Saturday, September 17, 2011

Help Me ID These Insects

While camping in the Whites last weekend I found these two fairly unusual insects. Both of them had created little casings for themselves from dirt and fine gravel (I assume the insects created them themselves). So far I have had no luck IDing them. The only information I can find on any insect that does this is the caddisfly larva which is aquatic and much larger than these. My finger is in the first photo for size reference and the second shouldn't be too hard to tell either, the leaf I think was a birch or beech and is about 4-5 inches long. Any information leading to the identification of these insects will be rewarded with extreme gratitude. Check them out in the web album!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reblog: Color and Language

OK so I'm posting at a weirdly fast pace today but this is pretty cool. Stories like this are the reason I studied neuroscience in college.

PZ seems to think there may be a genetic component to the difference in color perception in western people and the Himba tribe but I'm skeptical. The time since there has been any real genetic isolation seems far too small for there to be such a difference between populations of humans. I'm struggling to come up with a better example of how learning effects perception but many optical illusions come to mind. There is a whole genre of illusions that look like nonsense at first but once you "learn" what the image is it is impossible to remember what you thought you saw before. Even the classic two faces or a vase image can work this way. I imagine that color perception could involve this same kind of "gestalt" perception.

Calopteron reticulatum

While trying to ID some insects I photographed in the Whites last weekend I managed to find an ID for this insect, featured in the Drumlin Farm post a few weeks back.

Common name: Reticulated Netwinged Beetle. The post also said it was frequently mistaken for a firefly which is exactly what I thought it was at first glance. This beetle is a bit bigger though and what I caught on camera is apparently a common male defensive behavior: spreading wings when threatened. It then flew away, seems like a good idea if you're being threatened by a giant photographer.

Catalpa speciosa

I’ve had this image for a while but poor Catalpa just isn’t that interesting so it’s taken me a while to write about it. If you live in the Northeast US you’ve probably seen this tree before. Its long fruits are very distinctive, giving the tree an almost tropical appearance. I shot this image at the Boston Nature Center back in August. In fall the pods, which can grow up to 40cm long, turn brown and open slightly, giving the Northern Catalpa the nickname “cigar tree.” Cause, y’know, they kinda look like cigars.

The tree can grow up to 30 meters but its crooked growth pattern limits its use for lumber cultivation. Apparently it was, at one point, used extensively for fence posts and, less successfully, for railroad ties. More commonly it’s grown ornamentally.

Another odd thing about the tree is that the leaves do not color in fall. Scientists, if my last research still holds up, still don’t fully understand autumn leaf colors (that is the natural history/physiology side of why it happens) so maybe someday this will be an more interesting fact. For now it’s an oddity to see a tree with green leaves into October or November that then suddenly depart to the ground.

Check around New England if you haven’t noticed this tree before. You’ll likely notice those long pods.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Indoor Wildlife, Revisited

Uff, it's been nearly two weeks since I've posted anything. I've been busy, mostly with fun stuff like camping in the Whites (photos and posts to come).

One of my first posts on this blog was about finding a small spider in my house and enjoying having wildlife indoors. I know animals indoors have a wide range of reactions, even from me. A few months back we had a rat in our house which made me...less than enthusiastic...about animals inside. And this morning I found the largest spider I've ever seen!!! (Well, the largest one inside my house).

As usual you should check out the full res version in the web album to get the full effect of this image. You can really see all the hairy structures on the legs. So this spider really wasn't that big, maybe an inch diameter leg-span. But one of the things I have a healthy fear/respect of is the brown recluse spider...and I can never remember exactly what the darn thing looks like. I know they don't tend to spin webs, climb walls or do a lot of the things we typically associate with spiders but whenever I see a reasonably sized arachnid I get a bit nervous.

This is definitely no recluse but still I safely ushered this one out doors (where it's pictured). Go eat the last of the summer mosquitoes, big guy!