absolutely heartbroken. She was so wonderful and perfect, every moment spent with her this past month was utter joy. I was so happy to start a new chapter of pet ownership, after most of my family’s pets had passed away. I had a really hard time when our parrot Pepper passed a few months ago, I still feel that pang and I’m sure it will never leave. Petunia dying so suddenly is going to really throw me off for a while.

I’m trying really hard not to feel guilty, or think too much about what our life together could have been like… I am happy I was able to give her so much love during the time we had together. I’m really going to miss my little snugglebunny.

 

Loss

Yesterday my parents called to tell me my parrot, Pepper, had died. No one is sure exactly how it happened, but it appears a visiting relative’s dog was involved.

Pepper was a rescue bird, a black headed caique (Pionites melanocephalus) who had a rough life before becoming part of our family about 8 years ago. He was stubborn, messy, loud… and I fell so in love with him. Pepper bonded most closely with me, and for years I worked hard to train him and gain his trust. He also enjoyed my mother’s company, respected but avoided my father, and constantly tried to attack my little brother. He tried to attack anyone who visited, even relatives who came over often (like my grandparents). He was especially protective of me. Anytime the front door opened, he had to march over to investigate. He often perched on the family room windowsill surveying the driveway, ready to warn us of any threat (hawk, crow, airplane, etc).

Pepper was a spoiled little bird. He had free reign of the house most of the time, seldom flew but loved climbing curtains. He had his own cabinet shelf in the kitchen where we kept toys, old shoes, paper towel tubes, and newspaper for him to shred. He shared breakfast with my mother every morning, begging his way onto the kitchen table, stealing pieces of toast and fruit.

He loved to play with plastic cups, paper towel tubes, and water bottles. He was a little ball of colorful energy. But he also loved snuggle time in the evenings – Pepper would curl up in my lap and I would pet him, scratching his neck and under his wings. He would coo and purr, closing his eyes in bliss.

I will miss our conversations of clicks and whistles and squeals, our playtime on the kitchen floor, sharing meals, bathtime with a hose outside, snuggling in the evenings, napping together on the couch, the way he tried to pick food out from between my teeth, his courtship dances, the way he would open the christmas presents we gave him, his habit of sleeping on his back, the way he would wrestle with my hands and play bite… Pepper brought so much joy to my life.

He was stubborn, messy, destructive, and caused tension in the family at times… but he was part of the family. I am grateful I was able to share so much of my life and my love with him. Rest in peace, Pepper.

 

 

Two great talks

Though I had a lot of work I felt like I should do instead, I followed my labmates across campus (we rarely leave the building) for a few talks this afternoon. I’m very glad I went!

The first was a presentation by Piotr Naskrecki about his latest book, Relics. Piotr is an amazing photographer and scientist who got his PhD at UConn. I had the pleasure of working with him on designing a course last semester; I also saw him give a talk at Harvard about his research on vicious predatory katydids, something I never even knew existed. The photos in today’s presentation were breath-taking and inspirational, and he seemed almost bursting at the seams with stories to tell. So of course, I bought a copy of the book (and he signed it).

Wow… what a wonderful book! I haven’t read much yet, but I have skimmed through all the photos, and already have a dozen ideas for plushies I should make. The book is about ancient/primitive organisms and ecosystems. Piotr has traveled around the world, and has been able to capture images of so many fantastic creatures. There is not much else I can say other than… buy the book, you won’t regret it!

The next talk was a lecture by Naomi Oreskes on her latest book, Merchants of Doubt. I had heard the book mentioned in various internet discussions, but had not felt compelled enough to pick up the book for myself (mostly because there are a million books I want to read, but no time). After her talk, I’m itching to get my hands on it. The book is about how the climate change “controversy” has been created by certain people/organizations with political and economic motives. If any of you have read it, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Between those talks, teaching biology labs all morning, grading quizzes, quick crossfit workout, cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen, packing lunch and gym bag for tomorrow, feeding the pets, sewing up a quick custom order plushie… I haven’t had much time for all the papers I’m supposed to read for homework and the term paper rough draft due tomorrow. Probably won’t be getting much sleep tonight. I’ll try to sneak in a chapter of Relics though!

Toad break

And now for the amphibious fauna of Arizona. These were all spotted while driving along desert roads at night. I decided to stick with the typical grumpy toad angle for the photos, but the spadefoots ended up looking rather silly.

Bufo cognatus – Great Plains Toad.

Scaphiopus couchii – Couch’s Spadefoot.

Spea multiplicata – Mexican Spadefoot.

Bufo alvarius – Sonoran Desert Toad.

Angry moth

Just a hawk moth (Sphingidae), hanging onto some grass near a sheet (it was attracted by the mercury vapor light, but didn’t fly all the way in).

 

Stanley is back!

Stanley is my pet vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus giganteus). I brought him (sex yet to be accurately determined, was captured as a juvenile) home from my trip to Arizona last August, and for a while he was a wonderful companion. He would dig new tunnels almost every day, and diligently ate his crickets. But about five months ago, he dug a tunnel without an exit. He stayed in that tunnel without once leaving for water or food. I could usually see him from the bottom and could see him move, so I knew he wasn’t dead. I have a feeling this move coincided with the “dry season” in Arizona, and he waited to emerge until the “wet season” had begun. I wonder how he could tell all the way from CT!

I knew he had emerged when it looked as though the entire tank had been turned upside down. Piles of dirt everywhere, water dish filled in (he loves to do that).

He’s incredibly skinny now, but quickly catching crickets, as you can see above. I’m hoping he’ll soon be plump and energetic as usual.

Acronicta morula

A big pretty girl I got at my black-light last night. My advisor has repeatedly told me he has not collected this species east of the CT river. Seems I got pretty lucky!

Here she is:

And a preserved specimen in the collection, for comparison:

The orange spot on the thorax is distinctive, as well as the lack of dark markings around the reniform and orbicular spots. The orbicular is actually small and orange, also distinctive.

I’ve got her in a container with some cotton soaked in sugar water, I’m anxious to see if she lays anything for me.

“Does this look weiner-y to you?”

Many strange things are said in this lab.

Apparently my advisor told one of the undergrads to find a picture of a caterpillar in his slide collection. He gave the species and said to find a pose that looked “weiner-y”. Really? I mean… I know caterpillars can look somewhat phallic… but… gahhhhhh. I was then asked, of course, by the student to verify his findings. “On a scale of one to ten, how weiner-y would you say this is?”.

Sigh. I love dirty innuendos but around here I feel like I have to play the part of lab mother, with a short sigh and raised eyebrow of disapproval… otherwise things will get out of control. It’s all fun though!

We have a section of the white board saved for quotes. Could be from anyone. You never know when something you say will get scribbled on the board. Here is what we have up right now:

“Reuse, recycle, redecorate” (Referring to my crafting break where I cut up American Entomologist covers to make a collage to cover the back of a bookshelf)

“It’s really hard to get eggs out of a male” (My advisor had caught some Acronicta at his blacklight and brought them back alive so they’d lay eggs, thinking they were females. To teach me how to sex moths, he knocked one out with a bit of cyanide and had me gently squeeze the abdomen. The claspers opened wide – guess it was a male!)

“Kill him first, ask questions later” (me) (I don’t remember why I said that)

“When Brigette’s bad, just sharpen a pencil” (Our electric pencil sharpener squeals like nails on a chalk board)

“Oh this is a good position, I just LOVE this position” (Preparing a caterpillar to photograph)

Oh yeah! Look at that rump plate!” (Looking at slides of caterpillars)

The quote section is growing slowly over the summer, since less people are around. Once the semester starts in the fall, there will probably be a few gems every day.

 

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

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