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Discovering Jean-Henri Fabre

3 Apr

I was giving my friend a tour of the St Mike’s library and we were perusing the shelves.  Of course, we happen across the entomology section, lined with books on bugs, bees, ants, and the like.  It was there, that I discovered this gem:


The Life of the Scorpion, written by JH FAbre, 1923.  Jean-Henri Fabre was a French scientist, best known for his studies in entomology.  Born to a poor family, Fabre received almost no formal scientific training and was largely an autodidact (self-taught).  He experimented, taught and wrote volumes of books on insects during the late 1800s to early 1900s.  Many agree that he played an monumental role in popularizing the study of insects and some also consider him the father of modern entomology.  Much of this popularity can be attributed to his unique writing style.  He tells the stories of the insects he meets in a biographical form, writing in first person, almost like a diary.

As I scan the first couple pages of The Life of the Scorpion, it indeed reads simple and fascinating, like a good story book.  To start, Fabre shares with us his first scorpion encounter, when he isout searching for centipedes for his thesis, he comes across a scorpion under a rock and is perplexed by such a formidable creature, it’s stinger gleaming up at him. He leaves the scorpion and returns home with his centipedes:

“Science! The witch!  I used to come home with joy in my heart: I had found some Centipedes. What more was needed to complete my ingenuous happiness?  I carried off the Scolopendrae (centipedes) and left the Scorpions behind, not without a secret feeling that a day would come when I should have to concern myself with them.”

Oh yeah, this is going to be good.  Stay tuned for more excerpts, the Science Witch has put a spell on me.



Oil Beetle

8 Dec


I observed three of these guys, while visiting the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller park near Quechee, VT.  They were a little over an inch long, glistening blue, and immediately caught my eye.  Looking like big fat ants, they drudged along through the grass looking depressed or drugged.  Their stubby wing-pads (they are flightless) barely noticeable over their bloated abdomens.  I thought they resembled the dresses that used to be in style… a long time ago:



Reading online, I learn they are in the family Meloidae and get their name from the fact that they ooze an oily substance from their leg joints when disturbed.  Also, are apparently parasitic as larvae!  First, a female oil beetle will lay up to 1000 eggs (?@#$%).  When the eggs hatch, the larvae will climb up onto flowers and attach themselves to solitary bees.  They hitch hike back to the burrow, where they relax and feed on the bees pollen and eggs.  When it pupates, the adult oil beetle will continue to reside in the safety and warmth of the burrow through the winter until spring arrives.  Jeez!  Talk about a your uninvited, intrusive guests!

Here’s a video of oil beetles in action.  Even a hungover oil beetle at 1:56.




Spiny Oak Slug Caterpillar

20 Nov

Behold! The Spiny Oak Slug Caterpillar:


It was hard not to spot, lounging on my friends parked car, 3/4” long with those brilliant pink and yellow stripes and spikes, as you can see. The slug caterpillars are a family (Limacodidae) of moths and some are indeed smooth and slug shaped, but most have a variety of spikes, spines, and warty obtrusions. Now apparently, most caterpillars have prolegs (hooks or “crochets”), but slug caterpillars are pretty unique in that they employ suction cup “feet”! The spines can also cause skin irritations and burns…


I identified this guy not with my handy dandy bug book, which is never handy. But by image googling, “spiny rainbow caterpillar.” Ah, google.

For further amusement:

Lookout spiny oak slug! There’s a mustache behind you! Slug mustache

Please be sure to check this youtube video I found of a caterpillar “walking.” Includes enticing caterpillar music.


Epoxy’d Water Bug

19 Mar

This is a Giant Water Bug. The body is 7 cm long.
Also called a Toe-Biter, apparently has one of the worst insect bites in North America.

The speciman above was obtained in Corvalis, Oregon. I found it dead and let it dry, pinned to a board. I then found a glass ash try at a Goodwill and encased the bug in two layers of Easy Cast epoxy. I’ve had trouble with epoxy in the past, including bubbles, poor mixing/amounts (causing it to never harden), and embedded items floating to the surface. Luckily, it turned out pretty well this time!

The Giant Water Bug is in the order Hemiptera, shared with cicadas, leaf hoppers, and aphids. A defining feature in this order is a beak that is used to pierce plants to suck sap, or in this case, defend against curious human hands and pierce prey.

Giant Water Bugs are aquatic predators that live in slow flowing water like ponds and lakes. They lie in wait for their unsuspecting prey which can range from other aquatic insects, to fish and frogs. When they strike, they grip their prey firmly with their front legs like a praying mantis and use their beak to inject a digestive enzyme and suck up the liquidy remains (*slurp!*). Here’s some youtube footage of a Giant Water Bug making a meal out of a goldfish.

A few years ago, I had two smaller (~3 cm long) water bugs as pets in an aquarium, like the one below (a different genus than the large bug above). They were neat, but I found I had to practically force feed them crickets held with tweezers (like this video).  Also, to the distress of my roommate and guests, one mysteriously disappeared through the screen roof of the aquarium…


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