Saturday, August 5, 2017

DYSTOPIAN WALLPAPER: the Lives of Birds and Insects

Life changes fast.  Life changes in an instant.  You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Joan Didion

This quartet of images is to be repeated side by side / up and down to create wallpaper.  The immediate impression is quiet and pleasant, but close observation reveals deadly problems in this peaceful landscape.

The upper left grouping:
The central focus is a European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) in the act of devouring a bumble bee.  The bumble bee is also being eyed by a beewolf  (genus Philanthus) and a Conops quadrifasciatus.
Two different, highly predacious,  assassin bugs sit to the left and right of the poisonous black hellebore, stalking two herbivorous leaf beetles.
The columbine leaves that interest the leaf beetles have already been attacked by leaf miners, usually the larvae of moths, sawflies (a type of wasp) or flies.

Stationed at the corners of each square are four species of ants ready to go to war.

Upper right grouping:
Attracting 3 house flies to their deaths in a pitfall-trap is the beautiful North American pitcher plant (Genus Sarracenia).  Just above are two groups of three seeds from the poisonous, vespertine, moonflower plant  (Genus Datura). Flanking the pitcherplant are the leaves of the sweet pea (Laythyrus odoratus)whose seeds are toxic.
Flying over the pitcher plant is a cicada being followed by a Cicada killer - a solitary wasp which will paralyze the cicada then lay eggs on it that will provide food for the larva when it hatches.

Lower right grouping:
A green hummingbird flies over the leaf of the poisonous castor bean plant, right into the waiting arms of a large, carnivorous, praying mantis.  The leaves by the wings of the mantis are from the bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), which can cause skin irritations.  Sitting on the leaves are lady beetles (Family Coccinellidae) ready to attack three aphids.

Lower left grouping:
A blue warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) from the deep woods of North America somehow has run across a yellow pansy butterfly (Junonia hierta) from the paleotropics. A pair of  common green darner dragonflies (Anax junius) are also interested in a butterfly lunch.
Seated in the center of a white opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is a white crab spider (not an insect) which doesn't spin a web, but grabs its prey when it comes to the flower.  In this case, it is a doomed white cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae).
Around the poppy are the poisonous leaves of the choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

Sunday, May 7, 2017


A power of Butterfly must be -
The Aptitude to fly,
Meadows of Majesty concedes
and easy Sweeps of Sky-

Emily Dickinson

Seasonal migrations are hazardous for the  participants but necessary for species that require alternate areas for food and nesting.  The triggers for this periodic travel can be the change in hours of daylight, variation in temperature, and the availability of food.
Methods of navigation probably depend on the position of the sun, moon and stars, the earth's magnetic field, landmarks, genetics and maybe even smell.

Cornell's Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society maintain a website (ebird) where visitors can see beautiful, animated occurrence maps of bird migrations.

Monday, April 3, 2017


I don't know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a superpower.


Driving to Tucson my son Barrett and I were rerouted to a lonely desert highway south of Roswell NM.  Our old Ford Tempo kept overheating and required at least 20 minutes to cool off before it would start again.  This is when I learned the real benefit of traveling with a naturalist.  It could have been frightening or boring.  Instead every stop was fascinating.  Even the driest, flattest, most nondescript landscape is filled with wonders - if you have a trained eye.

The concept of Private Lives addresses the issue of staying alive by means of camouflage.