Blog Archives

Vintage Nature Illustration Wednesday – Ladybugs

Carl Brenders, 1982

Carl Brenders, 1982

Curio Cabinet: Wing of the Luna Moth

CC luna moth wing

The Curio Cabinet series (#curioTuesday) is published biweekly, featuring an artifact of natural or cultural history and a brief selection of nifty facts. Curio Cabinet celebrates the history of curio collections, the roots of which played a part in the globalization of learning and scientific knowledge. Learn more here.

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Roaming to the National Museum of Natural History

roam: verb - To move about without purpose or plan; to wander.

I am spoiled rotten to live so close to the Smithsonian Institution. If you’re not familiar, the Smithsonian is a group of museums, galleries, and a zoo that are located in Washington DC. I will admit with great shame that I have only visited a couple of the many locations, but the trouble is they’re so amazing that I end up returning to the same one(s) over and over.

I recently took my niece to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), since at the end of April the Fossil Hall dinosaur exhibit will be closing for renovations – FOR FIVE YEARS. As any good auntie should be, I was panicked and made sure, come hell or more winter weather, that I’d get her there.

Now of course, being a standard 4 year old, she was only mildly interested in the bones, particularly after  overhearing someone say the phrase, “dinosaur gummies,” in reference to candy available at the gift shop. These were essentially the only dinosaurs she was thereafter interested in, but I persevered.


“RAAAR” is dinosaur for “I love you.”

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Ultimate Quick Guide to How Animals Survive Winter

For life that must survive low temperatures and harsh weather in the Northern Hemisphere, there are three major routes to success. Each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages; a balance must be found between calorie intake and calorie expenditure. All groups of living things seem to use a good mix of each survival tactic, bringing their own special adaptations to the table. Read on for a quick look at how the Northern Hemisphere survives winter!

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Enormous Stick Insect, Thought Extinct, is Rediscovered

This story is both amazing and inspiring – an enormous stick-insect, considered extinct since the 1960s, has a fascinating story of re-discovery and hope for the future.

Read the story by NPR writer Robert Krulwich HERE or click on the image of the INSANELY GIGANTOR insects to read!!


Image via Rod Morris/

Nart: Caddisfly Cases

Nature + Art = Nart

(Just for your future reference.)

Check this out:

Images via Cabinet Magazine (

What you’re looking at is one very awesome aquatic macroinvertebrate (an invertebrate large enough to be seen without a microscope) called the caddisfly (Trichoptera) in its larval stage. You’ve probably seen caddisfly adults if you’ve ever been around a freshwater lake or stream at night: they’re nocturnal, delicate, mothy-looking insects that are easily attracted to light. According to NC State University’s entomology resources, they may go that entire period (a few weeks) without eating, which I think is pretty neato.

Depending on the species, caddisflies may spend several months to two years in the larval stage before pupating into adults. During that time, it uses a special silk secreted from glands near its mouth to build a protective case out of debris on the stream bed. It can then drag this amazing little piece of architecture around like a hermit crab carrying a shell. The larvae eat a variety of items depending on species, including detritus, algae, other tiny invertebrates, and – now this is super cool – some may ingest the eggs of the highly toxic rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa). This newt carries the lethal tetrodotoxin, and according to Brian Gall of Utah State University, caddisfly larvae could be a contributing environmental factor driving the potency of the tetrodotoxin poison.

Now, the photos above obviously aren’t your typical northern American stream bed debris. These incredible cases were constructed by caddisflies given precious metals and stones by French artist Hubert Duprat. As a boy, Duprat lived in the countryside and was a naturalist at heart, raising aquatic critters in aquaria and later developing an interest in geology. These two passions came together in experiments where caddisfly larva were given these new, precious materials with which to build their cases, and the above photos can give you a taste of the results. The original article is interesting and definitely worth a read – check it out at Leonardo online. The authors cite another interesting little article (you can download the PDF here) where Charles T. Brues makes an observation in 1930 that some caddisfly cases were constructed partially with tiny blue opals (which were far less numerous than grains of sand or other available materials) from the stream bed, suggesting that the larva were intentionally selecting the “attractive” stones. 

While most caddisflies won’t get to use materials considered so precious to humans, they will still go on to construct magnificent structures from stones, leaves, sticks, and more! The next time you’re by a stream, reach in a check under a few rocks – you may get to see one of these awesome little cases.

Image by David Funk of the Stroud Water Research Center (click pic to visit site)

Image by David Funk of the Stroud Water Research Center

Image via

Image via

Image via

Image via

As another neato fun-fact, the presence of species like caddisflies and mayflies play a role in indicating the health of a stream.

Click this great fact sheet to learn more about how macroinvertebrates can indicate stream health. Published by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

And this one will tell you which types of invertebrates indicate which types of stream health! Also Maryland DNR.

Thanks for reading!


Okay, I know I’m the naturalist and all, but I just found this creature in my bathroom and almost fell over. Spiders don’t bother me, wasps don’t bother me, zombies don’t bother me, but THIS thing is somewhere in the middle of all that AND IT BOTHERS ME.

Edit: According to Dan Proud, intrepid invertebrate explorer, here’s what we’re looking at:

[These animals are incredible! They are arachnids, like spiders, but belong to the order Solifugae (formerly Solpugida). They are commonly called sun spiders, camel spiders, wind scorpions or sun scorpions. However, they are neither spiders nor scorpions!

There are many myths regarding the size and speed of these animals. They are quite fast for invertebrates but they tend to move in short bursts of speed and cannot sustain top speeds (roughly 10mph). There are only slightly more than 1000 species known, they are mainly nocturnal and most live in dry, arid desert or semi-desert environments, perhaps explaining why few people know of them.

You should definitely read more about them – here’s a good website:]

So there you have it. Still terrifying though.

Check out Dan’s awesome site here!

Painted Lady Caterpillars

Fun photo for the day! We ordered these Painted Lady caterpillars from Carolina Biological Supply and they are currently in the process of transforming into chrysalis form. The caterpillars come in these little tubs full of food (that yellow stuff) and after only a few weeks, they climb to the lids, suspend themselves from the paper towel, and begin to metamorphose. So cool!

Hellgrammites (Gesundheit!)

Is this not one of the most terrifying things you’ve ever seen?

Image source: Melissa Deluke

It’s not an alien from another planet or an imaginary creature from a science fiction flick, it’s a real live creature…lurking in your local waterways…

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Weekly Photo Wunderbar!

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I completely forgot about my Saturday photo, but to be fair, The Roaming Naturalist was actually socializing last night. And that doesn’t happen very often. :)

This little friend was hanging out in my garden, hunting for delicious insects. Mantids are excellent bug-hunters and don’t eat your plants, so you want them in your garden! They have beautiful startle displays like this one, and the females (at least as recorded in captivity) will routinely rip off their male partners heads and eat them after copulation. Hardcore insect love, man.