She Blinded Me With Science

Nature’s Burlesque Show


This Lion’s Mane nudibranch (Melibe leonina) is no ordinary hermaphrodite. S/he appears to be filter feeding with that gaping mouth, but is actually a predatory carnivore. She hunts by casting his “oral hood” out like a net, and then closing around her prey upon contact, interlacing his tentacles and trapping her quarry, which can range from shrimp to fellow mollusks to small fish. In the process of groping about in the water, s/he shapeshifts, alternately taking on the unmistakable forms of both male and female human genitalia. The aptly named nudibranch is nature’s burlesque show.


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

Dirty, Earthy Night Life

Mating Mantids

Photo: Working Up An Appetite by Becky Jaffe


Please join me in celebration of Earth Day this Thursday night at the California Academy of Sciences for a “Dirty, Earthy NightLife.” I am delighted to be presenting a slideshow of my photography entitled Eye to Compound Eye: The Art and Science of Insect Photography.

Incorporating anecdotes from biology, ecology, and cultural anthropology, I will share my adventures in insect photography in the hopes of inspiring you to pick up your camera and look at insects with a new lens.

WHEN:     Thursday, April 26, 8:30pm

WHERE:   Cal Academy, African Hall

55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco

Convulsive Changes


Insects wear their hard parts on the outside, unlike people. They must shed their rigid, protective exterior in order to grow, just like people.

This Orthopteran has just emerged from her old shell, called an exuvium. Her wings are wet, folded, and translucent at this stage. She will spend the next hour or so drying her wings, pumping fluid into them to stiffen them, and gaining color.

During the molting process she is especially vulnerable to predation, which is why she wisely undertakes this process at night, taking cover under a leaf that shields her from birds patrolling overhead. She will transform herself five to seven times in her life.

Here’s what I want to know: Is consciousness continuous throughout these convulsive changes?