BioBlitz Bug Man Inspires us to Look for Diversity in our Backyard

Veteran BioBlitzer Gary Hevel is at the Golden Gate Parks BioBlitz in San Francisco this year, along with thousands of species of insects he collected in his backyard in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. Hevel has attended everyone one of the eight annual National Geographic/National Park BioBlitzes. For this year’s event, he drove across the United States, bringing several display cases of insects with him.

We last interviewed the Smithsonian entomologist for the BioBlitz blog five years ago: Maryland Backyard Yields Thousands of Species of Bugs. The video made at that interview is embedded below.

At this year’s BioBlitz, when he is not at a table sharing with thousands of visitors his insects and his passion for collecting and studying them, Hevel is on the sand dunes or at the marsh at San Francisco’s Crissy Field, where insects are plentiful. He’s helping catch them for scientists to identify and add to the species tally for Golden Gate Parks.

“I don’t have too much opportunity to get away from the display, but I will be out in Muir Wood tonight. Right now I am sweeping the vegetation here at the BioBlitz base camp to try and gather as many insects as possible. Even if they’re common, they do count for the biodiversity inventory here,” Hevel told me when I found him waving his big net over some plants.

Hevel’s passion for finding insects in his own backyard started as a four-year project, but then he kept finding species he had not previously seen, so he kept going. Sometimes the bugs find him, such as one evening in 2011 when “a very nice moth came to my porch screen, attracted by the lights. It was a moth I’d never seen before in my entire life”.

Over the years, at east 20,000 BioBlitz visitors have seen Hevel’s collection. “If they’re interested, I tell them they don’t have to collect actual specimens themselves, if they don’t wish to do that. They can learn just as much by photographing or illustrating them,” he said.

Gary Hevel has indeed inspired me over the years to look for insects in my backyard in Virginia. Then I started to photograph them, as he suggested. Now I also have a better appreciation of some of the diversity of insects under my nose, and it has made me think of the birds that eat them, and then in turn what kinds of plants we have. Everyone can have a BioBlitz in their own backyard!

The more than 4,000 species collected by Gary Hevel in his backyard will eventually be turned over to the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History.

Video of Gary Hevel and his collection at the 2009 Indiana Dunes BioBlitz:

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn