Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dancing Stick

The species I find in the county never cease to amaze me.  This delightful stick insect, for example, takes a discerning eye to pick out in the forest.

"My dream in life is....TO DANCE!"

But not really. This guy found me when he started to crawl on a friend during a recent potluck. It's a Northern Walkingstick, Diapheromera femorata, the continent's most common walkingstick. It's about three inches long, but looks bigger because of how long its legs are. 

Its limbs are leafy green and its body looks like it's been sculpted straight from a tree, giving it some terrific camouflage. I've been observing it in an insect cage for the last few days and it truly is a remarkable insect. Walkingsticks are the world's best method actors, taking their role as a stick very seriously. 

...which is a good strategy, as birds are liable to pick these guys right off the plants they're feeding on. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Science Video Friday - Gangnam Style Science

If you haven't yet heard of the massively popular video Gangnam Style, click that link to check it out. Personally, I'm more of a Call Me Maybe guy, but to each his own.

But what if you add Bill Nye the Science Guy to Gangnam Style? Well, I end up liking the video a whole lot more.

This is where social media meets science, and it is glorious.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Species of the Beiser Field Station

I've been busy lately, in a good way. My current project is identifying all the species of insects, spiders, millipedes, and other arthropods I've found at the Barbara A. Beiser Field Station (BBFS) over the past few years as an undergraduate at Marietta College. I spent many hours at the field station and thoroughly explored much of it, taking many photos along the way. I have an article about my experiences coming up in the next issue of the Marietta Natural History Society's newsletter, which I'll link to when it comes out.

UPDATE!: You can read my article here (PDF warning). It starts on page 4, titled Beiser Browsings.

So far I've identified around 200 arthropods from BBFS. The timeline for my sightings and collections goes back to 2010 or so, when I first started going there for things like labs and work days, and the identifications have been a long time in coming. It feels great to have so many identified though, as there hasn't been a taxonomic inventory of BBFS since it was acquired in 2008.

I expect the final list of creepy crawlies to hover around 220, after accounting for duplicates. Some of them are only identified down to family, but I've identified the majority down to species, including some lesser-known groups (that is, those that lack readily-available identification resources) such as harvestmen and millipedes. I've collected many of the species, which are now in the Biology department's insect collection. I'm hoping that somewhere down the line, these collections will come in handy for future students, especially my assassin bug and millipede specimens.

I've found so many charismatic species that have blown me away at BBFS. Combined with the recently-planted patch of pawpaws at BBFS, I expect people to start flocking there in droves in the coming years.

A harvestman from BBFS, Vonones sayi. This pretty species lives under rocks and bark, and exhibits some of the diversity within the harvestmen: they're not all nondescript balls with legs!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Science Video Friday - A mass of harvestmen

After attending a harvestman workshop this past summer, I've become quite interested in the Opiliones. They're a much more diverse group than I previously thought. One of the things I've been searching for since then has been a massive gathering of them, which this lucky person found.


Neat? Or terrifying?
Definitely neat. Come on, harvestmen don't even have venom glands!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

R.I.P., Richard Hoffman

I recently learned that Dr. Richard Hoffman, the emeritus curator of the Department of Recent Invertebrates at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, passed away a few months ago. This is sad news, and it affected me more than I expected.

I never met him, but after I started researching millipedes, there was no getting away from his work. It's difficult to find a millipede article without at least one citation to Dr. Hoffman, and usually you find more. He laid the foundation for millipede research in North America, and boy was he prolific.

His research interests weren't solely limited to the millipedes, however. He also studied reptiles and amphibians, and other arthropods. Just today I received a publication about the Assassin Bugs of Virginia authored by Dr. Hoffman in 2006, one of the hundreds of publications he authored during his life.

Dr. Hoffman will be sorely missed, but certainly won't be forgotten by anyone with even a passing interest in millipedes.

For more information about Dr. Hoffman's life and research, listen to Dr. Art Evans discuss his interactions with Dr. Hoffman here, and a brief listing of Hoffman's accomplishments can be found on the Virginia Museum of Natural History's website.