Monday, August 22, 2016

So far, good

* I have only one person across my four classes who has thus far failed to show up (or to notify me of a reason for their absence). We'll see. I don't have any objection to ratting out people who try to get Financial Aid and then take a runner (it's happened in the past and I was actually helpful in busting one guy who was apparently sucking down state resources but failing to do the classwork he was supposed to). Attendance counts are due Friday but if I don't see that person by today I think I'm going to go ahead and put my attendance in and mark them as a "never attended."

* Seems  like I have a critical mass of engaged people, at least in the two upper-division classes, and that makes my life easier and much better. I am a lot better at tuning out That Guy who is sitting texting during class or That Girl who gossips and doesn't pull her weight during lab when there are a group of people on the front row who are working and are interested.

One of my friends on ITFF is fond of commenting on how the "student as consumer" mentality breaks down - it's not like we're fixing a burger for them at the Braum's; it's much more we're like their personal trainer at the gym: they have to actually SHOW UP and do the work if they want some benefit; it's not just "we give you money you give us product." I haven't yet been brave enough to pull that analogy on the rare "I pay your salary!" person who wants a grade for showing up and warming a seat occasionally, but eventually I'll run out enough of darns to give that I will.

* Did some research reading over the weekend. I need to try to keep up with this because it makes me feel less dull and stupid. I do think the "keep 'em busy all the time" model - where there isn't time to read or contemplate or think - is bad for people who are expected to do things that are, at their base, creative (coming up with research questions and especially here, figuring out how to do that research with limited equipment and funds).

One paper I read was about carpenter bees, and specifically male bee behavior. I learned a few things:

- male carpenter bees cannot sting. I may have known this and forgotten it but the researchers in one paper kept talking about how they captured and paint-marked male bees and I was all "wow, we got some bad-@sses here" because really, who grabs a bee and sticks paint on it? Well, if they can't sting it's not a big deal, and carpenter bee males are a pretty good sized target...

- The bees I've seen hovering are probably "guarding" female bees near the nest sites and just biding their time to get in for a mating. It looks like the big male bees kind of harass the females into mating whereas the smaller male bees hang out at the food sources and apparently try to persuade the females to mate with them. I am being heavily anthropomorphic here but yeah....frat-boy bees and nerd bees, maybe.

- also the holes I saw on a cedar tree that I blamed on sapsuckers was probably carpenter bees. It seemed weird to me that a sapsucker would want to drill into a cedar because I think cedar sap would taste gross. Then again, I'm not a bird.

- The authors noted that the aggressive bees would often collide in mid-air, sometimes hard enough that it was "audible." Of course I immediately thought of this old Far Side cartoon and now I imagine a sound like tiny coconuts colliding when the bees run into each other.

And yeah, I would probably be "secretly delighted" if I was out in the field and I got to hear a couple of aggressive male carpenter bees collide. Then again, a lot of weird biology stuff secretly delights me.

* Also on Saturday I MAY have seen a pipevine swallowtail at my Malvaviscus arboreus (this is commonly known, among other things, as Turk's cap hibiscus). This is one of the BEST plants I've ever had for getting cool pollinator-type things to visit - I have also seen a hummingbird at it every day (it's either a female, or it's late enough in the season that the male's breeding plumage has gone away - all we have are ruby throats, and this one doesn't have the red patch on its throat). It could have been a dark-form female tiger swallowtail (the color patterning in tiger swallowtails are weird and I think that the color dimorphism is actually sex-linked, in that if you see a dark-form one, it will be a female...yes, a quick check reveals I'm remembering right; males are always the yellow and black, but females can either be yellow or dark).

Once in a while I've seen giant swallowtails, which are super, super impressive butterflies (almost as big as my hand) at the Abelia bush (which, even though it's not native, is also a super plant for pollinators and it does not seem to be invasive) but haven't seen any this year.

The Turk's cap was a housewarming gift from the husband of my then-grad-student. Fifteen years later it's still growing, still comes up every spring, and still has tons of flowers. It never seems to suffer much from bugs and it tolerates our dry weather without my having to water it. I highly recommend it as a perennial shrubby thing if you live in my part of the world and like seeing hummingbirds and butterflies.

One thing I am vaguely contemplating this fall is ripping some more crud out of bad places and seeing if I can replace it with plants that would be good butterfly plants. It gives me so much pleasure to see butterflies and bumblebees and the like hanging around my yard and I want to provide more for them. I'm wondering if there's a part of my yard that would be damp enough to support buttonbush - I don't even know if you can buy it commercially but I remember when I went to that butterfly identification workshop up at Tishomingo, the buttonbushes up there were just COVERED with butterflies. I probably need to talk to our horticulturalist; she is into those kinds of things and I bet she could suggest some good plants. I might even hire someone to do the planting for me instead of me having to dig big divots in my garden to hold shrubs.

I wish I could figure out some good spready shade-tolerant but butterfly-attracting plants to go in the little passageway on the north side of my house. Every year I rip "crud" out of there - mulberries and ashes (no idea where those come from) and tons and tons of that horrible creeping blackberry type thing (I have a few spines in my hands right now from what I tried to do yesterday afternoon) and I'd love to get something in there that would just outcompete all the stuff I don't want.

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