The Insect of the Week: The Silverspotted Skipper

In our latest series, Princeton Birds & Nature will highlight a new insect as seen in one of our titles, Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs, now available in its second edition. From tiny earthworms to creepy cockroaches, and even beautiful butterflies, this new series will thrust bugs out of the backyard and into the spotlight.

Our inaugural post is adapted from pages 138-139 of Garden Insects of North America:

The Silverspotted Skipper is the most commonly encountered skipper, found throughout most of the southern border provinces of Canada and most of the continental U.S., except the Great Basin and west Texas. Adults are light brown, heavy-bodied butterflies with a wingspan ranging from 1. to 2⅝ inches. The overall color of the wings is brown with a yellow-brown band, but the underside of the lobed hindwing has a metallic silver band.

Larvae develop on wisteria and various leguminous plants such as black locust, honeylocust, false indigo bush, soybean, (Amorpha) and Cassia species. A full-grown larva is about 2 inches long. It has a dark reddish brown head with large yellow eye patches. The prothoracic shield is brown and the abdomen is yellow with darker transverse stripes and spots.

A silverspotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) perched on a leaf, where they tend to create nests of eggs.

During egg laying, females alight on potential host plants to attach single eggs to leaves. The eggs are green with a red top. After hatching, the young larvae make shelters on the apical halves of leaves by cutting a flap on the leaf margin, folding it over and attaching it with silk. Larger larvae often silk several leaves together to form shelters. They leave the shelters only to feed or to make larger shelters. When mature, the larvae pupate inside the leaf nest. The pupal stage gives rise to summer adults, but pupae formed in the fall spend the winter in the leaf nests. In the more northern parts of its range, one generation is normal, but three to four generations can occur in southern states.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North America continues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause

 

Sean Fleming: The Water Year in Review

The top five water-related news stories of 2017—and what to expect for 2018

FlemingThe thing about water is that something’s always happening, and the implications of that fact are growing – fast.  What are the top five water-related news stories of 2017?  Read on to see, along with a little context and some implications for next year and beyond.

Oops!  (The Oroville Dam evacuation)

Possibly the most obvious water story of 2017 happened right after the New Year: nearly 200,000 Californians were evacuated beneath Oroville Dam as it threatened to fail under record flooding, which in turn ended a historic drought that had cost the state billions of dollars.  Previously of little note to most living outside the region, Oroville is in fact the tallest dam in the US.  It’s located on the Feather River, a headwater basin to the Sacramento River that drains the western slopes of the snow-laden Sierra Nevada and Cascades in the wet, northern part of California.  Oroville Dam is a key component the California State Water Project, shifting water into the California Aqueduct to help irrigate the Central Valley, which produces about 25% of the food consumed in the US, and to transport water to southern Californian urban centers.  Critics charge that in spite of its size and status as a cornerstone of the civil works in a heavily populated but largely arid state where water is everything, dam maintenance and upgrading lagged far behind, setting the stage for problems.  Record rains in February provided the trigger, and the main spillway failed – which might in turn have undermined the dam as a whole, sending the entirety of massive Lake Oroville downstream all at once in a wave of destruction and death.  Disaster was averted, but the costs were tremendous and the risks were real.  For thoughts on improving America’s river infrastructure, see my recent Scientific American post.

Water goes bang on the India-China border

The most exciting, yet perhaps most under-reported water story of 2017 took place on the India-China border.  A military buildup and tense standoff over disputed ownership of a Himalayan frontier area shared by China, Nepal, Bhutan, and India this summer may have cooled off, but India charges that China followed up by using water as a weapon – withholding key data that India needs to manage lethal monsoon flooding on transboundary rivers.  Violent international conflict solely over water is extremely rare because it usually doesn’t work strategically, though it does happen from time to time.  For instance, in 1965, when Syria was building an upstream diversion of a tributary to the River Jordan that would deeply reduce Israel’s water supply – a catastrophe for a desert nation – Israel responded with air strikes against the facility.  And water has been used as a weapon in wars that were being fought for other reasons: Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government in China opened the dikes on the Yellow River in 1938 in an effort to hold back the invading Imperial Japanese army. The action was only partially successful and had a disastrous humanitarian cost.  The soaring mountain ranges wrapping around the Tibetan Plateau – including the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayas, spanning China, India, Pakistan, and  several other countries – host one of the world’s largest remaining icefields and are the source of the Indus, Yangtze, Yellow, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Mekong Rivers among others, and thus help provide water to a full quarter of the global human population.  Perhaps nowhere else on Earth is it more important for nations to cooperate over water.

Two inter-state water lawsuits go to the US Supreme Court

The volume was turned up in the country’s water wars, with SCOTUS announcing this fall it will hear both Texas’s lawsuit against New Mexico over Rio Grande water rights, and Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over the Apalachicola.  Rivers and aquifers don’t respect borders.  The geophysics of where water comes from and how and where it flows is complex, fascinating, and full of surprises, such as flash floods, alternating drought and flood sequences, and abrupt and catastrophic changes in river channel location.  And those are just the natural aspects – the engineering and management part can be just as complicated for some basins, and a high ratio of demand to supply, as we have in the increasingly heavily populated deserts of the Southwest for instance, exacerbates these issues.  Originating from snowy headwaters in the mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, the Rio Grande flows south through increasingly arid country and then turns southeastward, forming the US-Mexico border until emptying in the Gulf of Mexico.  Water projects abound on the Rio Grande, and each influences the other in some way.  For example, the San Juan-Chama project diverts water from the Colorado River into the Rio Grande, municipal groundwater pumping in Albuquerque interacts with Rio Grande flows through subterranean geologic pathways, and a series of dams withdraws water from the river for agriculture, reducing what’s left for downstream users.  Water law is complicated.  Texas says New Mexico is taking more than its fair share of Rio Grande water; New Mexico says it isn’t.  The potential for disagreement over water will only continue to grow in the Southwest, though there are success stories as well: after some earlier missteps, Las Vegas has invented one of the most advanced and successful water conservation programs around, reportedly reducing its water consumption by almost a quarter over a ten-year period while its population grew by half a million.

Saying goodbye to the Paris Agreement on climate change

Why is climate change important to rivers?  Lots of natural processes and human activities affect how high rivers run and how much water arrives at your tap, and climate variables like precipitation and temperature rank high among these influences.  While the new administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017 was obviously a setback for action on climate change, it was also a democratic response to widespread sentiment.  And this fact suggests that explaining climate change may be turning into the greatest science communication failure in history.  As scientists, we clearly need to adjust course – but in what direction?  Consider a recent article by a multi-disciplinary team in the respected research journal, Global Environmental Change.  Applying complex network theory (kind of a mathematical formalization of the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon) to social media feeds about climate change, they demonstrated the dominance of so-called echo chambers, and that constructive progress is made only when groups with opposing views actually talk with each other.  Consider also that populism – which is by nature skeptical around the competence and integrity of designated experts – has been growing over the last decade on both the left and right, as evidenced by the mayoralties of Rob Ford in Toronto and Boris Johnson in London, the Tea Party and Occupy movements, Brexit, and Bernie and The Donald.  If there is a silver lining to withdrawal from the Paris accords, it’s that it may teach us valuable lessons around communicating about climate change: reach out to people who don’t believe us yet, treat them with respect, and focus on just explaining our science.

Houston, we have a problem

Hurricane Harvey hit Houston hard.  In late August, the fourth largest city in the US, with over 4 million residents counting Harris County, was at the epicenter of what some are saying will be the costliest natural disaster in US history.  Though no hurricane is to be trifled with, why was the flooding so intense in this case?  To be sure, the rainfall generated by this particular storm was unusually heavy.  But risk is, by definition, what you get when you take the probability that something bad will happen (like record rainfall under a hurricane) and multiply it by the impact it will have if it does happen (like flooding and the associated economic cost and human suffering).  In the case of Harvey’s visit to Houston, it had a lot to do with local-scale choices that affected the second part of that equation.  In fact, parts of the greater Houston metropolitan area have seen a spate of floods over the last few years, and they weren’t all associated with huge storms.  The region has experienced an explosion of population growth and urban sprawl.  Lots of residences were built in low-lying, flood-prone areas, which is the single best of way of increasing flood risk.  And urbanization – the conversion of wild or agricultural land to rooftops, parking lots, and roadways – is another powerful flood risk factor.  Soils and wetlands hold on to rainwater for a while, and then gently release it to natural drainage systems like aquifers and rivers.  If you pave and build over these things, their ability to attenuate flooding is removed.  While these effects are particularly noticeable in Houston, and especially so when the city gets hit by a major hurricane, they’re ubiquitous; increased flooding in the UK over the last decade has been attributed to exactly the same causes.

What will 2018 have in store for us?  If we can be sure about one thing, it’s to expect the unexpected.  But the larger trends are clear.  Global water demand will increase 55% in the next few decades, urbanization will spread, tens of millions more will congregate in floodplain-located megacities, the climate will subtly but profoundly shift overhead, and cooperation and conflict over water will vie for supremacy.  We can, in short, expect that water stories will make the news with increasing frequency and force.

Sean W. Fleming has two decades of experience in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors in the United States, Canada, England, and Mexico, ranging from oil exploration to operational river forecasting to glacier science. He holds faculty positions in the geophysical sciences at the University of British Columbia and Oregon State University. He is the author of Where the River Flows: Scientific Reflections on Earth’s Waterways.

Monarch butterflies: Out of sight, but not out of mind!

By Anurag Agrawal

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The annual migratory calendar for monarch butterflies in eastern North America.

As winter approaches, monarch butterflies are not in sight for most Americans. Beginning in the fall, hundreds of millions of butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains oriented south and began their migration. And indeed the story of how they navigate is truly remarkable: the little insect uses a sun compass that is adjustable depending on the time of day to find its way. Details of the migration and much more are in Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and their Remarkable Story of Coevolution. And 2017 was a spectacular fall season for monarch butterflies. As far as most monarch biologists can remember, this was perhaps the biggest summer season on record, with monarchs in epic numbers congregating and flying south.

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Southward migrating monarchs in Ontario during autumn. Although monarchs are usually dispersed in the summer, as the fall migration takes hold, butterflies congregate in larger clusters.

As the holiday season approaches, it is useful to keep in to keep in mind where monarchs are and what they are doing.  Cool and concentrated, they huddle en masse for nearly five months.  Will the numbers of butterflies overwintering in Mexico this year show a rebound from their precipitous decline?  If the migration was successful, yes, we all expect (hope!) the numbers to be up.  But only time will tell, as the official numbers are typically announced each February by World Wildlife Fund Mexico.  The monitoring of these unimaginable aggregations of butterflies has been a critical piece in the conservation puzzle for monarchs.

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The state license plate in Michoacán State, Mexico.

In November around the Day of the Dead and leading to American Thanksgiving, monarchs arrive to their overwintering grounds in the highlands Michoacán, Mexico. And legend has it that the butterflies are the returning souls of loved ones. They form clusters that are so dense, they weigh down the Oyamel Fir trees they inhabit above 10,000 feet of elevation in these exquisite sites. The sites are terribly small, with all of them fitting into area smaller than New York City.

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A congregation of monarchs within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most wings are closed, but look for the orange spots of open butterfly wings.

But before 1975, there was no conservation conversation about monarchs, because scientists simply did not know where monarchs went in the winter (of course native Mexicans of the region have known for centuries).  More importantly, we didn’t know how restricted and sensitive their overwintering sites are. The story of how the monarchs were found is too lengthy to recount here, but it is an astonishing story. In short, Professor Urquhart from the University of Toronto was hot on the trail, and knew that they flew south into Mexico during the fall.  Nora and Fred Urquhart marshaled a citizen science campaign that included a massive effort to engage folks far and wide in the search for the overwintering grounds.  In fact, in 1973, they wrote an article in an English language newspaper in Mexico City requesting help in finding the monarch overwintering sites.

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I obtained this reproduction of the original article outlining monarch butterfly biology and requesting help finding the overwintering grounds from the Library of Congress. It came on microfiche and was a treasure to hold and read.

Still, it was another two years before the overwintering colonies were found and reported to the world. After thirty years of tagging butterflies, enlisting thousands of citizen scientists, and much speculation, shortly after new year’s day in January 1975, the great discovery was made. The Urquharts wrote to their thousands of volunteers: “We now wish to announce to our associates, that, after these many years of intensive study, after having tagged thousands of migrants, we have, finally located the exact area where they overwinter, with the very able assistance of Ken Brugger and Cathy Brugger of Mexico City”. And the rest is history.

Anurag Agrawal is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

Agrawal

Bird Fact Friday – Antarctica’s Crested Duck

Adapted from page 90 of Antarctic Wildlife:

The Crested Duck is a large brown and buff duck with a shaggy crest and dark eye-mask found along the Beagle Channel. These ducks are almost always seen in pairs, and only rarely gathers in flocks. They feed quietly on or by the shoreline, usually in pairs or family parties. Plumage is mid-brown with large buff blotches on flanks and scapulars, with a paler brown-grey color on head, which highlights their dark brown eye-mask and crown sides. Their long, droopy crest is often held flat against the rear of their head. At close range, their flaming red eye is striking.

A Crested Duck (Lophonetta specularioides) is usually about 50-55 cm in length.

In flight, the white trailing-edge contrasts with their otherwise blackish wings, and a small chestnut-purple panel in the centre of each wing sometimes catches the light. Instead of migrating north to milder climes, Crested Ducks see out the harsh Patagonian winter by moving to sheltered spots on unfrozen waters.

Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide
By James Lowen

Antarctic Wildlife is the definitive identification guide to the birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage, and Beagle Channel. This easy-to-use photographic field guide enables visitors to this unique region of the world–newcomer and seasoned traveler alike–to identify with confidence the penguins, whales, seals, seabirds, and other stunning wildlife they encounter on their journey. Full-color photographs show typical views of each species of bird or marine mammal, together with the terrestrial plants likely to be seen. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, give tips on where to look, and highlight interesting facts. This one-of-a-kind guide also includes introductory chapters that cover the wildlife of each Antarctic environment by season, as well as information on tourism and Antarctic cruising that will help visitors get the most from their trip.

Antarctic Wildlife is a must-have photographic guide for travelers taking the standard cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the great white continent, and for anyone interested in the diverse wildlife found in this remote part of the world.

  • Covers the wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage, and Beagle Channel
  • Features full-color photographs throughout
  • Describes key identification features and gives tips on where to look
  • Includes an introduction to Antarctic environments and information on Antarctic cruising

 

Big Pacific: Nomura’s jellyfish, the ocean’s drifter

From pages 97-99 in Big Pacific:

Another plus-sized Pacific denizen is Nomura’s jellyfish, a gargantuan grazer that spends most of its life adrift in the Yellow and East China Seas. Starting life as a pinhead-sized polyp, this peripatetic monster mushrooms rapidly — in less than a year — to 2 meters (6. feet) in diameter and more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) in weight. To fuel this extraordinary growth — up to a 10 percent increase in size per day — the juvenile jellyfish feeds on tiny plankton particles through a mouth which measures just a millimeter (3/64th inch) across.

The ravenous appetite of the burgeoning jellyfish cannot be satisfied by one miniscule mouth, however, so as the invertebrate grows, it develops more mouths of the same size beneath its umbrella-shaped bell. Zooplankton, fish eggs and larvae are pushed up towards these mouthlets by the pulsating action of the jellyfish through the water and the movement of its grasping tentacles. An adult Nomura’s jellyfish is said to be able to filter an Olympic-sized swimming pool of plankton in this manner in a single day.

The Nomura’s jellyfish has no eyes or brain. It can only control its depth in the water.

Once limited to the Yellow Sea, the Nomura’s jellyfish is now regularly found in the Sea of Japan, where mass aggregations of the animal are causing a headache for local fishers. No one is sure why population explosions have been seen there in recent years, but scientists suspect they are linked to the rising sea temperatures associated with global warming. This could be exacerbating population outbreaks already attributed to nutrient build-ups arising from coastal and agricultural development, and to overfishing — the last because of the severe reduction in the numbers of fish species such as swordfish and tuna that prey on the jellyfish and thus help keep a check on their numbers.

Big Pacific: Passionate, Voracious, Mysterious, Violent
By Rebecca Tansley

The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of Earth’s surface—more than all of the planet’s landmasses combined. It contains half of the world’s water, hides its deepest places, and is home to some of the most dazzling creatures known to science. The companion book to the spectacular five-part series on PBS produced by Natural History New Zealand, Big Pacific breaks the boundaries between land and sea to present the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants as you have never seen them before.

Illustrated in full color throughout, Big Pacific blends a wealth of stunning Ultra HD images with spellbinding storytelling to take you into a realm teeming with exotic life rarely witnessed up close—until now. The book is divided into four sections, each one focusing on an aspect of the Pacific. “Passionate Pacific” looks at the private lives of sea creatures, with topics ranging from the mating behaviors of great white sharks to the monogamy of wolf eels, while “Voracious Pacific” covers hunting and feeding. In “Mysterious Pacific,” you will be introduced to the Pacific’s more extraordinary creatures, like the pufferfish and firefly squid, and explore some of the region’s eerier locales, like the turtle tombs of Borneo and the skull caves of Papua New Guinea. “Violent Pacific” examines the effects of events like natural disasters on the development of the Pacific Ocean’s geography and the evolution of its marine life.

Providing an unparalleled look at a diverse range of species, locations, and natural phenomena, Big Pacific is truly an epic excursion to one of the world’s last great frontiers.

Learn more by watching Big Pacific, available to stream on PBS.

 

Bird Fact Friday — the White-browed Robin Chat

From page 134 of Birds of the Masai Mara:

The White-browed Robin Chat is a thrush-sized bird with a grey back and orange underparts. Common in lodge and camp gardens where there are large and scattered trees and lush undergrowth, the White-browed Robin Chat is generally a retiring bird, but can be easily tamed. With its striking head-pattern, bright underparts and burnt-orange tail in flight, this bird is easily recognised.

A White-browed Robin Chat (Cossypha heuglini). Photo credit: Adam Scott Kennethdy.

The cyclical song starts quietly but increases in volume and pace. Pairs will often engage in powerful duets, especially when rival pairs are nearby, and the noise can be deafening. It is common to see this bird feeding its young, which are similar to the adults but heavily spotted and lack the strong face pattern. If you are very lucky, you may also see adults feeding a dark, heavily barred fledgling that is far larger than itself – this will be a juvenile Red-chested Cuckoo, a species that routinely lays its eggs in robin chat nests.

Birds of the Masai Mara
By Adam Scott Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara is a remarkably beautiful photographic guide featuring the bird species likely to be encountered by visitors to the popular Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. With an eye-catching layout, easy-to-use format, and no-jargon approach, the book contains more than 300 stunning photographs covering over 200 species of birds and is accessible and informative, rather than purely identification-based. A handy, brief introduction provides visitors with background on the habitats of the national park, and the guide’s habitat-based approach makes it simple to identify any bird species according to where it is found. Based on the firsthand experiences of the author, Birds of the Masai Mara is an ideal companion to all those visiting the national reserve and to bird aficionados interested in learning more about the region.

  • The only photographic guide to focus solely on the bird species of the Masai Mara National Reserve
  • More than 300 remarkable photographs covering over 200 species
  • Accessible text explores bird species behavior and species etymology
  • A brief and handy introduction examines the habitats of the Masai Mara
  • Easy-to-use habitat-based layout makes exciting birdwatching easy

First published in 2012.

 

 

Big Pacific: The Galápagos Tortoise, a roaming reptile

From pages 116-118 of Big Pacific:

Perhaps the best known Galápagos inhabitants are the tortoises after which the archipelago was named — the word ‘galápago’ meaning tortoise in Spanish. Sometimes weighing in excess of 400 kilograms (900 pounds), they are the world’s largest tortoise, and also one of its longest lived.

Galápagos tortoises can survive without food or water for six months or more by breaking down body fat to produce sufficient water and nutrients. This remarkable adaptation helps them endure droughts on the islands’ arid lowlands, but also led to their mass exploitation by whalers and sealers who captured and kept the animals on board their ships as a convenient source of fresh meat for long sea voyages. This led not just to a rapid decline in Galápagos tortoise numbers but the extinction of several sub-species once found on the islands.

[Galápagos tortoises] move regularly from arid lowlands to lusher highlands, over time creating trails across the landscape.

Typically the herbivorous animals’ diet is the product of a daily routine which sees them wander along well-worn paths from the lower slopes of their island homes to the volcanic highlands. Here the tortoises enjoy the abundance of water and plants — including an introduced and highly invasive species of guava that now seems to be sustaining some tortoise populations.

Big Pacific: Passionate, Voracious, Mysterious, Violent
By Rebecca Tansley

The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of Earth’s surface—more than all of the planet’s landmasses combined. It contains half of the world’s water, hides its deepest places, and is home to some of the most dazzling creatures known to science. The companion book to the spectacular five-part series on PBS produced by Natural History New Zealand, Big Pacific breaks the boundaries between land and sea to present the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants as you have never seen them before.

Illustrated in full color throughout, Big Pacific blends a wealth of stunning Ultra HD images with spellbinding storytelling to take you into a realm teeming with exotic life rarely witnessed up close—until now. The book is divided into four sections, each one focusing on an aspect of the Pacific. “Passionate Pacific” looks at the private lives of sea creatures, with topics ranging from the mating behaviors of great white sharks to the monogamy of wolf eels, while “Voracious Pacific” covers hunting and feeding. In “Mysterious Pacific,” you will be introduced to the Pacific’s more extraordinary creatures, like the pufferfish and firefly squid, and explore some of the region’s eerier locales, like the turtle tombs of Borneo and the skull caves of Papua New Guinea. “Violent Pacific” examines the effects of events like natural disasters on the development of the Pacific Ocean’s geography and the evolution of its marine life.

Providing an unparalleled look at a diverse range of species, locations, and natural phenomena, Big Pacific is truly an epic excursion to one of the world’s last great frontiers.

Learn more by watching Big Pacific, airing Sundays on PBS Guam and CPTV Spirit. Watch the trailer below:

 

 

Bird Fact Friday — The Variegated Fairywren

It’s Black Bird Fact Friday, so let’s celebrate with a look at another beautiful bird.

From page 230 of Birds of Australia:

Australia’s most widespread fairywren. Like males of several other fairywrens, the male Variegated has a blue crown contiguous with a pointed blue ear patch, a black throat and upper breast, a white lower breast, and a large chestnut shoulder patch. The blue markings are not uniform and have a bright, shimmering iridescent quality. There are distinct subspecies, which differ in the intensity of the blue crown colour. The males can be separated from those of Lovely, Blue-breasted, and Red-winged Fairywrens by the light blue edges at the sides of the breast, lacking in those species.

A female Variegated Fairywren (Malurus lamberti). Photo credit: Geoff Jones.

Females differmuch more among subspecies; over most of Australia they are sandy brown above and buff below, with a white-tipped blue tail and chestnut lores and eye rings that create a masked appearance. Superb Fairywren females differ in lacking a fine white tip to the tail. Variegated females from Arnhem Land (NT) and the Kimberley region (WA) are white below and have black wings and beautiful powder-blue upperparts. Small groups of this common bird generally favour undergrowth and clearings within habitats such as open woodlands, eucalypt forests, mallee, mulga, and even rainforest edges in e.Australia. Variegated is found all over mainland Australia except the s. and n. extremities.

Birds of Australia
By Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg
With photography by Geoff Jones

Australia is home to a spectacular diversity of birdlife, from parrots and penguins to emus and vibrant passerines. Birds of Australia covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants and features more than 1,100 stunning color photographs, including many photos of subspecies and plumage variations never before seen in a field guide. Detailed facing-page species accounts describe key identification features such as size, plumage, distribution, behavior, and voice. This one-of-a-kind guide also provides extensive habitat descriptions with a large number of accompanying photos. The text relies on the very latest IOC taxonomy and the distribution maps incorporate the most current mapping data, making this the most up-to-date guide to Australian birds.

  • Covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants
  • Features more than 1,100 stunning color photos
  • Includes facing-page species accounts, habitat descriptions, and distribution maps
  • The ideal photographic guide for beginners and seasoned birders alike

Big Pacific: Palolo Worms, the sprawling spectacle

From pages 23-24 of Big Pacific:

Mysteriously driven by the moon’s cycle, the mass spawning of Palolo worms leads to a unique annual harvest on many Pacific islands. In Samoa it is an eagerly anticipated, communal event. Equidistant between Hawai‘i and New Zealand, Samoa is part of the group of islands known as Polynesia. Samoans have long been sustained by the Pacific’s bounty, and they regard the protein-rich Palolo worms as an extra-special gift of the sea.

Between midnight and dawn — the timing depends on the exact location — the first few worms emerge from the coral reefs. Soon their writhing forms swirl upwards in the water like a frenzy of animated scribbles.

Harvested epitokes are eaten raw, fried in butter or cooked with egg or onion.

Measuring around 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length, these animals spend most of their lives buried inside the substrate of the ocean floor. Once a year they undergo a remarkable transformation, sprouting an extended tail segment, called an epitoke, that is filled with either eggs or sperm. The epitoke — colored either pale tan (male) or bluegreen (female) — also sports a primitive, light-sensitive eye that guides it to the sea’s surface.

Prompted somehow by lunar phases, all the worms in one area release their epitokes more or less in unison. This simultaneous timing maximizes the chances of fertilization and creates one of the ocean’s greatest mass spawning events.

After fertilization, the eggs drift away on the currents to hatch into larvae. For a time these form part of the ocean’s planktonic biomass, but eventually the maturing worms settle on the seafloor to begin the miraculous and mysterious cycle again.

Big Pacific: Passionate, Voracious, Mysterious, Violent
By Rebecca Tansley

The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of Earth’s surface—more than all of the planet’s landmasses combined. It contains half of the world’s water, hides its deepest places, and is home to some of the most dazzling creatures known to science. The companion book to the spectacular five-part series on PBS produced by Natural History New Zealand, Big Pacific breaks the boundaries between land and sea to present the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants as you have never seen them before.

Illustrated in full color throughout, Big Pacific blends a wealth of stunning Ultra HD images with spellbinding storytelling to take you into a realm teeming with exotic life rarely witnessed up close—until now. The book is divided into four sections, each one focusing on an aspect of the Pacific. “Passionate Pacific” looks at the private lives of sea creatures, with topics ranging from the mating behaviors of great white sharks to the monogamy of wolf eels, while “Voracious Pacific” covers hunting and feeding. In “Mysterious Pacific,” you will be introduced to the Pacific’s more extraordinary creatures, like the pufferfish and firefly squid, and explore some of the region’s eerier locales, like the turtle tombs of Borneo and the skull caves of Papua New Guinea. “Violent Pacific” examines the effects of events like natural disasters on the development of the Pacific Ocean’s geography and the evolution of its marine life.

Providing an unparalleled look at a diverse range of species, locations, and natural phenomena, Big Pacific is truly an epic excursion to one of the world’s last great frontiers.

Learn more by watching Big Pacific, airing Sundays on PBS Guam and CPTV Spirit. Watch the trailer below:

 

 

Bird Fact Friday — Red-Rumped Parrot

From page 194 of Birds of Australia:

The male Red-Rumped Parrot is a bright green parrot with a red rump, lemon-yellow belly and vent, and a subtle blue wash on the shoulder and forehead. It is told from male Mulga Parrot by its lack of red on the nape and vent and absence of a yellow shoulder patch. Females are dull brownish-green with little colour except some green on the rump. The lack of any strong shoulder mark or reddish nape patch separates this species from female Mulga Parrot.

A male Red-Rumped Parrot (Psephotus haematonotus)

Red-rumped parrot is most likely to be found in pairs or small flocks. It readily perches in the open, is often conspicuous and approachable, and is more regularly found around country towns than Mulga Parrot. Red-rumped is a common species of the south-east, where it occurs in farmlands with scattered trees and grassy and other open woodlands, often around watercourses.

Birds of Australia
By Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg
With photography by Geoff Jones

Australia is home to a spectacular diversity of birdlife, from parrots and penguins to emus and vibrant passerines. Birds of Australia covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants and features more than 1,100 stunning color photographs, including many photos of subspecies and plumage variations never before seen in a field guide. Detailed facing-page species accounts describe key identification features such as size, plumage, distribution, behavior, and voice. This one-of-a-kind guide also provides extensive habitat descriptions with a large number of accompanying photos. The text relies on the very latest IOC taxonomy and the distribution maps incorporate the most current mapping data, making this the most up-to-date guide to Australian birds.

  • Covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants
  • Features more than 1,100 stunning color photos
  • Includes facing-page species accounts, habitat descriptions, and distribution maps
  • The ideal photographic guide for beginners and seasoned birders alike

 

Big Pacific: The deep diving Marine Iguana

From pages 123-124 of Big Pacific:

With 97 percent of its reptiles and land mammals found nowhere else, the Galápagos archipelago has one of the highest levels of endemism — species unique to one place — on the planet. A prime example is the Marine iguana, a landliving reptile that forages underwater for marine algae and can dive more than 9 meters (30 feet) beneath the water’s surface to do so.

Unsurprisingly, this lizard has evolved adaptations to equip it for this amphibious lifestyle, including long claws and strong limbs that help it cling on to the rocks in coastal currents and wave wash.

The Marine iguana of the Galápagos is the only lizard in the world that dives for its food. The post-swim sunbathing they enjoy warms their reptilian bodies, which have been chilled by the cold Galápagos waters.

Although comfortable in the cool Pacific waters of the Galapagos, the iguanas cannot remain long in the water or their body temperature will drop too low. As reptiles they rely on external heat sources, so in between dips they warm themselves by sunbathing on the rocks, their dark skin helping them soak up the equatorial sun. This period of post-swimming lethargy is when they are most vulnerable to predation, but as the iguanas are characteristically aggressive their natural predators are few.

Their main threats appear to be introduced predators such as dogs and cats, and climatic events, such as El Niño, which increase the local water temperature and impact the growth of the algae on which the iguanas rely.

Big Pacific: Passionate, Voracious, Mysterious, Violent
By Rebecca Tansley

The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of Earth’s surface—more than all of the planet’s landmasses combined. It contains half of the world’s water, hides its deepest places, and is home to some of the most dazzling creatures known to science. The companion book to the spectacular five-part series on PBS produced by Natural History New Zealand, Big Pacific breaks the boundaries between land and sea to present the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants as you have never seen them before.

Illustrated in full color throughout, Big Pacific blends a wealth of stunning Ultra HD images with spellbinding storytelling to take you into a realm teeming with exotic life rarely witnessed up close—until now. The book is divided into four sections, each one focusing on an aspect of the Pacific. “Passionate Pacific” looks at the private lives of sea creatures, with topics ranging from the mating behaviors of great white sharks to the monogamy of wolf eels, while “Voracious Pacific” covers hunting and feeding. In “Mysterious Pacific,” you will be introduced to the Pacific’s more extraordinary creatures, like the pufferfish and firefly squid, and explore some of the region’s eerier locales, like the turtle tombs of Borneo and the skull caves of Papua New Guinea. “Violent Pacific” examines the effects of events like natural disasters on the development of the Pacific Ocean’s geography and the evolution of its marine life.

Providing an unparalleled look at a diverse range of species, locations, and natural phenomena, Big Pacific is truly an epic excursion to one of the world’s last great frontiers.

Learn more by watching Big Pacific, airing Sundays on PBS Guam and CPTV Spirit. Watch the trailer below:

 

Bird Fact Friday — The Spinifex Pigeon

From page 62 of Birds of Australia:

A handsome, reddish inland species, Spinifex Pigeon is mostly ruddy-coloured and has a pointed rufous topknot and a striking face pattern: Bare red skin surrounds a pale eye, and the face is striped black and white, with some subtle blue markings too. Bold black bars are spread across the wings and sides of the mantle, and some subspecies also show a bold white bar across the chest. It is inconspicuous when it forages on the ground, and is well camoufl aged, as its reddish colouration mirrors the red dirt and the rocky outcrops within the arid landscapes it inhabits: rocky and hilly areas and spinifex grasslands within the north of the Outback.

The Spinifex Pigeon (Geophaps plumifera) is typically 7.5-9 inches tall.

It occurs patchily within the NT, c. and n. WA, far w. QLD, and far n. SA. Spinifex Pigeon is never far from water in its arid environment, and is therefore best located around shrinking water sources late in the dry season, when these nomadic birds become more concentrated.

Birds of Australia
By Iain Campbell, Sam Woods & Nick Leseberg
With photography by Geoff Jones

Australia is home to a spectacular diversity of birdlife, from parrots and penguins to emus and vibrant passerines. Birds of Australia covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants and features more than 1,100 stunning color photographs, including many photos of subspecies and plumage variations never before seen in a field guide. Detailed facing-page species accounts describe key identification features such as size, plumage, distribution, behavior, and voice. This one-of-a-kind guide also provides extensive habitat descriptions with a large number of accompanying photos. The text relies on the very latest IOC taxonomy and the distribution maps incorporate the most current mapping data, making this the most up-to-date guide to Australian birds.

  • Covers all 714 species of resident birds and regularly occurring migrants
  • Features more than 1,100 stunning color photos
  • Includes facing-page species accounts, habitat descriptions, and distribution maps
  • The ideal photographic guide for beginners and seasoned birders alike