Star Light, Star Flight

It’s the last day to post a photo to social media and tag Celestron for their #ChangeYourView2015 November Nights contest!

Wow- November flew by. Speaking of flying–

Have you ever wondered why insects are attracted to your porch light at night? It bewilders people. Why, if this insect is nocturnal and only flies at night, does it get mesmerized by the light to the point where it seems like it can’t fly away?

The response to light that some insects experience is called phototaxis. This means that the whole body of the organism will move toward or away from light. Moths are the classic example; they are positively phototactic. Cockroaches, however, are negatively phototactic. Humans have introduced such intense light pollution that insects are now confused as they migrate or try to find food. Moths have eyes that are incredibly good at collecting light and not reflecting it back. They are incredibly drawn to the light.

Sphinx moth eye

But why light? Insects use light to guide their way through the world. For one thing, they don’t “see” the world in the same light spectrum that we do.  A lot of insects see better in UV light.

In the video below, go to the 00:43 second mark to get a feel for how the world looks to an insect!

They will also track their own movements based on a fixed point of light- like the sun if they are diurnal, or the moon and stars if they are nocturnal. For example, there are dung beetles that navigate by the moon and the stars as they roll their balls of dung. But the moon is kind of fickle right? It’s not always there. Scientist Eric Warrant and his team at Lund University have figured out that these nocturnal dung beetles may use polarized light (moonlight scattered in the atmosphere) or even the Milky Way to navigate! Without it, beetles will roll their dung balls in never-ending circles. It seems that the Milky Way helps the dung beetles to move in a straight line.

**If you want to see some incredible astroimaging pictures, I suggest you check out John Davis’ page on Team Celestron. #ScopeLove!

In some ways,  human-introduced light can be a benefit- predators will hang out by lights and take their pick of phototactic insects that are drawn there. Entomologists also use light traps. We set them up in dark areas of forest or fields and use different wavelengths of light to attract different kinds of arthropods we would like to collect. It’s fun, when traveling overseas to turn on a light once you’re in your mosquito net, to see what lives in the room with you!


Expert tip:  When I’m camping, people always ask me how I don’t get irritated by bugs flying in my face when I have my headlamp on. I tell them to use a red light! It’s great for keeping your sensitive low-light vision intact and also bugs don’t see the red wavelength, so they won’t be attracted to it. I use my red light to sneak up on spiders and watch them without scaring them away. We all have our quirks.







Fall Foliage

All of a sudden, here in Portland, the trees are on fire! Autumn is in full swing and I realized that if I didn’t act fast I was going to miss my opportunity to get red and yellow leaves under the microscope. So I went outside and grabbed some. On my way back in, I snagged one of the last vibrant green leaves on our cherry tomato plant and one of the last dark green kale leaves. I wanted a little color diversity.

The maple leaves that had turned red were lovely–

Red Maple

The scope revealed some interesting color anomalies–red to purple

I found mold that had started to eat through the cuticle and epidermis–Red leaf mold

I picked up a yellow leaf and found the edges tinged with red–Red to Yellow Leaf

And looked closely at the one perfect butter yellow leaf–Yellow maple

I discovered that the “vibrant green” tomato leaf was actually covered with mold–mold on tomato leaf

The underside rib of the kale was almost luminous–Underside Kale

But as I moved the scope around I made a discovery! Whitefly nymphs feeding! I haven’t seen these insects since grad school. Man, even when I try to do a post on something other than bugs, I find them–whitefly nymphs

I was about to pack up the scope and found a tiny white insect around the light rim. Adult whitefly–whitefly 2 better


I’ve been stressing a bit about planning these blog posts. Making them cohesive and well thought-out. But I’m realizing that I have the most fun and the biggest discoveries when I just go with an idea and let it take me on a journey of discovery. It’s inquiry based learning. If you give your students or children some colored leaves and a handheld digital microscope (like the type I use from Celestron) the learning and questions will come naturally. The lesson writes itself.

A Tiny Universe

I’ve been thinking about microscopes a lot lately, due to my recent partnership with Celestron.

Celestron is well-known for their incredible astronomy equipment. Their social media feeds are filled with stunning images of the night sky. Nebulae. Galaxies. Planets. Moons. Looking to the universe is the inspirational stuff dreams are made of. My nephew is so captivated with space that at age 12 he has his whole life mapped out to maximize his chances of getting into the Air Force so that he can become an astronaut. He lives and breathes space and the endless possibilities there in.

Sphinx moth eye

This white-lined sphinx moth’s eye looks a bit like a planet. Image created with Celestron’s Micro Fi Digital Microscope.

Change Your View

I dream of the universe as well. But my dreams are a little different. I am captivated by the tiny universe under our feet. I dream about the world that is bustling, active and alive under my nose. In my teaching I call it “putting your small eyes on.”   I discovered this phenomenon during my first entomology course. I was three weeks in to the semester and all of a sudden, I saw bugs everywhere. I would drift in and out of conversations because something flew by. I was walking down the sidewalk to the grocery store with the ants. Those girls were on an errand and so was I. It sounds strange, but insects started to land on me more often (I think I just noticed it more, like when you’re car shopping and all of a sudden you see the car you want everywhere.) Now my students tell me the same thing. They are late to class because they stopped to watch a yellow jacket grab a caterpillar and fly away with it. At parties they find themselves talking about bugs and listening to wings buzzing by as though they are the intended other-half of the conversation.

Celestron has a monthly contest where you post a photo that fits a certain theme (November’s is The Night Sky) and you use the hashtag #changeyourview2015. Studying arthropods has changed my view of the world. It has fractured The Big World I inhabit into thousands of smaller worlds, and the more I learn about the interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the more I see how those worlds depend on each other. The closer the look, the more intricate and beguiling it becomes. And when you start using a microscope- oh, boy. It’s like Ms. Frizzle has given you a ticket to The Magic School Bus and nothing will ever be the same. A microscope gives us the ultimate ‘small eyes.’  Note: If you are too young to know about TMSB, get thee to YouTube NOW. 

Microscopes and Meditation

I tell myself I’m not great at meditating or being still or practicing mindfulness, but when I look through a scope something similar to meditation happens.  This is what I cherish about entomology. The study of small things has taught me to slow down. I can’t be the only person who sits at a microscope and experiences a spiritual disassociation with time. I’m most experienced with dissecting and compound scopes because of my research on solifuges and other lab work. Consumer digital scopes came on to the scene in the last fifteen years, but as they’ve gotten better and better they have replaced the larger scopes for me. But I get that same zen feeling. I’m focused on focusing.  The world and its stresses fall away. I can focus on my passion and my mind creates space for questions and creativity. Space for inquiry and discovery- which is the stuff of dreams as well as of science.

This has been my love song to the Tiny Universe that lives in parallel to our big, busy, important lives. A love song to the tools that help me see it, engage with it and ask questions of it. Thank you for listening and humming along.

Do you love a certain piece of equipment that helps you do your job?

Page 1 of 4812345...102030...Last »
Terms & Conditions




  1. Solpugid Productions LLC, doing business as The Bug Chicks, owns and reserves all rights in and arising from the The Insects! Video Series.  Only the Bug Chicks may publish, disseminate, use, license, modify, or alter the Insects Series.
  1. In exchange for Purchaser’s non-refundable payment as part of this transaction, The Bug Chicks license to Purchaser the limited right to access and display – through a year-long membership that is gifted to either: one K-12 school, one homeschool group, or one individual/family for PRIVAYE USE ONLY – the series for a period of one year from the purchase date.
  1. Purchaser agrees that The Insects! Video Series shall not be accessed, displayed, licensed to, shared with, promoted at, or used at any accredited post-secondary higher education institutions such as universities, colleges, community colleges, etc. Purchaser shall not license, share, use, or display the Insect Series with any other person or entity other than one chosen K-12 School.
  1. Purchaser and its administrator are responsible for arranging and trouble shooting access and display of the Insect Series on-site, however, any questions/support needed can an should be directed to The Bug Chicks at contactus @ thebugchicks dot com.
  1. The Bug Chicks disclaim any liability or responsibility arising from Purchaser’s license or use of The Insects! Video Series. Purchaser agrees to indemnify, defend, release, and hold harmless The Bug Chicks from any claims related to Purchaser’s license, display, or use of the Insect Series, including without limitation from the conduct any viewer(s) that may violate any law or cause injury to any person or property.
  1. This Agreement will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Oregon, without regard to conflict-of-laws principles.

Solpugid Productions LLC “The Insects!” Video Series and License Points Page 1 of 1


SPECIAL NOTE: Thank you so much for your cooperation on this! We are a small business dedicated to providing teachers, students and awesome parents with excellent science programming. Help us by spreading the word about our work, so that we can create more for you!


Kristie and Jessica

The Bug Chicks