Wander through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center or spend a day at Hornsby Bend and you might find Valerie Bugh, camera in hand, photographing insects or other creatures in their natural habitat. Bugh, a volunteer for the Wildflower Center and for the Texas Natural Science Center, has been studying and classifying animals for more than 40 years with a primary focus on insects in the past decade. In addition to insects, Bugh (pronounced bew) studies birds and lizards.
Her most recent venture is the Fauna Project at the Wildflower Center, where she leads a group of Center volunteers throughout the grounds, surveying different species of animals. The weekly surveys began in late March. During the surveys, Bugh and others document their findings through photographs and occasional notes about species she is uncertain of and wants to investigate further. Then, she identifies and classifies all the species and catalogs them into a database that anyone can visit online at http://www.austinbug.com/survey/faunaproject.html.
The idea for the Fauna Project surveys came from the monthly Austin Nature and Science Center biodiversity surveys. The surveys are sponsored by the Capital Area Master Naturalists.
Part of the fun of the Fauna Project, Bugh notes, is having people join her in discovering wildlife in its natural state so that they understand it better and don't panic when seeing an unfamiliar insect. Once people start becoming familiar with different fauna, she says, they are less likely to be scared by them. And sometimes the weekly surveys uncover creatures she has never seen before. One of Bugh's most interesting surveys involved spotting a second species of Owlfly. "This very small family of insects has only a few species; up to this time I've only seen one in our area and due to limited information available, never expected there to be another. Seeing a second kind, which also happens to be in a different genus, was quite a surprise," said Bugh.
Joe Marcus, living collections manager at the Wildflower Center, became Valerie's point of contact at the Wildflower Center four years ago. That is when she began sending him photographs every December of the fauna captured with her lens at the Center.
When Valerie mentioned the Fauna Project, he jumped at the idea, knowing that her involvement meant he was "absolutely assured of the success of the project."
All of the survey summaries can be found at http://austinbug.com/survey/faunaproject.html, including photographs along with a list of the order, family, genus/species, and common name of the insect or spider.
The ultimate goal of the Fauna Project is to create a complete list of species that have been seen on the grounds of the Wildflower Center. This information will provide a record of what has been found in the Central Texas/Austin area to be used for future educational purposes.
Visit her website at http://www.austinbug.com/ and enjoy beautiful photographs of insects and spiders.