I had mixed feelings heading into the field guide to Pennsylvania. I've always thought it was one of the most naturally beautiful states, and when we used to drive up north to visit my great aunt in Ohio I always looked forward to the Pennyslvania portion the most. It always seemed an almost unnatural emerald green, much deeper and enveloping than the soft olive that I'm used to in Virginia's landscapes. That being said, it's also Ned Smith's home state and I would never want to make anything that didn't do justice to his renditions of Pennsylvania's wildlife. He's one of my very favorite illustrators and a huge influence on my work (I've got several of his charts hanging around my home and studio), so I've been anxious about taking on any sort of representation of his beloved home state. I hope I did alright!
Eastern Hellbender - I first saw a hellbender at the Virginia Living Museum as a kid and I'm pretty sure it sealed my squeamishness over freshwater, but yet again I've found myself learning to love them through this project. They're North America's largest salamander, and like so many other amphibian species, their presence serves as an indicator of a water source's health. Though they have lungs, they breathe through the pores of their skin, and require clear and well-oxygenated water. Eastern Hellbenders have been classified as a vulnerable species, and their cousins the Ozark Hellbender are endangered. Weird fact - hellbenders mate through external fertilization, where the male creates a nest, waits for the female to come by, and traps her in it until she deposits unfertilized eggs. He then chases the female away and incubates the nest.
Yellow Fly Agaric - So this was a sticking point for the print, and became a bit of a generalized panic over being in over my head with this project. Originally I had used a Death Cap mushroom, and it wasn't until I started writing the field notes for what I thought was the completed guide that I realized Death Caps are a European introduced species, and honestly I'm not sure how I got it so mixed up. I make my best efforts to make these charts accurate, but as I've mentioned before, I'm not a scientist, and the nativity of species sometimes gets difficult to trace. I don't really have an excuse for why I started on the Death Caps when it's very easy to find that they were introduced with non-native oaks, but anyways - it made me incredibly anxious about the veracity of the rest of the series. I am doing the best I can, and on that note, I felt a little better mixing things up on a mushroom since the variety I landed on, the Amanita Muscaria var. Guessowii, is often mistakenly referred to as a European variety (A. muscaria var. formosa). The Yellow Agaric is native to the midwest and northeast, and looks very similar to the storybook red mushrooms, fly agaric.
Squash bee - This is going to be less about squash bees and more about bees in general, since I only learned recently about the nearly four thousand species of native bees as distinct from the European introduced honey bee. Like so many other native species in this project, native bees have developed specialized roles in pollinating native plants, so the health of one species depends on the other. Because the honey bee is a generalized pollinator, it competes with the native bees' specific diets. On the surface this may seem like a "fittest" situation, but honey bees are less effective at pollination than the specialized native bees, and in addition, can not pollinate certain plants like tomatoes or potatoes.
So that was Pennsylvania! This will sound extremely trite, but the more I go through this project the more I realize how much I underestimated it at the outset. I knew it would be an undertaking in terms of time and effort and illustration and all that, but trying to maintain factual accuracy with very little background in the sciences, and the realization of how little I grasped the fragile state of our ecology has been an ongoing struggle. That being said, if you're reading this and feel that you have something you could add for a specific state or just notes on what I'm doing generally, please feel free to reach out through my contact page. My wildest dream approach to this project would be to travel to all fifty states to sketch and absorb everything in person, but being able to talk to folks in each state who are versed in the wildlife would be the next best thing. Either way, Ohio and Illinois are next in queue!