Dino Day: Therizinosaurus cheloniformis

Adapted from page 50:

The Therizinosaurus cheloniformis (“tortoise-shaped scythe lizard”): Lived during the late Upper Cretaceous (lower Maastrichtian, 72.1–69 Ma) in eastern Laurasia (present-day Mongolia). It was known only for its huge nails, which seemed to be part of the shell of a giant turtle over 3 m long. Later, a few more bones were found, including a practically complete anterior limb that was 2.5 m long. Along with Deinocheirus, they had the largest arms among the theropods. Their nails had the appearance of scythes, which must have been impressive when fully extended. When compared with other therizinosaurids, such as Nothronychus, it is concluded that this arm must have belonged to an animal bigger than an Asian elephant.



Dinosaur Facts and Figures: The Theropods and Other Dinosauriformes
By Rubén Molina-Pérez and Asier Larramendi
Illustrations byAndrey Atuchin and Sante Mazzei

The theropod dinosaurs ruled the planet for millions of years, with species ranging from the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex to feathered raptors no bigger than turkeys. Dinosaur Facts and Figures is a stunningly illustrated book of records for these marvelous creatures—such as the biggest, the smallest, and the fastest theropods, as well as the ones with the most powerful bite.

This one-of-a-kind compendium features more than 3,000 records, covers some 750 theropod species, and includes a wealth of illustrations ranging from diagrams and technical drawings to full-color reconstructions of specimens. The book is divided into sections that put numerous amazing theropod facts at your fingertips. “Comparing Species” is organized by taxonomic group and gives comparisons of the size of species, how long ago they lived, and when they were discovered. “Mesozoic Calendar” includes spreads showing the positions of the continents at different geological time periods and reconstructions of creatures from each period. “Prehistoric Puzzle” compares bones, teeth, and feathers while “Theropod Life” uses vivid, user-friendly graphics to answer questions such as which dinosaur was the smartest and which had the most powerful bite. Other sections chart theropod distribution on the contemporary world map, provide comprehensive illustrated listings of footprints, compile the physical specifications of all known theropods and Mesozoic birds, and much more.

  • The essential illustrated record book for anyone interested in dinosaurs
  • Features thousands of records on everything from the smartest and fastest theropods to the largest theropod eggs
  • Includes more than 2,000 diagrams and drawings and more than 300 digital reconstructions
  • Covers more than 750 theropod species, including Mesozoic birds and other dinosauromorphs
  • Provides detailed listings of footprints, biometric specifications, and scholarly and popular references

Insect of the Week: Defending Honey Bee Colonies

Adapted from pages 243-244 of The Lives of Bees:

Every living system faces a legion of predators, parasites, and pathogens, each of which is equipped with a sophisticated tool kit for penetrating the defenses of its prey or host. In the case of a honey bee colony, there are several hundred species, ranging from viruses to black bears, whose members are forever trying to breach the bees’ defenses. What makes a bee colony so attractive to so many is, of course, the store of delicious honey and the horde of nutritious brood that lies inside its nest. In summer, the combs inside a bee hive or a bee tree typically hold 10 or more kilograms (20- plus pounds) of honey, plus thousands of immature bees (eggs, larvae, and pupae). Moreover, these brood items are neatly packed together in the warm center of the bees’ nest, making them an absolute bonanza for any viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and mites that succeed in infecting or infesting this host of developing bees. Clearly, a colony of honey bees is an immensely desirable target. It is also a perfectly stationary target. Because a colony’s beeswax combs are a huge energetic investment, and because these combs are often filled with brood and food, a honey bee colony cannot afford to find safety by fleeing its home when threatened. Instead, it must cope with its foes by standing its ground, and usually its succeeds, by drawing on a sophisticated arsenal of biochemical, morphological, and behavioral weapons. 

Given that honey bees have a 30- million- year history, it is likely that most of the relationships between Apis mellifera and its predators and agents of disease are long- established. We can expect, therefore, that colonies living undisturbed in the wild possess defense mechanisms that usually prevent pathogens and parasites from multiplying sufficiently to cause severe disease. Indeed, it is likely that wild colonies of honey bees have perpetual, endemic infections of parasites and pathogens, and it is also likely that symptoms of disease arise in these colonies only when they are weakened by adverse environmental circumstances, such as food shortages or damage to their nests. We will see, however, that the balance of power between the bees and their pathogens and parasites can be upset by intrusive beekeeping practices, and that these practices can lead to severe losses of colonies.

The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
By Tom Seeley

Humans have kept honey bees in hives for millennia, yet only in recent decades have biologists begun to investigate how these industrious insects live in the wild. The Lives of Bees is Thomas Seeley’s captivating story of what scientists are learning about the behavior, social life, and survival strategies of honey bees living outside the beekeeper’s hive—and how wild honey bees may hold the key to reversing the alarming die-off of the planet’s managed honey bee populations.

Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, sheds light on why wild honey bees are still thriving while those living in managed colonies are in crisis. Drawing on the latest science as well as insights from his own pioneering fieldwork, he describes in extraordinary detail how honey bees live in nature and shows how this differs significantly from their lives under the management of beekeepers. Seeley presents an entirely new approach to beekeeping—Darwinian Beekeeping—which enables honey bees to use the toolkit of survival skills their species has acquired over the past thirty million years, and to evolve solutions to the new challenges they face today. He shows beekeepers how to use the principles of natural selection to guide their practices, and he offers a new vision of how beekeeping can better align with the natural habits of honey bees.

Engagingly written and deeply personal, The Lives of Bees reveals how we can become better custodians of honey bees and make use of their resources in ways that enrich their lives as well as our own.

Bird Fact Friday – The House Finch (as seen on BirdGenie!)

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

  • The House Finch is gregarious, social, vocal, and often colorful.
  • They were introduced from the western US to New York in the 1940s, and are now common across much of the US and Mexico in urban, suburban, and agricultural areas.
  • These finches are small with conical bills, gray-brown bodies, and streaked underparts.
  • Males often have a rosy red or orange/yellow head and breast.
  • They are exclusively vegetarian, even during nesting.
  • Nests can be found in trees, ledges, and buildings.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 11 years.
  • Population: 35 million and possibly declining since 1994 due to disease (mycoplasmal conjunctivitis).

Have you seen (or heard) a House Finch?



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: 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—Jacamars

Adapted from pages 254 to 255 of Birds of Central America:

Jacamars are large-billed birds found mainly at middle levels in humid broadleaf forests. With long, pointed bills and long, graduated tails, jacamars present a distinctive silhouette as they perch motionless in the open. 

Male and female Great Jacamars (green birds to the left, respectively) as illustrated by Dale Dyer. Also illustrated: the Gray-checked Nunlet (top right corner) and a Barred Puffbird (bottom right).

The Rufous-talled Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda) is the most common and widespread, and is frequently found in lowlands and foothills. They have long, graduated tails and long, near-straight bills (typically upraised). It is metallic green above and cinnamon-rufous below. Males have white throats; females have buff throats. These birds usually gather near gaps or edges, while pairs or solitary birds forage by sallying from exposed perch. Their song begins with several sharp, staccato beeks or eeks, before suddenly accelerating into a very fast beek beek beek beebeebeebeebeebeebee. Calls also include emphatic, two-syllable phrases that may be repeated bee-yuk or ee-yuk, or a sharp whistle that ends abruptly (wheeeeert). 

Meanwhile, the Great Jacamar (Jacamerops auerues) is an uncommon to and a rare resident of the Caribbean lowlands and foothills. It’s identified by its large and bulky size and long, graduated tail, typically held raised. Males have white on lower throats, while the underparts of both include breast cinnamon-rufous. They sit motionless for long periods of time, then suddenly reverse position on perch. These birds are often quiet, and call in a loud, clear, high-pitched whistle (keeeyeeeeeeew!) that drops in pitch and is slightly trilled the end. 

Finally: the Dusky-backed Jacamar (Brachygalba salmoni) is a small, dark bird with a long, pointed bill and blackish, square-tipped tail. Upperparts and breast are a dark, glossy green; belly and crissum are rufous. The throat is variably white or buff white. It is smaller and darker than Rufous-tailed Jacamar. It has a shorter tail. They are often found along rivers, in pairs of solitary, perched on high, exposed snags. To feed, they quickly capture flying insects and then return to the same or nearby perch from which they came. They are usually quiet, but have a high-pitched, thin call that sounds like a psee, occasionally repeated in a long series. 


Birds of Central America
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

By Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central Americais an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

  • Detailed information on the entire avifauna of Central America
  • 260 beautiful color plates
  • Range maps, text, and illustrations presented on convenient facing-page spreads
  • Up-to-date notes on distribution supported by an extensive bibliography
  • Special focus on geographic variation of bird species

Galápagos: Courtship, Mating, and Birth

Adapted from pages 128-138 of Galápagos: Life in Motion:

Swallow-Tailed Gulls engaging in a courtship ritual, Española Island

From an evolutionary point of view, nothing is more critical than finding a mate, having offspring, and ensuring that those offspring can survive to reproduce. To this most important of activities, Galápagos animals devote enormous time and effort. For some species, courtship and mating have evolved into elaborate rituals involving song, dance, and the exchange of gifts. Others meticulously prepare nests—in the trees, on the rocks, or under the beach— for sheltering their young. For many species, parental care is freely given, sometimes over many years. But for a few unusual species, parental care is just as easily revoked, sentencing offspring to certain death.

Flightless Cormorants engaging in a courtship dance, which continues after mating, Fernandina Island

Galápagos mating rituals can be quite elaborate. Swallow-tailed Gulls pairbond and build nesting platforms out of pieces of coral. Boobies sing, dance, and exchange gifts prior to mating. And the rare Flightless Cormorants engage in a beautiful, synchronized courtship dance both before and after mating.

Blue-Footed Boobies engaging in a courtship dance, North Seymour Island

The birds and reptiles of the Galápagos employ many strategies to protect their eggs and their offspring. Some birds build nests in trees, others on bare rocks. Some nests are built out of leaves and twigs, others out of bits of coral and urchin spikes, and still others are simply large holes under the beach. Once they lay eggs, some parents, like Blue-footed Boobies, keep a close watch on them. Others, like Pacific Green Turtles, leave the eggs and offspring to fend for themselves.


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.

Five Books to Read in Honor of National Honey Bee Day

August 22nd is National Honey Bee Day and, in honor of the occasion, Princeton Nature would like to recommend five of our most recent titles that will get you buzzing about these vital bugs.

The Bee cover

Bees pollinate more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that we rely on to survive. Bees are crucial to the reproduction and diversity of flowering plants, and the economic contributions of these irreplaceable insects measure in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Yet bees are dying at an alarming rate, threatening food supplies and ecosystems around the world. In The Bee, a richly illustrated natural history of the titular insect, Noah Wilson-Rich and his team of bee experts provide a window into the vitally important role that bees play in the life of our planet.

You can also check out Noah Wilson-Rich’s essay about the founding of his beekeeping company, The Best Bees Company, here.

Honeybees make decisions collectively–and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. In fact, as world-renowned animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley reveals, these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making. A remarkable and richly illustrated account of scientific discovery, Honeybee Democracy brings together, for the first time, decades of Seeley’s pioneering research to tell the amazing story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees.

You can read our Q+A with author Thomas Seeley here.

For centuries, the beauty of fireflies has evoked wonder and delight. Yet for most of us, fireflies remain shrouded in mystery: How do fireflies make their light? What are they saying with their flashing? And what do fireflies look for in a mate? In Silent Sparks, noted biologist and firefly expert Sara Lewis dives into the fascinating world of fireflies and reveals the most up-to-date discoveries about these beloved insects. From the meadows of New England and the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains, to the rivers of Japan and mangrove forests of Malaysia, this beautifully illustrated and accessible book uncovers the remarkable, dramatic stories of birth, courtship, romance, sex, deceit, poison, and death among fireflies.

You can read this op-ed about the importance of fireflies by author Sara Lewis here

Following the Wild Bees is a delightful foray into the pastime of bee hunting, an exhilarating outdoor activity that used to be practiced widely but which few people know about today. Thomas Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, vividly describes the history and science behind this lost pastime and how anyone can do it. Following the Wild Bees is both a unique meditation on the pleasures of the natural world and a guide to the ingenious methods that compose the craft of the bee hunter.

Check out some photographs from one of Thomas Seeley’s bee hunts here

The Bees in Your Backyard provides an engaging introduction to the roughly 4,000 different bee species found in the United States and Canada, dispelling common myths about bees while offering essential tips for telling them apart in the field.

The book features more than 900 stunning color photos of the bees living all around us—in our gardens and parks, along nature trails, and in the wild spaces between. It describes their natural history, including where they live, how they gather food, their role as pollinators, and even how to attract them to your own backyard. Ideal for amateur naturalists and experts alike, it gives detailed accounts of every bee family and genus in North America, describing key identification features, distributions, diets, nesting habits, and more.

Check out our Q&A with authors Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia J. Messinger Carril here.

Amazing Arachnids: Whip Spiders

Adapted from pages 88-90 of Amazing Arachnids:

Imagine a world of giant horsetail trees, ferns, and clubmosses. Everything looks oddly familiar, but dramatically out of scale. Plants that you think of as being only a few inches in height are now tall trees. Huge dragonflies with 2-foot (0.6 m) wingspans hunt in the air, while 4-inch-long (10 cm) cockroaches and 2-foot-long (0.6 m) millipedes feed on the abundant decaying plant material on the forest floor. Small reptiles forage among the vegetation, and occasionally one is drowned in the water-filled stump of a clubmoss tree. Lurking in the swampy pools are large, salamander-like amphibians. This is the world of the Carboniferous Period 300 million years ago, and in this world another predator lived. This flat, spiderlike creature stalked its prey on vertical surfaces, tentatively bending its antenniform feelers around curves as it hunted. These feelers were in fact modified legs but were no longer used for locomotion. They had become long and thin, and articulated with many joints, forming the elegant structure that gives this arachnid its common name “whip spider.”

Whip spiders possess a diverse array of cuticular sensory structures on their antenniform legs. Among the hairs (or setae) are bristles, club sensilla, porous sensilla, rod sensilla, leaflike hairs, and trichobothria. In addition to the setae, there may be other structures present, including a pit organ, a plate organ, and slit sensilla. Among the most numerous of these cuticular sensory setae are bristles. Bristles are most likely contact chemoreceptors, able to “taste” chemical traces via an open pore at the tip of each bristle. These bristles are arranged in 5 evenly spaced rows around the circumference or the tarsi and may range in number from almost 500 in the protonymph to more than 1,500 in the adult. Approximately 500 club sensilla may also be involved in chemoreception, primarily in olfaction, as are the porous sensilla consisting of hairs perforated by numerous pores. Among mechanoreceptors are the trichobothria, the leaflike hairs, and the slit sensilla. In whip spiders, the long delicate trichobothrial hairs are found on the tibia of the whip as well as on the tibia of the walking legs. These, as well as the slit sensilla, provide long-distance mechanoreception, extremely important in detecting moving prey. In fact, the walking legs provide an important backup in this crucial aspect of hunting.

Two long, slender antenniform legs characterize amblypygids, giving them the name “whip spider.” These legs are no longer used for locomotion but are sensory in function. The antenniform legs
are also essential in intraspecific communication.

Even if the whip spider has lost both antenniform legs, it can still find and capture prey successfully by using the trichobothria on the walking legs; however, the whip spider absolutely must have trichobothria in order to locate moving prey. Once potential prey has been detected, the amblypygid orients itself facing toward it and unfolds its raptorial palps in preparation for the capture as it approaches the quarry. With a sudden lunge, the prey is grasped with the armed palps. Perhaps because whip spiders possess no venom and are somewhat delicate in physical structure, the creatures they capture are usually smaller than themselves. Crickets, moths, small lizards, and small frogs have been documented as prey of whip spiders in the wild. Once the prey has been captured, the whip spider uses its chelicerae to tear a hole in the body wall and regurgitates digestive juices into the opening. The chelicerae continue to masticate the prey into an amorphous mush while the digestive fluids break down the tissue. Like most other arachnids, the whip spider ingests only liquefied food, filtering out solid particles as the powerful phyrangeal pump and stomach suck in the predigested meal.

Amazing Arachnids
By Jillian Cowles

The American Southwest is home to an extraordinary diversity of arachnids, from spitting spiders that squirt silk over their prey to scorpions that court one another with kissing and dancing. Amazing Arachnids presents these enigmatic creatures as you have never seen them before. Featuring a wealth of color photos of more than 300 different kinds of arachnids from eleven taxonomic orders–both rare and common species—this stunningly illustrated book reveals the secret lives of arachnids in breathtaking detail, including never-before-seen images of their underground behavior.

Amazing Arachnids covers all aspects of arachnid biology, such as anatomy, sociality, mimicry, camouflage, and venoms. You will meet bolas spiders that lure their victims with fake moth pheromones, fishing spiders that woo their mates with silk-wrapped gifts, chivalrous cellar spiders, tiny mites, and massive tarantulas, as well as many others. Along the way, you will learn why arachnids are living fossils in some respects and nimble opportunists in others, and how natural selection has perfected their sensory structures, defense mechanisms, reproductive strategies, and hunting methods.

  • Covers more than 300 different kinds of arachnids, including ones new to science
  • Features more than 750 stunning color photos
  • Describes every aspect of arachnid biology, from physiology to biogeography
  • Illustrates courtship and mating, birth, maternal care, hunting, and defense
  • Includes first-ever photos of the underground lives of schizomids and vinegaroons
  • Provides the first organized guide to macroscopic mites, including photos of living mites for easy reference

David Vogel on California Greenin’

VogelOver the course of its 150-year history, California has successfully protected its scenic wilderness areas, restricted coastal oil drilling, regulated automobile emissions, preserved coastal access, improved energy efficiency, and, most recently, addressed global climate change. How has this state, more than any other, enacted so many innovative and stringent environmental regulations over such a long period of time? The first comprehensive look at California’s history of environmental leadership, California Greenin’ shows why the Golden State has been at the forefront in setting new environmental standards, often leading the rest of the nation. As environmental policy debates continue to grow more heated, California Greenin’ demonstrates that the Golden State’s impressive record of environmental accomplishments holds lessons not just for the country but for the world.

Why did you decide to focus your book on California?

Much has been written on every aspect of California’s environmental history. Books have been written on the state’s forests and wilderness areas, cars and air pollution in Los Angeles, oil drilling in southern California, the protection of the coast and the San Francisco Bay Area and, most recently, the state’s regulations to improve energy efficiency and stem the risks of global climate change. But no one had ever sought to answer what struck me as a central question, namely why has California long been the nation’s “greenest” state? I wrote this book to answer that question.

What are some important examples of California’s environmental leadership?

California enacted the world’s first emissions controls on automobiles and established the nation’s first coastal protection authority. Yosemite was the first protected wilderness in the United States and by 1890 three of nation’s four national parks were located in the state. California issued the nation’s first energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings. Its greenhouse gas reduction targets are the most ambitious in the United States. Half of the nation’s rooftop solar installations are in California.

How do you account for the state’s long record of environmental innovation?

It traces back to California’s geography. The “Golden State” has an unusually beautiful natural environment. Its coastal area encompasses the best weather in the United States. It has a long and scenic coastline, miles of sand beaches, and inland there are the granite formations, rivers, lakes and valleys of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The state’s forests contain the spectacular redwoods and sequoias, the largest and oldest living species on the planet. But every aspect of this attractive environment has been continually threatened by rapid economic development and population growth. It is in response to these threats that Californians have mobilized to protect the environmental amenities that they valued.

What is the “California effect?”

The “California effect” refers to the impact California has had in strengthening environmental protection outside its borders. The most important example is automotive emissions standards These were first introduced in California and then subsequently adopted by the federal government. Virtually all of the important innovations in emissions controls, such unleaded gasoline and the two-way catalytic convertor, originated in California and were then nationally mandated. California’s innovative greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles were subsequently adopted by the Obama Administration. Significantly, California is the only state permitted by the federal government to issue its own automotive regulations. Other states then have the option of adapting California’s more stringent standards and several states have chosen to do so.

What most surprised you in writing this book?

I was most struck by the role business has played in supporting environmental protection. Business has been traditionally viewed as the main opponent of stronger environmental standards. But in the case of California influential business interests have often actively backed stronger regulations  For example, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Southern Pacific Railroad lobbied to protect the sequoias in the Sierra Nevada mountains, while during the mid 20th century, the Los Angeles real estate community led the political struggle to reduce air pollution. Southern California’s shoreline property developers were the main opponents of coastal oil drilling. California’s renewable energy industry and clean tech investors have benefited from and been strong supporters of the state’s climate change initiatives. In sum, many business interests have recognized the economic benefits of placing the state on a greener growth trajectory.   

What practical lessons can other states learn from California?

The United States is a federal system in which states can play important policy roles. They have enormous potential to improve environmental quality. What other states can also learn from California is that regulations are more likely to be supported if they directly improve the quality of life of local communities, provide economic as well as environmental benefits, receive some business 6backing, and are administrated by competent public authorities. California’s example of regulatory leadership can and hopefully should be followed by other states.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book? 

That protecting the environment and growing economically can go hand in hand. Since the 1860s California has consistently enacted the nation’s most stringent, comprehensive and innovative environmental standards and its economy is now the sixth largest in the worlds. Had it not made such vigorous efforts to protect its fragile natural environment, California would now be a much less desirable place to visit, to live to work, and to invest. California’s economy has benefited substantially from its environmental regulations. This can be true for all states as well.

David Vogel is professor emeritus in the Haas School of Business and the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His many books include The Politics of Precaution and The Market for Virtue.

Presenting the trailer for “The Serengeti Rules”— a new documentary based on the book

We’re pleased to share the trailer for The Serengeti Rules, a new documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend. The film is based on the book of the same name by Sean B. Carroll, and has been adapted by Emmy and BAFTA winning filmmaker Nicolas Brown. 

The Serengeti Rules – Full Trailer from Howard Hughes Medical Institute on Vimeo.

The film will premiere on Saturday, April 21st at the Cinepolis Chelsea, with additional screenings on April 22nd, 24th, and 27th. To purchase tickets or read more about the film, you can visit the Tribeca Film Festival’s official website

Plants That Kill: Apocynaceae

Adapted from page 52 of Plants That Kill:

The dogbane family is one of the larger families of flowering plants, and is today considered to contain more than 5,000 species in 366 recognized genera, including those that have, at times, been placed in their own family, Asclepiadaceae. The almost globally distributed Apocynaceae (only northern regions lack native species) has adapted to almost all environments and contains a large diversity of plant forms. 

Species grow as herbs, climbers and lianas, succulents or trees. The flowers are often showy or conspicuous in form or smell, and many species have evolved special structures for pollen dispersal, such as pollinia, coherent masses of pollen grains that are transferred to the next plant by sticking to insect pollinators. These structures are especially elaborate in milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), waxflowers (Hoya spp.) and their relatives, constituting a feature that allows easy placement of these plants within the family (although deciding on the actual genus and species can be quite difficult).

Elephant vine (Strophanthus amboensis) is found from Zaire to Namibia and contains cardioactive steroids. The petals are fused to form a cup at the base and there are five spreading, elongated lobes.

The large number of species and wide geographical distribution of the dogbane family makes it easy to understand why so many plants are used by humans. The showy, waxy flowers of frangipani (Plumeria spp.) have found a place as a constituent in Polynesian lei garlands, the fibres from dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) have been used to make cloth and string, some species are used in religious rituals, and some genera, such as Landolphia, were briefly important as sources of rubber in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several plants in the family have been used as arrow poisons or in traditional medicinal systems, and the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) is the source of an important cancer drug. 

It seems that most plants in the dogbane family are toxic to some degree, but the reason for this differs between groups of species. Some groups produce cardioactive steroids as the toxic principle, while others produce monoterpene indole alkaloids. Accordingly, the family presents several toxidromes, the combined picture of symptoms in poisonings, with some presenting as acute heart failure with arrhythmias and others giving signs of detrimental effects on the nervous system – for example, seizures, paralysis and hallucinations. As members of the dogbane family are widely distributed and many produce fatal intoxications, the use of these plants in suicides and poisonings is not uncommon in certain regions of the world.

Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
By Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays. This intriguing book also looks at plants that can harm you only if your exposure to them is prolonged, the ethnobotany of poisons throughout human history, and much more.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

  • Provides an authoritative natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth
  • Features hundreds of color illustrations throughout
  • Looks at how and why plants produce toxins
  • Describes the effects of numerous poisonous plants, from hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco
  • Explains poisonous plants’ evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Discusses the uses of poisonous plants in medicine, rituals, warfare, and more

Plants That Kill: Aconite alkaloids

From hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco, poisonous plants have long been used in medicine, rituals, and even warfare. For the next few months, Princeton Nature will be taking a closer look at the evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry of the most toxic plants on Earth. Pulling from Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson’s new book, Plants That Kill, we hope to provide you with just a sample of the deadly and intriguing plants that can be found in this gorgeously illustrated book.

Adapted from page 48-49 of Plants That Kill:

Aconite alkaloids are mostly restricted to a small number of genera in the buttercup family, particularly the aconites (Aconitum spp.) and their close relatives the larkspurs (Delphinium spp.). The presence of the compounds seems to give these plants a strong evolutionary advantage, as the group constitutes about a third of all species within the family. Aconites and larkspurs produce these highly toxic compounds from a substance called geranylgeranyl diphosphate, which is an essential part of the chlorophyll needed for photosynthesis. They can be grouped into three different ‘flavors’, called veatchine, atisine and aconitine alkaloids. The compounds in the last of these groups are the most toxic, which is thought to be due to their ability to pass through fat-containing barriers such as cell membranes and also the skin. This explains why gardeners and florists who, with bare hands, handle the cut stems or crushed material of aconite and larkspur plants in large amounts or for extended periods of time may experience mild symptoms of tingling or numbness.

There are around 250 species of aconite (Aconitum spp.) found in the wild in the northern hemisphere, but they are also widely grown in temperate gardens and sold as cut flowers.                              Photo credit: Alex Polo, Shutterstock

Species of aconite are used to treat joint pain in traditional Chinese herbal medicine in the form of bath additives, rubs and ointments. Their alkaloids can be absorbed through the skin, where they act as local anaesthetics. They may also be taken orally to treat asthma, gastroenteritis and various tumours, or as a supportive and revitalizing tonic. How is this possible, when these plants are very poisonous and small amounts can cause dangerous, or even lethal, effects on the heart and respiratory muscles? 

Before use, the raw material must be subjected to pao zhi (a detoxifying measure), which might include heating and/or soaking with the intention of ensuring maximal therapeutic efficacy with minimal adverse effects. During such processes, the toxic alkaloids are transformed into less harmful compounds, explaining why aconite use has persisted in spite of its high risk of poisoning. However, even though pao zhi is usually performed, a number of patients who take traditional Chinese aconite medicines are hospitalized each year due to poisoning. 

Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
By Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays. This intriguing book also looks at plants that can harm you only if your exposure to them is prolonged, the ethnobotany of poisons throughout human history, and much more.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

  • Provides an authoritative natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth
  • Features hundreds of color illustrations throughout
  • Looks at how and why plants produce toxins
  • Describes the effects of numerous poisonous plants, from hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco
  • Explains poisonous plants’ evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Discusses the uses of poisonous plants in medicine, rituals, warfare, and more