About This Blog

This started out as a typical ranting blog over on Livejournal, but it turns out that, overall, I’m a happy sort of guy and don’t really have that many things to rant about. As of February 2007, it has instead turned into a project to document every arthropod that I can find on our property – about 9 acres on the north slope of Old Mill Hill in the Keeweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan. Right about here, in fact (click for map):
Location of the Backyard Arthropod Project

This includes insects, spiders, other arachnids, crustaceans, and pretty much anything I find with an exoskeleton. I’ll be keeping this up for as long as the variety holds out (which could be decades). I originally updated once a week, but as of January 1, 2012, I’ve increased the posting frequency to twice per week, with posts on both Saturday and Wednesday. I’ll also randomly inject whatever thoughts happen to occur to me at the time[1], although I’ll try to stick with at least some connection to the topic at hand. When (if?) I run out of arthropods, maybe I’ll start in on the plants.

These photos are not what I would consider “artistic”, they are intended just to document that I did, indeed, have the arthropod in question in my hand at some point, and to show interesting details. They are not intended to be things of beauty. So, don’t expect a lot of artfully posed pictures of showy butterflies standing oh-so-delicately on a perfect bloom – while I appreciate such pictures as much as anybody, I have neither the skill nor the equipment for doing that, except maybe by accident if I get really lucky. I know my limitations, and so I’m trying to be more about “See how the leg joins the thorax here? And check out the extra eyes!” sorts of things.

While I have always been interested in insects and other arthropods, I unfortunately have zero formal training in entomology (I am an extractive metallurgist/chemical engineer by profession), so I’m basically trying to learn arthropod identification as I go. I will doubtless make many mistakes, please don’t hesitate to correct me when I am wrong.

Incidentally, one of the big reasons why I am restricting pictures to things that are (or could be) on our property is that there are just so many kinds of arthropods that throwing it open to bugs from everywhere would absolutely swamp me. There are an estimated 350,000 species of just beetles worldwide. At one a week, that would take me about 6,700 years to get to them all. And that wouldn’t even touch, say, the moths! No, if I want to have any pretense of being comprehensive about this, I’ve got to restrict myself pretty heavily to a very small subset of arthropods, and the easiest way to do that is to focus on a very small area, like the house and back yard.

I’m also trying to make a few points: (1) Even in areas with “low diversity”, like the northern half of North America or the inside of the average house, there are more kinds of little crawly things than you might imagine; (2) Just because an arthropod isn’t big and showy doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve attention too; and (3) It is possible to find interesting things wherever you happen to be if you look at sufficiently high magnification.

A note about the scale of the photographs: Most of the smallish insects are photographed on a sheet of graph paper with squares 1 millimeter across. For the ones that I photograph on a natural background or are too big to fit in the field of view of my macro lens, I try to give a length estimate somewhere in the posting.

The domain name is based on a comment made by the friend who is looking after the hosting of this site. He wrote the following after reading six months worth of insect postings in one sitting:

“I just spent the last hour reading your livejournal blog, and getting up to
speed with the crawly, creepy, buzzy things that seem to be taking over your
house. And now, for some reason, I’m itching all over. And I’m a little
twitchy [. . . . . ] Okay, gotta go. Now it feels like something is crawling in my hair.”

[1] Random thoughts will usually be added as footnotes[2].

[2] I like footnotes[3]

[3] They let me put in vaguely-related asides[4] without interrupting the flow of the rest of the document.

[4] Some years ago, I read a collection of papers from the “Journal of Irreproducible Results”[5] that included an article which was composed almost entirely of footnotes[6], except for the title, author’s name, and one incomplete sentence giving an anchor for the first footnote.

[5] A journal that is, sadly, no longer being published[7]. I actually had a short paper printed in it once, it was about breeding vacuum-hardened cockroaches and using them to infest outer space. The goal was to sufficiently annoy other intelligent races in the galaxy that they would eventually come to find us, if only to tell us to knock it off. [8]

[6] I thought it was a hoot. Your mileage may vary.

[7] It was kind of an ugly brouhaha, with the original publisher getting into a blazing row with the entire editorial staff, names were called, lawsuits were filed . . . and by the time all the dust settled, JIR was essentially no more, and the entire editorial staff went off to create a new and unconnected gag-science journal (the “Annals of Irreproducible Research”) instead. A few more issues of JIR came out at irregular intervals afterwards, but the heart had gone out of it.[10]

[8] All in all, probably not the best plan.[9]

[9] I’d better cut it out with the footnotes now. See how these things can get out of hand?

[10] Update on May 16, 2011: I have just been informed by Norman Sperling that the reports of the death of JIR are greatly exaggerated – and since he is currently the editor, I suppose he would know. He writes:

“Good news! The Journal of Irreproducible Results lives! See http://www.jir.com. Or subscribe.
Further good news: the article you mentioned, “Vide Infra” by Dr. Tim Healey, is reprinted in one of our current anthologies, “This Book Warps Space and Time”, published by Andrews McMeel, ISBN-13: 978-0-7407-7713-4, p258.
Our latest anthology, “Don’t Try This in High School”, includes an article on Insect Rights, p151, and Nixing Ixodes, p 203. ISBN 0-978-0-913399-12-5. Published by Everything in the Universe this week. http://www.everythingintheuniverse.com.”