Sunday, December 14, 2008

The land of snooze and snuggle

The first snow of the season. Corvallis, OR.

I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes. It's been a hectic fall and I've not slowed down since moving. And so it's only now sinking in that I have relocated. Permanently. As in never again to live in the desert. I am starting to miss the familiar sunny vistas of the Sonoran desert...the crunch of burnt gravel underfoot...winter plants abloom and flourishing. Lately it seems like the grumpy grey skies and short winter days here at the 44.5N latitude leave my desert-adjusted eyes wanting more.

But there is a bright side to this less bright location: I'm happier. The foggy haze of morning and the early onset of night make everything taste better, smell better, feel cozier. I can truly enjoy soups again. And red wine. Gathering with friends is more intimate and enjoyable. And the cold weather and muted shades of morning in Corvallis offer lessons in leisure...they encourage the occasional sleeping in (something I never did in the desert), deep mugs filled steaming and to the brim, jammies worn 'til noon (while studying, of course!). I'm reminded of the words of one of my favorite poets: I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I'm rediscovering how much I enjoy living in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps it's better to feel sunny than to see sun...?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OSU Entomology is Abuzz

Dr. Madison and I have two things in common, though he is infinitely more prestigious at both: we have a fondness for carabid beetles, and we are both at Oregon State least this week. He's interviewing on campus today and tomorrow for the Harold E. and Leona M. Rice Endowed Professorship. Dr. Madison hails from the low desert and my recent employer, the University of Arizona.

The endowed professorship, in a nutshell, involves a lot of research funds and a flexible schedule to invest in entomology research here at OSU. Good thing. Entomologists around the country seem to be scratching their heads wondering if OSU is even on the entomological map, since the department dissolved amidst a bit of controversy a few years back. I noted more than one quizzical look last summer when I announced I'd be relocating to OSU for graduate studies in entomology.

But who wants to dwell on the past? Best wishes with your visit, Dr. Madison! We never crossed paths at's to hoping we do at OSU.

From the Oregon State Arthropod Collection website:

Dr. David Maddison (1990 PhD, Harvard University) is Professor and Curator of Entomology at the University of Arizona. An authority on carabid beetles, Professor Maddison is co-author (with his brother, Wayne Maddison) of the phylogenetic analysis software packages MacClade and
Mesquite. More detail is available on his website:

Seminar Title: Gene trees, chromosomes, morphology, and the phylogenetics of beetle species. November 24th at 3:30pm in ALS 4001.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Clay Anderson, Expedition 15 flight engineer
(I did not take this picture)

Want to know what a floating toolbag in space looks like? How 'bout a spy satellite? Enter your zip code and you'll get their flyby times at Kinda neat! At the very least, ya gotta see the international space station (ISS) from your backyard if you haven't already. Especially now that they have a new kitchenette and more bathrooms on board.

And if you REALLY want to escape reality here on earth, you can listen to LIVE NASA broadcasts of mission control communications and commentary on the ISS mission. They're silent for long periods, but it's still pretty neat.

Is it obvious that I'm procrastinating studying?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gettin' My Zing On

It's easy to lose the romance of what starts out as an exciting move, particularly when efficiency is your primary objective as a graduate student.

Somewhere in all this learning, I've gone two months without really learning anything new about insects. My time is dominated this term by non-insect related coursework and other aspects of my research project. I also miss exercising my knowledge about the low desert bugs and wildlife I've come to know well over the past five years. In the land of my new home, the Pac NW, which is really my old home, I'd say I'm feeling a bit disconnected...very much without the basic knowledge I've acquired elsewhere in my travels...very un-romanced. That won't do. So I will do what an graduate student does -- schedule it in.

Sadly but true, I've not indulged in nature-play since the move here two months ago. Yesterday I went for the first "scheduled" afternoon walk in a local park (Corvallis, OR) for some nature-play (e.g., birds & bugs, come what may).

An elusive brown creeper flirted from a snag with a half-hearted "trees" call (quite shy of their breeding song "trees beautiful trees, ya"). Braiding flights of unending Canada geese honked overhead, a welcome announcement I'm not in the low desert anymore. I copped a squat and watched at length. The strongest lead the V, then trade off when they become tired. They came from every direction, absorbing and re-forming with admirable grace and fluidity.

A grove of rotting alder called my name. I felt a zing...the zing I've been missing. Gently peeling back bark from a rotting log, I uncovered a feast of overwintering invertebrates snuggled in the warmth of decay. A wolf spider (family Lycosidae) clung greedily to what must have been a large egg sac as a sneering centipede passed over the hollowed carapace of deceased carabid beetle. Four inches down, a millipede convention was taking place amidst a venue of frass. They were interrupted briefly by one of the largest isopods I've ever seen! It's a war-torn, cozy world they live in. I laid their bark back on the log before moving to the next rotting treasure trove...and then the next. Like a naturalist with a gambling addiction, it's hard to stop the peeling back of bark once you start. I told myself as soon as I find a click beetle (family Elateridae) I'd go. Not meant to be. Not this time. Studies were calling...

Walking back, I noticed a very small but conspicuously heavy-flying periwinkle insect. It was easy to catch with a quick grab. A wooly aphid (family Eriosomatidae)! My first! The posterior boasts a bouquet of "feathers", apparently wax, which you can see here. One blogger referrs to them affectionately as her little "fairy flies" -- that is, before learning of their taxonomy as a relative of (garden) aphids, her arch enemy. Wooly aphids, however, are apparently more pestiferous of trees. I don't have a garden...or any trees. And I needed to be romanced. So this one's fuzzy butt was most welcome in my palm. A great way to end the outing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Presidential Election 2008

Congratulations, America!

Regardless of who you voted for, the waiting is over. Here at the Veggy House , and like so many other places, people gathered to welcome the election results. There was wine and snacks, champagne and toasting. But it was subdued, with little of the cheering and whooping I'd imagined. Our gathering of twenty plus was a gorgeous cornucopia of skin colors from white, to olive, brown and black, including ages two to...much-older. There were tenants, neighbors, friends and guests, each one fell solemn during Obama's acceptance speech as we absorbed the levity of the election finally over, the implications of the history being made, the weight of the work ahead. Finally...hope! I found it interesting that those from other countries (there were several) expressed as much joy over the outcome as anyone.

For some, like myself, it's been eight years coming. To avoid the suffocation of irrevocable disappointment, I've been living underground when it comes to national politics, surviving my scorn and America's descent in, well, just about every way possible. Lamenting -- at times fearing -- our country's declining reputation by others around the world in a way that is unprecedented for my generation. Feeling bitter over not being heard, over my neighbors not being heard. Watching the few (who cut corners) rise at the expense of the many who don't. I'm too young to be jaded! My panacea has come from volunteering for causes I consider solution-focused, and reframing my hope in this country through the power of communities and local politics -- both values I learned in AmeriCorps. But I exhaled. Aahhhhh. Deep and full, awkward and unfamiliar. Eight years coming. The jeering and whooping can wait, I don't mind. Tonight and for many to come, I fall asleep!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bugless in Corvallis

HOLY CRAP! Graduate school is really crazy. I'm on borrowed seconds just being here! In fact, amidst the TON of reading, meetings, fixing a crashed (yet new) computer, classes, new-hire logistics, and studying, I have yet to molest any insects.

Check that. Yesterday, while passing in front of Cordley Hall, I found a yellow jacket nest on the sidewalk (Vespula or Dolichovespula are the genera). As large as a watermelon and lighter than a dinner plate, the pliable nest boasted a concentric pattern of tan and dark brown woven into layers, like a croissant. Exquisitely beautiful. The pliable pulp usually doesn't last the winter, unfortunately, and tends to break down. Queens overwinter, other adults typically die.

I lifted the top off like a tupee to view five or six tiers of larval chambers inside, which looked a lot like stacks of honeycomb without the honey. Several lovely ladies, chilled and slow-moving, sat unmoved. We go way back, they and I. Lots of stingings during lots of wildlife jobs. They are all-powerful, and can even make grown men scream like a woman, swatting and running, crashing haphazardly through forests, abandoning all sense and decorum (not to mention expensive equipment). One turned from her protective perch on the top tier to face me. Our eyes met, and I swear she growled.

I wanted to take the nest home, freeze it/them, and use it for decor... But instead I placed it beneath the benevolent bows of a nearby Western red cedar and covered it with loose leaves and branches. Who knows, maybe they'll survive the winter if they stay warm and dry. After five years in the low desert, it's nice to see some of my old friends again. :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Roadtrip Home

I made it to my new home in Oregon! The car, the kitties, my stuff... This move back to the greater PacNW is permanent, and I cannot express how glad I am for that. Never, ever will I ever move cross country again (so much for being a hobo). Bone China and other such goodies from grandmas, etc., are lovely keepsakes which I'm very glad to have. But there were times during this move when I truly questioned whether moving things was worth all the stress. It was! But I wouldn't do it again!

Here's a video I put together with some of my favorite people/memories in Arizona followed by a few pix of the move...

Music: Ellis Paul, "Roadtrip"

My home in Corvallis is awesome! I live in a big beautiful "vegetarian house" just one block from campus. It's a converted fraternity house. In fact, we're surrounded by frats and sororities, so real-life episodes of Gossip Girl and the OC are played out each evening on the sidewalks and yards, and waft in through my open windows during these last warm and lazy days of summer. It's humorous. But it's altogether impossible to be frustrated by this or any other distraction because the neighborhood is just beautiful. The trees are nothing short of glorious, and dwarf even the largest of homes. My room is similarly voluminous, with a fireplace and two windows on the second floor. But the best part of living in the veggy house, the part anyone like me coming from Phoenix could appreciate, are the people. They range from two years old to over sixty. Composters, bicyclers, community activitists, AmeriCorps members (a kindred spirit there), oceanography students, retirees, you name it. It is the quintessential cornucopia of the best of the Pacific Northwest. And I get to call them housemates, each one.

After this week's orientation and other logistical tidbits get tied up this week, I'll dive into the bug stuff once again. For that I can hardly wait. I also plan to find at least one of the more than 25 species of scorpions that live in the Northwest -- none of which I or anyone I know has ever seen.

I'm sorry to say my plans to experience a scorpion sting were smartly abandoned. A lot -- I mean a LOT -- of kooky things popped up over the past 8 weeks while gearing up for this move. At one point I was even poisoned by some structural "upgrades" at my apt resulting in an emergency room visit and temporarily having to move out. Flukey, eh? Inconvenient, to say the least. As other major things also began to go awry, I decided not to tempt fate with a bark scorpion sting; with my luck it would have induced a RARE allergic reaction or some such.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cool. Wierd.

It'd be so easy to make this blog all about fringe music and cool You Tube videos. I'm tickled to have found both in one. In a rare moment of weakness induced by an evening of wine tasting and a carafe of roses, I'm posting. If you haven't laughed yet today, here's your chance...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If the shoe fits...

A tenebrio beetle (adult form of a mealworm) on my shoe. SO cute.

My most recent experience with educating the public came the other day NOT while at work, but when I went to the mall to buy shoes. I was looking for a pair of dress sandals, something comfortable, I told the lady, because I'll be doing a lot of walking in grad school.

"Oh, grad school?" she asked. "What subject?" And when she heard bugs, she and the other sales lady launched into a full blown story of their cockroach problem. "We've had people come out and spray... But it didn't do anything!"

And that launched me into a full blown discussion on integrated pest management (IPM). They...were...fascinated. They'd never heard of IPM. They asked a ton of questions, repeated the advice and steps I gave for remediation like it was an incantation, and wrote down what they couldn't remember. It was great. Then they began asking questions about using IPM methods on pests in and around their homes. They seemed so relieved to know there were other options, ones that addressed the source of pest problems and nipped 'em where they start. They couldn't wait to go home and try out some new approaches to long-standing frustrations.

I looked down and realized I was still in the shoes I tried on more than 30 minutes prior. So comfy I didn't even realize it. How 'bout that. Given half a chance, they sold themselves... Just like IPM!

I'll miss my job in Arizona. But it's nice to realize I don't have to leave the work behind when I move to Oregon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No Kidding

I got this link in my inbox the other day: It's for a product called "The Mosquito" which is supposed to deter loitering youth. I thought it was a gag -- shared with me, appropriately, because I work in pest management. Kids as pests. Ha, ha, cute (kinda).

I went ahead and clicked on the site. As I looked over the product details, I kept waiting for the "...gotcha!" moment. It never came. Dry humor, sure. I dig that. But clicking further I discovered they even list phone numbers for product ordering and links for media coverage. I followed up on both in a state of complete agog.

Could it be? An audio device geared to deter loitering youth? That's legal? That emits a sound which adults over 25 yrs. cannot hear?

True, true. True. And true. Amazing. At $1400 bucks a pop, it'd have to be.

{Related FYI: this product is called the "Mosquito", but it is not for mosquitoes. Devices that are designed to deter mosquitoes by emitting an ultrasonic or non-ultrasonic sound are bogus. They've never been scientifically proven to work. ...Though someone's buying them because new ones keep coming out. Guess quick-fix technology is too sexy to resist.}

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Best Olympic Moment

I don't follow wrestling, but I do follow the Olympics. This is my favorite Olympic moment and story. Even if you know how it ends for Henry Cejudo, the video is just great.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Sky

A bit blurry, as were my eyes for this 5:40 AM photo.
It'll still do for a Sky Watch Friday post.

Still in monsoon season, this front was a teaser
for all but those in Northern Arizona.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Velvet Visitor

Do blondes really have more fun?

This is an ant... Of a velvet variety. Velvet ants belong to the family mutillidae. There are over 150 species in North America, several dozen live in the desert southwest. My favorite VA looks like a rolling ball of cotton and even walks in a hurried, erratic fashion. It's also compared to thistle down, or a creosote seed blowing in wind. Female velvet ants are furry and scamper about on the ground, doing their business during daylight hours. They also pack a painful sting. I've been fortunate enough to avoid discovering this.

The males fly, do not sting, and apparently look very little like conspecific females. I've never seen a male, but I've encountered plenty of females in my travels around the country, and each individual was equally captivating. Perhaps it's the striking colors that say "watch out" or their covering of fuzzy hair (setae) that says "I'm awfully cute". I can't figure out which message draws me more.

This female was found on my second story living room floor. Odd. She has very short setae and subdued coloring compared to other VAs -- quite unlike any other I've seen. After some light poking and prodding, she proved herself every bit the feisty and fast VA. I could not resist enjoying her before sending her back outside.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Still, I'm anything but

Still some regular flooding around the valley of the sun with monsoon season. Still lots of alate (winged/reproductive) termites after rains, and the toads are still hoppin'. I'm still planning on stinging myself before leaving town. And yep, I'm still going to graduate school in Oregon. Still moving next month. Still a lotta work. Lots of stillness. I'll post as I can...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Flooding, Termites and Toads...Oh My!

Just to create a little contrast to today's events, two weeks ago the Ethan fire was ignited by lightening from a dry thunderstorm. The monsoon season commonly delivers cloud-to-ground lightening strikes and high winds. But when the only moisture is a hint of virga, the Sonoran desert brush can flare up like a gasoline saturated torch.

The Ethan fire, not far from where I live, blocks late afternoon sun

Today...the monsoon season delivered a much wetter one that boasts a new record rainfall for this date: 1" in one hour. The storm wasn't even on forecaster's radar this morning, but by 4 PM the Phoenix valley was rumbling and drenched without warning. Flooded (and closed) freeways, lake-like parking lots and stranded shoppers, and saturated homes sprung up before news casters could give proper warning.

The two storm cells first converged over my neighborhood (interesting, what is it with my area?) and dumped for an extended period whilst battling over which direction to go next. A number of cars in my complex -- including Jack's, parked next to mine -- were overcome with flood waters. (Thank goodness Blanca is a RAV4 and has high clearance.) Several apartments at the base of this hill behind us were flooded with a foot of water. Rain in the desert comes down fast and moves fast once on the ground. It is also fast to recede; the pic below is nothing compared to a moment before.

Apartments flooded momentarily...
Flash floods aren't just for desert back country.

Whatever you're doing, monsoon season thunderstorms are worth stopping to observe. People get downright giddy. At the very least, storms deliver a momentary drop in temperature and the opportunity to step outside without ducking for shade. For others, the storms are entertaining and break up the monotony of predictable weather. For me, it's all that plus the bugs. Monsoon critters are just the coolest. Moments after the 40-minute downpour let up, an Anna's hummingbird ventured out to to dine on flying termites ("alates"). These reproductive forms emerge en masse following summer thunderstorms. I've seen these insects thick as snow, from ground level to more than a hundred feet up...Crazy! The little Anna's belly bulged as he (she? fledgling?) gorged on fluttering termites, then washed them down with a swig from my feeder.

A hungry hummer washes down
a mouthful of flying termites

Termites aren't the only thing emerging en masse. Spadefoot toad's are abundant, too. Every summer they emerge from their long respite underground, called to the surface by the vibration of heavy rain and thunder. Temporary ponds, like the spill pond behind my building, are their preferred location. The idea is to emerge and breed for the monsoon season, then be gone again. Their call is likened to a bleating lamb; however, my neighbors asked if it wasn't a cat in distress (a comparison I'd have to agree with). Louder than anything I've heard in the desert, Spadefoot toads begin calling in the early evening and go all...night...long. The stereo, dryer and a/c combined can't drown them out from behind closed doors. I they make "scaretoads"?

The 2008 monsoon season has already delivered more than twice the amount of rainfall to parts of Phoenix than the entire 2007 season. And it's only half over! A beheaded lizard and a 3" beetle were at my stairs the other night... I can't wait to see what the season brings next.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday Myth: Cockroaches...They Ain't No Fly

Cockroaches get a bum wrap. They "creep" and "crawl", but then so does every other arthropod. They come into our homes, offices and schools... But so do fleas, spiders and the like. And for reasons I don't fully understand, cockroaches take the cake on the "ew" factor of filth. But in fact, cockroaches are NOT the dirtiest insect around, and indoor infestations are often indicative of "dirty" conditions on our part (throwing the "ew" factor right back at us).

The truth: cockroaches are not the slum-lords of the insect world. They aren't to blame for the filth; they just stop by to help clean it up, adding their two bits here and there. To find true ew, you have to look elsewhere. There is probably one in your home right now. They have been proven to carry more species of bacteria than a cockroach. It belongs to one of the largest orders of insects (Diptera, personally my least favorite): the House fly, Musca domestica.

Why? How comes here this evil? House flies breed in decaying organic matter -- especially feces. As adults, they feed readily on sewage, garbage, and your lunch -- landing on all three indiscriminately. In addition, House flies have sponging mouth parts which means they can only lap up liquid. So after landing on a food source, they regurgitate to soften it, and then use their spongy labella to feed like a dog drinking water. They also defecate on their food at the same time. Lovely. With all this landing and regurgitating and crapping, the perfect storm of pathogen transfer is created. In addition to a variety of the nastiest bacteria affecting humans, the House fly may also transmit typhoid, cholera, polio and other intestinal diseases, as well as protozoan parasites such as Toxoplasma and Giardia. In essence: the House fly puts cockroaches to shame.

Yet we shoo them away like a minor nuisance. Or go overboard and 'zap' them, spewing their guts and bacteria far and wide with greater efficiency than even they could have realized. But there is a middle ground... Fly swatters work great, as do tight-fitting window screens and closed screen doors. There are light traps (that don't zap) with sticky boards and pheromone traps of all sorts one can hang up, too. Managing breeding and feeding sources (garbage, feces, moist piles of lawn clippings) greatly helps reduce House fly numbers considering that a single female produces 75-150 eggs PER BATCH (with 5-6 batches in her life of less than a month). s Biological controls in the form of parasitic wasps, which kill fly larvae, can be released in large numbers on farms (dairies and feedlots are are often acquainted with this option).

Pesticides are not an inherent part of successful fly management. Fly strips, automatic spray dispensers, and other pesticide employments are reactive and do not address the source of the problem. Discovering and eliminating the feeding and breeding sources of House flies is cheaper in the long run, and a better investment of time.

Cockroaches are also known to carry a variety of bacteria. And they sport proteins in their exoskeletons which irritate asthmatics. But at least they're not...House flies. There's more good stuff on fly management at UC Davis.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Changing Shades

I've succumbed to wearing a new brand of shades known as potential-posts. Few bloggers can seem to resist them. From what I gather, newish bloggers are particularly prone to not taking them off. Potential-posts come with special guilt-wipes for cleaning the film of opportunity lost off the lenses. Breaking out the guilt-wipes is to announce a sort of momentary lament. Hats off to anyone who puts it all out there, who never needs the guilt-wipes.

I'm still wrestling for balance with my potential-post shades, but sorry to say an incredible blogger -- and the person who, I realize in writing this, inspired me to blog -- is retiring his. He's a surgeon of all things who's the perfect prescription for anyone fresh from hospital. Feeling a little dazed and confused? Or how about just plain scared (as I was)? Go see Dr. Schwab. He's carried a highly successful -- and one might say pioneering -- blog for two years. During that time there has been a growing consensus that you don't read Dr. Schwab's savor them. The political rants, to boot. His strength of character comes through in each post, as touching and honest as an old family friend; I doubt he's ever needed the guilt-wipes. His archive remains at Surgeonsblog. Check it out...and go prepared to get hooked.

Whatever his new endeavors hold, I sure hope Dr. Schwab keeps his shades handy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pacific Northwest Visit

I've been remiss in posting much lately because the past several weeks have been pretty eventful. Aside from (accidentally) butchering my cat and playing catch-up at work, I'm now in full swing with literature searches, reading, and other prep for graduate studies this fall (hooray! woohoo!). Planning a cross-country move for September to boot. Busy isn't necessarily interesting, but I'll try to weed out the post-worthy.

For now, here are a few more pictures from my recent 12-day trip to the PacNW. I posted some on it here, too...

Progressive potties. Portland, OR airport.
...Just one more reason to love the Pacific Northwest.

These toilets have been at PDX for a while now, but this time I had my camera with me. As the flash went off in the stall, the recent indiscretions of a certain Republican politician came to mind. Prolly not such a good idea.

Mt. Rainier (left) floating over Safeco Field in downtown Seattle.
Mt. Hood (right) near Portland trying to hide.

...Within three days of arriving, I was criss-crossing Washington and Oregon getting in visits and views. Temps peaked in the upper 50's for the first several days. Bring on the cords, clouds, and rosy cheeks! I've missed it. Won't be much longer now.

The Columbia plateau, north-central Oregon.

This train depot is less than a mile from where I'll be spending my next two summers while conducting my graduate field research. Trains, trucks, and agriculture (including a burgeoning wine grape industry) dominate the landscape. Stay tuned for posts on drunken train-hopping.

The Columbia River curving West.
Oregon on the left, Washington on the right.

Driving back from a 5-day visit w/my graduate advisors at the research station, I stopped to take a short hike up from the river. It was the first real sunny day, but still with a chill -- perfect. The "short hike" to stretch my legs landed me on top of the Columbia Gorge, where the winds are quite something and the views are spectacular. You can see the white-caps on the river for most of the way up. Wind-surfing capital, indeed!

Some of these waves are as big as bugs... The VW kind.

Field cricket, Gryllus sp.

A wriggling field cricket in high winds atop the Columbia Gorge. Expleti -- er, exclamations of awe at the high winds were lost on my own ears. And then there were the gusts...I could barely keep my balance while taking this photo. All things considered, not a bad pic. But not my doing -- it's the new Ricoh!!

A gossamer-winged butterfly, family Lycaenidae
(subfam. Polyommatinae, "the blues")

This butterfly took a rest in a warm, protected and sleepy meadow of lupines atop the Columbia Gorge. Probably glad to find a substrate that's steady!

Niece Kya

I hope (but doubt) that my forthcoming graduate studies in entomology at OSU will allow an occasional moment with this 4-yr old little bug.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Butcher Mommy

A little out of context from my usual posts, but an extreme note of caution is in order for anyone with a cat and scissors: never trim a cat's tail with scissors. Never. I mean ever. Just put 'em down, and back away.

Otherwise, you may find that the tip of the tail is easily snipped -- no matter how careful you think you're being. In the case of a cat who, oh say, has tail feces you're trying to cut out, snipping the tail tip is unbelievably easy to do. You and the cat may not even register it...until the blood comes. Crazy...amounts...of blood. You now have feces and blood to deal with, to say nothing of a possible medical emergency. Tail-bleeding may stop after 10-15 minutes, only to restart later with a vengeance whereupon the tail whips about, as tails tend to, splattering blood everywhere and across everything/everyone. It may appear there is no stopping the bleeding, whereupon you immediately transport your cat to the emergency vet hospital, oh say late on a Friday night. Once there, you discover that surgery is needed. Surprise! Yep, surgery. The tail is a continuation of the spine, and as such has vertebrae; when the skin on the tip of the tail is, uh, accidentally removed, it becomes necessary to free up loose skin to close the wound by surgically removing the terminal vertebra. Makes sense. At least according to the emergency vet, who, as far you're concerned at this moment, is God.

Listening to God -- er, the emergency vet -- you can either pay $1100 (in addition to the big fat bill for walking through the front door) for her to perform the surgery, or wait a few hours until morning for your local vet to do it at 1/3 the cost. You may choose to wait, and return home in the wee hours of the morning with a dopey, angry, crying cat. Your home is covered in dried blood from floor, to walls, to furniture. Your cat is wailing. You are beyond guilty. All things considered, you may become physically sick. But this is no time to rest, or clean, or throw up because you need to stay up and carefully watch/console your thrashing, drugged cat. He/she could remove the tail bandage, thus causing another horror-movie round of bleeding.

So don't pick up scissors for shave jobs. That's all I'm sayin'. And if you wait to see your local vet, they may disagree with the need for surgery and advise two weeks of bandaging, antibiotics, and pain meds. Hence, a less severe tail-snipping incident leads to "merely" the above followed by an uncomfortable, bandaged, and club-tailed kitty. And for you: a lot of blood-cleaning and time off from work to make sure your cat-who-ejects-cones does not remove his wrappings.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day!!

My dad, his wife, Karen, and I spent Father's Day this weekend scorpion hunting and later viewing all things celestial in the Tucson night sky. Starizona is a Tucson telescope business that offers star parties several times a week. My many questions had instant answers, complete with physics and chemistry details. After seeing the Hercules Globular cluster and the rings around Saturn, I can see why Dad is hooked. He is even considering buying a scope -- one that's almost large enough for me to crawl inside.

In spite of a very bright moon -- which we also viewed in all its pock-marked glory -- we also had good views of Jupiter (and four of its moons), Vega and two of the stars (Altair and Deneb) which make up the summer triangle, and a white dwarf star.

The Hercules Globular Cluster

Dad and Karen recently moved from the very place I stand poised to return to... Wierd how life works. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Graduate Research: First Glimpse

The first few days have passed at the agricultural research station where my graduate field studies will take place. Though I don’t officially start grad school until fall, I set aside time during my current visit to the PacNW for a site visit to learn more about my project and meet (be assessed by) the third co-advisor of my committee.

An immature stonefly, order Plecoptera

I spent some time in the lab sorting aquatic invertebrates we collected, a component which may or may not be a part of my research project. My project is still pretty loosely defined. It’s partially up to me to clarify some of the questions with my interests -- an endeavor more easily stated than done. I lack my bearings in the aquatic stuff, so more lit. searches and lots of reading await me .

The research station is East of the Columbia Gorge and only a few miles from the river as the crow flies, I would estimate. The agricultural fields are mostly round given the widespread use of center-pivot irrigation here. Everyone is so nice, even the teenagers. I can't get over it. (I have been in Phoenix for several years after all.)

Center-pivot irrigation

One night was spent at the home of one of my co-advisor and his spouse: lovely and large, it's perched on the grassy banks of the Columbia River. Windows everywhere boast an unobstructed view…It was exquisite. I’d met the other two advisors previously. This third one is a character! Self-described as terse, I believe he is really a sheep (or perhaps joker?) in wolf’s clothing. An excellent scientist and all-around great person, too. All my advisors are amazing. I am so lucky. Now, about all those non-entomology courses they’re having me take… ;)

One of my advisors demonstrating how to sample for aquatic insects

Living in the student housing at the research station and visiting field sites quenched my wanderlust for roaming this past week. It rears up each spring, a remnant from temp/seasonal wildlife work. Guess old habits die hard. Come early September, I'll get another dose of it before classes begin... And I can hardly wait. For now, back to AZ.

Field housing... "Roughing it"

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Seattle Marineros

Seattle Waterfront

I'm visiting the Pacific Northwest, and was treated to a Mariners game yesterday (belated birthday gift from my best friend -- thx Beck!). Safeco field honored Latin American beisbol on our chosen game day. Free hats were given out that read "Marineros".

The Mariners had been on a loosing streak, but I told my gramps: I'm in town, their luck is about to turn... :) And it sure did! After being stomped by the Detroit Tigers in four previous games, the Mariners won 5-0. Reed scored a homerun, Johjima stole home successfully during a double fumble by the catcher, and the ninth was a no-hit closing by J.J. Putz to complete the shut out. All the players I remember are now retired or traded (Wilson, Martinez, Griffey, Moyer, etc.). Including, too, hall of famer inductee-to-be Dave Niehaus. So I really look forward to learning the players again once I move to Oregon for school this fall. Guess I should get acquainted with college sports, too... Jeesh, even my surgeon knows more about the Beavers than I.

Safeco Field's retractable roof closing

The rain and chilly weather hit the week I arrived, but no complaints from me. Bring it on! I have 105-degree heat and bland blue skies awaiting me back in Arizona.

Before the game we visited Pike Place Market. One of my favorite vendors is Old Seattle Paperworks (downstairs). I love skimming their historic reprints of Portland and Seattle during the late 19th/early 20th centuries, before paved roads and dams changed the landscape. Coming from a long line of Pac NW farmers and loggers, it's pretty neat to think my great, great grandparents walked those streets.

The annual market festival was taking place, so there were several mini-parades and lots more people than usual. Becky and I got piroshkies at the Russian bakery and then meandered through the crowded market. Everyone was in a good mood, in spite of the intermittent rain and sun breaks.

Becky and I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast near downtown the night before. Capitol Hill Guest House -- it was beautiful. We awoke at least one guest with our giggling (they told us later it was a pleasant, early morning sound). I'm just glad we didn't get kicked out; best friends since 9, we often regress to devilish antics. Beck treated me to dinner at my favorite Seattle restaurant, Elliott's Oyster House. Their clam chowder is award-winning, and in my humble opinion challenged only by a small Irish pub in Ocean Shores. I also tried my first taste of creme brulee. Wowee! I'm not a fan of custard-like things, but was so impressed I plan to learn and perfect it over the summer. It requires torching the top to caramelize the sugars. You can also broil it, but I shall use fire (fire! fire!). I hope you're up for another experimental dish, Jack. {Picture: Becky found a nice nook!}

Before leaving the city, we had a quick visit with my cousin who attends the University of Washington. Ryan is in his sophmore year excels in all the courses I detested: physics...calculus... Eck. More power to him!

Unfortunately, I did develop the flu last night upon returning to my Mom's near Portland. I'm downing shots of Airborne, but even my eyelids feel achey. All I want to do is rest -- which is good, because tomorrow I head out to the Columbia Gorge area to satiate my inner hobo. I'll spend 5 days getting acquainted with my future field sites, meet the third member of my graduate committee, and maybe even slip into some hip waders to collect my first bit of data... I'm hoping for some good invert shots, too.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Javelina: Duck or Dodge

I frequently encounter javelina -- or more specifically for the southwest:"collared peccary". I am lucky enough to live close to our nation's largest city park preserve, with a fenced-off greenbelt adjacent to my apartment, and a spill pond immediately below my deck. The combination of shelter, water and plentiful prey draws many forms of wildlife, which I've written a little about here.

Javelina: regular visitors to my apartment

My encounters with javelina are fairly regular, always the same: either duck or dodge. They are at once shy (hence, "duck" to get a good picture) and unpredictably aggressive (hence "dodge" upon being charged). I guess the thrill of the chase goes both ways!

Being charged by javelina is not inevitable and bears over-rating (but I dare ya not to dodge!). They are most often happy to move off without any encounter. If happened upon at close range or otherwise startled, they may burst forth in a head-on sprint -- as if suddenly whipped from behind. I have been charged this way many times and to their credit, they always veer at the last minute. I now keep a cautious, albeit curious, eye out when walking home along the dimly-lit path from my night-time work outs, but dodges still occur due to limited views.

It is comforting to know that even in the nation's 4th largest
ungulates -- not muggers -- are the cautionary visitor.

The javelina venture into the complex for a drink and a nibble, especially during dry stretches. It is not unusual for the Sonoran desert to go more than 2.5+ mos. without measurable rainfall -- tough even for desert-adapted animals. Since our buildings and parking lots replaced their succulent cacti and water-retaining tubers, it's only fair that we share. The javelina's adaption to urban environments is to be celebrated, though not all my neighbors would agree.

It's difficult getting a good picture of javelina, in part because they're primarily nocturnal and emerge well after dark. I've belly-crawled and bush-crouched to no avail. But suddenly, this lovely family of four came to visit below my deck during our recent cold snap.

Unusual day-time activity... Needed more calories?
the cold was too exciting to nap through...

Javelina are often mistaken for pigs. Both are grouped in the order Artiodactyla , which includes other even-toed hooved animals (hippos, camels, deer, etc.). Our domestic pigs and wild boar are actually (descended from) European transplants, whereas javelina are native to the New World. Their range is from mid-level South America to the U.S. southwest (AZ, TX, NM). Pigs and javelina began their evolutionary separation more than 30 million years ago, and have many diverging characteristics...

Collared peccary, Tayassu tajacu (a juvenile)

Javelina facts:

Family: Tayassuidae (consists of 3 genera of peccaries)
eighboring families: Hippopotamidae (hippopotamases) and Suidae (pigs).
up to 22 inches at shoulder, and 3 ft. long; 35-60 lbs (males are larger than females)...smaller than pigs.
Characteristics: covered in bristling hairs; have white vertical band on shoulder; one pair of bottom canines protrude straight upward (whereas with pigs & boar, the canines are curved or lateral).
Social organization:
entire life spent in same social group of up to 20 individuals; scent gland on rump helps in identification of group and social hierarchy within group.
muffled grunts; the young give a loud bark-quack ("bwaak!"), squeals, grunts.
primarily herbivorous: cacti (esp. prickly pear), roots, grass shoots, fruit, nuts; also opportunistic, and will eat eggs, scavenge on garbage, etc.
average 2 young per mating; 1-2 mating cycles per year
diverse: javelina inhabit grasslands, deserts and forests in both arid and tropical habitats.
Status: not protected; hunting is allowed at least in Arizona.

Interesting links for more on javelina:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Sky

The weather gods have bestowed a freak cold snap on the Southwest, granting Phoenicians one last chance to indulge in sweaters, hot tea, and open windows. We went from a high of 110 deg. F to a high of 68 deg. F in about 48 hours. A lover of all things cold and cozy, I am in seventh heaven on the deck, shivering under a sweater with my hot tea.

Freak cold snap...Aaaaahhh, clouds.

It's old hat to other regions in the throws of spring, but a unique sight for the low desert in May. I snapped this in Scottsdale, near where I used to live. For some really neat sky photos, check out Sky Watch Friday.

Hel-lo Ricoh!

IT IS HERE!! My new Ricoh Caplio R7...

Ricoh Caplio R7

Thanks to Alex Wild (myrmecos blog), macrophotographer extraordinaire, for tipping me off to Ricoh in my search for a compact digital with good macrophotography capabilities. The Caplio R7 is perfect! It powers on in an instant, like an elf on speed, and boasts a 1 cm macro focus -- 1 cm!! From everything I've recently read, these cameras are known for quality. I went with the 8.2 megapixel R7 (2007 generation) after reading several reviews comparing it to the 10 megapixel R8 (this year's model). Bleh, who needs 10? Plus, it sounds like the upgrade came at a price to image quality.

I have no idea yet how to use half the features, but even without a clue it already blows my former 4 megapixel Sony drivel out of the water.
Organ Pipe cactus, Stenocereus therberi

{A note regarding the vendor: After an hour of frustration with three other vendors, which included waiting on hold for 10 min and being forgotten about after I declined to buy an extra battery at $65, and having the camera price ridiculously jacked up by another as we spoke (they hung up on me when I asked what gives), it looked like I might not buy a camera after all. Crazy. I was begging -- begging -- for someone to take my money and honor their online price. I almost gave up, then came across popflash. They sold me the Ricoh for less than anyone else, it came tax-free due to their location (CA), and it even came with a nice Lowepro camera case and a surplus 2-hr. battery (ya, the same "$65" battery the other place was pushing). They also told me it was a load of bologne that I needed a "special" camera card for this particular camera (yet another lie by the previous vendor). Popflash was SO kind, and turned an icky experience into a really pleasant one. While they saved me money this time, I'd pay extra in the future just to do business with them.}

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Myth: Solpugids

I needed a DEAD solpugid to get a shot like this.
When alive, they're too busy running away.

I must be one lucky duck because the above critter -- a Solpugid (sol-pew-jid) -- was sitting freshly dead and perfectly intact at the bottom of my apartment stairs last night. I was headed back from an evening workout and came upon it posed as-is with the chelicerae displayed in all their glory -- score!! Bet a neighbor found and doused it with hairspray (or some such) moments earlier, then booted it out the front door to die. This individual is the third in two weeks, and they're much bigger than last year's. I figured they're vying for a Monday Myth feature. So I scooped the dead-but-still-imposing body up for a postmortem photo shoot.

Sun spiders, wind scorpions, and a host of other common names are used to describe Solpugids. So I just call them Solpugids. They belong to the class Arachnida, as do scorpions and spiders; however, Solpugids are distinct from both in several ways:
  • Solpugids have a segmented abdomen like a scorpion, but lack a tail of any kind.
  • Solpugids have pedipalps (modified mouthparts) that are held pincer-like (similar to scorpions), but are not actually pincers.
  • Solpugids have chelicerae that are forward-projecting and beak-like. This is a fairly unique feature.
One important distinction between solpugids and their scorpion/spider cousins: Solpugids have no venom. Crazy, I know. The terrifying and homely creature has no bark to back up its bite. Bacterial infection from fine "hairs" (setae, seen above) covering the body and chelicerae is thought to explain bite site agitation; however, a good washing may prevent that. Contrary to popular myth (and the common name "deer slayer" in certain foreign countries), Solpugids do not bring down large mammals, to say nothing of draining their blood. True, they might pack a wallop with those chelicerae if one was so inclined... But I've encountered more than a dozen in my apartment and find them to flee from human activity entirely.

Ollie likes to harass even the dead ones.

There are more than a dozen families containing around 900 species worldwide. Most live in arid climates and are nocturnal predators of various invertebrates or small vertebrates (lizards, etc.). The largest I saw in my apartment last year -- among more than a dozen -- were barely an inch in body length. The three so far this year: 1.25 - 2.5 in.!

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Sting

An adult Centruroides sculpturatus, Bark scorpion;
approx. 2" long

I am going to get stung by a Bark scorpion, Centruroides sculpturatus. I know this. And the reason I know this is because I am going to help it sting me.

I've been working with and living amongst Bark scorpions in the desert southwest for four years now. During that time, I've changed their dirty cages in our lab, lovingly fed them hoards of stinky crickets, watched their babies being born, handled dozens of them -- carefully, and by the tail. And I have "rescued" countless individuals headed for the schmoosh by coworkers or neighbors. I've given several presentations to homeowners and school kids about the facts and fantastics of bark scorpions, and yet I cannot describe fully what it is like to be stung. I feel somehow deficient, like I'm not part of the club... Or half the scientist I could or should be by educating on a topic that in effect I have only read about or heard described: what it feels like to be stung by our nation's most poisonous scorpion. I'm a fraud. I must be stung.

So before I relocate for graduate school in the NW, I'm inducing a Bark scorpion sting (if I don't step on one in the night before then). My departing gift to myself. The sting set up will be in early August, a little sooner if I can get the guts up. Stay tuned!

{This isn't a ratings ploy. A surprising number of internet searches on concerns over Bark scorpions/stings are pulling up my blog, even though I've posted very little on scorpions. Clearly people are freaked out. So I decided to use this personal event to allay fears (anticipation of a sting is probably disproportionate to the sting itself). I'll post pictures and, most importantly, a full description of the sting and its after-effects.}

Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday Myth: Mosquitoes

Not all mosquitoes bite... Only female mosquitoes require a blood meal. The proteins in blood allow for development of her eggs, which she lays in rafts on the surface of calm water or moist edges. Males never take a blood meal; they feed only on nectar. Females also feed on nectar for their energy needs.

Females can detect carbon dioxide from more than a football field away. They zero in on it to find the source: a host. Female mosquitoes may vector diseases, including West Nile virus, malaria, etc. They may contract the virus or organism during the host of a first feeding, then transmit it during a later feeding to another host. The best ways to avoid mosquito bites include lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, tight-fitting screens on windows and patio doors, citronella candles, and insect repellents. Electronic pulsing devices have never proven effective in repelling mosquitoes.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Southwest water: liquid gold

In a place where water is valued like gold, people have pretty strong opinions about what to do with it. In the case of central Arizona's Verde River, issues concerning quality and quantity of water are taking center stage.

The Verde River is "fed" by the Big Chino aquifer of central Arizona. The river is a perennial water source for which the year-round demands are many and growing. Recreation, wildlife habitat, Native American water rights, and drinking water for the Phoenix metropolis (among others downstream) create an eclectic bunch of vested interests. But these aren't the only fingers in the cookie jar. Explosive growth in Yavapai county (southwest of Flagstaff, near the river's headwaters) has prompted a proposal for pumping ground water from the aquifer to supply drinking water for new developments.

The proposed ground water pumping project landed the Verde River on America's Ten Most Endangered Rivers list in 2006. It's been stalled, fought, resisted ever since. But the continued growth and development of Yavapai county during that time seems to confidently say: lost cause.

What happens to a river who's source is sucked up for drinking water?
Pumping water from the aquifer will undermine the Verde River's flow, disrupt habitat, and may lead to squabbling over the remains among current users. What to do about the loss of water? Mitigate. A proposal calls for dumping reclaimed water into the Upper Verde River on an ongoing basis to replace what the aquifer would have provided. I dunno, it wouldn't be the first time it's been done, and there are undoubtedly some success stories from similar rivers. But the idea has a lot of recreationists, environmentalists, and downstream water drinkers expressing concern.

Management should be based on scientific data. That's the position of the local Sierra Club chapter. So they're coordinating with local interests to collect data on the Verde's water quality and flow before the pumping and dumping (my sarcasm, not theirs) begins. Baseline data will provide a frame of reference for "normal" levels of E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorous, arsenic, pH, dissolved solids, etc., and a gaggle of data on flow rate. Toward that end, I volunteered a day with the Sierra Club recently to help collect measurements on the river.

A dedicated volunteer scales a structure after
collecting water quality data

I was impressed with the use and appreciation of this river that we witnessed. I saw the bumper sticker at top prominently displayed on a farm truck along one of our river stops. I don't often see a rural blue collar citizen advocating for conservation... Not here, not usually anyway. A young country couple spending a day on the river with their babies seemed aware of the issues, and pumped us for the latest information on reclaimed water use. As their little ones dipped their toes in the river, it wasn't hard to see their point of concern. Though we managed to avoid them, I was told we may run (literally) into Kayakers who are weekend regulars on the river. There were plenty of fishermen, whom I eyed enviously...

A fisherman forgetting time along the river

Native American cliff dwellings sit unobtrusively above the banks of the Verde at a few points here and there. Apparently there is such a thing as "First Nation's water rights", which makes the Verde River a concern of the descendants of these dwellings as much as anyone's.

Native American cliff dwellings along the Verde River

Who knows... With all these forces working together, maybe the Verde River has a chance at avoiding ground water pumping and reclaimed water.

Personally, I don't think so; Arizona has a track record of allowing rampant growth without adequate resources to support it. Ground water from the aquifer will be pumped. Reclaimed water will be used. People will be upset, and it will make headlines (again). But there is still success in this scenario: in the uniting of fishermen and farmers, scientists and recreational enthusiasts, Native Americans, and families spending a lolly gagging Sunday on the river.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Woo hoo!! (Tentatively)

This katydid looks as shocked as I feel

I'm going to graduate school!!! For entomology!! In the Pacific Northwest! Woohoo!!

I was offered a graduate research assistantship by some professors I've been coordinating with, and am expecting to begin in September (if all goes well). There are a few logistics to finalize. My work isn't yet over; I could still screw things up. But my faculty colleagues (down here) assure me that once a project, the funding and the committee are in place, and they've chosen you as the student, the rest is formality. If plans work out, soon I will be at work on a very cool applied ecology project that involves sustainability issues and invertebrates. Just what I've always wanted!!!

I'm still in shock. For two years now at two universities something has always been off and impeding my graduate hopes -- the faculty, the funding, or the project itself. But now it's come together, the whole damn package, at a completely different university, and I can hardly believe it. Since being offered the assistantship last week, I awake each morning with a "yippee...?" and a pause, waiting for the sky to fall in. But I am beginning to realize it won't; it's not another false start. And should things hiccup, I'm smart, stubborn, and patient enough to do fine. So...(deep breath)...YIPPEE!!!!!!!

What I really can't believe: that this great graduate package includes moving home. HOME!! A magic carpet ride to a number of wonderful new beginnings, which will undoubtedly exhaust and exhilarate me. For now this is still percolating, and I'm pinching myself all over with tentative glee.