Finding the flora and fauna: Butterfly Center staff conduct a BioBlitz in Memorial Park

Editor’s Note: The term “BioBlitz” was first coined in 1996 for intense attempts to record all the flora and fauna within a designated area. National Geographic, which has partnered with parks around the country for various BioBlitzes, describes them as “a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible within a designated area.”  These quick and dirty surveys are used both to gather information about the biodiversity of a given area, and since members of the public and other non-experts (students, etc.) are often included as participants, as ways of sparking public interest in local flora and fauna.

The “Eco-Tech” panel of the Memorial Park Conservancy recently recruited the Butterfly Center to conduct a preliminary survey or “mini-BioBlitz” of the insect fauna throughout Memorial Park, with the idea of inviting members of the public to help on future surveys. One of the goals of the panel is to get some baseline data on the biodiversity of all the creatures that live in Memorial Park, and from there, make plans on how best to preserve and manage or enhance this wildlife.

We were asked to survey several different natural habitats in Memorial Park (i.e., not the golf course). On a sunny morning in early July, Butterfly Center staff members, our summer intern, and a couple of volunteers drove out to Memorial Park armed with insect nets and containers.  While some surveys (such as birds or trees) can be done without collecting, there are so many kinds of insects (and so few experts) that at least some specimens have to be collected in order to make identifications.  

We decided to sample 10 transects — 100 feet long by about 8 feet wide — each one in a different area. Our first couple of sites were in open prairie vegetation, so we used sweep nets and aerial nets to collect samples. In case you are not versed in insect collection techniques, a “sweep net” is a canvas net bag on a sturdy metal frame that is swished through the vegetation. Periodically, the contents are emptied into Ziploc bags or other containers. 

This giant fishing or nursery web spider was nearly three inches across! (photo by Zac Stayton)

This giant fishing or nursery web spider was nearly three inches across! (Photo by Zac Stayton)

 

Picture 1137

We found lots of these small millipedes (and a few slugs) in the leaf litter in the forested areas. (Photo by Zac Stayton)

Aerial nets are the more familiar “butterfly nets”: a much lighter, more delicate net bag that is swung through the air (it should NOT be dragged on the ground, used in water, or swiped through bushes!). These nets are more for catching fairly large, individual insects, especially ones that fly, so samples are put directly into a glassine envelope, or vial, or other appropriate container (or, if it is something readily identifiable, simply noted and released). Sweep nets generally collect things like grasshoppers and katydids, walkingsticks, mantids, leaf hoppers, stink bugs, the odd caterpillar, spiders, etc. Aerial nets are useful for larger flying insects such as butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, wasps, bees, some beetles, certain flies, etc. 

In the more forested areas, sweep nets were not really appropriate, so we used the aerial nets and also took litter samples (scraping up leaf litter and bagging it). Litter samples are typically brought back to the lab to process in a so-called Berlese funnel. Many small arthropods who live in the litter of the forest floor, including springtails and cockroaches, ants, small beetles, millipedes, etc., can be collected in this way.

 Another find in the leaf litter:  a “woolly bear” caterpillar.  This is the larval form of the Giant Leopard moth, Ecpantheria scribonia.  The caterpillar rolls up in a ball, showing red stripes between segments covered with black “fur” (these caterpillars do not sting but probably taste bad so are warningly colored).  (photo by Nancy Greig)


A find in the leaf litter: a “woolly bear” caterpillar. This is the larval form of the giant leopard moth, Ecpantheria scribonia. The caterpillar rolls up in a ball, showing red stripes between segments covered with black “fur” (these caterpillars do not sting but probably taste bad so are warningly colored). (Photo by Nancy Greig)

There are many other collection techniques, none of which we used in this preliminary survey. Pitfall traps are always fun; they are empty cans or jars set into the ground with their mouths at ground level. Sometimes bait (a little raw chicken or fish, for example) is put in the bottom.

Crawling insects, especially those interested in odorous food, fall into the “pits” and cannot get out. Such traps need to be checked every couple of days — often they will contain different kinds of beetle, maybe a cockroach or two, etc.

Malaise traps are screen tents or baffles that trap small flying insects. The insects get caught in the folds of the screen and since they typically crawl upwards to escape, can be funneled into a container filled with alcohol.

Yellow pans are any wide, shallow container with a yellow (painted or otherwise) bottom.  These are partly filled with water and a bit of liquid detergent. Wasps and pollinating flies, etc., are attracted to the yellow color and cannot escape once they fall into the soapy water. Yellow pans need to be used in open areas in sunny weather and the samples removed every day or two.

Our final survey site was along the banks of Buffalo Bayou, which was much higher than usual so there was not much shore. Here, we mostly used aerial nets. We saw several things in this area that were not seen other places, especially tiger beetles, damselflies, etc. Here, we mostly used aerial nets (or grabbed things with our hands). 

The gorgeous Ebony Jewelwing a common damselfly species along the banks of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park

The gorgeous Ebony Jewelwing, a common damselfly species along the banks of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park.

 

The vibrantly colored Vivid Dancer is a common damselfly species along the banks of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park

The vibrantly colored Vivid Dancer is a common damselfly species along the banks of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park.

By noon, it was blazing hot and we were all soaked in sweat, so we bagged things up and stopped at the Shandy Café (great little place on Memorial Drive) for lunch on our way back to the Museum. 

Although we only collected for about three hours, we have our hands full in identifying everything. We first have to sort things to order, identify what we can, and then we will probably have to send some things off to experts in the various insect groups. I’m sure it will take us several weeks! 

Some of the coolest things we found: 

It’s always fun to open up the sweep net and find walkingsticks or praying mantids, or a colorful leafhopper. We picked up quite a few different grasshoppers and a few katydids.  We noted but did not catch too many butterflies (we can identify most of these by sight, so no need to collect).

I like wasps and bees; we saw several of the large red Polistes wasps, carpenter bees, leaf cutter bees, and a really cool “digger” bee starting her nest tunnel in the sand (see attached video clip). A medium-sized beetle that looked like a wasp was visiting flowers in several places. 

The very fast tiger beetles mostly eluded us down at the bayou’s edge, but we did catch a few damselflies there. The most common one there was the lovely Ebony Jewelwing.

Tiger beetles are extremely fast moving, long legged, predatory beetles that often occur in open sandy areas, especially along streams.  We saw many of these, probably Megacephala virginica – and managed to catch a few – along the bayou.  (photo from BugGuide.net by Chris Wirth)

Tiger beetles are extremely fast moving, long-legged, predatory beetles that often occur in open sandy areas, especially along streams. We saw many of these, probably Megacephala virginica – and managed to catch a few – along the bayou. (Photo from BugGuide.net by Chris Wirth)

 

Hibiscus bee, Ptilothrix bombiformis

Click here to watch a video of a female Hibiscus bee, Ptilothrix bombiformis, a solitary species as she digs a nesting tunnel into hard-packed earth as we found on our BioBlitz.

Once we have compiled our results and reported them to the EcoTech Panel, they will then make plans for another survey sometime in the fall. I believe they intend to invite more general participation, so if you are interested in the insects of our area, keep your ears open!

HOW-TO: Make your own super last-minute superhero costume for our Comic-Con Mixers & Elixirs

Need a last-minute costume for our Comic-Con mixer on July 18? No problem! As a connoisseur of procrastination myself, I know that waiting until the last minute to prepare a costume can be as stressful as it is a unique and beautiful catalyst for creating stunning, creative accoutrements.

Comic Con Blog 3

Copy Man surveying the landscape, forever on the search for those who need rescuing from copy-related emergencies.

Here’s a simple way to create your own bare bones superhero costume:

SUPPLIES

  1. Regular clothes
  2. Underwear (that can fit over your outerwear)
  3. A large swath of fabric
  4. Paper
  5. String
  6. Markers

PROCESS

Step 1: Pick a super-identity.
I chose “Copy Man” because I’m a copywriter.

Step 2: Pick out clothes that fit your super-identity.
I picked what I wore today to work … because I’m a copy writer.

Step 3: Put on clothes from step two.
Already on!

Step 4: Put underwear over clothes (bonus points if they also fit your super-identity or are really cute).
Sorry, if I had thought about this step before I left the house I would’ve worn cuter underwear.

Step 5: Find large piece of fabric and drape it over your shoulders.
Instant cape! Mine’s made from a curtain, fixed together with earbuds.

Step 6: Make a mask out of the paper and string.
Feel free to color yours in, but I wanted a more monotone palette.

Step 7: Draw a symbol on a piece of paper to represent your super-identity.
CM = Copy Man!

Step 8: Affix symbol to your shirt.
Tape is a beautiful invention.

Bonus step: Create awesome headgear or props with more paper and/or other found objects.

TA-DA! DONE. This took me, like, 15 minutes to put together, so if a friend of yours tries to come up with excuses on how they don’t have time to put a costume together before our Comic-Con Mixer at 7 p.m. on Friday July 18, tell them, “NO EXCUSES!”*

*You don’t have to wear a costume, but they are encouraged! See you Friday!

Comic Con Blog 1

Copy Man was just a mild mannered copywriter until one day the Houston Museum of Natural Science decided to throw a Comic-Con party.

 

Comic Con Blog 2

He now fights crime and poor writing with his “Cosmic Copy Ray”

Distinguished Lecture: Quilting history with Pam Holland’s replica of the Bayeux Tapestry

Editor’s Note: The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered textile 230 feet long, visually recounts the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066. Professional quilter Pam Holland of Australia has nearly completed a full-scale quilted replica of the Bayeux Tapestry. In the process of her work and research, she has become one of the leading experts on the original piece, which is on display in Normandy, France. The replica quilted panel on display in the HMNS Magna Carta exhibition is an example of Holland’s work. This blog post is written by Holland.

Last year, I was approached by the Houston Museum of Natural Science to display a sample piece of my “Bayeux Tapestry – To Quilt” project in their upcoming Magna Carta exhibition. I was thrilled, as you can imagine, while a little taken aback at the same time. However, during the Houston Quilt Festival, we met and I agreed they could have it for the duration of the exhibition.

I made the arrangement thinking I wouldn’t get to Houston to see it on display, but an opportunity came my way and I found myself in Houston this past March, only a short while after Magna Carta had opened! Blessings. And my, what an experience it was to see the exhibit.

The entrance to the exhibition is imposing and continues through several distinct spaces. The first room covers really interesting information about the day-to-day lives of people who lived in Medieval England.

Of course, I was drawn to the section with products used to dye fabric and thread. There was so much information I could barely take it all in. I’ve been studying these subjects for years, and here it was, all in one place: dyeing, weaving, daily chores and tasks. I was amazed.

I walked down a corridor and into the next room.

It was beautiful; it looked forever like a cathedral. The light was low. Facsimiles of stained glass windows and the sounds of Gregorian chanting adding to the ambiance.

And there, in the center, was my quilt. I almost burst. I just thought it would be pinned to the wall. Never did I imagine my piece would have its own beautiful display.

Bayeux Magna

The more I looked at it, the more I thought, “It’s fitting.” I have a small inkling now of how the entire quilt will look on display — all 263 feet of it.

My spirit soared. I’m so thrilled. I was absolutely delighted to play a small part in this collection.

Serendipitously, I am making my way back to Houston on Tuesday, July 22, and will give a lecture at HMNS on the Bayeux Tapestry in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:30 p.m. I couldn’t be more excited!

HMNS Distinguished Lecture
The Bayeux Tapestry: The Story-Telling Textile of the Norman Conquest
Pam Holland, Author and Artist
Tuesday, July 22, 6:30 p.m.
Sponsored by the Favrot Fund
The Museum’s Magna Carta programs are sponsored by the British Council.
Click here for advance tickets.

The Magna Carta exhibit is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science until August 17, 2014. Click here for tickets and information.

See below for details of Pam Holland’s quilted replica of the Bayeux Tapestry:

Treat yo’ self : Sharpen your shopping chops at the Summer Trunk Shows in our Museum Store

Congratulations! You’re doing a fantastic job getting through the summer: hydration levels are up, tan looks good and you’ve had your suitcase packed for vacation since May.

Museum Store Treat YourselfAll that summer prep is hard work though — time to treat yourself! Starting this Friday and continuing every Friday through August 8, you can treat yourself to 20 percent off select items at our Summer Trunk Shows in the Museum Store

July 18 – BEACH PARTY 
Featuring Krystal Sasso, James Peach, Ax + Apple, Zad and more!

July 25 –  REBECCA LANKFORD

August 1 - THE COLOR OF SUMMER
Featuring Alexis Bittar, Leighelena, Lele Sadoughi and more!

August 8 - MIRTA TUMMINO

Each Trunk Show features different designers and themes, so no matter what you need to treat yourself, we’ve got it.

But you’ve got to start somewhere. Let us help. Do you need:

Tooth jewelry?
Krystal Sasso Beach Bunny Shark Tooth Bracelet 

Treat yourself!

Awesome necklaces?
Made UK Irima Pendant Small Diamond Pendant

TREAT YOURSELF.

Pearls?
James Peach Cluster Pearl Leather Necklace

#TreatYourself

Understated elegance?
Rebecca Lankford Labradorite Diamond Necklace 

Treat-Yo-Self

Antlers?
Rebecca Lankford Antler Sapphire Necklace and Antler Snake Necklace

TREAT. YO. SELF.

Turquoise?
Alexis Bittar ‘Elements’ Turquoise And Labradorite Necklace

Treat YourSELF!

Gems, gems and more gems?
Mirta Tummino Moonstone Labradorite Necklace

TREEEEAT YOURSEEEEEELF!