Bird Fact Friday – The Snowy Sheathbill

Adapted from page 190-191 of Antarctic Wildlife:

The Snowy Sheathbill is a chunky, broad-winged, short-billed, short-tailed bird that recalls a pigeon, particularly in its rapid flight. It has entirely white plumage, with pink facial skin, a yellow-grey bill and dark grey legs. Juveniles are similar, but have a smaller facial wattle. The combination of behaviour, habitat, shape and plumage render this remarkable bird unmistakable.

Watching this ugly yet endearing bird provides great amusement. Snowy Sheathbills are hyperactive, walking rapidly yet clumsily through penguin colonies and across open ground. They are very tame and inquisitive, regularly approaching human visitors and even investigating their clothing and gear on the off chance that they contain illicit foodstuffs. This species is fond of flying out to ships and perching on zodiacs, often balancing on one leg. A gregarious bird, squabbling groups sometimes utter a crow-like “caw ”.

The Snowy Sheathbill (Chionis albus) take their English name from the bony casing (sheath) in which the bill is encased, rather like a sword in its scabbard.

Sheathbills are the ‘cleaners’ of seal and penguin colonies, playing a vital ecological role. Perhaps the ultimate in sheathbill grossness was the individual watched devouring a tapeworm that had just been ejected from a Chinstrap Penguin’s intestine. However, having them around is a mixed blessing for penguins as they are also cunning confidence tricksters. Pairs work together to distract adult penguins feeding their chicks with regurgitated krill. One sheathbill pecks at a penguin until it spills the meal, at which point its partner leaps in and grabs the prize – and sheathbills are not averse to seizing unguarded eggs.

Sheathbills are remarkable for several reasons. Among their many claims to fame, the Sheathbill family (Chionidae) is the only bird family that breeds solely on Antarctica. Sheathbills are, however, the only regularly occurring Antarctic bird that does not have webbed feet, so they avoid contact with water.


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

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.

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:

 

 

Browse Our Religion 2018 Catalog

The offerings in our new Religion catalog include an in-depth investigation of the philanthropic projects of the billionaire evangelical owners of the craft chain Hobby Lobby and their plans to make America a “Bible Nation” once again, a new historically-grounded critique of the religious nationalism and radical secularism found on both sides of America’s culture war, and an examination of the key cognitive process that makes religion possible.

If you’ll be at the joint Annual Meetings of AAR-SBL in Boston this weekend, please join us at Booth 2627 in the Exhibit Hall. Stop by any time to see our full range of religion titles.

 

Like many evangelical Christians, the Green family of Oklahoma City believes that America was founded as a Christian nation, based on a “biblical worldview.” But the Greens are far from typical evangelicals. As America’s biggest financial supporters of Christian causes they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in an ambitious effort to increase the Bible’s influence on American society. The crown jewel of their efforts, the lavishly-appointed Museum of the Bible, is opening this weekend in Washington DC around the corner from the National Mall. In Bible Nation, Candida Moss and Joel Baden provide the first in-depth investigative account of the Greens’ sweeping Bible projects and the many questions they raise.

Was the United States founded as a Christian nation or a secular democracy? Neither,argues Philip Gorski in his new history of “civil religion” in the United States, American Covenant. What the founders actually envisioned was a prophetic republic that would weave together the ethical vision of the Hebrew prophets and the Western political heritage of civic republicanism. In this ambitious book, Gorski shows why this civil religious tradition is now in peril—and with it the American experiment.

Religion remains a crucial influence in the world today, yet as sociologist of religion Christian Smith argues, the social sciences are still not adequately equipped to understand and explain it. Building on recent developments in social science theory and philosophy, this book advances an innovative theory of religion that addresses key questions about the nature, powers, workings, appeal, and future of religion.

 

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

 

Browse Our 2018 Brain & Behavior Catalog

Our new Brain & Behavior catalog includes an examination of the science behind first impressions, an analysis of the problems plaguing psychology today, and a unique look at the role social communication played in evolution.

If you plan on attending the Society for Neuroscience in DC this weekend, please join us at Booth 114, or stop by any time to see our full range of brain & cognitive science titles and more.

 

Face Value

We make up our minds about others after seeing their faces for a fraction of a second—and these snap judgments predict all kinds of important decisions. For example, politicians who simply look more competent are more likely to win elections. Yet the character judgments we make from faces are as inaccurate as they are irresistible; in most situations, we would guess more accurately if we ignored faces. So why do we put so much stock in these widely shared impressions? In this book, Alexander Todorov, one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject, answers these questions as he tells the story of the modern science of first impressions.

Drawing on psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, computer science, and other fields, this accessible and richly illustrated book describes cutting-edge research and puts it in the context of the history of efforts to read personality from faces. A fascinating scientific account of first impressions, Face Value explains why we pay so much attention to faces, why they lead us astray, and what our judgments actually tell us.


The Neuroscience of Emotion presents a new framework for the neuroscientific study of emotion across species. Written by Ralph Adolphs and David J. Anderson, two leading authorities on the study of emotion, this accessible and original book recasts the discipline and demonstrates that in order to understand emotion, we need to examine its biological roots in humans and animals. Only through a comparative approach that encompasses work at the molecular, cellular, systems, and cognitive levels will we be able to comprehend what emotions do, how they evolved, how the brain shapes their development, and even how we might engineer them into robots in the future.

The origins of human language remain hotly debated. Despite growing appreciation of cognitive and neural continuity between humans and other animals, an evolutionary account of human language—in its modern form—remains as elusive as ever. The Social Origins of Language provides a novel perspective on this question and charts a new path toward its resolution.

#AskAnEditor Twitter party to celebrate University Press week

Do you have questions about how to submit a manuscript, what our acquisitions editors look for, or what it’s like to work as an editor at Princeton University Press? This Wednesday, November 8, we’ll be throwing an #AskAnEditor Twitter party. If you have questions for our wonderful acquisitions team, this is your chance to ask them directly. Just tweet to @PrincetonUPress using the hashtag #AskAnEditor. Here’s who will be taking questions and a bit about each of their programs:

11 am-12 pm

Matt Rohal is a junior acquisitions editor at Princeton University Press, working in philosophy, political theory, and the ancient world. He is interested in publishing books that further the conversation in these fields, by presenting innovative insights that are both practical and theoretical, or shedding new light on age-old thinking. Matt has an honors degree in philosophy, a background in publishing political science textbooks, and a lifetime obsession with the ancient world.

12-1 pm

Eric Henney is a science editor, working in physics, astronomy, earth science, and computer science. He is looking for books that change how we see the physical world. Currently he is obsessed with biophysics, materials science, and the collision of computation and society. Eric’s authors include Robbert Dijkgraaf, Mark Serreze, Marcia Bjornerud, Skylar Tibbits, and Carl Landwehr. Though he’s not a scientist, he did have a rock collection when he was a kid.

1-2 pm

Michelle Komie is executive editor at Princeton University Press, and acquires titles in art, architectural, and urban history. Recent titles include On Weaving, by Anni Albers, Mariposas Nocturnas, by Emmet Gowin, Bosch and Bruegel, by Joseph Koerner, and Designing San Francisco, by Alison Isenberg.

2-3 pm

Vickie Kearn is executive editor of mathematics. She taught school in Virginia for 8 years before moving to NYC and taking a job as a Developmental Editor at Academic Press. After editing calculus textbooks and writing solution manuals for three years, she became an Acquisitions Editor. She worked for a commercial press and a mathematics society before coming to PUP. Some of her standout titles include The Seduction of Curves by Allan McRobie, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Salvador Dali by Lewis Carroll, and Magical Mathematics by Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham.

3-4 pm

Fred Appel is executive editor at Princeton University Press. He acquires books in both the social sciences and humanities, focusing in particular on the areas of religion and religious studies (including Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, American religion and religious history) and cultural anthropology. Fred has worked as an acquisitions editor at Princeton for 16 years. Examples of books he has edited at Princeton include Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World; E. Gabriella Coleman’s Coding Freedom, James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism, Noah Feldman’s The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Thomas Barfield’s Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, John C. Collins’ The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam?, and Bible Nation by Candida Moss and Joel Baden.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Wednesday and tweet your question to @PrincetonUPress with the hashtag #AskAnEditor. Hope to see you there!

 

 

Big Pacific — The Blue Whale

From pages 77-79 of Big Pacific:

The open expanses of the Big Pacific are home to the largest animal ever known to have existed, the Blue whale. The weight-supporting qualities of water and the bounty of the sea have, together, enabled the evolution of this marine mammal into a gentle giant larger than any terrestrial animal could ever have grown. It is an evolutionary product of our ocean planet. At birth a blue whale can measure up to 8 meters (25 feet) in length and weigh up to 2.7 tonnes (3 tons). Nourished solely by its mother’s fat-rich milk for the first seven months of its life, it can grow up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds) a day so that, by adulthood, it stretches up to 30 meters (100 feet) in length, and weighs up to 200 tonnes (220 tons). Its heart is reputed to be the size of a small car — famously quipped to be a Volkswagen Beetle — although the comparison of such awe-inspiring natural creation with human invention does not, it can be argued, do this miraculous animal justice.

Prized by commercial whalers in the twentieth century, the Blue whale was hunted to the brink of extinction — down to as few as several hundred individuals — until it was formally protected by the International Whaling Commission in 1966. It is still regarded as endangered and scientists are uncertain how well the blue whale populations around the world are recovering.

Blue whales exist in distinct subspecies in the northern and southern Pacific. Largely solitary, they come together in groups for feeding and breeding. They have the loudest, strongest vocalizations of any animal on the planet; their calls, which consist of a series of moans and pulses, can be heard up to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away. It is thought this communication helps them find each other across vast ocean expanses.

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:

Big Pacific: Wolf eels, the marine monogamists

From pages 36-38 of Big Pacific:

Beneath the green waters of coastal British Columbia, one species sets the bar for enduring long-term relationships. The Wolf eel — actually a type of fish called a blenny, rather than a true eel — lives out its entire life with its chosen mate, even remaining single for the rest of its life when its partner dies.

Their large heads and fierce-looking mouths make them appear dangerous, but they are only aggressive towards other Wolf eels.

Here in the Pacific’s Northeast, the sea is cold, with an average annual water temperature of around 10° Celsius (48 to 50° Fahrenheit). Cold water is richer in oxygen and this gives the entire food chain a boost, leading to larger — albeit slowergrowing — organisms. The Wolf eel is no exception to this rule; it can grow up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length, weigh up to 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and live for more than 30 years, most of it spent tucked away in a rocky crevice with its partner. Female Wolf eels settle down with their chosen mates at around seven years of age, when they will lay up to 10,000 eggs at a time. Once hatched, Wolf eel larvae leave their parents’ lair to drift in sea currents. Juvenile Wolf eels spend their early lives in the mid-depths of the open ocean, but as they mature they head to shallower water. Eventually they find a mate and a den, and spend the rest of their lives together in the security of their home, emerging only to hunt for prey.

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 on CPTV Spirit on Sundays at 9pm ET.

Watch the trailer below:

 

 

Bird Fact Friday – The Blue Waxbill

From page 156 of Birds of Kruger National Park:

Waxbills are small finches that are inconspicuous despite their bright coloration. The Blue Waxbill is readily identified by its entirely sky-blue underparts, rump and tail, silver-pink bill and grey-brown upperparts. The female is paler than the male, and juveniles are mostly grey-brown with a powder-blue wash to the face.

The Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis) is a little more than 5 inches in length. Photo credit: Keith Barnes & Ken Behrens.

It is a common and widespread resident in a variety of habitats in Kruger, favouring drier woodlands close to permanent water where it regularly comes to drink, often dispersing during perods of drought. It feeds mainly on grass seeds but will also take insects, and frequently gives a loud and distinctive high-pitched “tsee-tsee” call, especially when flushed.

Birds of Kruger National Park
Keith Barnes & Ken Behrens

South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the largest and most iconic conservation areas in Africa. Habitats range from wide-open savannah and rugged thornveld to broadleaved mopani woodland. This microhabitat variation gives Kruger a phenomenal diversity of some 520 bird species, half of which are resident. From Africa’s most extraordinary eagles, like the scarlet-faced Bateleur, to electric-colored glossy-starlings and jewel-like finches, Kruger offers an avian celebration of form and color. It is also a crucial conservation area, supporting South Africa’s largest viable populations of vultures, eagles, and large terrestrial birds.

This field guide offers a unique window into the world of Kruger’s birds. More than 500 stunning color photographs illustrate the 259 most frequently encountered species, and a habitat-based approach assists in identification. The authoritative text provides key information about identification, habitat, behavior, biology, and conservation. The guide contains information likely to be new to even the most experienced birders, but is written in a nontechnical style that makes it accessible to anyone.

  • An essential guide to Kruger’s birds
  • Perfect for new and experienced birders alike
  • Small, portable format ideal for field use
  • Unique attractive layout with more than 500 stunning color photographs
  • Covers the 259 most frequently seen species
  • Uses a habitat-based approach to aid identification
  • Authoritative and accessible text provides key information about identification, behavior, biology, and conservation

Global Math Week: Counting on Math

by Tim Chartier

The Global Math Project has a goal of sharing the joys of mathematics to 1 million students around the world from October 10th through the 17th. As we watch the ever-increasing number of lives that will share in math’s wonders, let’s talk about counting, which is fundamental to reaching this goal.

Let’s count. Suppose we have five objects, like the plus signs below. We easily enough count five of them.

 

 

 

You could put them in a hat and mix them up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you take them out, they might be jumbled but you’d still have five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy enough! Jumbling can induce subtle complexities, even to something as basic as counting.

Counting to 14 isn’t much more complicated than counting to five. Be careful as it depends what you are counting and how you jumble things! Verify there are 14 of Empire State Buildings in the picture below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you cut out the image along the straight black lines, you will have three pieces to a puzzle. If you interchange the left and right pieces on the top row, then you get the configuration below. How many buildings do you count now? Look at the puzzle carefully and see if you can determine how your count changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you spot any changes in the buildings in the first versus the second pictures? How we pick up an additional image is more easily seen if we reorder the buildings. So, let’s take the 14 buildings and reorder them as seen below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swapping the pieces on the top row of the original puzzle has the same effect as shifting the top piece in the picture above. Such a shift creates the picture below. Notice how we pick up that additional building. Further, each image loses 1/14th of its total height.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s look at the original puzzle before and after the swap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This type of puzzle is called a Dissection Puzzle. Our eyes can play tricks on us. We know 14 doesn’t equal 15 so something else must be happening when a puzzle indicates that 14 = 15. Mathematics allows us to push through assumptions that can lead to illogical conclusions. Math can also take something that seems quite magical and turn it into something very logical — even something as fundamental as counting to 14.

Want to look at counting through another mathematical lens? A main topic of the Global Math Project will be exploding dots. Use a search engine to find videos of James Tanton introducing exploding dots. James is a main force behind the Global Math Project and quite simply oozes joy of mathematics. You’ll also find resources at the Global Math Project web page. Take the time to look through the Global Math Project resources and watch James explain exploding dots, as the topic can be suitable from elementary to high school levels. You’ll enjoy your time with James. You can count on it!

ChartierTim Chartier is associate professor of mathematics at Davidson College. He is the coauthor of Numerical Methods and the author of Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing.