Seven Hours to Go…

Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life

~Anonymous

 

As I sit here, on my only break today (which isn’t actually a break, its time to prep for class), with seven hours left to go in my ten days straight of work, nine of those days being 14-15 hours long, I can safely say…

 

Screw that guy.

 

After God knows how many miles of hiking, working from 7:00AM to 10:00PM every day, eating nothing but camp food, three days of some amazing (but stressful) citizen science activities, yet another working birthday, trying to run lessons and keep pubescent boys and girls from sneaking off behind the bushes during our camp out at the National Park…

 

Seriously.

Screw that guy.

 

I love my job to death and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I feel like everyone has one of those days, and I also feel like most people would’ve found “one of those days” earlier than day ten. So while I don’t have a right to complain…

 

Dude.

I totally have a right to complain.

 

 

We’ll be back to your regularly scheduled bloggy-things whenever I feel like a human again.

~Catch you cats on the flippity floppity.

 

The Far Side, by Gary Larson

Questionable Decisions

Me: “I’m not really sure what kind of beetle this is. I’ve honestly never seen one before… It’s got this little mandibles that–“

Student: “Can I put it on my face!?

Me: “…what?”

Student: “Can I put it on my face?”

Me: “No.”

Student: “Why not?”

Me: “Why do you want to put it on your face?”

Student: “I don’t know. I like to put things on my face…”

 


 

 

It was a Clown Beetle, by the way.

Hololepta lucida – Family: Histeridae

Hololepta lucidaHololepta lucida? - Hololepta lucida

Image Source                                                    Image Source

I couldn’t find much information on these guys, as it seems to be a relatively unstudied genus. But apparently they are pretty aggressive predators, using those mandibles to eat anything too slow to escape. These guys are also very good at sliding between the bark and the inner layers of trees hunting for food too (likely larvae inside the wood itself) due to it’s incredibly flat and almost glass-like body.

And I wish I had my camera because the ones we found were absolutely covered with parasites and I’d be interested to know what exactly they were.

Oh, and my student just licked his lips when I said “parasites”.

I’m not sure if I love the kid or if he scares me.

Lesson Time: Dobsonflies

So here’s the scene:

It’s 7:49AM. You’re in rural Virginia, walking down the stairs to meet your group of fifty seventh graders for breakfast (after being awoken exactly 7 times by one student during the night who insisted he was going to die). You get to the base of the stairs, open the door, and you see a group of students huddling around the water cooler.

Students never hover around the water cooler.

Using your six foot one, hundred and eight pound frame, you make your way to the front of t

he group and on the wall you see…

 

File:Dobsonfly Corydalus cornutus.JPG

Image Source

What do you do next?

Do you run?

Do you push the precious children out of the way, sacrificing yourself to the deadly jaws of the beast?

Maybe you just scream like a fourth grade girl, pass out, and pray that you don’t wake up as this monstrosity feasts upon your sweet delicious flesh?

 

IMG_5201

Or Not.

Never fear, innocent civilians. It’s just a Dobsonfly!


Adorably Horrifying

So I saw This Post on the largest aquatic insect floating its way around the internet in the past few days and I figured I’d drop a post about it, since this is right up my educational alley. And I just like insects.

I love insects.

To me its the sign of a wonderful day when you stumble upon a Dobsonfly at 7:49AM after a long sleepless night. This is because personally, I find the Dobsonfly to absolutely adorable.

That’s right: Adorable.

What can I say, I like my women how I like my insects: rare, flighty, and borderline psychologically scarring.

File:Female Eastern Dobsonfly.jpg

Image Source

Honestly guys, how do you not want to take this fine foxy lady out to dinner?

But seriously. Let’s get into the facts.

Dobsonflies are one of the largest insects you’ve probably ever seen, and probably will ever see if you live in North America. The ones that live in the US generally get as big as four inches long with an occasional wingspan of six inches. They can of course be much much smaller, I’ve found a few that are nor more than two inches long and maybe three inches of wingspan. The mandibles (the big pincers) can occasionally be upwards of three quarters of an inch in length on the males, although they are much smaller in the females.

Fortunately, only the females pinch and they don’t hurt any more than a Deer Fly bite. The mandibles on the males are actually too large to get proper leverage in order to produce a strong grab. They are more often used in mating where they are just graspy enough to hold onto females, and in tricking predators into thinking those mandibles actually work.

Which makes sense right?

As I always tell kids: if you had the option of eating a hamburger with giant jaws on the front of it and a hamburger without giant jaws, you’d probably go for the one that wasn’t going to bite you first.

But at least the babies are cute and cuddly, right?

1313670.  A Dobsonfly larvae, Corydalus Neuroptera. Image Source

Nope.

This is called a Hellgrammite. It’s the larvae of a Dobsonfly and, of course, this one does bite. That big black head there is practically a block of bitey-ness, with personal experience telling me they actually bite harder than adult females of the species. However this doesn’t stop anglers from catching Hellgrammites and using them as bait for just about anything that swims.

After the eggs are laid on the riverbank, usually on overhanging leaves, they will hatch and plunk into the water where they spend anywhere from one to three years as that adorable little guy above before pupating and ultimately becoming an adult… for seven days. Seven days of sex, sex, sex, sitting around on walls, sex, and then death.

I can’t say that sounds like a terrible plan.


Identification Clues

And finally there are a few look-a-likes to be aware of: Alderflies and Fishflies. Both of these are in the Order Megaloptera, meaning they look similar because they are rather closely related.

Here’s a quick “what the Hell is that?” guide to the differences:

(Alderfly SourceFishfly SourceDobsonfly Source)

Alderfly

  • Wings held at angles over body, almost tentlike
  • Small, generally under one inch
  • Non-feathery antennae
  • Mandibles are barely noticeable

 

Fishfly

  • Smaller than a Dobsonfly
  • Wings are held flat over body, but generally wings mostly overlap
  • Feather-like antennae
  • No noticeable mandibles

Dobsonfly

  • Body is Friggin’ Huge
  • Antennae are not feathery and are Friggin’ Huge
  • Wings are Friggin’ Huge
  • Mandibles (on females) are Friggin’ Huge
  • Mandibles (on males) are even more Friggin’ Huge
  • Most common response to sight of one: “What the Hell is that thing? It’s Friggin’ Huge!”

Final Notes

  1. While Hellgrammites are relatively common, the adult Dobsonflies can be very hard to find due to their short lifespan. Your best bet would be to set up a light trap (even just leaving your porch light on) in late spring to summer. This only works if you live relatively close to a stream, creek, or river however. If you’re not by a body of water, you’re probably never going to see one.
  2. Dobsonflies are chill. You can pick them up, show them around, and they will generally do nothing but make an angry posture with their mandibles and bodies. They can literally sit around and do nothing for hours. I can hold one in my palm for an hour talking to students, put it back on a wall, and return six hours later to it still sitting in the same spot.
  3. If you ever get the chance, watch a Dobsonfly fly. It’s absolutely hilarious to me for some reason. It just doesn’t seem like it should be able to fly.

Deep Thoughts

“If blood is thicker than water, that means family is more important than water. But maple syrup is thicker than blood… so does that mean pancakes are more important than family?”

~Seventh grader at the table I sat with for dinner today.

Am I The Interesting Friend?

I’ve hiked mountains.

I’ve worked with raptors.

I’ve lived in a national park.

I’ve split an arrow with a recurve bow

I can ballroom dance (and can teach you too).

I’ve lived in four states in the past year, with another coming up next month.

I’ve moved a thousand miles from home, alone… Then I moved three thousand.

And you know what?

 

My life is boring.

 


There are six of us…

Three girls and three guys. We’ve known each other since high school; in fact these are the only people I’ve kept in touch with for that long. The one across from me, we’ll call him Jack, he’s the oldest friend I have: 8 years and counting.

Oddly enough, our siblings are married now.

We’re all sitting in somebody’s basement, scattered around the coffee table in nearby chairs and couches. It’s been far too long since the last time we had a get together like this, over a year in fact.

Most of that’s my fault, I’ve been a thousand miles south of town for the past year.

Some sodas, a few slices of pizza, and a deck of cards are the only thing on the table between us. I reach over and grab the deck, of course the same one we’ve been using since high school, and start shuffling.

“So,” I say, counting the riffle shuffles I do, “how’s life? What’s everyone been up to?”

Silence.

“Anybody? I know Jack’s still at the grocery store,” I speak up again, “and I’ve been in the south for a while.”

“Well,” one of the others speaks up, “I’m working at the college now.”

“Really?” I ask, “you managed to get a teaching job that quick?”

“No,” she blushes, “I’m working at the day care. Working on my master’s degree”.

“That’s alright, at least its something,” I say, looking towards someone else, “what about you?”

“Still at school,” she says.

“Doing what?”

And the same pattern persists for everyone else. I ask what they’re doing, they shyly answer: “still in school”, “going back to school”, “grocery store”, “just got laid off”, and “still at home.”

All of them are still living at home, actually. One was trying to move, another was about to run upstate in the next two weeks for school, another just moved back home. Two never left home.

And these people, my friends, they were the ones everyone had faith in. The ones everyone said “oh yeah, they’re getting the heck out of this town.” One is the valedictorian, another was in the top twenty of my class. I was probably fourth or fifth academically way back in high school; and I was in the top 12% of my class.

“What about you?” one of them asks me, “what the hell have you been doing in Tennessee?”

So I tell them:

“Oh, this one time, I managed to find this bobcat with the kids… no, no. I didn’t know it was there, it was just this random…”

“We were canoeing, it must’ve been like 1:00AM. I know it was after midnight…”

“And I almost jumped on this damn Water Moccasin! It was hiding in this…”

“Then my power steering died, just outside of camp. I’m like ‘crap, now what am I supposed to do?’ So I drive it for a while…”

“So I’m standing there… just waiting. This big ol’ female Gar swims up just close enough. So I shoot it, but I miss. Somehow I manage to reload the arrow and put one dead center of this thing…”
The rest of the night was great.

It was just like we never left, like we had never been apart more than a day. Way back in high school we’d get together at study hall every day, with the same crew, the same deck of cards, and play the same game. Every day. Sometimes we’d have extra time and a few of us would play in other classes.

But there was something… something different.

Nobody seemed as… as happy. As happy as we were back then, barely working to place in the top of our classes. Goofing off every chance we had, and going through high school loves, losses, homecoming, prom, graduation, and all of us with those dreams of “I can’t wait till college. I can’t wait to get out of here and do something crazy…”

And then, two years after graduation, five years since that first card game, where were we?

In that same little Northeastern town.

So this brings me to the next problem…
My Life Is Boring.

Sure, I have some stories. Maybe more than your average person, although I doubt it. But all in all, as I sit here with a few weeks to go before taking my next job, even farther from home, I can’t help but think that seriously… I’m not doing all that much.

I don’t have a house.

My car is a decade old.

I make barely any money.

I don’t text.

I’m still at the bottom of the totem pole career-wise.

I’m single.

I spend my free time reading.

I live at home part-time.

I’m just boring. Why don’t people see that?

 

Yet…

 

I don’t have a house… but I have had either a lake, an ocean, or a mountain range as my backyard all this year.

My car is a decade old… and that Pontiac has gone through hell with me; why replace it?

I make barely any money… but I’ve got more than enough to survive on for a while.

I don’t text… but if I really wanted to hear from these people, I’d call them anyway. I can’t say I don’t enjoy being semi-unreachable.

I’m still at the bottom of the totem pole career-wise… but I’m only two years out of college, and I’m developing my plan as we speak.

I’m single… and ready to mingle.

I spend my free time reading… because I am paid to do what I love 40-60 hours a week.

I live at home part-time… but I also live everywhere else part time.

But still…

I can’t help but believe my life is dull. Maybe its from checking Facebook, seeing the highlights of three hundred people’s lives all jumbled together, all trying to make themselves seem to the world to be the most interesting person in it.

The people who post a hundred pictures of food, or a dozen pictures of their friends, or invite you to every event they’ve ever heard of. A list of bands they like covers their profile, ten causes they think deserve a ‘like’, and pictures of random things I could’ve sworn I saw on reddit six months ago.

And then there’s mine.

It’s empty.

It’s dull.

It’s just… it’s my picture, the pictures people tag me in, and sometimes the occasional “hey guys, I’m in town. Who wants to see me?”

Everyone else I know post either how exciting their life is or how depressing their life is. Statuses that say “hey, look at me, I’m loving my life so much you should be jealous!” or “I’m so tired and bored and lonely you should feel sorry for me!”

And here I am.

Being boring.

Working on a blog entry for a blog I’ll probably get tired with next week…

Browsing reddit a little…

Trying to figure out whether or not I should ask that girl out, the one I’m only going to be working with for four more weeks.

And trying to get rid of this strange, lingering, frustrating feeling that my life is boring and will always be boring…

 


 

I really haven’t had that exciting of a life. There are a lot of things I wish I would have done, instead of just sitting around and complaining about having a boring life. So I pretty much like to make it up. I’d rather tell a story about somebody else.

~Kurt Cobain


 

Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to settle for mediocrity.

 

Franconia Ridge, White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire

Lesson Time: Hackberry Galls

Hey guys!

So, I’ve put up four blog posts so far for you guys. Most of them haven’t been all that interesting, I admit. Although I do love the giant squid one.

But I digress.

Today I’m going to introduce something that I’m going to make not only a regular thing, but potentially the dominant thing on my blog.  I’m going to call this section “Lesson Time”. What that means is instead of just giving you a quick “how I’m feeling” rundown of my day, which is honestly the type of blog I’d probably read sparingly if at all, I’m going to drop a little bit of knowledge that I used or learned during the day. So this means mos everything is going to be an example that’s pretty close to home for me, probably something in whatever geographic area I’m in, and always something in North America.

Because its all well and good to talk about the Amazon, but I like to start kids off with something in their own back yard.

 


 

So I’m going to start it out with on of my favorite “Ewwwwwww… what is that thing, Mr. Chris?” questions.

Image Source (yeah, yeah, my sourcing format sucks today. Deal.)

Image Source (On second thought, I kind of like this format)

So you may be asking yourself “Ewwwwwww… what is that thing, Mr. Chris?”

If you’ve got that gall to ask me that question, you’re probably not aware that this is also called a Gall (see what I did there? See? See? Oh God, I need to get some sleep tonight).

In particular this is called a Hackberry Gall. These little guys are only found on the Hackberry tree (generally Celtis Occidentalis, specifically), and are not known to spread to other nearby plants, unless those nearby plants are more Hackberry trees.

Now they come in a lot of different shapes and forms. Some of them look broad at the base and swoop up in sort of a teardrop shape, like the second picture. Others can look like almost a bulbous ball on a stick, the stick end just barely wide enough to connect the gall to the plant. Colloquially, I’ve heard these referred to as “nipple galls” in the past, although this may not be the commonly accepted term.

If you can’t figure out why they’d be called “nipple gall”, take off your shirt for a minute. Or google “nipple”. And I’ll just let you figure it out from there. I charge extra for that sort of help.

 

So what causes Hackberry Galls?

Psyllid

Image Source

Isn’t it cute?

This is called a Hackberry Psyillid.

Now Psyillids are all part of the family Psyillidae or the Jumping Plant Lice, although recently there has been some discussion of splitting them into different families. So when you look at these guys you may notice a resemblance to leafhoppers or planthoppers (those tiny insects that jump every time you touch the tall grass, more or less), and that’s because they are all in the Order Hemiptera. So they are related, albeit not terribly closely.

Now naturally these galls are formed because the Psyillids will lay their eggs in the leaf, which releases a chemical that causes all that funky growth. The larvae will then spend some time sucking the juices out of the plants until it’s time for them to hatch, at which point they simply tear their way out of the gall, spread their wings, and fly off into the sunset.

One thing about these guys that surprised me about these guys is that they don’t actually harm the tree.

Now, I’ve seen some pretty gnarly infestations of insects before, and this has always looked distinctly like one to me. But nope, apparently it can sometimes make the Hackberry drop its leaves early but otherwise… it has no terribly noticeable impact on the tree itself.

Although I’d be intrigued to see a real tree lifetime analysis of that data, somebody would have to pay for it and, alas, I haven’t found anyone who got funding for that riveting project.

 

 

So there you are!

A little bit of knowledge for your day.

 

Catch you cats on the flippity floppity.

 

PS – yes, I do actually say that in real life. I’m a pretty cool twenty-something.


 

And for further reading on the subject, or just anything having to do with insect damage or signs of insect inhabitance, I’d like to direct you over to Bug Tracks. I’ve read this fine gentleman for a while now and he’s become one of my go-to blogs for anything entomology. Plus maybe, just maybe, if I link him enough I’ll get to meet him one day…

Did you feel that? I just got chills. Entomology-gasm chills.

And so it Begins…

Here we go!

Today was our first full day with the campers we’ll have until Saturday. A mid-sized group of fifth and sixth graders (well… students that will be going into fifth and sixth, so in reality they’re fourth and fifth graders), and all of them seem to have…

*elevator music*

Sorry, had to go get them to quiet down a bit. Just barely before lights out so… kids will be kids, I guess. And its my night off to boot.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked, as they say.

But as I was saying, they all seem to have big personalities. Which is all well and good, because our staff here all have pretty big personalities. The one I’m co-teaching with this week and I potentially have the largest of anyone, undoubtedly the largest combined…

 

Whatever that may say about me, ha

 

Either way, it was a solid day and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

 

Hopefully my coworkers tired them out today.

Cheers.