Beetle byte (Friday the thirteenth! of September 2013 edition)

A small and easily digestible helping of a few links that I have enjoyed this week.

Mick Jaguar kills a caiman

On August 25, photographer Paul Donahue got a call: A large male jaguar had been spotted on the hunt in central Brazil’s Tres Irmãos River. Donahue, who tracks jaguar sightings for ecotourism operator Southwild in Mato Grosso, arrived at the scene to find an animal named Mick Jaguar hidden in thick grass, stalking a nearby group of caiman, a crocodile relative native to South America. “Over the next 30 to 40 minutes we watched the jaguar very slowly slink along in the direction of the yacaré,” he wrote in his field notes.


The British Medical Journal lets it rip

“I contacted Luke Tennent, a microbiologist in Canberra, and together we devised an experiment. He asked a colleague to break wind directly onto two Petri dishes from a distance of 5 centimetres, first fully clothed, then with his trousers down. Then he observed what happened.


Great grig photography

The first grig started calling around 10 pm. His call was a high-pitched but rather pleasant warble, somewhat akin to the ring of an old-fashioned telephone. It was coming from a tall hemlock, and I had no other option but to start climbing. Thankfully, grigs are not particularly skittish, and once I located the male I had no troubles getting close to him. I recorded his call and then quickly grabbed him.


Be very thankful that you’re not a fish

Using five antennae, the bobbit worm senses passing prey, snapping down on them with supremely muscled mouth parts, called a pharynx. It does this with such speed and strength that it can split a fish in two. And that, quite frankly, would be a merciful exit. If you survive initially, you get to find out what it’s like to be yanked into the worm’s burrow and into untold nightmares.


Ever heard of Hyder?

But what if Canada really had taken over the U.S. government in 1814?, I sometimes wonder. What would an America under tyrannical Canadian rule look like? More polite? Cheaper health care? Would we all have to call macaroni and cheese “Kraft dinner”? The best way to envision this nightmarish alternate-universe dystopia is to peek in on the quiet town of Hyder, Alaska.


Lemony Snicket, poetry critic… need I say more?

Maram al-Massri is a Syrian woman who now lives in the city of Paris, France. Carl Sandburg is an American man who doesn’t live anywhere, due to death.

Beetle byte (6 September 2013 edition)

Here is a snack-sized bite of links to things that I found interesting this week.

Good advice on wasps (across the pond, but applicable here too)

“Plagues” of “drunk and jobless” wasps are out in record numbers around the UK, according to apocalyptic headlines this week. While it may seem like that if you’ve dared to eat outside, it’s not a case of greater numbers – they’re on a par with the long-term average – but a sign that we’re experiencing more typical summer weather.


12 things not to do in national parks

In 2011 Photographer Ben Chase observed visitors walking within 50 feet of a brown bear in Grand Teton National Park.  When the bear got spooked and attempted to retreat, the ridiculous tourists yelled, “It’s leaving, go get it!” and gave chase.  Yosemite National Park has a long history of visitors getting close enough to let bears take food from their hands, one older story actually tells of a clueless tourist holding bacon in his mouth and encouraging the bear to take it.


What a great course this must have been!

For the first time in an estimated 60 years, a traditionally-made cottonwood dugout canoe was launched by Robert and Edie Frederick and UNBC students into the Nechako River which runs through Lheidli T’enneh territory. The vessel is one of two hand-made canoes crafted by UNBC students who recently completed a First Nations Studies course called FNST 298/301 Dakelth Culture: Making a Cottonwood Canoe — Ts’i, taught by Lheidli T’enneh Elders Robert Frederick and his wife, Edie.


Do you ‘believe’ in science?

Science is how we describe the natural world, and if you search the web for “what is science,” three words tend to come up more often than others: observation, experiment, and evidence. Observations and experiments may not be perfect, even at the limits of our technologies, and interpretations may be flawed, but it’s the evidence that supports, or doesn’t, an argument that is the most important.  And we choose to either accept it, or not.


Two cool things in combination – social behavior and epigenetics

We think of our bodies as stable biological structures that live in the world but are fundamentally separate from it. That we are unitary organisms in the world but passing through it. But what we’re learning from the molecular processes that actually keep our bodies running is that we’re far more fluid than we realize, and the world passes through us.


Wolves… amazing creatures

By studying what bears eat, and how wolves affect the behavior of other animals, the biologists found that the return of the wolves is helping to restore a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century — berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation.


Beetle byte (30 August 2013 edition)

During the week, I often run across interesting stories and links that I’d like to share. If I can maintain any discipline at this at all, I’ll try to post a small number (targeting about a half dozen a week, give or take) of these each Friday for your weekend reading.

Open Access Inaction

I’ve published this paper in a journal called Science and Public Policy – a conventional way of being read by other academics. Except that whatever baroque negotiations have taken place between the journal’s new publisher and the UCL library mean that, despite being a member staff at one of Europe’s largest universities, I don’t seem to have access to that journal. This piece of research, funded by British taxpayers, can’t even be read by me.


The Last Ride of Legendary Storm Chaser Tim Samaras

These were the mysteries Samaras was working to solve. The data he gathered were fed into the collaborative engine of scientific inquiry, where weather models attempt to quantify and weight the forces known to spawn tornadoes, so better predictions might be made and earlier warnings issued. Yet the brightest minds in the field were quickly learning that not everything in the natural world can be accounted for. They know that minuscule perturbations of the atmosphere can alter the course of events dramatically over time.

And perhaps that’s what is so maddening about what happened to Carl Young and Tim and Paul Samaras, for those who knew them and for those who survived. There is no simple explanation, no single factor. As unknowable as the chain of random events that give rise to tornadoes is, so too was the series of decisions that ended three lives.


Bumblebees of the Western United States (PDF)

Some of the best things in life are, indeed, free. (via @bslindgren)


Fossil resin (amber) shows evidence of past insect infestations (PDF)

We show that infestation results in a rapid (approx. 1 year) 13C enrichment of fresh lodgepole pine resins, in a pattern directly comparable with that observed in resins collected from uninfested trees subjected to water stress. Furthermore, resin isotopic values are shown to track both the progression of infestation and instances of recovery. These findings can be extended to fossil resins, including Miocene amber from the Dominican Republic and Late Cretaceous New Jersey amber, revealing similar carbon-isotopic patterns between visually clean ambers and those associated with the attack of wood-boring insects.


R.I.P. Seamus Heaney



A few of the many reasons that I love baseball:

1. Baseball is a sport in which you don’t run out of time, you run out of opportunities. Baseball doesn’t rely on massive bodily collisions or continual action. Baseball is all about suspense.

2. My dad used to take my mom, my sisters, and me to Calgary Cannons games when I was a kid. He would buy us each a hotdog, soda, and then ice cream cones for dessert. Dinner at the ballpark.

3. Winter is, alas, not my favorite season. Spring training, and then opening day, are the perfect markers of the end of snow and the beginning of sun.

4. There is nothing in the world like a lazy summer late-afternoon at the ballpark. And the crack of a bat.

5. Memories of my dad listening to baseball games on the radio in the evening. He is a San Francisco Giants fan and, if the weather was just right, he could pick up their broadcasts all they way up in Calgary. Of course, these days you can just listen on the internet (and I often do).

6. Speaking of that, baseball is the one sport that seems like it was completely made for radio. You can close your eyes while listening to a baseball broadcast and the entire game comes alive in your head. Try doing that with football, hockey, or basketball. This is particularly the case when listening to great play-by-play guys.

7. Baseball is the first professional sport that I remember watching live; watching Fernando Valenzuela pitch against the Montreal Expos at Dodger Stadium. And, being one excited little league kid, of course I brought my glove to the game.

8. Baseball has its own anthem, and everybody knows it by heart.

9. Baseball has many incredible stories.


AND, going into extra innings…


10. Baseball has deeply held traditions.

11. Baseball begets poetry.

12. Baseball has Yogi Berra.

Happy π Day!


(Note: If someone is thinking of baking me a π, here’s the preferred recipe.)