Bird Fact Friday: the Caracaras of Chile

Adapted from page 136 of Birds of Chile:

Caracas are primal falcons of the New World that walk and run confidently, and are often social and noisy. The Chimango Caracara is common in Central Chile, and lives in open, lightly wooded country, farmland, towns and dumps. They often live in groups– sometime these groups will consist of 100s of falcons. These birds typically perch on trees and posts, but rarely on wires. They are agile and aerobatic while flying. Their calls are varied screeches, screams, and mewing noises, often in a series. Juvenile falcons lack broad, dark tail band. 

A Chimango Caracara.

Mountain Caracaras live in Northern and Central Chile, and, as their name suggests, are frequently found in the mountains. But they also inhabit bogs, lakeshore, cliffs, and even around buildings. They live in small groups, but can also be found on their own. Their flight is strong and aerobatic, at times tumbling in updrafts. Their call is a rough, bleating rattle with hissing shrieks, heard infrequently. 

Next, there is the White-throated Caracara, found in South Chile. They are uncommon in the Andes of Magallanes, north of Aysén. They inhabit lightly wooded areas and farmland. Their call is a rough, rasping rrowh and a bleating mehr, made slightly or in series. The juveniles’ call is shrieker, like a miehr

Finally, the Southern Crested Caracara is fairly common in the Tierra del Fuego, which is north of Los Lagos. They are scarce in Central Chile, and become more numerous northward, along the coast of Coquimbo. They typically live in open country, from the desert to farmland, and inhabit forest edge and clearings. They typically stay in pairs, small groups, or even on their own. They fly with  steady, strong wind-beats and short glides. They are quiet– when interacting, they make low rattles or growls. 

To see photos of all these caracaras, head to our Instagram.

Birds of Chile
A Photo Guide
By Steve N. G. Howell & Fabrice Schmitt

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chile is ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

  • The first field-friendly photographic guide to the birds of Chile
  • More than 1,000 real-life photos and brief, facing-page text make bird identification easy
  • Overview and maps describe the distinct bird regions of Chile
  • Perfect for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike
  • Compact and easy to carry and pack
  • Also a great resource for birding in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

 

Plants That Kill: Cycads

Adapted from pages 188-189 of Plants That Kill:

The cycads are a group of slow-growing tropical and subtropical palm-like trees that have barely changed since before the time of the dinosaurs – cycad fossils date back to the Late Palaeozoic era, 290–265 million years ago. Their resistance to hurricanes and droughts is part of the reason for their continued survival to the present day. Over the centuries, humans have used cycads for food and medicine, but the toxins they contain mean they have to be processed before they are consumed. Even then, there can be long-term consequences.

Crown of the sago cycad (Cycas revoluta), with a head of developing seeds attached to small leaf-like structures, and surrounded by rigid palm-like leaves up to 1.5 m (5 ft) long. Photo credit: Shutterstock, JT888.

The sago cycad (Cycas revoluta), a member of one of the two families of cycad (Cycadaceae, the other one being Zamiaceae), is often called the ‘sago palm’ but should not be confused with the true sago palm (Metroxylon sagu) in the palm family (Arecaceae). Native to Japan, it is probably the most widely cultivated cycad. Various parts of this and other cycads are eaten by humans, usually when other crops have been destroyed by natural disasters or as a stop-gap during seasonal shortages, but also as a staple part of the traditional diet in many regions. The young leaves may be eaten as a vegetable, but it is the seeds and also the stem pith that are most often used as they, after a long detoxification process, provide a flour with a high starch content.

When Europeans first encountered cycads during their voyages of discovery, they were unaware of their toxicity. During Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Australia in 1770, the botanist Joseph Banks noticed that several crew members became violently ill after eating nuts from Cycas media, and General Jan Smuts and his troops fell foul of the breadpalm (Encephalartos longifolius, Zamiaceae) during the Boer War. In Honduras, it has been documented that the roots of camotillo (Zamia furfuracea, Zamiaceae) were used in unlawful poisonings. Improper processing of cycad plants before consumption, either as a food or traditional remedy, leaves the azoxymethanol glycosides they contain at toxic levels and is now the usual cause of acute poisoning. A second toxin, beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), which is particularly concentrated in the seeds and root nodules, is not removed by the processing, but only takes effect if the plant is eaten on repeated occasions. 

Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
By Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays. This intriguing book also looks at plants that can harm you only if your exposure to them is prolonged, the ethnobotany of poisons throughout human history, and much more.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

  • Provides an authoritative natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth
  • Features hundreds of color illustrations throughout
  • Looks at how and why plants produce toxins
  • Describes the effects of numerous poisonous plants, from hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco
  • Explains poisonous plants’ evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Discusses the uses of poisonous plants in medicine, rituals, warfare, and more

Bird Fact Friday– Screaming & Shiny Cowbirds

Adapted from page 228 of Birds of Chile:

Shiny cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis) are fairly common in Central Chile, north of Atacama and south of Los Lagos; they are uncommon in Arica, and rare in east Aysén. They inhabit farmland, matorral, open woodland, villages, towns, and are often near livestock. They mainly live in small groups; in winter, locally in flocks of 100s. They feed on ground and lay eggs in nests of other species. Their song is a high, slightly sweet to tinny and buzzy warble, made from perch or in short flight around female. The male call has high thin seeíh, the female call is a bubbling rattle. Juveniles have a variable streaking on underparts.

Young cowbirds are raised by ‘host’ species; in this case a male Yellow-winged Blackbird feeds a juvenile Shiny Cowbird.

The Screaming Cowbird (Molothrus rufoaxillaris) was recently discovered (2010) in Central Chile. They are uncommon but apparently spreading in O’Higgins, with sightings also in Santiago. They are frequently found in farmland and matorral with hedges and trees, often in rural areas, gardens. Juvenile cowbirds travel with Austral Blackbirds, which appear to be their ‘host’ species in Chile. Their songs are variably disyllabic, and sound like an abrupt, whistled seeih! Calls are a low clucking chk and varied wet buzzes. Juvenile birds are buffy gray overall and have bright rusty wings. Immature birds have messy black patches.

Birds of Chile
A Photo Guide
By Steve N. G. Howell & Fabrice Schmitt

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chile is ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

 

  • The first field-friendly photographic guide to the birds of Chile
  • More than 1,000 real-life photos and brief, facing-page text make bird identification easy
  • Overview and maps describe the distinct bird regions of Chile
  • Perfect for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike
  • Compact and easy to carry and pack
  • Also a great resource for birding in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

 

Fabrice Schmitt on Birds of Chile

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chile is ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

Who is this book intended for – seasoned bird watchers, novices, or both?
Both! The idea is to have a book that’s useful to anyone interested in the identification of Chilean birds, regardless of skill level. To help beginners, there is a pictorial table of contents, which will help them quickly find the group of birds that they’re looking for. We also group together species with similar behaviours or that are found in similar habitats (for ex. swallows together with swifts) in order to help readers find the birds in the book. Finally, we did not cover rare species that are unlikely to be seen in Chile. Meanwhile, experienced birders will enjoy the book because of the images of species in their habitats, which are helpful when seeking them out, along with key ID features highlighted in pale yellow text boxes.

Can you offer some tips for identifying different kinds of birds?
Perhaps the two key questions to ask are, “What is the bird doing?” and, “Where is its  habitat?” That’s why, in our book, we decided not to present the birds in an arbitrary taxonomic order. Instead, we chose to present them in groups such as, “Walking Waterbirds” and “Aerial Landbirds.” Once you find the right group, just scan the photos for the closest match to what you have seen.

Why do you think Chile is becoming a popular destination for birders?
Chile is a beautiful and incredibly diverse country, with stunning mountains and volcanos, extensive desert and a sublime, temperate forest— the landscapes alone justify a trip! And obviously, you can find some fantastic bird species. If you want to see the charismatic Moustached Turca running between cacti, the beautiful Magellanic Woodpecker in the Patagonian forest, the sublime Diademed Sandpiper-Plover breeding in high Andean bogs, or the endangered and superb Chilean Woodstar in an oasis of the Atacama Desert, then you should plan a trip to Chile! Also, since their bird habitats are mostly open or semi-open, birding is easy there, making it a wonderful destination for birders traveling to South America for the first time.

How have your experiences as a bird tour leader with WINGS prepared you to write a field guide like this?
Bird identification is a challenging hobby, and leading birding groups helped me to realize how field guides could make it easier. For example, most field guides still present the birds following the taxonomic order, which is generally useless in the field. In our guide we preferred to place the grebes together with the ducks and coots because they are all “Swimming Waterbirds,” and not between flamingos and pigeons according to the actual (and ever-changing) taxonomy. Also, we really wanted to present the birds in their habitat so readers realize what they must look for. Leading tours to Chile for many years has also given me a good sense of the most common miss-identified species; hopefully this guide will help to make it easier!

What is your favorite bird in all of Chile, and why do you like it?
Mmm, that’s a hard one! I really like all the large tapaculos found in Chile, so let’s choose one of them: the Black-throated Huet-huet. That species lives in the beautiful Nothofagusforest in the South of Chile. As they are found in dense understory especially with bamboo, they are usually hard to see but fairly common by voice. When agitated, they call their name ‘huet-huet’ (pronounce wet-wet), and another of their vocalisation is a loud Wook! wook wook wook, wook, wook, … it sounds like they are laughing at you because you can’t see them! But with some patience (or luck), you can cross path with one of these fantastic birds!

Fabrice Schmitt is an international bird tour leader with WINGS and a lecturer on Ponant Antarctic cruises. He lived in Chile from 2005 to 2015, founded the online birding magazine La Chiricoca, and helped develop the eBird online birding tool for Chile and the rest of South America. His co-writer, Steve N. G. Howell, is an international bird tour leader with WINGS and a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and Point Blue Conservation Science. 

Plants That Kill: Ackee

Adapted from pages 158-159 of Plants That Kill:

Although it has also been introduced to the other Caribbean islands, Central America and Florida, ackee is widely eaten only on Jamaica. In fact, it is Jamaica’s national fruit, and ackee and saltfish is the national dish. The leathery fruit are 7.5–10 cm (3–4 in) long, bright red or yellow-orange when ripe, and split open into three sections to expose three shiny black seeds, each surrounded by a large yellow or whitish aril. Only arils from ripe fruit that have naturally split open are eaten. To remove any residual toxicity, they are cleaned of all red fibre (the aril membrane) and boiled, and the water they are boiled in is discarded. Cooking unripe arils does not destroy their toxicity.

The ackee tree (Blighia sapida) has pairs of glossy leaves. Its fruit ripen to red and, when they split open, the cream arils within can be eaten after cooking.
Photo credit: Shutterstock, twiggyjamaica

Before the toxicity of ackee was understood, eating unripe arils frequently caused poisoning known as Jamaican vomiting sickness, which occurred as an annual epidemic. Symptoms included vomiting, convulsions and, frequently, also coma and death, with mortalities being more common in children, particularly those already suffering from malnutrition. The underlying cause was eventually linked to the consumption of unripe ackee arils. This results in low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) through a blockade of the liver’s ability to synthesize glucose and a reduction in fatty acid metabolism (both normal routes for increasing levels of blood sugar), as well as depletion of the liver’s carbohydrate reserves. 

Poisoning is due to the presence of an amino acid derivative, hypoglycin A (2-amino-3-(methylenecyclopropyl)- propionic acid), which is also found in other plants of the soapberry family, such as lychee (Litchi chinensis). In ackee, the concentration of hypoglycin A is high in unripe arils and reduces significantly as they ripen, although low levels remain in the aril membrane. The seeds also contain the less toxic hypoglycin B (the gamma-glutamyl conjugate of hypoglycin A), with concentrations significantly increasing as the seeds ripen. 

Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
By Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays. This intriguing book also looks at plants that can harm you only if your exposure to them is prolonged, the ethnobotany of poisons throughout human history, and much more.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

  • Provides an authoritative natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth
  • Features hundreds of color illustrations throughout
  • Looks at how and why plants produce toxins
  • Describes the effects of numerous poisonous plants, from hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco
  • Explains poisonous plants’ evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Discusses the uses of poisonous plants in medicine, rituals, warfare, and more

 

Insect of the Week: the American Lady

Adapted from page 49 of Butterfly Gardening:

Some American Ladies overwinter as adults in northern climates, so sightings of this wide-ranging butterfly often begin early in spring. The actual northern limit of American Lady overwintering has not been firmly established, and questions persist regarding the life stage in which they overwinter. Some reports suggest that only adults overwinter, while others indicate that both adults and chrysalides overwinter. Additionally, American Ladies are migrants, so as the weather warms each spring, butterflies from the south move northward, laying eggs as they progress. However, one fact is clear; American Ladies are widespread and common in gardens!

This patch of Parlin’s pussytoes had only recently been planted before an American Lady stopped by to lay eggs.
Photo credit: Jan Dixon.

To the nascent butterfly watcher, American Ladies look quite similar to Painted Ladies, or in the western United States, to West Coast Ladies as well. Painted Lady, with more than 100 recorded host plants, needs no special planting plans, and West Coast Lady caterpillars accept a variety of plant, some of which are weeds, but if you wish to watch the life cycle of American Lady, you will need to provide its caterpillar food plants. These are native plants that are lovely to include in gardens—western pearly everlasting, some of the species of pussytoes, and the similar but rather unattractively named cudweed.

Pussytoes are a group of plants that are easy to incorporate into gardens or wild plantings—their cultural needs are not great, and in fact they can be used as a ground cover in dry areas with poor soil. Approximately 40 different species of pussytoes are native in the United States, although many are not commonly for sale. Native-plant nurseries usually carry at least one species, with shale barren pussytoes, rosy pussytoes, and the oddly named woman’s tobacco being fairly common.

Butterfly Gardening: The North American Butterfly Association Guide
By Jane Hurwitz

Butterfly gardening creates habitats that support butterflies, connecting us with some of the most beautiful creatures in the natural world and bringing new levels of excitement and joy to gardening. In this engaging and accessible guide, lavishly illustrated with more than two hundred color photographs and maps, accomplished butterfly gardener Jane Hurwitz presents essential information on how to choose and cultivate plants that will attract a range of butterflies to your garden and help sustain all the stages of their life cycles.

An indispensable resource for aspiring and experienced butterfly gardeners alike, Butterfly Gardening is the most gardener-friendly source on the subject, covering all the practical details needed to create a vibrant garden habitat that fosters butterflies. It tells you which plants support which butterflies, depending on where you live; it describes what different butterflies require in the garden over the course of their lives; and it shows you how to become a butterfly watcher as well as a butterfly gardener.

While predominantly recommending regionally native plants, the book includes information on non-native plants. It also features informative interviews with experienced butterfly gardeners from across the United States. These gardeners share a wealth of information on plants and practices to draw butterflies to all kinds of gardens–from small suburban gardens to community plots and larger expanses.

Whether you are a gardener who wants to see more butterflies in your garden, a butterfly enthusiast who wants to bring that passion to the garden, or someone who simply wants to make their garden or yard friendlier to Monarchs or other butterflies, this is a must-have guide.

  • An essential guide for aspiring and experienced butterfly gardeners
  • Encourages readers to rethink gardening choices to support butterflies and other pollinators in their gardens and communities
  • Introduces gardeners to butterfly watching
  • Includes regional lists of plant species that are time-proven to help sustain butterflies and their caterpillars
  • Features informative interviews with expert butterfly gardeners from across the United States

 

 

Bird Fact Friday– the American robin, a wood thrush & their song

Adapted from pages 2-4 of Listening to a Continent Sing:

Use this QR code to hear the American robin’s song.

A robin begins to sing, 5:34 a.m., about half an hour before sunrise. His low, sweet carols drop from above one by one, cheerily, cheer- up, cheerio, cheerily. He accelerates now, adding a single high screechy note, a hisselly, after each caroled series, but soon there will be two or more such high, exclamatory notes. He combines sequences of different caroled and hisselly notes to express all that is on his mind, sometimes even singing the two contrasting notes simultaneously with a low carol from his left voice box and a high hisselly from his right, but for now the effort of deep listening is too much like work. 

A wood thrush joins in. He awakes with sharp whit whit calls, as if a bit peeved, then gradually calms to softer bup bup notes, and soon he’s in full song. Emerging are five different half- second masterpieces of rising and falling, rich, pure notes. And the flourishes— what a pity that I cannot slow them down now and hear the pure magic in the way the thrush must hear it, with his precision breathing  through his two voice boxes producing the most extraordinary harmonies imaginable.

Use this QR code to listen to the wood thrush’s song.

The robin and thrush now travel back in time together in search of their roots, meeting up with me some hundreds of millions of years ago, when we all had the same ancestor, when we were one. We belong to an extended family, each of us an extraordinary success story, each of us with an unbroken string of successful ancestors dating back to the beginning of time. The robin, the thrush, and I are equals: “Mitakuye oyasin,” the Sioux would say as they end a prayer, “all my relations.”

The robin, the wood thrush . . . Yes, I know why I’m here. Disjointed thoughts surface with jumbled words that do no justice to the certainty of purpose . . . to celebrate life, and the lives of other creatures along the way . . . to hear this continent sing, not only the birds but also the people, flowers and trees, rocks and rivers, mountains and prairies, clouds and sky, all that is . . . to discover America all over again, from the seat of a bicycle . . .to embrace reality, leaving behind the insanity of a workplace gone amuck . . . to simply be, to strip life to its bare essentials and discover what emerges . . . and in the process, perhaps find my future . . . by listening to birds!

KroodsmaListening to a Continent Sing
Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific
By Donald Kroodsma

Join birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma on a ten-week, ten-state bicycle journey as he travels with his son from the Atlantic to the Pacific, lingering and listening to our continent sing as no one has before. On remote country roads, over terrain vast and spectacular, from dawn to dusk and sometimes through the night, you will gain a deep appreciation for the natural symphony of birdsong many of us take for granted. Come along and marvel at how expressive these creatures are as Kroodsma leads you west across nearly five thousand miles—at a leisurely pace that enables a deep listen.

Listening to a Continent Sing is also a guided tour through the history of a young nation and the geology of an ancient landscape, and an invitation to set aside the bustle of everyday life to follow one’s dreams. It is a celebration of flowers and trees, rocks and rivers, mountains and prairies, clouds and sky, headwinds and calm, and of local voices and the people you will meet along the way. It is also the story of a father and son deepening their bond as they travel the slow road together from coast to coast.

Beautifully illustrated throughout with drawings of birds and scenes and featuring QR codes that link to audio birdsong, this poignant and insightful book takes you on a travel adventure unlike any other—accompanied on every leg of your journey by birdsong.

 

Plants That Kill: Capsaicin

Adapted from pages 122-123 of Plants That Kill:

The fruit and seeds of species of chilli peppers (Capsicum spp.) in the potato family (Solanaceae) contain a pungent compound, capsaicin, that makes food ‘hot’. As well as being used by humans as a spice for thousands of years, capsaicin also has medicinal applications, and the burning discomfort and pain it causes have found roles in riot-control and self-defence. 

The chilli or chili pepper (Capsicum annuum) is a small shrub from Mexico and Guatemala, with simple leaves and pendant, star-shaped flowers that appear singly and are followed by elongated, brightly coloured fruit. Numerous cultivars have been bred that vary in the size, shape and pungency of these fruit. They include the large, sweet bell peppers, as well as mild to hot chilli peppers. The taxonomy of chillies is complicated, however, with some cultivars of C. annuum having characteristics that overlap with those of two other species, the Tabasco pepper (C. frutescens) from Bolivia and western Brazil, and the very hot bonnet pepper (C. chinense), which despite its specific epithet is from Bolivia, northern Brazil and Peru. Some prefer to treat these three species and their cultivars as the ‘annuum–chinense– frutescens complex’. 

To alleviate the ‘heat sensation’ from chilli, try eating a yogurt raita containing chopped mint (Mentha spp.) leaves, as the menthol from the mint stimulates ‘cold sensation’ neurons. Photo credit: one photo, Shutterstock

Some culinary traditions use more chilli pepper than others, with the highest number being eaten in the species’ native Mexico (one chilli per person per day). Chilli has also been embraced in many of the countries to which it has been introduced, particularly India, where it is a key ingredient in curries, and Thailand. Either the fresh fruit and seeds, or the powdered or flaked dried fruit, are used for seasoning during cooking or as a condiment. 

The pungent compounds in chilli peppers, including capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanilloyl-6-nonenamide), are capsaicinoid alkaloids, which bind to vanilloid receptors on sensory neurons (known as transient receptor potential vanilloid (TRPV) channels). These same receptors can also be stimulated by heat and pain, so the binding of the capsaicin results in the sensation of heat. The degree of burning and reddening is related to the concentration of capsaicinoids (see box) and duration of exposure (a dose-related response). TRPV channels are common to all mammals, and thereby deter rodents and other mammalian pests from eating chilli crops. Birds lack the capsaicin-binding site of these channels, however, so eat the ripe red fruit and disperse the seeds without harm. 

In addition to the sensation of heat and burning in the mouth, eating large amounts of hot chillies can cause irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. It is the burning discomfort and pain that chillies or concentrated chilli extracts cause to the eyes and nose that can be most distressing. Pepper sprays have proved to be effective weapons since they were first employed by Mayan Indians, and police forces in a number of countries now use them in the control of unruly individuals and crowds. However, the legality of using pepper sprays for self-defence varies around the world. 

Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
By Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays. This intriguing book also looks at plants that can harm you only if your exposure to them is prolonged, the ethnobotany of poisons throughout human history, and much more.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

  • Provides an authoritative natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth
  • Features hundreds of color illustrations throughout
  • Looks at how and why plants produce toxins
  • Describes the effects of numerous poisonous plants, from hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco
  • Explains poisonous plants’ evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Discusses the uses of poisonous plants in medicine, rituals, warfare, and more

 

Presenting the trailer for “The Serengeti Rules”— a new documentary based on the book

We’re pleased to share the trailer for The Serengeti Rules, a new documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend. The film is based on the book of the same name by Sean B. Carroll, and has been adapted by Emmy and BAFTA winning filmmaker Nicolas Brown. 

The Serengeti Rules – Full Trailer from Howard Hughes Medical Institute on Vimeo.

The film will premiere on Saturday, April 21st at the Cinepolis Chelsea, with additional screenings on April 22nd, 24th, and 27th. To purchase tickets or read more about the film, you can visit the Tribeca Film Festival’s official website

Insect of the Week: Question Marks

Adapted from page 46 of Butterfly Gardening:

Butterfly guides describe the Question Mark as a butterfly found in and at the edges of woodlands, and specifically moist woodlands. Even if your garden does not happen to be ideally situated next to a bucolic, damp, woody wonderland, Question Marks can still be drawn to parks and yards if their caterpillar foods—elms, hackberries, or nettles—are readily available. Since nettles are renowned for stinging, and elms (still susceptible to Dutch elm disease) are not commercially available, you will probably want to check native-plant nurseries for one of the many species of hackberry tree. As a bonus, if you live within their range, a hackberry may also reward you by attracting the less-common butterflies Hackberry and Tawny emperors, Empress Leilia, or American Snout.

A Question Mark (left) and a two Hackberry Emperors share a juicy watermelon slice. Photo credit: Mike Wetherford.

Question Marks rarely visit flowers for nectar; instead, they gain energy by drinking liquids from rotting fruit, tree sap, and even animal droppings. An interesting way to see Question Marks in a garden setting is to set up a butter y feeder, which can be as simple as a slice of watermelon set out on a plate where animals and people will not disturb it. Other gardeners create more elaborate arrangements for butterfly feeding.

Butterfly Gardening: The North American Butterfly Association Guide
By Jane Hurwitz

Butterfly gardening creates habitats that support butterflies, connecting us with some of the most beautiful creatures in the natural world and bringing new levels of excitement and joy to gardening. In this engaging and accessible guide, lavishly illustrated with more than two hundred color photographs and maps, accomplished butterfly gardener Jane Hurwitz presents essential information on how to choose and cultivate plants that will attract a range of butterflies to your garden and help sustain all the stages of their life cycles.

An indispensable resource for aspiring and experienced butterfly gardeners alike, Butterfly Gardening is the most gardener-friendly source on the subject, covering all the practical details needed to create a vibrant garden habitat that fosters butterflies. It tells you which plants support which butterflies, depending on where you live; it describes what different butterflies require in the garden over the course of their lives; and it shows you how to become a butterfly watcher as well as a butterfly gardener.

While predominantly recommending regionally native plants, the book includes information on non-native plants. It also features informative interviews with experienced butterfly gardeners from across the United States. These gardeners share a wealth of information on plants and practices to draw butterflies to all kinds of gardens–from small suburban gardens to community plots and larger expanses.

Whether you are a gardener who wants to see more butterflies in your garden, a butterfly enthusiast who wants to bring that passion to the garden, or someone who simply wants to make their garden or yard friendlier to Monarchs or other butterflies, this is a must-have guide.

  • An essential guide for aspiring and experienced butterfly gardeners
  • Encourages readers to rethink gardening choices to support butterflies and other pollinators in their gardens and communities
  • Introduces gardeners to butterfly watching
  • Includes regional lists of plant species that are time-proven to help sustain butterflies and their caterpillars
  • Features informative interviews with expert butterfly gardeners from across the United States

 

Bird Fact Friday— “Tropical Chickens”

Adapted from pages 264-265 of The New Neotropical Companion:

The 56 species of chachalacas, guans, and curassows are similar in appearance to chickens and turkeys, and are in the same order, Galliformes, but are in their own family, Cracidae. They are found in dense jungle, mature forest, montane forest, and cloud forest. Though individuals and sometimes pairs or small flocks are often observed on the forest floor, small flocks are often seen perched in trees.

The 15 chachalaca species are all slender, brownish olive in color, and have long tails. Each species is about 51 cm (20 in) from beak to tail tip. A chachalaca has a chicken-like head, with a bare red throat, usually visible only at close range. Most species form flocks of up to 20 or more birds. Chachalacas are highly vocal. The Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) is among the noisiest of tropical birds. Dawn along a rain forest edge is often greeted by a host of chachalaca males, each enthusiastically calling its harsh and monotonous cha-cha- lac! The birds often remain in thick cover, even when vocalizing, but an individual may call from a bare limb, affording easy views.

A female Bare-faced Curassow (Crax fasciolata) perched in a tree. This is an example of a “Tropical Chicken.” Photo credit: John Kricher.

Twenty-five species of guans and 16 species of curassows occur in Neotropical lowland and montane forests. Larger than chachalacas—most are the size of a small, slender turkey—they have glossy, black plumage set off by varying amounts of white or rufous. Some, like the Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus) and the Helmeted Curassow (Pauxi pauxi), have bright red “horns” or wattles on the head and/or beak. The Blue-throated Piping-Guan (Pipile cumanensis) and the Red-throated Piping-Guan (P. cujubi) have much white about the head and wings and a patch of colorful skin on the throat. 

Guans and curassows, though quite large, can be difficult to observe well. Small flocks move within the canopy, defying you to get a satisfactory binocular view of them. Like chachalacas, guans and curassows are often vocal, especially in the early morning hours.

There are 23 species of New World quail (family Odontophoridae) in the Neotropics, but seeing them requires a lot of searching and good luck. They are generally a secretive, cryptic group, rarely giving observers a good close look, as they scurry quietly along the shaded forest interior. Most of these species have narrow ranges but a few are more widely ranging.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

 

Plants That Kill: The Little Apple of Death

Adapted from page 118 of Plants That Kill:

The manchineel tree is found from the coast of Mexico south through Central America to Colombia and Venezuela, as well as in the West Indies and Florida. Its caustic properties soon became known to European explorers of the New World, who encountered the tree on beaches. In the sixteenth century, Oviedo noted its danger in his book on the natural history of the West Indies (which incidentally also included the first illustration of a pineapple): 

It has been proved many times that if men carelessly lie down to sleep under the trees, when they rise after a short nap there is a great pain in the head and swelling of the eyes and cheeks. And if by chance the dew from the tree falls on the face, it is like fire, blistering and burning the skin wherever it touches; and if it falls in the eye it blinds or burns them, and the sight is endangered. If the wood is burned no one can endure it long, for it causes much heaviness, and such headaches that all stand away from it, be they man or any other animal.

Leafy branches and immature fruit of the manchineel (Hippomane mancinella), also known as manzanita de la muerte, literally ‘little apple of death’, are a risk for unwary visitors to tropical beaches. Photo Credit: Rob Matthews, Alamy Stock Photo

Since then, numerous graphic accounts of the symptoms that result from skin or eye contact with the latex of the manchineel tree have been published, so we can be left in no doubt of the harm the species can cause. In addition, it produces deceptively apple-like fruit, which are 3–5 cm (1–2 in) in diameter, and when ripe are yellowish green with flushed red cheeks and an aromatic, pleasant-tasting yellow flesh. These, too, can cause contact reactions, and eating the fruit is even more disastrous, as doing so irritates the mouth, throat and digestive tract; deaths have occurred.

Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
By Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays. This intriguing book also looks at plants that can harm you only if your exposure to them is prolonged, the ethnobotany of poisons throughout human history, and much more.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

  • Provides an authoritative natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth
  • Features hundreds of color illustrations throughout
  • Looks at how and why plants produce toxins
  • Describes the effects of numerous poisonous plants, from hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco
  • Explains poisonous plants’ evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Discusses the uses of poisonous plants in medicine, rituals, warfare, and more