Ant Picnic in Pennsylvania

**This is a guest post written by NC State undergraduate, Ryan Pileski. Ryan collaborated with Lea Shell to adapt the Ant Picnic lesson plan, an investigation of ant diet, nutrition and diversity, for implementation at a summer camp serving students with social disorders. Their goal was to modify the lesson plan to allow success for students with attention issues and social concerns in a summer camp scenario.**

Students attending Summit Camp in Pennsylvania participated in Ant Picnic over a two week period this summer. The campers, ages 10-21, come from all over the United States and have a […]

By |September 29th, 2014|ants, Education|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Julie Hecht

Julie Hecht began our interview by admitting she was nervous because, to her, middle school was horribly awkward. I assured her that she would never have to go back, but just had to share a few memories with me. Our interview, punctuated by lots of laughter, reinforced that even if you’re not into science as a middle school student, it doesn’t mean that you won’t end up a scientist. Learn how she eventually found her way into researching human’s best friend after being obsessed with Archie Comics, her dead end (pun intended, wait for it) career as a thespian, […]

By |September 26th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Ferocious Beauty

Carnivorous plants have turned the tables on food webs. Rather than insects munching on plants, these plants chow down on insects.

The “traps” of yellow pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava) – one of several carnivorous plant species native to the Southeast — are actually modified leaves. The flap (or operculum) prevents rain from entering the pitcher. The opening to the pitcher lures insects with nectar, but any bug that reaps the sweet reward will find a very slippery surface. Plop!! There it goes into the digestive fluids at the bottom of the trap.

In North Carolina, the yellow pitcher plant can be found […]

By |September 25th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Humans vs. Ants

This past weekend was BugFest at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. The Your Wild Life team was on-location, chatting with visitors about our various arthropod-themed citizen science projects, including School of Ants, Camel Cricket Census and Meet Your Mites. As a special treat, Dr. Amy Savage led a version of the Ant Picnic experiment in the rain garden of the Nature Research Center.

In addition to showing off live insects and mites, we couldn’t resist asking festival attendees about their experiences with ants and how ant […]

By |September 23rd, 2014|ants, Events, Video|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Jelena Vuckovic

On our next stop for the “Before They Were Scientists” world tour, I sat down with Jelena Vuckovic, who spends part of her year in Germany and the other part at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Read on to learn about her experiences as a middle school student in the former Yugoslavia where she played with Legos, almost became a French teacher, and was never told it was unique for a girl to love physics.

Lea: Can you tell me what comes to mind when you think about middle school?

Jelena: I have a six-year-old daughter now and when I think back to […]

By |September 19th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Buzz Kill

cicada killer screen shotOne of the joys of being the resident entomologist in my family and circle of friends is that I frequently receive “What’s this bug?” texts and emails.

Recently, the texts came fast and furious with questions about a giant, strikingly marked wasp. I relished in replying to these queries as this species has a most fascinating biology, the stuff that would make good fodder for a horror movie. Meet the cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus)!

Cicada killers are large solitary, ground-nesting wasps that specialize on hunting – you guessed it – […]

By |September 18th, 2014|Arthropods, Nature in Your Backyard, Urban Buzz|0 Comments

Wings of Change

You may have noticed a small white butterfly flittering through your garden, bouncing across your path while on your bike or spiraling around the side of the road. Chances are it was a small cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae). It’s probably the most widespread and abundant butterfly on the planet! Over the last 2,000 years it has spread across the world from its natural range in Europe, Asia and North Africa to every continent except Antarctica. How did it become so successful? Well, in part because it eats many of the foods growing in our gardens – particularly, those found […]

By |September 16th, 2014|Global Change, Nature in Your Backyard, Participate|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Daniel Solomon

Sitting down with Daniel Solomon, dean of the NC State College of Sciences, to talk about his middle school life was certainly a highpoint for the “Before They Were Scientists” series. In this interview Dean Solomon opened up about how his life as a child in the Bronx allowed him to appreciate a diverse learning environment, how he got in trouble trying to escape the island he lived on in Florida, and how his parents’ drive for him to go to medical school shaped so much of his young life.

Lea: Where were you in middle school? 

Daniel: In […]

By |September 15th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Urban Cicada Safari

On September 2, as the 9-5ers emptied out of downtown Raleigh, we gathered near the State Legislature Building to embark on an urban insect adventure.

Led by Bill Reynolds, curator of the Arthropod Zoo at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, we strolled the tree-lined sidewalks of the Legislature Complex, eyes peeled and ears tuned in quest of annual cicadas.

Cicada safari commences

Unlike their periodical cousins who show up every 13 or 17 years in a given location, the annual cicadas – also known as dog-day cicadas – make a yearly […]

By |September 12th, 2014|Audio, Behind the Scenes, Nature in Your Backyard, Urban Buzz, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

7 cool facts about drain flies and their kin

Over the last few days, we’ve received a few notes and photos (see above) from folks describing fuzzy, moth-like flies flitting about their kitchen or bathroom. So we turned to our favorite bug guru, Matt Bertone, for the inside scoop:

1. Flies in the family Psychodidae (particularly the subfamily Psychodinae) are often called moth flies or drain flies. The former name comes from the covering of hairs and scale-like hairs that give these flies the appearance of a fuzzy little moth (which can be confusing to non-entomologists). The latter name comes from one of their most familiar habitats […]

By |September 10th, 2014|Arthropods, Indoor Evolution, Nature in Your Backyard|0 Comments

NC State University Found to be the Most Bio-Diverse College Campus in North America

Several years ago, we started paying more attention in our lab to what was going on biologically near at hand. This transition would eventually lead us into backyards, then houses, then colons, but it stared with North Carolina State University’s campus.

The campus is at what was once the western edge of the city of Raleigh, a city whose location was chosen by its originators as a function of its nearness to a bar. And yet despite this idiosyncratic origin, Raleigh has proven to be an auspicious ecological locale for a city and a campus, at least […]

By |September 8th, 2014|ants, Global Change, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

Nothing Gold Can Stay

The American goldfinch (Spinus tristis), like many animals, changes colors over the course of a year. In the summer, male goldfinches dress in bright gold with black patches on their wings and head – like an avian superhero. When winter comes, the goldfinch molts those bright feathers and assumes his mild-mannered alter ego again. Only a little patch of yellow on his throat remains.

The female goldfinch (pictured) isn’t as flamboyant as her partner in the summer. But she’ll also change into grayish brown plumage for winter.

Editor’s notes: Interested in #SciArt? Jennifer Landin will present “Sketching Nature: Biological Illustration […]

By |September 8th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Emilie Rissman

It was an honor to chat with biologist Dr. Emilie Rissman before she officially assumes the role of department head for the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences here at at NC State University. My M.O., of course, was to learn about her life as a middle school student and what it was about her particular experiences back then that brought her to where she is today. Read on to learn how her middle school years spanned very different experiences in Chicago and northern California, how she is decidedly unlike her artist father, and how she has […]

By |September 5th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Spike is on his way to Long Island: What does that mean for Tom and Jerry?

Like the best stories, the Tom & Jerry cartoon is rooted in basic principles of real life: dogs chase cats and cats chase mice. Spike was the bulldog that terrorized Tom the cat, to the benefit of little Jerry the mouse. You might be surprised to hear that there is real predator-prey science behind the violent comedy of Tom & Jerry. Larger carnivores really do terrorize their smaller rivals, and the results trickle down to affect smaller prey, the mice and squirrels of the world. And whereas in the cartoons, the dance of dog, cat and mouse is all […]

By |September 4th, 2014|Cat Tracker|0 Comments

Citizen Scientists Make Important Discovery about Camel Crickets

Grad Student Too Busy, Annoyed to Care about Giant Bugs in Basement

In graduate school, I rented a house with a few fellow students on a quiet, tree-lined street close to our university. To be quite honest, we spent very little social time together in this house. Most of our days, nights and weekends were spent in the lab, in the field, or in our offices, toiling away on our graduate research. We came home to sleep, grab a quick bite to eat, and maybe do a load of laundry.

In fact, when I think about the years that I lived […]

By |September 2nd, 2014|Camel Crickets|30 Comments