Category Archives: Animals

Remember Cecil the Lion?

Do you remember Cecil the Lion? He was a loin in Zimbabwe, living in a protected park, somewhat habituated to human presence. A Great White Hunter, who was also a dentist in Minnesota, killed him a couple of years ago, and took a lot of heat for it. The real story of what happened is now out in a brand new book by biologist Andrew Loveridge. Continue reading Remember Cecil the Lion?

Sexual Selection Up To Date: A Taste for the Beautiful

A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction is a popular science book written by an actual expert on the field, addressing the ways in which the world of animals is shaped by sexual selection.

One of Darwin’s major contributions to the panoply of theoretical and observational work we call “evolution” was to recognize, describe, and model sexual selection. Continue reading Sexual Selection Up To Date: A Taste for the Beautiful

Leopards Eat Feral Dogs, Limiting Rabies

I heard a story from a reliable source, who in turn heard it from a fairly reliable source. So believe it or not:

One day a resident of a Nairobi, Kenya — a fairly well off person who liked to collect things — called the police to report that his leopard had gotten out.

So, the police called around and got some leopard traps. Not hard in a place like Nairobi.

They put a dozen, maybe two dozen, traps around the area, in town.

That night and the next, they caught a half dozen or so leopards. None of them were the missing animal. All the caught leopards were wild. Continue reading Leopards Eat Feral Dogs, Limiting Rabies

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

Is Curious George an Ape or a Monkey?

Curious George is called a “little monkey” in all of the Curious George literature, TV shows, and movies. But Curious George has no tail, and generally, that means you are an ape. But, there is one monkey with no tail, or at least one that is vestigial and not visible: The Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus). For this reason, some have suggested that George is a monkey, specificaly, a Barbary Macaque or perhaps a close previously undiscovered species.

However, one of the main features distinguishing between monkeys and apes is the intermembral index. This is simply the relative proportion of the forelimbs and hind limbs. Apes have short legs and long arms (unless you are a Man in a Yellow Hat variety of ape) while monkeys have more even length limbs. This image compares a young Chimpanzee to stand in for the apes, a Barbary Macaque, and Curious George, with the limb lengths marked off with a red line.

This seems to indicate the George is an Ape.

Also, note that the Man in the Yellow Hat originally kidnapped George in a Jungle that appears to be in Central Africa, to which he returns in later episodes.

Curious George returns to a jungle with gorillas (and, not pictured, a number of other African mammals).

There is another possibility, that Curious George is an undiscovered type of primate that is technically a Monkey but with certain Ape features. We are not certain of the genetic heritage of the mysterious ape Sungudogo, so perhaps George is one of those.

Note that these comparisons are being made among Old World Primates. If New World Primates are included in the mix, there may end up being more questions than answers.

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