Category Archives: Animals

Why Was the Grizzly Man Eaten by a Bear? (Film review and commentary)

Grizzly Man is Werner Herzog’s film about Timothy Treadwell, mostly using Treadwell’s own footage of his time living among grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Treadwell spent each of thirteen summers up to 2003 mainly in two areas of the park where a community1 of grizzly bears lived and foraged. During the last three years of this stint, Treadwell went to the field with video cameras and produced quite a bit of footage. In 2003 he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed and mostly eaten by a bear.

Continue reading Why Was the Grizzly Man Eaten by a Bear? (Film review and commentary)

The Furry and Creepy Creatures of Britain

A Field Guide to Britain’s Spiders

No, this is not a new Harry Potter story. It is a pair of books on British Wildlife.

I wish I had Britain’s Spiders: A Field Guide (Princeton University Press (WILDGuides)) Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford & Helen Smith for the United States.

The Chelicerata include the Arachnids, which in turn includes such as the scorpions, harvestmen, mites, etc. The largest single group of Arachnids is the spiders (Araneae). They all breath air, they all have eight legs, they all have venom injecting fangs (see THIS for more on that). Of all of the orders of organisms, spiders are seventh in terms of total species diversity, with over 45,000 species. (For reference, there are about 5,400 species of mammal and about 10,000 species of bird. Continue reading The Furry and Creepy Creatures of Britain

The Truth About The Brown Recluse Spider

Everything you thought you knew about Brown Recluse Spiders is wrong. There is now a book,The Brown Recluse Spider, to set you straight. This is my review of that book.

His name was Bob. I was a kid, he was an adult that all the other adults seemed to think was cool. He used to have a job launching nuclear missiles for the Air Force, but then later got a job as a Hippie. He, another person or two, and I were sitting on a rock pile out in the woods, checking out the patch of marijuana planted, mysteriously, on the neighbor’s property. The neighbor was the head of the local John Birch Society. Whoever planted the patch of pot figured it would be better found, if ever found by the cops, on his property than on the property occupied by the hippies.

Somebody moved a rock. Bob said, “Oh, look, a Brown Recluse spider. They are deadly, but they hardly ever bite.”

I watched the Brown Recluse spider very carefully for a while and memorized it. I found many more over that summer, and in subsequent years. I became very good at identifying them.

This is what it looked like: Continue reading The Truth About The Brown Recluse Spider

New Pig Species Discovered

A new species of peccary has been discovered in the Amazon. It’s different from other peccaries in that it appears to be a frugivore. It also lives in pairs or very small family groups. This is, of course, exactly what one might expect. Frugovores eat high quality food, while the other peccaries eat lower quality food. Higher quality food is rare and dispersed so it is difficult to get into larger groups. Continue reading New Pig Species Discovered

Of skinks and monkeys

I was recently looking at a practice AP biology test question on evolution, and sparing you the details, I found it interesting that two of the four parts dealt with genetic variation and speciation in such a way that it was difficult to tell them apart. As expected, students who answered these questions got confused as well, and tended to give perfectly good answers to Part B, but unfortunately, this was their answer to Part A. By the time they got to Part B they seemed a little confused, perhaps realizing that there was some overlap and conflation of concepts.

Inter and intra-specific variation is probably patterned such that the sum of variation among several species is greater than the partitioned variation within a given species. That’s pretty obvious.

(Just in case it is not: Imagine measuring the mass of several elephants. The variation can be represented by the standard deviation, range, or whatever you like, among your measurements. It is such and such. Now do the same thing with a bunch of mice. Again, you have some measure of variation. Now do it for the mice and elephants combined. Here, the variation will be larger than for either. This is not the same as if you want to compare variation or patterns of variation between mice and elephants. Do do that, you need to scale the variation, say by using the coefficient of variation. In this case, combining the coefficients of variation might show less variation when combined than for either group simply because of sample size effects. But what I’m talking about here is total variation. Mice are tiny, elephants are huge, so their total size variation runs Continue reading Of skinks and monkeys

Great Pyrenees and the Norwegian Brown Bear

This is a photograph of three Great Pyrenees dogs harassing a brown bear in Northern Norway. This photograph was downloaded by me some time ago from a web site that seems to no longer exist.

The story from that site goes like this: Apparently, in this region of northern Norway, brown bears that normally reside in a reserve or park had started to wander into cattle farmland. This would be alarming because a) cattle farmers do not want their calves eaten by brown bears and b) friends of the brown bears may not want cattle ranchers to feel obliged to start shooting the bears. (I quickly add, I have no idea if Norwegian cattle ranchers are as trigger happy about wild carnivores and our American cattle ranchers appear to be…)

Apparently, some Great Pyrenees owners living in more populated areas of Norway, who had pet Pyrs (i.e., not raised as working dogs, but rather citified pets), who may have been affiliated with the Great Pyrenees Society of Norway, assembled their dogs and went up to this region to take care of business.

The reason I am interested in the story is that I’m interested in the evolution of behavior, and in this particular case, the co-evolution of human and dog behavior. The key fact in this story is that these untrained dogs acted almost entirely as though they were trained protector dogs in how they protected the cattle, harassed the bears, coordinated their efforts with each other and with the humans, etc.

This is not to say, of course, that I would expect any sort of working dog raised, untrained in their normal “work” as pets, to do this. I would expect the opposite for most breeds. But this aparently (from this story and other evidence) is not the case with the Great Pyrenees. This breed appears to come more or less ready out of the box, as it were, to carry out the work the adults normally do in their native setting of alpine cattle lands of the Spanish and French Pyrenees.

I used to live with a Pyr (who’s name was “bear” in Spanish) and for that entire time we were left entirely unharassed by bears.