strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff

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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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Archive for the ‘Sex & Reproduction’ Category

First Footage of Deep-Sea Anglerfish Sex

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 24, 2018

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This Year’s Worst-Timed Science Study Examines Sex with Immature Females

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 16, 2017

If only scientists had better control over publication dates, this new study might not have seen the light just now, in the year of Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman, and oh-so-many others.  Published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, it’s a finding that males seeking sex with immature females aren’t necessarily engaged in coercion and don’t seem to impose any cost on their partners.

OK, the researchers are talking about redback spiders, not humans.

And lest readers think it’s a good idea to follow examples from the natural world, the press release for the study also notes that these are “one of few arachnids that engage in sexual cannibalism while mating. In fact, males have been observed to actively assist in being cannibalized by doing somersaults to place their abdomen over the adult female’s mouth.”

Still, we’re not all that far out of Harvey Weinstein territory, are we?  (He’d have used a body double for the somersault.)

What’s especially interesting, Read the rest of this entry »

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Eggs in a Basket: Fossil Find Opens Up Lost World of Pterosaurs

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 1, 2017

With apologies, I have been delayed in posting several articles I published previously this year. Attempting to update now.

by Richard Conniff/Scientific American

Thanks in part to an abundance of fossil discoveries in recent decades, scientists now recognize more than 200 species of pterosaur—the winged reptiles that dominated the world’s skies for 160 million years. But almost nothing is known about how they bred or how their young developed. As recently as 2014 the available scientific evidence on those topics added up to a grand total of just three pterosaur eggs, all badly flattened.

That dramatically changes with the description in this week’s Science of a sandstone block containing at least 215 fossilized eggs of a Cretaceous era pterosaur, Hamipterus tianshanensis. Many are preserved in three dimensions, and at least 16 contain partial embryonic remains.

Paleontologists Alexander Kellner and Xiaolin Wang

A research team led by Xiaolin Wang of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing discovered the eggs, embedded in a rock slab more than three square meters in area, at a dig in northwestern China. Analysis of sediments in the find suggests “that events of high energy such as storms passed over a nesting site” by an ancient lake, the co-authors write, causing the egg mass to float “for a short period of time, becoming concentrated and eventually buried.”

Preservation of any pterosaur fossil is exceptional, partly because their bones were so thin. Extreme scarcity is even Read the rest of this entry »

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Here’s an Eyeful About Why We Need Wildlife Sanctuaries

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 9, 2017

Two young tuskers play-jousting in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India (Photo: Anuradha Marwah)

Two young tuskers play-jousting in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India (Photo: Anuradha Marwah)

Wildlife refuges and sanctuaries are the best hope for many wildlife species in a world that is rapidly being overwhelmed by humans.  The Sanctuary Asia web site holds an annual photo contest and these are Read the rest of this entry »

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Animal Music Monday: Muskrat Love

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 27, 2016

Yep, this is a song about two muskrats having sex. And even if most of us have never heard the actual event, muskrat vocalizations consist of squeaks and squeals, which sounds about right. The principals in this song are Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam, and there is apparently talk of marriage before they do the thing.  Texas singer Willis Alan Ramsey wrote and recorded the song in 1972, under the title “Muskrat Candlelight,” and this is his version.

I find just looking at the Captain and Tenille cover from 1976 hideously Read the rest of this entry »

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Animal Music Monday: “Little Red Rooster”

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 30, 2016

Sometimes I suspect that songs about animals are really songs about people, only slightly disguised.

But you will be shocked, shocked, as I am I, that some callow writer would interpret a gentle barnyard ditty like “Little Red Rooster,” made famous in 1961 by the Chicago blues singer Howlin’ Wolf, as the “most overtly phallic song since Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Black Snake Moan'” in 1927.

And, wait, wait, wasn’t Blind Lemon really singing about his ophidophobic nightmare of a snake loose in the bedroom? And when he finishes with “Black snake mama Read the rest of this entry »

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Rare Amur Tiger Family–Dad, too–Caught on Film

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 6, 2015

This remarkable footage comes from the Wildlife Conservation Society. Here’s a composite photo of the animals passing in succession by the camera trap:

tigerfamilyphoto

And here’s the WCS press release:


NEW YORK (
March 6, 2015) –The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program, in partnership with the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve and Udegeiskaya Legenda National Park, released a camera trap slideshow of a family of Amur tigers in the wild showing an adult male with family. Shown following the “tiger dad” along the Russian forest is an adult female and three cubs. Scientists note this is

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Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Sex & Reproduction | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

When a Baby in the Oven Means Mom is Totally Cooked

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 24, 2015

This one goes out to all you happy couples stuck at home by the snow and thinking about maybe having sex and making a baby.  It’s a heartwarming little story about a species where mom’s blessed event is also always her funeral.

Don’t thank me. It comes from Matt Simon at Wired:

Ah, motherhood. I don’t know anything about it, but I heard there’s a lot of, like, sacrifice and stuff. Not only do you have to bring the brat into the world, but then you have to feed it for at least 18 years or you get in big trouble. That’s a lot of pressure.

But with all due respect to human mothers out there, their sacrifice is nothing compared to a momma strepsiptera. (Cue phone call from my own mother in 3…2…1…) This little parasite invades the bodies of all manner of insects, where she waits patiently as the young that fill her body consume her from the inside out. Eventually they

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What Are Your Wearing for Halloween, Deer?

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 31, 2014

Vampire deer in Afghanistan, ready for romance.

Vampire deer in Afghanistan, ready for romance.

And, darling, what big teeth you have!

I was thinking the folks at the Wildlife Conservation Society just put out this press release to have a little fun at Halloween. But it’s based on a new study in the October issue of the journal Oryx (also apparently feeling the Halloween spirit) and the species Moschus cupreus is apparently real, and poachers know it:

 More than 60 years after its last confirmed sighting, a strange deer with vampire-like fangs still persists in the rugged forested slopes of northeast Afghanistan according to a research team led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which confirmed the species presence during recent surveys.

Known as the Kashmir musk deer – one of seven similar species found in Asia – the last scientific sighting in Afghanistan was believed to have been made by a Danish survey team traversing the region in 1948.  The study was published in the Oct. 22nd edition of the journal Oryx.  Authors include: Stephane Ostrowski and Peter Zahler of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Haqiq Rahmani of the University of Leeds, and Jan Mohammad Ali and Rita Ali of Waygal, Nuristan, Afghanistan.

The species is categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss and poaching. Its scent glands are coveted by wildlife traffickers and are

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Slowing Down the Himalayan Viagra Gold Rush

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 30, 2014

The magic stuff.  (Photo: Michael S. Yamashita / National Geographic Society / Corbis)

The magic stuff. (Photo: Michael S. Yamashita / National Geographic Society / Corbis)

My deep suspicion is that the rush for this “Himalayan Viagra” in Tibet is a rush for fool’s gold. But this is serious business.  The study notes that, “In recent incidents, in June 2014 a clash with police in Dolpo left two dead in a dispute between members of the local community and a National Park Buffer Zone Management Committee over who has the right to collect and keep fees paid by outsiders for access to yartsa gunbu grounds.”

Come on, people, it’s a fungus, and the name yartsa gunbu translates as “summer grass, winter worm.” Does that really make you imagine the peril of the infamous four-hour erection?

But I am so glad the Tibetans have figured out a way to protect the resource in the middle of this madness, and maybe there’s something here to learn for other managers of imperiled resources.

Here’s the press release:

Overwhelmed by speculators trying to cash-in on a prized medicinal fungus known as Himalayan Viagra, two isolated Tibetan communities have managed to do at the local level what world leaders often fail to do on a global scale — implement a successful system for the sustainable harvest of a precious natural resource, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

“There’s this mistaken notion that indigenous people are incapable of solving complicated problems on their own, but

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