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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The Species Seekers Quiz: Not Just a Naturalist

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 12, 2012

Stephen Maturin, played by Paul Bettany, in "Master and Commander"

In Britain, naturalists typically hitchhiked on military expeditions of discovery and conquest (like Charles Darwin aboard HMS Beagle), and often also served their country in what other role?

1.  Musical entertainer.

2.  Interpreter.

3.  Spy.

4.  Guide.

And the answer is

They were spies.

An interest in natural history provided the perfect training in careful observation–and a plausible cover–for work as a spy.  Stephen Maturin, the surgeon/naturalist/ spy in Patrick O’Brian’s novels about the British Navy in the early 19thcentury, wasn’t entirely a fiction.  For instance, Capt. John Biddulph collected over 3000 birds and also spied for the British while traveling in Kashmir, Turkestan, and other Himalayan localities.  Likewise, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, disguised maps of enemy fortifications in his drawings of butterfly wing patterns.

Boy Scout Founder (and Spy) Robert Baden-Powell


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