I am an Entomologist

In my last post (Best of BitB 2011), I showed my favorite 13 insect (mostly) macrophotographs from 2011. Such “Best of …” posts have become an annual tradition here at BitB, and I like them because they give me a chance to review my photographs for the year and assess my progress as an insect macrophotographer. Others seem to like them also, as previous editions remain among this blog’s most popular posts despite the passage of time. Hopefully this latest edition will achieve similar popularity, and if it does I will be truly grateful.

Despite this, however, I find that I still have trouble considering myself a true “insect macrophotographer” rather than an “entomologist with a camera.” It’s not that I don’t want or hope to achieve such a moniker, and I’ve been thinking lately about why this should the case. I’ve realized that it really has less to do with self-opinion and more to do with the importance I still place on and satisfaction I get out of my other entomological pursuits. Not only have I been fortunate to find stable employment conducting entomology research, but I’ve also managed to find satisfying outlets for my avocational entomological interests. I am an Entomologist (with a capital ‘E’), and although I’ve enjoyed immensely my recent growth as an insect macrophotographer, I did have other other, purely entomological accomplishments in 2011 that I think also deserve mention:

  • Managing Editor of The Pan-Pacific Entomologist. It has been my life-long goal to become editor of a major entomology journal, and this past April I was presented with just such an opportunity with The Pan-Pacific EntomologistMy seven prior years as the journal’s Coleoptera Subject Editor prepared me well for the role (and further confirmed for me that the chief role was something I wanted to do), and in the seven months since I took over, the Editorial Board and I have processed 50 manuscripts, are about to submit files for our 4th issue, and have shaved more than two months off of the deficit that separates us from our eventual goal of on-schedule publishing.
  • Five papers published. With co-authors Chris Brown and Kent Fothergill, 2011 saw the publication of our series of papers assessing the conservation status of the tiger beetles Habroscelimorpha circumpicta johnsonii, Dromochorus pruinina, Tetracha carolina, and Cylindera cursitans in Missouri and Cylindera celeripes in the eastern Great Plains. Survey work for these species dominated my field activities during the past decade and formed the basis for these papers, and it was immensely satisfying to finally see the results of all that work finally appear in print. The real impact of this work, however, will be seen in the coming years as I work with conservation stakeholders who will utilize the information that we have gathered.
  • First seminar presented fully in Spanish. I don’t talk much about my professional activities—part of being an industry entomologist is the necessity to maintain company confidentiality. I have mentioned, however, my role in soybean entomology research and my recent travels to Argentina as part of this work. In November I finally realized one of my professional goals of giving a seminar fully in Spanish. It was a long time coming—I took Spanish lessons for a short time in the late 1990s but have otherwise had only one or two trips per year to Argentina and Mexico with which to improve my skills. It was during my trip to Argentina this past March that something finally ‘clicked’ and I found myself for the first time able to engage fully in conversation. My colleagues in Argentina must have noticed this as well, as it was they who requested that I not only give a seminar during my November visit, but that I do so in Spanish. The presentation went well, and I now find myself more motivated than ever to pursue what before seemed only a pipe dream—full fluency.
  • Senior Research Entomologist. After three decades of working as an entomologist—the last two in industry, I now can add “Senior” to my title. What this means in practice I’m not quite sure—I’m still doing largely what I have been doing for the past few years, and in this environment compensation is linked more to accomplishments than title. Maybe it’s just recognition of dogged persistence. Still, it sounds cool and looks good in the email signature line!
  • 32 species/subspecies of tiger beetles! This is the fun stuff! Nothing is more enjoyable for me than locating, observing, and photographing tiger beetles in their native habitats. It’s even better when they are uncommonly observed or rare endemic species. In 2011 I looked for tiger beetles in seven states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah), and of the 32 total species and subspecies that I found (listed below) the highlights must include three of North America’s rarest tiger beetle species: Cicindela albissima (Coral Pink Sand Dune Tiger Beetle), Cicindela arenicola (St. Anthony Dune Tiger Beetle), and the recently rediscovered Cicindelidia floridana (Miami Tiger Beetle).  Another eight endemic or highly restricted species and subspecies were also found, and I was able to obtain in situ photographs of all eleven in their native habitat (as well as most of the non-endemics that I had not already photographed). In the list that follows, bold text indicates endemics, and links to any photographs I posted are provided when available:
    • Genus Cicindela
      • Cicindela albissima Rumpp, 1962 [photos]
      • Cicindela arenicola Rumpp, 1967 [photos]
      • Cicindela formosa formosa Say, 1817
      • Cicindela formosa generosa Dejean, 1831 [photos]
      • Cicindela formosa gibsoni Brown, 1940 [photos]
      • Cicindela lengi lengi W. Horn, 1908
      • Cicindela purpurea audubonii LeConte, 1845
      • Cicindela scutellaris scutellaris Say, 1823
      • Cicindela scutellaris yampae Rumpp, 1986 [photos]
      • Cicindela sexguttata Fabricius, 1775
      • Cicindela splendida Hentz, 1830
      • Cicindela theatina Rotger, 1944 [photos pending]
      • Cicindela tranquebarica borealis E. D. Harris, 1911
      • Cicindela tranquebarica kirbyi LeConte, 1866
      • Cicindela tranquebarica tranquebarica Herbst, 1806 [photos]
    • Genus Cicindelidia
      • Cicindelidia floridana (Cartwright, 1939) [photos]
      • Cicindelidia haemorrhagica haemorrhagica (LeConte, 1851)
      • Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (LeConte, 1853) [photos pending]
      • Cicindelidia punctulata punctulata (Olivier, 1790)
      • Cicindelidia rufiventris rufiventris (Dejean, 1825)
      • Cicindelidia scabrosa (Schaupp, 1884) [photos]
    • Genus Cylindera
      • Cylindera (Cylindera) curistans (LeConte, 1860) [photos]
      • Cylindera (Cylindera) unipunctata (Fabricius, 1775) [photos]
    • Genus Ellipsoptera
      • Ellipsoptera hamata lacerata (Chaudoir, 1854) [photos, photos, photos, photos]
      • Ellipsoptera hirtilabris (LeConte, 1875)
      • Ellipsoptera marginata (Fabricius, 1775)
    • Genus Habroscelimorpha
      • Habroscelimorpha dorsalis saulcyi (Guérin-Méneville, 1840)
      • Habroscelimorpha severa severa (LaFerté-Sénectère, 1841)
      • Habroscelimorpha striga (LeConte, 1875) [photos]
    • Genus Tetracha
      • Tetracha (Tetrachacarolina carolina (Linnaeus, 1767) [photos]
      • Tetracha (Tetrachafloridana Leng & Mutchler, 1916 [photos, photos]
      • Tetracha (Tetrachavirginica (Linnaeus, 1767)

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

21 thoughts on “I am an Entomologist

  1. I really like this entry, Ted. It’s important to take pride in what you do and what you’ve done to get to where you currently are today. One of the joys of having access to so many different technologies is that most of us are professionally broader in our interests, our communications, and our impact than those who worked within our same disciplines a generation ago.

    I think it’s much easier now for so many of us to form our own, often unique, professional niche after a decade or so of career establishment.

    You are an Entomologist, but you are also a Writer, a Macrophotographer and a Public Relations Specialist too, as is clearly evidenced by your blog audience, all who come back again and again for a variety of different reasons.

    Keep on researching and traveling and writing and pursuing whatever interests you at the moment. We all enjoy accompanying you on your journey!

    • You comments are greatly appreciated. I would say I do several things pretty well. However, Ed Yong is a Writer, Alex Wild is a Macrophotographer, and Bug Girl is a Public Relations Specialist. That doesn’t bother me, it inspires me to keep at it.

  2. I am an Electrician with a capital ‘E’, but what that allows me to do is pursue and hone my naturalist avocations with a growing emphasis on entomology. Blogs like this (and several others) offer encouragement and enlightenment to those of us who proudly wear the banner of amateur citizen scientist.

    Over forty years ago, I won a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair for my 4-H insect collection. A few years later, I took only one college-level entomology course — the most notable aspect being that I was in the same class as the famous Olympic gold medalist wrestler, Dan Gable.

    So much has changed since then. I can remember the hours I spent out on the farm as a youth struggling to identify collected insects with a paucity of reference material. Now, one can simply post a photo online and receive not only an ID, but also additional reference material detailing the various stages of the life cycle, diet, preferred habitat, and links to additional sources of information and fascination.

    For the most part, that information received online today has not changed during the forty-years since my youth. What has dramatically changed is ease of access. I find it truly amazing that a humble clod-kicker (like me) from Dirt Ranch, Iowa, now has obliging access to six-legged enlightenment. What a joy! During my working hours, I guide electrons to their proper destination. During my hours of avocation, I let the electrons enlighten me with “mental snacks” from online sources such as this blog.

    Thanks, Ted.

    Dan Mays
    Walcott, Iowa

    • What a great comment. Yes, things have changed much since I had only my Golden Guide to Insects to help me identify the insects I found in the abandoned urban lot across the street from my boyhood home. I love hearing from people who feel as passionate about entomology as I do and am humbled to know that I play a small part.

  3. Well, it is much easier for me to consider myself ‘not an insect macrophotographer’. May be I could find a best 3 of 2011, but it would require considerable self-indulgence. I know I could improve my macrophotography (and could certainly get a better camera and flash), but I wonder if that would be the best use of my limited time in the field.

    This feeling was brought home to me last Canada Day weekend when I was wandering through some moose-grazed scrub and happened across a small cherry with a twisted new shoot covered with honeydew, black aphids, and some guarding ants. Ants and aphids are not an uncommon sight, but in the digital age conservation of pixels isn’t a virtue, so I stopped to snap a token interaction. Once I’d stopped to look, though, I realized the interaction was far more diverse and interesting than I supposed: at least three other species of insects were interacting – several tiny (< 2 mm) black flies fluttered about and two kinds of small (< 1 cm) black crabronid wasps zipped in and out faster than the ants could react. Should I try to get pictures with my point-and-shoot or spend my time watching with close-focus binoculars and then collect some specimens?

    My delusions of a good blog post won out and I spent 15 minutes taking blurry pictures and scaring off most of the tending ants. Finally, I realized that if I wanted to learn anything further about what was going on, I'd have to capture some of the participants. These turned out to be Pemphredon inornata – a wasp that hunts aphids; Trypoxylon frigidum a wasp that hunts spiders (!), Neophyllomyza quadricornis, a kind of free-loader fly (Milichiidae), a carpenter ant (Camponotus sp.), and probably black cherry aphids (but I don't have any keys to aphids).

    What was going on? Well, since I spent the time not taking good photos, I didn't actually get to see much of interest, but the honeydew seemed to be the main attraction and P. inornata was also taking aphids. The most interesting thing was how ineffectual the ants were at stopping the wasps: the wasps were in and out before the ants could do more than orient towards them. These unstructured observations raised so many interesting questions – none of which I had even started to answer. If I had to do it all over again, I would have spent the time watching and taking notes. But if instead of blurs, I had gotten that one great picture (say a P. inornata with an aphid flying under the antennae of the ant) …

    • Classic conflict between documenting what’s happening versus seeing what’s really happening. I don’t encounter this dilemma too often with tiger beetles, as the photography actually has forced a reduction of my former singular focus on collecting them and and an increase in the amount of time I spend observing and learning their charming, charismatic behaviors.

      I would love to see that one great picture you envisioned!

  4. Good on you, mate! (Not sure why I’m feeling austral today, but there you have it.) Great stuff, and regarding the seminar in Spanish part: For Midwestern Americans (I think the most unilingual population in the world – Does anyone have stats on this?) like us, that is perhaps the greatest accomplisment.

  5. You’re an inspiration in multi-tasking, and we don’t even get to hear about the job that pays the bills! Hopefully one of these days I can tempt you into a trip to California to hunt Omus or some lovely species of Cicindela.

      • I have eight distinct taxa in my region (possibly more). Cazier recognized three, possibly four taxa. Those from the Inner Coast Range are most abundant in April. The Sierra Nevada species are available from May through July depending on elevation. A May trip might give you a shot at the greatest diversity. The montane species emerge a soon as the snow melts and the low elevation things may still be around. Pit falls placed in good areas prior to your arrival would greatly improve the chances for success. 😉

        • I’m pretty sure this May is out because I’ve already got lots of travel scheduled Feb-Apr, but I’ll tuck this tidbit in the back pocket and let you know when it might be possible.

  6. Great achievements, congratulations. By the way, you also were quite instrumental in getting my blog writing started, and I’m happy to say that I sometimes forget that I am writing in a language different from my own (I guess my readers can’t ignore it, but they politely tolerate my blunders). I always enjoy new chapters of your blog and I miss the beetle carnival that died just when I was working on my courage to host it for a month. Keep writing and stop by my blog sometimes – there will be more bug chapters soon.

    • Thanks Margarethe – I had no idea but am honored to know I played a part. That you are able to do this in a second language gives me greater motivation to continue my own 2nd language progress. Maybe someday I can start “Escarabajos en el Arbusto” (except “bush” as a double entendre doesn’t translate very well)!

  7. I was reading through your Holiday Season post and then went back to this one to read again. I am amazed by your output: You are a family man, you work full time, editor of a journal, regular (and great!) blogger and macro-photographer; learning a new language, regularly publishing papers, identifying 2171 beetles, cycling like a demon…

    As amazing as bugs are, I think I am finding that entomologists themselves are becoming increasingly fascinating! Entomologists like yourself, Dave (in comment above), Alex and many others, have been inspiring and helpful: not just good scientists but good people. And when sometimes feeling inept in my own work, the fascination of bugs and the inspiration of entomologists like yourself, who manage to still find time to reach out to the public, keep me going. You keep me inspired to continue on, and have probably saved me from being a couch-potato watching endless ‘Life in the Undergrowth’ reruns…

    Thanks, Entomologist with a capital ‘E’!

    • Gee – thanks! I don’t know, it’s not really nervous energy – I think I’ve just gotten myself involved in so many interests that I really can’t sit still.

      Anyway, I’ve always thought entomologists (professional or avocational) were a pretty cool lot! I knew this right away when I decided on Ento as a career as an undergrad and started hanging out with the grad students (good times!). There are a few wierd birds, but the common passion makes even them somewhat adorable.

      I’m really glad you’ve become part of the circle.


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