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)

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Posts Tagged ‘malaria’

Sorry, Right-Wing Hacks: Zika’s No Reason for a DDT Comeback

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 9, 2016

Osprey coming home on the Connecticut River (Photo: Kris Rowe)

Osprey coming home on the Connecticut River (Photo: Kris Rowe)

by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com

In New England, where I live, this is the time of year when ospreys take their last turn on the waterways before heading south. They’ve mated, reared their young, and seen their fledglings take wing and begin to hunt for themselves. If you are lucky and know your local watering holes, you can still sometimes see them plunging out of the sky and carrying home blood-spangled fish in their talons. It is one of the great spectacles of summer.

But only for a little while longer. Soon the ospreys will migrate 2,500 miles or more, down to the Caribbean or the northeastern coast of South America, where males and females will overwinter separately. They’ll return in March, find their old nest mate (they’re faithful to mates and nest sites, more or less), and begin the ritual once again.

Carson-w-book-1-340The resurgence of ospreys from near extinction in the 1970s to their modern abundance always makes me think with gratitude of Rachel Carson and the demise of DDT as a standard tool of mosquito control in this country. Her book Silent Spring, published in 1962, first alerted Americans to the risky business of spraying the countryside with as much as 80 million pounds of DDT, an untested chemical, in a single year. One effect of DDT, scientists were demonstrating, was the fatal thinning of the eggshells of ospreys, eagles, peregrine falcons, brown pelicans, and other species. The eggs collapsed under the weight of the nesting parent, and generations were lost. As a result, the osprey population in my home territory, the lower Connecticut River Valley, plummeted from 200 nesting pairs to just two by the early 1970s. The same thing happened to ospreys and other species nationwide. Then the Nixon administration banned most uses of DDT in this country, and wildlife slowly began to recover.

This year, though, my gratitude to Carson, and my pleasure in ospreys, is complicated by the political response to the devastating birth defects and deaths from mosquito-borne Zika virus, along with the persistent effects of mosquito-borne West Nile virus, which has killed

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Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

No, Rachel Carson Was Not a Mass Murderer

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.

Carson-w-book-1-340It’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: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Revolution in the Ways We Live and Die

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 8, 2010

One night in 1877, in a squalid port city on the southeastern coast of China, a Scottish doctor named Patrick Manson performed a small experiment that would soon revolutionize the ways we live and die.  What was his subject?

1.  A dog.

2.  A mosquito.

3.  A human being.

4.  A laboratory rat.

And the answer is:

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Posted in The Species Seekers Quiz, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »