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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Richard Conniff Speaks Redneck

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 27, 2013

Yep, it really is a strange world out there. Someone has actually translated my story from today’s New York Times into redneck and in the interest of reaching a broad readership, I am reprinting it below.

Da New York Times web site also has a Gangsta edition, and I am sorely disappointed not to be translated there.

This translation doesn’t use ma byline, or nothin’ I reknize as mine. But I hain’t complainin none ’bout dat.

Da Gran Animal Costume Partee

Published October 25, 2013 | By T’ Neck Hizzelf

IT’S ever travel’r’s lil dreem.

Earlee thishere year, Rohit Geerge wuz a’stayin at a hostel n’ da citee o’Shillong n’ nerdaastern India, wen he encounteret whut appeeret ta be a large, hairy spid’r n’ da torlett. Lat’r, he spottid anodar one at seemt ta perch un its orange laigs atop someone’s lawndry. O.K., ever travel’r’s lil nightmare.

Fer Mr. Geerge, tho, it rilly wuz a dreem, becawz da spid’r turnt out ta be a moth. Eve bett’r, it mite jes be a new specees’ n’ da genus Siamusotima, which speshulizes n’ scaryun’ da wits out o’potenshul predaters by imitatyun’ spiders. Thems eiite orange laigs wuz ackshly jes a patturn un its wings, un evolutyunree byperduct o’a’livin ferever amungst moth-eatin predaters.

Mr. Geerge, who likes ta photograph inseects, postid his’n pictures un iNaturalist, a site whar innyone a’ken put up photos fer experts ta idantify. (Y’all a’ken try it wit whutever strange hairy thangs turn up n’ yer torlett.) The he sat back as da kudos kum rolleeun’ n’.

Da strategy o’pertendin ta be sumthin odar thun whut y’all rilly air is o’corse common, an’ nairy jes fer humans. N’ my backyard n’ Cunectikut, fer instunts, da caterpillar o’da swallowtail butterflee Papilio troilus duz a brilleeint imitashun o’bird poop, ta avoid bein ett by birds. Lat’r n’ its development, it turns gree an’ produces eyespots so it a’ken pertend ta be a snake.

Thishere sort o’trickery is callt Batesiun mimicry, an’ no, it’s nairy namet aft’r Nermun Bates n’ “Psycho.” (Pertendin ta be sumthin milt’r an’ mer innosent thun y’all rilly air? At’s Mertensiun mimicry.) Mimicry n’ da natcherul worl wuz furst describet n’ da 1860s by Henry Walt’r Bates, da greet Amazoniun naturalist. He saw whut’s noe knowed as Batesiun mimicry n’ sartin colerfil butterflies, an’ da eggzamples he providet became crucial suppertyun’ evidence fer Charles Darwin’s daery o’evolushun by natcherul seeleckshun.

Bates knew at one group o’butterflies should be easy targets fer predaters, becawz day flee by day, dawdleeun’ along la-lala-lala n’ plane siite. But he wuz also puzzlet ta notice at dase butterflies dresst damselves up n’ flashy colers, as if’n ta advertise dair vulnerabilitee. He evantuallee eyesd at thems flashy colers matchet da colers o’anodar specees’ n’ da nayburhood. And thishere model specees’ turnt out ta taste so plum repulsif’ at predaters quicklee larnt ta leeve dam alone. Da mimics, un da odar han’, tastid jes fine. But dair disguise trickt birds, lizards, dragonflies, robb’r flies an’ odar predaters into leevin dam unmolestid.

Masters o’Batesiun mimicry abound n’ da natcherul worl. Fer instunts, da mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) a’ken’t deliv’r a venomyus bite er styun’. But it changes its shape ta mimic dangeryus sea snakes an’ lyunfish, which a’ken. Aardwulves air harmless an’ solitree inseect eaters un da Afrikan pluns, but day wear da same stripes as dair fierce pack-huntin naybors, da hyenas, which mite discourage predaters. Cuckoos also put un stripes, mer aggressivelee. Thay lif’ by trickyun’ odar birds into reeryun’ dair yung, an’ at meens slippyun’ un egg into its fost’r trayler undetectid. So day mimic sparroe hawks ta skeer off da future fost’r parnts. And meek lil moths, beetles an’ hoverflies do un almos purrfeck imitashun o’common wasps.

Modes o’disguise also tend ta be repeeted frum place ta place. If’n a disguise wurks n’ one place, it is highlee probabull at specees’ elsewhere will have tride it, too. (Scyintists call thishere convergent evolushun.) Mr. Geerge sez dare’s anodar bird poop mimic, a moth, near his’n trayler n’ Bangalere, India. (He recognizet it onlee becawz he wuz puzzlet one day ta notice acoupla perzackly idantical bird poops side by side un a leaf.) N’ Malaysia, a spectacular adult moth, Macrocilix maia, one-ups da poop mimics by mimickyun’ bird poop un its bodee, an’ acoupla flies feedin un da poop un its wings.

And n’ Costa Rica, metalmark moths n’ da genus Branthia flare out dair wings at a sliite angle above da bodee ta imitate jumpin spiders. A’lookin at photografs, I don’t quite see da resemblance. But it wurks well enough, accerdyun’ ta a 2006 study n’ da jurnl PLoS One, at predatery jumpin spiders almos always leeve dam alone — an’ sumtimes run away screamin into da nite.

All thishere is jes Batesiun mimicry. We’re nairy eve goin ta talk about Mülleriun, Wasmunniun er Bakeriun mimicry. Er da kine o’mimicry at happens onlee by sound er smell. Oh, an’ dun dare’s intersaxual mimicry — at is, cross-dressin. (Good monin’, Mr. Cuttlefish, luv da skirt.)

Da bottom line is at wen folks hed out ta trick er treet thishere Hallowee, eve at Miley Cyrus costume will nairy rate as da strangest an’ scariest disguise n’ da nayburhood. A Tet Cruz costume, un da odar han’, jes mite be a contend’r.

meter Opinion: Da Grand Animal Costume Party

Da auther o’“Da Specees’ Seekers: Heroes, Fools, an’ da Mad Pursuit o’Life un Earth.”


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