Fly Hunt: Fort Collins to Iowa City

I’ve started adding pictures to my map, but it’s kind of wonky because the sidebar shows the place markers in the order in which I placed them on the map rather than the order in which I travelled through them. That makes sense, but there’s no way for me to change the order. I don’t like that, so I’ll probably recreate the map when I’m finished. Just FYI.

Anyway. I made it to Durham. It was far from an uneventful journey, and I’ve found myself telling the same stories over and over again (to different people, I hope) and that’s the sort of activity I’d rather save for my senile years. So, I’m going to post a summary here.

Justin and I had a great time getting to Fort Collins, and we’ve got lots of pictures (on the map now) to prove it, so I won’t say much about that. Or, maybe I’ll come back to it.

Here’s my route:

After leaving Fort Collins – and my travel companion 😦 – behind, I stopped at Carhenge on my way to Lincoln. It’s a replica of Stonehenge that’s made of cars painted gray.

There were other car sculptures there. My favorite was the Spawning Salmon.

I had low expectations in terms of the aesthetic appeal of my drive through Nebraska, but I decided to take Route 2 through the sand hills, which were really beautiful. I took some pictures, but it was hard to capture (especially while driving,) so check out this website to learn more about the region. The hills were very green and there were a lot of little ponds between them. For about 4 hours of driving, I was almost always passing or being passed by these really long trains carrying tons and tons of coal. I was impressed by the fact that all of these remote rural towns I passed through had very nice homes and all of the yards were immaculately clean, not like in the rural south, if you know what I mean.

I didn’t collect any flies until I got to Lincoln. When I got there, on the evening of July 5th, all of the campsites were reserved, so I found one that was still vacant at 2am, pitched my tent, and hoped for the best. I put out some bait near my campsite. In the morning, I collected a handful of flies and then headed to the largest winery in Nebraska, James Arthur Vineyards. I hit pay dirt in the dumpster there and collected about a hundred flies. I took all of the flies to Larry Harshman’s lab at the University of Nebraska, but he wasn’t able to help me sort them out, and I would have been there all day trying to key them out, so I left them all together in their vials of sterile food (really just 2% agar with food coloring.) The idea is that they drink the colored water that’s in the agar and evacuate their guts of whatever food they’d been eating in the dumpster. That way, I’m hoping to enrich for the microbes that are persistent residents in the gut. Also, the food coloring makes their entire guts turn (in this case) green, and that makes them easier to dissect.

Larry did walk me over to the museum on campus to see the mammoths. Wow. I had no idea that there were so many different types of mammoths. There were the really big elephant-sized ones, and some as small as a large pig. And, the really big ones don’t look like elephants at all. They look more like giant greyhounds. Really. Look at the long legs on that monster! And, it’s ribcage looks like a cheetah’s. And, I didn’t pull out a tape measure or anything, but it’s head+tusks looked longer than the rest of it’s entire body!

I got to Bryant McAllister’s lab at the University of Iowa at about 7pm. He sorted all of the flies for me and I put all of the species into separate vials. Bryant had put some bait out at a site near the Iowa River, so we left the lab at around 8:30pm to go collect flies. He took me to a sandbar willow forest on the floodplains of the Iowa River. I wish I’d brought my camera, but we were in a hurry to get there before the sun went down, so I forgot it. Here’s someone else’s picture of sandbar willows so you get an idea of what it was like. After traveling down a series of dirt roads, we could hear the roar (ok, it was a hum, but it was a loud hum!) of the mosquitoes as soon as we got out of the car. For the first time in my life, I donned hip waders and we went mucking through the swamp to where he’d put the traps. We (and by that I mean he) caught a lot of lies there. Back to town, go get a burger and a couple of beers, sort the flies at the lab, and then to sleep. In the morning, Bryant collected a bunch of lies in his back yard. Then we went to the lab, where we sorted the new flies, and I dissected the flies I’d caught in Nebraska. I hit the road at about 1pm.

Many heartfelt thanks to Larry and Bryant.

More later…

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