Archive | December 26, 2012

The year in review – Part 1

I am pretty sure that I am the first photo-blogger ever to come up with the idea to post a series of the most interesting/meaningful photos taken during the passing year (if not the first, then certainly the second, or third, at the most.) It has been a busy and significant year, photographically, scientifically, and emotionally. Since I have a camera grafted to my right hand (well, almost), I was able to capture many of the creatures whom I met during the last twelve months, and here are a few highlights:

1_DiestrammenaJanuary. I begin to work in earnest on my next book, which, among other things, will explore the complex ecosystem of modern caves – our homes. Once I really start paying attention, I am astounded by the number of species that share the living spaces of our house with us, and the diversity of ecological niches they occupy: I find detrivores, herbivores, parasites, grazers, browsers, necrovores, sit-and-wait predators, and social animals. Some are well-established, others were just visiting; many are here all year round, a few are seasonal; and some are native, and others are aliens from other parts of the world.
Camel crickets (Diestrammena asynamora) are cave-dwelling animals that came from Asia via Europe to North America. Rob Dunn’s lab is now conducting a continent-wide census of these insects.

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2_SphodromantisFebruary. With nasty winter outside the window, I find refuge from the deadly season in trying to document the entire life cycle of a pet praying mantis, African Sphodromantis lineola. Here a female is undergoing her final molt.

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3_TheraphosidMarch. I spend the entire month of March in a tent: I am part of a team of biologists conducting a biodiversity survey of the spectacular lowland rainforest of southern Suriname. Highlights of the survey included finding a number of new to science species of katydids, and almost tripping over the largest spider in the world, Theraphosa blondi.

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4_RoeselianaApril. Back home, Massachusetts spring is in full bloom and young katydids are everywhere. Alas, the Roeseli’s katydid (Metrioptera roeselii) is an invasive species, which probably contributes to the decline of native katydids.

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5_LoboscelianaMay. Because of my life-long interest in Africa and a decent publishing record on southern African orthopterans, I am invited to join a team from Harvard University to explore the insect diversity of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Gorongosa turns out to be one of the most amazing, biologically-richest places I have had the privilege to visit. Situated at the southernmost tip of the African Great Rift Valley, it encompasses an astounding variety of terrain, including afromontane rainforest and deep, unexplored limestone gorges. Orthopteran and dictyopteran diversity is through the roof, and I am thrilled to find the giant grasshoppers Lobosceliana cinerascens.

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6_UniverseJune. Still in Mozambique, documenting insect life. Sitting there, on the edge of a deep limestone gorge in the middle of the night, I feel very insignificant. And happy.

Stay tuned for photos from the second half of the year but, in the meantime, head on to Facebook and click “Like” on the Gorongosa National Park’s page.

Update: See the second half of the photographic review of 2012.