The Metal Mantids of Geoffrey Haberman

Photographer and artist Goeffrey Haberman creates these articulated mantids by hand using only brass bar stock. He's made a small army of these species-specific sculptures over the years, and they're mandible-droppingly intricate and expressive. Like the real mantids that inspired them, they are full of arresting character. The wings are etched with acid, but otherwise made only with hand tools like fret saws and files. Here's just a few from his flickr site. I could stare at them all day.

Idolomantis diabolica adult male

Blepharopsis mendica nymph

Schizocephala bicornis adult

Schizocephala bicornis adult

Choerododis rhombifolia adult

Solygia sulcatifrons adult male

Phyllovates chlorophea nymph

Phyllovates chlorophea nymph

Idolomorpha lateralis adult male

Solygia sulcatifrons adult male

*swoon* z end
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Feelers and Fire

Gary Amaro, Surreal World Of Insects The amazingly talented Gary Amaro was kind enough to scan for me this beautiful page from his sketchbook of the gathering outside the Surreal World of Insects show in Berkeley, CA.  Although the giant metal insects have gone back home, the rest of the show is at Terraria for a few weeks more, go take a look!  Thanks, Gary! z end
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Creeping Countertops

  The above coffee tables (and the chandelier clutching at the ceiling) are just a small part of woodworker Michael Wilson's beautifully biomorphic collection, but they're of course my favorites. My heart simply moults for home décor that looks like it's on the verge of furtively crawling away into the shadows. The abstract legginess of Wilson's work also calls to mind one of the most well-known giant-spider creators, Louise Bourgeois. Interestingly, both sculptors have also employed varyingly-curled and curved tarsi, making the colossal arachnids seem light and tenative, instead of just ready to pounce upon human-sized prey. z end
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The Buzz of the Real in the Garden of Mouthings

High in the Berkeley Hills, the UC Botanical Garden has entreated a collection of artists, poets, and architects to create engaging and thought-provoking works, and situate them amidst its twisting trails. The show Natural Discourse will be on display from now until January 20th, and if the idea of wandering though botanical biomes hunting out sequestered sculptures appeals to you, then I heartily recommend it! The artworks are greatly varied and yet carefully curated to complement the scientific and educational goals of a university. Ever since the Presidio Habitats show, I've been longing for a good outdoors-artwork show, and so I visited the Gardens for opening weekend with some plant-obsessed friends. Of course any outdoor botanically-themed art show worth its thylakoids must invariably mention invertebrates, and there was quite a few to choose from. Gail Wight has a series of spider-web patterns burned into vellum. The webs are based on experiments carried out by Peter Witt on the effects of psychotropic drugs on spiders. Displayed inside arid  hothouses, the webs seemed to sparkle due to the tiny holes that burned through.

Gail Wight, "marijuana" 2011

Outside one of the tropical hothouses, Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib contributed an insect-filled video piece that played on two greenery-encrusted screens. Directly opposite, the UCBG glass-wall honeybee hive vibrated with waggle-dancing workers. The work was made with a thermal-imaging camera, turning garden footage into an unearthly bee vision panorama. Sadly their work suffers the fate of many outdoor video installations; fighting sunlight and furious apiary activity, an LCD screen cannot compare to the buzz of the real.

Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib, "The Delight of Earthly Gardens", 2012

Perhaps Hironaka & Suib's work would have been more effective if projected in a darkened environment.  "SOL Grotto", by Ronald Rael & Virginia San Fratello, was a delightful meditation on perception. Situated above Strawberry Creek, the dark wooden bunker is pierced with hundreds of glass pipes cozened from local ex-company Solyndra. Tiny snippets of the world outside can be discerned through the tubes, making one feel like they're inside the compound eye of an insect.

Ronald Rael & Virginia San Fratello, "SOL Grotto", 2012

When you travel with insect and plant enthusiasts, your trek is bound to be slow going. As we inched out way up the hillside and paused to look at every blossom, equal time was given to the incredible diversity of pollinators present- honeybees, flower flies, wasps, beetles, bugs, and countless native bees! And crowning the flower beds around us was a wonderful structure by landscape architect Shirley Watts, a shrine to bees of all kinds, called "Mouthings".

Shirley Watts, "Mouthings", 2009

Shirley Watts, "Mouthings", 2009

Shirley Watts, "Mouthings", 2009

Surrounding the flowing honeycomb-like metal structures are concrete hexagon stumps, and portraits of California's native bees by Rollin Coville and Gordon Frankie, along with informative text. A poem by Sylvia Plath, 'The Beekeeper's Daughter' is written in ceramic glaze on a large table. Even though Watts' "Mouthings" is not technically part of the Natural Discourse show, it's only there temporarily, so check it out (along with all the other great plant-related art) if you can! z end    
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The Insect Art of Beth Cavener Stichter

My latest issue of Sculpture magazine came in the mail yesterday, the cover displaying the powerfully unsettling work of Beth Cavener Stichter. Her focus for many years have been on vertebrate animals; rabbits, goats and jackals whose exaggerated stances and humanlike expressions elicit strong emotional responses. But amongst her early ceramics are hidden these wonderful and amusing invertebrates.

Beth Cavener Stichter, "Ananse's Jar", 1998

Beth Cavener Stichter, "Khepera", 2000

Beth Cavener Stichter, "Pill Bug", 2000

Beth Cavener Stichter, "Pill Bugs II", 2000

Beth Cavener Stichter, "Faberge Tick", 1998

The above porcelain sculpture is probably my most favorite tick-sculpture of all tick-time. Behold the swollen egg-like body of an engorged female tick envisioned as a Fabergé egg. Outstanding and delightful! z end
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The Surreal World of Insects

Last Saturday's opening of The Surreal World of Insects at Terraria was a total hit. More than a simple wine-and-cheese affair, it became a huge party of insect artists and natural history enthusiasts that lasted long into the night! The show will be up for at three more weeks, and if you're near Berkeley, it's worth a visit.
Terraria Looking Down

Terraria's Storefront. Photo by Pat Hollingsworth

The gallery space itself is something of an insect artwork. Terraria boasts a stunning  giant bee-filled mural by Ana Bonfili, that pulls in the natural light and gives context to the riot of natural goods and terrarium-making supplies that line the store. Handcrafted wooden hexagons made by owner Olivia Wright and her fiance Kevin Bento cluster about the walls, making Terraria a welcoming hive for the visiting artworks. A series of serene insect illustrations by museum exhibit designer Tami Stewart line the staircase, giving way to two large photo exhibits above. Nature photographer Becky Jaffe coaxes character out of her subjects, catching orthopterans and mantids in moments of contemplation. Her photos are accompanied by appreciative insect poetry as well as stories from her travels. Turning up the magnification are Pat Hollingsworth's intimate macro photos of butterfly wings and crane flies, as well as carnivorous plants gorged on insect carcasses.
Surreal World of Insects show

Antennae everywhere. Photo by Pat Hollingsworth

Sharing a table with Colleen Paz's engaging push-button moth bottles are a series of fantastic specimens from curiosity cabineteer Danielle Schlunegger.  Beeswax, dried plants and scraps of old text are given new life under her glass domes, congealing into imaginary insects and bizarre larvae. Andrew Werby's digitally-crafted wood carvings suggest small invertebrate totems, or perhaps relics of an locust-worshipping cult long vanished. Along with three of her oil paintings, Kristen Rieke's great paper-wasp nest hung ominously above the room. More than a few attendees eyed it with suspicion, as if some papercraft hornets might plume forth at any moment. And of course high overhead were some of my cardboard and plaster masks, musings of how other ancient cultures would have represented the microscopic world, were they to have had access to high-powered lenses.
surreal world of insects

Worshipping the Mighty Mantis! Photo by Pat Hollingsworth

Outside in the back yard space Olivia placed my giant bronze insect LEG near the entrance, which is pretty threatening at nearly five feet in height. But it was nothing compared to Todd Cox's Praying with Fire, a toweringly huge and intricate steel mantis sculpture made of custom-welded steel and neon, with jets of propane-fueled fire in place of antennae! FAWOOSH!

Grasshopper Cart. Photo by Karen Offereins

My great green grasshopper cart made an appearance too, full of cardboard antennae for people to wear or purchase. Olivia had even set up a photo booth so people could get their portrait taken with their new sensory appendages. As the sky darkened, a projector played Microcosmos on a wall while folks waggled their antennae, snacking on cupcakes arranged like caterpillars. The film is only an hour long, but by popular demand it played repeatedly for the insect-loving crowd, as folks settled into outdoor couches and warmed themselves by the heat of the great flaming mantis, their eyes lit up by the gouts of propane light like so many glittering compound eyes. z end
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Insect Art In The East Bay

There's an Insect Art Show happening right on my doorstep, and what's more, I've been invited to take part! On Saturday, June 23, Terraria (a new boutique terrarium art store) will host The Surreal World of Insects, featuring a great collection of insect-themed photographs, paintings, and sculptures from distinguished creators such as Becky Jaffe, Pat Hollingsworth, Tami Stewart, Steev Odell, Danielle Schlunegger, Andrew Werby, Colleen Paz, Kristin Rieke, and Todd Cox. I'm excited and honored to exhibit a few of my masks, my giant bronze insect leg, and the Grasshopper cart, which will be laden with verminous antennae made just for the event. Terraria is located at 1757 Alcatraz Ave in Berkeley, and the opening for the show will be from 6pm to 10pm, so join me in a celebration of local insect art! z end
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Three Of A Kind

And now, three vehicles, all named after beetles!

1. The Stout Scarab

First off, the car of my dreams- the 1936 Stout Scarab. Yes, there's more than one car named after an insect, and the Stout Scarab is a beaut! Hoping to eliminate wasted space, American inventor William Stout envisioned a "mobile office", with a roomy interior, swiveling seats, foldout tables, all made possible by a rear-mounted engine and other innovations brought in from his aviation background.

dig the rattan ceiling

Looking very much like an art deco observation train car, and a spiffy winged scarab motif, plainly visible on the front of the car, as well as the steering wheel.

Best photo of the steering wheel I could find

Even though today it is considered an artistic masterpiece of forward engineering, the car was considered ugly at the time, and had a steep price for Depression-era pocketbooks. Only nine of these magnificent cars were ever made, and of those only 5 exist today.

2. The Coléoptère

In the late 1950s, engineers were trying out all sorts of vertical-take-off-and-landing aircraft, for military and commercial use. Enter the French Coléoptère, an experimental aircraft designed to to rocket up, fly horizontal, then land vertically again. "With a full annular wing, an enclosed cockpit, and a seat that tilted forward to allow the pilot a nearly upright position during hover, the Coléoptère soon attained celebrity status. Catherinettes —French bachelorettes who annually advertised their single status by wearing eccentric hats— donned papier-mâché Coléoptères." Sadly I cannot track down any images of these chapeaux d'insectes the young ladies wore. But at least I can find more photos of the short-winged (and short-lived) Coléoptère. Though innovative, like many coleopterans it did not last the year. After eight test-flights, the craft started oscillating wildly on its ninth, and spun out of control. Before it crashed the pilot managed to eject, but was badly injured, and the program was scrapped. The Smithsonian has a nicely detailed article here.

3. The Volkswagen Käfer

Known officially as the "Type 1",  the beloved Volkswagen Beetle is the success story of these three beetle-themed vehicles, with production really taking off after WWII. In fact the Beetle, ("Käfer" in German) is one of the most successful vehicle models of all time, and recognized worldwide. So though I love these beetle cars dearly, there's not much new to share. So instead here is German Techno band Welle:Erdball singing about the joys of driving around in a VW beetle, expressing joy as only a German Techno band can. z end car art previously: Your Mandible Expectations
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Sundews and Sun Rings

This is my second post about our trip to Quincy.

Frankly, my Darlingtonia...

photo by loganinsky

photo by loganinsky

The native California pitcher plants (Darlingtonia californica) are a thing to behold, especially when they're flowering. The blooms, hanging heavily from high straight poles, have flapping green sepals and petals veined with a deep bloody red. They're as alien as the pitchers themselves, huge bulbous beasts that are actually heavily modified leaves.  On our tour of the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area, I learned some new things about one of my favorite insect-gobbling plants.

photo by loganinsky

The first is that the Cobra Lily (named for its unique pitcher, which resembles a hooded cobra) doesn't have a pool of rainwater inside like Nepenthes and other pitcher plants do. Though it does generate a small amount of digestive enzyme, mostly it lets the ants, flies, bees, wasps, and other insects that get stuck simply decompose on their own. Slicing open a living pitcher, you could see the decaying remains of several kinds of insects, along with a few larvae, possibly a type of fly that makes its home inside the pitchers. After inspecting a total of three pitchers, we found at least two living maggots in each. So something can survive in there!

Inside a cobra lily

The second fact that was new to me was the circumstances surrounding pitcher plant pollination- it's still a mystery! Though scientists some pretty good guesses, the full story still has yet to be researched, which is rather exciting. What botanist or entomologist wouldn't want to work with pitcher plants? They've been a favorite of biologists and naturalists for hundreds of years, and I can't blame them.

Bulbous Doom-Houses. OF DOOM.

Church of No Exit

The other neat thing that I hadn't really appreciated was how the translucent patches in the pitcher plants help doom their insect visitors. Known as areoles, these patches function just like windows in our own house, providing insects with a false escape. After wasting precious energy batting against the glowing roof while trying to fly up and out, the exhausted fly drops into the shaft below for a good slow sarlaac-style death.  
Native Sundews!

Native Sundews!

The pitchers weren't the only carnivorous plant Butterfly Valley had to offer. Along with bladderworts (which I sadly did not think to look for), The round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) also makes its home in the bogs, often in areas nearly entirely flooded with water. My fellow naturalists and I took care to watch underfoot, as the plants were tiny, and our hiking boots were only so waterproof. Eventually I found a series of fallen logs I could traverse, allowing me to get closer to these tiny insectivores. Crouching down, I could see that about 1 in 5 sundews had a gnat or tiny fly in some state of deceasedness affixed atop them, held fast by tiny hairs tipped in sticky digestive fluid. Most prey were pretty tiny, but Mrs. Swarm did find a crane fly, furiously hovering near the ground, putting up a terrific frantic fight for no discernible reason. It took careful observation to see that one of its long threadlike legs was wrapped around a grass leaf, and the tip of its leg stuck fast to a few minute sundew hairs. That's some bad luck! But don't feel bad, because for every consumed crane fly in Butterfly Valley, three hundred more seemed to take its place.

Haplessness Embodied

Crane Fly Pupa

I'd prepared for mosquitoes on our trip, but instead I found crane flies. Oodles of them. In the forests, the fens, along the rivers, and in our hotel. They were everywhere! And so many species! Large red ones, thin scraggly ones, dark mysterious ones. Hiking around the fens I found the remains of crane fly pupae. The larvae of many species like soggy mud to loll about in, so it wasn't surprising that this area would be crane fly central. Second to dragonflies and butterflies, they were the most populous insect of Quincy! If I was mayor of Quincy, I'd lobby to have the town motto be "Land of a Hundred Crane Flies!" But since my love of Tipulids probably isn't shared with a single person in the town, it would be a hard sell. but I'm the mayor, right? So they'd have to go along with it. Because I love crane flies that much, I would be mayor of a small California logging town for them. Crane Fly Capital Perhaps it's because they often get short shrift in guidebooks, which usually devote a single photo as representative of All Crane Flies. Plus everyone I know calls them "mosquito hawks" despite the fact that they don't eat anything as an adult, so I always find myself leaping to defense of their eating habits. But mostly it is because as a frenetically energetic, long-limbed and somewhat clumsy organism, I share a kinship with something so utterly spastically hapless. We both flail around comically, waving our arms, running into walls, but gosh darn it we're excited about something! Though I find myself envious of their stately halteres. I could sure use some gyroscopes, myself.   After our trips to the Botanical Area, we settled in at a nearby river to relax, and there found swarms of Western Swallowtails, checkerspots, bumble bees and other winged insects lappping up nutrient-rich puddles at the edge. I managed to catch an Oregon Tiger Beetle, and share it with friends under a magnifying glass, so they could get a sense of its ferocity. The river surface was full of mayflies and stoneflies that were just molting, some of them less successful than others. One aquatic insect somebody brought for me to ID, and I was stumped, even as to order. Stonefly? Dobsonfly?

What the heck is this guy?

Can't find any reference in any of my guidebooks, so I'm hoping a reader can solve it. I found two of them, black and beautiful. We also got to watch a couple of beavers hauling branches down to a riverside den hidden amongst the Indian Rhubarb and willow trees.      

Sunspotting

But the main event of the weekend was the annular eclipse, and in the late afternoon our gang headed out to a large empty lot outside of Quincy, to gather, set up solar-filtered telescopes and pinhole cameras, and hand out solar-safe glasses to everybody within reach. My wife used a pair of binoculars to project the sun onto a large canvas sheet, and you could even make out the sunspots while the moon gobbled up the light. For a good 10 minutes the sun's light formed a perfect ring around the moon, and we all hooted, clinked glasses of wine, danced about looking at shadows and laser-cut pinhole cameras, and stared awestruck into telescopes. Later that night (as we had for every night that weekend) we hauled up to above 5,000 feet to view globular clusters and galaxies in our friend's telescope, and call out shooting stars as they went by while sipping hot cocoa. All in all, a well-rounded weekend celebrating natural phenomenae! z end
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The Black Petaltail of Butterfly Valley

I have returned from an epic nature adventure with many friends, combining events celestial and botanical! The timing of the annular eclipse of the Sun coincided with the blooming of native pitcher plants in Butterfly Valley, a place my wife has been yearning to visit for years. And that was right near the town of Quincy, a beautiful mountain town where we could get prime latitudinal (and fog-free) sun-viewing. And I hoped we would get a chance to encounter very unique dragonfly, Tanypteryx hageni, the black petaltail.

Butterfly Valley Botanical Area

Our friends are a rabble of plant-fanciers, birders, rockhounds, star-gazers, artists, engineers, historians, insectophiles, and general lovers of science geekery. Give us a 10 foot square of land, and we'll dawdle for hours, exploring and admiring the natural and constructed world. An advance group of us raced up to Quincy to meet up with Jim Battagin, a knowledgeable botanist who gave us a personal tour of the nearby Butterfly Valley Botanical Area.  This region of the Northern Sierra Nevada forest is full of unique orchids, lilies, and amazing native carnivorous plants.  It was Battagin who mentioned that Butterfly Valley had a "very unique insect" some weeks back. I deduced that he was talking about the beautiful T. hageni, and devoured all the information I could online. The black petaltail is a large and striking dragonfly. Petaltails are so named because the males often have large flat cerci on the ends of their abdomens. They are remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, the Petaluridae are known as "ancient dragonflies".  That is, of all the living dragonflies, they have the longest fossil record. And since dragonflies have been around before the dawn of terrestrial vertebrates, that's a pretty long lineage. The second reason petaltails are strange, and why they're so hard to find, is that they exist only in bogs that are fed by fresh seeps, known as fens. Fens have a continuous supply of fresh water running through them, and are never entirely still. But they're muddy and shallow, and instead of living in a proper river or stream, the black petaltail's aquatic nymph spends its life in a watery mud-burrow, leaping out to catch prey when it ambles by. Most dragonflies live a year as a nymph, crawling up out of the water on a branch, then bursting out as a winged adult. And that's where the black petaltail is really bizarre. Tanypteryx hageni lives up to five years as a nymph. Researchers still don't know fully why, or whether it varies at all, but that's a freaky-long time to stay in nymph-school. The adults still don't last more than a few months, eating insects on the wing, then mating and expiring before the year is out. Sadly, when we arrived in Quincy, our guide informed us that we were about a month too early to see the adults emerge. We didn't mind, because we spent several days re-visiting the region and geeking out over the insanely bizarre carnivorous plants! It was on one of these return trips that my wife noticed the Really Big Damselfly near the ground.

How Not To Be Seen (unless your'e Mrs. Swarm)

I knew right away it might be something special- first off, it was clearly a dragonfly, but its wings were still upright, so it must have just molted. Secondly, there was no stream or lake nearby- where did it come from? A small water-soaked mud flat was directly under it. I immediately made a gentle grab for the dragonfly, and got a close-up look.

A thoroughly terrified female Tanypteryx hageni.

Ready for takeoff

Even though its greyish colors were still darkening, there was no denying it- we'd found a black petaltail! Cradled in my wife's hands was a five-year-old insect, ready for its final stage of life. Once its wings and skin had thoroughly hardened, the dragonfly snapped them into place into a lateral position, gave a test vibration, then took off. Had we been 30 minutes later, we would have missed the whole spectacle.  We found her exuviae on a stalk below, and friends found at least 2 others in the region. So clearly we'd arrived just as they were emerging, a wonderful chance event! We were elated, and ready to explore more of this amazing region. Next post I'll blab more about insect-eating plants, promise! z end
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