Making Progress

My extended work schedule has been reaping benefits. So far, I have managed to keep very busy. Thus, I have also managed to escape feelings of excessive loneliness or boredom for almost all my time insofar. My job has had me driving all over the State, visiting different farms, both conventional and organic, and monitoring for various insects. Here, I have constructed what will likely be the primary format for this blog from here on out, a photo journal of sorts.

An example of no-till agriculture at a research field. Here, soybeans are planted immediately where corn stubble has been left over from the last harvest.

A serious pest of several crops, these are a good insect to recognize. These Colorado potato beetles are from a trap cropping study looking at different potato cultivars. The fluid specks on my hands are from the beetles themselves which may have been slightly upset at my interruption of their mating proceedings.

My boss and coworker setting up pyramid traps as part of a monitoring program for the brown marmorated stink bug. A live one was reported in St. Louis recently, which, if corroborated, would make Missouri the 35th state the insect has invaded.

Egg mass of the Colorado potato beetle. Note the bright, vivid coloration.

These are examples of the immatures of the Colorado potato beetle. Note that they look almost nothing like the adults, varying not only in size, but also in shape and consistency (squishier).

Alternate image of the beetle larvae showing that they have been drawn to a cultivar known as ‘superior white’ versus the more profitable ‘yukon gold’ variety which is being grown right next to these, but show no feeding damage whatsoever.

The boss man and I using sweep nets to find out what insects are present in the area. The nets are swung around ~10 times in the most dense part of the foliage around to obtain a representative sample.

Adult green lacewing photographed through a plastic bag. This is an important predator of pest species of insects, and therefore very good to have present. The naming is characteristic of its fine wings visible in the image.

The underside of a lady beetle, species unknown.

Most of the previous images were taken at an organic research farm, courtesy of Mizzou.

Taken at an organic farm in Western Missouri. I believe that is a black rat snake.

I’m developing a new respect for wild foragers. These are Lamb’s Quarters, a wholly edible, and fairly tasty and nutritious weed.

Moth, species unknown, present area-wide on an organic farm in rural Missouri.

Crawling up coworker’s arm. What may or may not be a ‘true’ katydid, but likely in the same family, Tettigoniidae.

This is the same insect, on the sweep net for perspective.

And again, on a blade of grass. The coloration, while off slightly, makes for excellent camouflage in my opinion.

Spider, species unknown, on my jeans.

And one more pic of that ‘katydid’; I love this thing.

Paused for lunch at a truck stop. Surprisingly tasty and cheap food. Probably full of insecticides, I suppose, but the best within a 20-30 mile radius.

I learned that the asparagus that we buy and consume from the store is actually fairly immature. What we know is pictured in the foreground of the image. The rest of the image shows what asparagus looks like after it ‘bolts’ or ‘goes to seed.’ This is what happens when a plant finishes its vegetative state and proceeds to the reproductive state. Most vegetable crops are harvested early on, before they begin reproducing.

Amongst the clucking, I spy what I believe to be a pheasant of some sort. Taken at yet another farm.

Found a massive stand of (thornless!) blackberry bushes which sadly had not fruited yet at another organic farm. Pollination seems plentiful with these honey bees everywhere.

Taken inside a greenhouse. The farmer, Jose Fonseca, is pictured with my boss. The farm is located within St. Louis city limits and is considered an urban farm in that it is abutted by a hospital and children’s day care center. As such, the farmer takes special precautions to limit pesticide and herbicide use to minimize potential harm to humans as well as to the environment.

Mr. Fonseca seems to be plagued by an abundance of wild rabbits, which are chewing on some of his most valuable crops.

An image showcasing a tomato plant in the foreground and the edge of the field further out which is situated next to the aforementioned hospital.

I have discovered mulberries. Immensely delicious, growing on several trees on Mr. Fonseca’s property.

After a while, my boss realized that I had disappeared from doing the work that I was supposed to be doing (looking for cucumber beetles) and found me in a thicket of mulberry trees. He insisted on taking a picture of me ‘grazing’ to showcase my greediness.

Further into St. Louis proper. While searching for a good place to situate pyramid traps for the brown marmorated stink bug, came across this stream bank. Sadly, it would seem that we humans are much the same across the world in our lack of caring for the natural world.

So there you have it, most of what I’ve been up to this week. Tomorrow I’ll be spending the whole day on a field of elderberries. I’ll be observing and taking notes on visitors to the extra floral nectaries throughout the day. I’ll also repeat these observations throughout the entire season to get a better grasp on their role and ecological function.

I’m also happy to report that I have a list of ‘things-to-do’ now, as well. My coworkers and I have made plans to purchase, butcher, and consume a goat. I realize this is not exactly in line with my ‘vegetarian’ goals for the summer. I have no good excuse for this, other than it will be an interesting activity in observing one coworker on particular, who has never had goat meat before. I will also be part of a ‘spelunking’ trip, which is the operative word for caving here. My only experience with caves has been in reading Tom Sawyer and watching documentaries on cave diving in Florida springs, back home. As such, I figure this will be quite the adventure. Additionally, I will be spending at least one day fishing on the Osage River, courtesy of my coworker. I have also, hopefully, convinced my lab mates here to partake in a 5k with me in my effort to get everyone here in (somewhat better) shape. It still remains to pick a suitable one, so suggestions are welcome. Finally, thanks to a kind commenter for suggesting the Katy Trail to me. I will be making plans to take myself on a night hike within the next week or two.

All told, I will be participating in the mentioned activities at intervals throughout the summer as scheduling permits. Work must come first, of course, so the trips will be spaced out with respect to insect populations and densities. Ideally, I will be providing you with details of all these adventures throughout the summer, so I hope you take the list as a preview of what I have coming for you in this blog.

In other news, please take the time to visit my friends at Educational Biologists and ‘like’ their page. I will be contributing my photos as they build out their network. I would really appreciate your support as they will soon be applying for various grants to help support science education in poor and underserved communities. Hopefully, with enough ‘likes’ and a smorgasbord of new content over the next few months, they will achieve their goal in reaching out to kids both locally and globally.

As one final note, I will also gloat that I now have internet access at work as of one day ago!!! However, I have also realized that such internet access doesn’t mean much as more or less all of my work is outdoors, in the field, and spread around the whole State. So, I fear, my updates here will continue to be a bit sparse.



Day One – Nashville

Today was comprised of an early morning and a long, slow trek to Nashville.

South Georgia, near Perry, took this out out the driver’s side window as I was getting excited about some changes in elevation!

As a representative of your average life long Florida resident, I managed to muster some excitement at the first sight of any hills north of Gainesville.

Lo and behold, however, even greater shifts in altitude were about to occur:

I’ve been to Yosemite once, when I was ~10 and I don’t remember much of that. So as far as I’m concerned, these are my first ‘real’ mountains.

Right on the Georgia – Tennessee border on I-24W

Of course, I have fairly poor multi tasking skills, so I’m a blurry shot when driving.

I should note here: The Insight is not the progeny of any mountain goats. The electric motor was constantly whirring and the ICE revving up at every opportunity. Somehow, the car still managed about 50 miles to the gallon, so there’s not much to complain about.

…while I’m one of the slowest ones one the road, gawking like a tourist

As much as I love tropical South Florida, this isn’t half bad.

In all honesty, I haven’t seen this much green outside of the Everglades. I-24 from about the Georgia-Tennessee through about another hundred miles or so is just plain gorgeous. Admittedly, I’d be willing to bet that it doesn’t look so nice most of the year, but for now, it’ll do.

These canyons were truly a sight to see: rock slides, caves, and all manner of natural features dot the landscape. Lucky would be the man who got to spend a few weeks (or longer) hiking around these woods.

Almost *exactly* like the level from Mario Kart 64

I’m cooling my heels at the hotel for now, but I’ll be headed downtown to take a look at what country music is all about in a few minutes. I hear Opryland is the thing to do if you’re only in town for a little bit.

I’ll still make sure to get off to an early start tomorrow, and likely be in Jefferson City by the early afternoon.

Next update to follow on Monday or Tuesday, as I won’t have access to the internet till I get to work.