In which I participate in Producer Wes’s project “Advice Wanted.”
In which I participate in Producer Wes’s project “Advice Wanted.”
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
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.
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.
In 2017, John McKay elucidated the history of modern science through the lens of the mammoth, or really, the mammoth hunters, in his book* Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science. The difference between what (mainly) European thinkers thought about the meaning of mammoth and other megafauna bones in the early days of discovery and what we knew a decade ago is not merely reflective of the accretion of knowledge and understanding of an observed science. It is much more dramatic than that. For example, a theory thought viable in the 189th century (IIRC, it has been a little while since I read McKay’s book) is that mammoths were still extant, and lived underground as fossorial animals, and could not survive contact with open air. Frozen mammoth carcasses would then represent mammoths that got too close to the surface, accidentally breathed, died, and were frozen in place, partly sticking out. Other early thinking on mammoth and other megafauna remains invoked unicorns and other mythical creatures. We have come a long way. Continue reading A Mammoth’s Journey: New isotopic science
I have a version of the bluetooth COWIN E7 PRO Active Noise Cancelling Headphones. They work great as headphones, and the noise cancelling ability is impressive.* Other than moving to a different part of the planet, this may be your best option.
We should probably not allow the racing of 2 year old horses (though see comments below). I think this is only done in the US and a couple of other countries. It is not allowed elsewhere.
We may need to admit that horse-racing has become corrupt. Well, certain areas of horse racing were always corrupt. Don’t ask me how I know, but I think the statute of limitations is up on that anyway.
And now, Cancel Culture is ruining everything!
Maybe we should cancel the Kentucky Derby as it exists today. Shut it down, tweak the rules, clean the process up, and restart in a few years. Maybe be nicer to the horses.
The Ice Lover Award goes to the Polar Bear, the Crafty Hunter Award goes to the Tiger, and the Terribly Tall Award goes to the Giraffe, as usual.
This new coffee-table format kids book, The Animal Awards: Celebrate NATURE with 50 fabulous creatures from the animal kingdom, by Martin Jenkins with illustrations by Tor Freeman*, is a rollicking riot of excellent information about (fifty) animals, with fun illustrations.
The ceremony is about to begin. Roll up, roll up, roll up! The ceremony is about to begin so prepare to be amazed. We’re here to celebrate the crème de la crème of the animal kingdom, and shine a spotlight on the finest achievements and unique qualities of some special individuals. Among others, we will be awarding prizes to the fastest, the oldest, the strongest, the smelliest, the tallest, and the longest. We have some unusual prize winners and some quite scary ones, too. As we run through our short lists you’ll have the privilege of meeting our esteemed guests from dangerous, frogs to organised ants, to spiders that have devised all sorts of strange and admirable ways of catching their food. It’s been a really difficult job choosing winners but we hope you approve and find plenty to marvel at in this beastly line-up of champions. Now put your hands together and clap! The Animal Awards is about to begin…
Tor Freeman is a London-based illustrator. In 2012 she was awarded the Sendak Fellowship. In 2017 she won the Guardian Graphic Short Story Prize. Her books include the Digby Dog and Olive series.
Martin Jenkins is conservation biologist and children’s writer. His jobs have varied greatly: “I’ve been an orchid-sleuth in Germany, a timber detective in Kenya and an investigator of the chameleon trade in Madagascar.” His titles include Emperor’s Egg, winner of the Times Junior Information Book of the Year Award, Can We Save the Tiger, winner of the SLA Award, and Gulliver’s Travels, winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. He lives in Cambridge and London.
When I was a kid, I had an encyclopedia of animals. I cherished it, read it several times. For a long time, until I was in middle school, I knew more about animals than anyone else I knew because I had read that book. I also used it as a jumping off point to learn more about each type of animal, looking them up in the two general encyclopedias we had in the house, taking notes, drawing pictures, all of it. That one single book probably is the reason that I went in certain academic directions. In fact, I had flashbacks to the pages on the leopard and the Cape buffalo while poking around actual wild leopards and Cape buffalo in Africa.
There have been a lot of encyclopedias of animals in print, and now there is a new kid on the block, and it is probably the one you should get for your emerging naturalist. Encyclopedia of Animals by Jules Howard, illustrated by Jarom Vogel*, covers 300 species. Unlike my old volume, which only had large mammals and a snake or two, this volume gives a much more uniform treatment of “animal” with roughly equal treatment for six Classes. The book uses bleed-tags to quickly find the inverts, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, or mammals.
There are over 500 illustrations across 192 nicely laid out pages, interesting facts about each animal exemplar, including Latin binomial.
It is hard to define the age range for this book. Adults will find it useful as a reference. Kids from about 3rd grade and up will browse it. It aligns with the kinds of science taught in fifth grade and up (10-11 years old.) A middle school science teacher will want this handy in the classroom library.
Jules Howard is science writer and presenter, regularly contributing to The Guardian and BBC Wildlife Magazine. Jarom Vogel is an illustrator, designer and digital artist.
Superlative: The Biology of Extremes is almost as extreme, or shall we say, hopeful, in its marketing-cover claims as the animals discussed are outlandish. If the cure for cancer was going to be found in a shark, we would have already found it. But despite what the book promises on its cover, Matthew D. LaPlante’s book is a detailed, engaging, and informative look at ongoing and recent scientific research from the perspective of an experienced journalist.
There are three categories of science book authors: Scientists, who write the best ones most of the time, science-steeped (often trained-as-scientists) science writers, who can write some pretty good books, and journalists who delve into the science and sometimes write amazing books, other times write books that are good books but not necessarily good science books. Superlative: The Biology of Extremes is in the higher end of the last category. It is about the scientists, the teams, the work more than the cells and polymers.
Also, LaPlante has another set of credentials: He is deeply, severely, hated by Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. Oh, also, the book is at present deeply on sale.
Animal Beauty: On the Evolution of Biological Aesthetics (The MIT Press) is sort of the opposite.
This is a series of essays by biologist Chrisiane Nusslein-Volhard, engagingly and skillfully illustrated by Suse Grutzmacher (and translated by Jonathan Howard) about the aesthetic sense talked about by Darwin, its evolution, distribution, function, meaning, across animals. The essays take a Tinbergian approach to explore most aspects of how thinks look or are looked at, how paterns, colors, and other features play ar ole in sexual selection, and how the underlying genetic connect to these important surface features, allowing us to understand the phylogeny of this physical-behavioral nexus. This is the scientist talking about the science. The book itself is also a bit unusual, as it is designed to fit comfortably in a pocket or purse. Take it to the dentist office or hair stylist! (When the Pandemic is over.)
To find out more about the rat in the can effect, you can read this book: The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit by Mel Konner, where I think it is described. Here, I will summarize it, in simplified form. If you seriously need to know about this in more detail, do more research and don’t rely entirely on what I say here. Continue reading The rat in the can effect
Carnivores of the World: Second Edition (Princeton Field Guides) by Luke Hunter and lavishly and beautifully illustrated by Priscilla Barrett is in its second edition. I reviewed the first edition here, where I discussed the idea of having a Order-wide “field guide.” To summarize, you don’t really carry a field guide to all the members of a world wide class around in your pocket in case, for instance, you run into a South American Coati or a Sulawesi Palm Civet on your walk back from your favorite bird blind in northern Minnesota. You have a book like this because you are a student of nature, and you find yourself needing to know about on or another carnivore at one time or another. Or, just because, as a student of nature, you might enjoy sitting in a comfortable chair and studying up on all the carnivores (aside from the carnivorous sea dwellers, which are not covered in this book).Continue reading Field Guide To The Carnivores Of The World: Review
The land and marine iguanas of the Galapagos Islands are famous. Well, the marine iguanas are famous, and the land iguanas, representing the ancestral state for that clade of two species, deserve a lot of credit as well. The story of these iguanas is integral with, and parallel to, the story of the Galapagos Islands, and of course, that story is key in our understanding of and pedagogy of evolutionary biology, and Darwin’s history. Continue reading One Iguana Two Iguanas: Children’s evolutionary biology book, with lizards!
An Ichthyosaur is a cross between a fish and a dinosaur, that looks like a dolphin. Continue reading Old Fossil Sheds New Light On Ancient Lizard Fish
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?
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