DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

naturalists

Aug 20 2010

ShareReads: Bugged Out

by Jimmy L

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

About a month ago, I was poking around my crawlspace when I noticed a lot of dark crickets jumping around like popcorn as soon as I got close to them.  Wondering whether they were harmful, I looked online and found out that they were called camel crickets (but also sometimes known as cave crickets), and completely harmless.  They like dark damp spaces, eat detritus, and are completely silent, so you won’t hear them chirping at night.   The little things looked so cute, the 5 year old in me thought about raising a few in a cage so I could observe them.

Then last week, I was in a used bookstore and I came upon a book through pure luck— Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell.  A cursory glance through the contents revealed that each chapter is about a different insect, from much loved ones like the butterfly and the ladybug, to ones we consider pests like gnats, silverfish, and flies.  I put it in my huge pile of finds that day and took it to the checkout counter.  It wasn’t until later that I saw the title of the last chapter—Order Orthoptera: Camel Crickets.

I’m still reading this book, slowly, savoring it chapter by chapter, and I’m reading it impulsively rather than in order, skipping to katydids or dragonflies just because I suddenly feel like it.  But, obviously, I started with the camel crickets.  I found out so much more about these little critters than Wikipedia could ever be able to tell me.  Hubbell writes from a personal angle; she is not a bug expert, just someone who’s very enthusiastic about them, so I was able to get that same sense of excitement and discovery that she did.  She presents you with amazing tidbits (did you know that the daddy longlegs uses his legs as a kind of cage to trap other insects underneath him as he feeds?) that never feel dry.  Her approach with each insect is different.  With the ladybug, she followed ladybug harvesters (because they sell them now for people who want them in their gardens), for the daddy longlegs and camel crickets, she raised some of her own in cages and observed them, for the butterfly, she followed a few taxonomists, helping them count the different varieties in the Beartooth Mountains.

Sue Hubbell has written many other books, some of which are available at the library.  A Book of Bees… And How to Keep Them is about beekeeping, A Country Year: Living the Questions is a book about living and exploring nature, and Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time Before Bones is a book about invertebrates.  I’m excited to check these books out too, once I finish with this one.

Have you read any books lately that make you feel like a giddy 5 year old?  Any books that satisfy an odd curiosity?  Please share in the comments.

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Jul 28 2010

Lives In Nature

by Dea Anne M

Today marks the birthday of Beatrix Potter who is perhaps best known as the author/ illustrator of such charming classics as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tailor of Gloucester. What you may not know is that Beatrix Potter was very well known during her lifetime as a naturalist. She was highly respected as a mycologist and was one of the first people to suggest that lichens were composites of fungi and algae as opposed to autonomous organisms. In spite of the esteem in which her scientific work was held, her paper “On the Germination of Spores of Agaricineae” had to be presented to the Linnean Society by her uncle since women were barred from attending meetings.

Beatrix Potter came of age during the Victorian Era, a period of time characterized by sweeping social reforms, increasing industrialization, and widespread curiosity about the natural world.  Women shared in this curiosity, and though restricted by law and custom from taking center stage, quite a few Victorian women made a name for themselves within the realm of the natural sciences. Some of these women include:

Jemima Blackburn (1823-1909) – Scottish painter and naturalist.

Mary Treat (1830-1923) – American naturalist and correspondent of Charles Darwin.

Margaret Fountaine (1862-1940) – British lepidopterist and world traveler.

Perhaps the most unusual of these sisters in science was Mary Anning (1799-1847) a British fossil collector and paleontologist. Unlike many of the other women pursuing scientific studies during the Victorian era, Mary Anning had limited financial resources and was largely self educated. Still, she was widely recognized during her lifetime for her work with fossils and she made many important finds. Her very interesting life has made its way into works of fiction including The French Lieutentant’s Woman by John Fowles and, most recently, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel by Tracy Chevalier.

For more on Beatrix Potter, check out these titles from DCPL.

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear.

The Journal of Beatrix Potter, 1881 to 1897 compiled by Leslie Linder.

For more about women in science, check out:

Hypatia’s Heritage:  a History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century.

She’s Such a Geek!: Women Write About Science, Technology, & Other Nerdy Stuff.

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