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.

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)

 

Reinvention

TechGYRLS is the after-school science program that I taught this past semester. The goal is to get young girls interested in STEM-related careers.

TechGYRLS is the after-school science program that I taught this past semester. The goal is to get young girls interested in STEM-related careers.

I volunteered for a TechGYRLS event at the YWCA this weekend and learned about a very cool new non-profit in Green Bay. The idea behind Proto is to encourage kids (or anybody, really) to develop an interest in invention/engineering by creating new things from old things. The Proto people provide old toys, common-place “junk,” and power tools* to help participants design and build their own unique toy (a prototype).

*Only the Proto people are actually allowed to use the power tools, but they do explain how each tool works.

Bits and Pieces of this jumble came together to form a few completely unique creations.

Bits and Pieces of this jumble came together to form a few completely unique creations.

The kids had plenty of fun not only building new things, but also dismantling old items. I learned a lot as well–like what the inside of a football looks like. I also discovered that someone has invented a handheld 3D printer and it’s pretty amazing! I think Proto has a lot of potential and I’m excited to see and participate in more of its programs in the future!

Exploring a New Path

Greetings Beautiful People!

My apologies for the radio-silence–I was distracted by my recent shift from After-School Science Guru to Professional Plant Killer. That’s right! What with school winding down and summer winding up, I decided it was a good time to add “field experience” to my resume. For the next couple of months at least, my official job title is “Invasive Species Aide” which means I go to certain local parks and dispose of plants which do not traditionally grow in Northeast Wisconsin and which crowd out/suffocate native species. Just to prove that I haven’t just been hiding for the last month or so, here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

Caterpillars are EVERYWHERE. Also, most anchor themselves to leaves (or clothing) with some sort of pincer on their back end. This makes shaking them off problematic.

This is Tent Caterpillar represents just one of the species of caterpillars I have come across recently.

This Tent Caterpillar represents just one of the species of caterpillars I have come across recently.

Tent Caterpillars are highly social and work together to build large silk

Tent Caterpillars are highly social and work together to build large silk “tents” in the trees they inhabit.

Once you spend a certain amount of time pulling Garlic Mustard up by the roots, its image will be permanently imprinted on your brain. It’s gotten to the point that I see its outline even when I close my eyes and it has infiltrated my dreams.

Garlic Mustard is my prime opponent at the moment--it crowds out, suffocates, and out-competes native plants like you wouldn't believe!

Garlic Mustard is my prime opponent at the moment–it crowds out, suffocates, and out-competes native plants like you wouldn’t believe!

Periwinkle is not just a random color invented for crayons. It is a plant species (also called “running myrtle”). It also happens to be invasive.

Periwinkle flowers remind me of pinwheels.

Periwinkle flowers remind me of pinwheels.

Periwinkle plants consist of dense leaves that grow close together and very close to the ground. This makes it almost impossible for any other plant to grow alongside it.

Periwinkle plants consist of dense leaves that grow close together and very close to the ground. This makes it almost impossible for any other plant to grow alongside it.

Trilliums can be pink.

I remember seeing lots of white trilliums growing up in Northern Wisconsin, but I'd never come across a pink one before!

I remember seeing lots of white Trilliums growing up in Northern Wisconsin, but I’d never come across a pink one before!

There is a flower called a Trout Lily.

Trout Lilies are spring flowers and are only in bloom in April-May. I was lucky to find a large patch when they were in their prime.

Trout Lilies are spring flowers and only bloom April to May. I was lucky to find a large patch when they were in their prime.

N1 + N2 = YOU

“There is not Nature versus Nurture. Nature versus Nurture is stupid. Really it’s Nature AND Nurture working together,” so said my college genetics professor.  In truth, I hated genetics class—the subject material was so microscopic and complicated that I just couldn’t get my head around it. My professor explained that in high school, we learn just enough about genetics to make us “stupid” regarding the subject.  (She REALLY liked that word.) I passed, in the end, but I swore never again would I take another “microscope class”. The whole Nature + Nurture thing actually made sense to me though. Even after graduation, I’ve thought about it a lot.

Who you are isn't just about DNA.

Who you are isn’t just about DNA.

The way I see it, Nature is a combination of your physical self and your personality. It is the part of you that cannot be controlled. For example, I am 5’2” high. I LITERALLY have a different perspective from someone who is, say 6’2”. When I say “personality,” I mean how you inherently react—like fight or flight. I would describe myself as a “by-the-book rebel,” in other words, I follow the rules, but I strive to do so in my own way. Ella from Ella Enchanted is my hero.  My classmates all thought of me as a goody-two-shoes, but my teachers didn’t see me that way. On my sixth grade report card, my teacher described me as “belligerent” and when on to say I had my “own mind—good and bad thing”. I did have my own mind.  My classmates thought I was a “good girl” because I did my homework and didn’t party. I saw myself as a quiet rebel because I did the exact opposite of everyone else. Even though I’m now in my twenties, that drive to be my own unique self hasn’t gone away.

My definition of Nurture is your environment—the place you live, the people you interact with, the things you read or watch or listen to, the way you spend each day. I grew up in a small tourist town in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Our population would double from June to August when the summer people would relocate to their cabins Up North. For a long time, I was a waitress at a year-round resort. It was through this job that I learned to cut a pineapple, clean a bathroom, properly make a bed, and interact with customers.  I went to college in the small Iowa town where my father grew up. This meant that even though I was technically on my own for the first time, I was actually surrounded by more family than I had left behind. After college, I returned Up North and became an AmeriCorps member for a school on a nearby Ojibwe reservation. I had thought, before my AmeriCorps experience, that I knew about Ojibwe culture. After one day at the school, I realized that I was completely mistaken. This epiphany opened my eyes and allowed me to become an eager learner.

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The place I grew up has a big impact on who I am and who I will become.

Who I am today is not who I was in the sixth grade, or when I graduated high school, or even after I had finally earned my bachelor’s degree. Every single experience I’ve ever had has been filtered through my eyes and my ears, my heart and my soul. Someone with the exact same life experiences as me would not coalesce into the same person I am. I know this because I am the oldest of four children and even though we grew up in the same environment, we are each our own person. Sure we share similarities, but we are not identical. And so, even though I only ever half-understood anything my genetics professor said, I do agree with her that Nature and Nurture are both factors in the “making” of an individual. Moreover, because each day is different and brings with it new experiences, I believe that who we are is constantly changing. I am not exactly who I was yesterday. I am not yet quite who I will be tomorrow. All I can do is experience each day and discover who I will become.

Bring on a new day.

Bring on a new day.