strange behaviors

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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Fleas are not Lobsters

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 8, 2012

Banks as the Great South Sea Caterpillar

Early naturalists often displayed deep confusion about how different species might be connected to one another.  Since the standard belief was that each species was a unique creation by God, some even asserted that there was no connection, merely correlation.  We weren’t biologically related to monkeys, for instance–it was just a sort of coincidental resemblance, perhaps from God getting lazy and plagiarizing his own work.

When naturalists tried to investigate the possible connections across the plant and animal kingdoms, they sometimes came in for ridicule.  I thought about that a little while I go when I came across a satiric roasting of Sir Joseph Banks, the world-traveling naturalist and  eminent “natural philosopher” of late eighteenth-century London.

According to the British comic writer Peter Pindar,  Banks once supposedly cooked up an experiment to boil fleas, 1500 of them, and see if they would turn red, but was disappointed in his expectations.

“There goes, then, my hypothesis to hell,” the naturalist cried, “Fleas are not lobsters, d___n their souls.”

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