Beetle byte (4 October 2013 edition)

Hey, I’ve kept this up for a few weeks in a row!

Here are the now-regular (hopefully to stay that way… we’ll see how it goes) half-dozen Coleopteran mandible dainties.

You’re checking your smartphone too much!

The take-home, Ballard says, is that being connected isn’t always entirely a bad thing. “The benefits are only sustainable, however, when these tools are used in ways that are a good fit for each individual’s needs, skills and preferences.


Although your iPhone might be just fine

One option would be that rather than keeping the virtual and the natural worlds separate — turning off our machines, taking e-sabbaticals, or undergoing digital detoxes, in order to connect with nature — we think about them all as integrated elements of a single life in a single world. There is already a growing sense in the wired community that connections with the natural world are vital to digital well-being, both now and in the future. This same community needs to pay attention to biophilia and to its implementation in biophilic design. With the help of biophilic insights, we can connect the planet beneath our feet with the planet inside our machines.


Then again…

In school, and in other settings where adults are in charge, they make decisions for children and solve children’s problems. In play, children make their own decisions and solve their own problems. In adult-directed settings, children are weak and vulnerable. In play, they are strong and powerful. The play world is the child’s practice world for being an adult. We think of play as childish, but to the child, play is the experience of being like an adult: being self-controlled and responsible. To the degree that we take away play, we deprive children of the ability to practise adulthood, and we create people who will go through life with a sense of dependence and victimisation, a sense that there is some authority out there who is supposed to tell them what to do and solve their problems. That is not a healthy way to live.


One very sad place with no internet and minimal time for play

Before I talk about what I learned, I’d like to quickly say hi to whomever from the North Korean government is reading this. Only the highest-level officials have access to the internet in North Korea, and I learned that the job of one of them is to scour the internet for anything written about North Korea and keep tabs on what the foreign press is saying. So hi, and haha you can’t get me cause I’m back home now and I can say all the things I wasn’t allowed to say when I was in your country.

Now that I’ve jinxed myself to certain assassination, let’s get started—


Conservation and the fact that everyone is a taxonomist

Without even realizing it, we have traded a view of ourselves as living beings in a living world for a view of ourselves as consumers in a landscape of merchandise. We have unwittingly traded a facility with living things for a savant-like brand expertise that exchanges the language of the living world—the names of real plants and real animals—for a vocabulary of Tony the Tigers and Geico geckos. The world we live in, our simple reality, is the world of purchasable items. We have, without even trying, absolutely gotten what we’ve paid for. You might need a naturalist interpreter to help you make sense of things as you walk through the local forest, but you would never need such assistance when wandering through the mall.

Not surprisingly, we are also simultaneously trading the actual world of living things for a world filled instead with human-made products, with factories to build them, with stores to sell them, with homes to fill them with. While we’ve been busy shopping and the world’s diversity of human-made things has been increasing, the world’s wealth of living things has been dwindling.


Technology and nature swim with the sharks

Explore dozens of satellite tracks by selecting a species and individual shark…

These shark satellite tracks are part of an ongoing research project by RJD scientists to better understand the migratory routes and residency patterns of Tiger, Hammerhead, and Bull sharks in the subtropical Atlantic.


Bonus byte: Tubas

Beetle byte (27 September 2013 edition)

It’s been a great week of (mainly sunny and crisp) autumn fieldwork for me, so I haven’t worked up another blog post. I’ll try to get to that soon as well. But for now here are a few links that I found to be interesting/amusing/useful on the web this week.

Some thoughts to consider on GMOs

On 8 August 2013, vandals destroyed a Philippine “Golden Rice” field trial. Officials and staff of the Philippine Department of Agriculture that conduct rice tests for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) had gathered for a peaceful dialogue. They were taken by surprise when protesters invaded the compound, overwhelmed police and village security, and trampled the rice. Billed as an uprising of farmers, the destruction was actually carried out by protesters trucked in overnight in a dozen jeepneys.


I’m a big fan of the Felidae

On cold winter days, comfort-loving house cats of Nippon, Japan gather around charcoal braziers, snuggle under figure-silk quilts wrapped around their mistresses’ knees, or step into styling made-to-order garments. Once upon a time the Japanese ship’s cat was commonly classed as a member of the crew and might earn a rank higher than the cook.


My love of cats is tempered with deep respect

A young deer is the unfortunate star of a new viral video, as it was caught on film being killed by a cougar near Powell River, B.C.

Try to get this out of your head the next time you go for a relaxing nature hike.


My regular “not encouraging” link

The South African government said that 688 rhinos have been poached so far in 2013. There are still three months left in the year, but the number has already surpassed last year’s total of 668 slain rhinos.


Are you actually reading these links?

When we read on screen, the translucent surface holds the text at a remove from our fingers, displaying it under glass like an archaic specimen. This distance blunts our immersion in the words, causing us to regard them with irony even when we are enthusiastic about what they say. By making all events equally available (and equally distant), the screen engenders a simultaneity that nullifies the words’ ability to forge an alternative chronology or a summation of what the world is like. The screen’s imposition of historical simultaneity, in which events that occurred centuries apart appear side by side in undifferentiated sameness, is accentuated by the more agitated simultaneity of the multi-window experience. Whatever I may be looking at, I feel hectored by other screens that want my attention: email, Twitter, Facebook, newspapers, work-related sites.


The extensive impact of neonicotinoid pesticides

Widespread preemptive application of neonicotinoids (or any pesticide) represents a fundamental shift away from Integrated Pest Management, since chemicals are frequently applied before pest damage has occurred, and often in the absence of any current pest abundance data.

Beetle byte (20 September 2013 edition)

Just a few links to kick off your weekend.

Amazing bristlecone pines

I am not a fan of the desert. It seems unnecessarily brutal. Being a person is a huge disadvantage in the desert, where there is nothing interesting to do besides getting lost and dying.


Peer review: The more things change…

With an appropriate celebrity endorsement tweet too.


Speaking of tweeting your science:

Projects will be focused on specific species found in our region, from trees to beetles, to mushrooms and mammals. Each week, students will be tweeting facts, anecdotes, and observations about their study species (and some of these tweets should come directly from the field).


Don’t you wish that you had this job?

Last May, Google sent 13 camera-equipped researchers to capture the beauty of the Galapagos Islands, both on land and in the surrounding sea. Now, Google has unveiled the results: the newest addition to Street View is a tour of the islands Darwin made famous after he first visited them, 178 years ago this week.


Not encouraging:

Arkansas government figures showed, for example, that licensed collectors had removed more than half a million wild turtles from the state between 2004 and 2006; data from the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, airport showed that “more than 256,638 wild-caught adult turtles” were exported to Asia between 2002 and 2005. Overall, the experts estimated, the total trade in U.S. turtles likely added up to “thousands of tons per year.” After mystifying trips halfway around the world, most of the animals probably ended up in the stomachs of Chinese diners.


Neologisms and ephemerality (or lack thereof?)

apols, A/W (“autumn/winter”), babymoon, balayage (“a technique for highlighting hair”), bitcoin, blondie (small cake), buzzworthy, BYOD (“bring your own device”), cake pop, chandelier earring, child’s pose (yoga), click and collect, dad dancing, dappy, derp, digital detox, double denim, emoji, fauxhawk, FIL (“father-in-law”), flatform (shoe), FOMO (“Fear Of Missing Out”), food baby (“a protruding stomach caused by eating a large quantity of food”), geek chic, girl crush, grats, guac, hackerspace, Internet of things, jorts, LDR, me time, michelada (“drink made with beer, lime juice…”), MOOC, Nordic noir, omnishambles, pear cider[see comment below], phablet, pixie cut, prep (v. “prepare”), selfie, space tourism, squee, srsly, street food, TL;DR, trolly dash (UK supermarket promotion), twerk, unlike (v.), vom (“vomit”)

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