Crowdsourcing Insect ID

One day last week a woman came into the office carrying a cardboard box and asking if there was a biologist around.

Last time something like this happened, the box contained a baby bat, but thankfully this time it was just a mysterious insect nest… thing… on a pine branch. I’m more or less the closest thing to a biologist in our office, so I took a look. I had no idea what it was, but I was pretty sure I could find out, and I used my phone to take a couple terrible photos.


Then, I turned to the number one tool of a naturalist in need of ID help: Twitter.

Yup, I took shameless advantage of my entomology contacts on Twitter – again – and in less than forty-five minutes I had an answer. This is a nest built by the caterpillars of a pine-munching moth, and that stuff it’s made of is frass, or caterpillar poop. The next day I ran into the woman who’d brought it in and told her, and she was very interested, if a little repulsed.

Social media: it’s not just for posting photos of what you had for lunch. It’s also for posting photos of balls of caterpillar poop.


Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Coyote in Death Valley, California. Photo by Manfred Werner via Wikimedia Commons.

On Monday of last week, I posed a question on Twitter: “Hey everyone, do you pronounce the word ‘coyote’ with two syllables or three?” I’ve been in the habit of saying all three syllables – “coy-yo-tee.” But a lot of people generally only give it two, “coy-yote,” and I wondered which was more common. Of course, a lot of the answers were less straightforward than I expected.