Monday, September 15, 2014

Cricket Crawl DC Baltimore 2014

August 22nd, 2014, I participated in my first-ever citizen science project.  Cricket Crawl DC Baltimore 2014 is a project started by ANS* insect teacher Cathy Stragar for the Natural History Society of Maryland.  What follows recaps my adventures including the scope of the project which was simply this:

Pick a place to listen to crickets and katydids singing after 9 at night and in one minute record what you hear on the official Cricket Crawl data sheet. Submit your findings via email, twitter or instagram.  The study tracks 8 species whose calls are uploaded to SoundCloud and available for listening on the Cricket Crawl DC Baltimore 2014 Facebook page and website.  

Cricket Crawl was fun, and despite not following the instructions completely, I'm happy to report that I heard more than I thought I would. I don’t tweet and I don’t twitter so when I re-read the instructions the next day, I discovered too late that I needed to email my results immediately. I felt badly.  I emailed my teacher hoping for the best... the best being that my data was included in the study.  Like the insects I was listening to, all I wanted was to be counted.

I've stared long and hard at bugs before, whether I knew what I was looking at or not, because I find bugs interesting.  (Who doesn't when you consider that insects comprise 75% of the animal kingdom?)  Since taking Insect Life at ANS this summer, I've learned a little more about identifying insects, sorting them by class and have started paying closer attention to who's playing "summer's symphony" day and night.

When all the insects sing, it's difficult to distinguish individual calls and name each one properly. Oh the noise, noise, noise. But when I stepped out my front door to begin cricket crawling, I singled out the Lesser Anglewing immediately.  Amid the cacophony, this crisp sound came from across the street. In fact, it probably came from my neighbor’s towering oak trees. But my target study area was Ayrlawn Park at the end of the street; it was time for me to move on. 

When I reached the top of the park, I put down my paraphernalia which included two field guides, a clip board, flashlight, smart phone and a fancy-schmancy messenger bag to carry all this stuff and set up my chair.  I pulled out my smart phone, opened Facebook and began to listen for crickets.  But all I could hear was the “damn” sleigh bell ring of the tree crickets – sleigh bells drowned out all the other singers and they aren't on the Cricket Crawl SoundCloud survey.  So I grabbed my chair, packed my stuff and headed further into the open field where I set-up a new camp. That's when I really began to tune my ear and record my findings.

The first note I heard came from the Japanese Burrowing Cricket.  The second call was a Common True Katydid. As I trekked further into the 9-acre woods that flank Ayrlawn Park I heard the rest of the band play including a Jumping Bush Cricket and Fork-tailed Katydid.

However, I did not hear the common Field Cricket's classic chirp, nor the Greater Anglewing which sounds like a geiger counter, and neither did the Oblong-winged Katydid sing for me.  Its call is too high and out of my hearing range.  Like Goldilocks, I need everything "just right."

Since that night I have heard the Greater Anglewing sing in my neighbor's tree.  And last Saturday this Fork-tailed Katydid pictured below spent the evening with me.  I hoped it would tell me the story of how it lost a leg but instead it remained silent on the subject.

The good news is this: the crickets will continue to sing as long it's a dry night and the temperature doesn't drop below 60F.  If you want to tune your ear now for Cricket Crawl 2015 you can! Just follow this link to hear the species sing:

*ANS is short for Audubon Naturalist Society located at Woodend in Chevy Chase, MD.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I didn’t know his name 

but the Perp was black,

and had six legs.

One set spread out

long and wide

                at his side.

And he used them like paddles, canoeing the tide pool at Ocean City, NJ where we were vacationing.

So I did what anyone would do...

I picked him up. 

I could tell the little bugger was uncomfortable in my hand because he went slack.  Not wanting him to get away so fast, I secured permission from Tommy and Anna to let the bugger swim in the moat they had built for their Hermit Crab collection.  By now they had amassed over 100 little crabs and created three warring states.  My guy swam among them, diving down every so often for what I don’t know but he seemed happy enough.

Then along came three little boys who wanted to see what we were up to.  The oldest was curious and liked the idea of holding my bug so I let him.  I told the kid I liked how he held the bug; that he was kind not to kill him.  Then I suggested he let the bug swim again.  He didn't, instead he said,

“I want to show him to my… OW!”

Then he cried… really loud too.

Now I’m in trouble.

Who knew the bugger didn’t like being held so much?  (I guessed as much.)

Who knew the bugger could sting like a bee?  (I certainly didn’t; he never stung me!)

How was I going to explain this to the kid’s Mom?  The only thing I was certain of was that my bug was a True Bug, Order Hemiptera, Class Insecta, Phyllum, Arthropoda.  Beyond that, I wasn’t certain whether his sting was poisonous like a scorpion or spider, also both arthropods but not true bugs.

In the end, his Mom took it well; his Grandpa laughed.  When I got home, I looked the bugger up and discovered my paddler is a Water Boatman, Hesperocorixa vulgaris

How appropriate. 

And in the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America, it says on page 116:  “These insects will deliver a stinging bite if handled carelessly.” Need I say more? J

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Can you imagine what it feels like to work at a place where everyone wants to hug you? I can and it's wonderful.

At the end of volunteering for Audubon Naturalist Society’s Unplug and Play Afterschool Program on Wednesday, the students swarmed me for wanting more pieces of me.  I swear.  And all because I had just given them a rock... or two as the case may be.  And then I told them a story that went like this:

I got a rock…

That you can choose for your very own but please, when I see you next, tell me what you did with it.

In my family, rocks are special.  Not just because they come from deep beneath the earth but because when all else fails, it’s something to play with.

Sometimes, when we are walking along a river or creek, my kids will pick up a rock, skip it and count the rings.  But if their rock isn’t flat enough, they will simply throw it as far as they can and say “Look, Rock Fish!”

If we are walking along a wooded path, sometimes I’ll see monuments made out rocks that others before me stacked up.  In that moment, I will find my own rock and add it to the pile so everyone else knows I was there too. 

Sometimes my kids will paint their rock and add it to my garden. 

One thing they never do is throw it at another person.  It would be disrespectful to the rock.

So enjoy this river rock, and the next time I see you, whether it’s next week or after Spring Break, tell me what you did with it because I want to know.”

See.  Getting hugs is that easy.  So on the way home, I crafted this poem which reflects just how I feel right now…

I am playing the part of a naturalist
And the woods are my proscenium.
If you all be my audience
Then you’ll be my muse too
Because I need you.