(Often) Urban Invertebrates in the News

As July draws to a blissfully breezy end I offer a collection of the most insectually interesting articles that I’ve come across this month.  moth-er

Elena Tartaglia with some moths of New York and New Jersey. Source: @SciFri.

NPR’S Science Friday did a lovely little story on National Moth Week (which just ended on Saturday). In it Flora Lichtman interviews the adorably awkward Elena Tartaglia on why moths are worth our appreciation (in case you weren’t already aware). She also explains why they are so obsessed with the light over your door. Flora asks Elena about her new favorite moth: the Rosy Maple! Hooray. Also of interest–a Science Friday video that explains how hummingbird moths are able to so resemble their avian counterparts.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Source: http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org

Xerces is helping to present a free webinar on dragonfly life and conservation which will take place on August first–tomorrow! There is a possibility of obtaining education credits, too. If you love dragonflies you can also participate in some citizen science for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, which is working to better understand their migrational patterns. 


ALB. Source: Wikipedia.

These dog days of summer mean that the Asian Longhorned Beetle is out and about. If you live in New York state and have a pool you can participate in a survey to help control the spread of this destructive insect.

Bees have been big newsmakers lately, primarily due to tragedy. In the wake of the largest poisoning of bumblebees ever, Xerces has called for the end of the cosmetic pesticide that caused it, dinotefuran, aka Safari. There is also a congress-bound petition to stop Safari here

An article from Treehugger sums up new research regarding the increasingly disastrous relationship between chemically-ridden America and honeybees.

The researchers…collected pollen from hives on the east coast, including cranberry and watermelon crops, and fed it to healthy bees. Those bees had a serious decline in their ability to resist a parasite that causes Colony Collapse Disorder. The pollen they were fed had an average of nine different pesticides and fungicides, though one sample of pollen contained a deadly brew of 21 different chemicals. Further, the researchers discovered that bees that ate pollen with fungicides were three times more likely to be infected by the parasite.


Bumblebee all up in a tomato blossom. [Highly fascinating] source: http://pollinator.com/. 

 In less dire news, the Times published a truly fascinating story in which Carl Zimmer artfully describes the bumblebee, the pollen that it feeds upon, and the effect that this culinary act has on pollination. In short, when a bee lands on, for example, a tomato flower (or a blossom from one of the other tens of thousands of plants which rely upon bumblebees for pollination), it immediately starts working to find pollen to eat. “‘It sounds like a bee is giving you a raspberry'” as it is

“in fact…creating resonating vibrations to loosen the pollen grains inside the [flower’s] tubes. ‘The bees are turning themselves into living tuning forks.'”

As the bee holds and shakes the flower, it causes microscopic pollen within to pinball against the tubes’ walls. Eventually they “gain so much energy that they blast out in a cloud that coats the bee.” The insect then gathers the grains to sacks on its legs so that it may feed the hive’s larvae later. Some pollen, however, remains on the bee’s fur and will dust off when the creature alights upon another blossom, hopefully leading to the inception of a brand new Brandywine, Sungold, or other blessedly summery fruit.

monarch drawing

Source: etsy.

Lastly, I have a detailed post cooking on the current state of the monarch butterfly. Until it’s published, however, here’s a link to a board that I’ve put together on Pinterest, Monarch Life Support. It’s a growing resource on monarch education which includes plenty of information on ways that we common folk can help this beloved, yet struggling, creature survive. Please let me know of other resources to add to the board and I’ll pin ’em up.

Queens or Kings Necessary


This. Because last year I was spending a large part of my time at home watching my little puppy of a monarch and its milkweed, and this summer I am looking at sometimes dried up milkweed flowers, hoping and praying for one of those bengal-striped beauties.

Scared of Bullfrogs? Get rich (kind of) quick!

bullfrog 1

Cue menacing “ribbit.” Credit: http://naturemappingfoundation.org/

A few months ago I wrote about some of the heebie jeebies I get from frogs. But, you know, I only blogged about it, whereas this guy, who apparently has a phobia birthed out of an experience of an Italian chasing him in early childhood with bullfrogs in his fists, took his issues with him to court. There the judiciary wound up awarding him ONE POINT SIX MILLION DOLLARS, all because he’s skeered of the springy, lurky amphibians on his property. Makes me feel a bit less silly about my own occasionally creeped-out feelings. Thanks to Donna over at http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com/ for the awesome story.


Mmmmmmountains. Credit: http://www.americanforests.org/

In other news, it’s good to be back. While I was in the Adirondacks, staying a scant handful of miles from this mountainI jumped back into Spokes and Petals rather suddenly. There was no pomp nor circumstance, simply an acted upon desire to share my boyfriend’s discovery of that still-enchanting rosy maple moth. Obviously I continue to find it tremendously difficult to write during the heat of our growing season (which lasts from march through the end of June) and, as per usual, I will keep striving to figure out ways to keep my writing honed and timely, even when my hands are black from tomato tar and my body forces me to fall asleep before nine. 

As I tend to do after some time off I will offer a quick list of semi-relevant things which I’ve done whilst not blogging:

  • I started up a medicinal herb offering at Allandale Farm, featuring the seeds, plants, and handmade products derived from over 50 of our own medicinal herbs. (I still have a lot that need a new home, so if you’re in Boston and have a bit of free soil or container space come by and give us a look.) allandale herbs A sampling of what I’ve been tending to. Clockwise from top left: resina calendula, mad-dog skullcap, lemon thyme, peppermint, lemon balm, sacred basil (tulsi), and heartsease (Johnny-jump-up). Credit: Helen Glotzer.
  • I went to Wisconsin and learned how to ride a tandem and hold on tight to the back of a cargo bike. Pictures forthcoming.
  • I also danced with my family and friend Murray to THE ZOMBIES as they played a dream-come-true show at Summerfest!!! This song was played and sung impeccably–and was the first thing to yank us all off our feet.

  • I happened upon the Paul McCartney concert at Fenway Park last week. One of my favorite moments in Boston ever: sitting on the sidewalk outside of the stadium with lots of other strangers, smiling my face off, listening to Sir Paul sing “Something,” initially accompanied by a ukulele and brushed drum before blissfully breaking into that sweeeet guitar solo that we all know by heart. Holy holy holy.
  • I started reading The World Without Us. Mindblowing!
  • Matt and I saw our first luna moths (again in the Dacks). Talk about mindblowing.
  • luna moth Photo credit: http://www.fcps.edu/

Anyway, it’s been a busy while, but I really am back and am happy, as ever, to be here.

Late Blight: cue Mass freak out

Today late blight, the bane of tomatoes, potatoes, and the Irish, was confirmed by UMass Amherst out in Franklin County. This disease, caused by the pathogen Phytopthora infestans, was the microscopic culprit behind the famines that decimated Ireland in the mid-1800’s. While it has the potential of being every bit as devastating now as it was then, we are lucky to have a much more diversified diet than our forebears (though not nearly diverse enough), as well as various lethal weapons like copper sprays and other vicious stuff that stops, or at least slows, the disease in its tracks. However, despite the odds that are in our favor, we’re not quite able to control the weather, and any cool and rainy summer days can ignite a few late blight spores hitchhiking in the wind and rain. After a few get going it doesn’t take much for the blight to cause a major and often heartbreaking infestation.

To illustrate the nature of late blight, let me offer a brief lesson in contrasts. Tomatoes are beautiful–

Heirloom maters

and late blight is not.

More late blight lesions

Late blight lesions on tomato stem, leaf, and petiole

Roma tomatoes affected by late blight

Mugshot of affected Roma tomatoes. Credit: maine.gov. Previous blight photos from umass.edu. Luscious heirlooms from marycrimmins.com.

Like lots of deadly things, late blight is pretty fascinating. Continue reading

The Celery and the Swallowtail

A few weeks ago I was at work, sorting through trays of medicinal herbs to put out for sale, when I was aghast to find a speck of bird poop upon my lovage. (Lovage, if you’re unaware, is a close sister of celery and an herb that I came to know in France. I’m quite enamored of it, both ornamentally and edibly.)

I make some sweet love to lovage in an Alpine valley.

I went to blow away the speck when I suddenly realized it to be a speck with two heads and sixteen legs. Sixteen legs! Two heads!! I also noticed rather quickly the negative space that was gazing at me from where the two-headed monster had been working at my beloved lovage, cutting and devouring the tender, blessed green of the new, nearly lacy leaves.

Continue reading

Rosy Maple Moth: Empress of the Universe

ImageMatt and I found one of these yesterday because we are vacationing in a Miyazaki film. (The set, if you’re curious, is at the foot of the Adirondacks’ Whiteface Mountain.) This divine creature spends its youth in maple canopies before transforming into an ephemeral adulthood, consisting of fluttering about, sending and receiving pheromones, coupling late in the evening, and returning to the maples to give way to a new generation of rosies.

Coming soon (truly): a butterfly story. Happy 4th!

Edit: My friend Evan wrote on facebook that this creature looks like it flew through a Marshmallow Peep. He then added that “this is like if Michaels craft store was hijacked by aliens.” Indeed. Add your own descriptions and hypotheses on the creation myth of this creature below!

Photo credit: The delightful tumblr of ceruleanpineapple

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