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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas, USA

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Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas, USA
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smaass



Registered: December 2020
City/Town/Province: Austin
Posts: 1
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I stood in the drizzle with a snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) perched on my thumb, its wings vibrating back and forth to warm up. I looked closely taking in this beautiful insect, and a moment later it rose into the air and flew off out of sight into the trees. I returned to my work, cleaning caterpillar frass, invigorated by that one breathtaking moment. Most people my age will scream and run away if they see a bug. I like to take pictures of them. When I go home, I identify and research them. For as long as I can remember I have always loved nature. I grew up in Austin, TX in a neighborhood that is surrounded by nature trails and bordered by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. As I grew older, my casual visits to the Center turned into a regular volunteer job beginning in 2017, gardening, helping with the weekly fauna surveys, and eventually becoming a lead volunteer in the insectary.


Growing up, I sat many times looking out my bedroom window at the big oak tree in the front yard, and it made me feel as if I was in a treehouse. I looked out the window daydreaming about all of the creatures that might live in my oak tree. As I began to learn about the arthropods around me from assisting with the fauna surveys, I began to have a deeper understanding of how much life that tree held. Once a person starts looking, it is amazing how many insects exist and how beautiful and unique they all are. From the colorful and color-changing crab spiders (of the genus Mecaphesa) sitting underneath the petals of a flower, to camouflaged planthoppers (suborder Auchenorrhyncha) that look just like small leaves or thorns, to the snowberry clearwing moth that sat perched on my thumb imitating a big bumblebee. I love watching the caterpillars grow and then releasing a giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) or a cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) out of the insectary at the Wildflower Center.


As I devoted more time to my entomology interests, I began to realize that more people needed to know the things I was learning, since insect populations are collapsing and preserving biodiversity is an important part of keeping our planet healthy. In an urban area like Austin, it is especially important to teach people about their natural surroundings to help them realize the value of our green spaces and of providing areas where living beings can thrive amongst us. I also realized that fear of the unknown was leading to an underappreciation of arthropods, and that many people choose to eradicate insects because they donít understand their value and purpose. I decided to do an Apprentice Ecologist project using my photographs to create a field guide of arthropods for my school. Along the way, I made it my goal to learn as much taxonomy and as much information about the arthropods I encountered. It wasnít always easy to identify the creatures I found, but I had a wonderful mentor, Master Naturalist Val Bugh, who encouraged me to try to identify them on my own before she would offer hints. When I needed a break from our Texas heat, I read books like E.O. Wilsonís autobiography and The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldtís New World, by Andrea Wulf. I found it fascinating that he was able to make so many discoveries by making connections between disciplines.


In March, when schools moved online due to the pandemic, I had a more flexible schedule and ramped up my insect observations, and completed the final edits to my book, which I self-published using Shutterfly in May of 2020. This was an exciting time for me, as Val helped me realize that I was one of the very few people who had seen the larvae of the tiny tortoise beetle Cassida relicta. A beetle expert at Texas A&M confirmed that I was the first person in my county to photograph this beetle. I raised two of the larvae and learned a few things about their life cycle. When my field guide was finished, I sold copies to friends and neighbors at cost and asked for monetary donations so I could donate copies to area schools. The final product contained more than 200 of my photographs, taken over a span of about 2 years. I also presented my project to my school via a Zoom meeting and as the pandemic lockdown continued, I was inspired to create a photo scavenger hunt for the younger children in the neighborhood and my school. I hope that I encouraged some people to be more curious and less fearful about the tiny creatures that live all around us.

I am excited to further develop my interest in the natural world as I continue to work towards a degree in Environmental Science and Biology at Allegheny College, where I am a member of the class of 2024. I canít wait to meet people who not only share my interests and want to learn more about ecology, but also enjoy expressing themselves creatively. I am eagerly anticipating learning how to do field research and eventually pursuing a career as an entomologist.
Date: December 29, 2020 ∑ Views: 878 ∑ File size: 19.3kb, 1299.7kb: 3024 x 3024 ∑
Hours Volunteered: 450
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18
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