Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ant Farms

When I was about seven years old,  Dad took us down the red-dirt road behind the house to get our first ant farms.  He carried a shovel while we took mason jars and the hunt for an ant colony began.

We found a colony of large red ants under a pine tree at the edge of the road.  Dad plunged the shovel into the earth and flipped over the soil.  To our surprise, a ring-neck snake slithered out with the ants.  Apparently the snake was eating the fat pupae stored deep in the tunnels.

After the snake disappeared, we scooped handfuls of angry ants with loose soil and clamped the lids on tight.  I really didn't know what we were supposed to do with the ants or why we wanted them sealed in glass jars, but about an hour after they settled down, they started digging tunnels to rescue trapped ants and eventually make a new home.

Watching the ants build their tunnels was fascinating.  Not only did my interest in ants increase, but my love for science grew as well.  A few years later, my father was finishing his degree at the local junior college.  For part of an assignment, he was supposed to start an insect collection.  His instructor had a collection at a nursery and asked us to go view it.  Since I was already interested in ants, I was excited to see what this man's collection looked like.

While I thought ants were incredible, I was amazed when I looked at the dozens of giant moths and butterflies, beetles, and lots of dragonflies.  I was suddenly hooked on Entomology.  I went to the college library with my father and pulled a dozen insect books off the shelf.  One book stood out to me more than the rest and drastically changed my interests even more.

Paul Villard's "How to Rear and Raise Moths" taught me how to raise moths from eye to adult stage.  No longer was I bent on just catching and pinning insects, but I now wanted to witness the life cycles of some of the most unusual moths and butterflies, which expanded my knowledge about the world of insects and prompted me to get my B.S. in biology.

This is why I embed science into most of my novels.  There is so much more to biology than what one views on the surface.

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