strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff

  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books

    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)

  • Wall of the Dead

  • Categories

Posts Tagged ‘adaptation’

Confused Animals Look Around and Sing: “This Is Where We Used to Live”

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 18, 2018

by Richard Conniff/Yale Environment 360

A shift in home range by a handful of bird species along an obscure ridge in the Peruvian Andes might once have seemed like sleepy stuff, even to ecologists. Instead, it made headlines last month when researchers reported that the birds’ uphill push for cooler terrain has already resulted in population losses for most species and the probable extirpation of five species that were common at the top of the ridge just 33 years ago.

It was some of the strongest evidence yet for the long-standing prediction by scientists that climate change will lead — is leading now — to widespread loss of wildlife. University of British Columbia ecologist Ben Freeman and his co-authors summed up their findings with a chilling metaphor: Mountain birds, they wrote, are “riding an escalator to extinction.”

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, didn’t report any actual extinctions. The Cerro de

A cousin of the now-extinct Bramble Cay melomys. (Photo: Luke Leung/University of Queensland)

Pantiacolla rises to a maximum height of only 4,642 feet, and the birds that disappeared from the ridgetop persist on higher and larger mountains — in effect, on other escalators — elsewhere in the area. Reliable scientific evidence that climate change has caused actual extinctions is in fact scarce so far, despite projections by climate modelers that such extinctions are likely. The only known example is a marsupial called the Bramble Cay melomys, which vanished sometime after 2009 from a low-lying island off northern Australia, after sea level rise and extreme weather caused repeated inundation of its habitat.

But the new study from Peru lends support to the predictions being made by climate modelers. It also fits into a rapidly expanding body of evidence that plants and animals everywhere are on the move as they struggle to adjust to climate change. The ecological upheaval is “happening right now and it will almost certainly continue to happen,” says Freeman, lead author of the Peru study, and “there is an immediacy to something happening right before our eyes that’s different from a study saying, ‘this is what it’s going to be like in 2100.’”

When plants and animals move uphill, they can lose habitat, simply because mountains become smaller the higher you climb. A shift in range can also mean the loss of old partnerships, the introduction of Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Living at Extremes: Tootsies and Tardigrades

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 6, 2013

Emperor penguins trying not to talk about the weather (Photo: Glen Grant, U.S. Antarctic Program, National Science Foundation.)

Emperor penguins trying not to talk about the weather (Photo: Glen Grant, U.S. Antarctic Program, National Science Foundation.)

This is a piece I wrote a while back for The New York Times.  It’s a review of a children’s book, Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures, by Nicola Davies, and I thought you might enjoy it for the instances of strange behaviors (hers and theirs):


Published: March 11, 2007

In the course of any literary or journalistic career, all of us at one time or another write something that’s utter poop. But few dare to make that word the title of a book, as this writer-illustrator team did in their last, much-praised outing together, “Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable.”

This time around, they take on animals that have evolved to thrive in the most extreme conditions on Earth, from the “frogsicles” that get through the winter “frozen solid and brittle as glass” to the high-jumping click beetles that manage to survive a 2,000 G-force without passing out (the way wimpy humans do at five G’s).

The authors bring just the right note of whimsy and scientific accuracy to their task. Nicola Davies, a sometime zoologist, is a writer, producer and presenter of radio and television programs in Britain. On her British publisher’s Web site, she reveals that she keeps sheep and trims them with kitchen shears. Also that “I’m expert at wringing chickens’ necks,” and, oh dear, that “I used to study whales in Newfoundland dressed in nothing Read the rest of this entry »

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