I’m teaching Entomology this semester, and having a blast as usual. Our 80 minute lecture slots are way too long, though, so one thing I do is interrupt the flow about half-way through for “Bug Of The Day”. That’s just a slide or sometimes two about some cool bug, often with a real specimen to pass around (and with a stretch-and-water break for everyone right after). It’s my favourite part of each class, because it’s pretty easy to come up bugs that make me (and I hope make my students) say “Wow!”. I’ve featured bugs that are big, bugs that bite, bugs that are beautiful, bugs that have historic significance, bugs with interesting Latin names*, bugs that are just plain weird… I can’t possibly exaggerate how much fun this is. Continue reading
Images: The red admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta; © Kristian Peters, CC BY-SA 3.0. Portrait, “Vanessa”, 1868, by John Everett Millais, collection of Sudley House, Liverpool; public domain.
Last week I shipped off the final revision of my forthcoming book, The Strangest Tribute: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels.* You know how you just finish a piece of writing, and immediately stumble across something you wish you’d put in? Well, the very next day, I happened to be skimming an old set of short book reviews, looking for – well, I’m not going to tell you what, because I’m keeping the idea for my next book under wraps for now. But serendipity struck, as it does; my eye slid by, then arrested on, a one-paragraph review of Maitland Emmet’s book The Scientific Names of the British Lepidoptera: Their History and Meaning (1991).** And from that one paragraph I learned how the butterfly genus Vanessa got its name. It’s a fascinating story – and it explains not just the butterfly Vanessa, but every other Vanessa in the world. Continue reading
Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.
A visit to any Botanic Garden surely means attention paid to plants – that’s what “Botanic” means, after all. When you visit our Fredericton Botanic Garden, for example, your attention will probably first be drawn to our flowerbeds and forests; to the primulas in the Hal Hinds Garden and the daylilies in our newly expanded Daylily Bed; to the reeds by our ponds and the ferns along our Woodland Fern Trail. All these beautiful plants are worth your time – but we hope you’ll look beyond them, too. That’s because each of our plants is also part of a larger ecological web. Continue reading
Photos: Wildlife-Friendly Garden and signage, © S Heard CC BY 4.0. Monarch caterpillars on milkweed (in Minnesota), Courtney Celley/USFWS, CC BY 2.0.
My university, like many, is concerned with appearing green, and among its projects is a series of small plantings that offer (mostly) native plants with educational signage. I pass by one of these every day on my walk to work: the “Wildlife-Friendly Garden”. It has Joe Pye weed, roses, goldenrod, and a few other things, and it has some signs introducing passers-by to its “frequent visitors”.
One of the “frequent visitors”, we’re told, is the monarch butterfly: it has a lovely and informative sign. This seems unremarkable: everyone loves monarch butterflies, everyone knows they’re common visitors to late-summer flowers like goldenrod and Joe Pye, and everyone knows they’re a species at risk* worth cherishing. So how could I possibly have a beef with this sign? Continue reading
Warning: 100% silly.
If you haven’t seen it, Moth Generator is a clever bot that constructs fictional moths by (somehow) recombining a library of graphic generation rules. For an entomologist and a nerd, like me, this is completely fascinating. If you’re either or both, I recommend that you check it out. Continue reading
Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.
I went for a walk in the Garden last week, and it was lovely to see the colours on display – nature in all shapes and sizes, with another species offering a different look everywhere I turned. I’m not talking about the flowers – although those were nice too. I’m talking about our Garden of Insects.
The Garden of Insects isn’t a signed attraction. Continue reading
Photos: Map of Iceland, circa 1590, Abraham Ortelius (public domain). Museum sign and merman, S. Heard. Giant waterbug, Lethocerus americanus, © Tom Murray CC BY-ND-NC 1.0 via bugguide.net.
I’ve just come from the Skrímslasetrið Bíldudal, the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, in the town of Bíldudalur in the Western Fjords of Iceland. It’s a wonderful little museum commemorating centuries of monster sightings in the Arnarfjörður, the fjord that cuts like reaching fingers into the land here. The tour of the museum starts at a copy of Abraham Ortelius’s early-modern (1590) map of Iceland (above), which is copiously decorated with sea monsters. Some are obviously the product of observers grappling with strange new creatures, and getting them half-right and half-wrong (like the spouting boar-whale at bottom left of centre, or the monkfish behind it). Others seem like pure fancy, like the mer-horse above and left of the whale. All, however, look fierce and threatening. Continue reading