Insects from Gambier, Ohio

I spent a few hours over the weekend taking photographs at Kenyon College’s Brown Family Environmental Center in Gambier, Ohio. It was fun to be back in the area — I spent a good chunk of my childhood in Granville, Ohio, about 45 minutes away.

1. Robber fly (Asilidae; probably Dioctria hyalipennis). I watched it for awhile but didn’t see it take prey. Menacing little guy. Love the forked antennae.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Robber fly (Dioctria hyalipennis)

2. Small flies on a milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flower. It was quite the hangout.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Small flies on milkweed flower

3. Milkweed plants (Asclepias syriaca), with a monarch butterfly caterpillar (it’s there). It was the only monarch I could find in the whole field. It didn’t seem to be eating, and I for the life of me I couldn’t find any evidence that it had been eating anywhere on the two milkweeds in the frame. Odd.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Milkweed with monarch caterpillar

4. Helmeted squash bug (Euthochtha galeator), I think, on a milkweed leaf. This is a nymph, of course — adults grow up to look completely different.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Helmeted squash bug (Euthochtha galeator) nymph

5. Wooly aphid caught on a spider web. These were flying all around, so it was nice to have one that was relatively stationary because I didn’t have a tripod with me.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Wooly aphid stuck on spider web

6. Goldenrod gall caused by the midge, Rhopalomyia solidaginis (diptera).

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Goldenrod gall midge (Rhopalomyia solidaginis)

7. Goldenrod gall (with Eurosta solidaginus):

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Goldenrod gall (with Eurosta solidaginus)

8. Grape filbert gall (Schizomyia coryloides) growing on a grape vine (Vitis sp.). The namers of this species thought the gall looked like clusters of filberts (hazelnuts). I found a photograph of filbert fruit if you are curious, like I was. Coryloides is apparently a genus of extinct filbert, by the way. I’ve never seen one of these galls before, so this was a real treat.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Grape filbert gall (schizomyia coryloides)

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Golden-backed snipe fly

This golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) landed in one of my bird baths and drifted around for a few minutes on the surface tension. I’m not positive, but I think I’ve seen them do this in past years, too. I wonder whether they are looking for mosquito larvae, or perhaps adults. These flies have predaceous mouthparts, so they clearly hunt something. Sure wish somebody would PCR the gut contents of these things and let me know. Anyone ever seen them take something down?

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus)

Here’s another one, albeit one with a damaged eye:

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) with dented eye

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Complimentary fumigation during flight to Galápagos Islands

Before arriving in the Galápagos Islands, you get to watch the cabin being fumigated with insecticide. Because the plane is full of Prius owners who listen to NPR, it was fun to watch peoples’ faces as they slowly realized what’s going on. The audio couldn’t pick up everyone’s conversations, but trust me, it was funny. They don’t ask, “Would anyone mind if we sprayed a little insectide right now?” They just start doing it.

I think the prior to the spraying the captain should have cued up a short video on what introduced insects can do to the islands. For example, showing the devastation of Philornis downsi. Then again, people might be eating …

By the way, when you step off the tarmac after the flight you walk over a spongy mat that has even more chemicals, suspended in a soapy liquid, to kill the things that might be hiding in your treads. Pro tip: watch your step after coming off the sponge mat … it’s incredibly slippery, and will make you wonder whether the airport planners have a firm grasp of basic safety protocols.

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Minor victory in my war against yam labeling fraud

In my futile quest to convince people that sweet potatoes shouldn’t be called yams (which are unrelated plants), I discovered that one can actually report vendors who label sweet potatoes as yams. So, for giggles, I reported Giant Foods to the USDA’s Misbranding and Misrepresentation Office. Below is a photograph I took in November of their organic sweet potatoes:

giant-sweet-potato-05 (1)

And now in all of their stores (that I’ve checked), they sell sweet potatoes labeled as sweet potatoes:

Nature's Promise sweet potato at Giant

It might be a small victory, but Giant Foods is giant, so I’m pleased. If you want to know more about my futile war, please see my page on Yams versus Sweet Potatoes. If you want to make your own report, just visit the above USDA site and send the contact person a photograph of the label along with store contact information. They’ll do the rest, and apparently in a persuasive way.

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Vaccinating kids against sugary drink addiction

One out of three kids these days is overweight or obese, and consumption of drinks that have sugar is likely a big part of why, especially because some parents think such drinks are healthy. Sugar drinks also cause tooth decay (I know, big surprise there), and might even cause little kids to be aggressive. So I got to wondering what public schools are actually doing to educate kids about the sugar content of beverages. The answer: not a whole lot, at least from a cursory search of the internet.

So here’s the class activity I think all kindergarten classes should do: construct a poster for the hallway or classroom wall that visually displays how much sugar is hidden in common beverages. Here’s an example:

Sugar in drinksThis project would fit in perfectly with most state standards (for example, see page 10 in Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools). And because it includes numbers (of teaspoons), teachers can use the poster content to visually drive discussions about addition and subtraction. If this poster was done in a fun way, the experience might vaccinate kids against over-consumption of sugary drinks for the remainder of their lives. The parallel to brushing teeth might be appropriate: you teach kids how to do it even though the chemistry of decay is beyond their understanding. If you don’t brush and floss, you’ll lose your teeth. That’s a lesson best taught when really young.

There are lots of ways to make the poster, but what I like about the one above is that water (no sugar) and plain milk (contains lactose … which is a sugar) are included. There should also be a sampling of common juices (apple, orange, e.g.) because they are loaded with sugar. And just for scale, it might be good to show how many teaspoons of sugar are in a typical bag of candy (e.g., Skittles).

Poster titles matter here, just like they do at a scientific meeting, in that they can provide a take-home message. “Rethink your drink” is a popular title (it rhymes), but I prefer something that confronts the point more directly. Here are some ideas: “Don’t drink dessert all day”, “Don’t drink your dessert”, or “Sugary drinks are candy drinks”. If snark is allowed in your district, then something like, “Sugary drinks are a sweet way to gain weight and rot teeth!” The idea is to be direct and memorable and to not shy away from the point: sugary drinks can (and do!) make kids fat.

If you want some background information relevant to lesson plans on sugar for K-3 levels, here are some resources from BrainPOP. If you’re looking for more examples of posters, here’s a Pinterest board where I collect them:

Pinterest board Educating kindergartners about sugary drinks on Pinterest.

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