Fun Fact Friday: Making Sense of Mandibles

Today’s fun fact for Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans takes an inside look at the stag beetle’s best accessory: his mandibles. Why do they have them? What do they use them for? Hold tight to find out!

Did you know? Photo Credit: Arthur V. Evans, Beetles of Eastern North America

The common name “stag beetle” refers to the large antlerlike mandibles found in some males, such as the giant stag beetle Lucanus elaphus (See middle frame at right). Mandible size within a species is “directly proportionate to the size of the body and regulated by genetic and environmental factors.”

Why do they have them?
Males use these oversized mouthparts to fight with rival males over who gets to take the lady beetle to dinner. You can find these beetles in moist habitats where there are plenty of things dying, like  a swamp. An area with decomposing wood is the ideal hideaway for these critters, since they drink tree sap and flower nectar, and munch on decaying deciduous and coniferous wood. But that’s good new for us: no home damagers here!

Bonus Fact:
The Family Lucanidae supposedly got its name when Pliny the Elder noted that Nigidius (a scholar of the Late Roman Republic and a friend of Cicero) called the stag beetle lucanus after the Italian region of Lucania, where they were turned into amulets for children. The scientific name of Lucanus cervus is the former word, plus cervus, deer.

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Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

Evans_Beetles Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041 | 560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews  Table of Contents  Preface[PDF]  Sample Entry[PDF]

Princeton University Press at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting

If you’re heading to the Ecological Society of America annual meeting in Sacramento, CA August 10th-15th, come visit us at booth 303!

Louis Gross, co-author of Mathematics for the Life Sciences, will be speaking in the demo area of the exhibit hall at noon on Wednesday, August 13th. All are welcome to then join us at the booth that evening at 5:00 for wine, cheese, and a book signing!

The life sciences deal with a vast array of problems at different spatial, temporal, and organizational scales. The mathematics necessary to describe, model, and analyze these problems is similarly diverse, incorporating quantitative techniques that are rarely taught in standard undergraduate courses. This textbook provides an accessible introduction to these critical mathematical concepts, linking them to biological observation and theory while also presenting the computational tools needed to address problems not readily investigated using mathematics alone.

Follow us on Twitter @PrincetonUPress for updates on the meeting and new and forthcoming titles.

Also be sure to browse our biology catalog, which lists many books for sale at our booth:

See you in Sacramento!

Fun Facts about Caribbean Wildlife

Raffaele_WildlifeCaribbeanS14Did you know…

  • Residents of colonial Cuba could be punished for insulting the Cuban Trogon, a red-breasted bird whose plumage was seen as representing the red sash worn by Spanish kings.
  • Ackee with salt fish is Jamaica’s national dish, but the fruit can be highly poisonous if harvested or cooked incorrectly
  • The earliest attempt to import breadfruit into the Caribbean was thwarted by a famous mutiny — the one on the H.M.S. Bounty, which was carrying the seedlings among its cargo.
  • You can tell which way the wind blows on a given island by looking at the coconut palm trees, which often leans in the direction of the prevailing breeze.
  • The Caribbean is home to dozens of species of bats, about half of which are endemic to the islands.
  • The Red Junglefowl found in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Grenadines is actually the feral offspring of formerly domesticated roosters and chickens.
  • Crocodiles are native to Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
  • Barracudas have been known to attack divers wearing sparkly clothing, which they can mistake for prey.
  • The black grouper can grow to four feet long and change its sex from female to male.
  • The Caribbean spiny lobster can swim backwards by flipping its tail.

Whether you are traveling to the Caribbean by plane or by cruise ship, make sure you pack a copy of Wildlife of the Caribbean by Herbert A. Raffaele and James W. Wiley so you can learn more about the birds, fish, mammals, and plants you might see.

 

Credit — these fun facts were included in About.com Caribbean Travel’s review of Wildlife of the Caribbean.

A new effective thinking puzzle challenge from Ed Burger

burdger photo

Ed Burger, co-author of The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, spent the day at this leadership workshop at Eastern Michigan University. The assembled group solved creative puzzles using the skills found in the book. Put your own skills to the test with this mathimagical puzzle:

What’s black and red and magical all over?

Consider the following mathematical illusion: A regular deck of 52 playing cards is shuffled several times by an audience member until everyone agrees that the cards are completely shuffled. Then, without looking at the cards themselves, the magician divides the deck into two equal piles of 26 cards. The magician taps both piles of face-down cards three times. Then, one by one, the magician reveals the cards of both piles. Magically, the magician is able to have the cards arrange themselves so that the number of cards showing black suits in the first pie is identical to the number of cards showing red suits in the second pile. Your challenge is to figure out the secret to this illusion and then perform it for your friends.
 
Post your best guess below.

To quickly and easily improve your effective thinking skills, check out Ed Burger and Michael Starbird’s book. You can read a free excerpt here.

Physics Today Q&A with Chris Quigg, Author of Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions

quigg2In the July 2014 edition of Physics Today, Princeton University Press author Chris Quigg sits down with Stephen Blau and Jermey Matthews to talk particle physics and gauge theories.

A member of the Theoretical Physics Department of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Mr. Quigg also received the American Physical Society’s 2011 J. J. Sakurai Prize for outstanding achievement in particle theory. His books include Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions (2013) and the 1993 edition of the Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science.

The following questions have been excerpted from Physics Today:

PT: What is your assessment of the current state of particle physics, including the quality and enthusiasm of current students? With the excitement over the Higgs and other advances, are you concerned that the field might be overhyped?

Quigg: It is an immensely exciting time. In common with many areas of physics and astronomy, particle physics has many challenging questions and the means to address them. Our students and postdocs are highly motivated, talented, and intensely curious. It’s a test for our institutions, including funding agencies, to create rewarding career paths for the young people drawn to science by the excitement of our work.

When I was hiking in Europe in the weeks before the Higgs discovery was announced, it seemed that everyone I met wanted to know what was happening [at the LHC] in Geneva. Sharing our explorations with the public is good for science and good for society.


“Sharing our explorations with the public is good for science and good for society.”


PT: What are the most exciting questions you see the particle-physics community answering in the short term, say within 10 years?

Quigg: I close the new edition of Gauge Theories with a list of 20 outstanding questions—many with multiple parts—and 1 great meta-question: How are we prisoners of conventional thinking?

Within 10 years we will certainly have a much more complete understanding of electroweak symmetry breaking and the character of the Higgs boson. The initial LHC results have shaken theorists out of a certain complacency; specifically, a lot of received wisdom about naturalness and supersymmetry is being reexamined. Searches for dark matter are reaching a decisive stage. Studies of processes that are highly suppressed in the standard model, such as lepton-flavor violation, flavor-changing neutral currents, and permanent electric dipole moments, will reach ever more interesting levels of sensitivity. A world with massive neutrinos poses questions about the nature of neutrino mixing, the existence of sterile neutrinos, and the character of the neutrino—is it a Dirac particle, a Majorana particle, or both? I suspect that we will find new phenomena in the strong interactions that teach us about the great richness of QCD.

Read the rest of this fascinating interview here

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Chris Quigg is the author of:

gauge Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions by Chris Quigg
Hardcover | 2013 | $75.00 / £52.00 | ISBN: 9780691135489
496 pp. | 7 x 10 | 150 line illus. 17 tables. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400848225 | Reviews   Table of Contents   Chapter 1[PDF]   Illustration Package 

Fun Fact Friday: Bizarre Mating Rituals of the Male Beetle

Ah, Friday. Do you hear that? It’s the sound of abundant spare time, rife with the possibility of reading, gardening, eating, and…listening to mating calls?

Beetle1

In this week’s edition of Fun Fact Friday, we bring you the mating rituals of the male beetle, particularly those of the Family Ptinidae.

Did you know?

In his forthcoming book, Beetles of Eastern North America, Arthur V. Evans enlightens us to the truly absurd habits of death-watch beetles, who bang their heads against the walls of their wooden galleries to lure females into their tunnels. They’re in a class of their own, however; most beetles produce sound by rubbing together two ridged or roughened surfaces in a process known as stridulation. Stridulation generally transpires “during courtship, confrontations with other beetles, or in response to other stressful situations, such as an attack by a predator.”

For the most part, beetles don’t partake in fancy wooing practices; there are no flowers or free meals to speak of. But it seems there’s some soft music and chivalry involved, after all. So now you know!

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Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

7-24 Beetles2 Beetles of Eastern North America by Arthur V. Evans
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041
560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews   Table of Contents  Preface[PDF] Sample Entry[PDF]

Celebrate National Honey Bee Day with Noah Wilson-Rich!

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D., author of the upcoming The Bee: A Natural History, will be speaking at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History for National Honey Bee Day on August 16.

noah_wilson_rich_CALENDAR

Wilson-Rich has been keeping bees on Cape Cod since 2010 and maintains two apiaries in Truro, where he conducts research on experimental vaccines that could potentially improve the health of honey bees. His talk at the museum will focus on this research, as well as the role of bees on Cape Cod and the importance of honey bees in sustainable gardening. He will also discuss his business, the Best Bees Company, a service based in Boston’s South End that installs and manages hives for honey bees for businesses and residents of eastern Massachusetts.

 thebeewilson-rich  The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich

Fun Fact Friday: When Beetles Go Rogue

To celebrate the recent publication of Beetles of Eastern North America, Arthur V. Evans’s tremendously beautiful and comprehensive guide to all creatures coleopteral, we’ll be posting a new “fun fact” about beetles each week. These anecdotes won’t be limited to your standard beetle biology; they’ll surprise you, make you laugh, and wish that you’d bought the book sooner!

Did you know? 

7-24 BeetleIn this week’s edition, we’re bringing you a story all the way from Los Angeles’s Griffith Park. In a rare twist of irony, it seems that the pine tree planted to honor the memory of former Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison has been overrun and subsequently destroyed by beetles of the family Curculionidae.

7-24 HarrisonTree

While the specific type of bark beetle that bested the tree isn’t included in the Eastern edition, we won’t have to wait very long to solve this entomological enigma; Arthur V. Evans is already hard at work on part two, aptly titled Beetles of Western North America

So, now you know: if you’re looking for a self-sustaining weed-wacker, look no further than the beetles in your backyard!

Photo credit: Breakingnews.ie

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Arthur V. Evans is the author of:

7-24 Beetles2 Beetles of Eastern North America
Paperback | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133041
560 pp. | 8 x 10 | 1,500+ color illus. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851829 | Reviews  Table of Contents  Preface[PDF]  Sample Entry[PDF]

The Imitation Game — Official Trailer (Release date: November 21, 2014)

The Imitation Game is based on Alan Turing: The Enigma. We will release a movie tie-in paperback later this year so look for details of this soon.

A Look at De-Extinction on TED Radio Hour

What if you could bring an extinct animal back to life? This week on the TED Radio Hour, Guy Raz interviews Stewart Brand, an environmentalist and founder of The WELL and the Global Business Network. Brand says that we now have technology that is advanced enough to bring back extinct creatures like the passenger pigeon, a bird that became extinct when the last member, Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. This year marks the centennial anniversary of Martha’s death and the extinction of her species.

This NPR segment, entitled “The Hackers” takes us to visit Martha in her resting place at the Smithsonian Institute. Brand discusses how DNA taken from Martha’s remains can be inserted into the DNA sequence of a related species, the band-tailed pigeon. More from Brand in his TED Talk below.

Check out Brand’s section of this week’s TED Radio Hour as well as the full broadcast.

Curious to know more about Martha? PUP author Errol Fuller discusses the extinction of her species in his new book, THE PASSENGER PIGEON. This stunningly illustrated book also tells the astonishing story of North America’s passenger pigeon, a bird species that–like the Mammoth and the Dodo–has become one of the great icons of extinction.

For a look at another extinct species that Brand mentions, the tylacine, take a look at photos from LOST ANIMALS, another book by Errol Fuller. The New York Times ran a photo slideshow here of rare photos of extinct animals.

thylacine 2

Birding in the Unknown: Tips and Tales from Birds of Peru Author Tom Schulenberg

[Note: Those of you who regularly read Princeton University Press's blog will have noticed that we have only featured posts by our colleagues and/or authors, however, when someone has the opportunity to travel to Peru, to meet with Tom Schulenberg (the lead author of Birds of Peru), and to see and talk about the birds of Peru at great length--you take them up on the offer of a guest post. We are pleased to present this guest article from Hugh Powell, a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We welcome your feedback on this type of article -- should we do more of this?]


 

tom_dennis-powell

Tom Schulenberg, center, and Dennis Osorio, left, search for an elusive subspecies of Rufous Antpitta in the Cajamarca highlands, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not often a bird watcher gets the chance to tour a new country accompanied not just by a good field guide but by the field guide’s author. That’s what happened to me in May 2014, when I joined Tom Schulenberg on the World Birding Rally in northern Peru. Schulenberg, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is the lead author of Birds of Peru.

Schulenberg_BirdsPeruSchulenberg describes his role in the book as almost accidental—he began visiting Peru in the late 1970s as a graduate student, and his original role with the book was just to help with maps. The true architects of the book, Schulenberg says, were John O’Neill (“the person who more than anyone else in the modern era put Peru on the ornithological map,” according to Schulenberg), and Ted Parker, the now-legendary field ornithologist whose career was cut tragically short in a plane crash in Ecuador in 1993. In the mid-1990s, Schulenberg took up the mantle of the book, recruiting ornithologists Doug Stotz (Field Museum of Natural History) and Dan Lane (Louisiana State University) as additional coauthors.

The field guide was a major undertaking—Peru is home to 1,800 species of birds, more than any country in the world except Colombia. The book was eventually published in 2007, nearly 35 years after O’Neill and Parker first envisioned it.

In late May, at the close of the 8-day rally (during which our group found nearly 800 bird species), I sat down with Schulenberg to learn more about the genesis of the book and the joys of birding in Peru—or, as he put it, “the fun of being completely overwhelmed by what you see.”

Why Peru? Was it just happenstance that you went there instead of somewhere else in the world?

tom_playback_ruiz
Tom Schulenberg plays the song of a unique subspecies of Rufous Antpitta using his phone. Photo by Flor Ruiz.

It wasn’t happenstance. I joined the AOU when I was in my early teens, and one of the first issues [of the Auk] I received was the issue in which John O’Neill and George Lowery described the Elusive Antpitta from this indigenous village called Balta near the Brazilian border. There was this color frontispiece of an antpitta, and the introduction of the paper talks about how even after years of work, within a few square miles you can still be encountering species you didn’t know were in the area, and sometimes they might even be new to science. I was just totally blown away. I had no idea that people were still discovering new species of birds, and I was completely entranced by this idea of an avifauna so complex that you could be there for years and still be learning new things about it.

So you went to graduate school at Louisiana State University with O’Neill as your mentor. And pretty soon his prediction about finding new birds actually came true for you?

peru_powell-2
Cloud forest beneath a blanket of cloud at Alto Mayo, San Martin, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not like I went to Peru really expecting to find new species—I was just trying to work on my life list. But the possibility always was there. And on my [second] trip to Peru we found several species that were undescribed or recently described. We found Cinnamon Screech-Owl, Megascops petersoni [like many tropical ornithologists, Schulenberg reflexively refers to birds by their scientific names in conversation]; Hemitriccus cinnamomeipectus, the Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant; Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher, Poecilotriccus luluae; which actually had been collected in the 1960s by Ned Johnson from Berkeley, but at that time Ned had not yet gotten around to describing it. Grallaricula ochraceifrons, Ochre-fronted Antpitta, we caught two in a single night in adjacent nets. [But all those were in the process of being described by other scientists, and] “all” we got out of it was the Pale-billed Antpitta. It was a fantastic trip though—I’m not complaining.

What field guide did you use before Birds of Peru?

Now remember that when some of the greats first started going down, people like John Terborgh and John O’Neill, there was literally nothing except the primary literature. But in 1970 an ornithologist [named] Meyer de Schauensee published a one-volume guide to the birds of South America, and it had some illustrations, but the illustrations were not great, and there was basically no attempt to illustrate every species. Instead what you had was about a paragraph on each species.

chestnut-eared_aracari-perrins
Chestnut-eared Aracari at Lago Lindo, Peru. Photo by Niall Perrins.

It definitely was difficult to use, and we disparagingly and no doubt unfairly started referring to it as “Meyer de Schloppensee.” But you know, that was our bible from ‘77 until 1986 when Hilty and Brown published the really revolutionary Colombia field guide.

Why did you publish the book with Princeton?

In 1986 Princeton published the Colombia guide by Hilty and Brown, and it was just a total bombshell all across northern South America—it was very good. It was the size of a Manhattan telephone directory. Some birders would even buy copies and rip out the plates, which now that the book is out of print and copies sell for hundreds of dollars, you could cry over that. Anyway the Colombia book was one of the things that made us very comfortable with working with Princeton, because it was so good and set a very high bar.

The modern format of Birds of Peru—text facing illustrations on every page—left little room for text about each species. How did you handle that?

The shorter species accounts were a challenge in many ways. We had only 110 words per species, on average, so there’s no character development that’s for sure. We had to leave out a lot of words.

tom_tomas-powell
Tom Schulenberg, right, and Thomas Valqui, are experts on Peruvian birds and served as judges during the 2014 World Birding Rally. Photo by Hugh Powell

Because the illustrations were opposite the text, we rarely describe what the bird looks like, and that saves a lot of space. Instead we focused on things like aspects of its behavior, or its habitat associations, its vocalizations. We tried to point out what you really need to focus on to ID the species. And we got that information from a lot of very knowledgeable people. If you look in the book, I think we have the longest acknowledgments section on record.

Where are the best places to go birding in Peru?

Well the nice thing about watching birds is you can never be bored, and that’s certainly true in Peru. Wherever you end up, you’ll be seeing interesting species about which not much is known. Certainly there are some places that get a lot of attention. The altiplano, though it might not have the most species, has very remarkable things like the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. And then down in the Amazonian lowlands, those are the most species-rich places, and it’s both challenging and very rewarding to bird there. There’s the dry deciduous forest in the northwest, where we were [during the World Birding Rally], it’s got lower diversity but incredibly high numbers of individuals. I’m always amazed to go into those forests and see the sheer number of birds that are in that habitat. And there are the foothills, the places where the Andean habitats mix with Amazonia, and there are lots of species occurring in these narrow elevational bands. Pretty much anywhere you are in Peru, there’s lots there.

What do you look forward to when you go birding in Peru?

coquette-fernandez
Rufous-crested Coquette near Moyobamba, Peru. Photo by Alfredo Fernandez.

Part of the fun of going down there is the experience of being overwhelmed by what you see. Especially in humid forest on the eastern slope, where you start to get the Amazonian influence. You’ll run into a tanager flock, and just the sight of all these birds running around in the treetops, it’s challenging and exciting at the same time.

But if you pay attention to that flock, and if you can get beyond the gaudiness of the Saffron-crowned Tanagers and the Golden Tanagers, there are all these other dull-colored birds. Don’t pass them over too quickly. There’s this whole other set of birds that, as you gain experience, you may find are more interesting. You know, What’s this foliage-gleaner? What’s this antwren? And you’ll start to get sucked into the whole depth of birds Peru has to offer.

People go gaga over Paradise Tanagers, but I’m more likely to get excited by something like a Gray-mantled Wren. That’s a bird that’s at relatively low density, it has a narrow elevational range, so you have to pay attention. But when you see it, it’s sort of a sign that I’m in a really nice spot here, and there are probably other things here that are worth looking for.

Do you have any practical tips for people traveling to Peru?

Well, first is, you should do it.

peru_powell-1
Looking down the valley of the Utcubamba River near Chachapoyas, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

Then, let’s see: Study your field guide. Look at the range maps. There’s information in those maps, so don’t ignore it. Use eBird—it has become a great supplement to anyone traveling in Peru to find out what’s been seen where. Keep your binoculars clean, and have a great time.

Is there a best season?

Peru is so large and so variable, you can’t go wrong. It’s a little more rainy during our northern winter, especially in the southeast of the country, in Amazonia. You can get into more trouble there with roads that time of year. But it doesn’t really matter what season you go.

And how long a trip should a bird watcher plan to take?

I think something like three years is a good time frame to shoot for.

For the record, he was laughing. But at the same time, he also seemed perfectly serious.


Hugh Powell is a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Read more about the World Birding Rally on the Cornell Lab blog, the ABA blog, Nature Travel Network, and 10,000 Birds.

Cue up The Bangles and join us as we Count Like an Egyptian with Fox News


Interested in learning more about how to do math like an ancient Egyptian, check out David Reimer’s book Count Like an Egyptian.