April 21st, 2013
September 25th, 2012
Natalie Angier on army ants and their parasites:
[Wherever...] there are army ants out on a hunting raid, peckish antbirds are almost sure to follow.
The birds are not foolish enough to try to eat them: Army ants are fiercely mandibled and militantly cohesive. Instead, they hope to skim off a percentage of the ants' labor, by snatching up any grasshoppers, beetles, spiders or small lizards that may jump to the side in a frantic attempt to elude the oncoming avalanche of predatory ants.
It's a gleeful reversal of the conventional notion of parasites as little, ticky things that plague large, poorly dressed hosts. Here the big vertebrates are the parasites, freeloading off insects a fraction of their size. [...]
Fun and frightening as the army ants are, the real stars are the birds. Angier explains that the antbirds' behaviour is in flux. Over time, as the populations of the various species of antbird fluctuate, scientists are observing how species are changing their behaviour in order to take advantage of the opportunities that open up. Fascinating stuff.
[Via The Awl]
June 25th, 2012
Why Aren't Cities Littered With Dead Pigeons? It turns out that the answer, in part, is … turtles.
Yes, there's a video. A deeply unsettling video, the memory of which is likely to keep me from getting to sleep tonight.
April 17th, 2012
This Past Imperfect post about Closing the Pigeon Gap is a fascinating look at how 19th century continental powers made use of networks of carrier pigeons in wartime, and how the British responded to the perceived threat of a Pigeon Gap developing. All good stuff.
And then there's this one passage that reads like a scene from a discarded Blackadder Goes Forth script, recounting a description by Lieutenant Alan Goring of a sticky moment during the Passchendaele offensive of 1917:
[...] I was left with just a handful of men, all that was left out of those three platoons…. We had two pigeons in a basket, but the trouble was that the wretched birds had got soaked when the platoon floundered into the flooded ground. We tried to dry one of them off as best we could, and I wrote a message, attached it to its leg, and sent it off.
To our absolute horror, the bird was so wet that it just flapped into the air and then came straight down again, and started actually walking towards the German line. Well, if that message had got into the Germans' hands, they would have known that we were on our own and we'd have been in real trouble. So we had to try to shoot the pigeon before he got there. A revolver was no good. We had to use rifles, and there we were, all of us, rifles trained over the edge of this muddy breastwork trying to shoot this bird scrambling about in the mud. It hardly presented a target at all.
October 9th, 2010
The rooster problem isn't going to go away anytime soon. [...]
April 12th, 2010
An acrobatic display of passion proved too much for a pair of eagles engaged in a mating dance over Alaska's Prince William Sound. [...]
Be sure to follow the link and scroll down to the second photo of a dazed, post-coital and thoroughly confused female eagle. Poor thing.
[Via James Nicoll]
September 7th, 2009
Richard Barnes: Murmur.
I don't think his images of starlings in flight would be half as sinister in colour. Nice work.
August 26th, 2009
After years spent hunting for the buried remains of prehistoric animals, a Canadian paleontologist now plans to manipulate chicken embryos to show he can create a dinosaur. Hans Larsson, the Canada Research Chair in Macro Evolution at Montreal's McGill University, said he aims to develop dinosaur traits that disappeared millions of years ago in birds. Larsson believes by flipping certain genetic levers during a chicken embryo's development, he can reproduce the dinosaur anatomy, he told AFP in an interview.
[Via James Nicoll]
December 13th, 2008
The gallery of this year's winners of the National Geographic Traveler's Photo Contest contains some gems.
As the gallery is done in Flash I can't link directly to my favourite: the second photograph, "Great Egret with Nesting Material" by Daniel Cedras.
November 10th, 2008
The Perroquet project:
Born out of a lifelong fascination with science photography and nature documentaries, Parroquet showcases a body of work by fashion photographer SÃ¸lve SundsbÃ¸, comprising eight film shorts and a selection of photographs. Keen to produce imagery that didn't fall into the traditional genres of photography, this project's central focus is the parroquet, a type of small, slender, long-tailed parrot. This particular subject matter couldn't be more removed from SundsbÃ¸'s lavish editorial spreads and striking campaign imagery, although his reasons for choosing this particular species do, in a way, relate to fashion. Possessing almost sartorial qualities, it was the bird's trademark vibrant plumage that piqued the photographer's interest. SundsbÃ¸ looks to this as fashion on an evolutionary scale: compared to the fast-paced, demanding nature of the fashion calendar and the many 'looks' each season produces, this creature's stunning 'outfit' has taken centuries to develop. [...]
I wasn't all that taken with the films, but the still images are startlingly colourful and quite beautiful.
[Via The Long Now Blog]