Pride Month: Meet @humanbyweight, author of "The Social Wasps of North America"!

It’s Pride Month on iNat, and we’re featuring iNat user Chris Alice Kratzer, (@humanbyweight), a prolific iNat user and transgender lesbian who recently published The Social Wasps of North America, a field guide which she wrote and illustrated. The guide covers more than 200 species and contains 900 full-color illustrations, nearly all of which are based on museum specimens and photos posted by iNaturalist users! What follows is a little piece about Chris and her field guide. We’re also working on setting up a virtual mixer with 500 Queer Scientists later this month, so stay tuned - we’ll make an anncouncement in this thread on the iNaturalist Forum.

Growing up in the woods of western New Jersey, Chris Alice Kratzer says she’s always loved nature and found insects to be particularly accessible. “You can go outside any day and catch a grasshopper. A muddy girl cannot so easily catch a bird,” she explains, 

[so] I would spend hours watching the secretive world of insects fly, crawl, and scurry around me – as much a fact of life as the sun in the sky. One year my parents gave me a disposable camera and I used up the whole roll of film on one butterfly. I never let go of that excitement and wonder. I hope I can inspire it in others.

One encounter with wasps in my childhood stands out to me. I was walking through the brush when suddenly I heard a buzzing just to my left – and there, a foot away, was a huge nest of bald-faced hornets. I could see a dozen black-and-white wasps tending to their nest. I froze, and after a minute, I slowly backed away. And I was not stung. They could have stung me, but they didn’t. Why? Everyone knows wasps are vicious. Why wasn’t I attacked? I couldn’t shake my curiosity. 15 years later, I have my answer, and I was able to share it through the world’s first comprehensive field guide to social wasps.

Chris began researching her field guide in earnest starting in 2018, about a year after she joined iNaturalist. “It was always a passion project at its heart,” she explains, and tells me nearly everything she knows about social wasps comes from her research for the book. “I faced an incredibly steep learning curve, which I only pushed through with help from the patience, passion, and generosity of other experts in the field. Through hard work and determination, I am now proud to count myself among them.”

She began volunteering at the Cornell University Insect Collection on weekends, read taxonomic papers, reached out to experts in the field and curators of various collections, and “I spent over a thousand hours studying the ranges and color patterns of wasps on iNaturalist.” Chris also used about 700 photographs from iNaturalist, taken by about 530 photographers.  

Most of the photos were used as references for my paintings, but some also appear “as-is” in the final book. I took great care to get written permission from every photographer before use (unless their observation was already marked CC-0, CC-BY, or CC-BY-SA). I think it’s really important to stress that my book would not exist without iNaturalist.

And as you page through the book, you see that Chris credits the photographers whose photos she used for references, and includes their iNat usernames. It’s really cool to see so many names prominently displayed on each species page, and I have to admit I got a little surge of excitement seeing my own name on one of them. In addition to basic facts and descriptions of each species, the guide includes a lot of basic life history information that is written in an engaging and humorous manner, and it includes a handy section about wasp stings and how to avoid them.

In the introduction to The Social Wasps of North America, Chris writes (tongue firmly in cheek) “All of the information in this book is wrong. All of it. Wasps are an appallingly understudied group of organisms,” although hopefully that won’t be the case forever. “iNaturalist,” says Chris,

opens the door to so much new and exciting research on understudied taxa. It is currently being used to help identify introduced species before they can become established, document rare species, and expand our knowledge of ranges, habitats, behaviors, life cycles, food webs, and color variation among known species.

In my opinion, [it’s] the cutting edge of ecological science. I expect to see many more field guides that use iNaturalist data in the future.

Writing this book was not the only major decision Chris (below, researching her next guide) made over the past few years. She also decided to embrace herself and who she was. “I am proud to be visible as an engineer and scientist who also just happens to be a transgender lesbian,” she says.

I am a woman who, through no fault of myself, my parents, or my doctors – was accidentally raised as a boy. I tried my best to live up to everyone’s expectations of my gender, but 20 years of pretending left me empty and broken. I finally started living as myself in 2020 – to heck with what people think. It was the right choice for me. I finally feel like myself, and I have never been happier…I have a wonderful girlfriend named Zoey whom I love with all of my heart!

However, as she continues to work both as an engineer and on her next field guide - The Cicadas of North America - she’s found it difficult to focus on science due to attacks on queer and transgender people in the US. “We just want to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives, just like everyone else,” she says, “[and] it is terrifying to watch innocent people (including many of my close friends and colleagues) become targets of political violence and prosecution.”

- Chris is working on a Spanish translation of The Social Wasps of North America, scheduled to come out later this year.

- Check out this video, in which Chris demonstrates her illustration process for the book.

- When asked if she had a favorite wasp, she said her answer changes a lot but she does really find Arctic Yellowjackets (Dolichovespula albida) to be particularly fascinating. "They live high above the Arctic circle. The queens can survive being frozen and their nests have special adaptations that allow the colony to survive the temperature extremes of the Arctic spring and summer. It is amazing to me that a social insect can survive in those conditions."

- In her engineering work, Chris is using her entomological background “to create the next generation of structural insulation based on the structure of wasp nests (specifically the Arctic Yellowjacket!), which has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions associated with heating and cooling buildings. Our prototypes are already better than most fiberglass! It is my dream to lead a team to develop new sustainable technologies that can help to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, and I am slowly realizing that vision.”

- You can follow Chris on Twitter.

- In a journal post, Chris lists over a dozen potentially undescribed species or subspecies she’s come across while doing research on iNat.

Posted on June 01, 2022 06:03 PM by tiwane tiwane


I really want to thank Chris for her fantastic book (which not only demonstrates the power of iNaturalist, but is also really fun and informative!) and for being willing to share a personal part of herself for this blog post.

Posted by tiwane over 1 year ago

Thank you for this incredible opportunity, @tiwane!

Posted by humanbyweight over 1 year ago

Awesome illustrations, Chris!

Posted by loarie over 1 year ago

Congratulations on this incredible achievement! It takes amazing effort to write a book of this quality, especially when it is not your main profession. Are there plans to produce hard copies of your book or will it be only in kindle?

Posted by rjadams55 over 1 year ago

@rjadams55 Thank you so much! The softcover edition of The Social Wasps of North America is available for purchase at

Posted by humanbyweight over 1 year ago

Congrats, Chris! I just ordered my softcover copy, looking forward to seeing the illustrations in their full printed glory!

Posted by alexshepard over 1 year ago

I've had the pleasure of consulting with Chris on her in-progress cicada field guide, and I am continually impressed by her exhaustive research and gorgeous illustrations. It is so exciting to work alongside other queer scientists and see all the wonderful things we are contributing to the betterment of our world!

Posted by easmeds over 1 year ago

Thank you! And...purchased! :-D

Posted by rjadams55 over 1 year ago

Congratulations Chris! Your field guide is gorgeously illustrated and I look forward to your upcoming cicada book and future work.

Posted by mbwildlife over 1 year ago

This is a groundbreaking achievement, from the author to the paintings to effort to the involvement of iNat! The story of Chris and her efforts deserves to be spread far and wide! I also love cicadas and I'm very excited to see the next field guide!

Posted by ash2016 over 1 year ago

Awesome work!

Posted by opolasek over 1 year ago

Very cool!

Posted by jasonrgrant over 1 year ago

Great to see you featured Chris! Can't wait for the cicada book.

Posted by joshuacde over 1 year ago

Very cool use of iNat and congrats on the book!

Posted by cthawley over 1 year ago

What a beautiful cover...

Posted by raycama over 1 year ago

Yay! Chris is awesome and her book is seriously game-changing.

Posted by ameeds over 1 year ago

Excellent work! And many thanks for IDing some of my wasps. Good to learn more about one of the experts here...

Posted by jcochran706 over 1 year ago

Congrats on the feature, Chris! I did a little dance of joy when my copy arrived in the mail. The illustrations are gorgeous (and I loved your YouTube on your digital painting process).

Posted by weecorbie over 1 year ago

I'm super excited for your Cicada book! You're awesome!

Posted by owlbyr over 1 year ago

That's wassup! Congrats Christ! Ordering a copy of book now.

Posted by pufferchung over 1 year ago

Chris! You are THE BEST!!! I've used the wasp book countless times -- I'll even give a little presentation on wasps to a group in a few months -- the book will be THE reference that I'll be using. Thanks for all of the work that went into that masterpiece @humanbyweight . :)

Posted by sambiology over 1 year ago

Another trans entomologist/insulation engineer?! What are the odds!
Can't wait to pick up this book!!!

Posted by nanofishology over 1 year ago

that's a really nice job!!! happy to know about you Chris Alice!!! saving money to order a book!!!

Posted by diegoalmendras over 1 year ago

Congratulations on the beautiful work. I am grateful for allowing me a humble participation.

Posted by nelson_wisnik over 1 year ago

Congratulations, excellent work. Just watched the video. And the cover of the book is indeed beautiful.

Posted by typophyllum over 1 year ago

Way to go, Chris! :))

Posted by heatherholm over 1 year ago

How cool is this!! Congratulations and Wow, fantastic work!!!

Posted by tigerbb over 1 year ago

That book is a model for all writers. Chris @humanbyweight is without any doubt a model. Bravo.

Posted by seraphinpoudrier over 1 year ago

Congratulations! The book looks amazing. I am ordering the softcover now!

Posted by jmaughn over 1 year ago

Followed on Twitter. Looking forward to your next project.

Posted by kitty12 over 1 year ago

Bravo Chris! I'm no wasp specialist, but I do have/have read many field guides, and this one stands apart--as unique and special as its author. An engaging and effective writing style that makes it hard to put down The intro sections are filled with general info on wasps that I didn't expect to see and have really enjoyed/learned a great deal from.

Posted by colincroft over 1 year ago

This is extremely cool!
What a beautiful book, and what a lovely post :) And the video is very helpful.

Super happy for you, Chris, and I wish you tons of inspiration for other projects!

Posted by jules_f over 1 year ago

Chris, as a measure of your influence on me and my interest in wasps, I must mention that a couple of weekends ago, on a family outing near Dallas, TX, I was zapped by an angry Polistes and my first thoughts were, "WWCD" and "What species is that?"! I just used an ice pack for about 15 minutes but spent more time reassuring my concerned relatives that I wasn't going to go into anaphylactic shock! And as best as I could tell in a brief glimpse, the perp was probably a Ringed Paper Wasp (P. annularis) or something similar. Couldn't have done it without you!

Posted by gcwarbler over 1 year ago

Always chuckle when I see your username pop up.
Thanks for everything you do, and congrats!

Posted by squiresk over 1 year ago

Aww <3

Posted by charlie over 1 year ago

Oh gosh, y'all are going to make me cry (in a good way)! I am totally blown away by the sheer unadulterated kindness of everyone's responses. I am so grateful to be a part of the iNaturalist community. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Posted by humanbyweight over 1 year ago

Awesome! Congrats on publishing the book! It takes a lot of dedication to create so many original illustrations in full color and to do so much research. Also I'm happy that many naturalists on this website made a contribution to the field guide in some way. The power of teamwork!

Posted by w4v over 1 year ago

Yessss! It makes me glad to be a small part of such a big project. Congrats to @humanbyweight, and I hope you are able to finish your next work. Cicadas are amazing.

Posted by tanyuu over 1 year ago

Thank you for this recognition of @humanbyweight Great to know that much more about Chris and her passions. We all benefit from her efforts.

Posted by bobmcd over 1 year ago

Nice profile and what an awesome, impresssive project. Can't wait to receive my copy!

Posted by driftlessroots over 1 year ago

Such a nice presentation of Chris above! And the book is awesome!

Posted by annikaml over 1 year ago

Great job Chris! Very impressed with your field guides and I hope to get one soon.

Posted by sharrow-sparrow over 1 year ago

What an impressive work! Such a pity I can't use it living in Europe.

Posted by susanne-kasimir over 1 year ago

Excellent Book Chris! I love it very much. Congratulations!

Posted by mikef451 over 1 year ago

Apropos of nothing: I absolutely KNOW Chris's username is "humanBYweight". I've seen her IDs on observations for years! I've had plenty of time to read the username and recognize it.

Even so, my brain occasionally insists on reading it as "humanBABYweight"

Posted by star3 over 1 year ago

WOW! What an interesting life and work. Such a gift of knowledge to so many!
"- In her engineering work, Chris is using her entomological background “to create the next generation of structural insulation based on the structure of wasp nests (specifically the Arctic Yellowjacket!), which has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions associated with heating and cooling buildings. Our prototypes are already better than most fiberglass! It is my dream to lead a team to develop new sustainable technologies that can help to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, and I am slowly realizing that vision.”

We could use a lot of your creative Biomimicry solutions in my line of work :)

Posted by carolr over 1 year ago

Congratulations, Chris! Beautiful, well done work.

Posted by milliebasden over 1 year ago

This is such an incredible book. Congratulations @humanbyweight. And What a wonderful way to celebrate. Thank you for sharing

Posted by ram_k over 1 year ago

I'm glad my picture was helpful for the publication of this wonderful guide !

Posted by jtch over 1 year ago

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