Bird Fact Friday – The Barn Swallow

Adapted from page 160 of Birds of the Masai Mara:

The Barn Swallow is a blue swallow with a red throat and pale belly. Familiar to many visitors from outside of Kenya, the Barn Swallow is among the most cosmopolitan of all bird species. It is a common migrant to the Mara between September and April, but stragglers have been recorded in all months of the year.

The Barn Swallow, mid flight. Photo credit: Adam Scott Kennedy.

In flight, it appears glossy-blue above and cream-coloured on the belly. When perched, good views of the velvet-red throat and blue breast-band help to separate it from the Angola Swallow, which is a less frequent visitor to the Mara. That species shows a reddish-orange throat, light dusky-grey underparts, and lacks the blue breastband. Young Barn Swallows are less strongly marked than adults and lack the long tail streamers of birds in breeding plumage (as do many adults that arrive into Kenya from September onwards).

Birds of the Masai Mara
By Adam Scott Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara is a remarkably beautiful photographic guide featuring the bird species likely to be encountered by visitors to the popular Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. With an eye-catching layout, easy-to-use format, and no-jargon approach, the book contains more than 300 stunning photographs covering over 200 species of birds and is accessible and informative, rather than purely identification-based. A handy, brief introduction provides visitors with background on the habitats of the national park, and the guide’s habitat-based approach makes it simple to identify any bird species according to where it is found. Based on the firsthand experiences of the author, Birds of the Masai Mara is an ideal companion to all those visiting the national reserve and to bird aficionados interested in learning more about the region.

  • The only photographic guide to focus solely on the bird species of the Masai Mara National Reserve
  • More than 300 remarkable photographs covering over 200 species
  • Accessible text explores bird species behavior and species etymology
  • A brief and handy introduction examines the habitats of the Masai Mara
  • Easy-to-use habitat-based layout makes exciting birdwatching easy

First published in 2012.

Insect of the Week: the Cabbage Looper

Adapted from pages 102-103 of Garden Insects of North America:

Despite its name, the cabbage looper is not limited to mustard family plants but may also damage plants as diverse as potatoes, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, spinach, nasturtium, and carnation. It is sometimes found as a greenhouse pest on various ornamentals. Larvae chew leaves of various plants, occasionally causing serious defoliation. Late instars tend to tunnel into heads of cabbage, lettuce, and other plants, causing additional injury.

An adult cabbage (Trichoplusia ni) looper feeding at a flower. Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw.

The Cabbage Looper thrives best in warmer climates and survives poorly following winters in areas with extended freezing temperatures. Adults, however, are strong fliers and annually migrate long distances. Caterpillars are pale green, darkening somewhat as they get older. Faint white stripes run the length of the body. Adults are of moderate size (wingspan of about 1.5 inches) with mottled gray or brown forewings and a distinctive silvery white U-mark with a single spot below.

Their eggs are hemispherical and glued singly to foliage, often in small groups. They hatch in a few days, and the first-stage larvae are creamy colored. They go through a series of molts as they develop, becoming full grown in about 3 weeks. Young larvae typically feed on outer leaves, producing windowpaning patterns on thick-leaved plants such as cabbage. Late stages feed more generally and tend to tunnel into heads. Pupation occurs on or in the nearby vicinity of host plants in a loose cocoon, and the pupal stage lasts 1–2 weeks. The number of generations produced annually is highly variable, and during the growing season generations greatly overlap and become indistinct.

Head to our Instagram to see the evolution of the Cabbage Looper, from egg to adult.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North America continues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause

 

Bird Fact Friday – the Common Kestrel

Adapted from page 51 of Birds of the Masai Mara:

The Common Kestrel is a brown-backed falcon with a long tail. Found in singles and groups, these kestrels are frequently seen hovering over the grass in search of small prey before diving steeply onto their quarry. The sexes are fairly similar although males show more grey in the head and tail; young birds are mostly brown. In flight, all birds show a dark band at the end of the tail.

A male (left) and female (right) Common Kestrel. Photo credit: Greg & Yvonne Dean, WorldWildlifeImages.com

Resident birds, sometimes known as ‘Rock Kestrels’, are supplemented by migratory birds from Europe and Asia between October and April. Birds often come together to roost on the top of an acacia or desert palm tree, when you may hear their excited high-pitched calls “kee-kee-kee.”

Birds of the Masai Mara
By Adam Scott Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara is a remarkably beautiful photographic guide featuring the bird species likely to be encountered by visitors to the popular Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. With an eye-catching layout, easy-to-use format, and no-jargon approach, the book contains more than 300 stunning photographs covering over 200 species of birds and is accessible and informative, rather than purely identification-based. A handy, brief introduction provides visitors with background on the habitats of the national park, and the guide’s habitat-based approach makes it simple to identify any bird species according to where it is found. Based on the firsthand experiences of the author, Birds of the Masai Mara is an ideal companion to all those visiting the national reserve and to bird aficionados interested in learning more about the region.

  • The only photographic guide to focus solely on the bird species of the Masai Mara National Reserve
  • More than 300 remarkable photographs covering over 200 species
  • Accessible text explores bird species behavior and species etymology
  • A brief and handy introduction examines the habitats of the Masai Mara
  • Easy-to-use habitat-based layout makes exciting birdwatching easy

First published in 2012.

 

Insect of the Week: the Buffalo Treehopper

Adapted from page 402-403 of Garden Insects of North America:

Treehoppers are distinguished by a prominent enlargement of the segment behind the head (pronotum), which extends shieldlike over the head and much of the abdomen. Most species have fairly innocuous habits, and the primary plant injuries often occur during the course of depositing eggs into stems and twigs.

The Buffalo treehopper, the most widely distributed and familiar North American treehopper,  causes very little, if any, injury to plants in the course of feeding. Plant injuries are produced during egg laying, when eggs are inserted into slits made in the upper surface of twigs. Extensive egg laying can cause damaged twigs to become scabby and somewhat distorted.

An adult Buffalo treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia). Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw.

Adults are generally triangular shaped, with the sides of the front developed into small points, somewhat resembling a miniature bison. Buffalo treehopper is grassy green and about ⅜ inch long. Nymphs are somewhat brighter green with a row of ridges along the back.

The Buffalo treehopper overwinters in the egg stage, and eggs are inserted as small groups under the bark of twigs. The eggs hatch in late spring, and the nymphs drop to the ground to feed on grasses and broadleaf weeds around the base of trees on which eggs were laid. Adults become full grown in late July or August. Females insert their eggs into twigs, typically laying about a half-dozen eggs within each oviposition wound. One generation is produced per year.

Head to our Instagram to see what the Buffalo treehopper looks like in its nymph stage.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North America continues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause

 

Bird Fact Friday – The white-bellied Blue Robin

Adapted from page 147 of The World’s Rarest Birds:

The white-bellied Blue Robin is a chat-like flycatcher found only on a few isolated mountain-tops across the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in Southern India. It occurs between 1,000-2,2000m, favoring wet undergrowth, often along streams and in forested areas. It has also been recorded in gardens and plantations.

A white-bellied Blue Robin (Myiomela albiventris) perched on a tree. Photo credit: Vivek Tiwari.

Although sedentary, it may make some altitudinal movements. Habitat destruction, degradation for agriculture and forestry, and infrastructure development are its major threats. Since it lives close to the maximum altitude within its range, it may also be susceptible to the effects of climate change. Although some populations occur in protected areas, comprehensive population studies are urgently needed.

The World’s Rarest Birds
By Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash & Robert Still

This illustrated book vividly depicts the most endangered birds in the world and provides the latest information on the threats each species faces and the measures being taken to save them. Today, 571 bird species are classified as critically endangered or endangered, and a further four now exist only in captivity. This landmark book features stunning photographs of 500 of these species–the results of a prestigious international photographic competition organized specifically for this book. It also showcases paintings by acclaimed wildlife artist Tomasz Cofta of the 75 species for which no photos are known to exist.

The World’s Rarest Birds has introductory chapters that explain the threats to birds, the ways threat categories are applied, and the distinction between threat and rarity. The book is divided into seven regional sections–Europe and the Middle East; Africa and Madagascar; Asia; Australasia; Oceanic Islands; North America, Central America, and the Caribbean; and South America. Each section includes an illustrated directory to the bird species under threat there, and gives a concise description of distribution, status, population, key threats, and conservation needs. This one-of-a-kind book also provides coverage of 62 data-deficient species.

 

Insect of the Week: Hickory Horned Devil

Adapted from page 78 of Garden Insects of North America:

The Hickory Horned Devil is a caterpillar of bizarre appearance that may be 5 inches long. Generally blue green, it has numerous spikes, particularly two long curving pairs on the thorax, giving it a rather dragonlike appearance.

The Hickory Horned Devil (Citheronia regalis), photographed here as a young larva. Photo credit: David Shetlar.

It is found in much of the eastern U.S., being more common in the southern states. Hickory, walnut, and a few other trees and shrubs may host the caterpillars. When feeding is completed, the larvae descend trees and walk about in search of soil in which to pupate. Adults are large moths with prominent orange markings and stripes known as Regal Moths.

Head to our Instagram to see what these caterpillars look like once they complete their transformation into adult moths.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North Americacontinues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause

 

Bird Fact Friday — the Slender-tailed Nightjar

Adapted from page 164 of Birds of Masai Mara:

The Slender-tailed Nightjar is an amazingly camouflaged nocturnal bird of open acacia areas. A good local guide may know where to find one roosting on the ground during the day. They become easier to see as they rise to hawk for insects at dusk and dawn, sometimes coming to feed on moths at the lights of lodges and camps, when it looks like a falcon or a large swift.

Do you spot the Slender-tailed Nightjar in the photo?

This is the most abundant of the nine species of nightjar resident in the Mara, and hence it is the one you are most likely to encounter when visiting the area. At night, listen out for its monotonous call which is similar to a car alarm “we-we-we-we-we…”; in flight, its call is a squeaky “wik-wik-ik”.

Birds of the Masai Mara
By Adam Scott Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara is a remarkably beautiful photographic guide featuring the bird species likely to be encountered by visitors to the popular Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. With an eye-catching layout, easy-to-use format, and no-jargon approach, the book contains more than 300 stunning photographs covering over 200 species of birds and is accessible and informative, rather than purely identification-based. A handy, brief introduction provides visitors with background on the habitats of the national park, and the guide’s habitat-based approach makes it simple to identify any bird species according to where it is found. Based on the firsthand experiences of the author, Birds of the Masai Mara is an ideal companion to all those visiting the national reserve and to bird aficionados interested in learning more about the region.

  • The only photographic guide to focus solely on the bird species of the Masai Mara National Reserve
  • More than 300 remarkable photographs covering over 200 species
  • Accessible text explores bird species behavior and species etymology
  • A brief and handy introduction examines the habitats of the Masai Mara
  • Easy-to-use habitat-based layout makes exciting birdwatching easy

First published in 2012.

Insect of the Week: the Snowy Tree Cricket

Adapted from pages 48-49 of Garden Insects of North America:

The snowy tree cricket is a pale green species that occurs over a broad area of the northern U.S. and parts of southern Canada. It is particularly well known because it has been shown that it can be used to determine temperature, as a type of living thermometer, based on its rate of chirping, which varies reliably with temperature in a manner that has been quantified.

A female Snowy tree cricket. Photo credit: Jim Kalisch, University of Nebraska

The formula for determining temperature by chirping rate is known as Dolbear’s Law, after A. E. Dolbear, who first published on the phenomenon in 1897. The formula is T = 40 + N15 , where T is temperature (in Fahrenheit) and N is the number of chirps in 15 seconds.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North Americacontinues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause

 

Bird Fact Friday – Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

Adapted from page 165 of Birds of the Masai Mara:

Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is a huge owl of found in bush and open woodland. This is the largest owl in Africa and the third largest owl species in the world. It is very powerful and capable of killing prey such as small antelope, small cats and large snakes. They are highly territorial birds and adult males may fight to the death. Birds are occasionally encountered at night at some camps and lodges, as well as on night-drives in the conservancies.

Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is named after the French bird specimen collector J.P. Verreaux (1807-1873).

However, they are more often seen perched in open trees at first light or at sunset, when their distinctive silhouette stands out clearly. In the middle of the day, they will generally roost out of sight in a large tree. The deep, booming “hoo-hoooo” call is not dissimilar to that of the Southern Ground Hornbill and sometimes these birds are attracted to the calling owls. Young birds often call a painful, drawn-out “eee-errrr” that is repeated over and over.

Birds of the Masai Mara
By Adam Scott Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara is a remarkably beautiful photographic guide featuring the bird species likely to be encountered by visitors to the popular Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. With an eye-catching layout, easy-to-use format, and no-jargon approach, the book contains more than 300 stunning photographs covering over 200 species of birds and is accessible and informative, rather than purely identification-based. A handy, brief introduction provides visitors with background on the habitats of the national park, and the guide’s habitat-based approach makes it simple to identify any bird species according to where it is found. Based on the firsthand experiences of the author, Birds of the Masai Mara is an ideal companion to all those visiting the national reserve and to bird aficionados interested in learning more about the region.

  • The only photographic guide to focus solely on the bird species of the Masai Mara National Reserve
  • More than 300 remarkable photographs covering over 200 species
  • Accessible text explores bird species behavior and species etymology
  • A brief and handy introduction examines the habitats of the Masai Mara
  • Easy-to-use habitat-based layout makes exciting birdwatching easy

First published in 2012.

 

 

Insect of the Week: The Tobacco Hornworm

Adapted from pages 68-69 of Garden Insects of North America:

Tomato and tobacco hornworms spend the winter months in the pupal stage, within a chamber approximately 4–6 inches deep in the soil. Adult moths emerge in mid- to late spring and may migrate long distances. Their eggs resemble small pearls and are laid singly on foliage. The newly hatched caterpillars possess a horn that is nearly the same length as the body and subsequently pass through four to five additional larval instars over the course of about a month. Full-grown larvae burrow several inches into soil and create a cell in which pupation occurs.

Where these insects can successfully survive winter conditions there are typically two generations produced annually. The adults are very strong fliers and in more northern areas, incidence of tomato and tobacco hornworms from year to year may be strongly influenced by migrations of moths originating from more southerly areas.

An adult tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta). Photo credit: John Capinera, University of Florida

Larvae develop into large caterpillars, with five pairs of prolegs and a flexible “horn” on the last segment. Most are generally green. Seven diagonal white stripes are present along the side of the tobacco hornworm, and the horn is usually red. Tomato hornworm has a series of V-shaped white markings along the sides, and the horn is often black. Less common dark green or even black forms of tomato hornworm may be present. Adults of both are strong-flying, heavy-bodied moths. The forewings may have a span of up to 5 inches and are generally gray or grayish brown with light wavy markings.

When it comes to hosts, tomatoes and tobacco are particularly susceptible to injury. Pepper, potato, and certain nightshade famil weeds are also hosts. Caterpillars chew leaves and can defoliate plants rapidly. Fruits, particularly green fruit, may also be chewed.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North Americacontinues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause

The Insect of the Week: The Silverspotted Skipper

In our latest series, Princeton Birds & Nature will highlight a new insect as seen in one of our titles, Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs, now available in its second edition. From tiny earthworms to creepy cockroaches, and even beautiful butterflies, this new series will thrust bugs out of the backyard and into the spotlight.

Our inaugural post is adapted from pages 138-139 of Garden Insects of North America:

The Silverspotted Skipper is the most commonly encountered skipper, found throughout most of the southern border provinces of Canada and most of the continental U.S., except the Great Basin and west Texas. Adults are light brown, heavy-bodied butterflies with a wingspan ranging from 1. to 2⅝ inches. The overall color of the wings is brown with a yellow-brown band, but the underside of the lobed hindwing has a metallic silver band.

Larvae develop on wisteria and various leguminous plants such as black locust, honeylocust, false indigo bush, soybean, (Amorpha) and Cassia species. A full-grown larva is about 2 inches long. It has a dark reddish brown head with large yellow eye patches. The prothoracic shield is brown and the abdomen is yellow with darker transverse stripes and spots.

A silverspotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) perched on a leaf, where they tend to create nests of eggs.

During egg laying, females alight on potential host plants to attach single eggs to leaves. The eggs are green with a red top. After hatching, the young larvae make shelters on the apical halves of leaves by cutting a flap on the leaf margin, folding it over and attaching it with silk. Larger larvae often silk several leaves together to form shelters. They leave the shelters only to feed or to make larger shelters. When mature, the larvae pupate inside the leaf nest. The pupal stage gives rise to summer adults, but pupae formed in the fall spend the winter in the leaf nests. In the more northern parts of its range, one generation is normal, but three to four generations can occur in southern states.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North America continues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause

 

Sean Fleming: The Water Year in Review

The top five water-related news stories of 2017—and what to expect for 2018

FlemingThe thing about water is that something’s always happening, and the implications of that fact are growing – fast.  What are the top five water-related news stories of 2017?  Read on to see, along with a little context and some implications for next year and beyond.

Oops!  (The Oroville Dam evacuation)

Possibly the most obvious water story of 2017 happened right after the New Year: nearly 200,000 Californians were evacuated beneath Oroville Dam as it threatened to fail under record flooding, which in turn ended a historic drought that had cost the state billions of dollars.  Previously of little note to most living outside the region, Oroville is in fact the tallest dam in the US.  It’s located on the Feather River, a headwater basin to the Sacramento River that drains the western slopes of the snow-laden Sierra Nevada and Cascades in the wet, northern part of California.  Oroville Dam is a key component the California State Water Project, shifting water into the California Aqueduct to help irrigate the Central Valley, which produces about 25% of the food consumed in the US, and to transport water to southern Californian urban centers.  Critics charge that in spite of its size and status as a cornerstone of the civil works in a heavily populated but largely arid state where water is everything, dam maintenance and upgrading lagged far behind, setting the stage for problems.  Record rains in February provided the trigger, and the main spillway failed – which might in turn have undermined the dam as a whole, sending the entirety of massive Lake Oroville downstream all at once in a wave of destruction and death.  Disaster was averted, but the costs were tremendous and the risks were real.  For thoughts on improving America’s river infrastructure, see my recent Scientific American post.

Water goes bang on the India-China border

The most exciting, yet perhaps most under-reported water story of 2017 took place on the India-China border.  A military buildup and tense standoff over disputed ownership of a Himalayan frontier area shared by China, Nepal, Bhutan, and India this summer may have cooled off, but India charges that China followed up by using water as a weapon – withholding key data that India needs to manage lethal monsoon flooding on transboundary rivers.  Violent international conflict solely over water is extremely rare because it usually doesn’t work strategically, though it does happen from time to time.  For instance, in 1965, when Syria was building an upstream diversion of a tributary to the River Jordan that would deeply reduce Israel’s water supply – a catastrophe for a desert nation – Israel responded with air strikes against the facility.  And water has been used as a weapon in wars that were being fought for other reasons: Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government in China opened the dikes on the Yellow River in 1938 in an effort to hold back the invading Imperial Japanese army. The action was only partially successful and had a disastrous humanitarian cost.  The soaring mountain ranges wrapping around the Tibetan Plateau – including the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayas, spanning China, India, Pakistan, and  several other countries – host one of the world’s largest remaining icefields and are the source of the Indus, Yangtze, Yellow, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Mekong Rivers among others, and thus help provide water to a full quarter of the global human population.  Perhaps nowhere else on Earth is it more important for nations to cooperate over water.

Two inter-state water lawsuits go to the US Supreme Court

The volume was turned up in the country’s water wars, with SCOTUS announcing this fall it will hear both Texas’s lawsuit against New Mexico over Rio Grande water rights, and Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over the Apalachicola.  Rivers and aquifers don’t respect borders.  The geophysics of where water comes from and how and where it flows is complex, fascinating, and full of surprises, such as flash floods, alternating drought and flood sequences, and abrupt and catastrophic changes in river channel location.  And those are just the natural aspects – the engineering and management part can be just as complicated for some basins, and a high ratio of demand to supply, as we have in the increasingly heavily populated deserts of the Southwest for instance, exacerbates these issues.  Originating from snowy headwaters in the mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, the Rio Grande flows south through increasingly arid country and then turns southeastward, forming the US-Mexico border until emptying in the Gulf of Mexico.  Water projects abound on the Rio Grande, and each influences the other in some way.  For example, the San Juan-Chama project diverts water from the Colorado River into the Rio Grande, municipal groundwater pumping in Albuquerque interacts with Rio Grande flows through subterranean geologic pathways, and a series of dams withdraws water from the river for agriculture, reducing what’s left for downstream users.  Water law is complicated.  Texas says New Mexico is taking more than its fair share of Rio Grande water; New Mexico says it isn’t.  The potential for disagreement over water will only continue to grow in the Southwest, though there are success stories as well: after some earlier missteps, Las Vegas has invented one of the most advanced and successful water conservation programs around, reportedly reducing its water consumption by almost a quarter over a ten-year period while its population grew by half a million.

Saying goodbye to the Paris Agreement on climate change

Why is climate change important to rivers?  Lots of natural processes and human activities affect how high rivers run and how much water arrives at your tap, and climate variables like precipitation and temperature rank high among these influences.  While the new administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017 was obviously a setback for action on climate change, it was also a democratic response to widespread sentiment.  And this fact suggests that explaining climate change may be turning into the greatest science communication failure in history.  As scientists, we clearly need to adjust course – but in what direction?  Consider a recent article by a multi-disciplinary team in the respected research journal, Global Environmental Change.  Applying complex network theory (kind of a mathematical formalization of the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon) to social media feeds about climate change, they demonstrated the dominance of so-called echo chambers, and that constructive progress is made only when groups with opposing views actually talk with each other.  Consider also that populism – which is by nature skeptical around the competence and integrity of designated experts – has been growing over the last decade on both the left and right, as evidenced by the mayoralties of Rob Ford in Toronto and Boris Johnson in London, the Tea Party and Occupy movements, Brexit, and Bernie and The Donald.  If there is a silver lining to withdrawal from the Paris accords, it’s that it may teach us valuable lessons around communicating about climate change: reach out to people who don’t believe us yet, treat them with respect, and focus on just explaining our science.

Houston, we have a problem

Hurricane Harvey hit Houston hard.  In late August, the fourth largest city in the US, with over 4 million residents counting Harris County, was at the epicenter of what some are saying will be the costliest natural disaster in US history.  Though no hurricane is to be trifled with, why was the flooding so intense in this case?  To be sure, the rainfall generated by this particular storm was unusually heavy.  But risk is, by definition, what you get when you take the probability that something bad will happen (like record rainfall under a hurricane) and multiply it by the impact it will have if it does happen (like flooding and the associated economic cost and human suffering).  In the case of Harvey’s visit to Houston, it had a lot to do with local-scale choices that affected the second part of that equation.  In fact, parts of the greater Houston metropolitan area have seen a spate of floods over the last few years, and they weren’t all associated with huge storms.  The region has experienced an explosion of population growth and urban sprawl.  Lots of residences were built in low-lying, flood-prone areas, which is the single best of way of increasing flood risk.  And urbanization – the conversion of wild or agricultural land to rooftops, parking lots, and roadways – is another powerful flood risk factor.  Soils and wetlands hold on to rainwater for a while, and then gently release it to natural drainage systems like aquifers and rivers.  If you pave and build over these things, their ability to attenuate flooding is removed.  While these effects are particularly noticeable in Houston, and especially so when the city gets hit by a major hurricane, they’re ubiquitous; increased flooding in the UK over the last decade has been attributed to exactly the same causes.

What will 2018 have in store for us?  If we can be sure about one thing, it’s to expect the unexpected.  But the larger trends are clear.  Global water demand will increase 55% in the next few decades, urbanization will spread, tens of millions more will congregate in floodplain-located megacities, the climate will subtly but profoundly shift overhead, and cooperation and conflict over water will vie for supremacy.  We can, in short, expect that water stories will make the news with increasing frequency and force.

Sean W. Fleming has two decades of experience in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors in the United States, Canada, England, and Mexico, ranging from oil exploration to operational river forecasting to glacier science. He holds faculty positions in the geophysical sciences at the University of British Columbia and Oregon State University. He is the author of Where the River Flows: Scientific Reflections on Earth’s Waterways.