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.

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