Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I disappeared for a while because, well, I actually DID get some studying done. Final grades are in for the semester, and I am pleased. People always tell me I shouldn't worry so much about schoolwork and exams, because I always do well.... but freaking out is WHY I do well!

So my first semester of grad school is over, and winter break has arrived. I am having a wonderful time at home, visiting family and friends. Pepper the parrot has missed me terribly, as usual, and won't leave me alone.

Slowly getting prepared for my trip to Ecuador next month... still trying to hold in my excitement though, lots of things to get done before then (including Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations!). Going to see lots of relatives, and spend some time up in Montreal with my college friends (the poutine alone is nearly worth the trip).

Taking a break from sewing will leave me feeling refreshed and inspired by the end of January. Bring on the custom orders! And happy holidays, whatever you may celebrate :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday/Should be studying sale!

If you're still looking for something for the holidays, I'm having a sale today through Wednesday night. This is special for people who read my blog and follow me on twitter and facebook :)
Enter coupon code "ShouldBeStudying" during checkout for 15% off AND I will ship priority mail.
(I have a final exam Thursday... maybe some sales will keep my morale up?).

I am planning on adding a few little things to the shop in the next couple days, too, so keep on the lookout.

A reminder that my shop will be closed during my winter break - starting about the 17th of this month through January 23. If you're interested in a custom order, be warned that I already have a list of requests for when I return (but you never know how many people will follow through). You can always email me and I can add you to the list and let you know when I'm ready to sew!

Friday, December 10, 2010


I enjoy doing trades for my plush work, especially when you get just the right combination of mutual love for each others work.

I recently sent off some goodies in exchange for this fabulous print by an artist known as EatToast on deviantART. She is incredibly talented and it was difficult to choose an image from her gallery, but I eventually decided I could not live without the grumpy iguana.You should check out her gallery!
Of course, I am partial to the wildlife category.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kaatskill Life, Winter 2010

Even though it has been rather routine to get my work published in Kaatskill Life magazine over the years, I still get nervous when my dad mails me a copy from home. I get emailed an edited copy of the article before publication, but I don't get to see the layout or final tweaks until it's out.

What fun though, eh? This one is about overwintering strategies of lepidopterans (butterflies and moths).Since this is the second in a row for me (I also wrote for the fall issue about brine shrimp), my dad is writing the spring article about water striders. Whoever comes up with a better idea first will get probably dibs on the summer issue. We're moving up in the magazine, too! "Kaatskill Kritters" used to be one of the last articles, now we're right about in the middle.

You can subscribe, but I'm not sure if individual issues can be bought through their website... though if you live in the Catskills region of NY you can probably find the magazine in a variety of shops.

Now if only I could get a good enough photo for the cover...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In progress

It should be pretty easy to figure out what I'm making next, eh?

Been wanting to make a Phidippus audax for a long time now, but never got around to it... now as a custom order, I'm diving right in.

The picture on the right is a big female I kept for a little while this summer, you may recall my post about her bunch of babies.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two heads are better than one

New in the shop - a two headed planarian! I haven't had much time to work on inventory because I am swamped with custom orders. That's not a bad thing, of course, but if only I had more hours in the day. I might be able to fit in a few more small/simple custom orders in time for the holidays, but otherwise all new requests will have to wait until February (I will be traveling for most of December and January).

Since I get so many requests for tardigrades, I hope this little guy finds a home soon.

True love

I went home for Thanksgiving break, and got to spend some time with my parrot, Pepper (as I've mentioned before he's a caique, and a rescue). Sometimes I wonder how well he really knows us, especially since the past few years I've spent so much of the year away from home and college. But every visit he can't get enough of me - which means lots of snuggle time in the evenings, and his mating dances. Luckily he doesn't completely regurgitate for me, but he goes through the motions.

I wish I could keep him with me, but there is no way he could handle being kept in a small apartment while I'm gone most of the day. And he certainly keeps my parents busy/entertained. Perhaps someday, though, when I have my own place he can come with me.

And something exciting to ponder - next month I am taking a trip to Ecuador, and will get to spend some time in the Amazon. That is, of course, the native range for this species! The black headed caique, Pionites melanocephalus, lives on the northern side of the Amazon river. One of my goals of the trip is to see (and hopefully photograph) one of these crazy birds in the wild.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A herp in the lep lab

The past few days have been quite an adventure. I am one of the TAs for an intro biology course. The lab this week was "animal diversity"; as you can imagine I was looking forward to this one all semester.

The lab itself was a little boring - well, depending on if you enjoy looking at dead things in jars or not (I certainly do, but I know not everyone does!). The only live specimens were echinoderms and cnidarians, and the only real activity was a quick crayfish dissection. So I thought I should liven things up a bit.

Enter Bijou the ball python! I had her around my neck for the labs I TAed, and brought her for 10-15 minute presentations in most of the other lab sections. I used her to demonstrate some general concepts about reptiles and their evolutionary history, and answered lots of questions. Students got to touch/hold her if they wanted, and their reactions were my favorite part. There were so many students who had never held a snake before, or were afraid, but Bijou was such a sweetie. I think she was able to change a lot of peoples' minds about snakes. She also got to hang out with me through the day, she was well behaved and well liked among everyone who got to spend time with her. I'd love if she could keep me company every day, but that cute face would be too much of a distraction.

Science and art and pain

Here I am, looking incredibly goofy. That plush on my head is Euclea obliqua, one of my favorite caterpillars (note that it is also drawn on the bottom of my lab coat). Yes they really are that colorful, though instead of fluffy pompoms they have clusters of poison-filled spines. We raised some of them in the lab, and I accidentally got stung by one a few weeks ago. It was much more irritating than I expected! The itching came and went for about a week, and it was another week before the discoloration on my skin went away. My adviser, instead of being concerned, was quite excited. He made sure to document my response to the sting through photos.

When you are a squishy tasty caterpillar, you need a way to defend yourself - which is accomplished in a variety of ingenious ways. Some sequester toxins through their host plant, some use cryptic coloration and/or behaviors, while others are covered in irritating hairs or spines. Some caterpillars can even seriously injure a human - for example the puss caterpillar, Megalopyge opercularis, can cause anywhere from local irritation to chest pains and difficulty breathing.

In our lab we raise hundreds (maybe thousands?) of caterpillars throughout the year, many of which have never been raised in captivity before. We joke that we should purposefully get stung by some of them in order to record their sting intensities... however a willing volunteer has yet to step forward.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The making of a bee

I had been slowly dying of jealousy ever since my roommate let me try using some of her Prismacolor markers. My sharpie loyalty went right out the window at that moment, and it was only a matter of time before I would get my hands on my own set. Besides, I want to get into some more serious science drawing, and I might as well get some better tools, right?

I could finally justify the purchase recently after making a few sales through Etsy, so here they are! Only went for 72, don't think I'd know what to do with any more than that.

The past few days I have only done small sketches, practicing different patterns and blending. They don't give as much precision as the fine sharpies, so I might still incorporate them for some details, but overall I am in love with the Prismacolor markers.

And here is the result of my first foray into a serious drawing. I took the reference photo myself.
The final photo does not do justice to the color mixing I did in the eyes - I'll take a better photo tomorrow in the sunlight.

Bug Banquet

I'm currently taking a general entomology course... it's helpful to brush up on things and this way I can be in line to TA the course later on. Today during lab, we had a "bug banquet" as we have been learning about the benefits of adding insects to our diets.

On the menu:

-Cricket pizza (crickets baked and seasoned).
-Waxworms and superworms fried in taco sauce.
-Crepes with mashed superworms mixed into the batter (I made those), cricket cranberry bread, and of course fig newtons (can't have figs without fig wasps inside).
-I also made the chocolate covered superworms. Baked them first so they were crunchy.

And the real star of the party... LIVE superworms wrapped in mango slices. Surprisingly a lot of people were game for the live insects, a few people even had more than one. I ate one, gagged a few times, but I held it down. It's not the taste but the textures and feeling it trying to crawl on your tongue. I'd much rather eat some softer insect larvae I think. There is much I could say about the benefits of entomophagy (insect eating) but I think I'll save that for another post (and after I've brushed the cricket tarsi out of my teeth!)


One of my tasks here at the lab is to curate the teaching collection of insects. They are used for entomology related classes, so they aren't the best or most valuable specimens, in fact they are typically procured from student collections.

The curation is no small feat... two tall cabinets of drawers which are full of disintegrating specimens. The specimens themselves are haphazardly strewn about the unit trays, with only a hint of some past organization. Some orders are worse off than others, the Lepidoptera were decent but the Diptera and Hemiptera were a total disaster. I don't think anyone has tried to reorganize these drawers... ever? At least not all in one go.

So I, along with some of the undergrads of the lab, have been tackling the collection one order at a time. Our instructions: throw away broken specimens, or specimens without labels. Straighten out rows of specimens in the trays. Put everything into phylogenetic order. Type up consistent labels for every unit tray, and for the outsides of the drawers.

This is one of the "reject" trays for Diptera, where we were collecting specimens before throwing them out. The insects and labels were all pulled off so we could keep the pins.
Some of the chaos in progress.
It is rather sad to throw away specimens - no one wants a life to go to waste, especially one that was collected and curated with care. But a fly is only so useful to research or teaching if its head is missing, you know? The fact is many specimens are prepared quite poorly, often to an extent that makes them unusable (pinning through the wrong body part, broken wings/legs, using too much glue on points, etc.). And often it is simply the ravages of time and handling that cause fragile insect bodies to fall apart. Some families have very few representatives so those are kept even if they're in bad shape, but hopefully we will be able to collect more. And now that the specimens have been curated, there is indeed room to add more!
Ahhh, completed insect drawers. Feels good. Still a few more orders to go! I hope that now the collection will be treated with more care and be of more use for future students.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Taxonomic fun

One of my favorite insect orders is Mantodea - how could it not be? Praying mantids are charismatic, and easily anthropomorphized. Their raptorial forelegs of course add an air of danger and mystery. This little guy was found in a desert wash in southeastern AZ. I don't know the species, anyone have any ideas?

Now, some people might take issue with the order Mantodea. Taxonomy is a dynamic field, even at higher levels, and insect orders are continually being shuffled around as new research unfolds. Mantids are most closely related to cockroaches (Blattaria) and termites (Isoptera), and the three orders are grouped together into Dictyoptera. Now, this may be considered either a superorder or an order, depending if you're a lumper or a splitter. In turn their closest relatives are the walkingsticks (Phasmida), rockcrawlers (Grylloblattodea) and heelwalkers (Mantophasmatodea).

Taxonomic changes may be frustrating, especially at lower levels - we get very attached to familiar species names, for example. Nomenclature rules are very strict, and only broken for special cases (like when it was found T. rex actually had an earlier name which by the rules would be the correct name, there was a big fight to keep T. rex). In recent news, there has been a debate over the reorganization of the Drosophila genus, of which the famous lab fruit fly is a member. In order to make the least amount of name changes to most accurately organize the flies, several (including D. melanogaster) would be moved into the genus Sophophora. Scientists have been in an uproar - though taxonomy is important for understanding evolutionary relationships, it could cause considerable confusion in the literature. This all was happening in April of this year, and I have yet to find if there was a satisfactory conclusion - ITIS still has D. melanogaster as the valid name, and wikipedia has Sophophora only as a subgenus.

I am fascinated by taxonomy and systematics, I guess that is part of my control-freak nature and desire for organization. My adviser suggested I could describe a new species of moth for independent study credits next semester - I'm going to be all over that!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sewing sewing sewing

Working on some custom orders today. Curtains and sliding doors open, sunshine and fresh cool air, discovery channel on tv, and piles of fluffy fleece fabric! Life couldn't be better (well, at least until tonight, when I'll be working on my term paper).

This is the sewing machine I've been using lately, the Singer Stylist 533. Not the sexiest of my machines, but she's got a zig-zag stitch which is really helpful for details that I don't want to hand sew. Some works in progress.
A reminder that if anyone is interested in a custom order, throw me an email!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Birthday surprise from nature

I celebrated my 22nd birthday while on the Arizona trip this summer. My "gift" from the others was to be dropped off along Cave Creek about half a mile upstream from the research station in order to hike back by myself. It took me somewhat over two hours, and I would have taken longer if it hadn't started to rain. When I told my family and friends about this they were unimpressed, but it was truly a wonderful experience and perfect day.

The sun came and went, meaning it wasn't too hot, but there were bouts of sunlight to attract some beautiful butterfly species to the water banks. I of course flipped every rock and log during my travels, and observed several Mastigoproctus giganteus (vinegaroons), Scolopendra sp. (centipedes), alligator lizards, and other goodies. Unfortunately I did not come across any snakes, but I guess you can't have everything.

My favorite discovery was in a small pool of calm water at the edge of the creek - a male giant water bug, in the family Belostomatidae (Hemiptera). This species, like many in the family, utilizes male parental care as a reproductive strategy. The females lay eggs sequentially on the male's back, and he offers protection until they hatch. The young do not hatch all at once, as they are cannibalistic and would become overcrowded if stuck in a small pool. I brought the father back with me to take some photos. He stayed overnight, and look what I woke up to the next morning! A phenomenon I had been hoping to witness since the moment I learned about it as a child, I got to see baby water bugs hatching from their father's back (I actually only saw their eyes peeking out of the eggs at first, this is about halfway through.) If you notice the pattern of already hatched eggs on his back, they were right on time as the next youngsters scheduled to hatch. The whole process, from egg cracking to complete emergence, took about an hour. The young started out slender and pale yellow; they slowly expanded while their cuticle hardened and darkened.

The happy father and offspring were then released back into the creek.

Aposematic.... or not?

Warning colorations (aposematism) are quite universal in the natural world. Contrasting combinations of red, yellow, orange, white and black = stay away. Think of a coral snake, or a monarch caterpillar. These visual warnings evolved for a variety purposes - unpalatability, chemical defenses, or mimicry of a distasteful species.

So when you come across a painted grasshopper, Dactylotum bicolor, as a potential naive predator and/or biologist, your first instinct may be "Ah-ha! I bet this grasshopper sequesters toxins through its diet and is unpalatable to predators."
You would, however, be wrong. As conspicuous as this species appears out in the open, they are actually quite cryptic when amongst the desert vegetation. Patches of red, pink and orange match the soil and rocks. White areas are highlights, while the dark blues become shadows. Their coloration is not strictly aposematic in the combination and placement of colors, but it is striking to us. For this grasshopper its main defense is not a warning signal, but camouflage in a colorful habitat.

Friday, November 12, 2010

When insects attack

Or rather, when various insects are attracted to mercury vapor lights at night in large numbers.

The Arizona desert is amazingly productive during the summer rainy season. During our trip, one night in particular we were overwhelmed with insects. Mercury vapor lamps (highly attractive to nocturnal insects) and sheets had been set up, and when we checked them a few hours after dark, some of the sheets could hardly be seen!

The photo on the left is me, being "attacked" mostly by sphingids (hawk moths). They flew around the lights at such high speeds, they ran into us with a considerable amount of force. It wasn't just the occasional bump, though, but a constant barrage of flailing and fluttering insect life. Moths of all sizes, beetles, true bugs - many of them finding their way under clothing or into eyes and ears. As much as I love insects and handle them frequently, there was something unnerving about becoming the substrate for dozens of tarsal claws to grip and crawl across.
(One of the insect covered sheets)
Meanwhile, many of the insects themselves were not faring so well. We could see and hear the army of large, vicious carabids (ground beetles) as they approached. With their strong jaws and predatory nature, they devoured any moth unfortunate enough to find itself on the ground. At times we observed three or four carabids fighting over larger specimens.

Through the fracas we managed to accomplish some collecting, and emerged mostly unscathed (at least one blister beetle burn was reported). Multitudes of insects were shaken out of clothing and hair before returning to the vans, and still more were discovered when preparing for bed that night.
(Moths attracted to a mercury vapor light)

While other collecting trips produced impressive displays of invertebrate life, none were quite like that night. I hope to be lucky enough to have this experience again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It was a dark and stormy evening

Dirt roads winding through an uncharacteristically lush desert landscape. Vans covered in dust and debris. Low hanging clouds washed in pastel hues, transitioning into ominously stern storm vessels. A lingering heaviness in the air, with the threat (reward?) of rain.

Driving precariously along a cliff ledge when - movement. Tires crunching to a halt. Excited door slamming, fumbling for cameras and headlamps. A rumble of thunder in the distance, and then nearer. The subject unaware of the commotion.

A serene yet sinister moment in time, lightning flashes. The calming sunset colors fade, stealing away the last vestiges of daylight. The subject stirs.

Defensive postures do not deter the tourists. Cameras struggle to deal with the stormy evening shades. Shaking lights cause temporary blindness and disorientation. The desire to flee finally resonates. Hands reach forward to wrangle the subject, to create a better pose. Is the threat real? Another lightning flash, and the pregnant clouds release a small sample of their cargo onto the dry earth.

Impatience. The journey must continue. Scrambling, closing doors resonating against the cliff walls. Within moments, nothing but settling dust particles remain. Large droplets stain the road. The subject takes shelter.
(A male Aphonopelma sp. tarantula, which I held for a few moments on the side of the road.)

Beautiful Beetles

Why not start with a bang? Here are my favorite Arizona beetles, and what dashing specimens they are to behold. You should recognize this first species from my banner at the top of the page.
Aptly named the Glorious Beetle, Chrysina gloriosa looks too spectacular to be a real animal. After looking at hundreds of thousands of beetles for a project as an undergrad, I decided that this species was by far my favorite. They were mixed in with tropical species, and I did not pay much attention to the locality label (since it obviously wasn't from Canada)... so I was quite surprised to see several specimens come to a black light our first night in Arizona! A few were still hanging around the next morning, so I of course took as many photos as I could. They have a lot of character to match their metallic sheen. Another beetle deserving of mention is the Hercules beetle, Dynastes granti.
Again, I was ill prepared in terms of what magnificent beetles I would encounter in Arizona. Somehow I did not manage to get any good photos of them in the daylight, but here is one male near the blacklight he was attracted to. While their appearance is impressive, they are quite slow and clumsy. A bit scarier was the Dynastes grub I discovered under a log! I wish I could have kept it to raise into adulthood.

Arizona vignettes

Since I'm sure you're all curious, I thought I would share some of my observations and photos* from the trip I took to Arizona this summer. I'm still amazing by how much wildlife I was able to experience in only one week. I went with my adviser and a bevy of graduate students, professors, researchers, and volunteers. We are planning another trip for next August, and I'm hoping to spend even more time out there. I'm intrigued by the landscape to the point of considering focusing my thesis research on moths of that area.
(On the way to the station from the airport)
We were centered at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, right in the midst of Cave Creek Canyon. I had actually traveled there once before, on an undergrad field course. It's wonderful to be cool and sheltered in the forest, and then be able to wander off into the nearby desert.

The following are a few teaser photos of the landscape. Stories of the wonderful creatures I encountered are soon to follow, along with some of the adventures undertaken here at my lab so far.
(View near the station)
(Hiking along the highway, looking for caterpillars)
(It was the rainy season)

*A note on photographs. All photos on this blog, unless otherwise noted, are my own and not to be used without permission. Thanks!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Catocala cara

My dad was the only one brave enough to guess the species of my costume in the last post, and he was right! Catocala cara, the Darling Underwing, was the inspiration for my Halloween costume this year. For the party I went to last night I kept it rather simple, tonight I'm going to add antennae and perhaps some more detail on the fore-wings.

The base was a dress from the thrift store, arm warmers were from a shirt also from the thrift store, the fleece fabric I already had on hand.

It feels great to be sewing again.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Working on my halloween costume... can you guess what I'm going to be?

I'm back!

Hello again! Life is crazy (as I had predicted), and my Etsy shop has finally reopened.
I will not be taking new custom orders until I sort out all the ones that have piled up the past few months.

A lot has been going on since I moved here - amazing Arizona trip, classes, seminars, insect collecting, TAing, making friends, driving around CT, giving my first talk at a herpetology conference in Canada, and staying at my office til all hours of the night.

Things have been happening with my artwork, too, even though my shop has been closed.
My marker drawings have been featured in two shows at the Zzyzx gallery of natural science in Los Angeles, and three of my plush beetles are currently at the "Plush You!" show at the Schmancy toy gallery in Seattle.

I will attempt to update with photos, science tidbits and plush adventures.
(The katydid pictured was captured at a nearby park)

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Life has been crazy lately, and it's about to get even crazier.

Moving into my new apartment in CT tomorrow.
Signed up for classes.
Tickets booked for my week long trip to Arizona.
Signed up to TA an intro biology course.

I probably won't get a chance to blog for a while...

It's been a great summer!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What's cuter than a baby spider?

Yesterday I checked on the jumping spider momma and her egg sac, and found a few babies starting to crawl out of her silk enclosure. I used tweezers to pull apart some of the silk, and found it full of little wiggling spiderlings! The mother was not pleased at being disturbed, and looked considerably thin. I don't think she ate anything while guarding her eggs, though I did put plenty of appropriately sized prey in the cage.
I removed the silk covering completely, and brought the spiderlings and their mother out to the herb garden behind our house. This area is always teeming with insects, and hopefully will provide enough prey and shelter for these little ones.
Oh, and the answer to the title of this post?
A whole pile of baby spiders.


On 7/18, my white-dotted prominent emerged from its pupa. You actually can't see the white spots very well, but they're there. I love the tuft of hairs on top of the thorax, looks rather like a mohawk.
It was quite fun rearing this individual from an early instar caterpillar up through adulthood - hopefully now it will continue to have a successful life out in the wild.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mr. Toad's new suit

My latest article has been published in Kaatskill Life magazine (the "Kaatskill Kritters" section is always written by either my father or myself, and we do all our own photography):
I love how they cropped my photo of the toad - what a face! Funny how toads always look grumpy. The next issue should have my article about sea monkeys/brine shrimp. My pieces are all only a page long, and meant for a very general audience. I am usually quite tempted to go into more detail, but I think people would rather have more useful information than be dazzled by taxonomy.

Kaatskill Life is a great local magazine, if any of you live in the Catskills of NY or surrounding counties, I'd give it a whirl. Subscription rate is $19 per year for four quarterly magazines. I've also seen them in plenty of shops.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It's a good thing those neighbor boys keep coming over, they always end up finding something I have overlooked.

Look what one of them found today, after I had passed by a patch of queen anne's lace flowers without examining them: one of my favorite insects, the ambush bug (Phymata erosa).
As you can see, she's been put in an enclosure and given some flies to eat. She caught this one after about half an hour.

I did not realize they would be out this early, there is no goldenrod yet, which is where I usually find them. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled now. It's always neat to find ambush bugs in the wild and watch their behaviors - mating, competing for mates/territory, catching prey and sucking it dry... I've seen an ambush bug with a bumble bee in its grip before! They are quite adept at ambushing prey - hence their name.

A moth... already?

Remember those camouflaged loopers? And the one that made a pupa?
Well that did not last long, only a bit over a week later, here is the moth:
I had never seen such a beautiful little green moth before. Wingspan was about 2cm.
The adults are referred to as the "wavy-lined emerald", which is certainly an apt description.
And thankfully now I can regain use of that large critter-keeper cage the pupa was hogging.


Sticky the stick insect... real original, eh? Anyone want to come up with a better name?
The boys brought over a little northern walking stick (Diapheromera femorata) they had found in their yard.
Considering the years I had spent at the Lyman museum caring for their stick insects, I knew just what to do. An enclosure was quickly set up with paper towels, a few branches, a vial of water with a hole in the cap to place oak leaves, and a little water dish.

He/she has already eaten a few big chunks out of an oak leaf. I'm definitely keeping this little guy for a while.

Whose eggs are those?

I was examining the dill plants in our herb garden, hoping to see some eggs or caterpillars of the black swallowtail. Instead, I came across these curious eggs on stalks.
Of course, I knew right away what they were. Do you know?