“A year ago, May 1902, I had a peculiar entomological experience.” That, believe it or not, is the opening sentence of a scientific paper –Annie Trumbull Slosson’s 1903 paper in the Canadian Entomologist, “A Coleopterous Conundrum”. This short paper had some unanticipated consequences. It’s an amusing story, and also a bit of a cautionary tale. Continue reading
Category Archives: insects
A new preprint, author contributions, and the best kind of collaboration
We’ve just posted a new preprint! Like our recent funny-titles study, it’s a pandemic pivot project. Like our funny-titles study, it’s a little weird – but also exciting. I’ll tell you a bit about the preprint, and then use it to make a point about collaborations.
Have you ever wondered if names only label things, or if they also influence the way we think about those things? Continue reading
Sure, spiders might be insects, but surely bees aren’t fish?
Two years ago I treated you to the story of how in Alabama, spiders are legally insects. “Hold my beer”, said California, and two weeks ago a California court declared that bees are fish. I know; that’s ridiculous. It turns out, though, that it isn’t ridiculous in the biological way you’re thinking; rather, it’s ridiculous in a scientific-writing way. At least, that’s going to be my take, and I hope you’ll come along. Continue reading
Music Mondays: Out Past the Timberline
It’s Music Monday again.
Today: some entomology. Yes, you knew I’d get there eventually.
Here’s Canadian folksinger Murray McLaughlan, with Out Past the Timberline (from his terrific 1983 album Timberline). It’s a reflection on Canada’s North, and beautifully atmospheric; it’s a real shame there isn’t a video for this song. I’ll admit the science content is a bit fleeting.
What strikes me is this lyric:
When spring waters run
The black flies come
Like a cloud of hungry dust
There are several kinds of insects one might liken to “hungry dust”, but Continue reading
Are spiders insects? And what good are polls?
Last week, I wrote about a US court decision that established that legally, spiders are insects (at least in the jurisdiction of the court in question). The case turned on the “ordinary meaning” of the word insect, or roughly, what a reasonable person could think a non-specialist means by it. I was surprised to learn that many dictionaries allow for definitions of insect that include spiders. Could this be true, I wondered? So I took a poll.
Let’s start with the results, and then later we’ll ask if we should have done that. Continue reading
Court: “Spiders are insects.” Biologists: “Say what?”
Last month, the United States Court of Appeal for the 11th district rejected an appeal on the grounds that spiders are insects. Now, I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but I am a biologist, and I have thoughts. But before we get to those, a quick poll: Continue reading
Insects are incredibly cool (or, a whirlwind tour of my Entomology course)
When I’m not writing Scientist Sees Squirrel (or writing books about the lovers, heroes, and bums commemorated in the Latin names of organisms), I have a day job. I’m a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, Canada. Over my years at UNB I’ve taught first-year biology, introductory ecology, population biology, biostatistics, scientific writing, non-majors biology, field ecology, and more. But I’ve just finished teaching the course I might love most of all: entomology.
I don’t really know what I am, scientifically, but I’m often mistaken for an entomologist. And it’s true, I know some stuff about insects. The most important thing I know about them is probably that they’re just about endlessly diverse, endlessly beautiful, and endlessly fascinating. Continue reading
Never mind the pedantry, they’re all “bugs”
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
Love, and its complexity, in a butterfly’s name
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
Plants in ecological webs
Images: spider web © Kenneth Allen, CC BY-SA 2.0; ants tending aphids © Judy Gallagher CC BY 2.0
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