Tag Archives: insects

The garden of insects

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

Student blogging on insect conservation: a success story

Image: Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, by David Marvin (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This year in my 3rd-year Entomology course, we introduced a new student assignment: to write a blog post about an insect of conservation concern in Canada. (I say “we”, because most of the credit goes to my TA and PhD student Chandra Moffat. I’ll link to some of the resulting posts below; but first, a few thoughts. Continue reading

60 new odonates from Africa, in a paper with style

Photos: Chlorocypha aurora (male; above), and Pseudagrion tanganyicum (male, below) © Jens Kipping, used by permission. These are two of the 60 beautiful new species described in Dijkstra et al.

Social media (notably Jeff Ollerton’s blog) brought a wonderful paper to my attention last week: Sixty new dragonfly and damselfly species from Africa, by Klaas-Douwe Dijkstra, Jens Kipping, and Nicolas Mézière. If you’re an entomologist or a biodiversity scientist, you’ll be excited by the news of so many new species in a group we think of as well-known. But even if you (horrors!) don’t care a whit about African dragonflies, you should download and read* this paper for what it demonstrates about language and style in scientific writing. Continue reading

Sea monsters, waterbugs, and the fear of what lies beyond

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.

sea monster museum

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

What’s your most undercited paper?

Back in February, I asked “What’s your most overcited paper?. That left an obvious question hanging: what, instead, is your most undercited paper? I’m going to tell you about mine, and I hope you’ll tell me about yours in the Comments. You may be worried that this will be an exercise in which I whine that nobody appreciates my work, but in fact that’s not what I have in mind. Well, not exactly*. Continue reading

Plant galls: how insects co-opt plant development to build themselves homes

(Image credit: Lahvak via Flicker/CC BY-NC-SA)

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the CC BY-SA 88x31Fredericton Botanic Garden. I’d be happy to see it adapted 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.


With winter upon us, a walk in the Garden has gotten less colourful: nothing is in flower, and most plants have died back or dropped leaves. But I hope you’ll see this as an opportunity to notice things that aren’t as easy to spot in the full flush of summer vegetation. Plant galls are such a thing, and they’re a piece of natural history that especially fascinates me. A “gall” is an abnormal growth on a plant, caused by an attacking natural enemy such as a bacterium, a virus, or an insect herbivore. I’m a particular fan of insect galls, because they tip us off to a complex web of developmental, ecological, and evolutionary interactions between the insect and its plant host. Continue reading