Guess who just turned 7?

Prionus heroicus | Harding Co., New Mexico

Prionus heroicus | Harding Co., New Mexico

No, not this very alarmed male Prionus heroicus (among North America’s largest longhorned beetles) seen this past June at Mills Rim Campground in northeastern New Mexico—although he could very well have spent several years underground as a ever-fatter grub feeding on tree roots (probably oaks) before emerging as an adult.

No, today is the 7th birthday of this blog, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d almost completely forgotten about it. To a human, seven years of age is still immaturity, but in blog years that’s getting close to old age—perhaps like it’s author! I guess old age (on both counts) qualifies me to reminisce a little bit. I’ve seen the blogging thing come—there was a time when it seemed everybody was blogging, and I’ve seen it mature into something a little different. People still blog, but not as many and not for the same reasons. In the early days, blogs were how people with common interests connected and interacted. Nowadays other social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) have usurped that role. I don’t think that has made blogs irrelevant, but rather they now seem to serve more for outreach and as searchable repositories for information (at least among natural history blogs). In the past I’ve vacillated greatly in my feelings about this (and I still do sort of miss the “good ol’ days” of lively conversations in the comments). But actually I’m okay with it. When I want my social fix I jump onto Facebook (or Twitter in certain circumstances). When I want to write a little more substantively—to recount memorable field trips, document interesting things I’ve learned, reflect on my experiences as an entomologist, etc.—I blog. I used to watch hit counts; now I hardly ever give them a thought. I care less about who is reading and how many of them there are than I do about the content of the writing and quality of the images I share with those who do choose to read. I am enjoying the fruits of having blogged consistently for seven years—able to write well (and fast), vastly more versed in natural history, and connected broadly to the larger entomological community—and that alone makes it worth continuing. I’ve learned to blog for me and not for what I think others want to see. How liberating! After 7 years, I am more comfortable with and motivated to write than ever.

To all those people who have followed me, either now or in the past, thank you for your part in helping me in this journey. To those who are still to come, I look forward to meeting you!

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

A belated Happy Birthday

It seems that November 24th came and went without me even realizing that BitB turned six years old that day! Six years—wow, has it really been that long? I guess forgetting birthdays officially puts me in the old-timer camp (both as a person and as a blogger). No fanfare or celebration. Instead, I blithely wrote my 778th post (Q: How do you photograph cactus beetles?) and carried on as usual.

I guess it’s too late now to make a big deal of it, but I will make the observation that November 2013, with its 15 posts, was one of my heaviest blogging months ever (the most since 18 posts in December 2012 and the overall high of 21 in April 2010). This may come as a surprise to those who have heard me grouse periodically about the decline of blogging, both of my blog in particular and as a platform in general. It’s a different world than it was when I started BitB—Twitter and Facebook have taken over much of the social interaction that used to take place on blogs, relegating the latter primarily to satisfying a small but persistent niche demand for long-content. Throughout the course of these changes, however, motivation to blog still comes to me consistently and often. Mostly it seems to be an internal need to express myself, but the occasional and very much appreciated feedback in the form of comments and emails also helps. So, with that, thank you for the past six years, and here’s looking at the next six!

Enough blather—here are a few colorful net-winged beetles in the genus Calopteron (family Lycidae) to help with the celebration. They were photographed in northern Argentina (Chaco Province) in April 2012 while visiting flowers of Chilean goldenrod (Solidago chilensis). I’m not sure if they represent more than one species, as the taxonomy of the genus in the Neotropics appears to be very poorly known at this time—if so it would seem there exists in this area a mimicry complex that is ripe for study.

Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis| Chaco Province, Argentina

Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina

Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis| Chaco Province, Argentina

Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina

Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis| Chaco Province, Argentina

Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

A day of milestones and thanks!

Today we celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving—a day for stepping back from our trivial concerns, giving thanks for those who enrich our lives, and showing renewed compassion for those less fortunate. Coincidentally, I celebrate today as well two milestones here at ‘Beetles in the Bush’—its 4th anniversary and its 500th post! It seems appropriate that this should occur on a day of thanks, as I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the readers of this blog for keeping me motivated through your comments and words of support. Four years and 500 posts is by no means a record—there are plenty of bloggers who have been around longer (and some who generate 500 posts in a single year!). Nevertheless, I’m starting to feel a bit like an “old-timer” in this relatively young pursuit with no thoughts of stopping anytime soon. I suppose I’m in it for the long haul.

To mark today’s milestones, I offer here a collage of thumbnails (click here to see full post)—each using an image from and linked to one of BitB’s previous 499 posts (with apologies to those of you who access this blog through dial-up). In the few cases where a post had no image I have used the generic Agelia petalii buprestid image that is this blog’s icon. If nothing else, the collage represents an interesting visual distillation of BitB in its entirety, but I hope you’ll take the opportunity to browse through the images and perhaps find some interesting posts that you may have missed the first time around. Thumbnails are arranged in order of post chronology (first to last)—hold the cursor over a thumbnail to see the post title, and click on the thumbnail to go to that post. Due to the huge number of hyperlinks in this post (uhm… 499 to be exact!), you might encounter one that does not link properly—I hope you’ll let me know if you encounter any such so that I may fix them.

Now also seems like a good time to solicit feedback on the direction of this blog—what you like about it and what you don’t. This is not pining for compliments, but a call for objective, constructive feedback. Maybe you’re not fond of certain subjects or have suggestions for topics you’d like to see more of. What about the balance between technical and enthusiast? Too wordy or jargony, or not academic enough? More quizzes or less (and should they be harder or easier)? If you prefer not to give this feedback in public, send me an email. BitB will never be all things to all people, but for those who do find something of interest here I’d like to do my best to provide content that is fun to read and appealing to look at.

Once again, thank you for your readership and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011
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3rd Blogoversary, 7 New Blogs, & AIF #10

Today happens to be BitB’s 3rd blogoversary.  I won’t bore you with an attempt at witty, insightful introspection on what it means to have reached this modest milestone.  BitB is still what it started out as – tales from my life-long, entomocentric, natural history learning experience.  I’ve enjoyed these past three years immensely, learned far more than I would have initially imagined, and deeply appreciate the support and encouragement I’ve received from an admireably erudite readership.

Rather than talk on about myself, however, I’d like to talk about others.  I’m always on the lookout for new blogs – those that seem interesting make the blogroll, and if I find their content compelling enough they make my RSS feed list.  A few rise to the top due to their superior photography, insightful writing, or close alignment with my own interests – these I like to feature from time to time by name in an occasional post such as this one.  Following is the latest crop of new sites (or at least new to me) that have piqued my interest:

Crooked Beak Workshop is written by coleopterist Delbert la Rue, Research Associate at the Entomology Research Museum, University of California, Riverside.  I can forgive his primary interest in Pleocomidae (rain beetles) and other scarabaeoid taxa due to his strong side interests in Cicindelidae (tiger beetles), Buprestidae (jewel beetles), and ecology of sand dune ecosystems.  Posts occur irregularly, but when they do appear they are good old-fashioned hardcore coleopteran taxonomy and desert southwest ecology – what could be better?

Field Notes is a herpetology website by Bryan D. Hughes.  “Spectacular” does not even begin to describe his photographs, focused heavily on the marvelous diversity of venomous snakes and other reptiles in the desert southwest (and the occasional desert arachnid as well).  Bryan hopes his pictures and information will help homeowners who choose to live in areas harboring native wildlife become interested in it rather than kill it due to fear and myth – I hope he succeeds!

Gardening with Binoculars is a fairly new site by my good friend and fellow WGNSS member Anne McCormack.  Anne is a true “naturalist’s naturalist,” with solid knowledge that spans the breadth of Missouri’s flora and fauna – both vertebrate and invertebrate.  In GWB, Anne uses this knowledge and her considerable writing talents to weave informative and entertaining tales of her experiences with wildlife in a small native plant garden.  I can almost hear the campfire crackling in the background!

Natural History Museum Beetle blog is a new blog by Beulah Garner, one of the curators of Coleoptera in the Entomology department at The Natural History Museum in London (I am sooo jealous!).  With only two posts under her belt so far, it might be premature to give the site such quick praise; however, I couldn’t resist – the 2nd post had photos of tiger beetles!  Regardless, working amongst more than 9 million insects (did I mention I’m jealous?) should provide plenty of fodder for future posts.

The Atavism is written by David Winter, a PhD student in evolutionary genetics in New Zealand.  Wide ranging in his interests, it is his  series that has captured my interest (and while “spineless” across much of the blogosphere means squishy marine animals, David’s spinelessness is more to my liking – i.e., arthropod-heavy).  Moreover, in true academic fashion, David usually finds an unusual angle from which to discuss his subjects.

The Prairie Ecologist. Chris Helzer is an ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska whose writings demonstrate deep, intimate understanding of the prairie landscape and its myriad biotic interactions, as well as the passion that many of us here in the heartland feel when looking out on its vast expanses.  As if that wasn’t enough, Chris is also one of the rare bloggers who combines his well-crafted writing with truly spectacular photography – he’s the total package!

The Sam Wells Bug Page is written by – you guessed it – Sam Wells.  This is a straight up entomology site, featuring a diversity of insects from that wonderful state called California.  You won’t find these insects anywhere else on the web, and though it is (to my liking) heavy on the beetles, a variety of other insect groups are featured as well.  What’s more, each post almost always contains fabulous photos of that remarkable California landscape.  Each post is a little mini-collecting trip – I get a little homesick for the Sierra Nevada every time I read!

One final note – Heath Blackmon at Coleopterists Corner has posted the tenth edition of An Inordinate Fondness.  This was Heath’s first blog carnival hosting gig (could there have been any more appropriate?), but you wouldn’t know it by looking – 14 coleocontributions artfully presented, each with a teaser photo and just enough text to invite further clicking.  Head on over to AIF #10 and enjoy elytral ecstasy at its finest (and don’t forget to tip the waiter!).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

Pardon my introspection

In addition to this blog, I maintain a second, older blog called Bikes, Bugs, and Bones. That snarkier, decidedly less erudite site was my first venture into the world of blogging, initiated some two and a half years ago not due to any particular vision on my part, but more as a reaction to other blogs that were popping up by people I knew in the St. Louis cycling scene. At that time, I was deeply immersed in the world of amateur bike racing, and a blog seemed to be a natural outlet for reporting my take on the races in which I participated. The title – Bikes, Bugs, and Bones – was a reflection of my propensity to be interested in too many things (with not enough time). In reality, however, my surging interest in cycling had by then pushed my longer held entomological and natural history interests to the back burner, and my posts on that blog – then and now – dealt almost exclusively with bicycles and racing. For several reasons racing was something I needed to do, and I had a good run – winning 14 races in seven years (including three state championships) and crowing it all with a highly respectable finish in the 2007 Etape du Tour (an amateur race held on the “Queen stage” route of the Tour de France). My interest in entomology and natural history never waivered during this time, but the demands of training relegated any meaningful field work to short windows before the racing season began and after it ended each year. Eventually, the entomologist in me could be suppressed no longer, and at the end of last year I decided that I needed to get back to doing what I loved – bug collecting! I made a commitment to return entomology field work to its rightful place as my first priority (after family and work, of course) and race bicycles as time permitted. (I have since completely retired from racing, although I still ride and maintain Bikes, Bugs, and Bones as an outlet for discussing all things cycling.) As an expression of that renewed commitment, I started a new blog – this blog – and after much frustration finding that every blog name I thought of had already been thought of by someone else (and generally abandoned after only a few posts) settled on the name Beetles In The Bush. One year ago today – November 24, 2007 – I posted my first entry to this new blog (a subsequent entry, a list of my publications, was backdated to November 23).

Beetles In The Bush started with a simple mission – to document my entomological and other natural history experiences and provide an outlet for the photographs that I was beginning to take. Late fall is not the best time to begin an insect blog, especially with no insect photos on hand to serve as starter material. As a result, my initial posts appeared rather infrequently – primarily whenever I had the opportunity to do a winter hike. It was those first few hikes, however, and my efforts to write something interesting about the natural history represented in the photographs that I took, that called attention to what I realized was a glaring gap in my overall knowledge of natural history. I was a competent entomologist, to be sure, but that competency did not extend to general botany (other than the mostly woody plants with which the insects I studied were associated), or to the natural communities in which those plants and insects occurred, or to the geology of the landforms that contained those natural communities, or to the manner in which these fields intersect, an understanding of which I would have to have before I could consider myself a competent natural historian. More than just an outlet for posting pictures and stories about my adventures, Beetles In The Bush also quickly became a tool to help me learn more about botany, ecology, geology, and related fields. I have read more non-entomology literature in the past year than I have since earning my degrees, and since knowledge and passion are intimately linked in a positive feedback loop, I’ve found myself becoming even more passionate about entomology, too. I still have much to learn – I am a work in progress, far from complete. But in this case, it is the journey that is also the reward.

Like all bloggers, I’d like to think that I have a large, regular following, and that over time more and more people will find my writings interesting and worthy of their time. The numbers don’t support this – as of this one-year anniversary, Beetles In The Bush has received 6,987 hits – not triffling but by no means extraordinary. While the graph below shows steady growth during the first year of existence, the numbers don’t come within a rifle’s shot of some of the really popular natural history and science blogs. I surmise the main reason for this involves a relatively lower posting frequency – a little more than once per week on average instead of the daily or near daily frequency seen with many blogs. I suppose also my relatively specialized subject matter and tendency to ramble on are contributing factors. I have thought about writing smaller, more frequent posts and expanding my subject matter to create greater interest; however, in doing this I realized that what I enjoy most is writing stories about the things that interest me – stories that teach, stories that impart a sense of the passion that I feel, stories that allow me to reflect on what I’ve learned and what I still don’t know. If that makes a broad, daily readership less likely, so be it – I understand now that I’m doing this as much for me as anyone else. So, I mark this first anniversary with a resolution to wean myself from the lure of trying to increase traffic and refocusing my efforts on doing what I enjoy most – writing silly little stories about the things I stumble upon on my journey to become a better natural historian. For the readership that I do have, I am grateful. More importantly, I am thankful for the goodly number of “friendships” that have resulted from these writings. Thank you for your interest, and I sincerely hope that some day I have the chance to meet many of you in person.

Beetles in the Bush - first year summary