Project LBB: Drawing workflow

The somewhat disheveled and quite deceased beetle on the left is the original collected type specimen of Hyperaspis troglodytes, well over 100 years old. I obtained the image from the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) entomology type database; the record is here.

Next, I resized it on my computer screen so that it matched my 5″ oval template (I’m still on the 84% batch), and – this is very high-tech, I know – held the template over the screen and traced in the parts of the beetle that didn’t exactly match the perfectly oval template. (This is probably not great for my computer screen, I know…) After that, I firmed up the outline and made the spots more realistically-shaped. When I was satisfied with it, I transferred it to drawing paper by – high-tech method alert again – tracing the outline heavily with a ballpoint pen, so that there was an indentation in the drawing paper beneath.

I didn’t take any photos during the drawing process, so I’m jumping straight to the final illustration – much more vividly colored than the specimen, but a beetle loses a lot of color after 100 years in a museum collection! I added a very fine black outline to the entire drawing so that the yellow spots at the edge of the wings wouldn’t blend into the background too much. (I don’t want to rely too heavily on outlines when the beetles are vividly colored – only when white, yellow, or light brown areas would be hard to distinguish from the white of the paper.)

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Project LBB: The drawing begins!

The lovely lady to the left is Cycloneda sanguinea, the Spotless Lady Beetle, the first drawing I tackled for Project LBB. (Actually the lovely lady is a male – notice the white vertical line at the center of the black-and-white pronotum.) I started with a 5″ long 84% oval that my husband printed out for me, drew the not-exactly-oval parts on top of it, and then transferred the outline to drawing paper. I probably should’ve used something with less tooth, because I was burnishing for a LONG time to get the beetle to look so smooth!

There are, of course, many lady beetles with an 84% ratio, and I took another 5″ oval and outlined this odd-looking beast, Azya orbigera, the Globe-marked Lady Beetle. Yes, it really is metallic blue and fuzzy! For this version, I incised the lines for the hairs into the paper before applying the color; I’m not sure how well it worked out. I’m going to do another version too, in which I’ll color the beetle first and then use white paint and a fine-tipped brush to add the hairs.

The third 84% beetle (I only had three printed ovals) is the gloriously-named Twice-stabbed Lady Beetle, Chilocorus stigma. I went through a LOT of black pencil on this one! “Black with two red spots” is a remarkably common pattern in lady beetles, and I am going to stock up on black pencils…it is sometimes frowned upon to use actual black pencils to draw something black, and usually I’ll build up black with combinations of dark pencils like ultramarine, deep green, and dark red, but there really is no undertone to a Chilocorus lady beetle. That black really is black!

Posted in Artwork, Chilocorinae, Coccidulinae, Coccinellinae, Lady beetles, Project LBB, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring (finally) springing

I admit I’ve been waiting for something good to post…the year’s first lady beetle or first warbler or first life-list bird. By this time last year, I had all of those! Heck, I had a clutch of lady beetle eggs and a couple of caterpillars too. This year, probably due to a long, cold, wet winter, things haven’t been coming to life as quickly. I still haven’t seen a lady beetle, and when I went birdwatching today, there was only one species of warbler, the early-migrating yellow-rumps. (Or, as they call them at Cape May, “butterbutts.”)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (c) 2010 Dan Pacamo

Still, there were plenty of courting robins, male red-winged blackbirds staking out their territory for late spring when the females arrive, adorable juncos and chipping sparrows, and a few male song sparrows and white-throated sparrows that I was able to whistle back and forth with. (I’m very good at imitating white-throated sparrows: once I actually attracted a female!)

On the invertebrate front, I didn’t see very much: worms, pillbugs, and the like scattered when I turned over logs, a few spiders scurried through dead leaves too quickly for me to photograph, and one patch of wild lettuce was infested with tiny glossy flea beetles, which I did attempt to photograph, but none of the pics came out. (“Hey, a tiny black speck that’s either a beetle or a piece of dirt!”)

I’m glad to have seen those warblers, though, and look forward to visiting the park again next weekend. By then a new band of warblers should be in town and more plants will be flowering, attracting more insects. I just hope I find a lady beetle soon…I’ve been dreaming about them every night and it’s getting a little tedious!

Posted in Arachnids, Birds, Blackbirds, Insects, Plants, Spiders, Thrushes, Warblers | Leave a comment

Project LBB: Preparations

I spent the first evening of Project LBB going through the invaluable lady beetle reference work by Robert Gordon, “The Coccinellidae (Coleoptera) of America North of Mexico.” Published in 1985, it is out of date in some respects, but it is an incredible resource for literally hundreds of species. I have it as a series of computer files, not a hard copy. (Hard copies are almost impossible to get your hands on these days!)

The first thing I did was separate the maps into eastern and western, then went through the eastern maps to write down the names of species. A single map could have as many as 5 species on it, from California to Florida, so this did take some time! My species list came in at 179. Yikes. I think I will cheat and not cover all of Tribe Scymnini….

That was Days 1 and 2. Day 3 was going through Gordon again and recording the length and width of every species he provided those for. Most of Tribe Scymnini didn’t have measurements (another reason to avoid them!) and for some reason he didn’t give widths for genus Coccinella…not sure what I’m going to do about that. Go to and look at measurements for the beetles people have photographed, I suppose.

So, having fun reading this yet? LOL! I was actually having fun doing it. Day 4 was number-crunching time: figuring out the average of minimum/maximum length and width, and then figuring out the ratio of that average. This took MUCH longer than it should have because Microsoft Excel is evil….not as evil as Microsoft Word, but seriously, it took me about an hour to figure out how to divide with it. The function lists are just insane and don’t seem to include division or subtraction!

And that’s where I am now; I’ve got my ratios for all the beetles Gordon provided length and width for. Next up, using a graphics program to draw ellipses with those ratios. That way, I can outline the general shape of each beetle with the correct proportions. No freehand ovals! My husband, God bless him, has already said he’ll do the ovals for me. Once I’ve got a few of them, I’ll start to do the real drawings. Stay tuned!

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Project LBB: What is it?

I’ve long coveted a field guide to Eastern North American lady beetles – something akin to John Acorn’s “Ladybugs of Alberta,” the only lady beetle field guide I know of. His book is fantastic, one of my favorites, but it primarily covers western species (along with some that have a continent-wide range).

I plan to illustrate it myself – I am not half-bad at drawing, and I can’t think of a better way to do it. Photos of every species would be difficult to obtain and I have no idea what the royalties would be like. Anyway, I like drawing, I have a fresh set of 72 Prismacolor pencils, and I desperately want to try my hand at it!

Here’s an example of my lady beetle drawing skills, a Seven-spotted Lady Beetle in Prismacolor pencil:

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Project Lady Beetle Book: It begins!

It starts tonight: Project Lady Beetle Book (hereafter most likely abbreviated “Project LBB”). I’ve been tossing the idea around for a while now, but finally took concrete steps toward it tonight. 4/4/2011. And…GO!

Posted in Insects, Lady beetles, Project LBB, Writing | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

More mutterings

Okay, so the last set didn’t exactly kick-start me like I wanted. It’s tough to blog about nature in winter; snow, snow, snow, snow…the occasional pigeon…more snow. (Oh, I mean nature in the winter in the city. In the countryside I would probably find more to say.)

Anyway, I can still mutter, right?

  1. Agency :: Temp
  2. Ministrations :: Minnesingers
  3. Charlie :: Bucket
  4. Bricks :: Cobblestone sidewalks that eat high heels (I walk on a lot of those in old Philly!)
  5. Contingencies :: Disaster
  6. Dad :: Vail. Or Vale. Whatever the regatta is.
  7. Zoned :: Out
  8. Direct :: Extension (my office just got new phone lines for everyone except me; I specifically requested NOT to get one)
  9. Team :: Ster
  10. Cave :: Cricket
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From the venerable meme “Unconscious Mutterings” at, which is in its 404th week. This is not the most unique way to kick-start myself into updating my blog, but it does flex my creativity a bit…I promise to get back to writing real entries soon!

  1. Sarcasm :: A service I provide (I saw that on a t-shirt but it fits me, and some of my best friends, perfectly!)
  2. Coke :: I’d like to buy the world a Coke (I’ve had that song in my mind for a few days now)
  3. Frank :: enstein (my husband, who’s in a neck brace after surgery, is going to be Frankenstein for Halloween – he’s got the major part of the costume on already, after all!)
  4. Party :: like it’s 1999.
  5. Witches :: What people always say “bitches” rhymes with. (I don’t know, is calling someone a “rhymes with witch” actually any less insulting? How about “rhymes with rich”?)
  6. Intentional :: Un-. (It’s totally more fun that way.)
  7. Crisp :: “The air…as crisp as a green apple.” (A line from an unfinished novel of mine, and the way the fall air always feels…)
  8. Lockers :: I can only think of high school lockers, and I wish I had a more positive image than nerds getting shoved into them!
  9. Walking :: Transportation. (Living in a city, and not having a car, walking and the bus are my major means of getting around. I walk faster in high heels that hurt than most people do in sneakers!)
  10. Fundraiser :: Police. (My brother is a cop and I always contribute to police and firefighter fundraisers…my husband wishes they’d stop calling all the time though!)
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I’m corralling the haiku!

A Haiku Each Day So as not to turn this into a haiku-each-day blog, I’ve started a new little blog on called, you guessed it, A Haiku Each Day.

I’ll post, you also guessed it, one haiku there every day; the mental discipline required by a) the form itself, b) writing one every day, and c) writing ONLY one every day will be an enjoyable challenge and probably do me good!

And, of course, if I do write more than one a day, the overflow will show up here on Butterfly’s Psyche. I’m not made of stone…

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More haiku, because they’re addictive

Indian Corn (c) 2009 Butterfly Psyche
Indian Corn
Pearlescent kernels,
Nestled against their neighbors,
Gems in a coffer.

Ears stiff as sailcloth
Whiskers poised like galley oars
The hunter embarks.

Lady Beetle
Smooth-shelled hemisphere
Candy-colored polka dots
Beneath: the dark jaws.

Posted in Cats, Lady beetles, Mammals, Plants, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments