Category Archives: Gardening

Raspberry crown borer

I LOVE this clearwing moth. The raspberry crown borer (Pennisetia marginata) is a Batesian mimic of (I think) Vespula maculifrons and V. pensylvanica, our native yellow jackets. If you’re mildly impressed by the resemblance, you should see them in flight or walking around a leaf. They have completely nailed the cocky, jerky yellow jacket attitude. I can’t seem to find a video to link to, but this is a related species. If you live near a big patch of raspberry or blackberry, go look for them right now … they are out mating and laying eggs.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Female raspberry crown borer (Pennisetia marginata)

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Female raspberry crown borer (Pennisetia marginata)

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Instragramming invasive species in Hawai’i

During my recent trip to Hawai’i I got to wondering how conservation organizations use Instagram to educate the public about invasive species. A quick search pulled up several groups that seem involved, at least occasionally, and I’ll list here just in case you want to follow them (# followers in parentheses):

hawaii-invasive-species-instagramPart of my reason for wasting time on the above was because when I posted a photograph of an introduced frog, I wasn’t sure if anyone on Instagram might care. Potentially, there might be a group or two that might want to mentioned, in the off chance that a species hadn’t been noticed at that particular location. Not being a native, I had no idea which groups to mention, though, so all I did was add some hashtags for the species name as well as #invasive #introduced #nonnative … with the hope that somebody might find it useful someday (unlikely). But the process got me wondering how groups use Instagram to get the word out on how to control invasives. Here are some thoughts on how to do it, with apologies to the groups who are already doing it:

  1. To build buzz about your organization and its goals, repost images of others that show the species you are trying to control. People love to have their images reposted or their accounts mentioned. You can find these images by following people (duh), or by searching Google for Instagram photos with particular keywords (e.g., site:instagram.com coqui kauai). The routine is just this: ask them if it would be OK to be reposted/featured … and then give them credit by including Instagram handle (i.e., don’t just give the photographer’s name).
  2. If you don’t want to feature other people’s images, at least patrol other people’s posts that relate to invasive species, endemics, restoration, etc. For example, if somebody posts an adorable photograph of a small frog and says, “Love this little guy; going to send to my uncle on Kauai for his birthday!” … you can urge them not to do that. Or, when somebody posts about clearing invasives from property, you can say thanks (and perhaps invite them to a volunteer day if you’re group is local). And it’s not just people making posts about invasives … many companies are active in promoting pono and have thousands of active followers (@southmauispearfishing, e.g., has *dozens* of posts about invasive roi and what to do about them). The more you interact by favoriting and commenting, the more people on a particular island will see your organization’s work as important and worth supporting.
  3. If your organization has volunteer work days, add an “Instagram name” column to your sign-in sheet. Then mention each person when you post photos from the event (you should do that!). People love to be publicly thanked. Example. Another example.
  4. In your bio and in your posts, remind folks to tag their own images with #invasive #hawaii (or whatever) and species name so that the posts can help educate their followers. Example. Example. You can also dream up custom hashtags such as #hawaiiinvasive if you want (that’s from @kauaiisc, by the way).
  5. When you make presentations about invasives at local schools, show your Instragram handle at start and end. Young adults increasingly don’t care about your web site, your twitter feed, or your phone number but you might get them to follow on Instagram.
  6. Award prizes to people reporting or posting certain kinds of images. People love contests. For example, send some swag to person who posts best selfie with gold dust day gecko (example).
  7. If you have a Facebook page, add a tab for your Instagram feed. It’s easy. You should also automatically add your Instagram posts to your timeline.
  8. If you include a phone number in your bio for reporting a particular species, include an area code in case clueless tourists see call to action. Repeat this number in posts, too … because somebody might not bother to visit your actual home page.
  9. Check Instagram regularly to see whether anyone has posted an image of a species of special concern. For example, you can run a search for “site:instagram.com snake hawaii” to patrol for snake sightings (the search results are mainly Hawaiian shirts with snakes). There used to be several ways to automate such Instagram searches and receive emails … but Instagram blocked them.
  10. If your organization doesn’t have an Instagram account, fix that.

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White-footed woods mosquito drinking nectar

Here’s a female white-footed mosquito (Psorophora ferox) that I photographed at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, Pennsylvania. I’m not a mosquito expert, so my ID is a guess based on its green eyes and purple coloration. That’s a terrible way to identify a mosquito, I’m sure. It’s a female because the antennae are not especially fluffy Males have massive, bushy antennae for sensing the wingbeat noise that females make, which is at a higher frequency than that of males. I’m posting this photograph because it’s National Pollinator Week and few people appreciate the pollination that mosquitoes perform. But we could kill them all and we’d be fine, I’m sure.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; White-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox) nectaring on goldenrod

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Using mosquitoes’ sweet tooth to control Zika transmission

Now that everyone wants to kill mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, can somebody please make a transgenic plant that expresses mosquitocidal Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis) toxins? Just stick the Bti gene behind a phloem-specific promoter so that the protein gets pumped into the nectar. Then when males and female mosquitoes drink (and almost all do), they die. You could then plant acres of the modified plant nearby towns to protect people from Zika (and anything else transmitted by mosquitoes). The beauty of this method is that you could reduce populations of mosquitoes from an area without spraying, and do so for generations if you modified nectar-producing perennials. I know it’s trendy to dislike GMOs (like vaccines), but I think many people would support them under these circumstances.

And yes, apparently Bti toxins can kill adult mosquitoes (including Aedes aegypti), not just larvae. Klowden and Bulla 1984 demonstrated it, for example. And yes, Aedes aegypti drinks nectar (and probably fruit juice).

Of course, even if somebody had the incentive to make such a plant, it could take a decade to wade through the red tape involved in getting non-regulated status from governments. So if you want to do something today, leave out containers of sugar water (10%) that is laced with Bti (e.g., Mosquito Dunks, which you can buy online or at hardware stores). Maybe add something floral to attract them, too. (A review of olfactory cues suggests that imitation cherry and apple can work. If you don’t have those sitting around, I’d wager a few drops of jasmine flavoring or rose water would work, and those are easily found at local stores.) Even if the Bti doesn’t immediately kill the adult, adults sucking up a big sugar meal can transfer the bacteria to water where they lay eggs, and thus eventually cause the death of any larvae that develop. Note that bees and ants might get interested in your sugar water, but the Bti is completely harmless to them.

And if you don’t want to use Bti, there are plenty of articles on using sugar baits laced with insecticides (e.g., Qualis et al. 2013, Junilla et al. 2015). They really can work: mosquitoes absolutely love sugar and will drink up poisons in the process. These are great if you don’t want to use crop dusters to destroy all insects in the area.

If you have kids and want to entertain them, add food dyes to the sugar bait and then challenge them to find mosquitoes with bellies full of sugar water. For older kids that might be amused by actual science, use two dyes to test attractiveness of two different volatiles (or different sugars). It’s probably rare to recapture one right after a nectar meal, but when distended they reveal gut contents nicely.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; White-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox) nectaring on goldenrod

FYI, the photograph above is a white-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox), not Aedes aegypti. It doesn’t transmit Zika, but illustrates to the unbelieving that mosquitoes drink nectar. 

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Mountain laurel flowering in December

I stumbled upon a solitary mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) flower yesterday while walking around Lake Mohonk in New Paltz. It isn’t the prettiest mountain laurel flower, but it was DECEMBER 27th, approximately six (!) months before one would expect a mountain laurel flower in this area. This December has been the warmest on record for the area, I think, and Christmas Eve was almost 70 °F (!!). Crazy, and really, really sad. This flower isn’t alone, apparently — the New York Times has a compilation of strange phenology across the country.

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; winter-mountain-laurel

If you’d like to see photographs of prettier mountain laurel at Mohonk, here are photographs I took a few summers ago.

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