Saturday, May 28, 2005

I recently joined the rest of my project on a four-day retreat to this site in southeastern Arizona. The first time I ever visited the Southwest, in 1996, the trip included (a.) being a member of a team that got its collective arses ignominiously kicked at a national quiz bowl tournament, and (b.) catching one of the worst colds I've ever had in my adult life, so I couldn't say I enjoyed myself much. The second and third trips were made to attend conferences sponsored by this institution; the conferences were fun, but I never quite bonded with the mountains and desert. The fourth trip, last year, was part of a long car trip that included a lot more scenery than the southwestern desert, so I didn't really think about it much. But, the fifth time seems to have been a charm.

Maybe it was the company -- lots of good things happened in the scientific-connection department -- but over the past few years I've really started to think seriously about someday moving to a warmer climate, and for the first time, I've started to seriously think about the southwestern U.S. as a good place to be. It has great bugs, of course, but I never expected to enjoy a 110-degree heat wave so much. I guess that mad dogs and entomologists go out in the midday sun. (Harvester ants, by the way, are smarter than entomologists, and spend the hottest hours below ground.)

Back home, the field season is getting under way. In addition to my current work with mushroom-feeding flies, I've been doing Wolbachia screens on various other insects -- mostly wasps and ants, although it looks like I'll continue to be involved in some more general insect survey work. The other day, one of my labmates brought me one of these little beasties. (Note to all bugs: Do not crawl around in the stairwell of Hutchison Hall at UR, unless you want to be pureed in cold blood. Or, as it more often happens, in cold tissue-lysis buffer.)

Yes, the poor thing did meet the fate described above. This is pretty much the routine in a Wolbachia lab, but is unusual in one respect: This makes me one of two people who, to my knowledge, has ever ground up a specimen of his or her own university's mascot.