It was with no small amount of wholly unintentional irony that I began reading Mark Essig’s Lesser Beasts; A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig while eating a ham sandwich. Such is the ubiquity of pigs. Yet for all the many ways the lives of modern humans have and to this day continue to intersect with the domesticated version of Sus scrofa, the European Wild Boar, most of us – even those who count ourselves naturalists – give little, if indeed any, thought to the natural history of the pig. Just as we do with most of the other creatures both wild and domestic that have long lived in close proximity to us, we too often fail to perceive just how much or for how long pigs have played important roles in the collective life of our own species. Perhaps that is why I found Essig’s book so utterly engrossing; it not only brought to my attention a wealth of information previously unknown to me, it helped me to understand just what amazing creatures pigs are.
At least as intelligent as dogs, the pig has a history that has been intertwined with humans for thousands of years. However unlike dogs, pigs – as Essig explains – essentially self-domesticated. Finding the rubbish piles around human settlements an easy source of food, the omnivorous pigs became the first animal after dogs to become habituated to life around humans. Yet while the dog was to become a valued and trusted – even essential – member of the family, the pig was to variously assume the less pleasant roles of garbage disposal, food source, and pariah. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
Merriam Webster defines taxonomy as
1: the study of the general principles of scientific classification: systematics
2: classification; especially: orderly classification of plants and animals according to their presumed natural relationships
Many people, including a sizable portion of naturalists, might add a third definition:
3: the seemingly random attachment of names to plants and animals in a language no one speaks anymore; see also impenetrable, confusing Keep reading…
Not so very long ago, collecting the eggs of birds was one of the most common activities in the life of budding young naturalists. However with the passage of such foundational conservation legislation as the Lacey and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts – to say nothing of the increasing awareness among many naturalists themselves that all that collecting of eggs may be harming bird populations – the practice of amateur oölogy (the study of eggs) came to an abrupt halt in the early Twentieth Century. Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
The most scared I have ever been as the result of an encounter with another living creature involved a close call with a Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops asper) along a trail in Panama. Even after the encounter was over, I felt physically ill for most an hour. Yet even so, my fascination for this astonishingly beautiful as well as highly venomous viper grew as a result of the experience.
Building on the paradigm of a regional general natural history field guide that Kaufman originally originally established in the Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England, this second volume in the series takes up the flora and fauna of – as well as the geology, climate, and night sky as seen from – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Although the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum officially opened its doors to the public for the first time on 28 April 2015, the full history of this extraordinary new museum in fact goes back in time for more than a century and a half.
Of all the creatures exemplifying Batesian mimicry, few are better known to naturalists than hoverflies. Looking for all they’re worth like bees or wasps, these harmless and beautiful little members of the diptera are fascinating subjects of study.
Sometime during the night of May 14th, gWhiz released version 2.0 of the long dormant Peterson Birds – A Field Guide to Birds of North America app for Apple mobile devices. Optimized for iPhone 5 devices and requiring OS 8.0 or later, this extensive update to the app features a wide range of new features.
For most of us, the creatures we encounter in the field are objects of interest, study, or even affection, but when it comes to the moths in our closet, the silverfish under the sink, or the roaches in our cupboard, our feelings generally switch to irritation, disgust, and violence.
Now that – as my grandpa was fond of saying – the kitty is out of the burlap, I thought I should take a few paragraphs to explain my new forthcoming adventure. As some of you may have already learned, as of the first of March I will take up the position of product manager for sports optics with Celestron. Needless to say, I am absolutely delighted, as well as deeply honored, to have been offered this opportunity. However as it is a full-time position that will require a substantial amount of travel, the question has already been asked of me “what will become of The Well-read Naturalist.”
The Well-equipped Naturalist
I carry a bag when I’m in the field. I carry a bag when I’m running errands around town. I carry a bag more or less whenever I leave the house for anything more than to walk the dog or take my evening stroll. Ideally, so that I need not worry about being without some item of my essential kit as a result of switching between different bags for different activities, I very much prefer the bag I carry for all these diverse purposes to be the same bag.
Most every hunter or angler I ever met had every bit as deep an interest in one area of natural history of another as any other naturalist of my acquaintance. Indeed, were it not for such famous hunters and anglers of years past, we would not have some of the important collections in natural history museums that we do today.
While each episode of Palaeocast is a delightful sojourn in itself into the world of paleontology, I was particularly happy to discover that Episode 18: Trilobites devotes the better part of an hour to an interview with none other than Professor Richard Fortey of the Natural History Museum.