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

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

Pikas on Ice

Adorable and fuzzy, American pikas (Ochotona princeps) have become the spokes-critter for the consequences of climate change in alpine areas. These little fuzzballs, more closely related to rabbits than rodents, are specialized for living on the rocky slopes of mountains. They’re very sensitive to hot summer temperatures, and so, as temperatures are predicted to rise, pikas face a perilous future.

Researcher Jennifer Wilkening from the University of Colorado is concerned about the future of the pikas. She’s also concerned about the future of water. Towns like Boulder, Colorado, rely on the water that drains down from the highland areas above […]

By | August 20th, 2014|Global Change, Science Art|0 Comments

Mushroom Musings

With last weekend’s rains, mushrooms have sprouted up all over Raleigh yards, neighborhoods and parks. The above is a composite sketch of all the beautiful mushrooms I observed while on a hike at our local state park.

Did you know that mushrooms aren’t the actual “body” of the fungus? They’re the fungus’ reproductive structure. The real “body” — called the mycelium — grows through the soil or logs in bazillions of microscopic filaments.

Look carefully under the mushroom’s cap. There you’ll find gills loaded with spores — each spore, if it lands in a suitable place, is capable of producing a […]

By | August 7th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Squirrel Sketch

If you live on the East Coast, I bet you encountered at least one eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) during your regular comings and goings today. Perhaps you saw one doing elaborate acrobatics on your bird feeder. Maybe you swerved to avoid one darting across the road. Or perhaps you caught one red-handed taking tiny nibbles out of your newly ripened tomatoes…

Although native to the woodlands of eastern North America, the eastern gray squirrel has adapted quite well to urban and suburban living. It also seems to thrive in far-off habitats. In Europe, particularly the UK, where the eastern […]

Insects Headline Art of Science Exhibit

Science is boring. Art is Stupid. Prove us wrong.

These are the words that launched the annual Art of Science exhibition at Princeton University. The exhibit highlights examples of accidental art – images and video collected in the process of doing science that somehow go beyond the numeric values of their pixels. This year I was excited to have four of my photographs included in the exhibit.

Taking photos while doing research gives students and scientists a chance to embrace their curiosity. There’s a lot more freedom behind a lens than we typically experience while designing and carrying out highly precise […]

By | July 22nd, 2014|ants, Science Art|0 Comments


Follow that trail of slime to an amazing creature. It walks on one foot, perches two eyes way over its head, and has a saddle (but is never ridden)…

It’s a slug!

That “saddle”, by the way, is actually a mantle. In snails, the mantle secretes the shell. While shells are good protection, they require lots of energy and resources to make. Slug ancestors once had shells, but some were successful when they made smaller and smaller shells. Today, slugs are shell-less (actually, some slugs today still have very reduced shells or internal shells). They’re living a more dangerous life, but can eat […]

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

Relax, This Is NOT a Mosquito

You’re standing in the shower and one of the most gigantic mosquitoes you’ve ever seen flies over the shower curtain. Take a deep breath … it’s not a mosquito.

Meet the crane fly (Diptera: Tipulidae).

I grew up calling these Mosquito Killers. Given that name, I tried to save as many of these insects as possible. Unfortunately, they’re delicate. My compassionate attempts usually resulted in a 3-legged insect.

Despite its monstrous size, there’s no need to fear the crane fly. Adults do not bite — in fact, they don’t even eat.

Crane flies spend most of their lives as larvae feeding on decomposing […]

By | June 16th, 2014|Arthropods, Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|1 Comment

Swimming in Feces

Some food, er feces, for thought. Above is another thought-provoking figure from the students in Rob’s Community Ecology of Humans class. Data analysis by Ryann Rossi, Michael Just, and Benjamin Hess. Visualization by Neil Mccoy.

Did you miss last week’s figure about the movement of trash? Check it out now.

By | May 29th, 2014|Science Art, Student Features|5 Comments

Who Ate My Cake?

Today we have a special treat: Another delicious watercolor sketch from biologist and illustrator, Dr. Jennifer Landin. You may recall Jennifer’s action sketch of the overprotective red-shouldered hawk a couple weeks ago.

Last weekend, Jennifer had a close encounter with ants in her kitchen. And by close encounter, I mean hundreds of ants attacked a fresh-out-of-the-oven birthday cake she left to cool in her kitchen.

Like any good biologist, Jennifer wasn’t satisfied surrendering her cake to unidentified ants. She consulted Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants and the Who Ate My Cookie? Urban Ant Key to learn the […]

By | May 20th, 2014|ants, Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments