Category Archives: Lost in Science

Sunning

I’ve posted before about sun-dying, but really how could you expect me to move to the desert and not post about such awesomeness? This time around, I decided to make some stellar tote bags instead of t-shirts. Here are a few of the results.

Bubblegum Lattice

Method: Lots and lots of painter’s tape.

Tortoise Tote

Method: Negative transparency, painter’s tape, stencils

Total Baller

Method: 8×11 Label & xacto-knife to create custom sticker stencil and painter’s tape

Flower

Method: 8×11 Label and xacto-knife to create custom sticker stencil and a negative transparency to add depth/texture

I also experimented with a few fabric fragments:

Table Runner

Method: Painting sponges

Found Objects

Method: Placed rocks & dried cholla cactus on previously-dyed (but undeveloped) fabric; the black garbage bag was very important because it prevented the sunlight from developing the white parts during transit.

Advertisements

All the Angles

This photo was taken at the temporary “Playing with Light” exhibit at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, NV.

It was unsettling to see so many different sides and perspectives of myself. All the reflections reminded me of an earlier post called “The Ghostly Self“.

Rare: Cacti

Check out the Matted Cholla Cactus (Grusonia parishii). It also goes by Dead Cactus, Club Cholla, and (my personal favorite) Horse Crippler.

Grusononia in Veg State

This low-growing cactus is a bona fide actual rare plant in California–a 2B.2 (Rare in California, but common elsewhere; moderately threatened in California).

Grusonia parishii

For most of the year, the Horse Crippler looks gray and dead, but in the spring it develops reddish spines and even delicate yellow flowers. I only saw one bloom all summer–that’s rare in my book.

Grusonia parishii Bloom

BLUE CATERPILLAR (2)

As an added bonus, here’s a photo of of a Desert Pincushion Cactus (Coryphantha chlorantha) in bloom. (California Rare Plant Rating 2B.1–Rare in California, but common elsewhere; seriously threatened in California).

Corpyhantha in Bloom

 

The Mysterious Clicking Noise

So there I was,in the heart of the Mojave Desert, minding my own business searching for rare plants. When I heard a sound. At first I tried to convince myself it was just the hum of power lines, but no. It wasn’t a hum–it was more of a click, and it seemed to be emanating from the nearest creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). Actually, now that I was listening for it, I realized that most of the creosote bushes around me clicking away as well. A number of explanations floated through my mind: sentient trees, maybe I’d finally found my way into Narnia, bowtruckles, dehydration?, maybe my field partner was punking me, or it could be an insect.

Occcam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is the most likely, so while I was really hoping for Narnia, I decided to go with the idea of an insect. To test my theory, I picked up a rock and threw it at the bush. I expected a grasshopper or something to hop away and that would be that. However, rather than silencing the creosote or scaring away an insect, my actions caused a renewed volley of even louder clicks. Great, just great–I made it angry.

Fascinated, I grabbed another rock. A little further experimentation confirmed that the initial result held true for the bushes in the immediate surrounding area. At that point, my field partner Kate found me accosting the local flora and demanded an explanation. Without any further details to go on, we did what any self-respecting millennial would do–we Googled it.

According to Google, the most likely sources of the mysterious clicking were Desert Clicker grasshoppers (Ligurotettix coquilletti). Apparently, a male Clicker will likely spend most of its adult life on a single creosote bush. They are extremely territorial for both feeding and mating purposes–the word on the web is that shrubs are more desirable if they have a lower concentration of the protective phenolic compound nordihydroguaiaretic acid. (I guess the leaves taste better.) That explains why, rather than scaring the grasshopper away, a rock to the bush incited verbal reckoning.

I guess I learned my lesson!

**In reference to the title: Remember the Harry Potter Puppet Pals?

 

Asclepias albicans

Milkweeds in the Mojave

Think of a milkweed.

Rush Milkweed

This is rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata).

 

Good. Now think of an insect that depends on milkweed.

Curious Milkweed

Can you name an insect that relies on milkweed plants?

 

What did you think of?

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on a rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata).

 

That’s what I thought. Don’t be ashamed, I think of monarchs and milkweeds, too. The thing is, though, many other insects also have a close relationship with members of the asclepias family. Let’s take a look at some of them.

 

We’ll start with milkweed bugs. Milkweed bugs come in two flavors: large and small.

Small Milkweed Bug

Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus sp) on a desert milkweed (Asclepias erosa).

 

The small milkweed bug (Lygaeus sp) is (you guessed it!) slightly smaller than the large one. It also displays a red X on its back as well as two small white dots.

 

Large Milkweed Bug

Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus sp)

From what I can tell, the large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus sp) tend to be a littler more orange. Their markings also look like three large black horizontal bands rather than an X.

Both large and small milkweed bug larva eat milkweed seeds.

Milkweed bugs are in the order Hemiptera, meaning they are “true bugs”. I spotted another hemiptera chilling on a nearby milkweed, but that’s as far as I got in that identification game. Any ideas?

Hemiptera

Some sort of hemiptera.

 

There were also a ton of tarantula hawk wasps (Pepsis or Hemipepsis sp) buzzing around.

Tarantula Hawk Wasp 1

Tarantula Hawk Wasps are up to 2 inches long with blue-black bodies and bright rust-colored wings.

 

Tarantula hawk wasps are so named because when it is time to reproduce, the female will sting a tarantula (permanently paralyzing it) and drag in into a pre-made brooding nest. The female wasp will then lay its egg(s) on the tarantula, I won’t go into the gory details here, but in case you’re feeling curious, here’s a video of a wasp in action.  Only the females hunt tarantulas, though, and only for reproduction. The adults feed off the nectar and flowers of milkweeds.

Tarantula Hawk Wasps 2

The tarantula hawk wasps were totally loving all the desert milkweed (Asclepias erosa)!

 

 

There were quite a few more insects buzzing around the milkweeds, but I haven’t gotten around to identifying them all. In case you’re curious about insect identification, here are a couple of resources.

 

So, moral of the blog post: milkweeds are important to lots of insects. Let it be known.

So Many Insects!

A plethora of insect species depend on milkweeds (Asclepias sp) for survival.]

It’s Not So Bad Living in a Desert

Greetings from Needles, California, home of Snoopy’s brother Spike.

Needles Billboard

Spike the Beagle

Peanuts comics that feature Needles and/or Spike.

It is also home to the BLM office where I will be interning for the next five months. As it turns out, Needles did NOT get its name because of all the cacti. It doesn’t have anything to do with knitting or sewing either.  The “Needles” are two mountain peaks that stick out a little funny.

The Heart of the Mojave

The Needles BLM Field Office encompasses roughly 2.2 million acres of the Mojave Desert.

You may be wondering, “What does a botany intern do?” The short answer is: Stuff. The more accurate answer is: collect seed from wild plants, hike up extinct volcanoes, eat lunch at the summit of extinct volcanoes, collect plant tissue samples, hang out with tortoises, identify and monitor sensitive, rare, and invasive plant populations, plot data point on GIS maps, and drive all over the field office. (The field office is roughly 2.2 million acres of desert.) I also learned how to change a tire!

Turtle Mountains

Hiking in the Turtle Mountains.

Slowpoke

Slowpoke the Desert Tortoise live at the office with her friends Bob and Glitterface.

I always thought of deserts as kind of empty and desolate, but the truth is that there’s lots of life in the desert—it’s just very different from what one might find in the Upper Midwest. Here are a few examples:

Wild Chia

Wild Chia

My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades

Hello, Beautiful People!

My apologies for the 6 month hiatus. I haven’t gotten around to typing much since I discovered the connection between Emily Dickinson and Harry Potter. I could give you a detailed account of my life in that time, but I think I’ll just go with, “I bagged a lot of groceries,” and leave it at that.

Now, though, I’m foreseeing LOTS of new blog posts because (drum roll, please ./././././././)

I’m going to spend the next 5 months as a botany intern in the Mojave Desert! That means new sights to see, a new ecosystem to learn about, new plant species to identify, and lots of new roads to get lost on! Oh, and I start on Monday.

IMG_20160309_212115494

My mom and I left the house at 7AM. One day down, two to go before we reach Needles, CA!

I set off from Phelps, WI this morning with my mother at 7AM. We drove for most of the day and ended up in Des Moines, IA. According to Google, we only need 24 more hours of straight driving time before we make it to our end goal of Needles, CA by Friday evening!

IMG_20160309_212209026

Rounding out our merry band is my Aunt Glenda who agreed to move me halfway across the country!

The plan for tomorrow is to drive for 13 hours! I’ll hopefully report back then!

JOURNEY TO THE MOJAVE DESERT–DAY 1

HOURS DRIVEN: 9

MILES DRIVEN:507

STATES VISITED: 3 (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa)