Monthly Archives: July 2020

To be a Kid Again

I’ve been an entomologist all my life, as both avocation and vocation. I started collecting when I was ca. 4, while living on the Mexican border of Arizona. I remember well my particular fascination with spiders even then, especially the Latrodectus sp. in our garage.

My formal education thus focused on economic entomology, as I figured that there would always be abundant jobs available in that field–a supposition that proved correct. 

When I left grad school and took a job on a university faculty, my official responsibilities were research and Coöperative Extension, but I specifically asked that I also be allowed to teach, and subsequently not only taught salient topics in several courses not of my own, but put together and taught a graduate level course called “Araneology” (my interest was spiders, so I didn’t wish to dilute my course with in-depth inclusion of other arachnids*).

Eustala anastera (Walckenaer, 1841),
ca. 20mm

I left academia in 1982, selecting vastly better remuneration over academic interests–a choice that in some ways I still theoretically regret**– and took a job in a corporate environment.

At that point, I completely stopped collecting insects and spiders as I realized that my specimens no longer had scientific value to me or anyone, and therefore it was pointless to be killing critters merely to pin them in boxes or to preserve them in alcohol.

(Now, to digress a moment, I have long described myself as being “visually tone deaf.” I have no visual artistic skills (I’m also aphantasic), and–while I know how to operate a camera and take snap shots–I am in no way a photographer.)

(And now I regress) I recently became intrigued by a local spider species, and wished to have photos of it to show others internationally. My cell phone’s macro function is terrible, my old video camera also sucks at macro, and the stereo microscope I have was way too “strong,” even at its lowest magnification. 

Then I remembered the DSLR I had bought as a present for my better half, Carmen, ca. 11 years ago. One of the specific reasons I bought it was the ability to change its lenses, and sure enough, a bit of searching and an $85 investment got me a halfway decent macro lens that did the trick***.

And now I have happily been collecting photographs such as these instead of boxes and vials of dead bugs.

Mecynogea lemniscata (Walckenaer, 1841), ca. 10mm

It’s hard to describe the level of satisfaction I am feeling having rediscovered my youthful passion for collecting critters, and how comforting it is to have found a non-destructive outlet for a lifelong obsession!


*I have nothing against other arachnids: I had time constraints and wanted my course to focus on spiders.

**When I say “regret” it is with the awareness that life does not have alternate endings: Every tiny happenstance in people’s lives alters their and others’ futures. My life has been immensely rewarding, and there is nothing I would change, as any changes would have prevented me from being happily at the point I am.

***The photos I have interspersed are simply to show how I spend my time–they’re probably lousy, but I wouldn’t know the difference, so please don’t tell me.

****E.g. Just this week I found a spider that I would need to examine closely to make an accurate ID. So I decided to kill her by freezing preparatory to pickling her in alcohol. She had been in the freezer for only a few minutes when I changed my mind, as I really didn’t want to kill her, so I fetched her from the freezer to let  her go. She was not yet frozen, but was already torpid, so I was able to ID her before she warmed up enough to move and then to release her whence she had come.

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