Category Archives: Vertebrates


This is not related to entomology at all. But I’ve got two bunnies now, and they’re hilarious and totally adorable.

I brought Rascal to a rabbit shelter (Sweet Binks Rabbit Rescue) to meet some ladies (they’re all fixed, don’t worry). He got along the best with Appledot, so I adopted her. She has really helped Rascal come out of his shell; their personalities are both so distinct. Thankfully they’re both well litter trained so they can be loose in the apartment all day, like cats. They are incredibly cute all day every day, even when they’re causing trouble.

I could talk about them all day. I’ll try not to, though. Here are some pictures and videos instead.


Ok, that’s enough vertebrates for now. Back to the bugs!

“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?

Smart bunny

I’ve had my rabbit Rascal for over a month now, and he has turned out to be quite a character. I’ll try to not overload this blog with posts about my bunny, but you can  follow his antics on my Flickr page.

He is quite a smart bunny. I decided that clicker training would be a great way for us to bond and interact without invading his space too much – he still doesn’t really like to be touch or picked up. There are a few moments throughout the day where he submits to petting or wants to do tricks, and the rest of the day he runs around or relaxes and looks adorable.

He knows five tricks now. He comes to his name, “up”, “spin” (his favorite), “kiss”, and “paw”.
When he really wants a treat he will spin in a circle and look at me, without a command, because he knows he gets rewarded.

Here he is doing all of them.

We are going to start high jumping and agility training soon, I just need to start building some equipment.

This is a real thing, I swear! Rabbit jumping is more popular in Europe, but there are some clubs in the US as well. Even if we never try to compete, I think it will be a lot of fun (if you still don’t believe me, look it up on youtube!).

In other news, I’m getting a few more emergences, and have a protocol in place now for collecting DNA samples and pinning/spreading the moths. Exciting 🙂

Lab photo

Here is most of the Wagner lab, frolicking in the forest.

My disapproving rabbit

After the terribly sad news about my bunny Petunia, I knew I still wanted a fuzzy rabbit friend, but I wanted to wait til I found what felt like the right one. I know I can never replace her, but I have so much love to give and my snakes are getting sick of the attention.

A few days ago I adopted a young male brown/white dutch bunny. He’s 9 months old, already neutered and litter trained. He had a tough life – first few months in a pet store, and the next 6 months were spent in a tiny cage with almost no human interaction. He spent the last few weeks with a woman who rescues small animals, and after responding to her ad on craigslist, he became my new friend.

He is skittish but curious, and is gradually becoming accustomed to me and his new freedom as a house rabbit. I can tell he’s a little trouble maker at heart. I named him Rascal.

Despite his new circumstances (plentiful healthy food, big cozy cage with blankets, room to run around, and yummy treats) he still looks disapproving, though.

A non-arthropod pet

I would like you to meet Petunia, my newly adopted dutch rabbit!

She is about 2 years old, litter trained, friendly and super snuggley. I can hardly believe my luck! Photos hardly do her justice, so here is a quick video:

I have been wanting a rabbit since I moved here, but was waiting for the right one. I didn’t want to buy from a pet store, so I kept my eye on craigslist and some shelter websites. I found Petunia (formerly named Bun Bun) through a listing on craigslist. I am glad I was able to help out a family who no longer had the time to care for her. I went from emailing a response to the ad, to having a rabbit in my arms a few hours later. She came with a cage, food, and litter pan – I went to a pet store last night to pick up more of the basics and some treats. What a whirlwind of a day.

Some experiences from her first night home:
– I clipped her nails without any struggle. She calmly sat on my lap as I picked up each paw.
– We took a nap laying next to each other on the couch.
– She licked my hands.

Since I am still technically on my winter break, I’m taking the day off to let her roam the apartment under my supervision. So far she is good about using her litter box and hasn’t tried chewing anything.

She is a much more interactive pet than my cockroaches.


When I grow up…

… I want to be an entomologist!

I gave a seminar talk for my department last night, and that was my title. It was supposed to be a brief overview (like 20mins) of my interest in science, what I’ve done at grad school so far, and what my research goals are. I rambled on for like 40 minutes, haha, I was told it was entertaining but I hope no one got too antsy!  I could have easily talked for an hour or two. I really enjoy public speaking and want to get as much practice as I can.

This is the photo I opened up with. It’s one of my favorites. My indoctrination started early!

I think I still have that butterfly net in my parents’ garage somewhere.

In other news, my life continues to get crazier with research and schoolwork and teaching and trying to see my boyfriend for a few minutes once in a while. My caterpillar work is relegated to working with preserved specimens – all of mine have pupated or preserved, woohoo! Lots of organization to do (typing/printing labels, transcribing my notes into something coherent, editing and organizing photos) and now I’ve got term papers to start thinking about as well. Luckily the two I have to write will be about some aspect of my own research (one is for systematics, and the other is for evo devo). I’ll do my best to throw some interesting content in this direction when I get the chance!

Just because it’s cute

Crotalus scutulatus – Mojave rattlesnake.
Adorable little rattler found on the road in Arizona. We carefully persuaded it to slither into the grass so it wouldn’t get run over.

A visitor to the research station

Our first night at the SWRS, we all took our killing jars to the sheets to catch some moths. In the woods surrounding the station (and even right on the porch!) they had sheets hung up with black lights and mercury vapor lights set to attract insects.

We were giddy with excitement, trying to identify moths, all trying to grab the prettiest or most unusual ones. Late into the night, we sat in the lab pinning our fresh catch, occasionally venturing out with headlamps to gather more.

Sometime far past my bedtime (will someone please remind me why I, as a morning person, chose to study moths?), one of the students nonchalantly entered the lab and said “Hey, anybody want to see a snake? Anyone? A snake?”

This is who had slithered right up to the building.

This is the black-tail rattlesnake, Crotalus molossus. What a beauty! I had never seen this species before. Two years ago I did find a shed skin of a black-tail (I was able to identify it by the scale pattern on the head) but that’s it. So it was pretty neat to add another reptile to my life-list.

Once everyone had taken photos, we realized we needed to find a way to move a venomous animal away from the laboratory. No one had a snake hook on hand, so we used the next best thing. A butterfly net.

Hey, it worked! The cute little snake was moved safely away, and we all went back to work.

Unfortunately, I only saw one more snake during the trip. Didn’t have much time for road-driving for herps… that will be on the agenda next time for sure.

I helped a crippled old man cross the street

He was a wood turtle (Clemmys insculpta), missing his right front foot.

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

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