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Animals Once Thought Lost, Found Again

I can’t think of a happier note for a Christmas Day post than the re-discovery of not one, but two species of animals once thought extinct.

In Australia, there’s the crest-tailed mulgara, a small carnivorous marsupial long thought extinct. It has recently been re-discovered in Sturt National Park, which is located near the center of Australia. Next year, the park had already been planning on starting to eradicate imported predators like rabbits and cats; this program now benefits from the new discovery’s extra energy jolt.

Meanwhile, almost 5,000 miles away, the Oriental blue clearwing, a blue-and-white clearwing moth that pretends to be a bee has been re-discovered in the Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia.

“You think about moths and you envision a grey, hairy insect that is attracted to light,” said Marta Skowron Volponi, a Ph.D. student at the University of Gdansk, co-founder of the ClearWing Foundation for Biodiversity and lead author of the paper. “But this  is dramatically different—it is beautiful, shiny blue in sunlight and it comes out during the day; and it is a master of disguise, mimicking bees on multiple levels and even hanging out with them.”

Among other things, these amazing re-discoveries show beyond a shadow of a doubt the importance of national parks. How many wonders might there be in these parks, hiding and waiting for the right time to emerge?


Racoons Having Hotter Saturday Night Than I Am

I have a huge backlog of things I want to post (sorry about the silence), but I thought I couldn’t do better than this little bit of urban wildlife from the Washington, D.C. blog, Popville: “Two very horny raccoons on our front porch who spent the better part of two hours making out and then forming a mini fight club with a third raccoon.”

There’s some debate in the article comments about whether, in fact, these are horny raccoons or just a playful family unit of raccoons, and whether they’re cute or terrifying, but whatever they are, they’re entertaining, at least.

Life on the Edge

Recent research led by Newcastle University and Imperial College London shows that half the world’s forest habitat is now within 500m of a ‘forest edge’ due to the expansion of road networks, logging, agriculture and other human activity. Combining two of my favorite fields of study — spatial analysis and conservation — the researchers looked more deeply at those forest edges and discovered that 85% of species’ abundances are affected, either positively or negatively, by forest edges.

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Society Cats

It’s been a really hectic week at work, and so much has happened in the world of animals! I just haven’t had a moment to write about it.

One really interesting study I happened across examines the social lives of cougars — specifically, the fact that they have a social life. Scientists had long thought of cougars as “solitary, robotic killing machines,” only to recently discover that female cougars, at any rate, have quite strong social bonds. They will spend a few days in each others’ company, and will even give each other access to their kill sites, sharing meals.

I had the amazing opportunity to stay at Dulini, a safari camp in South Africa a few years ago, and a video they posted recently reminded me of this study.


In this case, it’s a courting leopard couple sharing a meal — something that is, supposedly, never done.

Video and new technologies may be forcing us to re-evaluate this behavior that non-social cats theoretically never indulge in. Is it possible that many of the large cats enjoy social bonds, and all the independence of cats has largely been a figment of our own imaginations?

Well, this is disturbing. The Guardian reports that over the past 25 years, 75% of all flying insects in German nature reserves have disappeared. While it’s not certain if this finding holds true worldwide, it has caused a number of scientists to reflect, “you know, it’s been a long time since my windshield was covered in bug splatters.”

In fact, we may not even need this book anymore: That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to the Insects of North America. That’s a real shame, not only because it’s incredible that anyone wrote that book, but also because the entire ecosystem depends on insects for food and pollination.

For a lengthier discussion of the same German study (and, in my opinion, a better graphic on the insect population decrease), you may also be interested in this Science Magazine article. Who knew I would one day be getting all misty-eyed for bug splatter?

If You’re Touching a Wild Animal, Something’s Wrong

Stories like this recent one from The Guardian drive me nuts. The article describes the practice of providing wild animals for tourists’ selfies in the Amazon, and what drives me crazy about the whole thing is that the industry preys, not only on the hapless, half-drugged, beaten-up animals (though that’s bad enough), but also on the tourists.

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Earth Flattens Just A Bit More

It’s hard to imagine not being mildly thrilled at the idea of some wild-looking nudibranches washing up on the shores of the U.S., but the news isn’t all neon colors and new waving tentacles: these new arrivals are survivors of the 2011 Japanese tsunami, and they arrive as castaways. The nudibranches, sea slugs, and other creatures survived the tsunami’s wreckage by floating on plastic rafts over many thousands of miles and several generations, and they have no natural predators in their new homes.

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I always think it’s a bit odd when scientists discover that animals have personality — something that most people who spend time around animals can tell you right off the bat. But, I suppose what they really mean is that scientists are quantifying personality, which is a bit different.

This article discusses a new study on guppies (yes, the small and admittedly rather silly-looking fish) and how much personality they have. It’s a lot, apparently, at least in regards to risk taking. Some fish would clearly be out riding motorcycles if they could, while others wish they had been given the opposable thumbs necessary to start a knitting club. It’s neat reading about the ways in which scientists are developing personality tests for animals, even if it’s been clear for a long time that yes, your cats Chocolate and Marshmallow really are completely different in every way possible.

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