Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re a male Lissopimpla excelsa wasp in the prime of your reproductive life. You’ve been buzzing about over the local Australian flora for the better part of the morning looking to make contact with a female who’s “a bit of a go-er” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more). Suddenly just off to your right you notice an attractive possible candidate for a bit of intimate ichneumon interaction. Making your approach you clearly perceive the scent of a receptive female L. excelsa. However upon making contact, you notice a complete lack of movement on your partner’s part, but as no resistance is perceived, you get on with business.
The assignation completed, you make a quick exit from your coital companion, curiously finding the parts of your body that made contact with the lithesome but curiously docile lass covered in a fine powdery substance. Sad to say, my horny hymenopteran friend, but you have been duped by one of the Cryptostylis genus of orchids that have evolved to make you and your fellow L. excelsa think them to be females of your species in order to spread their pollen between their own kind. Indeed, if this same experience has not already happened to you before, it likely will again happen in your future. After all, four different members of the Cryptostylis genus are counting on you to be so deceived, and would that you could read in textbooks the common name given to you by entomologists, Orchid Dupe Wasp, you would already know this. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
When it comes to states, few are more difficult to approach from a natural history perspective than California. Its long, narrow shape combined with a Pacific Ocean-facing coastline running the entire length of one side join with a variety of eco-regions that range from desert to sub-alpine to create a level of diversity that’s seen in almost no other U.S. or Mexican state, or Canadian province. Indeed, it’s no wonder that California is the only U.S. state to have an entire series of books running to over one hundred volumes solely dedicated to the various facets of its own natural history. The official California bird list alone totals 662 species – the highest number of any U.S. state. Keep reading…
A friend of mine once asked “why don’t people watch insects the same way they watch birds?” It’s a fair question. After all, many insects – such as butterflies and a good many beetles – are distinctively patterned or colored in such a way that an amateur could learn to identify them on sight – and in truth, butterfly watching does indeed have a certain number of devotees. But then as I began to explain to him that while there are a “manageable” variety of birds to be seen most regions, the number of insect species found in similarly sized areas would be positively bewildering. Add to this the fact that many insects are cryptic in their habits, and that depending on the family – or even the order in some cases – a good number are only minimally described or for that matter even distinguishable from one another by anyone with less than an entomology degree, and the answer becomes obvious. Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
The first time I heard of The Creation Museum, I thought someone was having me on. After all, who would possibly create an entire facility, much less something they would call a museum, dedicated to the idea that the creation story (well, stories, actually) recounted in the Book of Genesis was literally correct?
Camera traps are now so integral in biology field research that it’s important for all naturalists to get at least a basic understanding of how they work and what they can show about animal behavior – and even plants (time-lapse is a setting some of these cameras can also record) – when they are not under stress from a human observer.
There are times when I look at Bebe, the little Havanese female with whom we share our home, and wonder “just what is it that makes you the same species as the neighbor’s Shiba Inu or the Collie further down the street?” And for that matter, how is it possible that a ten pound ball of fur, affection, and sleepiness can be even remotely related to the Grey Wolf?
Ordinarily, I tend to avoid birding memoirs with approximately the same effort as I avoid elective root canals. For while I am an avid bird watcher myself, I have never quite found it all that interesting to read about other people’s birding adventures – particularly when they’re trying to break some sort of record. So when an advance reading copy of Neil Hayward’s Lost Among the Birds; Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year recently arrived on my desk from Bloomsbury, as you might imagine, I was less than excited about it.
I was in my late thirties when I saw my first fireflies during a visit to the midwest. My companions, all very well acquainted with these crepuscular wonders, laughed heartily at both my initial shock and then rapt amazement at the other-worldly glow they produced as they hung in the warm evening air.
After twenty-five years any reliable breeding bird atlas is bound to require updating if it is to present an accurate picture of the given geographic region’s reproducing avifauna. Thus, editors Rodewald, Shumar, Boone, Slager, and McCormac set out to bring the original Atlas of Breeding bird in Ohio up to date with the most recent information available about the state’s birdlife – the result being the newly released Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio from Penn State Press.
Unlike James Taylor, I will soon be going to California not only in my mind but in an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737. I’ll be there for a week to attend to some business for Celestron in Los Angeles and to speak at the San Diego Bird Festival. Thus in keeping with my preferred practice of taking along a book or two with relevance to my destination, I’m planning to pack copies of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of California by Alvaro Jaramillo and the recently published third edition of Insects of the L.A. Basin by Charles L. Hogue and James N. Hogue in my shoulder bag.
The Well-equipped Naturalist
For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
For those who, like me, place great value in Oxford University Press’ brilliant Very Short Introductions volumes not only for the consistently high quality of the information they contain but also for their perfectly pocketable size (you’ll never find my beloved old Harris tweed sport coat lacking one in its lower left-hand pocket), I am happy to report that 2016 will see a number of new natural history related titles added to the series’ expanding roster.
Those who enjoyed Mark Witton’s brilliant book Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy will be no doubt interested to learn – if they didn’t know it already – that he gave a fascinating interview to Liz Martin of Palaeocast. Of course, if you haven’t yet read his book I most heartily encourage you to listen to the interview at your earliest convenience, but be warned – it will have you making a bee line for your nearest book shop to secure a copy of Pterosaurs for yourself.