An entomologist’s (and a photographer’s) bucket list

As a kid, I grew up reading about fantastic animals, creatures that were more incredible than anything my imagination could assemble: bats with leaf-like noses, hoatzins, axolotls, elephants, platypus, dinosaurs and countless arthropods and sea dwellers. As I grew up, I had the oportunity to learn more about these and other creatures, and in some cases, meet them up close.

While studying Zoology in college, I started a “bucket list”: animals, places or events I had to see (and photograph, if  possible) before I turned 30. In the past decade, I’ve crossed many off my list: I went to Angel Falls, fed an elephant, held a male Long-Tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi) and saw a tail-less whip scorpion in its natural habitat, among others.

During a field trip last weekend I saw one of the creatures I had longed to see for almost a decade: a scorpionfly. Yes, for many entomologists this isn’t a big deal, but they’re not that common down here. I was alone at the light trap at the time, since the two other researchers were ornithologists and had fallen asleep by 9:30 pm. I was doing a routine check when I looked down and there it was, stumbling on the floor; at first I thought it was a big crane fly, but when I looked closer I saw two pairs of wings and a face akin to the Egyptian god Set, and I knew that I was finally able to strike it off my list. It was a hangingfly (family Bittacidae) rather than a true scorpionfly (family Panorpidae), but still a fantastic find for me.

One of the worst things about finding it, though, was the inability to share my excitement with anyone; my friends at the station were asleep, no internet service and my friends back home would replace every song on my computer with the sound of a thousand vuvuzelas if I sent them an SMS at 2:30 am. I had to wait to return to civilization to share my excitement with fellow arthropod enthusiasts, since the ornithologists just said it resembled a mosquito on steroids.

Managing to finally strike that off my list has made me review it. Here are a few of the items:

– See a monarch butterfly migration completely covering a tree
– Swim with great whites (no playing heroes here, I’m perfectly happy to see them from inside a cage)
– Visit and photograph every one of my country’s national parks
– See a salamander
– Photograph a tiger beetle

Some are easier than others, but I hope to be able to cross them all off in the next couple of years.

Which items are on your list, and which have you managed to see/do?

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4 thoughts on “An entomologist’s (and a photographer’s) bucket list

  1. Great post!

    My list also includes all of my country’s National Parks. I’m admitting right now that I won’t get to them all, it’s a pretty big place. Some require a chartered helicopter trip, too, I think. I also am hitting up as many California Historic Landmarks as I can, which gets me to slow down in parts of the state that I otherwise wouldn’t pay as much attention to.

    I’d like to through hike a longish trail for at least a month, biologizing along the way. Finding that month is really hard. I just want to spend more time in novel biogeographic regions (now matter how classified) and in different biomes. It would be great to see a massive Dorylus raid in Africa. I’ve yet to dig up a Myrmecocystus nest, that would be a nice long day.

    • They all sound like great goals! If you’re ever near Santa Barbara and are looking for places to hike, ask Marc Kummel (a.k.a. Treebeard, http://www.flickr.com/photos/treebeard/). His picture collection of flora and fauna in that region is amazingly detailed, and he’s kept it for years. If you get in touch with him, please tell him I say hi!

    • We have some pretty nice places for arthropod photography, both urban and in the field. If you plan on including Venezuela on one of your trips, I’ll be happy to show you around!

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