Insect of the Week: Palpadas

Adapted from pages 120-121 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America

Palpadas are a distinctive New World genus of flies, generally resembling Eristalis, but with a characteristic color pattern consistent throughout most of the species in the genus. The larvae are filter feeders in aquatic environments. There are 83 valid species, only four of which make it into our area.

The Palpada vinetorum is typically 10-13.5mm in length, with a pollinose face and a yellow medial stripe. Their wings are partly microtrichose apically. These flies are fairly common, with flight times in early June through mid-October. Like other Palpada species in our area, this species may be migratory. Flowers visited include Baccharis, Gymnosperma, Lobularia, Miconia, Serjania, and Solidago.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

Bird Fact Friday: the Barred Owl (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Barred Owl, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This owl is large, sedentary, and dark-eyed. It is also loudly vocal.
  • Originally an Eastern bird, this owl has spread to the Pacific Northwest, sometimes competing with Spotted Owls.
  • They are mottled brown, without ear tufts, and have short, rounded tails.
  • Barred Owls are often found perched in large trees in mature mixed forests, often near water. These areas are more likely to have cavities for nesting and a diverse range of prey, especially small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.
  • Pairs likely mate for life, and use largely unmodified cavities for nesting.
  • They are sometimes predated by Great-horned Owls
  • They have a lifespan of up to 24 years.
  • Population: 3 million and increasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Barred Owl?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Leafwalkers

Adapted from pages 172-173 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America:

The Yellow-haltered Leafwalker (Chalcosyrphus [Xylotomima] curvarius) is identified by its bright yellow halteres. It is the most distinctive of the orange-legged Chalcosyrphus species, with an entirely black metacoxa. These insects are common, and fly typically between mid-May to late August. Like the two preceding species, they can often be found on hilltops. On hilltops, the males more often land on the ground rather than on leaves or twigs. They are mostly found in hardwood forests but there are a few records from the tundra. There is no genetic variation between Arctic and eastern specimens. One specimen was collected on a large fallen Populus (aspen) log that had been on the ground for about one year.

Meanwhile, the Violet Leafwalker (Chalcosrphus [Xylotomima] chalybeus) is distinctive as it is all black, and has a metallic purple sheen to its body. Its legs are entirelyblack, and unlike the wings of other black Chalcosyrphus, the wings are largely dark brown. These bugs are between 12.4.-16.1 mm in length, and are fairly common, flying typically between mid-May and mid-August. These hardwood forest flies are often seen around fallen dead tree trunks. They are spectacular and glisten with purplish iridescence on a sunny day. They only occasionally visit hilltops. Flowers visited include Rubus and Spiraea. These flies
mimic solitary wasps such as Sphex pensylvanicus and Chalybion californicum.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

Earth Day 2019: Protecting whales and dolphins through citizen science

Whales and dolphins are icons of the sea that are instantly recognisable, and few animals inspire such excitement and passion. The intelligence of these animals relative to humans means that they speak to something deep within our psyche and connect us with the ocean like no other species.

However, despite this level of interest, there’s still so much we don’t know about cetaceans, the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises. According to the IUCN, over half the species of cetacean found globally are considered data deficient, which means we can’t even say whether they are thriving or on the verge of extinction.

This lack of knowledge and understanding means that it’s impossible to put in place effective protections for whales and dolphins – after all, how can you keep safe something safe if you don’t understand it?

ORCA trains members of the public to help shed light on the world of these amazing animals and to volunteer as “citizen scientists” –people from all walks of life, who have decided to take an active role in safeguarding the future of the ocean.

We teach these committed volunteers to identify and record animals from different ships traveling across the world, from ferries to cruise ships. We place them aboard in teams of four to conduct regular scientific surveys, then analyse their sightings to build a long term data set.

Having this type of insight means that we can highlight changes or trends in the behaviour, distribution and population of the different species we encounter, which is crucial in creating impactful and effective marine conservation policy. We share our data with government agencies and leading researchers to help them create protected areas, keeping whales and dolphins safe for future generations.

For more than fifteen years we’ve been collecting data across Europe and the North Atlantic, and we have been able to share this insight with WILDGuides to help create the upcoming Europe’s Sea Mammals. As well as being able to give the most comprehensive and accurate possible picture of where species can be found, we’ve also been able to help give insight into the threats that these animals face, and show how easy it is for people to get involved in marine conservation.

This includes showcasing some of the most endangered species on the planet and shining a light on the challenges they face in the 21st century, ranging from ship strike to by catch. We are hoping that highlighting these challenges in this stunning new field guide will inspire more people to get involved and play their part in protecting the ocean.

Europe’s Sea Mammals will be in the back pack of every single one of our volunteers from later this year, and it is truly the most detailed and accurate guide to Europe’s cetaceans. We’re proud to have been involved in producing this book, and know it will play a leading role in helping our citizen scientists monitor some of the most vulnerable marine mammals on the planet for many years to come.

Steve Jones is the Head of Partnerships at ORCA, a charity that’s entirely dedicated to studying and protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises in the UK and European waters.

Europe’s Sea Mammals Including the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde
A field guide to the whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals

This cutting-edge photographic identification guide to Europe’s sea mammals—the only such guide of its kind—covers the 39 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and 9 species of seals found in the region, which spans the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean, Caspian and Baltic seas. Written and illustrated by a team of professional tour guides with extensive experience presenting the region’s sea mammals, the guide features more than 180 color photographs, maps and graphics, highlights key identification features and includes information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species. Produced with the marine conservation charity ORCA, the book presents mapping data from a decade of surveys, which shows both current distribution and changes over time.

Europe’s Sea Mammals is an essential companion for whale watchers and anyone else who is interested in this enigmatic group of mammals.

  • The only photographic guide dedicated to this popular whale-watching region
  • Features more than 180 color photos, maps and graphics
  • Highlights key identification features and provides essential information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species

 

Luke Hunter on Carnivores of the World

Covering all 250 species of terrestrial, true carnivores, from the majestic polar bear and predatory wild cats to the tiny least weasel, Luke Hunter’s comprehensive, up-to-date, and user-friendly guide, Carnivores of the World, features 93 color plates by acclaimed wildlife artist Priscilla Barrett that depict every species and numerous subspecies, as well as more than 400 drawings of skulls and footprints. Features new to this edition include revised and expanded species coverage, a distribution map for every species, 25 new behavioral illustrations, and much more. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, distribution and habitat, feeding ecology, behavior, social patterns, reproduction and demography, status, threats, lifespan, and mortality. An introduction includes a concise overview of taxonomy, conservation, and the distinct families of Carnivora.

What’s new in the second edition?

The text has been completely revised for the second edition, with new data and observations published since 2011 to update and improve the original text throughout. By way of one example, most reproductive data for the Andean Bear in the first edition had been collected from captive animals, but the first population-level information from long-term research on the species in the wild (in Peru) was published in 2018, and has been incorporated in the book. Similarly, some species which were very poorly known at the time I wrote the first edition have since been the focus of at least one dedicated research effort, providing much better information for the new book; examples include the Bush Dog, Fishing Cat and Narrow-striped Boky.

A major addition in the new edition is the inclusion of 9 new species delineated since 2011, largely as a result of recent genetic analyses. Perhaps the most dramatic example is the African Wolf, formerly believed to be an African population of the Eurasian Golden Jackal.  The new book covers numerous cases where one species has been re-classified into two or even three, e.g. European, Asian and Japanese badgers, Northern and Southern Oncillas, and Mainland and Sunda Leopard Cats.

Finally, the IUCN Red List category indicating degree of endangerment has been revised for most carnivores, I provide a new assessment of Population Trend for each species, and the second edition includes distribution maps for every species based on the most recent IUCN Red List population data.

It is surprising that so many new species have been described since the first edition was published. How did these discoveries arise?

All new species in the book arose largely as a result of advances in genetic technology which has made very powerful and cost-effective analyses widely accessible to researchers. It has allowed geneticists to look with ever-increasing resolution at the differences between populations which, in some cases, turned out to be a so-called “cryptic species.” The same process has also revealed cases where populations formerly considered to be separate species (based mainly on appearance) actually have minor genetic differences, subsuming two former species into one. For example, Grandidier’s Vontsira is now regarded as a distinct population of the Broad-striped Vontsira. Whereas the first edition included accounts of 245 species, edition 2 covers 250 species, nine of them newly described.

To many readers, uncovering new species by genetic differences probably does not have the same excitement as news of an entirely unknown animal never before seen by scientists being discovered in a remote corner of the globe. Do you think the new species in the book are as interesting or even valid?

The question of validity is an interesting one; even geneticists debate the degree of genetic divergence indicative of two distinct species (versus lower-level delineations, for example, indicative of sub-species). There is the genuine danger of a ‘gold-rush’ in which researchers rush to publish new discoveries based on relatively minor distinctions between populations: there are already examples in the scientific literature. I took a conservative approach in the book, and included only those new species supported by strong published evidence and that are generally accepted by relevant authorities e.g. the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) Specialist Groups devoted to carnivores.

Even with that, the question of validity remains a moving target. I believe that any newly discovered genetic distinctions must reflect other significant biological differences, such as in morphology, ecology, distribution and especially in reproductive isolation, the classic (some say old-fashioned!) defining characteristic of species. This is not always well understood, even for some of the new species included in this new edition. In an introductory section on the 13 families of terrestrial carnivores, I list other cases that I consider borderline or questionable; these are not treated as full species in the book but some may eventually be recognized as such with better data and analyses in future. This is a story that will continue to unfold.

Priscilla Barrett’s artwork is superb, with many species which have never been so accurately and beautifully painted. What was it like working with her?

Priscilla is an exceptional collaborator. With her zoology background, she brings a scientist’s rigor to the process. She draws on her vast collection of reference material- photos of museum skins and samples, sketches and notes from the field- and we also used hundreds of recent camera-trap images, supplied by colleagues from around the world, including of many species or forms that have otherwise never been photographed in the wild. The result is art that is not only beautiful but also highly accurate; viewing Priscilla’s carnivores, I always feel a surge of recognition, that she has captured the true essence of each species.

Beyond each individual piece of art, each plate benefits from Priscilla’s very intuitive sense of design. The process started with her sketching rough lay-outs to decide the poses for each species or form, and how each interacted with the others on the page. Once we had decided that a plate worked, she painted all of the components. It has been very rewarding for me to come to understand how that process produces complete plates with both balance and life.

Field guides to mammals are becoming more common. Do you think this reflects greater interest in watching mammals?

Two colleagues who recently published a review of mammal-watching put it nicely when they said ‘Mammalwatching today is arguably where bird-watching was a century ago.’ That said, the same paper notes how mammal-focused tourism has increased dramatically in the last couple of decades, not only for the large charismatic species that every safari-goer to Africa wants to see, but increasingly for small and often difficult-to-see species requiring specialist guides and local knowledge.

Amateur mammal-watchers have also contributed to scientific discoveries including the first documented record, with terrific photos, of the virtually unknown Pousargues’ mongoose in Uganda since the 1970s, and the first records of Pale Fox and Rüppell’s Fox from northeastern Ethiopia; I referred to both papers for the second edition. I also had access to many dozens of trip reports written by mammal-watchers since the first edition. There’s little doubt all this reflects an increase in mammal-focused tourism, a trend that I am sure will continue. And one, I hope, that helps foster the growing demand for more and better mammal-focused field guides!

 

Luke Hunter is one of the world’s leading authorities on wild carnivores. His books include Wild Cats of the World and Cheetah. He lives in New York City.

Galápagos: Animals Interacting

Adapted from pages 172-183 of Galápagos: Life in Motion:

Alpha male Galápagos Sea Lion patrolling his beach, Fernandina Island. Photo credit: Walter Perez.

Galápagos animals strive to cope with their harsh environment. This often means struggling to find food when it is scarce, hiding from predators, and finding a mate. But much of the life of an animal involves dealing with other animals. Sometimes it is necessary to fight, but sometimes play is welcome. Some animals depend on each other through various cooperative mutualisms, while other curious animals keep a careful eye on the humans who have recently arrived in their environments. Animals are intimately part of each other’s environments, and no examination of animal behavior would be complete without understanding these relationships.

One of the most dramatic interactions among Galápagos animals is fighting—for territory, access to mates, or food. Iguanas are territorial and fight to protect their territory, and their mating success is tied to the quality of the territory they hold. Many instances of fighting ultimately are about mating. Although Waved Albatrosses form mating pairs, additional copulation is common and often a source of skirmishes. Similarly, large male Galápagos Sea Lions will protect their beaches for weeks at a time, preventing other males from gaining sexual access to females.

In the most barren and dry parts of the Galápagos, access to preferred nesting and feeding grounds can mean the difference between successfully raising offspring or not. There are often spirited disagreements over who can lay their eggs and who can feed in a given location. Not every interaction between animals is brutal, however. Galápagos animals play with members of their own species, with other animals, and even with plants and sticks.

Galápagos: Life in Motion
by Walter Perez & Michael Weisberg

The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on—and in the waters around—their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.

Watch male Marine Iguanas fight over territory and females; see frigatebirds steal food and nesting materials from other birds; witness the courtship dance of a pair of Blue-footed Boobies; go underwater to glimpse a Galápagos Sea Lion pup playing with its mother; and observe a baby Pacific Green Turtle enter the water for the first time. These and dozens of other unforgettable senes are all vividly captured here—including many moments that even experienced Galápagos observers may never be lucky enough to see in person.

Complete with a brief text that provides essential context, this book will be cherished by Galápagos visitors and anyone else who wants to see incredible animals on the move.

David Bainbridge on Stripped Bare

For more than two thousand years, comparative anatomy—the study of anatomical variation among different animal species—has been used to make arguments in natural philosophy, reinforce religious dogma, and remind us of our own mortality. This stunningly illustrated compendium traces the intertwined intellectual and artistic histories of comparative anatomy from antiquity to today.

Stripped Bare brings together some of the most arresting images ever produced, from the earliest studies of animal form to the technicolor art of computer-generated anatomies. David Bainbridge draws on representative illustrations from different eras to discuss the philosophical, scientific, and artistic milieus from which they emerged. He vividly describes the unique aesthetics of each phase of anatomical endeavor, providing new insights into the exquisite anatomical drawings of Leonardo and Albrecht Dürer in the era before printing, Jean Héroard’s cutting and cataloging of the horse during the age of Louis XIII, the exotic pictorial menageries of the Comte de Buffon in the eighteenth century, anatomical illustrations from Charles Darwin’s voyages, the lavish symmetries of Ernst Haeckel’s prints, and much, much more.

Why The Art of Animal Anatomy?

Although my day job is teaching anatomy to veterinary students, it has taken me until my seventh book to write about it. All my other books have been about how very strange and unusual human biology is when compared to animals, but this time I thought I’d try something different. Animal structure has been a central artistic element since early humans were painting on cave walls, and I wanted to write a book that reflects how much it has permeated our artistic culture. To do this, the format had to be right – everything else I’ve written has been very text-heavy, but Stripped Bare had to let the images speak for themselves. I did have to weave it into a narrative, but just as important is the quality of the reproductions. Enormous effort and skill went into them, so we wanted to do them justice.

Has the artistic side of science always interested you?

I’ve always found that some of the most interesting aspects of science are when it interacts with language, culture and the arts. Right back when I was slogging through my science subjects to get into vet school, I was also lucky enough to be able to take a two-year course in Art History. I suppose that’s where I learnt the language – knowing my Cubists from my Fauvists, and so on – but also understood for the first time the very real ways that changes in the visual arts reflect, and are reflected by, changes in thought and society. It didn’t take long for me to realise that animal anatomy is not only depicted for its own practical sake, but has also become an eerie, visceral motif to which artists have returned again and again. It has the power to both shock and inspire, and often that’s just too good for artists to ignore.

So how important is it to be familiar with anatomy and art history to enjoy the book?

Not at all, I would say. I assumed nothing of the reader, other than an intelligent inquisitiveness. Comparative anatomy is so much more interesting than seeing the striking ways in which a human, a flamingo and a trout differ, and are similar. It’s a story which almost writes itself. In the book, I tried to highlight what I think are fascinating snippets of the science, but anatomy is a huge topic, and I couldn’t assume any prior knowledge of it. I guess I assumed slightly more foreknowledge of art history, but still not much. A general sense of the flow of the centuries and movements is beneficial, but that’s all. And if readers are teased into finding out more about Futurism or Hyperrealism, then that’s great.

Who is the most important character in the book?

It would have to be Carlo Ruini, an anatomist from Bologna who wrote the remarkable 1598 Anatomia del Cavallo (Anatomy of the Horse), what I like to think of as the Principia Mathematica of comparative anatomy. Before the Anatomia anatomical writings just looked ancient – rare, error-strewn, unscientific, fragmentary, and worst of all, often unillustrated. In contrast, for all its four centuries of existence, Ruini’s book looks recognisably modern: structured, enquiring and detailed. For example, Ruini discovered the one-way nature of the valves of the heart, an important component of later discoveries of the circulation of the blood. The anatomical precision in the book is amazing, especially as it seems to have sprung into existence as if from from nowhere, but most striking is its artistic beauty. There are hundreds of meticulous wood-block engravings, capturing not just the science of the animals’ structure, but also the emotional visual impact of gnarled bones, contorted intestines and convoluted brains. Most of all, the animals retain a remarkable dignity, despite their progressive ‘disrobing’ – they stand proud, or even sometimes trot gaily through renaissance landscapes.

And which artist brings you the most pleasure?

It would have to be Georgia O’Keeffe. In many ways she’s at the other end of the spectrum. Ruini’s book was a practical, scientific book, whereas O’Keeffe uses animal bones solely as elements, often central elements, in her compositions. Just like her paintings of libidinous flowers, her depictions of animal bones allowed her to explain her own feelings about her adopted environment in the American Southwest. Bleached skulls become the central band in the American red, white and blue, while a crumbling pelvis on the desert floor becomes a grand, eroded rock arch framing the distant sierra. I believe that the use of the dusty white skull as a symbol of the desert states (think of an Eagles album cover!) can be traced directly back to O’Keeffe’s decision to place them centre-stage in her compositions.

Has the art of animal anatomy run its course, do you think?

Not at all. If anything, there’s more happening now than ever before. Over recent decades it has become clear that biology is bewilderingly complex and detailed, and one of the major challenges we face is explaining and depicting the new superabundance of information in a comprehensible way. As soon as a neuroscientist generates a scan of the internal nervous pathways of the brain, they have to make artistic – yes, artistic – decisions, if they are to intelligibly represent the tangled and cascading neural superhighways they’ve discovered. Modern, computer-generated diagrams of animal structure and biology are usually beautiful, and always striking. Animal anatomy has even made its way into modern street art. One of the most inspiring images in the book is of a dog’s skull, spay-painted freehand apparently, by the artist SHOK1, onto a building-site hoarding in Walthamstow, North London. It’s one of the most anatomically accurate depictions in the book, a true memento mori for the modern age. The pace of anatomical art is hastening, not slowing – I’m sure there is much more to come.

 

David Bainbridge is University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist at the University of Cambridge. His books include Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape and Beyond the Zonules of Zinn: A Fantastic Journey through Your Brain.

José R. Castelló on Canids of the World

This stunningly illustrated and easy-to-use field guide covers every species of the world’s canids, from the Gray Wolf of North America to the dholes of Asia, from African jackals to the South American Bush Dog. It features more than 150 superb color plates depicting every kind of canid and detailed facing-page species accounts that describe key identification features, morphology, distribution, subspeciation, habitat, and conservation status in the wild. The book also includes distribution maps and tips on where to observe each species, making José R. Castelló’s Canids of the World the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to these intriguing and spectacular mammal.

What are Canids?

Canids are the family of carnivores that includes wolves, coyotes, jackals, foxes, dogs, dingoes, dholes, and other dog-like mammals, with at least 37 extant species, ranging in weight from less than one kilogram to well up to eighty kilograms. Most people would readily recognize the more well-known members of the family Canidae. However, some of its members, as the short-eared dog or the bush-dog, are very elusive and are poorly known, even to enthusiasts. Other species, as the African golden wolf, have just been recently rediscovered. Canids are present in each continent except Antarctica and inhabit every major ecosystem, from arctic regions to deserts and tropical forests. Many canids have distributions that span over a whole continent, and red foxes and grey wolves have the most extensive natural range of any land mammal, with the exception of humans and perhaps some commensal rodents.

What makes Canids so attractive?

Canids are charismatic animals and possess an interest to many readers who are not necessarily biologists or students. The long association of man and dog have guaranteed a greater than usual interest in the knowledge of canids. They are a group with which humans have had the most longstanding and profound associations. They are also one of three modern families of carnivorans notable for including top predators, species capable of hunting down prey several times their own size (the other two are the cat family and the hyena family). Canids are also highly intelligent and develop complex social systems, and adapt rapidly to changing circumstances, as well as different habitats. A canid – the wolf – was the first animal to be domesticated. Domestic dogs have accompanied us for some 15,000 years and have been useful to humans in many ways, such as guarding of livestock, protection, or as pets. Wolves may be the most familiar of large mammalian carnivores and have always held a fascination to humankind; people either love them or hate them, and folklore has portrayed them as vicious and devious killers, but also as symbols of wilderness. Many species of canids are also viewed as pests to humans, and populations of many species have been decimated. Wolves, coyotes, and foxes are persecuted by ranchers, who blame them for losses to livestock. Foxes have been targeted as carriers of rabies and likewise have been the target of hunting, and some foxes are valued for their pelts, which have been used in the fashion industry.

Why is conservation of Canids so important?

Members of this group are widely hunted, persecuted, and used by humans. At least 25% of Canid species are threatened and need urgent protection. Others are rare and even declining or involved in major wildlife management issues, such as disease transmission, predation on livestock, sports hunting, or fur trade. Grey wolves, for instance, have been extirpated from many areas and several of their subspecies have vanished. The Red wolf was declared extinct in the wild by 1980. African Wild Dogs are extinct in most countries that they formerly inhabited, with fewer than 5,000 free-ranging remaining, while Dholes, formerly living throughout Asia, are extinct in half of the countries that they inhabited. Ethiopian wolves, the most threatened canid in the world, number fewer than 500 in the wild. And one species has gone extinct in recent times: the Falkland Island wolf was declared extinct in 1876.

Why did you write this book?

The main reason for writing “Canids of the World” is to showcase people the great, and sometimes unknown, biodiversity of this family of mammals, and also to enable the observer to identify most species of wild Canids from all over the world. Most canids are easy to recognize, but morphological variation within the family is relatively slight, which creates problems of species recognition and classification. Most canids have a similar basic form, as exemplified by the wolf, although the relative length of muzzle, limbs, ears and tail vary considerably between species. Canids also demonstrate a high clinal variability which also may create problems of recognition.

The second reason is to try to clarify the taxonomy of this group. Taxonomy of canids is somewhat controversial and this ever-changing classification can seem confusing to the enthusiast. The family Canidaecurrently includes 37 species and a larger number of subspecies whose status is under constant revision. There are still uncertainties regarding the taxonomic status of some species (eastern wolf, red wolf), while the use of some generic names (Lupulella for some African jackals) is also disputed. Recent phylogenetic studies have found that red foxes in North America are genetically distinct from Eurasian red foxes and merit recognition as a distinct species. In India, two small endangered populations of wolves, the Himalayan and Indian wolves, have also been shown to be genetically distant from other wolves, and some have proposed to treat them as separate species, while dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs are now considered by most authors as feral derivatives of ancient breeds of domestic dogs. It should be pointed that difficulties regarding this taxonomic delimitation among canids can lead to underestimating species and subspecies richness, and these problems can compromise biodiversity conservation.

Last but not least, this book is written to raise awareness for species of canids that has become endangered and to protect wildlife. This book includes information on reproduction, behavior, diet, and conservation of these species. “Canids of the World” is a book for everyone interested in canids, from the expert requiring a reference work, to the layperson fascinated by their beauty, biology and diversity. You certainly can’t protect what you don’t know!

 

José R. Castelló is a medical doctor, naturalist, and wildlife photographer. He is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and the Spanish Society for Conservation and Study of Mammals. He is the author of Bovids of the World: Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives (Princeton).

The Dog Days of Summer: Bonding with Humans

Adapted from page 141 of The Dog:

The dog–human attachment relationship is bidirectional: Dogs tend to show emotional and behavioral signs of attachment toward humans, and in parallel humans readily perceive this relationship as attachment entailing the subjective impression of psychological connectedness. Individualized attachment to a human caregiver develops throughout the life of a dog and, unless drastic changes in the dogs’ social relationships happen, the adult dog’s attachment toward its owners is fairly stable over long periods of time.

Importantly, however, dogs do not need to be acquired in early puppyhood for an attachment to develop and even breaking the attachment relationship does not impair most dogs’ ability to form new attachment relationships later in life. Adult dogs from other families or from shelters may also be able to establish strong attachment to their new human caregiver. Such flexibility of establishing new attachment relationships even at a late age is unique to domestic dogs.

Although there is some disagreement over the evolutionary origin of dogs’ infant-like attachment behavior, domestication has probably contributed to the emergence of this social skill. Much of the recent scientific debate is about the relative contribution of domestication (genetic predispositions) and social experiences during life (socialization) to the phenomenon. Comparative  investigations of extensively socialized wolves and dogs indicate that, despite much experience with humans, the members of the former species do not develop doglike attachment behavior toward their caregiver. Thus, the domestic dog is not a tamed wolf; multifunctional psychological relationships do exist between people and dogs.

The infant-like attachment that bonds the dog to its human caregivers is apparently lacking in wolves and thus may reflect dogs’ evolutionary adaptation to the human social environment. Photo credit: DGLimages, Shutterstock

In dogs, patterns of attachment toward humans can be observed as early as 16 weeks of age, and dog puppies show very similar behavioral patterns as those described in adult dogs. Attachment behavior in dogs may be affected by experience during development, and also by the owner’s personality. Dogs showing separation-related behavior problems are more likely to belong to owners who would also describe themselves as being insecurely attached.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

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

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

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

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

The Dog Days of Summer: Transferring Information

Adapted from pages 122-123 of The Dog:

Dogs have been exposed to selection that favored the development of an understanding of the social world. Living in the anthropogenic environment, dogs must be able to acquire and store information coming from a range of social partners in order to work well among humans—a phenomenon called social learning.

Even though they are predators, dogs are able to learn socially about food, which affects their preference. Alongside genetically influenced preferences or disgust toward certain flavors, dogs can also follow the example of conspecifics in deciding what to eat. Dog embryos in the womb experience the mother’s diet (via the joint blood circulation) and as puppies when sucking her milk. Older dogs may sniff the breath of their dog (or even human) companion, and this can make them show a preference for what the other has just consumed at a later time.

Dogs gain information about each other by smelling the other’s face. Apart from recognizing the identity of a partner, dogs may also learn about what the other has just eaten. Photo credit: everydoghasastory, Shutterstock

Dogs may also use different mechanisms, such as direct observation, when relying on conspecifics’ examples in overcoming problems. In studies exploring how observation leads to learning and  knowing, a selected dog (the demonstrator) is trained to perform a task, such as using its paws to pull a tray containing food inside its cage. Following that, other, task-naïve dogs are allowed to observe the demonstrator dog solving the problem. Next, one of the observer dogs is confronted with the task to see how much it grasped by watching.

Results show that dogs have a tendency to reproduce the observed actions, and thus find the solution easier than by individual learning, relying on their trial-error skills. By doing so they may rely on different kinds of information. For example, it may be that the behavior of the demonstrator dog directs the observer’s attention to certain parts of the object or the environment and later this helps the learner to figure out the solution on its own. However, dogs may also be capable of recognizing the relationship between the demonstrator’s goal and action. In this case, the observer dogs may choose to act in the same way as they saw the demonstrator act.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

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

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

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

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

 

Walter Perez on Galápagos

The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on—and in the waters around—their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.

How did you start as a photographer?

Approximately 30 years ago, my Dad was known as the official photographer for the small town I grew up in. He photographed weddings, baptisms and different events in town. I am not sure if he really understood photography, but I was curious and started to wonder if I could take better pictures. I begged my Dad to let me take a picture with his Polaroid camera. That was the moment I became hooked on photography. 

Moving to the Galapagos as a young teenager, I had the opportunity to buy my first camera and started taking pictures of  the animals to show my family and friends in mainland Ecuador. For the past twelve years working as a Galapagos Naturalist Guide I have met both amateur and professional photographers which became an everyday learning experience.  I also participated in photography workshops with photo experts from National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions because I enjoyed talking and learning about photography.

With my understanding of the fauna of Galapagos and my photography skills, I was able to create this book.

Do you enjoy working in the Galapagos? Why?

I have lived in the Galapagos for more than twenty years and, for the last twelve years, worked as a Galapagos Naturalist Guide and Photographic Instructor onboard the National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions ships – the Endeavorand the Islander.

My day-to-day routine in the Galapagos is like attending university; every day is a learning experience because you never know what you are going to see while you are out in the field. People often think that by seeing the same sites and wildlife every day must be boring and tiring, but to be honest it is one of the best jobs on the planet. It is rare that you are paid for doing what you enjoy, like capturing these unique moments in nature with my camera.

Why do you photograph the pictures you do? What is your favorite picture? 

After 12 years of photographing animals in action, I have learned that animals are very unpredictable. Animals that you see everyday in their daily activities can surprise you. You never know when a unique moment in nature may occur. 

Working as a photographer and naturalist in the Galapagos, I have become an expert in anticipating and predicting what is going to happen with the wildlife around me. I capture unique moments in nature that you will probably never see or have a chance to photograph again.  As a visitor to the Galapagos, you may be lucky enough to see one unique moment. However, the likelihood of realizing that this moment was a unique in nature is low. For me, being able to photographically document and share these unusual occurrences is the reason behind the book. Because of this truth, I do not have a single favorite photograph. All of them are my favorites because each shot is unique.

When taking a picture, how many shots do you take of the same action?

Working in the Galapagos as a photographer and naturalist for more than twelve years has given me a deep understanding of animal behavior. It is like going to a zoo but with one exception—you are inside the enclosure and a part of the story. 

Being part of the story has given me the opportunity to predict the precise moments when animals are ready to fight, mate, steal and eat. I am always ready to capture that precise moment in time when nature’s movements occur, when I hold the shutter button down I capture the movements of the wildlife. The end result of these subjects in action became the title of the book: Galapagos: Life in Motion.

How would you describe your day to day life in the Galapagos? 

Working in the Galapagos is like a dream come true. I never imagined that I would have to get up at the crack of dawn to head to work, and that my office would be in the field in the Galapagos archipelago. Every day I escort people onto the different islands and explain the importance of the Galapagos to the guests. Watching the expression on the faces of both adults and children as they explore this enchanted land is rewarding and brightens my day.

 

Walter Perez is a photographer and naturalist who has been working in the Galápagos for two decades. His award-winning photograph of a Great Frigatebird stealing nesting material from a Red-footed Booby, Battle of the Sticks, which is featured in this book, is on permanent display at the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus. He lives in Galápagos, Ecuador.

Dog Days of Summer: Barking

Adapted from pages 108-109 of The Dog:

The most striking difference between the vocal repertoires of wolves and dogs appears to be the predominant habit of barking in the dog. While wolves emit short bouts or single barks, mostly at a young age and during agonistic encounters, most companion dogs are known to be “barkers” and there are several contexts where dogs bark rather abundantly.

One theory about the evolutionary origin and function of this typical dog vocalization claims that the contagious barking of neighborhood dogs upon the arrival of an intruder (the mail carrier, for example, or somebody with a dog on a leash walking along the street) is similar to the harassing of predators in species such as corvid birds.

Dogs barking.

Dogs also bark during play. This feature is a new addition to their vocal repertoire, as
wild-living canids, such as wolves, jackals,
and foxes, do not bark while playing. Photo credit: George Lee, Shutterstock.

Another hypothesis suggests that, since domestication, dogs have shared their social space with humans, and this coexistence paved the way to new communicative interactions, including vocal signaling. Thus, barks became the type of vocalization through which dogs could convey several kinds of messages toward their human audience. The highly variable and repetitive barks of dogs show a much broader acoustic range than wolf barks and, according to recent experimental data, humans can attribute accurate contextual and affective meaning to dog barks.

However, barking is not a solely human directed vocalization: Other dogs can also decipher information about the barking individual’s identity and emotions by listening to its bark.

Disregarding the elements such as syntax, symbolism, and size of vocabulary that hallmark human language, dog vocalizations seemingly lack one other important feature that makes human conversations so meaningful—the referentiality. Dogs do not vocalize about things that are independent of their own inner state or qualities. In principle, the acoustic signals of a dog indicate its internal mental state and its indexical attributes (size, age, sex, identity). These are equally informative for humans and other dogs as well.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

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

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

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

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