The problem of “sensitivity readers” in publishing

I managed to put a post together that I started before I found the sick duck, and writing this helped take my mind off its death. It may not be as fluent or coherent as usual, but so be it.

As you may recall, many publishers, especially those of young adult and children’s books, tend to use “sensitivity readers” to make sure that everything is culturally correct and positive. I have, for instance, recounted the story of Laura Moriarty, whose book American Heart was first given a starred review by Kirkus (important for sales to libraries and schools), but then the star was withdrawn because a vetter who was “an observant Muslim person of color” decided that the book was seen through a white protagonist “filter”, and projected a “white savior narrative.” Other people who hadn’t read the book also applied pressure to Kirkus.

It doesn’t take a reviewing site to vet a book; books can be changed or even banned by social-media mobs, even before the book has appeared.

To avoid this, and to boost sales, publishers are employing readers who make sure books are ideologically correct, and project only positive images of minorities. This is discussed in the following Guardian article (click on screenshot).

Is there any value to such readers, given that their main job seems not to ensure that a group or culture is portrayed accurately, but rather that it’s portrayed positively? I can see only one bit of value in vetting, which I’ve bolded in the Guardian extract below.

While some sensitivity readers charge by the hour, fees start at about $250 (£180) a manuscript. Demand is clearly high: a search on Twitter finds dozens of authors over the last few days alone looking for the service. “I am in need of a black Muslim sensitivity reader ASAP,” says one writer. “I’m seeking Japanese and Japanese-American sensitivity readers,” says another.

Anna Hecker, whose young adult novel When the Beat Drops is published in May, says she first contacted sensitivity readers after two rounds of edits with her publisher. Her protagonist, Mira, is mixed-race – half Caucasian, half African-American – and Hecker is not.

She hired three sensitivity readers, who all gave feedback. Hecker did not describe race in her initial draft, something she was told was typical for white writers. As a person of colour, it was suggested that Mira would make note of white characters’ ethnicities, in the way a white character would make note of black or Latino characters. One reader queried how Mira’s white mother learned how to braid her daughter’s mixed-race hair. Another encouraged Hecker to be more creative with descriptions, saying her initial description of “light brown skin, a wide nose, and kinky dark hair” was both cliched and boring – feedback Hecker described as “fair”.

But beyond the fact that if you describe ethnicity of some characters, you should do it for others, I don’t see the point of changing words to avoid offending people. That ultimately puts all books on the same bland level, even if the words used do offend some. It is the job of an editor to edit the book, not ideologues who want all cultures portrayed positively. The fact is that some aspects of some cultures are offensive (what about the mass slaughter of prisoners by Aztecs, or the treatment of Native Americans by U.S. settlers), and of course many people in every culture are not wonderful folks.  Ultimately, the use of “sensitivity readers” produces a bland, homogeneous, and inoffensive literature in which “everyone shall have prizes” and nobody gets offended. But if literature loses the power to offend, it loses its rationale. For offense leads to thought and discussion, and many books considered “offensive” have turned out to be classics of world literature.

So, for example, I have no problem with someone republishing “Mein Kampf” or, for that matter, “Huckleberry Finn” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”—books that many schools have tried to ban. None of these would pass a sensitivity reader, and even if “Mein Kampf” isn’t suitable for young adults or children, the other two books are. Imagine how many great works of literature would be purified into valuelessness by “sensitivity readers”!

This page gives a list of books that have been banned or challenged, and it includes even great works by black writers—books like Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, Richard Wright’s “Native Son”, and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” Even “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” was challenged because its topic, the extermination of Native Americans by whites, was “controversial.” Make no mistake: “sensitivity readers” don’t just want to purge negativity about anyone in a minority group, but also want to purge controversy per se. “Sensitivity readers” are Pecksniffs, censors, and thought police.

So let us have good editors, for all authors need a good editor, but let us also forget about “sensitivity readers,” whose very job is to turn literature into pablum.

I brought up this topic with a friend who reads a lot, and was happy to see that zhe agreed with me:

As you know, I’m a complete Stalinist for free expression – I take no prisoners, people can say what they damn please; the point is to inoculate the weaklings so they’re not wounded by others’ words, not wrap them in cotton wool and pad all the corners of the world. The point isn’t to publish defensively (make sure you offend no one) and you have to rely on your own smarts to avoid the oafish. If there had been sensitivity monitors, we’d probably not have any books by Hemingway, Mailer, Trollope, Shaw, Austen (all those terrible things she says about clerics), Atwood, Twain, or Shakespeare.

h/t: BJ

Sick duckling

This little guy was called to my attention by a guy at the pond; the mother had eight babies following her and I wondered where the other one was. The guy said there was one duckling languishing on the bank, and not in good shape.

I brought the little guy (or girl) to my office, covered it, put it by a space heater, and gave it mealworms soaked in water. It’s not interested, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to die. Meanwhile, it’s peeping feebly at my feet and kicking on its side. I think it’ll die within half an hour.

It just died. A few feeble kicks of its little webbed feet, and it was gone.

I’m heartbroken, and in tears.  Don’t expect any more posts today.  Yes, I know attrition is normal, and that, on average, every female in a stable population will leave just two reproducing offspring over its lifetime. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

There are eight left, and I hope we fledge the rest.

Anti-Semitic cartoons start appearing in Turkey

As I’ve mentioned here repeatedly, anti-Semitic cartoons are a staple of the media, both state and private, in the Middle East, and especially Palestine, although Israel does not purvey such hatred in its media. This disparity is, of course, ignored by the Control-Left, who will excuse the Palestinians anything, including homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism, because they’re perceived as people of color. But if these cartoons appeared in the Western press, they’d be universally decried and vilified. Such is the hypocrisy of much of the Left.

And sadly, the cartoons, often displaying Jewish stereotypes that would befit the Nazi’s Der Stürmer, are now spreading to the once-secular land of Turkey, turning, under Erdogan, into an Islamic state.

MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), whose work is scrupulous, has presented a selection of cartoons from a Turkish newspaper. Thankfully, the paper isn’t the nation’s most popular, but I predict this stuff will spread. Their explanation:

İbrahim Özdabak is a Turkish cartoonist whose personal website includes cartoons dating back to 2005 covering many subjects relevant to Turkish society and politics. Many of his cartoons have antisemitic themes, depicting Jews as blood-soaked butchers, vultures circling over Palestinian land, and vampires drinking Palestinian blood. These cartoons present the same images of Jews as those circulated in the antisemitic tabloid Der Stürmer and other Nazi-era publications. His cartoons are printed in the Turkish daily newspaper Yeni Asya (“New Asia”), which sold 11,245 copies during the week of April 9, 2018, making it the 29th most popular print newspaper in Turkey.

Here are a few of those cartoons’s with MEMRI’s explanations. Note the big-nosed depiction of the Jew that’s always used by anti-Semites. If you think that these cartoons are only anti-Israel rather than also being anti-Jewish (they are of course deeply intertwined), you’re just wrong.

A Jewish Nero plays the harp while the “Islamic world” burns. (, August 1, 2016.)

The Jew plotting to take over the entire region “east of the Nile” and “west of the Euphrates” (, June 26, 2016.)

A Jewish man praying at the Western Wall laughs at the message on his phone, which reads: “Turkey and Israel have come to an agreement.” (, June 28, 2016.)

My emphasis in the explanation below. This cartoon is particularly invidious:

The cartoon below was a response to an open letter published April 22, 2018 in the French-language Le Parisien newspaper proposing that “the verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities,” so that “no believer can refer to a sacred text to commit a crime. The letter drew harsh criticism from French Muslims, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded harshly to it in a speech on May 8, saying: “In France, some group came out and published a communique calling for the removal of certain verses from the Quran. Even though it is very clear that the people who said this do not know anything about the Quran, I wonder, in their lives, have they ever read their own books, [such as] the Bible? Or have they ever read the Torah? Or have they ever read the Book of Psalms? If they had read it, they would probably also want the Bible to be banned… When we warn the Western countries about anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-Turkish sentiment, xenophobia, and racism, we get a bad reputation. Oh West, know that while you attack our holy book, we are not going to attack your sanctities, but we are going to take you down.”

Solving the puzzle of the Büyük Ortadoğu Projesi (“Greater Middle East Project”) reveals the Star of David. (, July 20, 2017.)

“Here there is a bit of Palestinian land left!” (, November 18, 2016.)

You have to be insane if you think that Jews control the United Nations, but of course the stereotype is that they control everything.

(, April 28, 2018.)

This one’s pretty nasty, too:

“Gaza Chambers.” This cartoon plays on the similarity in Turkish between the words “gas” and “Gaza.” (, date unknown.)

h/t: Malgorzata

Note to readers

Several readers who comment regularly have told me that their comments didn’t appear. I found the comments in the “spam” file, and have no idea why they went there. I restored the ones I found that weren’t real spam.

If you’ve made a comment and haven’t seen it, email me with your posting name and the email address you use in the comment field, and I will try to recover your comment. This assumes, of course, that you haven’t been banned, but I believe that if you are, your comments simply won’t go through, and won’t look as if they’ve been posted.

WordPress has been messing around with the format and practices lately, and, as usual, I have to go along with what they do. I may upgrade soon, which might fix some of these issues, though not the big one that readers aren’t able to edit their comments after they’re posted. Do proofread before you press that button.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning ladies and gentlement, brothers and sisters, and all the ships at sea: it’s Tuesday, May 22, 2018, also known as National Vanilla Pudding Day (meh). It’s also World Goth Day, described by its originators as “a day where the goth scene gets to celebrate its own being, and an opportunity to make its presence known to the rest of the world.” Ooookay. . . .never into that.

Finally, it’s World Turtle Day, so if you have a pet turtle, send me a photo by 5 pm today Chicago time and a few words about it.

I’m busy this a.m. so posting will be light—at least until later. There will be no “readers’ wildlife”, but that will resume tomorrow.

First, a tweet (h/t Grania) from Tom NIchols, who teaches at Harvard and the Naval War College. I apparently haven’t followed the news enough to know what this means. Readers?

On this day in 1570, according to Wikipedia, the first atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, was published with 70 maps. Note that this was honored by Google the other day, so the date may be off. On May 22, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition (named “The Corps of Discovery”) left St. Charles, Missouri for its trek to the Pacific.

It was banner day in 1826 for a ship that later became famous: HMS Beagle left on its first voyage, but that wasn’t the one that carried Darwin, which left five years later.  On this day in 1849, Abraham Lincoln was issued a U.S. patent for a “bellows” device to lift ships over obstructions (I doubt it was ever used). Still, he’s the only U.S. President to ever be issued a patent.

Speaking of patents, on this day in 1906, Orville and Wilbur Wright got U.S. patent 821,393 for their “Flying-Machine.” You know what that was! On May 22, 1915, Mount Lassen erupted in northern California; besides Mt. St. Helens, this was the only volcano in the contiguous U.S. to erupt during the 20th century. Of course Hawaii is not in the contiguous U.S.! On this day in 1987, the first Rugby World Cup began as New Zealand played Italy in Auckland. Australia and New Zealand hosted the event, with the All Blacks subsequently winning the title.

Finally, it was exactly one year ago today that Islamists attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester with grenades, killing 22 people. Here’s today’s cover of the Manchester Evening News:

When I asked Matthew (who lives there), “What’s with the bees?”, he responded, “Symbol of Manchester. After the bombing there were bees everywhere, a sign of solidarity. This design is based on a famous mural in the centre of town.

Notables born on this day include Richard Wagner (1813), Mary Cassatt (1844), Arthur Conan Doyle (1859), Hergé (1907), Peter Matthiessen (1927), Unabomber Ted Kaczynski (1942), George Best (1949), and Maggie Q (1979).  Those who died on this day include Martha Washington (1802), Victor Hugo (1885), Langston Hughes (1967), Nobel winning geneticist Alfred Hershey (1997), and Martin Gardner (2010). We will all join that Innumerable Caravan some day.

Here is “Sara Holding a Cat” by Mary Cassatt:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is trying a new trick to get birds: hypnotizing them:

Hili: Hypnosis is not working.
A: Maybe you should try to purr gently.
Hili: I’ve tried that.
In Polish:

Some tweets from Matthew. Have a look at this snake pretending to be dead:

From Philomena, who’s astounded:

One reason to marry a royal:

Matthews says, “These are Buprestid jewel beetles and this is what they look like before they’re opened.”

Before they break out:

From Ann German via reader Heather Hastie, who calls this “Proof of the stupidity of dogs”:

From Grania, who shows the famous statue of Hachikō. It’s had a resident cat for some time.

Look at this bun eat! What kind of vegetable is it?

A lovely cat painting:

Conservative Supreme Court rules against labor

In a 5-4 decision today, with voting along political lines, the conservative Supreme Court Justices (including Trump appointee Gorsuch) ruled that workers could not file class-action lawsuits against employers if they signed arbitration clauses in their contracts that waived their right to file such suits in favor of binding arbitration. This is definitely a blow to labor; as Reuters reports:

The justices, in a 5-4 ruling with the court’s conservatives in the majority, endorsed the legality of the growing practice by companies to compel workers to sign arbitration agreements waiving their right to bring class-action claims on various disputes, primarily over wages and hours.

The ruling could apply more broadly to discrimination claims like those raised by women as part of the #MeToo movement raising awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace but the court did not explicitly address that issue.

Craig Becker, a former member of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board and now general counsel of the AFL-CIO union federation, said the decision will have a “chilling effect” on employees coming forward to complain of mistreatment.

“It will cripple enforcement of all the major employment laws,” Becker added.

Growing numbers of employers, alarmed by a rise in class-action claims brought by workers on wage issues, have demanded that their workers sign waivers. Class-action litigation can result in large damages awards by juries and is harder for businesses to fight than cases brought by individual plaintiffs.

Remember, this is about the legality of companies being able to make their employees sign waivers to prevent class-actions, which seems unfair on the face of it.

The split had Gorsuch (Trump’s flak) writing the majority opinion (see it here), joined by Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, and Roberts. As for the liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer), the New York Times adds this:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion “egregiously wrong.” In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision “will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers.”

Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to address the matter.

Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who studies arbitrations and class actions, said the ruling was unsurprising in light of earlier Supreme Court decisions. Justice Gorsuch, he added, “appears to have put his cards on the table as firmly in favor of allowing class actions to be stamped out through arbitration agreements.”

As a result, Professor Fitzpatrick said “it is only a matter of time until the most powerful device to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds is lost altogether.”

Will the working people who voted for Trump, thinking he’d improve their situation, be disenchanted now? Are you kidding? They won’t pay one bit of attention to this decision.

Here’s the opinion of Steven Greenhouse, former labor reporter for the New York Times:

We often ignore the fact that one of the worst things that Trump (and the Republicans) did—something that will affect the country long after Trump is out of the White House—was to unfairly block the appointment of Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, waiting out the election to then allow a possible Republican president (Trump) the chance to put in his own nominee. That would be the odious Gorsuch.

Afternoon duck report

It’s raining, and I’m monitoring the pond while trying to write a paper, so it’s been a busy day. But the news is good for the ducks. First, though, let me introduce you to the two other members of Team Duck, Dr. Anna Mueller, a professor in Comparative Human Development who studies clustered suicide, and her grad student Sanja Miklin. Anna is on the right here, in a picture taken at a meeting last weekend.

All nine ducklings are thriving and are eating crushed mealworms, while Mom eats corn and whole mealworms. Frank hangs around, and I give him corn, but he’s becoming a jerk, lunging at and even pecking at the ducklings and at Honey. Team Duck will have to figure out a way to feed them while keeping Frank away from the family. At this point, after Frank has donated his sperm but proffers no childcare, his presence serves no useful purpose (and it’s even detrimental to the family); but I still feel some affection for him.

They’re all good, and it’s still raining. Note that there are nine ducklings still.

This morning a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) appeared by the pond, and Honey went apeshit quacking. It was in fact her frantic quacks that alerted me to the presence of this bird. Normally I’d be delighted to see it, but I suspect that, along with fish, this species would snatch ducklings. (I see no other reason why Honey would become frantic upon seeing it.) Therefore I needed to prompt it on its way. I don’t like doing that, but I was fortuitously thwarted by a student who, when taking a picture of the bird, made it fly off. It is a lovely thing, but doesn’t belong at the pond.  (Please, no remarks about thwarting natural selection, which is what you do when you give your kids antibiotics.)

The good news is that Physical Plant is doing its thing. Today they put up a sturdy ramp out of the pond into the shrubbery, allowing the ducklings an egress from the pond into thick vegetation that will hide them. Here it is, and I hope they learn to use it.

They also heaped dirt around the base of the two trees in the pond, which, when it dries out, will also give Honey and offspring a dry and safe place to rest. They’re adding leaves and other things to it to make it softer and less muddy.  Thanks, Physical Plant!  More improvements to come, including a fence.

On accepting death: scientist David Goodall ends his life at 104 through self-assisted suicide; Barbara Ehrenreich gives up on preventive medical care

As we grow older (and by “we,” I mean “I”), one’s thoughts tend naturally to turn to mortality. The comparison of your age to that of those listed in the paper’s obituaries becomes a depressing habit, one gives up beloved foods and behaviors in an effort to stay alive as long as possible, and you realize that the time that has passed since you were 40 is longer than the time you have left.

So it’s somewhat heartening, then—though I can’t get there myself—to hear about older people who are sane but have just decided to either die or not engage in the usual measures to prevent getting ill. And two people have done it in different ways.

As this NYT article notes, Australian ecologist and botanist David Goodall, 104, who was working and active right until recently, grew upset at his worsening health and loss of independence, and just decided that it wasn’t worth it to live any more. Unable to kill himself in Australia (he tried but failed, and there are no laws in Australia allowing assisted suicide), he took off for Switzerland and, with the help of the group Dignitas, turned on a machine that injected barbiturates into his veins. (Another option is to drink a barbiturate containing solution). He died on May 10.

I suppose if I were that debilitated, I might just be weary of life. What keeps me going are things to look forward to, and if those are gone there’s no point in living. (I’m not nearly there yet!) At any rate, I admire Goodall for his tenacity and, especially, his complete lack of a fear of death. One quote from the Times piece:

Asked if there was anything he still wanted to do, he said: “There are many things I would like to do, of course, but it’s too late. I’m content to leave them undone.”

Pressed about what he would miss, he allowed, “I have been missing for a long time my journeys into the Australian countryside, but I haven’t been able to do that for quite a while”

He was asked about his last meal. “I’m rather limited in my culinary enjoyment nowadays,” he responded. “I don’t find that I can enjoy my meals as I used to.”

On Thursday, he received a fatal dose of a barbiturate intravenously. In order to comply with Swiss law that bans the interference of third parties in the process, he opened the valve to release the solution himself and fell asleep, dying soon after. Some of his grandchildren were with him in his final hours, Exit International said.

He wanted no funeral and no remembrance service, and he asked that his body be donated to medicine or his ashes sprinkled locally, according to Exit. Mr. Goodall did not believe in the afterlife, the organization said.

How would he like to be remembered? “As an instrument of freeing the elderly from the need to pursue their life irrespective,” he said at the news conference on Wednesday.

At one point, he was asked what tune he would choose for his last song, and he said the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Then he began to sing, with verve and vigor.

According to Mr. Nitschke, Mr. Goodall did end up choosing Beethoven, and he died the moment “Ode to Joy” concluded.

My “going out” music would be Richard Strauss’s appropriate song “Beim Schlafengehen” (“At the time of going to sleep”), with Jessye Norman’s incomparable rendition (here). Readers are invited to submit what kind of music they’d like to hear when they were dying.

Second, well known author Barbara Ehrenreich, who is 76, wrote a provocative essay that’s gotten some attention. She’s decided to give up all preventive medical care and not worry about her diet and exercise so much because she’s “old enough to die”, and sees no point in prolonging a long life with expensive medical care, or even preventive tests. It’s an essay worth pondering, and I agree with some of it. Have a read by clicking on the screenshot:

A few quotes:

“In the last few years I have given up on the many medical measures—cancer screenings, annual exams, Pap smears, for example—expected of a responsible person with health insurance. This was not based on any suicidal impulse. It was barely even a decision, more like an accumulation of micro-decisions: to stay at my desk and meet a deadline or show up at the primary care office and submit to the latest test to gauge my biological sustainability; to spend the afternoon in faux-cozy corporate environment of a medical facility or to go for a walk.

. . . I also understood that I was going against the grain for my particular demographic. Most of my educated, middle-class friends had begun to double down on their health-related efforts at the onset of middle age, if not earlier. They undertook exercise or yoga regimens; they filled their calendars with upcoming medical tests and exams; they boasted about their “good” and “bad” cholesterol counts, their heart rates and blood pressure. Mostly they understood the task of aging to be self-denial, especially in the realm of diet, where one medical fad, one study or another, condemned fat and meat, carbs, gluten, dairy, or all animal-derived products. In the health-conscious mind-set that has prevailed among the world’s affluent people for about four decades now, health is indistinguishable from virtue, tasty foods are “sinfully delicious,” while healthful foods may taste good enough to be advertised as “guilt-free.” Those seeking to compensate for a lapse undertake punitive measures like fasts, purges, or diets composed of different juices carefully sequenced throughout the day.

. . . Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise—not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and—just as important at a certain age—how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.

. . . In giving up on preventive care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

Well, I don’t fully agree with her; if you’re in good health, and still look forward to life, why not at least have routine tests for things that are easily treated, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

But I can understand the abstemiousness that itself makes life less valuable. I well remember that when I was younger, and could eat anything I wanted, in any amount, without putting on weight, I said, “If I ever had to restrict my diet, I’d kill myself.” Well, here I am fasting twice a week, and with my love of food, it’s no picnic. Yet I’m not contemplating suicide! A “low carb diet”, which I tried, was worse: no bread, pasta, and, especially, no wine or beer.  Is living worth living if that’s what you can’t eat or drink? I gave that up for fasting, but now two days a week I don’t get any food save a latte with Splenda.  And if I really wanted to live a long time, I’d go on one of those diets where you just eat vegetables and fruits, or simply cut down my food intake, like a rat, to near starvation.

But is that a life worth living? Not for me. In my head I sometimes hear the words of U. S. Marine Sergeant Major Daniel Daly (twice a Medal of Honor winner), who was supposed to have spurred on his men at the Battle of Belleau Wood by saying:

“For Christ’s sake men—come on! Do you want to live forever?”


Duckling report

I’m pleased to report that all nine of Honey’s ducklings survived the night, though it’s still big tsouris to feed the males and Honey and her brood, as, on land, Frank and his pal tend to drive Honey away from the corn. On the water it’s easy to give Honey and her brood good proteinaceous mealworms, as the male ducks spurn them. So everyone got breakfast.

It’s raining this morning, but I’m hoping Landscaping will still show up to do the Pond Improvements they promised yesterday.

Below: Frank drives Honey away from the corn (she got plenty, though, as well as mealworms). You can see part of the brood; repeated counting shows all nine are still there.

Anna had the bright idea of crushing some of the mealworms so the ducklings could handle them. That seems to work, and the family got a good breakfast on the pond (I’ve ordered three more bags ).You can see the rain splashing in the pond.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Mark Sturtevant has returned with a series of insect pictures that he sent on March 28. His notes are indented, and be sure to note the instances of mimicry and the weird mantidfly in the last two photos.

Here are some insect photos for WEIT. The first picture is a nice wood nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala). Various species are common in the local woods, but they are usually hard to approach. However, on this day it was overcast and somewhat chilly after a heavy rain, so this one was content to let me come in for pictures.

Next is a large mayfly that I had found on my car, so I transferred it to a nearby tree for pictures. It is one of the burrowing mayflies (Hexagenia), and is probably the most common species, H. limbata. As aquatic larvae, burrowing mayflies will get down out of sight into the silt and mud.

Everyone here should be fond of mimicry. One of my personal goals has been to find nymphs of a broad-headed bug since the nymphs are excellent ant mimics. Each species has a strong resemblance to a particular species of large ant, right down to very small details. So I was very happy to one day come across one such insect in a community garden, as shown in the next picture. This species looks to be in the genus Alydus, and I suspect it is mimicking the Eastern black carpenter ant—by far the most common large ant around here [Michigan]. Mimicking an ant is presumably done to avoid predation since ants taste very bad and not many things will eat them. Broad headed bugs are seed feeders, and they especially like to feed on seeds of legumes. So if I could find the preferred host of these critters I should be able to find more! This one was running fast through a strawberry patch (a feature of ant mimics is that they behave like ants), and so this heavily cropped picture is the only decent one that I have. The nymphs are good mimics, but the adults are rather ordinary looking as shown in this picture at another site.

A local nature center that strongly caters to school field trips recently built a native butterfly house, and I definitely wanted to visit that! The next two pictures shows one of the residents, which is the American lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). This species is often mistaken for the more common painted lady (I had made that mistake as well!) So here is a handy key to tell the difference.

What do you suppose is the weird insect shown in the next picture? It took me a moment to figure out the order, and later on the family. This is a kind of wasp-mimicking longhorn beetle with very short front wings. The species is probably Necydalis mellita. I could only take two pictures before this nervous and alert insect took off.

I have a friend and colleague (we teach in the same department) who also very much enjoys doing insect macrophotography, and we often go out together to local parks. One thing that happens is that we compete a bit over who has the best ‘find’ for the day. My friend (Gary) wins this competition more often than not, but one day I saw a strange V-shaped thing sitting on a leaf. Could it be? Yes, it was a mantidfly!!! This one was a female, and we soon figured that there was little chance she would fly off since she was quite heavy with eggs. Mantidflies and praying mantises clearly show convergent evolution, but they are from completely different insect orders. Mantidflies are members of the order Neuroptera, and their familiar relatives include lacewings and antlions. The front limbs are usually held in the odd position seen here, cocked back farther than would be seen in a mantis, and they are not used for walking since they lack foot pads.  This species (Climaciella brunnea) uses bright warning colors and a wasp-like shape to mimic a paper wasp. But the mimicry is a complete ruse since this predatory insect of course does not sting. We both agreed that this was “it” this time  —  the best find of the day.