Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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Holiday gift-giving anxiety. Have you experienced this phenomena? It usually hits me at the beginning of November, sometimes December, if my life has been too busy to think about the holidays. What do I get people?

Like most of us, I get pulled into the joy of giving presents. But, as a bird-lover, gardener and conservationist, I am also aware of the immense pressures placed on the environment when we create demand for new, material possessions. Enter my solution: embracing the joy of homemade gifts.

Now, before you stop reading because you aren’t crafty, give me just a few more sentences to change your mind. There are a zillion fun, clever, inspiring and easy, yes easy, gifts you can make with your own two hands.The hardest part is generating the ideas. So, explore this Pinterest page we put together. It includes a variety of homemade gifts ideas you can make that celebrate the spirit of feeding birds, growing plants, increasing biodiversity at home, and supporting those gardeners who live to get their hands dirty. Feel free to forward this link to your loved ones as a “Hint, hint, I’d love something homemade for the holidays.” Included on this Pinterest board are upcycled birdhouses, simple suet feeders, garden decor and more. We did the research, so you can spend your time creating. On average these projects will take you about thirty minutes of planning and material collecting, and an hour of creating--depending on how much detail and unique creativity you add. But, the reward will be priceless. So, roll-up your sleeves these next few weeks and make a homemade gift.

Birds Eye ViewIf you have been the recipient of a thoughtful, homemade gift, you know why this method of giving is worth the modest effort. Watching the receiver admire the time, attention and love you put into the creation fills everyone with a warm, satisfying glow. Even the presumed flaws are admired as they demonstrate one of the great wabi-sabi lessons — there is great beauty in imperfection. Join the YardMap Citizen Science community for inspiration on birds, science, habitat creation, gardening and low-impact living! You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This post was written by Becca Rodomsky-Bish, YardMap Project Assistant

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Right now talking about weed control seems pretty ridiculous with the ground covered in snow. I was getting my weeding tools out to clean and sharpen in order to be ready for next springtime and thinking it is wise to plan ahead because those weeds will surely present themselves when this snow melts. I especially like to cut the weeds back that have stickers which get into the dogs fur. Locally we are being told that Canada thistle is an invasive species and will crowd out native vegetation but I have not seen that threat mature yet in our area. The Department of Agriculture wants weeds like Canada thistle and leafy spurge plus a host of other weeds eradicated from our common lands and our property. Our community seeks to comply and their last effort at weed control was to apply copious amounts of 2,4, D, Amine 4 to noxious weeds. Failure to seek out every thistle and saturate it with spray or rip it out by the roots seems to upset some zealots who are more committed to killing weeds with toxic spray rather than protecting the environment.

I personally observed a dead deer laying in the meadow with no apparent external cause of death and numerous deer and elk with tumors on their bodies. Some people are still of the belief that if a little is good then a lot is better. I personally witnessed spraying this toxic chemical on a specific location in the morning and later that day saw a herd of deer eating the sprayed weeds. One of those responsible told me that he was also using an experimental herbicide on leafy spurge that he obtained from a university professor who was one of his friends. Using an untested herbicide without knowing its potential toxic side effects on humans and four legged animals is seriously irresponsible in my opinion. People who are more intent on killing weeds at the risk of our safety need to be kept away from spraying apparatus so they don‘t get carried away with their obsession.

A Hazard Outside - Greater Hazard Inside

I have seen the commercials on television where this big manly guy with a deep voice comes onto your screen singing a catchy jingle that is designed to make you want to buy a gallon of their pre-mixed herbicide whether you have weeds or not. No sense reading the label or warnings on the container because it is pre-mixed and all you need to do is point and shoot and watch that weed wither and die. That product is only one of many brands which have carcinogens in them. The half life for 2,D.4 Amine and most products outdoors is only a few days but in one independent report I read it stated if tracked inside onto carpet its half life extended for up to one year. That would be the same carpet our children and grandchildren play on and is walked on in bare feet.

Humans Smarter Than A Frog?

The other remarkable feature I found when exploring the use of herbicides is that the reports available are either pro or con depending on who writes them so ascertaining which one is truly correct is difficult. Add to this the manly type standing with feet spread singing a catchy jingle and it is no wonder why some people disregard common sense and rush down to buy the pre-mixed herbicide that only takes a few minutes to apply. In many respects people remind me of the frog experiment where attempts to put a frog in hot water results in its immediately jumping out of the pan of hot water to safety. However, if you put a frog in a pan of cold water and slowly increase the water temperature the frog will remain in the pan until it dies. We humans are a lot like that frog when it comes to our use of herbicides. Exposures occur over time and accumulate with other exposures from the food we now eat to the air we breathe and the water we drink. Some people have a greater tolerance to toxins than others. Children and those with weak immune systems tend to be more susceptible to adverse effects than others. Pets appear to universally be susceptible from all the reports I have read. I know what I personally witnessed in our community when they were spraying herbicides.

Manual Removal Of Weeds

Those who are prone to spraying herbicides will go right ahead and spray them due to expediency sake and ignore the hazards. As for me I would suggest an alternative method I have found practical. It is more labor intensive and takes a longer time to perform but in the long run is just as effective and much safer. Note the photo where my array of weed control tools are laid out on our picnic table. Mowing is very effective but requires more time to manage the weeds. Some weeds like the dandelion we actually harvest and eat. That is effective weed control and is nutritious too since dandelions have many vitamins and nutritional aspects that are good for you. For the taller, non-edible weeds I use the manual weed whacker. I found the handle that came with it didn’t last long due to our many rocks so I put a heavy duty handle on it which I salvaged from a snow shovel. The electric weed whacker is used within 80 to 100 feet of our house according to the length of the extension cord. Weed control around the house is also good for wildfire mitigation. The other tools are for pulling weeds up from the root and getting into harder to reach places. Our grasses are all native natural grasses.

I concede that chemical companies are clearly here to stay and will market their herbicides with catchy commercials. However, I prefer to do my weed control manually and don’t mind taking the extra time needed to avoid putting any toxic material on our property. While our weed population is currently covered with snow and will remain that way for the next few months perhaps this topic will be a reminder to others that alternatives are available and when those weeds appear next spring instead of rushing down to purchase a herbicide possibly the manual way will be just as effective.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and sensible mountain living go to their blog, McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Mice are highly misunderstood animals, and this sad truth means that every year humans use careless and often ineffective measures to eradicate mice from their homes.

Contrary to popular belief, these little animals are as intelligent as dogs, able to empathize with one another and extremely organized and tidy. While most people associate mice with disease, they’re actually far less likely to transmit parasites and viruses than household pets like cats and dogs.

Natural deterrents can discourage mice from settling in your home, but when those fail, kind methods allow for proper removal without the need to kill or harm that mouse in your house.

Fun Facts About Mice

Mice are often unfairly portrayed as dirty rodents, but they are actually fascinating, gentle creatures. For instance, mice:

• Can recognize their given names and respond to humans calling for them.
• Communicate with one another vocally beyond the auditory capabilities of human ears.
• Use facial expressions to convey moods.
• Designate areas or compartments within their homes for food, shelter and toileting purposes.
• Typically stay within 3 to 8 meters from their nest, even when searching for food.
• Can fit their bodies through holes as tiny as dimes.
• Utilize their whiskers to determine temperature changes and to detect smooth and rough textures.
• Have excellent balancing abilities and can even scale vertical structures if the surface has enough gripping texture.
• Symbolize discovery, organization, wisdom and scrutiny in Shamanism.

Inhumane and Ineffective Measures

Unfortunately, humans often perceive mice to be problematic beyond what they actually are, and this can result in a panic that leads to wanting to euthanize the animal through common products such as glue traps, mouse traps and poison. These measures are extremely cruel, often leading to slow, agonizing deaths.

To make matters worse, these methods don’t do anything to control the rodent population in the long run. In fact, they tend to only make matters worse. When a mouse is killed, this simply means more food for the remaining mice. And well-fed mice lead to more abundant breeding.

Natural Deterrents

Perhaps the most effective way to rid your home of mice is through the use of natural repellents. Keeping your home free from food debris, crumbs and loosely bagged food is a must in order to deter rodent inhabitation.

Keep countertops clean and ensure that both regular food and pet food are kept in strong containers that can’t be chewed through easily by hungry mice. Tightly seal trash with taut lids, don’t leave pet food out at night and keep your landscaping orderly with no appealing hiding spots. Fix any holes or cracks within the home with a sealant and insulation, and use ammonia-soaked cloths to repel rodents.

Humane-Trapping Methods

If any mice linger after these deterrents are used, they can be humanely trapped and released with live cages, such as this humane mouse trap recommended by PETA. Insert a bit of appetizing peanut butter at the very back of the trap to allow mice to fully enter without getting their delicate tails caught in the trap door.

A makeshift trap can also be created using DIY methods. For instance, placing some peanut butter inside of a small trash can is an easy way to encourage a mouse to jump inside. Stagger a stack of books along one side of the bin so that the mouse can enter. Once inside, he’ll be unable to jump back out.

After the mouse is trapped, place a towel over the top to keep it calm, and then release the animal within 100 yards of the trapping site. Taking mice further away often results in their deaths, as they’re unfamiliar with the area and less likely to find food and water sources quickly. 

* Remember to check the trap regularly, as these traps can cause mice distress and dehydration within only a few hours. When unable to check traps at this rate, clean them with a mild bleaching solution, which rids the trap of lingering food scents and discourages mice from entering.

Mice are intelligent, gentle and often very clean animals that simply aren’t the threat that humans typically perceive them to be. Utilizing kind measures to keep them outside of your home is an ideal way of respecting these creatures and showing them needed compassion. 

Image by Mark Bray

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Twin Vee

Whether you live or travel on the coast, next to a lake or along a river, we often find ourselves setting foot on a boat. For many fishing enthusiasts, a boat is as necessary as the bait and tackle. The same is true for aquatic adventure seekers, whether diving or snorkeling. For me, there’s nothing more enthralling than gliding over the waters in a sailboat, spinnaker raised.

On a recent trip into the Miami area when working on a three-part ecotourism blog, I had a chance to attend the Miami International Boat Show, to learn about some of the ways the boating industry is greening itself, from new all-electric touring boats to propane-powered engines. While numerous issues remain related to fuel use and construction materials for what most people view as luxury items, the fact remains that many of us do, in fact, like to get out on the water. And sometimes a kayak, canoe or surfboard won’t do the trick. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, 88 million Americans participated in boating in 2012, with 12.1 million boats registered in the US.

So, when self-propelled boats or boards are not an option, here are few of the boating choices and technologies along the continuum of sustainability.

Solar-Powered Touring Boat

There’s no noise and no pollution with the 22-foot Tamarack Lake Electric Boat Company’s Loon, a pontoon cruising boat that’s propelled by a 4 kW motor drawing juice from an on-board battery bank. Accommodating up to 10 passengers, the roof canopy sports a .7 kW PV array. As the world’s first solar assisted pontoon boat, it’s ideal for boaters who like to troll inland waterways, lakes and calmer waters. It’s for those who don’t want to have the equivalent of “two sticks of dynamite” on board, as Tamarack Lake President Monte Gisborne likes to say, referring to the engine and fuel on most boats.

Twin Vee Catamarans

If you have a need for speed and getting out on the open waters of an ocean, the Twin Vee twin engine catamarans are among the most fuel-efficient options. Because the boat hydrofoils, the Twin Vees use about half the fuel of any other boat in size and price range, says to Roger Dunshee during our test ride. The catamaran design reduces drag in the water, making it more efficient that other boats. This durable and highly stable boat is well suited to the open waters, whether to hook your fish dinner, dive to spearfish the exotic and problematic Lionfish that are decimating reef fish populations, or go on a snorkeling expedition.

Sail Away on Sailboats

How can you go wrong when the wind is doing all the work to propel your watercraft? While most sailboats come with a gas-powered engine to get you out of the harbor or around tricky situations (like windless days), a sail boat can be both a majestic and fossil-fuel-free way of getting around out at sea. If course, if you have the financial means, you can go all out in a 65-foot Beneteau sailboat, with optional PV or wind turbine systems to power all on-board appliances. However, there are plentiful options for sailboats that can satisfy nearly every budget, though some may take some major DIY work to get seaworthy.

Propane Outboard Motors

“It’s priced like gas and has zero evaporated emissions,” says Captain Bernardo Herzer, CEO and Founder of Lehr, a company that makes reliable and less ecologically-damaging 5 horsepower to 15 horsepower propane outdoor motors. Propane is an approved alternative fuel in both the Clean Air Act of 1990 and National Energy Policy Act of 1992. He’s quick to point out that unlike gasoline, propane never goes bad and the propane engines are up to fifty times cleaner than gas. The propane engines also sidestep one of the biggest problems with the boating industry: fuel issues related to the engine. A boon for wildlife, propane eliminates the possibility of the highly toxic gas being spilled in the water. The company expanded into the boating industry after their successful start in propane-powered lawn and garden products.

Want to check out your boating options first hand, the International Miami Boat Show is held every February.

Photo: Courtesy of Twin Vee

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


 mud ruts

There is nothing more magnificent than a walk through a forest untouched by chainsaws. Conversely, there is not much worse than trekking the fresh remains of a timber where loggers disrespected a property and left it in a torrent mess. However, depending on a landowner’s end-game, logging can be very beneficial if it’s done right.

Knowledgeable farmer-landowners consider timber a marketable crop no different than their grain fields; they benefit greatly from its cyclical income as well as the cover treetops provide for upland game. Unfortunately, many timber owners, especially those of absentee-owner status, become the prey of unscrupulous loggers.

Fly-by-night outfits routinely go door to door with offers sworn to be “top dollar.” Even many long-established buyer/loggers have been known to talk landowners into “high-grading.” This is the total harvest of all large, valuable trees with no regard for the future regeneration of the forest. The timbered landscapes of many clueless, trusting property owners have literally been raped and ruined by deceptive loggers.

Considering the continental distribution of this magazine, it would be impossible to address the diverse TSI possibilities which would benefit individual landowners and their efforts with quality woodland and wildlife management. Therefore, it is this blog’s goal to present some thought-provoking advice for helping landowners be more conscientious guardians of their forested lands. Whether you own 5 acres of timber or 5000, whether you own a white pine forest or low ground covered in softwoods, and regardless of where your property is within the MOTHER EARTH NEWS outreach, your pocketbook and wildlife can benefit greatly by the enhancements of a well-managed forest.


How to Develop a  Sustainable Forest Management Plan

Don’t rush into a timber plan. First, ask for the guidance of a regional wildlife biologist before contacting a forester. This is a free service provided by state and federal natural resources agencies and agricultural extension bureaus. These conservation advisers are in high demand, so do not expect an immediate on-the-scene response. Call and set up an appointment and patiently wait your turn.

List your top three property goals by priority and send them with an aerial photo of the timbered tract to the wildlife biologist before your first meeting. Example goals:

1. Create better deer bedding without affecting the property’s turkey and quail numbers.

2. Generate an ongoing income.

3. Enhance my family’s recreational value with trails. An experienced wildlife professional will thoroughly walk the property and make verbal suggestions followed up with a written blueprint.

Write down timber and wildlife management questions relevant to your property before the face-to-face meeting with the biologist. For instance:

1. What can I do to increase the number of deer on my property?

2. Would more nut-bearing trees be beneficial for future income?

3. What can be done to create a more diverse habitat for birds within my forested acres? The only dumb question is one that is not asked.

After you have gotten the advice of a wildlife biologist, it’s then time to enlist the advice of a forester. After picking the brains of the biologist, you will not be prone to ask the forester questions about wildlife. This would be similar to questioning a heart surgeon about dentistry. Avoid pitting one professional against the other with he-said, she-said second-guessing games. Rather, settle on your wildlife priorities first and then outline them to the forester.

Enlist the help of a professional forester. The best advice that can be given to any timber owner is to enlist a professional forester to assist with a long-term strategy for their property. Without the counsel of an experienced arborist, most landowners fail miserably at all aspects of log sales and timber stand improvement (TSI). Candidly, forest management is a craps-shoot without a specialist’s knowledge about regeneration, tree diseases, soil types, growth rates, log values, board-footage estimates, invasive plants, and understory potential. 

Some state and federal agencies offer the complimentary services of a forester. The extent of their assistance differs from state to state and even district to district within a state. The degree of forestry counsel by any state or federal agency usually depends on the manpower available during any given year. These agencies may offer free timber assessment and planning only, or provide the full-meal-deal of consulting, marking of trees, acquiring sealed bids, and overseeing the cutting.

The following true story will further emphasize the difference between trusting a buyer/logger and hiring a professional forester. In 1997, a retired engineer received an unsolicited offer of $70,000 from a local timber buyer for the harvest of logs from his 200-acre forest. Suspicious that the bid might be low, the engineer hired a timber management consulting firm to selectively mark his timber. 40 percent fewer trees were cut, which greatly preserved the land's aesthetic and regenerative value. The consultant requested competitive, sealed bids for a lump-sum offering of the timber. The engineer received a check for $249,000, or $179,000 more than originally offered by the shyster.

Even as I write, landowners are accepting rock-bottom offers from timber-exploiters rather than taking the time to approach timber management as a serious business, one that can put thousands of extra dollars in their pockets. The elderly, absentee landowners and new property owners are usually the ones targeted in log-buying scams. And all too often the buyer hires an independent cutter/hauler and offers the seller more money if they can wait until after the log sale. These scam-artists have been known to fall of the radar post-sale, leaving the seller with no payment and a devastated forest.

State and U.S. natural resources conservation services budgets and manpower have been lackluster over the last decade. Therefore, if you own 100 acres of timber or more, it is advisable to forego free assistance and hire a private forester. This often saves time and the frustration of dealing with an overburdened agency. Governmental programs sometimes have matching funds and grants available for landowners who hire private foresters, so be sure to check.

Private Forest Consultants

A list of your state’s private forest consultants can easily be obtained by Googling “(state) Foresters.” Consultants offer services that range from one-day timber assessment to writing and overseeing a full-blown TSI plans. One-day assessments are usually done on a per-hour or per-acre basis, and the charge for writing and overseeing a complete TSI plan depends on whether there is log sales involved.

Initially, a forestry consultant will establish the exact boundaries of the property and inspects it to determine the forest’s composition, present and future log value, and overall condition. After presenting a verbal assessment to the property owner, the consultant will assist the landowner with long-term TSI goals. The finalized, written plan may include any combination of the following: an immediate marking and sale of mature trees; the marking and systematic thinning of unwanted, diseased or crowded trees; a clear-cut of defined areas followed by replanting of more desirable trees; an understory burn-off; a spot-specific chemical kill-off of an undesirable understory or invasive species; and pruning of trees to increase their future value.

If the owner elects to sell mature timber, a consultant will request multiple bids from buyers. The consultant then matches the high bid against his estimated board-footage value of the selected trees. An owner may have considerably more value than suspected…or less. It will depend on tree grade (from pallet to veneer grade). Veneer logs are by far the most valuable. Single walnut trees of the right stature can fetch $5,000.

 measuring tree

A conscientious forestry consultant will oversee the cutting to ensure process integrity. Though most loggers are honest and hardworking, many have been known to cut unmarked trees, litter or steal onsite property. So when the cutting is complete, be sure that you do a once-over of the property.

As a rule, consultants charge a percentage of log sales for their services. This can run from 3 to 10 percent depending on the tract size and the number and quality of logs. This percentage is more negotiable when log value is high. If there are no log sales, consultant may charge by the hour or by the acre. Be sure to get an upfront estimate.

It is even more crucial to implement a TSI plan if a forest was logged before your ownership. Again, start the process with the advice of a wildlife biologist. Timber owners should consider that it’s their utmost responsibility to protect a wonderful, renewable resource that mankind cannot do without. Forests that are mismanaged may not recover in the owner’s lifetime.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


stay warm

Freezing cold nights are just around the corner again. Unfortunately, that means working your heating appliances double time at the expense of your household budget and the environment. Don't fret. It is possible to keep warm, cut down your electricity bills and reduce your carbon footprint all at the same time if you keep these tips in mind.

Invest in a Programmable Thermostat

Yes, programmable thermostats have gotten a lot of flak for being difficult to use. However, there are versions that don't deserve to be tainted with the same brush, such as the ones listed in this Mashable article. If you use and maintain these thermostats properly, they can save you hundreds of dollars worth of electricity bills in the future.   

Check Your Furnace

Has it been months since you last tuned up your furnace? You'd better do it again before winter comes. A defective furnace can drive up your bills and build up polluted air inside your home.

You have two options. You can either replace your furnace's filter, or follow this step-by-step guide on tuning up your furnace. If you're uncomfortable with home repair of any sort, it's better to seek the help of a professional rather than do it yourself and risk damaging your appliances further.

Seal Insulation Gaps

Even if your furnace is in good shape, you still have to check the house for places where the cold from the outside and the heat from the inside can seep through. Search the walls, windows and can lights for cracks. You can seal them with caulk, expanding foam or other suitable materials. For more information on sealing air leaks around the home, check out this Energy Star guide.

Keep Your Windows Covered

If you don't have the time or budget to buy new windows, cover up your existing windows with shades. You can also use curtains made of thick materials like velvet or flannel, though new curtains won't be enough if it gets too windy.

If you do have the time and the budget, it's best to invest in new windows. Choose the ones treated with low-E (low-emittance) coatings, which prevent heat from escaping your home.

Keep Unused Rooms Closed

The house's extra, unused rooms can sap the heat from the heavily used ones. To prevent this, check and seal the insulation gaps in the former, and keep them closed for the winter. Don't worry about those extra rooms getting chilly, they can always be reopened and reheated once the cold season ends.

Buy Area Rugs

When chilled, the floors can prickle your feet, especially if they're made of materials like wood and tile. Instead of cranking up your furnace even more, cover up your floors with area rugs like the ones from Home Depot. You can also buy some cute, furry slippers to keep your feet warm and feel more comfortable.

Get Up and Moving

What better way to heat up your body than through exercise? It doesn't have to be anything too strenuous, doing household chores should be enough. Also, cooking any meal can heat up your home and fill up your stomach at the same time.

Stock Up on Hot Water Bottles

While it's true that hot water bottles are "so yesterday", they're still one of the best ways to keep warm. Just lay one over your head, stomach or feet, and you'll feel nice and cozy in no time. Be sure to follow the necessary precautions for using hot water bottles, though!

Keeping warm doesn't have to break the budget or the environment. As long as you keep your home, and yourself, in good shape, you'll handle those freezing days and nights just fine.

Image by Up-Free

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


As with so much in life, a lack of familiarity with the natural world can breed fear and a sense of alienation. What we don't know makes us shudder.

In the case of insects, though, the rule might be, "The closer you get, the cooler they look," and biologist Sam Droege, head of the bee inventory and monitoring program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has prepared a number of them for their close-ups.

Droege and his colleagues at the USGS began to inventory all the North American bee species in 2001, in part because of the insects' importance to the U.S. agriculture industry. Their work got an important boost when they encountered the work of the U.S. Army's Public Health Command, where, in 2008, molecular biologist Tony Gutierrez devised a camera system that would enable soldiers throughout the world to take detailed photos of biting insects.  Disease is a major concern for the Army, and Gutierrez needed to create better identification methods to discover if the mosquito that bit a soldier in the field, for instance, was one of the handful out of 80,000 species in the world that could actually transmit disease.

Applying Gutierrez' complicated photographic techniques — which Droege says can expand the image of a tiny bee to "the size of a German shepherd" —  to his work in the field, Droege was able to create an astonishing series of images that give the viewer a whole new appreciation of the beauty of small creatures.

Though Droege cleaned up some of the images in Photoshop (the process of catching and preserving them can leave tiny insect bodies a little shopworn) and removed the pins that supported them, the biologist says he didn't manipulate the color in any way. The jewel tones and iridescence are just as nature made them — and nature made them snazzy. Some are even — dare we say it? — adorable, and others breathtaking, miniscule works of art. Textile artists and painters, take note: amazing textures and colors await you.

On one hand, they're just flies, just bees, just those little bugs we see hopping out when we disturb the grass or sand. But very close in? These images form an exuberant celebration of the other-worldly artistry of the itty bitty.

Droege's respect and appreciation for the insects and the worlds they inhabit are apparent both in the finely detailed images, rendered with delicacy and integrity, and in his captions that are anything but the dry language of a detached observer.

"These images call up something ancient," Droege writes, "something that brings home the fact that our evolutionary paths separated long ago. We each conquered the world in our own way, but these successful pathways seem so utterly and beautifully alien.

"There is no need to imagine or personify alternative life forms on other planets when the examples of such splendid architectures are right here."

All these images were produced with standard commercial camera equipment which rides on a movable sled called a "Stackshot," which can be programmed to move small distances, then fire the camera in a series of overlapping shots. That stack of shots is then sent to a type of software that processes it into a single, all-in-focus picture. And the results are just flippin' cool.

Apis mellifera
DRONE alert! Here is a handsome honeybee drone, a male Apis mellifera, washed, blown dry and buff for his closeup.

Apis mellifera
Augochlora pura
The lovely Augochlora pura is one of the most common bees of forests and forest edges, here with its tongue partially extended just to remind us how different bees are from mammals.

Augochlora pura
Anthidiellum notatum
These little bees often go unnoticed, both because they are very small and because they are very fast, zipping from flower to flower seemingly without resting. This boss specimen cam from Prince George's County, Md., and is often associated with dry, barren sites.

Anthidiellum notatum
Bombus griseocolis
This is one of the species that seems to be holding its own in terms of numbers. This worker has a corbicula (pollen sac) on its tibia full of a mix of pollen and nectar; it is lying on a piece of black felt. Note the beautiful contrast in textures.

Bombus griseocolis
Caenochrysis doriae
"Normally," Droege says, "it would be easy to Photoshop out the pin, but in this case it is so tiny a specimen that it has integrated in with the pin and glue. The metallic-ness of pin wasp are complementary and the layout graceful, which like any good photograph generates stories and questions that your mind answers in its search for meaning. Phew. Heady stuff. I have to cut out the late night chocolate."

Caenochrysis doriae
Calliphora vicina
Ah, the hidden beauty of flies. You have to download and print this out to really see the details on this bad  boy. It was found near the Mall in downtown Washington, D.C.

Calliphora vicina
Centris lanipes
This is a small Centris species from Puerto Rico.

Centris lanipes
Chrysidid Wasp
An unknown Chrysidid from Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah. "Unmatched by any automotive shop," Droege says, "the blues of Chrysidid wasps remind me of this fragment of an Emily Dickinson poem.
'Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

Chrysidid wasp

To see even more of these awe-inspiring images, which you are free to download and use (your tax dollars at work!), see Droege's Flickr page.

Photos courtesy USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program

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