Sunday, October 30, 2022

Thoughts on Long-Term Studies

I ran a study of the western harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, from 1977 to 2019, 42 years. Most scientific studies are done in two or three field seasons, which represents the time students have for a project and the need for professionals to show results. Some topics need longer and get it. Academic careers are about 40 years, so if started the year the scientist was beginning, 40 years is about the limit, unless a second person picks up the project. But people willing and able to do long-term studies are rare. In the case of the harvester ant study, retired well before I finished the harvester ant project.

western harvester ant colony
western harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis) colony
They can live 40 years.

I completed the project, but I learned a series of things I didn't expect:

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Travel Story--National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

We love going to Washington, D.C. to see the museums. Having been there several times, my husband and I are now finding lesser-known museums. This trip, one was the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Who knew!

National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

Bonsai is the Japanese name for the art the Chinese call penjing (and vice versa). Both countries have a very long history of growing miniaturized plants. The museum had some awesome pieces--I'll call them bonsai because it is the more familiar name. Both awesome in age and beauty.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Studying Western Harvester Ants, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis

I just published a research project I began in 1977. 

I had no idea what I was getting into. E. O. Wilson wrote in The Insect Societies (1971) that we only knew how long the colonies of four ant species lived. I looked at the conspicuous mounds of the western harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, in western Nebraska and thought  "I can find out how long those live, just follow them for some years." So I walked along the ridge above the University of Nebraska's Cedar Point Biological Station, Ogallala, Nebraska, and put down a number scraped into a square cut out of a steel pop can and held down by a nail in the center, by every harvester ant colony I saw. Then the next year, I came back to see how many of the colonies were still alive.

harvester ant nest
harvester ant nest in the shortgrass prairie
(the pile of pebbles)

Sunday, October 9, 2022

The Alnwick Poison Garden, Alnwick, UK

The Alnwick Poison Garden is a very famous collection of poisonous plants. On my recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, we made a day trip south to Alnwick, on the coast in northernmost England. 

The Poison Garden is part of Alnwick Castle's gardens, all of which had a recent make-over and are quite lovely. I was there in a drizzle with not much time, so I focused on the Poison Garden. 

bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara
bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Plant Story -- Orange Hawkweed, Hieracium aurantiacum

I grew up calling it Indian paintbrush, so when I went west and was shown Indian paintbrush, I was puzzled. Currently, the websites say hawkweed is Hieracium, and Indian paintbrush is Castilleja. No relation between them. So I've learned to call the plant hawkweed. Actually, orange hawkweed, Hieracium aurantiacum or Pilosella aurantiaca.

orange hawkweed, Hieracium aurantiacum
orange hawkweed, Hieracium aurantiacum