Ed Yong Explains Umwelt

Sally Deng

Ed Yong’s new book was already on our reading list, but just got notched up in the priority list:

Spectacle floods into my eyes whenever I watch a wildlife documentary. A vortex of small fish is gradually picked off by waves of oceanic predators. Snakes chase after marine iguanas. Giraffes clash at sunset. Continue reading

When Fences Are Un-Neighborly

Volunteers modify a wire fence in Wyoming to allow wildlife to pass through. ABSAROKA FENCE INITIATIVE

If we take Robert Frost’s poetic license into the realm of how humans and wildlife might coexist more successfully, then the image above is powerful. Good fences might make good neighbors if they allow wildlife to migrate as needed.

A guanaco at a fence in southern Chile. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

While working in the Patagonia region of Chile, 2008-2010, I saw images like this in the photo to the right regularly. On occasion the sight would be more gruesome. Ranchers had erected fences without regard for the need of guanacos to wander.

During our seven years living in India the human-elephant relationship was often one of worshipful respect, but included too many stories of fences, or worse, as methods farmers used to protect their properties from elephant intrusions. As is the case in Kenya (see the image below) fences are unneighborly. So, we were on the lookout for creative solutions. The following article by Jim Robbins, in Yale e360, is timely and welcome in this regard.

An African elephant alongside an electric fence in Laikipia, Kenya. AVALON / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Unnatural Barriers: How the Boom in Fences Is Harming Wildlife

From the U.S. West to Mongolia, fences are going up rapidly as border barriers and livestock farming increase. Now, a growing number of studies are showing the impact of these fences, from impeding wildlife migrations to increasing the genetic isolation of threatened species.

The most famous fence in the United States is Continue reading

Urban Jungles & Biodiversity

A peregrine falcon flying over Leipzig, Germany. Peregrines survive and reproduce more easily in cities than in rural areas. SEBASTIAN WILLNOW / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

We have frequently considered urban greening in reference to social justice and to agricultural innovation. Thanks to Janet Marinelli for this consideration of a more fundamental possibility:

Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Solve the Biodiversity Crisis

Cities have long been considered species deserts, devoid of wildlife beyond pigeons and squirrels. But with animals such as snowy owls, otters and bobcats now appearing in urban areas, scientists are recognizing that cities can play a significant role in fostering biodiversity.

Last year, as billions of people around the globe were in coronavirus lockdown, students of Queens College ecologist Bobby Habig discovered a bobcat roaming around the Bronx River in New York City, better known for its recent past as an open sewer and repository for automobile tires and rusted chassis than as a habitat for elusive wildcats. In January, a snowy owl, native to Canada’s Arctic tundra, touched down in Central Park for the first time in 130 years and spent more than a month supplementing its usual diet of boreal lemmings with choice urban fare such as mice and rats. For weeks a coyote was spotted in the Ramble, a 37-acre “wilderness” of rocky crags and hilly forest in the heart of Central Park. Continue reading

Michelle Nijhuis On Species Solidarity


Michelle Nijhuis is one of several science writers who have made our pages better in the 10 years since we started this platform. This essay is in good company:

Species Solidarity: Rediscovering Our Connection to the Web of Life

As climate change intensifies and human activity impacts every corner of the planet, repairing our world increasingly means realizing that our fate is intertwined with that of other animal and plant species — not separate from theirs — and that we must think and act accordingly. Continue reading

Brazil’s Middle Earth

A white-vented violetear hummingbird feeds on the nectar of the flowers of a Stachytarpheta glabra

Thanks to Augusto Gomes for bringing this region, unknown to us, to our attention:

Life on the rocks in Brazil’s campo rupestre

In a little-known region that calls to mind Tolkien’s Middle-earth, photojournalist Augusto Gomes marvels at one of the oldest, harshest, most biodiverse – and most threatened – ecosystems on the planet

Lutz’s poison frog, which feeds primarily on ants

When I was a child, my family would drive three hours from our home in Belo Horizonte to visit my grandfather’s ranch near the town of Santana dos Montes. On the way, we would cross the Espinhaço mountain range, which runs north to south in the central-eastern portion of Brazil.

Espinhaço means “spine” in Portuguese, and the name could not be more apt. The range spans 1,200km (750 miles), its bony peaks reach as high as 2km, and the thriving, humid Atlantic Forest drops away to the east, foggy and dense with evergreens, ferns, mosses and bromeliads, the air bursting with the strange songs of birds you never see. On the west side of the mountains, the arid, savannah-like Cerrado stretches flat and exposed, with golden grasslands and small, twisted trees. Continue reading

Lost & Found, Organized


Yesterday’s happy surprise is the reason for today’s look at one organization’s work to support finding lost species. If you look at the image below you will see in the upper right quadrant the species mentioned yesterday, and that find is so fresh they still have not stamped FOUND on it.


LostFound3Global Wildlife Conservation has created a graphic for what they consider the 25 Most Wanted species, and this colorful display is the trigger to get you hooked on helping:

In collaboration with more than 100 scientists, Global Wildlife Conservation has compiled a list of 1,200 species of animals and plants that are missing to science. GWC and our partners search some of the planet’s forgotten places and then work to protect species once found.


But this is about much more than the expeditions GWC is directly involved in. We’re calling on others to join the search and conduct their own expeditions for the lost species that have captured their hearts. GWC is working with teams and individuals the world over to publicize their stories of rediscovery and adventure as part of this shared campaign of hope and celebration. Read more in our FAQ and explore the partners behind the search.


For those of you not triggered by this display, there is also a photo of Daniel Craig holding a lost & found tortoise. He is looking you in the eye, asking you to donate. Resistance is futile.

A Different Kind Of Getting Clear

A flock of red-winged blackbirds over Long Island, N.Y.CreditCreditVicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Moment, via Getty Images

Thanks to the authors of this op-ed for a bit of clear thinking:

The Crisis for Birds Is a Crisis for Us All

The mass disappearance of North American birds is a dire warning about the planet’s well-being.

By John W. Fitzpatrick and 

Dr. Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Marra is the director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.


Steve Maslowski/Science Source, via Getty Images Plus

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.

The disappearance of 2.9 billion birds over the past nearly 50 years was reported today in the journal Science, a result of a comprehensive study by a team of scientists from seven research institutions in the United States and Canada.

As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent. Continue reading

Home Team Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

It’s been 5 years since we first began highlighting the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Since then, we’ve participated in 3 countries, on 2 continents, primarily in birding hotspots such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India, a special corridor of avian biodiversity in the foothills of Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, and Baja California Sur, Mexico.

The data that is collected by thousands of individual birders for eBird has long range benefits for monitoring both the health and range of particular species, as well as the state of the planet as species have to adapt to changing climate.

The map above indicates the locations from which checklists have been submitted (each gray dot represents a list, and the larger yellow dots are a moment frozen in time when a list has just been submitted. I highly recommend clicking on the image to view the site and watch the “lists” pop through the map!) Initially the GBBC only took place in North America, and birders worldwide rejoiced when it was expanded into a global event. (We were in India at the time, so I kid you not.) Continue reading

Protecting Nature & Defying The Odds


On a game drive in Akagera. Shannon Sims

Thanks to Shannon Sims for this story of a refuge defying the odds:

A Rwandan Game Park Defying the Odds

Despite modest tourism numbers, Akagera National Park is a success story in the making, particularly considering that, like its host country, it survived catastrophe.


A velvet monkey and her baby in Akagera National Park. The Rwandan park is a success story, despite modest tourism numbers. Credit Ben Curtis/Associated Press

The road through Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda was blocked. Two giraffes had positioned themselves smack in the middle of the dirt road and were rubbing their necks together. In the car, with a driver and a guide, my cell service was long gone; there was nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Right around this time of year, to the east of Rwanda’s borders, in Tanzania and Kenya, big packs of tourists are stumbling over each other to get the perfect photo of a scene like this. They’re driving through protected areas like Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in caravans of Land Rovers, each packed so tightly that peoples’ binocular straps get tangled up. It makes sense: the animal migrations that occur in this part of the world these months are rightly considered by many to be the greatest natural show on earth. Continue reading

Notes from a Natural History Museum

Harvard Natural History Museum

I recently had the chance to visit the Harvard Natural History Museum. Despite having lived in Cambridge for nearly a year, and having often thought about visiting the museum when I passed by going to and from my apartment, I had not stopped in until now. What a treat! The collections are full, diverse, and well curated. On this occasion, I spent most of my time in the animal wing, but I plan to return soon to take in the flora and minerals, and spend much more time in choice display rooms (e.g. the absolutely gorgeous Mammals/Birds of the World permanent exhibit: see below for pictures).

A ground sloth skeleton. It is hard to get an idea of the size of this creature from this photo, but it probably weighed several tons while alive!

Continue reading

There Is No Effective Resistance To This Charm

We cannot resist sharing the snake stories of our own team members, and we also seem to favor this related topic of domesticated wild creatures gone amok; a story whose variations, it is now clear to us, we will never tire of as long as Amie keeps finding gems like this, as long as Phil continues to post about entrepreneurial solutions, and as long as the New York Times does not tire of sending its best reporters on the occasional odd wild something chase:

retro-python-wildpets-thumbWideRETRO REPORT

The Snake That’s Eating Florida

Burmese pythons appear to be in the Florida Everglades to stay, just one of a number of unwanted animals that have invaded America.

Beavers Build Habitats, and Sometimes That’s a Good Thing

'Beavers create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else.' Photograph: Ben Lee

‘Beavers create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else.’ Photograph: Ben Lee

We’ve written about this industrious animal before on these pages, but in a completely different light. As with many introduced species, there are frequently unintended consequences on a disastrous environmental scale when the species has no natural predators in their new locations. Indeed there are huge areas of new wetlands in Patagonia’s Tierra del Fuego, but at the expense of millions of trees. (It’s actually calculated that in Patagonia beavers cause the 15 tons of biomass per year.)

However the case in Northern England and Scotland is quite different.

Beavers lower the canopy around a water body by felling trees and digging canals – opening it up. Solar energy piles in to places that have been in shade for decades. They stir life into action, kicking up nutrients as they beaver about their daily doings. Nature loves change; it frees up opportunities. Species of every size and shape wade in and snatch their chances. Beavers shift everything, tirelessly, instinctively, creatively. That’s why ecologists call them a “keystone species”. By doing their own thing, they create habitats and opportunities for just about everything else. Continue reading

Biomechanics Exhibit at the Field

Animals that move through air and water have evolved a variety of wing and fin forms, as well as sleek, streamlined shapes that harness the power of fluid dynamics for propulsion. © Ernie Cooper 2012, macrocritters.wordpress.com

Every day, just using any part of our bodies to move, see, talk, or eat — among countless other activities, we are enjoying the biomechanics that have evolved to perform the functions necessary to survive. An exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago called, “The Machine Inside: Biomechanics” will be closing on January 4th, so this post is more of a celebration of the exhibit than an invitation to check it out. If you won’t be in Chicago before the 4th, they have a great website with photos and a good video.

Imagine if your jaws could crush over 8,000 pounds in one bite, your ears could act as air conditioners, and your legs could leap the length of a football field in a single bound. From the inside out, every living thing—including humans—is a machine built to survive, move, and discover.  Beginning March 12, 2014, investigate the marvels of natural engineering in The Machine Inside: Biomechanics. Explore how plants and animals stay in one piece despite the crushing forces of gravity, the pressure of water and wind, and the attacks of predators. Using surprising tactics, creatures endure the planet’s extreme temperatures, find food against fierce competition, and – without metal, motors or electricity – circulate their own life-sustaining fluids.

Continue reading

The Nilgiri Marten


Photo credit : Aparna P

Photo credit : Aparna P

The Nilgiri marten (Sc. name: Martes gwatkinsii) is the only marten found in southern India, in the Nilgiris and western Ghats. Martens are fairly widespread members of the family Mustelidae, which also includes the familiar otter, badger, weasel, ferret, and other small carnivorous mammals. The Nilgiri marten, like other martens, makes its home in the forest, inhabiting the moist and semi-evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. They are quite rare and not very well researched; although mostly arboreal, their wide-ranging travels motivated by their carnivorous diet will occasionally bring them down from the trees where lucky photographers may be able to snap a few photos before the marten hightails it. Continue reading

Humanity’s Diet Makes A Difference, Historically As Well As Futuristically

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

Since the early days of this blog we have been hungry consumers of environmental long form journalism, of which Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker chronicles are best-in-category. They are also, frankly, almost always depressing.

Nonetheless, they put humanity into its natural context. This not-at-all-depressing chronicle demonstrates the value of that contextualization well:

The first day I put my family on a Paleolithic diet, I made my kids fried eggs and sausage for breakfast. If they were still hungry, I told them, they could help themselves to more sausage, but they were not allowed to grab a slice of bread, or toast an English muffin, or pour themselves a bowl of cereal.

Continue reading

Lepidoptera Diversity in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to some 1200 butterflies and another 8000 species of moths (both diurnal and nocturnal varieties). This astounding diversity is no surprise, given the country’s neotropical climate and its position as a land bridge between North and South America, each home to a plethora of diverse ecosystems. The tremendous number of butterflies that can be seen goes hand-in-hand with the fact that Costa Rica is home to about 4% of the world’s total biodiversity! Of the butterfly species, some of the most famous include Continue reading

Home On The Range

Prairie Project

The great plains play an important role in both the history and prehistory of North America on many levels–in terms of wildlife, ecosystems and human occupation–and the American bison were an integral part of all three. The American Prairie Reserve is an ambitious project to reintroduce herds of the species into 3.5 million acres of public and private land patched together to create a protected area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

Sean Gerrity is passionate about the project, so much so that he is able to leverage his successful Silicon Valley business acumen into creative 21st-century solutions to the world’s conservation challenges with ideas that include the 73 bison calves awaiting their release into the wild the next day.

If all goes well, this bull calf will spend the rest of his life roaming grasslands that once teemed with millions of his forebears. He will encounter herds of elk, deer, and pronghorn. He will sniff the wind nervously for the scent of cougar and bear and wolf. Prairie dogs will dive for cover at the tremor of his hooves while hawks soar hungrily overhead in the endless sky. He will run for miles, for days, with no fence to hinder him.

If all goes well, this bull calf—or perhaps this calf’s children or his children’s children—will belong to a herd 10,000-bison strong, the largest conservation herd in all the world and the cornerstone inhabitants of the American Prairie Reserve, which has set its sights on becoming the largest wildlife reserve in the continental United States. Continue reading

Periyar Tiger Reserve – Thekkady

Photo credits : Unni P

Photo credit: Unni P.

Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is one of  27 tiger reserves in India. The reserve’s diverse environment includes tropical evergreen and moist deciduous forests, grass lands and lakes. Although Periyar is a tiger reserve, there are many more animals than just tigers to be seen in the region: elephants, bison, Sambar deer, leopards, and wild boars also share the grounds. Continue reading