Bird Fact Friday—Giant Hummingbirds

Adapted from page 156 of Birds of Chile:

The Andean Giant Hummingbird is from the North Andes, and is fairly common in precordillera, south of Tarapacá. Their wingbeats are slow and strong, which causes undulating flight broken by glides. Their flight is often seen in jerky, hovering bursts of ‘slow-motion’ fly-catching. These birds are slightly larger and longer-billed than the Chilean Giant Hummingbird (more info on that one below) – these two birds do not have any range overlap. Adults have broader, dark tail tips, and buffer under tails than the Chilean hummingbirds. Juvenile birds have whitish feather tips on wings. Both sexes are similar. Their call are high, shrill squeaks in a short series.

An Andean Giant Hummingbird

An Andean Giant Hummingbird

A Chilean Giant Hummingbird

A Chilean Giant Hummingbird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the Chilean Giant Hummingbird is typically seen in Central Chile, where it is a fairly common breeding visitor in material, open woodland, and gardens from south Atacama to south Araucanía. Despite having no range overlap, their habits are similar to the Andean Giant Hummingbird. These birds often feed at Puya and Eycalyptus trees, and perch atop Puya trees, along with phone wires. The nests for these birds are often conspicuous. Their calls are loud, sharp seek! noises, and slightly whining tseeich chee-chee

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 Chileis 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

 

The Dog Days of Summer: How Dogs Play

Adapted from pages 92-95 of The Dog:

Rough and tumble is a form of play-fighting for dogs and only rarely escalates to real conflict. To ensure harmless play, dogs need to get the necessary experience as puppies. Photo credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

In social species, play represents one of the most complex interactions between two members of a group. The behavior elements displayed during play are actions borrowed from various other behavioral contexts (including agonistic and predatory), but they are modified versions of the original actions and can be combined in novel ways. At the higher level of complexity, during play the partners need to cooperate and adjust their actions in order to achieve their common goal of playing together.

Social play appears to serve many functions in juveniles, improving physical fitness and motor skills, and helping the puppy to learn social skills such as bite inhibition. Social play allows dogs to practice and combine actions they will use later in their lives, and in general play also prepares them for the unexpected. In dogs (and wolves) social play is not limited to juvenile individuals—adults play too— so one main role of play is to maintain the social cohesion of the group.

One of the biggest questions in the study of dyadic play is whether intentional descriptions are appropriate when we interpret the dog’s behavior. Play can take many forms, from simple learned play, such as ball fetching, to pretend play, where the dog displays signals indicating an inner state (aggression, for example) that is not real, such as when the dog pretends he is defending an object.

Play signals have several functions: They clearly distinguish such interactions from real competitive situations, and they serve to initiate play and also to synchronize the actions of the partners. Play signals can be highly variable and can include open mouth display, high-pitched barking, bounding over to the other dog in an exaggerated manner, a bowed head, pawing, or exaggerated retreat. Barking used as a play signal is specific to dogs; it is absent in the play of other canines.

The best-known, highly stereotyped play signal in dogs is the play-bow. It not only conveys the playful intent but it is also used after ambiguous behaviors (such as a playful bite or snap) to display the dog’s willingness to continue the interaction. When the play partners are familiar with each other, bows most often occur after a brief pause with the aim of reinitiating play.

It was once assumed that competitive games increase agonistic tendencies in behavior, suggesting an effect of play activity on later sociability with partners. It turned out, however, that competitive games do not increase aggressive tendencies in real-life situations. On the contrary, it seems that the type of game dogs prefer to play depends on whether they have a cooperative or competitive personality.

Over time dog and owners develop a routine of games, and dogs do not generalize these behavior routines to other, functionally different situations. Thus, it is very important, starting during puppy age, that the dog gets many opportunities to play with other dogs and also humans. Play is one of the best ways to improve the physical and social skills of dogs, and it also facilitates people’s understanding of their companion. A day without play is a lost day!

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

Amazing Arachnids: Tarantulas

Adapted from pages 165-172 of Amazing Arachnids:

Tarantulas range in size from the largest spider in the world, Theraphosa blondi of South America, with a leg span of up to about 10 inches (25 cm), to Aphonopelma paloma, with a leg span of only 0.75 inches (2 cm).

Tarantulas also have a variety of lifestyles and behaviors, from the stereotypically solitary burrow dweller to the subsocial behavior of some communal species, such as the dwarf tarantula species Holothele (from South America) and Heterothele (from Africa). These communal spiders may cooperatively kill prey and young spiders share the kill. Circumstantial evidence suggests that even some species that live in underground burrows may have extended maternal care of young. In a number of instances, young tarantulas well beyond the third instar have been found  sharing an adult female’s burrow, leading to speculation regarding whether the mother shares food with her offspring.

Tarantula

Aphonopelma chalcodes adult male. These large males have a leg span of about 4 inches (10 cm) and are a common sight as they wander during the summer monsoon season (July and August) in southern Arizona.

The tarantulas of the southwestern United States belong to the genus Aphonopelma. These range in size from fairly large species such as Aphonopelma chalcodes, with a leg span of about 4 to 5 inches (10– 12.7 cm), to the tiny Aphonopelma paloma. A number of Aphonopelma are intermediate in size and are restricted to the mountains of southern Arizona. These tarantulas have a leg span of only about 2 inches (5 cm). The males mature in late fall or winter and may be seen as they wander in search of females even when there is snow on the ground. Because these mountain ranges are separated by barriers of low desert, many of the “sky island” populations have been geographically separated long enough that they are separate species.

One of the most common and conspicuous species is Aphonopelma chalcodes, also known as the desert blond tarantula. This handsome spider lives in an underground burrow in the low-elevation deserts of Arizona and may take about 10 years to reach maturity. The male looks markedly thinner and leggier than the female and, in addition, acquires a tibial spur on his front legs with his final molt. The males leave their burrows upon reaching maturity and go wandering in search of females. They are a familiar sight in the southern Arizona desert during the summer monsoon season, cruising at night or during the late afternoon, especially after a summer rain storm.

Hollywood has effectively exploited these fears, conjuring up giant tarantulas, deadly venomous tarantulas, and tarantulas that wipe out entire towns. But these animals have so much more to offer than cheap thrills. Their beauty and their diversity in both appearance and lifestyle defy the imagination and far surpass Hollywood’s wildest dreams. Certainly, they compel our respect, as does any predator capable of self-defense, but they also deserve our appreciation and protection.

We included a photo of one of the largest tarantulas – but what about the smallest? Head to our Instagram to see how tiny tarantulas can be. 

Amazing Arachnids coverAmazing Arachnids
By Jillian Cowles

The American Southwest is home to an extraordinary diversity of arachnids, from spitting spiders that squirt silk over their prey to scorpions that court one another with kissing and dancing. Amazing Arachnids presents these enigmatic creatures as you have never seen them before. Featuring a wealth of color photos of more than 300 different kinds of arachnids from eleven taxonomic orders–both rare and common species—this stunningly illustrated book reveals the secret lives of arachnids in breathtaking detail, including never-before-seen images of their underground behavior.

Amazing Arachnids covers all aspects of arachnid biology, such as anatomy, sociality, mimicry, camouflage, and venoms. You will meet bolas spiders that lure their victims with fake moth pheromones, fishing spiders that woo their mates with silk-wrapped gifts, chivalrous cellar spiders, tiny mites, and massive tarantulas, as well as many others. Along the way, you will learn why arachnids are living fossils in some respects and nimble opportunists in others, and how natural selection has perfected their sensory structures, defense mechanisms, reproductive strategies, and hunting methods.

  • Covers more than 300 different kinds of arachnids, including ones new to science
  • Features more than 750 stunning color photos
  • Describes every aspect of arachnid biology, from physiology to biogeography
  • Illustrates courtship and mating, birth, maternal care, hunting, and defense
  • Includes first-ever photos of the underground lives of schizomids and vinegaroons
  • Provides the first organized guide to macroscopic mites, including photos of living mites for easy reference

The Dog Days of Summer: Social Behavior & Hunting

Adapted from pages 70-71 of The Dog:

Being highly social and living in families is a special feature of canines. The basic theme is the same—differences are only quantitative. Family dogs have inherited most social traits present in their wild relatives, but they also need to learn about the peculiarities of social interaction. This is especially important if many dogs are living together in a human family.

Typically, two or three generations live together in a wolf pack, while groups of jackals and coyotes are usually smaller. The actual organization depends on many factors, and in wolves it is not infrequent for such family packs to join together and form even larger packs of 20–30 individuals. The genetic relationship among the members ensures that pack life is usually peaceful because its success depends both on the parents and the survival of the offspring. Thus, the oldest male that is the father of the younger pack mates is closer to a leader who has the most experience and takes the most decisions. But in the end his interests are likely to concur with those of the family.

When wolves reach two or three years of age, they leave the pack to establish a new family. Given that a specific area is covered by territories of other wolves, this task requires courage and experience. It is not surprising that only a few wolves make it. This is one feature that is not typically present in family dogs because most of them prefer to stay with their human family. Free-ranging dogs disperse at various ages, but they are also more easily accepted by other packs.

wolves

Aggressive interactions may take place within a family pack but they are usually followed by some form of reconciliation. Photo credit: Popova Valeriya, Shutterstock

Hunting is a central activity in all canines, but the most complex hunts involving large numbers of individuals have been observed mainly in wolves living in the far north of Canada and Alaska. It is assumed that the typical family size of wolves is also determined by the size of their prey. Wolves live in larger packs if they have to hunt elk or muskoxen, but will hunt alone if their prey is smaller.

Hunting does not consist merely of locating and chasing prey. Wolves need to know their sometimes vast territories very well—where and when prey is moving— and to be able to organize hunts over a range of 12–40 miles (20–65 km). Wolves have been observed to make short cuts or even ambush for a surprise attack. Free-ranging dogs rarely hunt in groups, for simpler tactics suffice to find food near human settlements.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

Bird Fact Friday – the Tyrant Birds of Chile

Adapted from page 187 of Birds of Chile

The Patagonian Tyrant is found in central and southern Chile, and is an uncommon summer resident from Maule to the Tierra del Fuego. In the winter, they are fairly common from Biobío to Coquimbo, and become uncommon south of the Lake District. These birds breed in native forests and edge, as well as the woodland and gardens during the winter. Breeding birds go to the mid-upper levels of tall trees, at times forming small flocks in fruiting trees. Their songs are varied arrangements of high, thin, plaintive or penetrating whistles (s-weeu s-weeu w-syiu or swii-ii w-syiin). Their calls are thin, whining, drawn out whistles (pssiiiiiiiiui). These birds are understated, “soft-faced” flycatcher with a rounded head and dark cheek patch, along with rusty wingbars. There are no similar species in Chile.

A Patagonian Tyrant (Coloramphus parvirostris) perched on a tree.

A Patagonian Tyrant (Coloramphus parvirostris) perched on a tree.

Meanwhile, the Spectacled Tyrant can be found in central and southern Chile, where it is fairly common, particularly from Atacama to Chiloé, or Aysén to Magallanes, in the summer. They inhabit marshes with tall rushes, brushy fields, damp grassy plains with scattered bushes, and other locations typically near water. The males perch atop bushes and have near-vertical display flight, swooping back to perch with a flourish. Females often hide in vegetation, and are overlooked easily. In display flight, male wings make low, booming drrrrup that may suggest a bullfrog. These birds are distinctive and attractive; males have white wing flashes, while these flashes are rusty on females. Additionally, males from Aysén have bigger white wing patches. Juveniles have dark eyes, and are uniformly smaller. There are no similar species in Chile.

To catch a glimpse of the Spectacled Tyrant, along with an additional photo of the Patagonian Tyrant, head over 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

The Dog Days of Summer: Pariah Dogs

Adapted from page 36-37 of The Dog:

There are only estimates regarding the number of dogs living around the world. The boldest assumes that we share our planet with about 1 billion dogs, and most likely only about 20 percent of these live under close human supervision—which means that there are about 800 million pariah dogs worldwide. The vast majority of them live in warmer climates, especially in India and Southeast Asia, Africa, Mexico, and South America.

Pariah dogs lack the bewildering variability of looks we are familiar with in purebred dogs and their hybrids— indeed, pariah dogs show surprising uniformity across continents. They are small to medium-sized, short-haired dogs with rectangular-proportionate build, and mostly tan or tan-and-white. This suggests that pariah dogs have undergone natural selection that resulted in an economic but tough organism, highly successful in its ecological niche—that is, at the fringe of human society.

Pariah dogs depend on human food resources—however, they are seldom provisioned willingly by humans, but rather fend for themselves. They live and feed mostly on the streets of cities and villages, or almost permanently encamped at environments that provide a constant supply of food—such as trash dumps. Human-provided food is available in a steady flow at these sites, which results in a stable population of feral dogs.

However, the nutritional quality of this food is much lower than the meat-based diet of wolves. Pariah dogs adjusted to this specific niche with their smallish size—leftovers do not sustain large dogs and are a food source that does not need to be subdued by physical strength. Pariah dogs also seem not to hunt in packs. 

Pariah dogs

Free-ranging dogs rely on a constant supply of nutrition from human society. They are highly adaptable and usually coexist with humans without causing major problems; otherwise they would not be tolerated. Photo credit: StudioByTheSea, Shutterstock

Pariah dogs may live in groups of hierarchical organization and show territorial aggression against other groups. They reproduce all year around— mirroring the steady food supply and the supportive climatic conditions. Pariah dog males are constantly pursuing available females, and the females may have two litters yearly. Pariah dog mothers nurture their young only in the first 8–10 weeks,  and there are no helpers (older siblings or caretaking fathers. Therefore, when the pariah dog puppies are weaned, they immediately face strict competition with the adults for food, and most of them die in the first year.

Importantly, pariah dogs are not “wild,” in the sense that they do have some type of relationship with humans. Although they are not socialized like family dogs, the puppies are born in a human-made environment, where traces from the humans (such as olfactory cues, artifacts, visual stimulation) are abundant. Puppies are often adopted by local children, who may offer them to tourists to buy. Adult pariah dogs move confidently around in human settlements and rarely get into conflict with humans. Some citizens routinely feed the local pariah dog groups, with the intention of using them for guarding duties against burglars and other pariah dogs.

The phenomenon of domestic species going wild (feralization) is a worrisome tendency, which often has a heavy impact on ecosystems. Cats, ferrets, camels, and other species are documented as burdens on the local fauna or flora in particular parts on the world. Thus, one might assume that the existence of many hundreds of millions of pariah dogs would negatively affect indigenous species—both as potential predators of prey animals and as competitors of other carnivores. However, because pariah dogs rely mostly on human waste as food, it is less likely that these dogs act as exploitative competitors and hunt for the same prey as lions or cheetahs. Their presence may instead make them interference competitors to some species living in the wild, such as jackals, badgers, and smaller cats, by harassing them or disrupting their hunts.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

Amazing Arachnids: Orb Weavers

Adapted from pages 184-186 of Amazing Arachnids:

A delight to the eye and an engineering marvel, the orb web epitomizes the stereotypical spider web. It is built in a vertical plane, with strong, nonsticky silk radiating out from a central hub like the spokes of a wheel, supporting a spiral of evenly spaced sticky silk threads. A gap in the sticky silk near the hub allows the orb weaver to rapidly climb from one side of the web to the other, depending on which side of the web a flying insect has blundered into. Some orb weavers wait in the center of the web, legs stretched out in contact with the radiating silk lines that convey the vibrations of a struggling insect. Others build a little retreat at one side of the web, maintaining contact with the radiating lines via a signal thread leading to the hub. Lying in wait in the retreat, the spider rests with one leg touching the signal line. At the first indication that an insect has been caught, the spider moves into the web and tugs at the radial lines, testing to see the general location of the prey. It then uses the nonsticky radial lines as a quick pathway leading to the insect. Once the prey is reached, the spider uses large amounts of silk to wrap and immobilize it prior to settling in for the meal.

Many orb weavers build a fresh web every night and eat the silk by the next morning. Experiments with radioactive labeling have shown that spiders are the ultimate recyclers; up to 90 percent of the old silk is recycled into the new web, and such ingestion and reuse of the silk protein can occur in as little as 30 minutes. The spiral silk of the orb weavers owes its stickiness to the addition of little beads of viscous glue along its length, like the beads of a necklace. Neither the radial threads nor the hub threads have this glue, allowing the spider easy and rapid access to all parts of its web.

An orb weaver spider

Surreal in color and form, the spiny orb weaver, Gasteracantha cancriformis, builds its web in trees and other tall
vegetation. This genus occurs primarily in the tropics; however, this particular species is also found across the
southernmost states in North America.

Some orb weavers build a web that remains in place for more than one day. Among these diurnal spiders are some that incorporate a special structure into the web, called the stabilamentum. The stabilamentum is composed of a thicker kind of silk, frequently appearing as a conspicuous white area in the web. It may look like a lace doily, or like one or more heavy zigzags in the web. Another type of stabilamentum consists of a line of silk above and below the resting spot in the hub of the web. The empty husks of insect prey are attached to this line, forming irregular clumps of detritus. Sitting motionless in the open spot in the middle of this detritus, the orb weaver Cyclosa appears to be just one more clump of debris in the stabilamentum. Camouflage protects the spider against predation by birds. Yet a different type of protection from birds may be derived from the presence of stabilamenta.

Orb weavers are more flexible in their ability to react to different circumstances than one might imagine. They build larger webs when they are hungry or if they are in areas of low prey availability than when they are well fed or in areas of high prey availability. Both web design and the timing of its construction are synchronized with the type of prey and its availability, requiring the adjustment of the spider’s circadian rhythm. In addition, orb weavers modify their approach to different types of prey in the web depending on whether the prey is potentially dangerous or not. They seem to know what kind of prey has been captured (perhaps based on the vibrations transmitted from its struggles) even before the spider physically makes contact with the prey. Some undesirable prey, such as stinging insects, are deliberately cut loose and released from the web. Other prey, like stink bugs, may be carefully wrapped so as to avoid eliciting a release of defensive chemicals until the killing bite can be administered in safety.

Amazing Arachnids coverAmazing Arachnids
By Jillian Cowles

The American Southwest is home to an extraordinary diversity of arachnids, from spitting spiders that squirt silk over their prey to scorpions that court one another with kissing and dancing. Amazing Arachnids presents these enigmatic creatures as you have never seen them before. Featuring a wealth of color photos of more than 300 different kinds of arachnids from eleven taxonomic orders–both rare and common species—this stunningly illustrated book reveals the secret lives of arachnids in breathtaking detail, including never-before-seen images of their underground behavior.

Amazing Arachnids covers all aspects of arachnid biology, such as anatomy, sociality, mimicry, camouflage, and venoms. You will meet bolas spiders that lure their victims with fake moth pheromones, fishing spiders that woo their mates with silk-wrapped gifts, chivalrous cellar spiders, tiny mites, and massive tarantulas, as well as many others. Along the way, you will learn why arachnids are living fossils in some respects and nimble opportunists in others, and how natural selection has perfected their sensory structures, defense mechanisms, reproductive strategies, and hunting methods.

  • Covers more than 300 different kinds of arachnids, including ones new to science
  • Features more than 750 stunning color photos
  • Describes every aspect of arachnid biology, from physiology to biogeography
  • Illustrates courtship and mating, birth, maternal care, hunting, and defense
  • Includes first-ever photos of the underground lives of schizomids and vinegaroons
  • Provides the first organized guide to macroscopic mites, including photos of living mites for easy reference

Bird Fact Friday — Flamingos

Adapted from page 116 of Birds of Chile:

Flamingos are unmistakable, social wading birds. They are often associated with hot climates, but 3 species breed in the North Andes, where lakes often freeze at night. Juveniles are typically dirty whitish and brownish, with dark streaking. 1st-years are whitish overall with little pink, but attain fully pink adult plumage in 2–3 years. Within mixed-species flocks, each species tends to group together. They nest colonially in remote areas, building raised mud cup nests on ground.

An adult Chilean flamingo.

More specifically, the Chilean Flamingo is widespread throughout the country, but fairly common in the North Andes, south of Atacama. They wade in shallow, saline lakes, with non-breeders also at fresh lakes, sheltered inshore waters. Their calls suggest geese, and is made while in flight,  sounding like a honking 3-syllable ah ah-ah. The first note is quieter, last note more emphatic. Feeding birds typically give quieter bleating and honking calls. While immature Chilean flamingos soon develop pale eyes, adults are distinctive: they are pale pink with reddish-pink bustle, have red ‘knees’ on grayish legs, and pale eyes. First years are appreciably smaller than adults. 

To see what an juvenile flamingo looks like, 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

The Dog Days of Summer: How Dogs Develop

All summer long, Princeton Nature wants to celebrate man’s best friend. With our new blog series, we’ll be sharing some of the most interesting facts about dogs, as found in Ádám Miklósi’s The Dog: A Natural History.

Adapted from pages 84-85 of the text:

Dog puppies are born blind and deaf; they are not able to walk, can barely crawl, and do not survive without their mother’s care. In the subsequent weeks and months, they grow rapidly in size and develop the abilities and skills they need as adults. The size of newborn puppies differs depending on the size of the breed, so the duration of the physical development of dog puppies varies greatly, depending on the size the dog reaches as an adult. For very small dogs it may take approximately 6 months to reach their adult size, while for giant breeds it may take 18 months. There are also differences in the timing of development between breeds, with some skills and behaviors emerging much sooner in some breeds than in others.

A corgi and pups cuddling. Photo credit: Grigorita Ko, Shutterstock

From birth to death canines undergo a series of changes in their physical, ecological, and social environment. For example, a few weeks after birth, from the safety of the small and confined space of the litter, puppies are gradually exposed to richer and more stimulating surroundings. Puppies learn to recognize individuals, to form affiliative relationships with some, and to avoid others. Dogs’ social environment is particularly rich and complex because it includes not only conspecifics but also members of another species: humans.

It is well known that early experiences can greatly affect the later behavior of dogs. In some early experiments researchers deprived dog puppies at various ages of human contact. Dogs that had never experienced humans during their early development showed marked avoidance toward them, and this behavior could not be alleviated by subsequent socialization. This explains why many feral dogs that do not spend time with humans as puppies keep avoiding people later in life. However, dogs are special because even a very little social exposure, up to a few hours per day, may develop their preference for humans.

During sensitive periods the puppy is exceptionally quick to learn about particular stimuli in its environment. The experience gained during this period is thought to have a great impact on future behavior. If the dog misses specific inputs, it may develop behavior malformations. Lack of experience with other dogs may lead to inappropriate behavior, including fear or aggression when encountering a conspecific.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

 

Bird Fact Friday — The Owls of Chile

Adapted from pages 142-143 of Birds of Chile:

The Magellanic (Lesser) Horned Owl is a very large owl with barred underparts; there are no similar species to it in Chile. They are widespread and common throughout virtually all of Chile, from the Patagonian steppe to city parks. They are mainly nocturnal, but in Patagonia can be seen in daytime, as on roadside fence posts. Their songs are two deep hoots, followed by, or run into, a quavering purr (hoo-hoo’urr-rr-rr). But, at a distance, only the hoo-hoo is audible. 

Meanwhile, the Rufous-legged Owl is mainly found in central or southern Chile, typically seen in old growth forests. They hunt at clearings and edges from low to mid-level perches, making roots and calls mainly at upper-to-mid levels. Its song is a varied series of pulsating barks run into low hoots, intensifying and then fading abruptly. These calls have a slightly maniacal quality; they’re a short series of resonant hoots (wuh-wuh wuh-wuh) followed by a rasping shriek. They are distinctive due to their rounded head, dark eyes, and voice.

A perched Magellanic Horned Owl.

The Peruvian (Pacific) Pygmy-Owl is the only pygmy-owl in northern Chile. These owls live on oasis valleys and farmland, in villages, and usually with some taller trees. They hunt from perches, low to high, including roadside wires, but are often mobbed noisily by smaller birds. They fly fast and are slightly undulating. Their song is a rapid tooting noise, almost too fast to whistle, with 10 notes/1.6-2.2 seconds (huihuihui). Their call is a high, chipping twitter. Their plumage is gray to brown overall.

Finally, the Austral Pygmy-Owl is native to central and southern Chile, commonly seen in the Tierra del Fuego, but some withdraw to the north and downslope in winter. These birds live in the woodland and forest, but can be seen in town parks, farmland, and semi-open country (at least in winter). Behaviorally, they are very similar to the Peruvian Pygmy-Owl. Their songs are fairly rapid, ringing toots, easily whistled at 10 notes/2.4-2.8 seconds, often with occasional changes in pitch and tempo (whih’whih’whih…). Their calls are high, chipping twitters. Their plumage is typically brown to rusty brown. 

To see photos of all these owls, 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

 

Amazing Arachnids: Jumping Spiders

Adapted from pages 236-247 of Amazing Arachnids:

Jumping spiders have so many pleasing qualities that it would be difficult to decide what is most admirable about these delightful little creatures. Shimmering iridescence and rich, velvety colors equal the beauty of birds and butterflies. Their fearless capture of prey and their acrobatic leaps surprise and astonish us. Their complex courtship song and dance pique our curiosity. But perhaps the most endearing aspect of jumping spiders is their enormous, forward-facing eyes, gazing at us with every appearance of intelligence and inquisitiveness.

These large, forward-facing eyes, called anterior median eyes, are indeed the key characteristic of this diurnal hunter. Jumping spiders locate their prey visually, stalking and pouncing on it like tiny cats. Unlike vertebrate systems in which one pair of eyes handles depth perception, motion detection, and detail resolution, the spider’s 4 pairs of eyes divide these tasks. Collectively, their 8 eyes create a visual system that rivals any other arthropod’s vision.

Habronattus hallani male. This species of
Habronattus is found throughout a large part of the western United States and into Mexico. It is also primarily a ground hunter.

The force of the grip is due to physical adhesion, not to suction cups or electrostatic forces. If two glass slides are overlapped with a thin film of water between them, they are difficult to pull apart because of the capillary force of the water. The scopula hairs of the spider utilize these extremely strong capillary forces. Apparently the water available in the atmosphere and on surfaces provides the necessary thin film for the end feet to grip the surface. This explains why spiders with scopula hairs can walk sure-footedly on vertical surfaces and upside down, even on glass surfaces. In jumping spiders, the tips of the tarsi (feet) have such dense claw tufts of scopula hairs that they appear to have fuzzy “toes.”

Jumping spiders make up the most diverse family of arachnids in the world, with approximately 6,000 species described so far. As one might expect with such diversity, some jumping spiders have evolved behaviors that fill extremely specialized niches. One jumping spider in Africa, Evarcha culicivora, prefers to feed on bloodfilled female mosquitoes, especially mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles, famous for spreading malaria. Another salticid, Phyaces comosus from the bamboo areas of Sri Lanka, specializes in predating the eggs and hatchlings of other jumping spiders. It is so tiny and so closely resembles a bit of dirt or debris that it can sneak into the nest of another jumping spider undetected. Yet another species, Bagheera kiplingi from Central America, has a primarily vegetarian diet—unique in the spider world. It lives in acacia trees that produce little nubbins of protein and fat from their leaf tips, as well as nectar from the base of the leaves. These provide food for the ants that in return guard the tree from caterpillars and other herbivores. The jumping spider steals the nubbins and nectar despite the ant patrols, living almost entirely on this vegetable source of protein.

In conclusion, jumping spiders rival any other group of creatures for their beauty, diversity, and complex behaviors. A combination of natural selection with sexual selection has produced an array of stunningly beautiful and surprisingly intelligent predators. The world is a richer place thanks to these diminutive gems.

Amazing Arachnids
By Jillian Cowles

The American Southwest is home to an extraordinary diversity of arachnids, from spitting spiders that squirt silk over their prey to scorpions that court one another with kissing and dancing. Amazing Arachnids presents these enigmatic creatures as you have never seen them before. Featuring a wealth of color photos of more than 300 different kinds of arachnids from eleven taxonomic orders–both rare and common species—this stunningly illustrated book reveals the secret lives of arachnids in breathtaking detail, including never-before-seen images of their underground behavior.

Amazing Arachnids covers all aspects of arachnid biology, such as anatomy, sociality, mimicry, camouflage, and venoms. You will meet bolas spiders that lure their victims with fake moth pheromones, fishing spiders that woo their mates with silk-wrapped gifts, chivalrous cellar spiders, tiny mites, and massive tarantulas, as well as many others. Along the way, you will learn why arachnids are living fossils in some respects and nimble opportunists in others, and how natural selection has perfected their sensory structures, defense mechanisms, reproductive strategies, and hunting methods.

  • Covers more than 300 different kinds of arachnids, including ones new to science
  • Features more than 750 stunning color photos
  • Describes every aspect of arachnid biology, from physiology to biogeography
  • Illustrates courtship and mating, birth, maternal care, hunting, and defense
  • Includes first-ever photos of the underground lives of schizomids and vinegaroons
  • Provides the first organized guide to macroscopic mites, including photos of living mites for easy reference

Katrina van Grouw: Flight of the Peacocks

A peacock’s train is not its tail! You can see its real tail, lying flat against the magnificent fan-shaped train when it’s fully spread.

There’s something missing from my living room.

I know there’s something missing because there’s over a square yard of bookcase visible that I haven’t seen for years, revealing a lot of books I’d forgotten I own. The obscuring object, shrouded in cloth wraps, has now gone, and my books have re-materialised as from behind a stage curtain.  It’s a small step back towards normality after the domestic chaos that came with The Unfeathered Bird (and became even worse with Unnatural Selection).

Although the house is, and will probably always be, full of skeletons, saying farewell to the two enormous paintings—the diptych— that was created for the jacket illustrations of The Unfeathered Bird is at least a step in the right direction. As I write, the paintings are somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean on a one-way trip to America. Their final destination: the offices of Princeton University Press, New Jersey, where they belong.

If you’re not already familiar with the book, the paintings are of a peacock; front and back view. It’s an unfeathered—well, partly unfeathered peacock. One of the most frequently-repeated untruths about birds is that a peacock’s splendid fan-shaped train, bedecked with glittering iridescent “eyes”, is its tail. It’s not. Its elongated feathers actually originate from the lower back and rump. A peacock’s tail feathers are actually very plain things, just long grey-brown feathers that you can see lying close to the back of the train when it’s fully spread. For this reason I chose to leave the train and tail feathers onthe otherwise naked skeleton.

The idea came from a specimen in the collections at Naturalis, the Natural History Museum of the Netherlands in Leiden, where Husband was formerly curator in charge of birds and mammals. It was one of a set of now rather old and tatty skeletal preparations that included some feathers left in place. This particular specimen happened to be a white peafowl, which I decided would be a good idea so as not to detract from the limited palette used in the book.

Although the Leiden specimen provided the inspiration for the paintings, its posture, like that of so many historical museum specimens, wasn’t sufficiently accurate for my needs. For that we had to prepare a fresh specimen of our own. By pure co-incidence a taxidermist friend of Husband’s, a man named Bas, had recently acquired a dead peafowl that was surplus to requirements. The story’s quite an amusing one and is worth telling:

Bas was contacted one day by a farmer asking the price of having a dead pheasant mounted. He quibbled over the price but reluctantly agreed; only to turn up not with a pheasant but with a fully-grown peacock. Any taxidermist will tell you that peafowl are a lot more difficult to prepare than pheasants. Bas quite correctly pointed out that peafowl and pheasants were not the same price, at which the irate farmer (equally correctly) pointed out that peafowl are members of the pheasant family. The two scowled at one another for a matter of minutes before the farmer, accepting defeat, flung the dead bird at Bas and stormed off, never to return!

Husband prepared its skeleton in the required posture from knowledge gained during a lifetime of studying living birds. Like virtually all the skeletons in both my books, it was boiled down on the kitchen stove, bleached and dried on the draining board, and re-assembled on the dining table. This was also the skeleton that I used for the peacock illustration in side view, inside the book. For several months the two paintings, along with a very large easel, and the skeleton, formed a little enclave; a little ‘world of peacocks,’ circling the window, as I worked on them simultaneously; blocking out the light, filling the house with the smell of paint, and allowing peacocks to dominate the living room for the first time.

Inspired in my formative years by John James Audubon’s colossal Birds of America I have the ridiculous habit of producing all my artworks life-sized (I’ve only recently grown out of this since I’ve been producing illustrations of cattle and horses). All the skeletons in The Unfeathered Bird—the storks, pelicans, swans; even the ostrich body— were drawn to this scale, which entailed wrestling with easels in spaces barely big enough for even the cat to squeeze past, and all of the pictures have had to be stored somewhere in our very, very tiny house.

The skeleton used in side view in the book doubled up as the model for the cover paintings.

While peacock skeletons may not be that big, with the feathers on and shown life-sized, they’re enormous; too big by far to hang on the walls at home, or even to take upstairs to be stored. So apart from a few outings to be hung on exhibition, they’ve been blocking access to my living room bookshelves since 2011.

The paintings were done in acrylic, with paler layers underneath the darker brown surface. I worked in pencil on top of that, and scraped away the top layer of paint for some of the highlights on the bones, and added deeper shadows in acrylic. So if you look at them closely you can see pencil lines as well as painted areas.

On the ground, at the bird’s feet is a cast feather—a homage to the 17thCentury Dutch painter Melchior d’Hondecoeter whose splendidly animated scenes of poultry, waterfowl and exotic birds were always marked by his motif of a floating feather. I put these feathers on the inside flaps of the jacket, too.

I painted the entire bird almost to the tips of its spread train, but in the end chose to crop the digitized versions significantly for the book jacket, so as not to lose the details of the skeleton. I came frighteningly close to cropping the actual paintings—cropping with a saw, I mean—too, when I was faced with the problem of transporting them to exhibitions. Thankfully I decided not to.

The paintings’ first trip was to the picture framers’ and it was very nearly disastrous. Artists have a tendency to work on borrowed time and when it came to exhibitions I was no different. I had the diptych submitted for its first exhibition almost before it was finished and rushed the paintings to the framers thoroughly encapsulated in bubble-wrap without realizing that the varnish wasn’t fully dry. I peeled off the packaging to find a pattern of circular marks all over the surface, like a magnified newspaper photo.

You know how sometimes when things are truly calamitous you just stay unnaturally calm and collected, while you might over-react at a lesser accident? Well, this was one of those moments. The framer repeated in awe how he wouldn’t have been so cool in the same circumstances, as he scurried about the workshop finding rags to soak in turpentine. Amazingly with solvents, a hairdryer, and a lotof patience we managed to restore the surface to its desired finish. 

The first aid accomplished, we set ourselves to choosing a frame. I’m usually a person who knows exactly what I want when I go to a picture framers’, but this diptych was unlike anything I’d done before. Grinning, the framer disappeared into a back room. “I always knew the right picture for this would show up sooner or later” he called above the grating of heavy objects being moved around. “You’ll either love this, or hate it.” He emerged some minutes later with a splendidly extravagant white baroque moulding, several inches thick. I loved it.

Diptych on display. The peacocks were exhibited publicly several times and looked stunning wherever they went. Here they’re at an exhibition of artworks from The Unfeathered Bird.

The paintings’ public debut was at the prestigious Society of Wildlife Artists’ annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. After that it was the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition at the same gallery. Then a series of solo exhibitions: at the Natural History Museum at Tring, Nature in Art, and my local museum in Buckinghamshire. They looked spectacular every time.

I had various offers of private sales, including one from a wealthy art collector in Florence, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted by the money and by the space to be regained in my living room. But it simply didn’t feel right to separate them from the context they were created in. As paintings they’re not, in fact, the best things I’ve ever done. But they’re the cover of The Unfeathered Bird—the book that dominated and changed the course of my adult life—and, for me, that makes them very special indeed.

In the idyllic world of daydreams there is a Katrina van Grouw Museum, established to preserve for posterity all the artworks from the books along with the skeletons and other specimens that were prepared exclusively for them. In that world, the peacock diptych hangs on the far wall to greet awestruck fans as they enter. “Are those the cover pictures?” they’ll whisper, “They’re so much larger than I thought they’d be”. “I can’t believe I’m finally seeing the real thing.

Sadly that world doesn’t exist and probably never will. But there was another option…

I am blessed with having a truly excellent publisher. No, I’m not just saying that because I’m writing this blog post for them. Princeton University Press has been marvellous. They’ve given me free rein to produce the books I want, trusted my every decision, and rooted for me every step of the way. They’ve shown endless patience, wild enthusiasm, and heart-warming kindness.  For a long time I wondered how I could possibly thank everyone. I could send flowers – or give some prints to individuals. But the more people I worked with, the more it seemed the entire staff was on my side. There would be bound to be someone I’d miss, and there are probably people who’ve worked on my books whose name I don’t even know.

Then it struck me that I could thank everyone, every single day, by sending my peacocks to Princeton where they’d be permanently associated with me and my books, and a permanent message of thanks to everyone who works there. Not just as a message to those directly involved, but as a symbol of generic appreciation from an author to a publisher.

Authors can be a bit surly on occasion. We work alone for years nurturing our ideas into tangible form and, at the end of it, when we’d guard our creations with our very life, we’re thrust into a team-work situation with our precious books in the middle. Perhaps unsurprisingly we can come across as rather defensive; resentful even, so I can imagine that working for a publishing company must sometimes seem a thankless task.

My peacocks are there to say that it’s not a thankless task.

If you work for Princeton University Press I hope that, as you walk past the two paintings in the foyer—and especially if you might not be having the best of days—you’ll look up at them and know that an author is grateful.

I, meanwhile—well I’ll be happily re-acquainting myself with all those books I’d forgotten I own…

 

Katrina van Grouw, author of The Unfeathered Bird and Unnatural Selection, inhabits that no-man’s-land midway between art and science. She holds degrees in fine art and natural history illustration and is a former curator of ornithological collections at a major national museum. She’s a self-taught scientist with a passion for evolutionary biology and its history.

Unnatural Selection is a stunningly illustrated book about selective breeding–the ongoing transformation of animals at the hand of man. More important, it’s a book about selective breeding on a far, far grander scale—a scale that encompasses all life on Earth. We’d call it evolution.

Suitable for the lay reader and student, as well as the more seasoned biologist, and featuring more than four hundred breathtaking illustrations of living animals, skeletons, and historical specimens, Unnatural Selection will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in natural history and the history of evolutionary thinking.