Insect Intrigue



I placed a drop of liquid brown sugar on the counter. Word spread quickly, pheromone trails were forged. In no time the sisters had circled around like wildebeest at a watering hole. Each ant has two stomachs: an individual stomach for her own survival, and a social stomach for collective survival. Life is sweet.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reincarnate

RecyclingPhoto by Becky Jaffe

This grasshopper has just emerged from one of several convulsive molts she will undergo in her lifetime, shedding her skin cyclically in order to grow. She wastes no time, methodically devouring her former self, starting with the head, as seen here.


hungerPhoto by Becky Jaffe

the Natural Order

natural orderPhoto by Becky Jaffe




this grasshopper

Photo by Becky Jaffe


I was following this grasshopper from bush to bush, content to let someone else lead the way for a while, when suddenly this anolis leaped into our path and with one lusty gulp brought our afternoon amble to an abrupt halt. Games of Follow-the-Leader so rarely end well.

Transmogrification Studies

B's Triptych wFrm

Photos by Becky Jaffe

When I brought home a branch of wild fennel and stuck it in a vase in my living room a month ago, I harbored the tiny hope that it might contain hidden in its foliage a microscopic egg. When I discovered a plump lime-green caterpillar (left photo) marching across my rug searching for fresh food two weeks later, I harbored the small hope that she might survive long enough to pupate. When she folded herself into a tiny green hammock (middle photo) and fell into a deep slumber, I harbored the small hope that I might be present to observe her emerge.  When I awoke on my birthday and found her pulling her last leg out of her decayed chrysalis (right photo), I traded in my small hopes for big awe. When she popped open her wings and sailed out the window a few hours later, I threw my small hopes after her and caught a whiff of faith on the updraft.

I was fortunate enough to take these photographs of her successive transformations to share with you.

Thank you for Taiyo Lipscomb for compiling these three images into one frame. Thank you to Soji Odukogbe for being my companion in wonder.

Out of the Blue

out of the blue-2

Photo by Becky Jaffe

Ingenious Design

Ingenious Design

Photo of Extatosoma tiaratum (Latin for Serious Badass) by Becky Jaffe

a mundane marvel on a Monday

mundane marvelThe enigmatic Extatosoma tiaratum photographed by the bumfuzzled Becky Jaffe


WallflowerPhoto by Becky Jaffe

What to do when you find a meadow full of dragonflies

MeadowPhoto by Becky Jaffe

What to do when you find a meadow full of dragonflies: Clear your calendar. Reshuffle your priorities. Make up excuses to leave work early. Dodge all commitments that have to do with neither meadows nor dragonflies. Abandon your cell phone. Plunk yourself down in said meadow. Become attention. Satisfy your senses. Revel. Marvel. Repeat.


To see eye-to-eye with a dragonfly, you have to kneel down.

i excused myself from polite society

Photo by Becky Jaffe


to hover with the dragonfliesPhoto by Becky Jaffe


animated suspension

animated suspensionPhoto by Becky Jaffe

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” – Iris Murdoch

Through the Looking Glass









‘What sort of insects do you rejoice in, where you come from?’ the Gnat inquired.
– from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 classic Through the Looking Glass

morning poem

Photo by Becky Jaffe

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Genital Plugs, Projectile Penises, & Gay Butterflies: A Naturalist Explains the Birds and the Bees this Wednesday, March 20th from 8 to 10 pm


Please join me on March 20th for Nerd Nite SF. If you haven’t heard of Nerd Nite, imagine Ted Talks on tequila. Nerd Nite offers a casual and occasionally drunken venue to geek out over the entertaining side of science. This Wednesday I am delighted to be one of three guest nerds presenting. I will lead you on a romp through Mother Nature’s freaky side, surveying some of the more outlandish ways animals do the wild thing. Audience members will form teams to compete in a pub quiz-style trivia game with prizes of the salacious biological variety. Just in time for Spring, this talk is guaranteed to cause a bioorgasm.

Where: the Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St, San Francisco
When: Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Cost $8


Bugpeople are my people: Insect Sciences Museum March 9th from 1-3 pm

my new roommate


Greetings from my new roommate, Ms. Eurycantha calcarata!  This impressive stick insect, about the size of a quarter, is the best honorarium I ever received. Thank you to Eddie Dunbar and the members of the Insect Sciences Museum for hosting me as guest presenter last Saturday, March 9th. The event was held at the Rotary Nature Center at Lake Merritt, the nation’s first wildlife refuge, established in 1870. It was a special pleasure to talk with other insect enthusiasts who are working right here in Oakland cataloging endemic species, organizing educational outreach programs for children and adults, and generally spreading the Arthropod appreciation.

There is a sixth sense


Photo: Nectar by Becky Jaffe

” There is a sixth sense, the natural religious sense, the sense of wonder.” – D. H. Lawrence

Have you Heard? February 24 through April 4th, 2013


From February 24th through April 4th,  the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in Texas is hosting a nature photography exhibit that will inspire you to get outside for a slow amble along the sanctuary trails.  One of my grasshopper photos happily hopped into the exhibit’s menagerie.

I only ask to be free


“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimple what it concedes to butterflies.”

– Charles Dickens, from Bleak House

Thank you, National Geographic readers!


Photo: Shadow Theater by Becky Jaffe

A friend emailed me today to tell me she had seen my photograph of a pair of grasshoppers on Yahoo News!  I googled these grasshoppers and was gobsmacked to find that National Geographic had slapped their logo on my photo. Yeah, baby!  I danced my Happy Jig for a good long time, and take this as further evidence that the masses just can’t get enough grasshoppers.

Lubber lovin’

original piggyback

Photo: Lubber Lovin’ by Becky Jaffe

These lubbers are the largest grasshoppers I have ever had the good fortune to observe. They can afford to be larger and more noticable than most of their Orthopteran relatives because they have toxins derived from plants they ingest, which they advertize via the bright orange warning coloration seen here. They have few predators as a result of their effective chemical defense system, and are therefore abundant and ubiquitous in disturbed roadsides along the wetlands of Everglades National Park. One of their few predators is the loggerhead shrike, sushi chef among birds, who has evolved the ingenious hunting strategy of impaling the lubbers on barbed wire and thorny scrub, letting the poisins drain, evaporate, or decompose, preparing a detoxified meal of lubbers the size of miniature lobsters.

Genus and species: Romalea guttata


Fragile Do Not Crush

This is Ire, which means “blessing” in Yoruba.

Last month when I brought her home she was a handsome lime green caterpillar with striking black stripes, yellow spots, and retractable orange horns used to spray a noxious odor at would-be predators and admiring onlookers alike. She had an insatiable appetite, wandering the apartment across surprisingly long distances in search of food. We found her alternately under the stove, behind the couch, and tucked in a lampshade, searching for her host plant, fennel, which we dotingly gathered for her during nightly neighborhood foraging forays. After ten days of frenzied feeding she slowed down as if gathering her energy and attached herself to a stem by weaving two sticky silvery threads 3 cm long, reclining in a minimalist hammock of her own making. She remained motionless for another 48 hours, poised in hanging meditation. We checked on her at midnight and saw no change, but awoke early the next morning to find her transformed into a green leafy sheath with finely sculptured ridges, miniature aretes, a carved closed pocket of grass.

We considered whether we could still call this thing that could pass for a bird dropping Ire. Does caterpillar consciousness carry over to chrysalis consciousness? What memories does the butterfly preserve? Ire hung suspended in stillness for three weeks, during which time we fretted over her like expectant parents, making sure to keep all the windows open in case she hatched when we were not home. Then her chrysalis turned orange, and I was sure she was rotting, dying because we had not provided enough food for her during her voracious larval stage. In the midst of my maternal lament she emerged, ever the metaphor for resurrection and renewal of faith. We marveled at her size (how did such a large butterfly fit into such a compact cocoon?). We marveled at her colors (yellow, with orange eye spots and a dashing vibrant blue trim), her symmetry, her tuxedo coattails, and her one salient ability: to climb UP.  She tested her wings, fell down, climbed up. Tested her wings, fell down, climbed up. (How did she know which way was up?) We admired her confidence and tenacity. In one of her test flights, she landed on this box by an accident of instinct. Ire sent us this message before she flew out the window: Fragile: do not crush.

Watching her first faltering flight, I feared that with her wings and the world being so new, she would quickly become the snack of a passing passerine. I choose instead to imagine her drinking nectar somewhere, tucked into the deep cup of some lucky flower, ever true to her name.