Bird Fact Friday — All About the Red-masked Parakeet

From page 112 of Wildlife of Ecuador:

The Red-masked Parakeet is an attractive parakeet that shows a bold red mask with a contrasting white eye-ring. It is overall light olive green, and yellowish under the longish tail; in flight it shows red shoulders. It is resident in the drier lowland forests of the southwest, where common, and locally into the northwestern foothills and the upper subtropics of the far south.

The Red-masked Parakeet

The Red-masked Parakeet (Psittacara erythrogenys) perched on a branch.

It flies in noisy groups that give distinctive nasal calls, and it is known to visit fruit feeders in some locations. This is the main species of the parakeets of San Francisco, California (where introduced and afterward escaped) presented in the film The Wild Parrots of the Telegraph Hill.

Wildlife of Ecuador
Andrés Vásquez Noboa
Photography by Pablo Cervantes Daza
Preview a Chapter

Mainland Ecuador’s spectacular wildlife makes it a magnet for nature tourists, but until now there hasn’t been a go-to, all-in-one guide geared to the general reader. With this handy and accessible guide, visitors now have everything they need to identify and enjoy the majority of birds and animals they are likely to see. Written and illustrated by two of Ecuador’s most experienced nature guides and photographers, this book covers more than 350 birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. It features over 400 stunning color photographs and includes a range map for each species, as well as a brief account of the country’s natural history and biogeography. With its extensive coverage, attractive and easy-to-use layout, beautiful photographs, and nontechnical text, this is an essential guide for anyone who wants to explore the natural wonders of Ecuador.

John Kricher on The New Neotropical Companion (revised & expanded)

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

What originally focused your interest in the Neotropics and why did you want to write about the region? 

JK: When I was early in my career in ecology and ornithology, way back in the 1970s, I longed to experience the tropics, to be in hot, steamy equatorial jungles, the ecosystems of the world that harbor the most species.  There was so much I wanted to see, especially bird species. It was really birds that got me there.  I wanted to see firsthand the various tropical birds, the antbirds, parrots, cotingas, trogons, toucans, etc.  To me, these were pure glamor birds, and so many of them.  Reading about them only intensified my need to go and see them firsthand.  So, I jumped on the first opportunity that came along to get myself passage into “the Torrid Zone.”

And what was that opportunity? 

JK: I met a man who was to become a long-time close friend, Fred Dodd.  Fred had just started a company called International Zoological Expeditions (IZE) and he was organizing trips to Belize for college classes.  I saw such a trip as my ideal way to get a foothold in the tropics.  And it worked!  My first tropical experience was to take a class of about 30 students from Wheaton College to Belize and Guatemala over semester break in January of 1979.  The unexpected and challenging experiences we had as we faced numerous logistical hurdles in this admittedly pioneering effort would, in themselves, make a pretty cool book.  But we did it, I loved it, and wanted more, much more.  When I meet my first Tropical Ecology students at alumnae gatherings they all want to relive memories of “the Belize trip.”  We tell the same stories over and over and never seem to tire of it.  Going to Belize, getting to the American tropics, was a watershed experience for me, transforming my career.

Why did you feel the need to write A Neotropical Companion and how did you choose that title? 

JK: It was hard to systematically organize information to present to students about the American tropics.  In the late 1970s information about the tropics was widely scattered and incomplete.  For example, there was no single book I could recommend to my students to prepare them for what would await them in the field.  At the same time, I read multiple journal articles on everything from tree diversity to army ant behavior and it was such cool stuff.  I loved telling the students my various “stories” gleaned from the ecological literature.  As I made more and more visits to Central and South American countries my own perspective was greatly enhanced so I could bring something to the table, so to speak, directly from personal experience.  My knowledge base grew in leaps and bounds and I kept expecting that any day a book would be published that would bring together what I was experiencing and enjoying.  It never was.  So, I thought I could adapt my course information into an introductory book. That was what spawned A Neotropical Companion.  The illustrations in the first edition, published in 1989, were by one of my tropical ecology students who adapted them from her field notebook kept when she took my tropical course in Belize.  As for the title, when Judith May, editor at Princeton University Press, read my manuscript she liked it and said, with enthusiasm, that she had “the perfect title” for the book.  It was Judith who gave it its name.

Your first edition was nicknamed “The Little Green Book.”  Did its popularity surprise you? 

JK: It did.  It was flattering that many folks told me they carried my little green book on various tropical trips and found it very informative and easy to read.  And it was indeed a little green book that conveniently fit in a pocket or backpack.  I knew I had barely scratched the surface with regard both to breadth and depth of information but I was very pleased and a bit surprised by the warm reception the book received.  And as I began making frequent trips to lowland Amazonia as well as Andean ecosystems I knew it was time to expand and revise the book.  The little green book needed to grow.  It did that with the publication of the second edition in 1997 and obtained what I consider its “full maturity,” a coming of age, in the present edition.  It is no longer green and no longer little but much more comprehensive and far better illustrated than its predecessors. This is the book I had always wanted to write.

What is the biggest thing that has changed with regard to visiting the American tropics since you first wrote your Little Green Book? 

JK: In the nearly 30 years since I published the first edition the American tropics has become much easier and more comfortable to visit.  Good tourist lodges were relatively few when I first visited the tropics and now they abound. Talented local guides skilled in finding wildlife take groups to see all manner of fantastic species such as Harpy Eagle, for example. There are now tours in which you are virtually assured of getting fine views of fully wild jaguars.  I wrote in the first edition about being very careful as to what you eat, where you go, and various health concerns.  I scaled that way back in my new edition because it is no longer necessary to include it.  A determined traveler may make trips virtually anywhere in the Neotropics and do so safely and in relative comfort, though some areas do remain rugged and challenging.  There are now even tours to Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “River of Doubt,” once considered a huge challenge to explorers.  This was unheard of when I began my travel to the tropics.

Are you still always being asked about encountering snakes and biting insects in the tropics?

JK: Indeed, I am.  And to be truthful, snakes, including many venomous species, are relatively common if not abundant in some tropical venues, though they are not necessarily easy to find unless one is skilled at searching for them.  It is important to be vigilant when on trails and walking around lodges and field stations, especially at night or after a rainfall.  Snakes may be out and about.  But very few encounters result in venomous snake bites.  I encourage people to experience snakes as interesting and beautiful animals and, as one would a lion on the Serengeti, make sure to maintain a respectful distance.  In Trinidad, my group encountered a huge bushmaster, the largest of the Neotropical venomous snakes.  It was crossing a road late at night and was caught in the headlights of our van.  We all saw it well and from a safe distance, a thrilling sight.  As for insects, I have rarely been very bothered by them, especially mosquitos, but if you travel in rainy season mosquitos may be locally abundant and highly annoying.  Visitors to the tropics must really beware of bees and wasps and even ants, some of which act aggressively if disturbed and may pack a powerful sting.  One ant is called the “bullet ant” because it bites you, holds on, and then stings you. The sting allegedly feels like you were hit with a bullet.

Now that The New Neotropical Companion is complete do you have any plans for further exploration of the Neotropics or are you satisfied that you have done all you set out to do?

JK: I continue to be strongly drawn to the American tropics.  I have very recently visited Honduras and Cuba.  I have plans for trips to numerous other Neotropical venues, from Guyana to Peru and Amazonia.  The wonder of the regional biodiversity has always compelled me to want to see more, go to new areas as well as revisit places I have come to know well, and just keep on learning.  No two visits to the tropics, even to a place where one has been repeatedly, are the same.  The more you go, the more you see.  So, I keep going.

John Kricher is professor of biology at Wheaton College. His many books include Tropical Ecology, The Balance of Nature: Ecology’s Enduring Myth, and Galápagos: A Natural History.

Bird Fact Friday – The Overlooked Puffbirds

From page 290 of The New Neotropical Companion:

Puffbirds are large-headed, heavy-bodied birds so named for the puffed appearance of their feathers. Though some species are boldly patterned in black and white, most species, particularly those that inhabit shaded understory, are brownish or tan. Their cryptic plumage plus their stationary behavior when perched in the shaded forest understory makes them easy to overlook.

The collared puffbird.

The Collared Puffbird (Bucco capensis) is widespread in Amazonia. Photo by Sean Williams.

Like flycatchers, puffbirds have large bills with prominent rictal bristles (hairlike feathers around the base of the bill) that probably aid in capturing aerial insects. Puffbirds excavate nests in termite mounds or in the ground, depending upon species. Rather little is known about the details of their breeding biology, but they do form strong pair bonds, and many species are commonly observed in pairs.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

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

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

Tuesday’s Trot – Yakutian

From page 256 in Horses of the World:

5 things to know about the Yakutian horse:

1. Very primitive, the Yakutian is recognized by its round, massive, compact physique, and its incredible winter coat, which is very long and dense, and which can reach 29 centimeters in length on top of a thick undercoat.

2. This very ancient Siberian breed probably descends from primitive ponies from the tundra and from Mongolian horses.

3. The Yakutian is known to be intelligent; it is also powerful and has great endurance.

4. Adapted to extreme climate conditions that no other breed could tolerate (long winters, temperatures reaching −70°C), there is no other horse in the world better adapted to the cold. But it also endures very hot summers.

5. Very hardy, it digs in the snow for food. It lives an exceptionally long time, which enables it to work and to reproduce late in life.

 

 

This is our final installment of Tuesday’s Trot. For more, check out the rest of the series here, or purchase Horses of the World. More information below:

Horses of the World
Élise Rousseau
Illustrated by Yann Le Bris
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Sample Entry

Horses of the World is a comprehensive, large-format overview of 570 breeds of domestic and extant wild horses, including hybrids between the two and between domestic breeds and other equids, such as zebras. This beautifully illustrated and detailed guide covers the origins of modern horses, anatomy and physiology, variation in breeds, and modern equestrian practices. The treatment of breeds is organized by country within broader geographical regions—from Eurasia through Australasia and to the Americas. Each account provides measurements (weight and height), distribution, origins and history, character and attributes, uses, and current status. Every breed is accompanied by superb color drawings—600 in total—and color photographs can be found throughout the book.

Describing and depicting every horse breed in existence, Horses of the World will be treasured by all who are interested in these gorgeous animals.

Anurag Agrawal: Needing and eating the milkweed

AgrawalU.S. agriculture is based on ideas that make me scratch my head. We typically grow plants that are not native to North America, we grow them as annuals, and we usually only care about one product from the crop, like the tomatoes that give us ketchup and pizza.

And we don’t like weeds. Why would we? They take resources away from our crops, reduce yields more than insect pests or disease, they’re hard to get rid of, and they might give you a rash. But there are few plants more useful, easy to cultivate, and environmentally friendly than the milkweed. The milkweed takes its ill name from the sticky rubbery latex that oozes out when you break the leaves, it’s the monarch butterflies only food, and it is a native meadow plant. Milkweed has sometimes received a bad rep, and perhaps for good reason; they can be poisonous to livestock, they are hard to get rid of, and they do reduce crop yields. But what about milkweed as a crop?

AgrawalThomas Edison showed that milkweed’s milky latex could be used to make rubber. The oil pressed from the seed has industrial applications as a lubricant, and even value in the kitchen and as a skin balm. And as a specialty item, acclaimed for its hypoallergenic fibers, milkweed’s seed fluff that carries milkweed seeds in the wind, is being used to stuff pillows and blankets. Perhaps more surprising, the same fluff is highly absorbent of oils, and is now being sold in kits to clean up oil tanker spills. The fibers from milkweed stems make excellent rope and were used by Native Americans for centuries. More than two hundred years ago, the French were using American milkweed fibers Agrawalto make beautiful cloths, said to be more radiant and velvety than fine silk. And chemically, milkweeds were used medicinally by Native Americans since the dawn of civilization, with a potential for use in modern medicine.  This is a diverse plant with a lot to offer.  Why wouldn’t we cultivate this plant, not only for its stem fibers, seed oils, pillowy fluff, rubbery latex, and medicines, but also in support of the dwindling populations of monarch butterflies?

Ever since the four lowest years of monarch butterfly populations between 2012 and 2015, planting milkweeds for monarchs has been on the tips of a lot of tongues. For most insects that eat plants, however, their populations are not limited by the availability of leaves.  Instead, their predators typically keep them in check, or as in the case of monarchs, there may be constraints Agrawalduring other parts of their annual cycle. Monarchs travel through vast expanses from Mexico to Canada, tasting their way as they go. They tolerate poisons in the milkweed plant; indeed, they are dependent on milkweed as their only food source as a caterpillar. Nearly all mating, egg-laying, and milkweed-eating occurs in the United States and Canada. And each autumn monarchs travel to Mexico, some 3,000 miles, fueled only by water and flower nectar.

All parts of the monarch’s unfathomable annual migratory cycle should be observed and studied. My own research has suggested that habitat destruction in the U.S., lack of flower resources, and logging at the overwintering sites in central Mexico are all contributing to the decline of monarch butterflies. Lack of milkweed does not seem to be causing the decline of monarchs. Nonetheless, planting native milkweeds can only help the cause of conserving monarch butterflies, but it is not the only answer. And of course we humans need our corn and soy, and we love our broccoli and strawberries, so is cultivating milkweed really something to consider?

We humans, with our highly sensitive pallets, do the one thing that monarch butterflies don’t do. We cook. And the invention of cooking foods has been deemed one of the greatest advances in human evolution. Cooking certainly reduces the time spent chewing and digesting, and perhaps more importantly, cooking opens up much of the botanical world for human consumption, because heat can break down plant poisons.

AgrawalEuell Gibbons, the famed proponent of wild plant edibles in the 1970s, was a huge advocate of eating milkweed. The shoots of new stems of the eastern “common milkweed” are my personal favorite. I simply pull them up when they are about 6-8 inches tall and eat them like asparagus. Gibbons recommended pouring boiling water over the vegetables in a pot, then heating only to regain the boil, and pouring off the water before sautéing. You can pick several times and the shoots keep coming. With some preparation, the other parts of the milkweed plant can be eaten too, and enjoyed like spinach, broccoli, and okra.

At the end of summer, many insects have enjoyed the benefits of eating milkweed, especially the monarch butterfly. Any boost we could give to the monarch population may help use preserve it in perpetuity. But the real value in cultivating milkweed as a crop is that it has a lot to offer, from medicines to fibers to oils. It is native and perennial, and can be grown locally and abundantly.  Let’s give this weed a chance.

Anurag Agrawal is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. He is the author of Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution.

Agrawal

Bird Fact Friday – All About Trogons

From pages 269-270 of The New Neotropical Companion:

Trogons are cavity nesters. Some species excavate nest holes in decaying trees; others dig into termite mounds. The Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus) utilizes large wasp nests, after carefully removing and consuming the resident wasps. The species also utilizes termite mounds as nests.

The Resplendent Quetzal

Male Resplendent Quetzal, in all its splendor.
Photo by Gina Nichol.

Trogons feed on fruits from palms, cecropias, and many other species, which they take by hovering briefly at the tree, plucking the fruits. They also catch large insects and occasional lizards, swiftly swooping down on them or snatching them in flight. Trogon bills are finely serrated, permitting a tight grip on food items. Arguably the most spectacular member of the trogon family is the Central American Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno; pictured above), which is said to be the inspiration for the legendary phoenix.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

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

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

Rebecca Tansley & Craig Meade: The Pacific Ocean as you’ve never seen it before

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. 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. In our latest Q&A, author Rebecca Tansley and showrunner Craig Meade ask each other questions about the series, the book, and the majestic Pacific Ocean:

Questions from Rebecca to Craig

There have been a lot of documentaries made about the oceans and the animals that live in them. How did the Big Pacific idea come about and what new perspectives did you think this series could bring?
It started ten years ago in a late night conversation in France with some of Japan’s best wildlife filmmakers.  We realized that after a thousand years of humanity dominated by the Atlantic and its people that the next thousand years would probably be owned by the Pacific. We conjectured that if we inverted the paradigm and considered the Pacific Ocean a continent, it would already hold many of the world’s major cities: Seattle, LA, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Taipei.  So what are the natural values of this new continent, what does it say to us, and what does it mean to us? What are its emotional messages? Let’s put a flag in it, explore it and see what we discover about it. So that night we started looking for the defining stories that we should tell of the Pacific Ocean.

The book sections match the episodes of the Big Pacific show – Passionate, Voracious, Mysterious, Violent. How did you come up with these themes and decide to structure the series around them?

To matter, stories must move us, trill our emotional strings. Usually these kind of words are embedded in the undercurrent of the script. Hinted at. But the Pacific is big and bold and we thought our statements about it should be so too. It’s all those things: passionate, voracious, violent and mysterious, but it’s also many other things. So I don’t believe this journey to capture its multitude of faces is yet over. Please let me do the Ecstatic, Selfish and Uncertain shows one day as well!

I talked to crew members about some of the special moments in the series’ production, but which is the most special Big Pacific moment for you, on screen?

The Yellow eyed penguins in the Passionate episode. Less than 4000 adults remain. They are a species that may have just a decade or two left and the cinematographer captured their cold and lonely existence beautifully. It’s not a story of sorrow but one of the bird’s passionate relationship with its mate and family. Like a black and white waddling hobbit he comes home from work and wanders through the mossy forest to the cave they all share. It’s an idyllic glimpse of natural New Zealand and a rare and wonderful animal few people are ever going to see. If they disappear for good from the wild I’ve no doubt this story is the one they’ll play to teach kids what a Yellow eyed penguin once was like.

The Big Pacific series is highly entertaining but also packed with fascinating information – I learned a lot writing the book! In a world of increasing pressure on our natural environment, what is the role of natural history storytelling?

I think it’s increasingly important we do not sugar-coat the truth. We mustn’t be the blind purveyors of a dream while a nightmare plays out in the natural world. So as filmmakers there’s always a tension in what we do. I actually want to bring you a dream so you know why we must protect what we have left in the wild world – but I mustn’t let that dream lie to you and hypnotize you into believing the dream is entirely real. Because in some cases the dream is already over. Like the Yellow eyed penguin story I mentioned, I find myself handling a story as though I am preserving something already lost; instead of revealing something new I find myself working to faithfully capture the essence of what was.

Questions for Rebecca from Craig

The Pacific Ocean is many things to many people: a place, a home, a source of food, a gulf between land masses. How did writing the Big Pacific book change your sense of what the Pacific is to us?

I grew up with the Pacific literally at my front door and I’ve never been far from it for my entire life. It’s been my playground, my pastime and my place of solace. Because of this, for me as well as millions of other people like me, it’s hard to define just what the Pacific means – it just infuses our lives. This is one of the many reasons I was attracted to this project, because of the way it focuses not just on the Pacific’s natural history but on people’s relationship with it too. I hope that comes through in the book, because you can’t separate the animals or the people from the ocean they live in and around. We are, actually, in many ways defined by our place in or on the Pacific. Writing the book reinforced this view and gave me an opportunity to express it.

There are so many evocative images in the Big Pacific book, is there one that you keep on returning to?One animal that you want to meet?

Oh that’s a tough one, because I’m in love with so many of the animals and the images! I’ve always had a strong interest in whales so I find the images of the rare Blue whale captured by Big Pacific Director of Photography, the late and obviously very talented Bob Cranston, mesmerizing. But in the course of writing the book I discovered many other wonderful members of the Pacific community. Among them are the Wolf eels, whose dedication to their partner and to their brood is totally endearing. I love the images of the Firefly squid because they seem so ethereal and their lives are so fleeting, yet nature has nonetheless equipped them miraculously for their short, spectacular journey. Plus I can’t not mention the Chinese horseshoe crab, because they are such admirable survivors. I hope the whole world wakes up to the beauty and value of all the animals that live in and around not just the Pacific but all the planet’s oceans, and recognizes that they deserve their place in it for the future as much as we do.

Natural history stories at their heart are science stories – but with fur and scales. To be enjoyable and understandable they usually require simplification, but still need to be highly accurate. That sounds like a complicated dance to perform when writing, was it?

I’m a storyteller, not a scientist, but like a scientist I’m curious about the world. The process I used for Big Pacific worked well. First I read the (draft) series scripts and watched the Big Pacific footage. This meant I became intrigued with the animals first and foremost as characters, and was drawn into other aspects of the Pacific’s natural history – such as the Silver Dragon and the Ring of Fire – as stories. When I set about writing I drew on the science that was provided to me by Big Pacific researcher Nigel Dunstone. Then it was a matter of asking myself, what do I find interesting about that animal or story that others might also enjoy? What might people not know? What is dramatic about this story? Of course I also ensured I was covering off important information, such as environmental threats and conservation status, and everything I wrote was checked afterwards by Nigel and the Big Pacific team.

You’ve made some fantastic films between your writing jobs, is it hard to transition from the spoken word to the written?  Are they two different crafts?

Writing and filmmaking are related in terms of both entertaining and organizing information for an intended audience, but they do that in different ways and to a large extent employ different skill-sets. Obviously filmmaking is a collective pursuit that usually requires a team of people, whereas writing is a solitary craft. I enjoy both equally and writing/directing my own films enables me to do this. I was fortunate enough to spend time with the Big Pacific team when I selected the images for the book, and also interviewed others, so in this writing project I did get to collaborate. I would add that when I write I’m very conscious of rhythm – an aspect that’s also important to aspects of filmmaking, such as narration and editing. I’m not really musical, but I like to think that I have that sense of linguistic rhythm and flow. Perhaps that’s why I studied languages for many years!

TansleyA documentary filmmaker herself, Rebecca Tansley has previously worked at the production company that made the Big Pacific series, NHNZ. In addition to writing and directing films she has written two other internationally published books and been a contributor to national magazines and newspapers in her home country of New Zealand. Rebecca has degrees in languages, media production and law.

Craig Meade and the production team at NHNZ are some of the most successful and prolific producers of natural history programs on the planet—more than 50 wildlife shows completed in just the last four years. But after 30 years of writing and directing Craig still doesn’t class himself as a wildlife filmmaker—he’s a science guy that prefers mud, tents and mosquitoes to laboratories. When he’s not making films Craig is a deer hunter and an on-call fire fighter.

Tuesday’s Trot – Andalusian

From page 94 in Horses of the World:

5 things to know about the Andalusian horse:

1. The Andalusian has pronounced sexual dimorphism; mares are clearly more slender than males, especially in the neck.

2. Quite versatile, the Andalusian can excel in very high-level disciplines, and is a pleasant recreational horse.

3. It is known for its good nature, its courage, its calm, and its ability to learn and to adapt. Its gaits are wonderful, light, and high-stepping.

4. It is a founder of many breeds, notably in North and South America, after it was introduced by the conquistadors.

5. Andalusians are the result of crossbreeding first between native Iberian horses and Germanic horses in the fifth century following the invasion of the Vandals, then between Barb, Arabian, and Syrian horses imported by the Moors when they invaded Spain in 711.

Horses of the World
Élise Rousseau
Illustrated by Yann Le Bris
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Sample Entry

Horses of the World is a comprehensive, large-format overview of 570 breeds of domestic and extant wild horses, including hybrids between the two and between domestic breeds and other equids, such as zebras. This beautifully illustrated and detailed guide covers the origins of modern horses, anatomy and physiology, variation in breeds, and modern equestrian practices. The treatment of breeds is organized by country within broader geographical regions—from Eurasia through Australasia and to the Americas. Each account provides measurements (weight and height), distribution, origins and history, character and attributes, uses, and current status. Every breed is accompanied by superb color drawings—600 in total—and color photographs can be found throughout the book.

Describing and depicting every horse breed in existence, Horses of the World will be treasured by all who are interested in these gorgeous animals.

Bird Fact Fridays – Flowerpiercers, the Evolutionary “Cheaters”

From page 173 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Flowerpiercers (a group of 16 bird species related to tanagers), like hummingbirds, consume nectar from flowers . But they “cheat.” Rather than forage within the flower, where they might encounter pollen and thus aid in cross-pollination, they use their delicately upturned and hooked bills to pierce the flower at its base and access the nectar without ever encountering the pollen.

Indigo Flowerpiercer

The Indigo Flowerpiercer (Diglossa indigotica) occurs in cloud forest in western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. There are 16 flowerpiercer species in South America. Photo by Andrew Whittaker.

Flower traits have been shown to evolve not only to attract certain pollinating species but also to discourage species that are ineffective pollinators or pollen robbers. Adaptations to reduce nectar robbery include adding toxins to the nectar that discourage robbers but not pollinators, flowering at times when nectar robbers are inactive, growing near plants that offer better food sources for nectar robbers, or evolving flowers that are physically difficult for robbers to access.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

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

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

Anurag Agrawal: Summer in the milkweed patch

AgrawalAnurag 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. His latest book, Monarchs and Milkweed, is available now.

It’s peak season for milkweed and the village of insects that make milkweed its home.  In my book on Monarchs and Milkweed, I devote an entire chapter to these diverse and fascinating other milkweed insects.  Below are photos from two days last week (July 6 and 7th), one set from my front yard and the other from Shawangunk National Grassland Preserve, both in NY State. All but two of the 11 specialized milkweed herbivores was seen on these four species of milkweed. Do you know which two species are missing?

1
The butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa.  Likes it dry.
2
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, >90% of monarchs that make it to Mexico eat this as a caterpillar.
2b
A. syriaca, mis-named because it was thought to be from Syria.
3
The purple milkweed, Asclepias purpurescens, rare in NY State, this spectacular individual was near the shawangunks.
3b
Vegetative swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata.
4
Flowering swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, complete with the swamp milkweed beetle, Labidomera clivicollis.
5
The poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata, loves the partial shade. Note the nearly mature monarch.
6
The four-eyed milkweed longhorn beetle, Tetraopes tetrophthalmus. Note the four functional eyes!
7
Like all chewing insects on milkweed, Tetraopes deactivates the latex by clipping the veins.
8
Drippy toxic gooey stuff.
9
A little egg laid upon a leaf.  Monarch inside.
10
The first day or a monarch’s life, it makes a latex-free island before starting to feed on the leaf tissue inside the circle.
11
A week later, the monarch has grown 2000 times its original size.  This caterpillar has parasitic wasps eating it from the inside out.
13
The only fly known to eat milkweed, a leaf miner, feeds between layers of the leaf (larva is hidden here): Liriomyza asclepiadis.
14
Euchaetes egle, the milkweed tussock moth, a misnomer since it’s in the woolly bear family, Arctiidae.  Egg clutches hatch into hundreds of caterpillars… note the foamy fluff that the egg mass was delivered in.  These turn into large hairy orange and black caterpillars. Hmmmmm…. same colors as adult monarch butterflies.
15
A dead bee, like so many that get stuck in milkweed’s flowers. Why do they get stuck?
16
A tourist, not a real herbivore of milkweed.
17
Adult of the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis, here on common milkweed.
18
Larva of the milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis.  Larvae of this species are apparently polymorphic, with grey or orange coloration. Closely related to the Colorado Potato Beetle.
18b
An adult of the elusive milkweed stem weevil, Rhyssomatus lineaticollis, chewing on apical leaves of common milkweed.
19
Sometimes they poke the stem, as here on the poke milkweed, A. exaltata. No egg inside this one.
20
Other times eggs are laid in a row in the stem.
21
A trenched stem with milkweed stem weevil, Rhyssomatus lineaticollis, eggs.
22
Inside the stem, larval feeding and frass of the milkweed stem weevil, Rhyssomatus lineaticollis.
23
The milkweed stem weevil, Rhyssomatus lineaticollis, also deactivates the latex.  All the chewing herbivores of milkweed do it… more or less the same way, but with there own special twist.
24
No seed pods yet, but the small milkweed bug, Lygaeus kalmii, feeds on last year’s seeds and sucks milkweed’s sap (not the latex!) … The large milkweed bug has not yet arrived to NY State… it apparently cannot overwinter in the frozen north.
25
Aphis asclepiadis, one of three aphids that eats milkweed.  This species is greenish to brown to grey, typically lives on top of the plant, and is nearly always tended by ants.
26
And the Oleander aphid, Aphis nerii, usually bright yellow-orange.  Here with a winged adult, just founding a colony in Ithaca, NY.

Tuesday’s Trot – Polish Koniks

From page 374 in Horses of the World:

5 things to know about the Polish Konik:

1. Its Polish name Konik polski means “small Polish horse.” Outside of Poland it is sometimes called a “Tarpan,” even though the breed is domesticated, whereas the Tarpan is a wild animal.

2. Polish Koniks are the direct issue of the Tarpan, whose look and unique coat they have inherited. Along with the Portuguese Sorraia, this horse has remained closest to its wild ancestor.

3. Koniks were once hunted as game. A large number of Koniks are still bred in conditions close to a wild environment.

4. The Konik is active, very intelligent, gentle and docile, but sometimes independent and assertive. It is very strong for its size, has good endurance, and is very rustic, hardy, resilient, and well adapted to a harsh climate. It is also very fertile and lives a long time.

5. Once used for farm work, it is also suited for riding and driving. Its gentleness makes it well suited to equitherapy.

Horses of the World
Élise Rousseau
Illustrated by Yann Le Bris
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Sample Entry

Horses of the World is a comprehensive, large-format overview of 570 breeds of domestic and extant wild horses, including hybrids between the two and between domestic breeds and other equids, such as zebras. This beautifully illustrated and detailed guide covers the origins of modern horses, anatomy and physiology, variation in breeds, and modern equestrian practices. The treatment of breeds is organized by country within broader geographical regions—from Eurasia through Australasia and to the Americas. Each account provides measurements (weight and height), distribution, origins and history, character and attributes, uses, and current status. Every breed is accompanied by superb color drawings—600 in total—and color photographs can be found throughout the book.

Describing and depicting every horse breed in existence, Horses of the World will be treasured by all who are interested in these gorgeous animals.

Big Pacific – Passionate Pacific

Watch the fourth episode of Big Pacific, “Passionate Pacific,” on your local PBS station at 8pm Eastern, Wednesday, July 12th. The companion book is available now from Princeton University Press.

The largest ocean on planet Earth, the vast and unfathomable Pacific is inhabited by an extraordinary wealth and diversity of animal life. This multitude of species is united by a common drive—the need to reproduce—but that drive is expressed in ways as different as the creatures themselves.

Clownfish and Anemone

A clownfish lurks amid the fronds of a poisonous Anemone.

The home life of the clownfish is unusual—these small, brightly colored fish live out their lives amid the fronds of sea anemones, exuding a mucus-like covering that protects them from the anemone’s poisonous sting. Up to a dozen clownfish may live in the embrace of a single anemone, protected from predators by their host’s venom. In return, the clownfish consume parasites that could harm the anemone, and their movements as they swim help waft food towards the stationary anemone. All clownfish are born male, but within each of these miniature colonies, one of these males will become dominant and develop into a female. In turn, this female will select one and only one of the remaining males as a mate, leaving the rest to live out their lives in cloistered celibacy. The chosen male has the tasks of fertilizing the hundreds of eggs released by the female when she spawns and of guarding them without respite until they hatch ten days later.

Grunion run

Grunion carpet the shore during their mating run.

The reproductive life of the Gulf grunion is more hazardous and dramatic, played out in the liminal zone where the ocean meets the shore in the Gulf of California. Riding the high tide produced by the full moon, a wave of female grunion pitches onto the beach, digging into the sand to find a place to lay their eggs. That wave is followed in quick succession by the males, who wrap themselves around their half-buried mates to fertilize the eggs. Though the process takes only minutes, the fish quickly returning to the water to avoid suffocation, it leaves the grunion vulnerable. The beach, densely carpeted with silvery bodies, is an open buffet for predatory birds such as gulls, but the sheer mass of grunion ensures that plenty survive. The grunion hatchlings remain buried in the sand until the next full moon tide allows them to make their way back into the ocean.

Seahorses with tails entwined

Pot-bellied seahorses entwine their tails for a mating dance.

The Pot-bellied seahorse prefers a more relaxed courtship. Having identified a potential mate, the male seahorse brightens his stomach pouch to a vivid yellow. The female responds with her own display of color, and the two entwine their tails for an underwater dance that can last for up to twenty minutes as the seahorses pirouette and twirl around the warm, shallow waters in which they live. At the consummation of the dance, the two belly-to-belly, the female squirts her eggs into an opening in the male’s pouch and the two separate. Once the eggs hatch, the male carries his hundreds of offspring in his pouch for up to a month, before releasing them to float away.