Bug Nights Archive

These posts are of particular interest to Bug Nights volunteers and others interested in aquatic entomology.

Bug Nights are suspended

This has been a difficult decision. We know that Bug Night-ers take seriously their work and will be disappointed. We believe that this decision is the best to protect everyone and to be part of a solution and not a serious public health risk.

We will be thinking of you and wishing you, your family, and friends good health—and hope to see you soon.

Where have you been all of my life? Bug Night #6

There was a recognition. Each of them felt it immediately. Everyone is special to someone but this was a unique situation. The Bug Night-er and the insect looked at each other through their simple and compound eyes, respectively.

“I love your creeping welts,” said the Bug Night-er, “and your prolegs are divine.”

“I love that you didn’t think that I was an Empididae,” said the divine Athericidae, “So many people don’t take the time to appreciate my strongly segmented body and my lovely, strong colouration.”

“I see all that and more,” purred the Bug Night-er.

“Has anyone ever told you—that although you have only two—your legs are long and athletic?” asked the Athericidae.

“No one has ever taken the time to notice,” said the Bug Night-er with tears welling in his simple eyes. He had found his soul mate.

“What are you doing after Bug Night?” wheedled the Athericidae, “There’s some denatured alcohol left and we can turn the lab lights low…”

Each and every Bug Night-er has a unique relationship with their invertebrates. We can’t wait to see you on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 beginning at 6:00 PM sharp.
Please arrive on time. We are now 100% in identification mode and we need all the time that we have each Wednesday.

Under the microscope: Bug Night #5

The new volunteer seemed different but then again, the Bug Night crowd was by definition “different.” He didn’t even seem to need a stereomicroscope, which was a good thing since all of the Leicas were taken. That’s what happens when Bug Night-ers arrive too late. Still, he seemed to be calm and methodical; perhaps the result of careful observation or experience.

“This specimen is not in Macroinvertebrates of the Upper Merrimack,” he said.

The sit-down and stand-up rooms were packed to the gills. The female White Coat answered without even looking up from a quality control/quality assurance check with another Bug Night-er.

“Try the dichotomous key at the back of the book,” she offered.

The new Bug Night-er flipped dutifully to the back of the book. He began at the top of the key.

“Thoracic segment covered dorsally with well-developed plates…” he began. But who could tell with a white shirt and pocket protector obscuring the view of any suspected segments. He used his dissecting needle and forceps to remove the covering.

“Hey!” yelled the bug-eyed specimen, “Stop it—I really liked that shirt!”

“I can’t take your word for it on the thoracic segments,” said the insect, “The White Coats are very proud of their citizen science data and I haven’t even got to the branched gills or humps on the abdomen.”

“This is not what I signed up for when I heard about Bug Nights,” whined the bug-eyed human.

“Turnabout is fair play,” offered the insect.

“I hate that expression,” said the human.

“I empathize,” said the insect.

The insect turned back to the dichotomous key. “Anal prolegs free and well developed…”

Don’t be late. We will see you on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 beginning at 6:00 PM sharp.

Spring is in the air, er, mouthparts: Bug Night #4

The female Bug Night-er was in a quandary about her plans for the evening. She was walking toward St. Paul’s School and weighing her options and considered taking off her usual Wednesday night identification duties. It was warm and the evening breeze brought soft and sweet air that was more like April than February. It was better than the heavy scent of denatured alcohol made airborne by the hot dissecting scope lights.

She was interrupted in her reverie of indecision by the rapid clicking of tarsi on the salty pavement. She turned to see who else was walking on this glorious evening.

“Whir is Bfg Neeth?” asked an insect of unusual size.

The Bug Night-er wondered if the poor diction was a result of the words coming from a bug with considerable mandibles or that the mouth parts held, strangely, a large metal spring. Somehow, she understood instinctively what the insect wanted, despite these two impediments to speech.

“You are on the right path to Bug Night,” the Bug Night-er offered, “I have been wondering if I should go in or stay out and walk more in the woods on this lovely evening.”

The insect regarded her with equanimity.

“What are you going to do?” the Bug Night-er asked.

The insect spit out the spring and with it, the acrid metallic taste. It never took its compound eyes off the Bug Night-er as it moved toward her with a perfect coordination of its six legs.

Maybe the smell of denatured alcohol in the laboratory wasn’t the worst thing in the world, she thought. It wasn’t her last thought but the smells of springs—both climatic and metallic—were.

Spring has not sprung and there is much work to do—and it can’t be done without you. We will see you on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 beginning at 6:00 PM sharp.

Keeping a lot of bugs in the air : Bug Night #3

“What’s up with the male White Coat?” asked the Bug Nigh-er, “He doesn’t seem to be himself.”

The White Coat did seem to be a bit sweaty and a little stressed when fielding questions.

Come to think of it, the Bug Night-ers mused, where was the female White Coat?

“Remember?” one of the leadership Bug Night-ers prompted, “Last week, she said that she had to work at her day job and implored us to go easy on the male White Coat. I had to be here fifteen minutes early to help set up.”

The reminder rang the faintest of bells for most Bug Night-ers—partly because they had learned to tune out her incessant clock warnings but also because the male White Coat juggling had been turned up a notch and it was more interesting than remembering why.

Go easy on the sole White Coat—and enjoy watching him juggle bugs, jars, and other things. He will see you on Wednesday, February 19, 2020 beginning at 6:00 PM sharp.

Why do you need a ‘scope?: Bug Night #2

“It’s as plain as the compound eyes on my face,” said the sartorial insect as he became aggressive and angry, “Why do you need a ‘scope?”

It was a good question but the Bug Night-er was getting older. It was more difficult to see and he wanted to be sure to get this identification correctly.

“I know,” said the Bug Night-er, “I’m sorry but if I get this identification wrong, I will let down everyone—the White Coats will be upset and our data will not hold up for the Report to Congress.”

The insect was intrigued. He forgot his anger and released the Bug Night-er. “Report to Congress?”

“Yes,” said the Bug Night-er, “We are working as citizen scientists.”

He went on to explain that the invertebrate population in the river, including insects, reveals a long-term picture of river health including water quality and habitat conditions. It turns out that each creature tells a story and collectively, they speak volumes about the conditions.

The insect was more than mildly interested but not enough to overcome his instincts.

“How about I give you a better view of my mandibles? Will that help you identify me?” asked the insect as he took hold of the Bug Night-er with his tarsi and drew closer, his breath hot and overwhelming, “How do you like this story?”

Learn more at MerrimackRiver.org.

Rapture of the Bug: Bug Night #1 (aka opening night)

“You’re beautiful,” he said, “Don’t ever change.”

The Bug Night-ers looking on were startled—some of them were repulsed but most understood. It was not so long ago that a particular bug, worm, shelled creature, or arachnid had captured their hearts, and they were changed by it. They were just a bit surprised that it had happened so quickly with the newest Bug Night-er.

He noticed the gallery of amused, disgusted, and knowing faces focused on him. He averted his eyes and spoke in hushed tones.

“Come home with me,” he said, “Come home with me and I promise you will never be lonely again.”

He looked around furtively and lowered his voice into an intimate whisper.

“They don’t understand us…”

He had a plan.

“Where is the washroom?” he asked in a thin, stilted voice, as he rose with a strange shape in his shirt pocket.

The female White Coat offered to escort him down the long corridor but he demurred. Everyone wondered why he needed his coat and car keys to use the washroom. After a while, no one wondered why he didn’t return, leaving on his ‘scope light.

What happens in the lab in the lab stays in the lab. Come home to Bug Nights. Opening night is Wednesday, February 5, 2020 beginning at 6:00 PM sharp. For driving directions and other information, please visit MerrimackRiver.org.

Is it really over?: Bug Night #11

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” mourned the Bug Night-er with tears in his eyes. He was bereft at the thought of no macroinvertebrates in his future until 2020.

The female White Coat tried to bolster his spirits with the promise of field work in the summer but he was inconsolable.

The other Bug Night-ers began to realize the gravity of the loss and mourned them each in their own private way. There would never be any more Bug Nights 2019. There would be no further strange emails in the in boxes of Bug Night-ers. There would see be no further interactions between Bug Night-ers and their macroinvertebrate friends.

“Whatever shall I do?” cried the Bug Night-er, “Wherever shall I go?”

The White Coats did give a damn but the Bug Nights contract ended on this very evening and they were very tired. Field work would begin in a matter of weeks.

The Bug Night-er would have to find comfort in his own way. Given his history of being too familiar with some of the more dangerous macroinvertebrates, the White Coats were concerned.

“I will have to find a way to have my own bug nights,” moaned the Bug Night-er in a nearly unintelligible sob, “I have other friends who care more than you.”

The White Coats assured the grieving Bug Night-er that that was not the case. Unfortunately, it was too late. The Bug Night-er was enmeshed in another case. Perhaps his last. Only time and a good stereomicroscope would tell.

It is the end. At least for 2019. Let’s make the most of our last night together. We will see you on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 (that’s tonight) beginning at 6:00 PM sharp

It’s all a charade: Bug Night #10

The Bug Night-er put one arm over her head, as if she was a cat, grooming her face—except she wasn’t a cat. She was trying to emulate her favorite bug for charades.

“Limnophilidae!” shouted another Bug Night-er with inappropriate confidence.

The charader was deflated. She attempted to emulate a dorsal hump on her second abdominal segment. She loved this bug and felt that everyone should recognize it by now. The sitting room Bug Night-ers gazed at their navels. Some, seeming uncomfortable, fled the room.

“Leptoceridae,” whispered the hovering standing room Bug Night-er.

The female White Coat asked the hoverer to speak louder and with more confidence.

“Leptoceridae!” she repeated with feeling.

“Ah, now I see it,” chimed in one of the other Bug Night-ers.

The next Bug Night-er began his Gerridae pantomine. More navels received gazes.

Look into my eyes and listen: Bug Night #9

“How many times have we told you,” asked the insect. It sighed the sigh of the most world weary being ever. The Bug Night-er was stunned. He had heard that the bugs could speak to volunteers but he thought that it was a metaphor, like a horse whisperer.

“The White Coats need you to organize us by order in your Petri dish,” continued the dreamy eyed bug, “See, there are Roman numerals etched into the bottom of each of the Petri dish’s four compartments.”

The insect’s six-legged companion chimed in, “Write down those four Roman numerals on your scratch paper, and indicate what you have in each and how many: see how some of the humans are using the clickers from the sorting days?”

The White Coats were grateful for the intervention. They were racing around the laboratory in figures-eight, trying to keep up with the more challenging identifications and assuring that they closed down the laboratory no later than 8:59 PM. They listened intently. It was wonderful having other volunteers—or bugs—parrot their nightly instructions from over the many years of Bug Nights.

“Identify. Organize. Write. Don’t wait until the last minute,” said the insect, “That’s the key to a satisfying Bug Night.

The Bug Night-er grabbed a clicker and scratch paper. Quietly, the female White Coat slipped him a sharpened pencil. The Bug Night-er did as he was told. What fruit was there in arguing with a bug? They were small but legion. Better not to find out.

You could learn a lot from a bug. We will see you on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 (that’s tonight) beginning at 6:00 PM sharp.

If you are enjoying these messages and would like to see the archives from the past few years, please visit http://www.merrimackriver.org/forum

Identify me or else: Bug Night #8

“It’s not rocket science,” breathed the insect, “We’ve been through this more times than I have compound eyes.”

The insect was so close that the man could feel and smell the insect’s hot breath. The insect held the man in its mandibles and considerable tarsi. It was no surprise that it smelled of rotten leaves. Oddly, it smelled also of denatured alcohol. The White Coats looked up from their quality control stations. This was nothing they had not seen before. It could end one of two ways. They continued checking samples.

The insect continued with its controlled but rage-filled tirade. “Did you even count my legs? Check the length of my antennae? How about checking my underarms and abdominal segments for gills?”

The man would like to have answered but he did not. First, he could not given that the insect’s mandibles were closing over his throat. Second, well, second didn’t really matter but second, he didn’t have a good answer. The insect was correct. They had been through this identification exercise more times than he could count. Instead, he reached down and flipped open his Macroinvertebrates of the Upper Merrimack to the dichotomous key pages. The insect glanced down and seemed to understand. It loosened its grip. The man pointed to the first question.

“Abdomen with branched gills and scattered hairs” or “Abdomen without gills, small,” the man choked out aloud. The insect released him with a hiss of approval and stood by, waiting for the disposition of its abdomen assessment.

We have line drawings, photographs, and dichotomous keys. You can do it. We will see you on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 beginning at 6:00 PM sharp.