Archive for October, 2009

An Entomologist’s Childhood Memories.

October 25, 2009

I grew up in a New York City suburb in Queens County.  Our house was on a quarter of an acre of property, which in NYC was a fairly large yard.  One half of our yard was all gardens, and where we had lots of daylilies, a cactus area, and ferns in the shade of  a cluster of birch trees, 13 dogwood trees, two apple trees and a beautiful crabapple tree.  We also had a large Austrian pine, a gardenia, an ailanthus and a ginkgo tree that gave us additional shade.  And, we had flower pots of begonias, fuchsia and coleus scattered around the yard, which added to the beauty.

Our yard was always filled with birds and other animals, who were attracted to the flowers and plants at our place. Every year, we collected praying mantis egg cases from a nearby marsh and several large weed lots and placed them on the shingles outside my bedroom window.  I would watch them every day as it grew warmer, for I loved to watch the ¼ inch praying mantises hatch from the egg cases.  We would distribute them all around the yard where there were flowering plants, and watch them grow during the summer.  I also would bring praying mantises that I found in the neighborhood, and put them on a thorn hedge on outside of the side yard, and watch them  hunt each year.  In the Fall, before the first frost occurred, I would bring these praying mantises into my house, and place one mantis per set of curtains in the dining room, living room and mine and my parents bedrooms.  I loved handling, feeding, watering and watching them every day, and some lived almost until Thanksgiving each year.  My father would take close-ups of the praying mantises as they hunted, ate, molted, all summer, and later would photograph them mating, and take close-ups as the females made their egg cases in our yard and house.

Another tradition in our household was to raise around100 American wild silkworms and moths each year.  What got my parents interested in raising the silk moths was that my mother wanted to spin fabric using the silk moths cocoons in the future.  And so, when I was about four, my parents bought some Cecropia, Polyphemus and Ailanthus moth cocoons, and raised eggs from the moths that hatched in our house that year.  When I got older, I helped my parents continue to raise Cecropia caterpillars for the next twenty years.  We also raised Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks and Black Swallowtail caterpillars, and  my father photographed all of their life cycles in great detail.   I was also fortunate that my parents encouraged my love of insects, and allowed me to bring home and raise insects that I found in the neighborhood, and my father photographed them too.

It has been many years since my parents died, and I am now the owner of my father’s 2000 insect and spider photographs.  I am cataloging them, and cleaning the slides with Adobe Photoshop.  So far I have identified about 1700 and cleaned about 300 of these slides.  I many months of pleasurable work ahead of me before I am finished.   I have used Dad’s slides in an unpublished children’s book that I have written, and I plan to use more to illustrate articles on insects I am writing for magazines.  And, every time that I look at Dad’s slides, I marvel at his patience and skill as he took beautiful picture after picture, of these marvelous and fascinating little animals.