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    Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape from Contagion: “Ending Epidemics is an important book, deeply and lovingly researched, written with precision and elegance, a sweeping story of centuries of human battle with infectious disease. Conniff is a brilliant historian with a jeweler’s eye for detail. I think the book is a masterpiece.” Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer

    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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Posts Tagged ‘hibernation’

The Bizarre Food Grizzlies Use to Fatten Up for Winter

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 16, 2013

(Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

My latest for TakePart:

Right about now, the grizzlies of Yellowstone National Park are starting to think about hibernation. This week or next, as food becomes scarce, they’ll head up into the mountains and hunker down in dens under rocks and trees. They’ll cut their metabolic rate in half, drop their heart rate down to about 18 beats a minute, and take a breath only once every 45 seconds. And they’ll stay like that until springtime.

Many of the park’s bears will be getting by for the winter largely on the energy built up from gorging on moths. That’s right: The largest and most ferocious predator in North America eats fluttery little army cutworm moths (Euxoa auxiliaris).

A grizzly researcher first discovered this strange behavior in 1952. But nobody paid much attention until the mid-1980s, when a radio-collared grizzly bear wandered up to the steep rocky slopes, and researchers started to wonder just what it was doing there.

A couple of amateur naturalists were at the time spending half of every year in the field watching grizzly bears, and they did the first real study of moth-eating behavior. I met Steve and Marilyn French back then and spent some time wandering with them in grizzly habitat, as they studied how grizzlies adapted to every possible food source in their environment, including the moths.

Those kinds of details mattered then because grizzlies had been listed as a threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted them in 2007, under pressure from politicians in Wyoming. But a federal judge reinstated protection two years later, and grizzly diet was a critical factor. He noted that the bears depended on nuts from whitebark pine trees, a species that had sharply declined because of tree-killing beetles. Environmental groups are now suing to block the continued FWS effort to delist the species, which could happen as soon as next year. Fewer than 1,000 individual grizzlies survive in the lower 48 states, down from 50,000 in the 19th century.

In the course of their research, Steve and Marilyn French documented how some bears Read the rest of this entry »

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