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 ‘music’

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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Posted in Funny Business, Sex & Reproduction | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Animal Music Monday: “Cantus Arcticus”

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 6, 2016

This is a good one to listen to at dawn, with your coffee. It’s also known as “Concerto for Birds and Orchestra.”  It’s a classical piece, about 16 minutes long.  Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara wrote it in 1972. It features the calling of birds that Rautavaara taped around the Arctic Circle and in the marshlands Read the rest of this entry »

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

Animal Music Monday: “We Like the Zoo (‘Cause We’re Animals Too)”

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 16, 2016

A lot of people are turned off by zoos these days, because of that captivity thing.  This song skips happily past that whole debate, and instead plays on zoos as the place where city and suburban kids often feel their first connection with the animal world.  The writer is Walter Martin, bassist and organist with The Walkmen, and father of two young girls. Here he’s on his first solo album, from 2014. The singer is Matt Berninger, frontman for The Nationals.

Here’s Martin’s explanation:  “‘We Like The Zoo (‘Cause We’re Animals Too)’ is my tribute to Read the rest of this entry »

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Animal Music Monday: “Piggies”

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 9, 2016

George Harrison wrote the original “Piggies” for The Beatles White Album, released on November 22, 1968.  But I ran across this interesting instrumental cover from 2015 on YouTube.  If the tune were not so familiar, you might mistake it for a pretty bit of folk music from the early baroque era:

I asked a musician friend to comment.  He performs baroque and Renaissance music and, as it happened, had never heard the original Beatles tune. So he listened with an unbiased ear:

“This track started (and concluded, as well) as a completely convincing piece of Italian or Iberian music from the 17th century, in the spirit of Ucellini or Merula or dozens of others. Other than a few goofy chords in the bridge, there is little to give away that it is anything else. Unfortunately, it devolves in the middle section to a more diffuse “pan-Baroque” feel; just kind of a tacky pastiche. But aside from that, a pretty convincing articulation that “popular” music is kind of timeless and has been built on the same idioms and practices for centuries.”

Harrison intended the song as a harmless satire on the grubby, self-serving ways of the rich. According to Song Facts, he originally wrote one verse that was dropped from the final recording but resonates in a post-2008 world:

Everywhere there’s lots of piggies playing piggie pranks
You can see them on their trotters
At the piggy banks
Paying piggy thanks
To thee pig brother.”

The song produced one appalling response: Though it’s better known that  Read the rest of this entry »

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Animal Music Monday: Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 2, 2016

This lively little tune by the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) is widely known as “The Minute Waltz” (meaning small waltz, though commonly pronounced to suggest that Chopin meant it to be played that fast).  Chopin himself named it Valse du Petit Chien, “Waltz of the little dog.”

Here’s the story.  He was living in the 1840s with the French author and feminist George Sand (Amandine Aurore Lucille Dupin). They were supposedly sitting around one time when her dog, Marquis, began to run in circles, chasing his tail.  Sand then challenged Chopin Read the rest of this entry »

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When Do Animals Feel the Beat?

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 25, 2014

Frogs Playing Musical Instruments

When researchers reported early this year that they had managed to get captive bonobo apes to pick up a beat and play along briefly on a drum, it was merely the latest entry in what has begun to look like a multi-species musical extravaganza. Just in the past year or so, scientists have given us a California sea lion bobbing its head to Earth Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” and a chimpanzee in Japan spontaneously playing a piano keyboard in time with a simple beat. Before that, a study reported that romantically-inclined mosquitoes harmonize the whining of their wingbeats. Think: The Animals, Part II.

The study of animal musicality, and ours, goes back at least to Charles Darwin. He noted that rhythm is everywhere in the biological world, from the beating of hearts to the synchronized flashing of fireflies, leading naturally, he thought, to the rise of music. Scientific interest in music began to increase with the discovery of whale songs in the 1960s, and has grown dramatically in this century, thanks partly to new imaging technologies for viewing how the brains of various species respond to music.

Some scientists believe we would see musicality in the animal world more often if we looked more carefully. For instance, Read the rest of this entry »

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