Got a snake in your basement? More likely than not, your go-to person is Jo Ann Poe-McGavin of Jim Thorpe.
When the Carbon County Communications Center receives a 9-1-1 call about a venomous snake putting the kibosh on a family picnic, they call amateur herpetologist Poe-McGavin, who captures the snake and humanly releases it on nearby state gamelands.
But the former Pocono Snake and Animal Farm staffer extends much farther than reptile retrieval. She's part of an evolving coterie of Shutterbugs, amateur photographers who are helping to redefine entomology, which is the study of insects.
Two Poe-McGavin photographs appeared in the article, What We Have Learned From Shutterbugs by K.G. Andrew Hamilton in the Summer 2011 edition of American Entomologist. The article argues that because of an interest in butterflies, beetles and dragonflies, legions of amateurs "have helped assemble the basic information about variation, distribution, life histories, and behavior upon which taxonomists have established their interpretations of relationships."
Poe-McGavin's photographs are of the larval stages of two species of leafhoppers, one which is invasive to the U.S. The photos capture the fleeting immature nymph stage of the insect.
"Most museums don't collect nymphs, so the article wanted to put together the nymph and the adult stages to show what the species looks like," she said.
Her photos were taken near her home on High Street in Jim Thorpe.
Poe-McGavin takes about 100 photographs every day. She looks over the day's catalog and keeps only the very best, often trashing all her photos. Even so, she has accumulated thousands of photos on her website, www.pawild.net, a daunting resource for those interested in wildlife photographs, especially bugs and reptiles.
She posts her bug photographs to the website bugguide.net.
"They have a lot of information on life cycles and new species," Poe-McGavin said. "Even some still undescribed species. The bug guide is a community bulletin board where anyone can upload photos.
"Mostly, it's a 'what kind of bug is this?' Experts identify the photos and present the information to an online file open to the public. Some of those are doctorates or professors that research these animals," she noted.
It was from bugguide.net that Andrew Hamilton foraged for photographs for his article, selecting two of Poe-McGavin's images.
Poe-McGavin was born in Allentown. Her parents had roots in Jim Thorpe and Lehighton. She remembers at 6 years old going fishing with her father to Zacharias Pond Park in East Stroudsburg, where she looked at the animals and collected bugs.
At 10, her mom lent her a box camera and she took her first photograph, of snow. Soon, she was photographing animals, and by the age of 16, she bought her own point and shoot camera and was taking pictures of squirrels, turtles and plants.
At 20, she upgraded to a Konica SLR film camera and took thousands of photographs which she organized into albums. Now, she's a purely digital photographer and has filled up disks with thousands of images taken with her Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5.
"Outdoors, you are never more than 12 inches from a bug, so it's good to know something about them," she noted. "Most people don't notice them because they are tiny. I find them fascinating. No two bugs are alike, even in the same species. It's like God painted a bunch of intricate little canvases. Each one with unique colorings."
On a typical day, she might say to her husband, Lenny McGavin, "Let's go for a walk and see how many snakes we could see."
They will hike along the Lehigh Gorge Trail or along the Lehigh Canal and photograph where she may photograph turtles and frogs.
Shutterbugs like Jo Ann are creating a revolution in the imagery of bugs. Because there are so many amateur shutterbugs they, in weeks, capture a wider variety of colors, life cycle phases, and behaviors than professional researchers would have taken in many years.
As author K.G. Andrew Hamilton wrote, "The convergence of digital photography and interactive web sites has opened the minuscule world of many kinds of insects and arachnids to amateur efforts. No longer confined to collecting butterflies, dragonflies, and beetles, hundreds if not thousands all over North America are turning to a new sport: taxonomy!"