Posted by Richard Conniff on November 24, 2015
This just came in from the Wildlife Conservation Society. It’s camera trap video of rarely seen Amur tigers from Russia’s Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve.
Fewer than 500 of them survive in the wild. But here you can see an adult female trailed by three of her big cubs. I’m using a Twitter link here, so hoping this works:
The cats are using an overgrown forest road as a travel corridor; the same type of road patrolled by poachers with spotlights. Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Richard Conniff on October 27, 2015
(Photo: Piotr Naskrecki)
This is the latest of many bizarre insect images the entomologist and photographer Piotr Naskrecki posts at his website The Smaller Majority. He found these characters in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, where most people think wildlife means only those hairy things with four legs Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Biodiversity, Funny Business, Read That Face | Tagged: Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, science fiction | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Richard Conniff on September 11, 2015
This photo appears in The Guardian‘s selection “This Week in Wildlife” and the caption pretty well says it all:
Nature lovers hope to attract the huge convolvulus hawk-moth to their gardens with tobacco and alcohol. The moths like to feed on the nectar of tobacco plants and wine-soaked ropes
Photograph: Keith Baldie/PA
I think they mean Agrius convolvuli, found at all the best spots Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Biodiversity, Food & Drink, Funny Business | Tagged: moth, tobacco, wine | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Richard Conniff on September 10, 2015
My latest for Yale Environment 360:
Any time a writer mentions Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring or the subsequent U.S. ban on DDT, the loonies come out of the woodwork. They blame Carson’s book for ending the use of DDT as a mosquito-killing pesticide. And because mosquitoes transmit malaria, that supposedly makes her culpable for just about every malaria death of the past half century.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, devotes an entire website to the notion that “Rachel was wrong,” asserting that “millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm.” Likewise former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn has declared that “millions of people, particularly children under five, died because governments bought into Carson’s junk science claims about DDT.” The novelist Michael Crichton even had one of his fictional characters assert that “Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler.” He put the death toll at 50 million.
It’s worth considering the many errors in this argument both because malaria remains an epidemic problem in much of the developing world and also because groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, backed by corporate interests, have latched onto DDT as a case study for undermining all environmental regulation.
The first thing worth remembering is that it wasn’t Rachel Carson who banned DDT. It was the very Republican Nixon Administration, in 1972. Moreover, the ban applied only in the United States, and even there it made an exception for public health uses. The ban was intended to prevent the imminent extinction of ospreys, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles, our national bird, among other species; they were vulnerable because DDT caused a fatal thinning of eggshells, which collapsed under the weight of the parent incubating them. But the ban did nothing to stop Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues, Fear & Courage | Tagged: DDT, malaria, mosquito control, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring | 1 Comment »
Posted by Richard Conniff on September 3, 2015
Yes, she/he is winking at your coyly. (New species Automeris amanda. Saturnidae)
A new geometrid moth
Oospila albicoma matura
Here’s the press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society:
WCS has released a stunning gallery of images of some of the moths uncovered by the groundbreaking Bolivian scientific expedition, Identidad Madidi. A staggering 10,000 species of moths may live in Madidi National Park – considered the most biodiverse protected area on the planet. The moths were found in the montane savannas and gallery forests of the Apolo region.
The expedition’s entomologist, Fernando Guerra Serrudo, Associate Researcher of the Bolivian Faunal Collection and the Institute of Ecology, said of Madidi’s moths: “Moths are often very beautiful and present a diversity of shapes and patterns. In Bolivia, several species are known locally as ‘taparaku’ and feared because of the belief that when they are found in a house they indicate that someone in that home will die. In most cases the adults of these species do not feed and have very poorly developed mandibles. The whole purpose of their life is to reproduce.”
Identidad Madidi is a multi-institutional effort to describe still unknown species and to showcase the wonders of Bolivia’s extraordinary natural heritage at home and abroad. The expedition officially began on June 5th, 2015 and will eventually visit 14 sites lasting for 18 months as a team of Bolivian scientists works to expand existing knowledge on Madidi’s birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish along an altitudinal pathway descending more than 5,000 meters (more than 16,000 feet) from the mountains of the high Andes into the tropical Amazonian forests and grasslands of northern Bolivia.
The first leg of the expedition, which concluded last month, uncovered a new frog, three probable new catfish, and a new lizard. The expedition currently underway is exploring three sites in the High Andes of Madidi, specifically within the Puina valley between 3,750 meters and 5,250 meters above sea level in Yungas paramo grasslands, Polylepis forests and high mountain puna vegetation.
Participating institutions in Identidad Madidi include the Ministry of the Environment and Water, the Bolivian National Park Service, the Vice Ministry of Science and Technology, Madidi National Park, the Bolivian Biodiversity Network, WCS, the Institute of Ecology, Bolivian National Herbarium, Bolivian Faunal Collection and Armonia with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and WCS.
You can follow the expedition online at www.identidadmadidi.org, #IDMadidi.”
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Posted by Richard Conniff on July 30, 2015
One of the hundreds of salamander species native to North America now
threatened by an emerging disease (Photo: Emanuele Biggi | anura.it)
Let’s say it’s 1880 and you discover irrefutable evidence that misguided human behavior is about to cause extinction of passenger pigeons—and you have this evidence in time to prevent the disaster from occurring. Or, to bring it closer to home, let’s say it’s 1990 and you have the power to stop the chytrid fungus pandemic that was unknown then, but about to send frogs worldwide twitching and suffocating to their miserable deaths. You’d do something, right?
That’s the situation the United States is in right now, with another unbelievably numerous and ecologically important animal group. The likely victims this time are salamanders and—hang on–before you say “I’m not going to waste time worrying about slimy little animals that live under rocks,” consider first that salamanders are adorable (check out the photo above), second, that they are characteristically North American, and third, that they are vital to the health of our forests.
For salamanders, North America is the Garden of Eden, and they are our true biodiversity: Of the 676 known salamander species in the world, almost half live on this continent, with hotspots of salamander abundance in the southern Appalachians, the Sierra Nevadas, and the highlands of Central Mexico.
The problem this time is that a new variety of chytrid fungus, called Bsal (short for Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) has recently turned up in Asia, and it is already starting to do to salamanders what its notorious cousin Bd (short for Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) has done to frogs. On introduction to the Netherlands in 2013, Bsal caused Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Richard Conniff on July 11, 2015
Three spotted Digger Bee Habropoda excellens (Photo: Sam Droege/USGS)
If you like food, you had better like pollinators, because you eat their work. Bees, hoverflies, butterflies, and other pollinators are essential to the production of 60 percent of crop species and 35 percent of total crop production. Apart from putting food on our tables, their services are worth about $200 billion a year worldwide. And the problem for farmers, conservationists, and food lovers alike is that pollinator populations are collapsing everywhere. They’re under assault from pesticides, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change, among other factors.
To fix the pollinator crisis, researchers need to know which species are declining, and under what circumstances. But that’s generally a slow, costly, cumbersome process, requiring highly trained taxonomists to prepare a species and identify it under a microscope. It can take years to get the results—and there aren’t enough taxonomists to do the job, in any case. So instead of studying them in minute detail, some researchers now think mashing pollinators into a soup may be
Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Richard Conniff on June 28, 2015
This is a book review I wrote for yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:
Anyone who spends time in the field with people who study insects is likely to encounter the “malaise trap,” a tent-like device with a sloping ridge. Insects have a tendency to escape by moving upward, and this trap ingeniously encourages them to do so, into a collecting jar at the top. I always assumed the name “malaise” referred to the dreamy idleness of the collectors who rely on such an efficient device.
In his curious book “The Fly Trap,” Swedish journalist, translator and entomological enthusiast Fredrik Sjöberg corrects my mistake: The name comes from the inventor of the device, a peripatetic 20th century sawfly specialist named René Malaise. Mr. Sjöberg’s entertaining memoir is partly about his own unsuccessful attempts to write a biography of Malaise, partly about life on Runmarö Island in the Stockholm archipelago, where the author lives and Malaise sometimes visited, and mostly about Mr. Sjöberg’s own obsession with a group of insects called hoverflies.
The writing is whimsical, digressive and pleasingly devoid of anything too weighty or purposeful. Mr. Sjöberg attempts to pass off the hoverflies early on as “only props,” a means to write “about the art and sometimes the bliss of limitation.” But clearly they have a hold on him. Hoverflies are a worldwide family of insects, known for pollinating plants, attacking agricultural pests and achieving a magnificent degree of mimicry, mostly of wasps and bees. They are worthy of enthusiasm. For his part, the author, using a net, a tube-and-bottle device called a pooter, and a mega-Malaise—“a real monster,” of which he is inordinately proud—has collected 202 species on his island of just six square miles, and solved a puzzle or two that have eluded other specialists in the field.
“The Fly Trap” fits into a surprisingly rich genre of great and idiosyncratic writing about insects—from Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Richard Conniff on April 7, 2015
Here’s a quick quiz. Choose the one that doesn’t belong:
Yes, I know, you’re way too smart for this. You chose “C” because you remember that everybody’s favorite dinosaur, that 16-ton vegetarian with the long neck and the whip-like tail, is really named Apatosaurus. Scientists have long since declared that Brontosaurus was a taxonomic error, and doesn’t technically exist.
In fact, it’s been 112 years since a paleontologist named Elmer Riggs first pointed out that Brontosaurus, described by Yale’s O.C. Marsh in 1879, was an awful lot like Apatosaurus, which Marsh himself had described just two years previously. Marsh thought the two species were different because one had more vertebrae than the other in the sacral region, at the base of the spine. But Riggs pointed out that the sacral vertebrae in four-limbed species, including humans, normally fuse as an individual matures. Marsh’s two specimens were thus supposedly no more than older and younger individuals of the same species.
That is, until this morning. In a paper published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ, a team of paleontologists has declared that Brontosaurus is back, baby, and better than ever. They argue that Brontosaurus is different enough Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Biodiversity, Evolution | Tagged: Brontosaurus, dinosaur | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Richard Conniff on March 26, 2015
A team of researchers in Los Angeles has just described 30 new species discovered during a three-month study in ordinary backyards. Emily Hartop, who did much of the biological grunt work, has written a nice description of the project, and what it means:
When I came to work at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, I had no idea exactly what was in store for me. The NHM had recently initiated a massive study to search for biodiversity, or the variety of life forms in a particular area. This study wasn’t taking place in some lush tropical jungle, though; in fact, far from it. This fabulous study was (and is) taking place in the backyards of Los Angeles. I got hired to be part of the entomological team for this urban project called BioSCAN (Biodiversity Science: City and Nature) and before I knew it, I was describing 30 new species of flies collected right here in the City of Angels.
Before I explain how this all happened, let’s pause and say that again: 30 new species of flies were described from urban Los Angeles in 2015. Let’s expand: these flies were caught in three months of sampling and are all in the same genus. What does this mean for us? It means that even in the very areas where we live and work,
Read the rest of this entry »
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