Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

Science Nerds

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Nerd is a term that refers to an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.  (Wikipedia)

I don’t care very much for television.  Immediately after I retired, however, I outfitted a spare room in my Louisiana house into a Man Cave, and bought a little set, so I could watch a football or hockey game from time to time.  One afternoon, I came across a station that ran three or four of the older, original CSI programs, back-to-back every afternoon, and was soon hooked.

These were the first shows, with Gil Grissom, Sarah Sidle, Warrick Brown, Catherine Willows and Nick Stokes as the major characters, all of whom worked as Crime Scene Investigators in Las Vegas.  All of them seemed to have one or more character flaws or eccentricities, and these were My Kind of People.

I especially remember one scene when they were all sitting around the break room, talking about their high school days.  One asked the others, “What kind of kid were you in high school?”  Every one of them, including the muscular, handsome, All-American quarterback-looking Nick (George Eads), said, “Science Nerd”.

I am a Science Nerd.  I was not a Science Nerd in high school.  In high school, I was just a Regular Nerd.  I had absolutely no interest in biology, chemistry, nor “general science” (the only three science classes taught at my rural Louisiana high school).  In fact, I can’t recall ANY school subject that really GRABBED me, although I did pretty well in them all, by rural Louisiana standards, anyway.

It wasn’t until I was well into my fourth decade that I really began to appreciate, and wonder about, the natural world.  I remember that one of my first real “science interests” was dolphins.  That’s a pretty weird subject for a landlocked guy from the bayous of north Louisiana, but I read everything I could get my hands on about Tursiops truncatus, the Atlantic bottlenosed dolphin.  In my late 30s, I returned to school, majoring in zoology, taking all kinds of “odd” subjects–Herpetology, Entomology, Marine Field Biology, Vertebrate Zoology–and interacting with all kinds of really SHARP twenty-something kids, many (if not most) of whom (at least in the junior/senior level courses) were bona fide Science Nerds.  This was FUN.

I “adopted” a young guy from Iowa, who had no car.  We raced all over the country with bug nets, trying to assemble impressive insect collections to satisfy our demanding entomology professor.  We waded swamps and bayous, netting fish for the Vertebrate class.  We turned over logs and wallowed in swamps, finding salamanders and snakes for Herpetology.  The grade was important, but this was FUN!!

One of my best friends in Louisiana was a biology teacher, and a lifelong Science Nerd.  Two of my friends at church, a married couple, became Science Nerds later in life, and started conducting research on the behavior and reproduction of box turtles.  They returned to college, and have even reported the results of their experimentations and observations in professional, technical scientifical journals.

As an almost sixty-year-old Science nerd, my interests have evolved, and change pretty frequently.  Today, I enjoy capturing an identifying freshwater aquatic macroinvertebrates (insect larva), which are used as indicators of stream quality.  I also conduct chemical testing on several of “my” Ozark streams, submitting the data to the Missouri Department of Conservation so they can assess stream health.  I’m learning to identify wild mushrooms.  Bought my own microscope.

Within the past couple of years, I’ve become interested in the lives and habits of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), and spend the warmer months racing about, capturing specimens, trying to identify them, and determining distributions of species (what bugs live where) in the Ozarks.  In doing so, I’ve come into contact, usually by e-mail, with some of the leading Dragonfly Guys and Gals in the country.  It’s really a hoot to correspond with the People Who Wrote The Books, and to have them answer my often stupid questions, and give me guidance and advice.

Recently, I met a fellow Science Nerd (who actually gets paid to find bugs), who got me started in collecting and (hopefully) identifying beetles.  He sent me a large box a couple of weeks ago.  Inside, was a homemade trap, made from a two-liter soda bottle, for the capture of dung beetles.


I had trouble identifying a beetle this week.  I had a tentative identification, and managed to get in touch with an expert in that particular family of beetles.  This guy is at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian in Washington, and he took the time to correspond with me, and set me on the right track.

I’ve met so many good folks, Science Nerds all, and have a simply wonderful time piddling around with my silly interests.  My wife, No Nerd She, understands none of this.  “Why do you CARE what sort of dung beetles are found in the Ozarks?  NOBODY cares.  And PLEASE don’t tell me how you bait those traps while we’re sitting at the dinner table!!”

I guess I don’t REALLY care.  But it’s fun to find out.  And it’s fun to get out with these folks from time to time and float an Ozark stream, wade around with a seine and look at tiny little bugs.  Or stalk the edge of a pond, insect net in hand, and manage to outwit a new dragonfly species.  Or poke through a pile of …er…you know, and see if any beetles peek out. 

While working in the yard this afternoon, my WONDERFUL eight-year old daughter, Susan, looked under a ceramic pot in the garden, and found her very FIRST beetle.  She picked it up.  “It BIT me,” she yelled, but kept it in sight long enough to drop it into a vial of alcohol.  As soon as I finish this post, I’m gonna show her how to make an insect label, record her collection data, and pin it for our coleopteran collection, with HER name listed as the collector.

My wife says I spend too much money on gasoline, and books, and nets and such.  I tell her that I don’t spend ANY money on gambling, saloons, or whores, so what’s the problem?

Wonder where I can get one of those NIFTY pocket protectors?


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