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Grizzly Bears Feast on Thousands of Moths a Day: Drawing

October 22, 2013

I wrote a story about army cutworm moths and the bears that eat them around Yellowstone Park.

“Also known as miller moths, they are the adult form of an agricultural pest, the army cutworm, which migrates to mountain fields in early summer to feed on alpine flowers’ nectar. During the past 30 years, a handful of researchers have established the importance of moths as a food source for bears.

One group of scientists analyzed bear scat and revealed that a foraging grizzly could gobble 40,000 moths in a day. At that rate, the bear can consume about one-third of its yearly energy requirements in just 30 days. However, the moths’ habits—including where they mated, when they mated and how far they could migrate—have remained a mystery until recently.”


The 40k a day figure is crazy-sounding. One commenter said, “40,000 moths a day? Wouldn’t the bear have to use a large spoon to eat that many? I jest… is it really that many?”

In the spirit of the that jest, I imagined a bear trying to use a spoon. Of course, foraging bears in non-cartoon form probably stick to licking up moths by the mouthful.



Deep Sea Fishies Sketch

October 11, 2013

layers and layers sketch

A new state

August 5, 2013

I just moved again. It’s kind of wonderful– this picking up and finding a new place and not only learning its contours but its smelly bits and its faults. But also sort of terrible– leaving the people and the smells you have learned and loved. Still, my new place has a lot to love. I feel like I’m on vacation, partly because I’ve only been here for a few weeks and also because here is so beautiful.

Moonrise over West Thumb Geyser Basin

I’ve been here briefly before when Q and I took our cross-country trip four years ago. My new home is Cody, Wyoming. The town of approximately 10,000 is swollen now with summer visitors. Almost every evening a crowd gathers on the street outside our apartment building to watch a staged gun fight. Cowboy hats, spurs and dialogue gleaned from movies perpetuate the myths of the Wild West. Ranchers drive by in their trucks. Irrigation channels bring snow-melt water down from the mountains to nourish fields of wheat, barley, beans and sugar beets. Satellite pictures of the region show the stark contrast between the irrigated circular fields, watered lawns and the sage brush and mostly dry creek beds of this high intermountain basin. A gash in the neighboring Absaroka Range is the path that Buffalo Bill Cody took expeditions into Yellowstone. Also visible from town is the unusually shaped peak of Heart Mountain,  now managed by the Nature Conservancy, a sacred site for the displaced Crow Nation and the namesake mountain peak for the Heart Mountain Relocation War Relocation Center, one of ten internment camps used to hold Japanese Americans during World War II.

I’ve been into Yellowstone twice, scrambled over rocks and dipped in pools in a pristine-looking canyon in the Bighorns, attended a music festival thrown by a women’s workwear company and witnessed a ceremony to reconnect the Crow with Heart Mountain. I am a bit in awe of this place. The rocks are red and pink and even light green. Layers of time are visible in these mountain ranges. Dinosaurs are unearthed here. This land is home to wolves, bears, bison and the pronghorn, which is cited as the second fastest animal in the world (only the cheetah can beat it, but it can run faster for longer).

Just a small portion of a massive herd of bison in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley

Just a small portion of a massive herd of bison in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley

And this land is cracked. Steam and hot water, smelling of sulphur, gushes, boils and bubbles from underground. The crust here is thin. The Yellowstone hotspot is a plume of magma lurking just a few miles below the surface. In most places, the crust is tens of miles thick. The more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, incredible scenery and abundant wildlife draw in millions of tourists each year. During my most recent visit I saw more than a thousand bison grazing and rolling in the dirt, countless elk, a black bear, a grizzly, two coyotes, swans, pelicans, deer, pronghorn and a pine martin. I oogled the colors of thermophilic bacteria that live in the steamy waters of hot springs. I watch the stars turn above me, brighter against a darker sky than any I’ve seen before.

Thermophilic bacteria in Yellowstone's West Thumb Geyser Basin

Thermophilic bacteria in Yellowstone’s West Thumb Geyser Basin

I’m just getting started here. I miss my family and far-flung friends, but I hope that these wonders can entice them to visit.

A humpback whale

June 2, 2013

A humpback whale

Whales are amazing creatures. I wish I could be friends with one. But in the meantime, I drew this and also did a podcast for Scientific American about how baleen works.

drawing references are here and here.

Self portrait and digital painting

May 26, 2013

No science today, just a drawing. I like to think that I’m practicing my science storytelling skills though. I hope to incorporate illustration into some of my journalism in the future. I’ve already had the opportunity to illustrate a news story on katydid ears and why they are like our own. Today–inspired by a friend— I set out to paint something.

Since I love portraits and they are hard to do realistically I did one of those. My ever-present model is myself, so that’s who you see here:

Self portrait by Marissa Fessenden

My tools: a Wacom bamboo tablet, Sketchbook pro software and my entire Beatles collection.

I followed this tutorial for painting skin and looked at this tutorial for the hair. I’m okay with my skin, but less pleased with my hair. I ended up making the shadows darker at the last minute and adding more purple to my skin. Those steps made the whole portrait better. I have a blank, boring expression because that’s easier to draw and I was focused on practicing skin. There are so many colors in skin, reflections and texture. And since we are human, we can easily see when something looks wrong. I mostly just wanted this to look like me and look semi-realistic. I can work on giving myself a more lively face in the future.

Snippet to remind myself to “Write Like A Motherfucker”

August 9, 2012

“You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done.”

via DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #48: Write Like A Motherfucker – The

Snippet from New Scientist: “Why Sally Ride’s sexuality really matters”

July 27, 2012

My friend and fellow science writer, Lisa Grossman eloquently expresses something I’ve been feeling this week after reading Sally Ride’s obituary:

This is why I think Ride’s sexuality matters. If her gender matters for diversity reasons, her sexuality matters too, for the same reason.

Role models only work if you see yourself reflected in them. When young people imagine their possible futures – what career to pursue, where to live, who to spend time with – one of the most important questions in deciding what path to take is, “Will I find people like me there?”