On Friday I led a group of citizen scientists out into a gorgeous milkweed meadow, where we hunted for ladybugs. In a short walk that involved no sweep nets (we didn’t want to whack all the beautiful, about-to-pop blooms off the milkweed), we recorded four species of ladybugs: ursine anthill ladybug (Brachiacantha ursine), polished ladybug (Cycloneda mundi), seven-spotted ladybug (Cocinella septempunctata), and multi-colored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridris).
Because we didn’t collect specimens but, rather, recorded them photographically as we hiked, our numbers of individuals within a species are not precise. There was a single mating pair of ursines (see photo), one individual polished, and one individual seven-spotted. My best guess is that we spotted at least five Asian ladybugs, but I can’t be sure we didn’t recount the same individual.
Anyway, it was a great afternoon in the sunshine, celebrating insects that live in our neck of the woods. For more information on ladybug citizen science, or to view ladybugs we and others have found over the years, click on over to the Lost Ladybug Project website.
“Put on your veil, grab your hive tool, and light up your smoker … we’re going into a beehive.”
When I wrote those words to open THE HIVE DETECTIVES, I never, ever, ever thought I would say them out loud in my own backyard. But on Tuesday, with my daughter and her camera nearby, I did just that. And guess who was there to hear them?
Mary is the beekeeper who helped me introduce honey bees and hives and honey-making to readers in THE HIVE DETECTIVES. How fitting that she be the one to help me through my first hive inspection, patiently reminding me how to keep my smoker lit, how to use my hive tool properly, and how to stay calm when a honey bee landed on my veil. (I honestly couldn’t tell if it was on the outside or the inside.)
Yesterday Ellen Harasimowicz and I tagged along as Dr. Maya Nehme went out into the wilds of Worcester county to check the Asian Longhorned Beetle traps we’d watched her set earlier this summer. (You can read about that adventure here.) While snapping photographs, Ellen managed to spot a small antler in the grass. Just as I was saying, “Keep your eyes open, because I read somewhere that deer usually shed both antlers at the same time …”, I stepped on a second antler! I’m not sure who was more excited: Ellen, me, or my daughter, who posed for the photo above as soon as we got home.
In the photo above, I’m actually holding a throw ball line as Dr. Maya Nehme, a scientist studying Asian longhorned beetles, works to maneuver a heavier rope into the canopy of a tree. Technically, Ellen and I were along to watch Dr. Nehme work, and to gather details for our upcoming book on these gnarly beetles and the damage they are causing here in North America. But there was a moment when Dr. Nehme needed an extra set of hands, and I was nearby. (Thank you, Ellen, for catching it on film!)
Aside from holding the occasional throw ball line, I spent the morning gathering tiny details that will help me describe fieldwork like this in the book. I was hunting for specifics: small ideas, surprising imagery, unusual sounds, things that hadn’t come up during the interview process but which might help make my text come alive for readers. Like the fact that each scientist had his or her own method for getting the throw ball up over a branch. (I saw an underhand toss, an overhand rocket, and a magnificently simple and effective between the legs heave. Who knew?)
And there was this: When you are hanging beetle traps from the branches of trees, you spend most of your time looking up. And do you know what happens when you walk around an urban forest all morning with your eyes looking up? You trip. A lot. I did it, and I saw the scientists do it, too. Nice detail.
My absolute favorite detail of the morning was this one: Before hanging a trap, scientists have to measure the trap tree’s diameter. No big deal, right? Someone simply unfurls a tape measure, wraps it around the trunk, and records the number. But if the tree being measured is just the right size, then recording its diameter requires one to hug the tree, to stretch both arms around the trunk while passing the tape measure from one hand to the other. The sight of a beetle scientist with his arms wrapped around a trunk was poignant and loaded with symbolism; don’t know if I’ll ever use that nugget of an image, but I am certainly glad to have stumbled across it.