Gross Science at Phoenix Fan Fest, October 23, 2016

As a followup to the Gross Science panel at Phoenix Fan Fest, here are some noted insects of the Sonoran Desert.

Rainbow Grasshopper

Jay Iwasaki, (CC BY 2.0)

Jay Iwasaki, (CC BY 2.0)

Feeds on snakeweed and desert broom, making it distasteful to predators.

Opuntia Bug

Cactus Bug (Chelinidea vittiger - Opuntia Bug); trail over "Adobe Wall Pass" to Redfield Canyon S of Jackson Canyon, Galiuro Mountains, E of Redington, AZ, Lon&Queta, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Cactus Bug (Chelinidea vittiger – Opuntia Bug); trail over “Adobe Wall Pass” to Redfield Canyon S of Jackson Canyon, Galiuro Mountains, E of Redington, AZ, Lon&Queta, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Cause white spots to appear on cacti due to their feeding.


Photo by Eileen Kane

Diceroprocta apache photo by Eileen Kane

Different species emerge at disparate times of the year and males sing distinct songs. Desert cicada life cycles are 3-7 years in contrast with Eastern cicadas’ 13-17 years. Desert species are the only known insects who can sweat.

Palo Verde Beetle

Cobalt123 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Cobalt123 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Larvae feed on roots–sometimes palo verde or mesquite trees–for up to three years.

Jerusalem Cricket

Franco Folini , CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikipedia

Franco Folini , CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikipedia

Sometimes know as Child of the Earth or Skull Insect, they are cousins of katydids and wetas and nocturnal predators.

Iron-Cross Blister Beetle


Blood contains cantharidin which causes blisters. They pupate in native been nests.

Tarantula Hawk

Marc Shandro (CC-SA 3.0)

Marc Shandro (CC-SA 3.0)

Females hunt tarantulas for food for her offspring. Usually nectar feeds and non-aggressive, never swat at them as their sting is very painful.


Carpenter Bee

US Forestry Service

US Forestry Service

From Steve Buchman, The Bee Works:

Along with bumble bee queens, carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa) are the largest native bees in the United States. There are numerous species of carpenter bees that inhabit a broad range of ecosystems from tropical to subtropical to temperate. In the United States carpenters bees can be found across the southern United States from Arizona to Florida and in the eastern United States, north to New York.

These gentle giants get their name from their life history habits of excavating precisely rounded galleries inside wood. Using their broad, strong mandibles (jaws), they chew into dead but non-decayed limbs or trunks of standing dead trees. Some species, like the eastern Xylocopa virginica, occasionally take up residence in fence posts or structural timbers, especially redwood, and become a minor nuisance. Inside their rounded branched galleries, they form pollen/nectar loaves upon which they lay their giant eggs (up to 15 mm long). The female forms partitions between each egg cell by mixing sawdust and her saliva together. These partition walls are very similar to particle board.

More Resources

50 Common In50-common-insectssects of the Southwest by Carl E. Olson. “Olson’s love for insects began when he and his older brother collected caterpillars and silk moths in the Ohio countryside. While terminating insects with Raid is the initial instinct of many people, Olson has dedicated his career to using alternative ways to solve the insect problems people face. He is a believer in programs promoting ‘integrated pest management,’ or IPM.”

Learning About and Living With Insects of the Southwest: How to Identify Helpful, Harmful and Venomous Insects by Floyd G. Werner Carl Olson. Excerpt, The Bugman’s Philosophy by Carl Olson:

insects-southwestAs I wander about this desert, I now try to figure out what insects are around making this world so delightful to me. I may become an oasis in the desert to the creatures. If that fly comes to my nose and becomes an irritation, I may shoo it away but I know why it comes to me. Life won’t always be as I wish it to be, so maybe I can return a little of me through some other life forms. Peace of mind comes in many ways, but to me it comes in the form of diverse shapes and sizes of all those microcreatures surrounding me in life.

sting-of-the-wildThe Sting of the Wild by Justin Schmidt. The world of stinging insects through their eyes from the author of the Schmidt sting pain index.

onesmall-squareCactus Desert (One Small Square) by Donald Silver & Patricia Wynne. “It’s a sun-scorched world where clouds rarely come and nothing seems to move. That is, until children ages 6 – 9 up look a little closer to find tortoises, toads, and lizards, not to mention the scary rattlesnake and scorpion. Here, plants send their roots deep into the earth to find water, beetles stand on their head and shoot a stinky spray to fight off enemies, and roadrunners whiz by sleepy turtles and nervous desert mice on their way to … where?”

Bugs ‘N Stuff of the Southwest Facebook Group.

Science You Can Do at Home at Phoenix Fan Fest, October 22, 2016

As a followup to the Science You Can Do at Home panel at Phoenix Fan Fest, here are some resources for citizen science.

First, a definition:

Citizen science (also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists.

Southwest Monarch Study

monarchtag“The Southwest Monarch Study is researching the migration and breeding patterns of monarch butterflies in Arizona and the SouthWestern United States. We tag Monarch Butterflies during their Fall migration from August through November.” See upcoming event here.

Arizona Game & Fish Department

The AZGFD relies on citizen science volunteers to help it gather data on Arizona Wildlife. Among the projects you can join are:

Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program

MANMADE NEST“Beginning in February, nestwatchers are stationed at 10 to 15 breeding areas with the highest recreational pressures. The on-site protection and education provided by nestwatchers has contributed to a high percentage of the bald eagle’s success. In addition to monitoring the breeding attempt, nestwatchers can also identify individuals in life-threatening situations, making possible a rescue effort by agency biologists.”

Aubrey Valley (Black-footed Ferret) Spotlighting

black-footed_ferret_-usfws-wikicommons“Spotlighting allows the population of black-footed ferrets to be monitored. It involves the use of high-powered lights to locate and identify black-footed ferrets. The animal’s emerald green eye shine is reflected by the spotlight at night. Volunteers need to be able to stay attentive from sunset to sunrise while spotlighting for black-footed ferrets; must be able to carry up to 30 pounds while backpack spotlighting for two-hour durations; should know how to use or learn how to use a GPS unit and navigate in the dark.”

Ornate Box Turtle Watch

desert-box-turtle-sue-in-azThe Arizona Game and Fish Department is asking for your help in monitoring box turtle populations by collecting simple location and weather data for any box turtle you encounter in Cochise County, and parts of Graham, Gila, Pima, Pinal, and Santa Cruz counties.


Archaeology Southwest

swatvolunteers2“Field volunteer jobs are rare, but can include excavation, survey, and mapping projects. We can also connect you with the Arizona Site Stewards, a volunteer program to monitor threatened archaeological sites throughout Arizona. Office volunteer jobs are much more numerous, and include library research, general office work, outreach, and fundraising. Because volunteers are an integral part of our research teams, many volunteer positions require that you are able to commit to working for a specific, scheduled amount of time.”

Southwest Paleontological Society

phxiceage2“The Southwest Paleontological Society (SPS) consists of an active group of people who enjoy learning about or teaching the science of paleontology. We enjoy collecting fossils for our own private collection, collecting items for research, learning about the significance of finds, and being in the outdoors. SPS is led by experienced paleontologists who guide its members in the skill and knowledge required in the process of collecting and preparing delicate fossil specimens. SPS supports the programs and the goals of the Arizona Museum of Natural History.”

Saguaro Schoolyard BioBlitz

thomasmstrom_mg_9724thomas-m-stromcourtesy-national-geographicA BioBlitz is 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. “Saguaro National Park has teamed with the University of Arizona and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to engage our youth in a series of schoolyard bioblitz events, bringing students closer to the biodiversity in their own backyards. Schoolyard bioblitz events will take place throughout the year, and we will track our growing list of species here! But we don’t want to limit observations to students. Any and all are invited to participate.”

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

eBird offers innovative online tools for birders to keep track of their own lists and contribute their bird sightings for use in science and conservation. eBird is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

Each year, 15,000 people count birds at their feeders for Project FeederWatch. With more than 1.5 million checklists submitted since 1987, FeederWatchers have contributed valuable data enabling scientists to monitor changes in the distribution and abundance of birds.

By finding and monitoring bird nests, NestWatch participants help scientists track the breeding success of birds across North America. Participants witness fascinating behaviors of birds at the nest and collect information on the location, habitat, bird species, number of eggs, and number of young.

cardinal-635872_960_720Celebrate Urban Birds is a bilingual project focused on engaging underserved urban and rural residents in science, environmental education, and community activities related to birds. Participants observe a small, defined bird-watching area for 10 minutes and report on the presence or absence of 16 species of birds.

Begun in 1998, the four-day Great Backyard Bird Count was the first citizen-science program to collect and display bird observation data online on a large scale. Today, the Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the most popular annual events among bird watchers. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

The YardMap Network is an NSF-funded project that builds online communities to investigate the impacts of bird-friendly and carbon-neutral practices in backyards, community gardens, and parks. Participants will locate their yards or parks on a Google maps interface, then document their sustainable practices using simple point n’ click digital tools to create data maps.

Hummingbirds At Home Mobile App is a citizen scientist project to help learn more about hummingbirds and how to protect them.

Globe At Night

gan-cta-map“Globe at Night is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure & submit their night sky brightness observations. This year citizen scientists from around the world have contributed 12,236 data points. It’s easy to get involved – all you need is computer or smart phone & follow these 5 Simple Steps!”

Arizona Citizen Astronomers

exoupcloseSome Arizona amateur astronomers of note include Robert Gagliano for his discovery of an extrasolar planet in a quadruple star system; Thomas J. Bopp, a manager at a construction materials factory and an amateur astronomer at the time of the Comet Hale-Bopp discovery; and Michael Schwartz, 2013 recipient of the Edgar Wilson Award for several comets named Tenagra.


Mobile Apps for Citizen Science

Project Noah from National Geographic.

Leafsnap from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution.

BudBurst from Chicago Botanic Garden and National Ecological Observatory Network.

iNaturalist from California Academy of Sciences.

NoiseTube a research project started at the Sony Computer Science Lab in Paris and currently maintained by the Software Languages Lab at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

NASA’s FameLab Returns to Phoenix Comicon, Saturday, May 30, 2015, Phoenix Convention Center

famelab_phxccNASA’s FameLab USA returns to Phoenix Comicon Saturday, May 30, 2015, 6PM at the Phoenix Convention Center, N232. Phoenix Comicon, a ticketed celebration of popular culture with upwards of 80,000 attendees, features FameLab as part of their extensive science programming for attendees.

FameLab at Phoenix Comicon will be the Western regional US heat for early career scientists from numerous disciplines to compete to convey their research or related science concepts. It’s a sort of “American Idol” for scientists. Each contestant has three minutes, no slides, no charts, just the power of words and a prop to convey how the contestant’s science can reshape the face of science exploration and discovery. A panel of experts in both science and science communication conduct the judging.

Winners from the FameLab Exploring Earth and Beyond regional competitions will face off in April, 2016 for a grand prize and the chance to compete with peers from around the world at the FameLab International Final in the UK in June, 2016.

The mission of FameLab is to improve science communication skills. Each preliminary event hosts workshops with training in the principles and practices of good communication.