Thursday, August 11, 2011


by Brianna Todd, Lead Animal Caretaker

Last week, I wrote a blog about my awesome trip to Rio Rico, Arizona for the Insects in Education and Conservation Conference. I learned and saw a lot during that trip, but there was one conspicuous story that I didn't mention at all. It was definitely the craziest thing I witnessed on the trip, and for that reason it merits its own story.

Have you ever heard of blacklighting? If you know an entomologist, mention blacklighting to them and watch their eyes light up. Like I said in my previous article, I am not a bona-fide entomologist, so I had never heard of it before I went on this trip. It was about six hours into our "afternoon excursion" that the term "blacklighting" caught my attention. It went something like this;
Serious entomologist guy: "You know, we've seen a lot of bugs today, but I feel like we saw more last year."
Trip leader: "Yeah, but wait until it gets dark. Then we can start blacklighting and the bugs will start swarming."
Me (sweaty, blistered, exhausted): "Say what? Dark? Black lights? Swarming bugs???" Fortunately I didn't say any of this out loud or I may have been banned from entomology for life.

This was the point when I realized I was in for the long haul, and that those sack dinners we had packed weren't for "just in case". When you find yourself out in the middle of the Sonoran desert, and your only ride home is a team of entomologists who couldn't be happier if it was Christmas morning, it's usually best to just go with the flow. That's what I discovered. Sure, I was tired and hot, among other things, but I was about to witness something bizarre and spectacular.

As dusk started to settle in, it was time to set up. I watched while the rest of the group set up two black light stations, each consisting of a white sheet jury-rigged across two poles, and a large black-light propped up in front of the sheet. The entomologists got their cameras and specimen jars ready, and started to stare at the sheets intently. A few bugs began to land on the sheet, mostly tiny beetles and moths. When I stated that that was kind of cool, I was interrupted with a promise, "This isn't even 10% of what we'll get." So we waited a bit longer.

Within 30 minutes or so, I started to understand what everyone was talking about. Giant beetles of all sorts of colors and sizes were flocking to the sheet, unable to resist the lure of the black light. Huge, beautiful moths showed up to the party next. I was excited to see some massive damselflies too, which I learned are the adult form of ant lions. I was told by a few blacklighting veterans that sometimes they've even witnessed tarantulas and scorpions making their way across the base of the sheet and having a field day with all of the free food we've collected for them.

Within an hour, the sheets were totally covered in bugs. A few interesting specimens were captured by entomologists for their collections, but mostly folks just took pictures. Standing next to the sheet, I felt like I was in a hailstorm of bugs as they constantly hurled themselves into my face and arms on their mission to reach the black light. Still, with the level of enthusiasm and awe exhibited by the rest of my group, it was hard not to catch their excitement. It truly was like nothing I've ever seen before. I'm glad I was forced to stay.

No comments:

Post a Comment