Critters, and berries, and trees! (Oh, my!)

Several of my favorite blog carnivals have posted new issues this week – should make for some good reading over the weekend. If you’ve not yet had the chance to explore these carnivals, they are a nice way to find blogs of interest that you may not otherwise encounter. If you have, then you know the quality and diversity of their contributions make them an easy way to catch up on the latest thinking in their respective subjects. Head on over and explore the links – and as always, don’t forget to tip the waiter!

Circus of the Spineless #51 is up at Deep-Sea News.  Against the backdrop of the sickening and ongoing debacle in the Gulf Coast, Kevin Zelnio reminds us that it is not just fish, birds, and dolphins that are/will be suffering for a long time to come, but the unsung invertebrates as well. (Personal opinion – somebody better go to prison over this!). It is in this context that 19 contributions are presented, spanning 4 phyla and 3 arthropod classes. Insects, as always, are well represented (for my part, I temporarily set aside my beetle-myopia to promote a new ant paradigm).

Berry Go Round #28, titled “The best of the best in plant biology, conservation, photography, and evolution”, can be found at Greg Laden’s Blog. It’s nice to see heavy-hitter Greg giving some much needed support to this delightful blog carnival – not just by providing a well-organized collection of links to recent blog posts about plants, but also in discussing the value of blog carnivals – regardless of their size – and ways to make them more useful. I especially like this suggestion:

And, if you are engaged in social networking in any way (Facebook, Twitter, Whatever) please send this carnival out on that network, and at least a selection of the blogs linked herein.

I haven’t featured this blog carnival in awhile, but Casey has posted a fine Festival of the Trees #48 at Wandering Owl Outside. Liberally sprinkled with his own tree photographs, Casey presents an issue focused on the uses of trees – both by wildlife and, most interestingly, by the indigenous cultures of North America.  Another intriguing post shows the current state of worldwide deforestation – “the numbers are UGLY!”

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae

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March Carnivalia

It’s a new month, and that means a new crop of blog carnival issues. I have my favorites that I follow, and since I’m not hosting anything this month (for once!) I thought I’d give you my take on these newest editions.

Circus of the Spineless is the undisputed king of invertebrate blog carnivals as it approaches its semi-centennial issue, and Matt Sarver at The Modern Naturalist introduces each contribution in Circus of the Spineless 48: Cabinet of Curiosity with a quote or image dusted off from the cabinet of scientific curiosity. Book lungs, honey pots, crusty love, hairstreaks, hot tigers (beetles, that is!), giant snails, monarchs, caterpillars, and shocked crayfish top the bill this month.

…botanical carnivals are like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get, but it’s bound to be delicious!

I have a fond spot in my heart for Berry Go Round, as it was the first blog carnival that I ever hosted. This month, Sally White at Foothills Fancies offers a delicious assortment of botanical treats with Valentines for Plant Lovers (BGR #25). My favorite are the white orchids (of course), but the stunning Arisaema photographs and two very interesting fossil plant posts also piqued my interest.

I don’t have a contribution of my own in this month’s Festival of the Trees, but I promote it anyway because it always offers such an exquisite blend of botanical learnings and passionate, almost spiritual writing. Trees evoke something deep in the human psyche, and this reverance is on full display in the quotes used by Jeremy at The Voltage Gate to introduce the posts in Festival of the Trees #45: Voice. Don’t believe it? How about this teaser?

If you were living just across and if I were a tree
In that yard,
I’d delight you with fruit,
I’ll be watered with your glimpse,
just look at me in ardor,
I’d bear the sweetest fruit for you.

…or this one?

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be tree-bereft, or tree-oblivious. I’m sure I’ve not been as open-hearted as I could be with trees, but I’m learning, and they are great teachers.

I’ve often considered Carnival of Evolution to be the most erudite of the blog carnivals that I follow, and Carnival of Evolution #21: The Superstar Edition by Kelsey at Mauka to Makai proves it. Eight of the issue’s contributors are finalists for Research Blogging Awards and one is an award-winning journalist. See what some of the best science bloggers have to say about biology’s biggest superstar (Darwin, of course) and all manner of terminal branches on his tree of life – from bacteria to fish to birds to mammals. I’ll be trying my own hand at the cerebral challenge of hosting this carnival’s next edition on or about April 1st – it would appear I have a tough act to follow.

Don’t forget – An Inordinate Fondness (my favorite carnival!) will make its first journey away from the homesite this month, with issue #2 to be hosted by Amber Coakley at Birder’s Lounge.  Submissions are due by March 15.  Issue #4 of House of Herps is also scheduled for mid-March but apparently still needs a host.  If you’ve never hosted a blog carnival before, why not give this one a try (every blog carnival host was once a newbie)?  If you have hosted a carnival before, you already know how to do it – why not help?  Submissions for this one are also due by March 15, and you can send them to the home site.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Sunday Matinée: Buzzed Creep Cockroaches

Credit goes to dreptungeek from Romania for finding this.

In other news, the New Year has brought with it a plethora of natural history-focused blog carnivals, including several of my favorites:

  • Circus of the Spineless #46 is up at Kate’s Adventures of a Free Range Urban Primate.  A fine selection of invertebrate posts is featured, including tool-using octopi, deep-sea pelagics, tiny isopods, lotsa bugs (real and colloquial), and, of course, one really impressive fly!  I’ll be hosting the next issue right here at BitB—send me an email with a link to your submission by January 30 if you’d like to participate.
  • Jason Hogle at xenogere has followed up his first blog carnival hosting effort (I and the Bird #115) with the equally impressive Festival of the Trees #43: The Celebration Tree Grove.  Jason deftly weaves the submitted posts into a celebration of trees as providers of sustenance, beacons of spirituality, and victims of our own shortsightedness.  I, sadly, had nothing to contribute to this issue, but I guarantee you will be mesmerized by its meandering passages.
  • The natural history feast continues with Carnival of Evolution #19 at Christie Lynn’s Observations of a Nerd.  Evolutionary tales run the gamut, from tiny orchids to giant caterpillars to really big-headed tiger beetles.  Go take a look.
  • Jeremy at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog has been on holiday break, but he should be back any day with the 23rd issue of Berry Go Round.  I know for a fact that a stunning terrestrial native orchid will be featured, and I look forward to seeing what other botanical treasures he will have included in this issue.

A final note—don’t forget to check back here on or about January 18 for House of Herps #2 (yes, I’m hosting two blog carnivals this month!).  Send your submissions to House of Herps or directly to me by January 15 if you wish to get in on this new carnival.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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CotS #45

Circus of the Spineless #45 is up.

Go to Greg Laden’s Blog and read about scale insects, exotic pests, spiders, more spiders, more more spiders, millipedes, more more more spiders, the world’s most astoundingly beautiful lacewing (one of the Iberian spoonwings), cricket neurons, mosquito sensillae, “not real” katydids, cave crickets, gross flies, ants that love corn chips, moths that love their vegetables, extinct insects, Jamaican leps, a spider wannabe, jingle shells (breaking this issue’s arthropod stranglehold), pet worms, missing mussels…

…and (my favorite)… one seriously fearsome looking baby beetle!  Take a look and leave a comment! 

For the botanically inclined, Berry Go Round #22 is up at Seeds Aside.  I had a whale of a time hosting this carnival last month, so let’s show it a little love.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Berry Go Round #21

Berry Go Round copyWelcome to Berry Go Round issue #21.  As a first time host of this – or any – blog carnival, I can tell you that it has not only been more work than I could have imagined, but also a lot more fun!  I’ve read, learned, and marveled at the diversity of knowledge presented by the posts that make up this issue – in all, 25 contributions from 15 blogs by 14 authors who know an awful lot more about plants than I do.  Read my summaries first, or jump straight to the posts, but please visit as many as you can. They will be worth the time spent!  If you’ve not visited Beetles in the Bush before now, I hope you’ll also take a moment to browse its Contents to see what might be of interest.

First things first, however.  Berry Go Round needs a badge!  The small badge you see at the beginning of this post is something I made to put in my sidebar using the masthead and title from the BGR website – not a real badge like the ones you find at Circus of the Spineless, Festival of the Trees and Carnival of Evolution.  If you’re artistically inclined and would like to contribute to the growth of BGR, please leave a comment and contact information – we could use your help!  Now – on with the show.

hyphae5Alex at Watching the World Wake Up gets us started with a trilogy of posts as diverse as his interests.  In this fungus¹ post, Alex makes the improbable connection between fungi and The Force (yes, a reference to Star Wars).  Read it, and you will be a believer, too.  I especially enjoyed his post on the search for a rare hybrid oak, not only for the thrill of seeing a probable 4,000-7,000 year old F1 hybrid clone, but also for the most awesome tangent on spiders that any non-entomologist has ever written.  In his post on tumbleweeds, he reminds us that these icons of the west are actually an exotic introduction from Eurasia and recounts the mechanisms by which these ubiquitous plants took over the western U.S.

¹ TANGENT.  Okay I know fungi aren’t really plants, nor are they animals – they’re kinda both and neither.  Botanists, however, appear to have accomodated fungi in their realm of study², I guess because they basically look like plants.  This is much the same situation as entomologists and spiders – the latter not being insects, but sort of looking like them and giving lay folk the same creepy crawly impression.

² NESTED TANGENT.  Despite crossing Kingdom boundaries, the placement of fungi within the botanical realm doesn’t come close to matching the taxonomic disparities that plant pathologists must accept, who despite the microorganismal connotation of the term plant disease have had to accomodate organisms crossing not only Kingdom but also karyotic boundaries – with all three eukaryotic Kingdoms (plants, animals, and fungi) being causal agents in addition to the prokaryotic bacteria³ and the hard-to-even-consider-as-a-life-form viruses.

³ NESTED, NESTED TANGENT4.  I’ve no doubt given short shrift to modern Kingdom-level concepts regarding prokaryotes – I know there are “regular” bacteria and the terribly misnomered blue-green algae, but this entomologist who sometimes masquerades as a general biologist quickly became confused when he found references listing as many as 13 prokaryotic Kingdoms.

4 NESTED, NESTED, NESTED TANGENT. Alex is the undisputed king of the nested tangent, and I hope he forgives me for taking his idea to such level of absurdity!

Genalg1On the other side of the Rocky Mountains, Sally at Foothills Fancies highlights color in alpine tundra – it is amazing how much color can be seen in a high-country fall!  She follows up on that post with another highlighting fall tundra wildflowers, including the spectacular Arctic Gentian (Gentiana algida to most of us, Gentianodes algida if Dr. William Weber has his way).  She also focuses on the less conspicuous “flora” of the tundra – cryptogams – and how seemingly “bare” ground in the tundra is actually thick with lichens and mosses.  Most tundra cryptograms represent species not seen in the lower 48 states except at very high altitudes.

3973291903_8fce836aacLaurent at Seeds Aside submitted a quadrilogy (is that a word?) of posts covering Blogger Bio Blitz 2009.  To start the series, Laurent thinks outside the box by presenting a sampling of old French cultivated potato varieties, then does more conventional bioblitzing in a hedged farmland area in French Brittany (noting a possible case of spider kleptoparasitism along the way) and near the Couesnon river, next to Mézière sur Couesnon.  Seeing and reading these botanical/entomological accounts in France brought back memories of my own visit to the country in 2007.  As I write this piece, I can almost hear the droning buzz of cigales in the dry coastal Mediterranean pine forests.

TrabutJeremy contributes this piece on the history of agriculture at Vaviblog, where he writes about Dr. Louis Trabut – one of many agricultural explorers who searched the North African colony of Algeria in search of plants for introduction into the southwestern United States.  He notes that Algerian agriculture was carried out almost exclusively by the indigenous Berbers for more than a thousand years, resulting in the development and propagation of myriad races of the grape, fig, olive, apricot, and walnut grown in the region today. Jeremy thinks it would be terrific if his post smokes out any information about the history of dates (the plant) in California.

Jeremy is also an author at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog and submitted this post about plant breeding in relation to climate change (raising a fair few comments).  He also notes that the addition of agricultural statistics to the astonishing and wonderful GapMinder deserves celebration and wonders if there some other botanical datasets that might be interesting.  db091001Quick to remind us that he’s not all history and no humor, Jeremy puts together (at “great personal expense”) a series of Doonesbury comic strips at his other blog, Another Blasted Blog.  Doonesbury fans, having surely already seen these, will chuckle once again.  Gardener’s who don’t follow Doonesbury will still appreciate their humor.  Doonesbury fans who are also gardeners will guffaw!

At Denim and Tweed, Jeremy Yoder notes the obvious benefits of synchronized mast seed production as an adaptation in the plants’ coevolution with seed predators, but the not so obvious mechanisms by which this occurs.  He reviews a paper in the latest issue of Ecology Letters that has an answer — synchronization happens accidentally.  I won’t spoil the details of the research and how they reached their conclusion, as Jeremy has done a much finer job of that than I ever could (I study beetles, remember?), but the interaction of resource and pollen limitations is a clue to the answer.

chrysanthFor the pedants among us (count me in!), The Phytophactor has been running a series on plants whose generic names are the common names everyone knows. Here is lesson 4: can you say chrysanthemumum?  This genus has suffered a bit of a decline at the hand of taxonomists in recent years, falling from a burgeoning 300-400 species that used to be in the genus to a pitiful two (not a typo!).  Phytophactor also visited the Great Pumpkin Patch and reports – you won’t believe the cucurbitaceous rainbow he saw! 


Photo by memotion (

Elizabeth Hargrave at The Natural Capital submitted this post on wild grapes.  Native grapes may be smaller and not as sweet as the giant Chilean juice balls found in modern grocery stores. Still, harvesting native species from the wild has its charms – as long as you’re familiar with the several non-edible and sometimes poisonous look-alikes.  If wild harvest isn’t your thing, she also offers some tips for cultivating wild grapes (which is actually much easier than with most cultivated varieties).

myconetThe EEB & flow offers a review of a scientific paper discussing mycorrhizal networks – fungal mycelium that colonize and connect roots of one or more plant species.  Whis this is one of the most intriguing types of fungal-plant associations, even more interesting is its continuation of “The Force” idea brought up in Alex’s fungus post – i.e., evidence of substantial facilitation between plant individuals via these fungal networks (i.e., plants tend to grow better if they are associated with a network).  This is in opposition to the long-held belief that competition, herbivory and dispersal are the main drivers of plant community associations.  They also reviewed a recent paper on the impact of exotic plants on plant-pollinator systems, finding a high overall abundance of exotics in many plant communities but a relative lack of substantial changes in network connectedness.

Fungi continue to muscle in on this carnival of plants, being the subject of a post by Chris Taylor at Castanea dentataCatalogue of Organisms on Diaporthales fungi  that cause disease in trees.  Among the most famous of these to North American readers is Cryphonectria parasitica, the cause of chestnut blight and famed as the bane of the American chestnut, Castanea dentata. However, other trees such as butternut, dogwood, and even non-arboreous woody plants such as grape also have their own pathogenic associates.

PA081120Justin Thomas is one of several erudite botanists behind Get Your Botany On! In this post, Justin discusses Pteris multifida, an exotic fern that he found in Hot Springs National Park while conducting an invasive species survey.  Sadly, this is symptomatic of the Hot Springs area in general, where habitat alteration and rapidly colonizing invasive species have left little room or hope for naturally functioning ecosystems.  Another of the blog’s authors, Keith, quotes with enthusiasm from “Of Woods and Other Things” (Beech Leaf Press, Kalamazoo, 1996), by renowned Indiana Dunes region naturalist Emma “Bickie” Pitcher.  One that caught my eye was “…pale satiny yellow breasts and dark velvety smudges around eyes are apparent.”

20091010-007 Caladenia concolorTim Entwisle at Talking Plants discusses the gorgeous blood orchid, Caladenia concolor.  This endangered Australian species grows sporadically around Victoria and into southern New South Wales.  Apparently some populations consist of only a handful of individuals, and weeds and passing foot damage are probably their biggest threats.  Hopefully Tim and his colleagues will succeed in their efforts to save this stunning species.

herbarius_latinusMary Farmer at A Neotropical Savanna sent me this note, writing “I don’t know how many readers of BGR use the Biodiversity Heritage Library, or know of it, but it is (to me) an extremely valuable resource and they have their own blog (which you no doubt know of) called News and Updates from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This week’s feature, the oldest book in the BHL, Herbarius latinus, is a ‘…Pre-Linnean text [that] describes 150 plants and 96 medicines commonly found in apothecaries, and each plant description is accompanied by a detailed woodcut.'”  How I adore old botanical scribes – thanks, Mary!


Dover photo

For literature along more whimsical lines, NellJean of Secrets of a Seed Scatterer presents an herbalist’s view of tea with Peter Rabbit and its mentions of Camomile Tea and Rabbit Tobacco.  Apparently smoking rabbit tobacco is done only by little boys in the south, but cut stalks, bundled and dried, can impart a pleasingly aromatic and resinous fragrance to the mustiest of tool sheds.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Do you know what time it is?

I’ll give you a few hints:

  • It’s fall.
  • I haven’t collected bugs for a few weeks.
  • A new crop of tiger beetles has emerged from their burrows.

What time is it?


 I don’t think there is any trip during the year that I look forward to more than this one. Hunting for insects is fun no matter what, but it is particularly enjoyable when the sweltering days of summer give way to the cool days of fall – crisp air, pungent, earthy aromas, shadows long and sharp, and skies so blue above a golden, tawny, morphing landscape. How I adore fall, and how I thrill at any chance to travel across the fall landscape chasing after gorgeous tiger beetles that have spent the spring and summer as larvae, hidden in their unseen burrows, growing fat on the few hapless insects that chanced too close to their burrow, until the rains of late summer and early fall trigger their transformation to adulthood – glittering jewels that emerge out into the autumn world for a brief session of dining and play before winter forces them back into their burrows for the long wait to spring.

This year’s edition is somewhat abbreviated – little more than a long weekend due to a combination of job and family responsibilities. Still, five days is a little better than four (and a lot better than none) and is long enough for me to play a hunch that I’ve had ever since I returned from the Red Hills of northwestern Oklahoma this past June. You’ll recall that I had some rather amazing luck on that trip, discovering a robust population of the very rare Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle) and a slight western range extension of the seldom seen Dromochorus pruinina (Frosted Dromo Tiger Beetle). While I was exploring that landscape, the habitat reminded me of another tiger beetle – Cicindela pulchra (Beautiful Tiger Beetle), a glorious species – brilliant purple with glassy wine-red elytra – that I had seen in 2005 in the nearby Gypsum Hills of south-central Kansas. I don’t know if that species occurs in the Red Hills of northwestern Oklahoma or not, but my impression is that the area has not been very well explored. If a species as rare as C. celeripes can be found there, perhaps C. pulchra will occur there as well. The enormous tiger beetle larvae that I saw in their burrows in the Gloss Mountains during June gives me further reason to believe there may now be some impressive adult activity in the area.

Should I not succeed in finding C. pulchra, it will nevertheless be a glorious, though frenetic trip. On Friday I’ll drive 525 miles from St. Louis to the Gloss Mountains, where I’ll explore during the early part of Saturday and then finish the day at Alabaster Caverns State Park. Sunday’s itinerary depends upon whether I succeed at finding C. pulchra in the Gloss Mountains – if I do, I’ll head on over to Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge to photograph some of the fall tiger beetles that were not out during my June trip (hopefully including Eunota togata globicollis, or Alkali Tiger Beetle). If I don’t find C. pulchra in the Gloss Mountains, I’ll explore the Red Hills of Barber Co. Kansas, where I’ve seen this insect in the past and attempt to find and photograph it there, then move on to Salt Plains on Monday. I’m really hoping my C. pulchra hunch plays out, because if it does that gives me an extra day to shoot back east to my beloved White River Hills in southwestern Missouri and photograph its small, disjunct population of Cicindela obsoleta vulturina (Prairie Tiger Beetle) – the largest member of the genus in North America. Regardless of how events play out, I’ll need to blast back to St. Louis on Tuesday, work a couple of days, then leave town again for my niece’s wedding in New York (congratulations Shannon and Tamer).

While I’m gone, you can click on the interactive map to see where I’m going, or you can catch up on several newly issued Blog Carnivals (I’ve been a busy submitter this past month):

  • Circus of the Spineless. With discussion that is restricted to the 95% of life forms that do NOT have vertebrae, CotS #42 is up at Quiche Moraine.  For my part, I have proposed a replacement name for a rather ‘ubiquitous’ species of tiger beetle.
  • Berry Go Round.  After a brief summer vacation, botanical discussions resume with BGR #20 at Further Thoughts.  My contributions cover zygomorphic flowers with oily rewards, a very ungentianlike gentian, and plant-insect relationships.
  • Carnival of Evolution.  From Darwin to Drift to Deleterious Mutation, find it all at CoE #16 hosted by Pleiotropy.  I’ve added a little ‘perspective’ to the discovery of new species.

No longer just a contributor, at the end of this month I will host my first Blog Carnival in the form of Berry Go Round #21.  I know,  it’s strange that a bug dude is jumping into the Carnival hosting pool with a botanical carnival, but duty calls!  Submissions are due to me by Oct. 27, with a scheduled issue date of Oct. 30.  If you’ve never contributed to a Blog Carnival before, it’s a great way to get exposure for your blog and possibly find other blogs of interest.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Winter botany quiz #4

Back to botany mode¹, and in that vein there are a couple of botanically-oriented carnivals with new issues just out.  The first is Berry Go Round #15 at Mary Farmer’s A Neotropical Savanna. An expert botanist herself, Mary presents a nice selection of March blog posts with themes ranging from spring (or not), tropics and the Southern Hemisphere, evolution and extinction, research, and food. The second is Festival of the Trees #34 at Seabrooke Leckie’s the Marvelous in Nature. A naturalist of many talents, Seabrooke has collected posts on trees from around the world and introduces them with her usual sagacity.  I have contributions in both of these carnivals, but of course, you’ve already read them!

¹ One caveat – it occurs to me that I needn’t be apologetic every time I switch to botany mode – the name of my blog is, after all, Beetles In The Bush 🙂

On to business – it’s quiz time again, and while much of the country moves into spring mode, winter hasn’t yet lost its snowy grip completely.  These pictures were taken in the waning days of winter, and I have my suspicions that somebody out there is going to ace this test considering the abundance of clues that have been dropped over the past week or so. In addition to the plant identities, bonus points to anyone who can identify a key commonality among them. As usual, comment moderation has been turned on for the next couple of days or so to give all an equal shot.






Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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