Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Add you own interpretation

My presence on communication media like Flickr, facebook, and the Bugguide, the comment section of this blog, my rather publicly available email address, and the good old telephone in Carl Olson's room at the Entomology Department of the University of Arizona provide me with a never ending series of interesting and often confusing stories. While many callers are very observant and have great photographic skills, we all tend to add so much of our own interpretation to a story that it becomes, well, a really moving or exciting tale...

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons at the nest
When for example a professional photographer and close friend watched a Heron colony on Florida's Sanibel Island, he brought back great shots of an adult bringing twigs to the nest and a nestling grabbing them. Then the adult took the twig back and wove it into the nest. My friend wanted me to write a detailed and moving story of Father Heron purposefully teaching his son the nest-building craft.  As a young (this happened in the nineties), still very uncompromising biologist trained in the ethology school of Lorenz and Eible-Eibersfeld, I just couldn't do anything but describe the difference between pre-programmed instinct actions and true learning....and  I missed the opportunity to be part of a very pretty, not too serious book for children, illustrated with beautiful photos, and certainly doing much more good than harm...

Of course, many misinterpretations are less benign and scare people into frantic actions against perceived pests or make them feel very sick from imagined parasites (and I'm not discounting that there are also real ones). Carl Olson and Garret Hughes are providing extension services for the entomology department of the University of Arizona. They often have to use a lot of tact, detective and persuasive skills to get to the bottom of the problem and give reasonable and helpful advice.

This 9 mm long spider that is sitting on my desk right now was just identified by Garret  and Carl as Philodromidae (Running Crab Spiders) genus Thanatus. It came from the local Petsmart. I was buying live crickets when the employee jumped back from the cricket bin with a shriek and the assurance that she would NOT go near it again because there was a huge spider in it. I volunteered to take it outside. The lady at the cash register took one look and declared it a Brown Recluse. She could clearly see the violin shape on its back....

There is a long tradition to stories that get a peculiar twist through the interpretation and memory of the raconteur. As Arizona's centennial is approaching our newspaper is resurrecting stories that have been published 100 years ago. Here is one that will delight all herpetologists:


  1. Very well written, thanks for sharing!

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