strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

  • Categories

  • Wall of the Dead

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Celebrating Psychedelica: Live on The Leonard Lopate Show

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 7, 2017

Swims like a drunken sailor. (© David Hall/seaphotos.com)

I was a guest this afternoon on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC in New York, talking about species discovery.  The interview runs about 13 minutes and listening to it is definitely better than a sharp stick in the eye. (A courageous listener called in to tell one of the other guests that he didn’t like the sound of her voice. Thank goodness, I didn’t have a call-in segment.)

At one point, I talked about a favorite new species from 2009 named psychedelica. Here’s the background, from my previous post on the discovery:

Once again, science makes my day. Researchers have discovered a wonderful new fish in shallow water off the Indonesian island of Ambon, much visited by great naturalists of the past including Alfred Russel Wallace. And this one just makes you want to keep looking and looking, even in the same places everybody else has looked before, because Mother Nature is such a relentless joker.

University of Washington scientist Ted Pietsch has dubbed the discovery Histiophryne psychedelica because, well, just look at that face. Or consider its swimming behavior, which also suggests that it has been dabbling in mind-altering drugs. It doesn’t so much

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, New Species Discoveries, Species Seekers Almanac, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dirty Donald Wants You to Believe in Clean Coal

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 10, 2016

coal-plant

During the course of his rambling, belligerent, bullying remarks in last night’s debate, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump at one point remarked, “There is a thing called clean coal.”

This is like asserting that Donald is an honest businessman, a good husband, and a true friend of African-Americans, Mexicans, and women.  Anyway, It reminded me of a piece I wrote in 2008 about the origins of the shady myth of clean coal, and why there is, in fact, no such thing:

You have to hand it to the folks at R&R Partners. They’re the clever advertising agency that made its name luring legions of suckers to Las Vegas with an ad campaign built on the slogan “What happens here, stays here.” But R&R has now topped itself with its current ad campaign pairing two of the least compatible words in the English language: “Clean Coal.”

“Clean” is not a word that normally leaps to mind for a commodity some spoilsports associate with unsafe mines, mountaintop removal, acid rain, black lung, lung cancer, asthma, mercury contamination, and, of course, global warming. And yet the phrase “clean coal” now routinely turns up in political discourse, almost as if it were a reality.

The ads created by R&R tout coal as “an American resource.” In one Vegas-inflected version, Kool and the Gang sing “Ya-HOO!” as an electric wire gets plugged into Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Blog Business, Environmental Issues, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Animal Music Monday: Baby Elephant Walk

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 4, 2016

This song was an unlikely pop hit from the early 1960s, by Henry Mancini.  He wrote it for the 1962 Howard Hawks film “Hatari!” about the adventurous characters who made a living then catching elephants, rhinos, and other African wildlife to stock zoos.  These days we would call that line of work “dubious” or even “criminal.” But those were different times.

Hawks had filmed an impromptu scene of the Martinelli character leading three baby elephants to a watering hole.  But he didn’t know what to do with it.  Before giving up on it, Hawks came to Mancini and said, “Take a look and let me know if you have any ideas.”

Mancini later wrote:

“So I looked at the scene several times  and still thought it was wonderful. As the little elephants went down to the water, there was a shot of them from behind. Their little backsides were

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Funny Business, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Clearcutting Europe’s Last Virgin Forests (& Calling it “Green”)

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 1, 2016

One of the European brown bears that roam Romania's Carpathian Mountains. (Photo: Jamie Lamb/Getty Images)

One of the European brown bears that roam Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. (Photo: Jamie Lamb/Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

We tend to imagine that illegal logging mostly targets tropical forests in the Amazon, Southeast Asia, and other remote and poorly regulated regions, not in our own backyards. For people who pay attention to such things, there’s comfort in the idea that buying only Forest Stewardship Council–certified lumber keeps us free of complicity in that sort of criminal destruction of woodland habitat.

The latest undercover work by the Environmental Investigation Agency focuses on Europe and undermines both those assumptions. It’s a significant embarrassment for the FSC, which until last week was putting its seal of sustainability on timber said to be illegally harvested from Europe’s last

 A clear cut forest in Romania. (Photo: Environmental Investigation Agency)


A clearcut forest in Romania. (Photo: Environmental Investigation Agency)

surviving virgin forests, in the Carpathian Mountains, and from national parks and other protected areas in Romania. Those habitats were for many years the only refuge in Europe for bears, wolves, lynx, and other species—and they have played a major part in the recent continent-wide rewilding of Europe.

The FSC’s decision to suspend its certification of the Austrian logging company Holzindustrie Schweighofer comes eight months after the U.K.-based EIA published its initial report, Stealing the Last Forest, alleging extensive ties between the company and illegal logging and corruption in Romania. It’s also more than a year after the release of an EIA video showing a company executive offering to accept illegal timber from an undercover investigator posing as an American investor in Romanian forests.

FSC announced that it is also suspending Quality Austria, the auditing body that was supposed to have done due diligence on Schweighofer’s operations. Both suspensions are temporary,

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

House of Lost Worlds a “Masterful and Engaging” book

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 5, 2016

Triceratops by O.C. Marsh.

Triceratops by O.C. Marsh.

Great article by Bruce Fellman about visiting the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and, o.k., also about my “masterful and engaging” book about the Peabody, “House of Lost Worlds”:

Almost 150 years ago—October 22, 1866, to be exact—the fabulously wealthy Massachusetts-born financier and philanthropist George Peabody announced that, because he’d become convinced “of the importance of the natural sciences,” he was committed to giving Yale University $150,000 for “the foundation and maintenance of a MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY.” No doubt his favorite nephew, the up-and-coming vertebrate paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, had more than a little to do with fostering his uncle’s munificence—Peabody, after all, had already bankrolled O.C.’s Yale education and start as a scientist—and no sooner had the gift been announced than Marsh began spearheading an effort to assemble a collection that would “be as extensive,” he said, as those in Berlin and any of the science capitals of the world. A building to house the stuff would come later.

Uncle George, who died in 1869, never got to see the museum that his generosity, “wholely without parallel,” according to Queen Victoria, would eventually make possible, but last week

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Discovering Dinosaurs (and Much More)

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 15, 2016

anchiornishuxley on wing

The first depiction of a dinosaur feather-by-feather in its natural colors.

Matt Shipman published an interview this week about my new book House of Lost Worlds: Dinosaur, Dynasties, and the Story of Life on Earth.  Here’s Shipman’s opening:

I first visited the Peabody Museum of Natural History in the company of hundreds of science writers. The museum was hosting a social event for the annual conference of the National Association of Science Writers, which gave me the opportunity to explore its exhibits in the company of people who were exceptionally well-informed and gifted storytellers. It was the best possible introduction.

I visited again a few years later, this time in the company of family and friends. The enthusiasm our kids showed for the exhibits was contagious, as was my friend Jeff’s passion for discussing anything related to geology. I could have spent all day there. The Peabody, in my limited experience, is just that kind of place.

So, when I saw that Richard Conniff had written a book about the Peabody, House of Lost Worlds, I wanted to read it. And I had questions.

How do you assemble a coherent narrative based on the wildly diverse research done by hundreds of people over more than a century? How do you decide what to focus on? How do you decide what to leave out?

Conniff recently took the time to answer some of my questions, ranging from the characters he left out of the book to the future of natural history museums.

Communication Breakdown: You attended Yale as an undergrad. Did you spend much time at the Peabody while you were a student?

Richard Conniff: I was an English major, and Science Hill was largely foreign territory—except for the Peabody Museum. But I realize now that I was missing the real story, both as an undergraduate and during repeated visits as an adult (often with my kids). I gawped at the dinosaurs, like everybody else. But I had no idea that T.H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” thought the horse fossils were important enough to spend five days at the museum working through them with paleontologist O.C. Marsh, or that Darwin himself thought

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Risky Business: Releasing A Live Cougar from a Trap

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 1, 2016

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Want More Crab and Lobster? Go Fish for Lost Gear

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 29, 2016

A boat filled with recovered crab pots. (Photo: CCRM/VIMS)

A boat filled with recovered crab pots. (Photo: CCRM/VIMS)

Chesapeake Bay watermen took it hard in 2008, when their blue crab industry was officially declared a commercial failure. The blue crabs are to the Chesapeake what lobsters are to Maine, not just a major contributor to the economy but also the object of a venerable waterman culture, based on crab pots in warmer weather and dredging in winter.

Faced with decline of this iconic industry, Virginia opted to shut down the winter crab harvest in its waters. Scientific studies had shown that it dredged up a disproportionately large number of reproductive females, meaning fewer crabs to catch in future years. The crabbers were skeptical, at best, when the state offered to put them back to work during the winter retrieving derelict and abandoned crab pots. Pulling up empty crab pots in winter is nobody’s idea of a good time.

But the pots weren’t empty, “and that’s the headline,” said Kirk Havens, a biologist at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). In the middle of winter, the pots were loaded with Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Bitch.” A Poem.

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 27, 2015

Just belatedly read this in The New Yorker.  It’s by Craig Raine, and so good I thought it worth sharing here.  Hilarious to see idiots on Twitter denouncing Raine as a misogynist.  It’s a poem about a dog. Yes. That kind of bitch.

This Weimaraner in spandex,

tight on the deep chest,

webbed at the tiny waist.

 

The drips and drabs of her dugs:

ten, a tapering wedge,

narrowed toward the back legs.

Wish I could show you the whole poem here, but click on over to The New Yorker and  take the time to enjoy it there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Leopard Stalks Steenbok at Kruger

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 19, 2015

Turn off the sound on this one.  Too much microphone wind.  Or just don’t watch if you are a Friend of Bambi.

Posted in Food & Drink, Kill or Be Killed, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »