Conservationists have been sounding the alarm over invasive species for years, warning of the damage they can cause to habitats and native animals. But in Florida, an invasive snail might be helping an endangered bird species come back from the brink, researchers say.
The population of North American snail kites — birds that use curved beaks and long claws to dine on small apple snails in the Florida Everglades — had been dwindling for years, from 3,500 in 2000 to just 700 in 2007. Things began to look particularly bleak in 2004, when a portion of the Everglades was invaded by a species of larger snail that the birds had historically struggled to eat. Ornithologists assumed the shift would hasten the snail kite’s decline. Continue reading
Thanks to the Trilobites feature on the New York Times website for this story of collaborative friendliness between species:
Chances are that’s a shy elk looking back at a bold magpie, in the photograph above.
They get along, so to speak, because the elk needs grooming and the magpie is looking for dinner. But they may have never entered into this partnership if it weren’t for their particular personalities, suggests a study published Wednesday in Biology Letters.
Let’s start with the elk. In Canada’s western province of Alberta, they’ve been acting strange. Some have quit migrating, opting to hang around towns with humans who protect them from predators like wolves. Others still migrate. Continue reading
Camera traps, in the interest of science, and of conservation, are no longer a novelty. The story accompanying the photo above is new, for us. At first glance it looks like an act of aggression, which the history of whaling has taught us to expect. But this story has a much better outcome than the old obsessions:
This is how you put a video camera on a whale.
Hop into an inflatable boat and head out to where they’re feeding. Stand in a pulpit with a 20-some-foot pole in your hands. Then watch and wait until you spot a whale. Plan your angle of approach with the driver of the boat. (Never approach directly from behind). Get close. Get closer. Get within 16 feet of this sea giant — which is more than twice the size of your boat if it’s a humpback — and as soon as it surfaces, tap the whale on its wet tire of a back with the pole. If you’re lucky, the detachable suction-cup on the end of the pole — which has a camera and sensors — will stick. Continue reading
Animal spotted by photographer in jungles of southern India may be the fairest known tiger living outside captivity
I am sure I remember seeing these in my childhood collection of books with pictures of prehistoric creatures. Like many boys, the saber-tooth tiger was a favorite, which may explain my preoccupation with the big cats at Chan Chich Lodge. When you favor cats, you get to know their diet, so creatures like these in the image above were also among those I was fascinated by, which would explain why the tapir I have seen in the forests surrounding Chan Chich are among my lifetime favorite wild animal sightings. Thanks to Steph Yin for this story:
It looked like many different animals and, at the same time, like no other animal at all.
From afar, you might think it was a large, humpless camel. Tall, stout legs ending in rhino feet carried a body weight potentially equal to that of a small car. Its neck stretched like a giraffe’s before giving way to a face resembling a saiga antelope’s. From this face extended a fleshy protuberance, similar to a mini elephant trunk or a tapir’s proboscis. Continue reading
I am not even a novice birder, which is strange considering that my work is primarily dedicated to birders. But birds are well placed in the pantheon of natural wonders that I worship, and a photo that I just received from a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge (a photo similar to the one above, which I have commented on before) helps explain why. During seven years in India, where the peacock is the national bird and so is in its natural habitat, I got accustomed to their ostentatious display.
Peacocks are often awkward animals, noisy and bumbly in places and at times (as when in the habitat of tigers) I have wished for silence. Those otherwise annoying behaviors are compensated for by their plumes. The colors in the image above, belonging to the ocellated turkey, are rich but only during mating would these birds ever be described as ostentatious. The more time I spend in Belize, and specifically at Chan Chich Lodge, the more I see the beauty in humble display of rich color.
Todd Rundgren, a musical talent better known to an earlier generation, had an oddball hit song about banging on drums. It came to mind immediately when reading this oddball story about cockatoos. If you do not already know the song, you might want to find it to accompany your reading of this story:
Palm cockatoos from northern Australia modify sticks and pods and use them to drum regular rhythms, according to new research published in Science Advances on Wednesday. In most cases, males drop beats in the presence of females, suggesting they perform the skill to show off to mates. The birds even have their own signature cadences, not unlike human musicians. Continue reading
For evolutionary biology, on this platform we have favored E.O. Wilson because of his biophilia ideas (about which, plenty). For ornithology, we have leaned heavily on the Lab at Cornell and its many wonderful folks. Now, a scientist at Yale combines both of those fields and takes on the topic of beauty in a challenging manner–I am looking forward to this.
Click the book image at the left to go Indie Bound, a community of independent local bookstores, or if you need more convincing, read the beautifully illustrated Challenging Mainstream Thought About Beauty’s Big Hand in Evolution by James Gorman in the Science section of the New York Times. It is as much profile as review and asks:
Are aesthetic judgments about mates invariably tied to traits we see as adaptive and worth passing on Or, does beauty just ‘happen’?
Not long ago, a physicist at Stanford posed a rhetorical question that took me by surprise.
“Why is there so much beauty?” he asked.
Beauty was not what I was thinking the world was full of when he brought it up. The physicist, Manu Prakash, was captivated by the patterns in seawater made as starfish larvae swam about. But he did put his finger on quite a puzzle: Why is there beauty? Why is there any beauty at all? Continue reading
Ed Yon’g posting on the Atlantic website pursued the same natural history question as Nicholas St. Fleur’s How Whales Became the Biggest Animals on the Planet, and both science writers provide their specific source as seen here in the Times article:
…In a study published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a team of researchers investigated gigantism in baleen whales, the filter-feeding leviathans that include blue whales, bowhead whales and fin whales. The marine mammals became jumbo-size relatively recently, they found, only within the past 4.5 million years. The cause? A climatic change that allowed the behemoths to binge-eat…
The number of written words in both is about the same, and the quality of writing is comparable, but the photos in the Times article magnify the words there by, it seems, a thousand times, which explains why we are linking to another whale scale story a second day in a row:
Thanks as always to Ed Yong, who keeps the fires under our wonder about whales well stoked:
Lewis Lapham has shown up in our pages here exactly once in the past. Mainly because, in the six years we have been posting on this platform, his own publication was not as accessible as others we have been linking to. Surely there was a purpose to the walls constructed around it, but we are happy that, for whatever reason, they have come down. Just the illustration above and the quotations below should make you want to read more:
Evolution has arranged that we take pleasure in understanding—those who understand are more likely to survive.
I’m sorry I know so little; I’m sorry we all know so little. But that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it?
We sample the opening two paragraphs after the jump below, and recommend savoring his writing, but we also have been on the podcast bandwagon since we started on this platform. If you have already been enjoying Lewis Lapham’s publication, and wishing it were available in an audible format, today is your lucky day (click the soundcloud banner here to listen). Continue reading
Thanks to Scientific American‘s Guest Blog feature for this interesting fodder for thought.
We had missed one of our favorite science writers for a while and we are so happy she is back! In her latest outing, covering ground we thought was already familiar, we get some new clues to the meaning of their coloration and rituals:
With no real predators, the birds live proud, public lives. That accessibility has proved a bonanza for scientists, casting light on their mating habits and even why the shade of their feet matters.
Anthropocene is back, after a brief holiday break, with a good summary of findings on urban-influenced evolution:
Nathan Heller is one of the most consistently engaging, most compelling writers out there, and this new article is one more piece of evidence:
We can think of ourselves as an animal’s peer—or its protector. What will robots decide about us?
Harambe, a gorilla, was described as “smart,” “curious,” “courageous,” “magnificent.” But it wasn’t until last spring that Harambe became famous, too. On May 28th, a human boy, also curious and courageous, slipped through a fence at the Cincinnati Zoo and landed in the moat along the habitat that Harambe shared with two other gorillas. People at the fence above made whoops and cries and other noises of alarm. Harambe stood over the boy, as if to shield him from the hubbub, and then, grabbing one of his ankles, dragged him through the water like a doll across a playroom floor. For a moment, he took the child delicately by the waist and propped him on his legs, in a correct human stance. Then, as the whooping continued, he knocked the boy forward again, and dragged him halfway through the moat.
Harambe was a seventeen-year-old silverback, an animal of terrific strength. When zookeepers failed to lure him from the boy, a member of their Dangerous Animal Response Team shot the gorilla dead. The child was hospitalized briefly and released, declared to have no severe injuries. Continue reading
Click the image above to go to Phaidon’s website or see a couple of the book’s photographs and blurbs about the book’s intent below:
Photographer Robert Clark’s new book offers some striking supporting evidence for the theory of natural selection
Already, from the cover, we like it. Some of the sample images from inside the book seal the deal. Continue reading
Postdoctoral researchers contribute to scientific knowledge akin, perhaps, to the way seagrass contributes to the robustness of a marine ecosystem’s biodiversity:
Researcher behind biodiversity analysis cites key role in food chain
By Alvin Powell, Harvard Staff Writer
A new analysis of a key contributor to the marine food web has turned up a surprising twist: more unique species in cooler waters than in the tropics, a reversal of the situation on land.
The findings highlight the need to direct limited conservation dollars according to science, with a focus on places where biodiversity is most at risk, said Barnabas Daru, Harvard Herbaria Postdoctoral Fellow in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, who performed the analysis on the world’s 70 species of seagrass.
Daru acknowledged that seagrass isn’t as exciting as sharks or tuna, or as marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, and manatees. But for anyone who cares about the health of marine animals, he said, the role of humble seagrass at the beginning of the marine food chain is key. Continue reading
The kiwis referred to here are cute, small, fluffy, brown birds, not to be confused with small fuzzy brown fruit nor with the people who live in New Zealand. These flightless and nocturnal birds used to be divided in three to five species, but new DNA evidence from extensive blood sampling conducted over the last couple decades in their island home is indicating that there is in fact much more genetic diversity – which is often separated geographically – than previously thought, perhaps even enough to declare new species, or at the very least certainly new subspecies. And this might affect conservation strategies for these birds, which are all either endangered or vulnerable to endangerment. Ed Yong reports:
Several million years ago, a small bird flew to New Zealand. Arriving there, it found few threats and plenty of opportunities. In the absence of mammals, its descendants gradually lost the ability to fly, as island birds are wont to do. They also evolved to fill those niches that mammals typically occupy, rootling around the leaf litter in search of worms and grubs. They transformed into that icon of New Zealand—the adorable, bumbling kiwi.
Or rather, they transformed into the kiwis.