On July 31, my mother celebrated her 88th birthday. Based on recent discoveries, it is quite possible—even likely—that a fish somewhere turned 88 on the same day. It could have been a snapper. In one study of 476 snappers of three species caught along the Western Australian coast and the […]
In our fast-paced, human-centered lives, we are often oblivious to the remarkable capacities of so many animal species, like those of our underwater cousins: fish. Article: The Globe And Mail, February 09, 2019 Author: Jonathan Balcombe Website: The Globe And Mail Extract: I have spent years exploring the inner lives […]
While diving off the Micronesian archipelago of Pulau, evolutionary biologist Giacomo Bernardi witnessed something unusual and was lucky enough to capture it on film.
An orange-dotted tuskfish (Choerodon anchorago) uncovered a clam buried in the sand by blowing water at it, picked up the mollusk in its mouth and carried it to a large rock 30 yards away. Then, using several rapid head flicks and well-timed releases, the fish eventually cracked open the clam against the rock.
In the ensuing 20 minutes, the tuskfish ate three clams, using the same sequence of behaviors to smash them.
This morning, still recovering from jetlag, I went for a bike ride as the sun rose on the suburbs north of Washington, DC.
As I cycled through one of the lovely state parks that grace my neighborhood, I spooked a small herd of deer enjoying some browse at the border of a woodland and field.
At first I thought they were accompanied by a domestic dog, until I realized I had seen a piebald white-tailed deer.
A recent article by British scientist and author Matt Ridley denies rats the capacity for empathy primarily on the flimsy basis that studies on ants show them helping a distressed fellow ant. As it seems “absurd” to attribute empathic suffering to a social insect, we should not stoop to crediting such feelings to rats either, according to Ridley, and the authors of a recent paper in Biology Letters.
For the record, I have great respect for ants, and I won’t jump to conclusions about their capacities. But why on earth would we use ants as a yardstick for the emotional capacities of rats—a species with a demonstrated capacity for laughter, pessimism, emotional fever, and metacognition (awareness of one’s own knowledge)?
It’s a Sunday morning and I’m sitting on my deck in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C., which abuts a magnificent woodland plot.
In the winter one can just see through the naked trees to a field 500 feet beyond. But in summer this space is transformed into a lush green world. Regardless of the season it throngs with life, but it seems that summer days are the busiest. I have the added good fortune of having neighbors who ply the wildlife with a smorgasbord of bird and mammal feeders, so it sometimes looks like rush-hour at Grand Central Station.
This morning I’ve been out here for an hour and as usual there are plenty of little stories unraveling.
This morning as I went to fetch the paper from the front porch of my town-home in suburban Maryland, a neighbor took her dog across the parking area to a central green-space for a morning bathroom break.
I’ve seen this mid-sized, thickly furred canine on her morning ablutions before.
Usually it’s the man of the house who is on the other end of the retractable leash, but in either case, there’s a sense of rush-hour haste to the operation. These folks clearly have jobs to get to and the AM dog shift is all business—I only hope the evening walk is less perfunctory.
This morning I went grocery shopping at my local Whole Foods market. Whole Foods is the largest natural foods supermarket chain in the world. I consider people who shop here to be relatively enlightened.
I saw at least six people wearing coats with real fur trim collars.
Fur Fact: the fur industry has staged something of a come-back since it reached its low point in the mid-nineties.
Yesterday as I stepped from the train on my way to a Bach concert, I noticed a house sparrow lying prostrate on the platform next to a rain shelter.
No doubt she had flown into the shelter’s window. Hoping she was just stunned, I picked her up. Alas, she was quite dead.
I stroked the soft feathers on her neck and head, noted the robustness of her pink beak, and admired the perfect symmetry of her tail feathers before depositing her beneath some ground ivy, where ants, flies and other members of nature’s recycling crew might perform their services undisturbed.
House sparrows are commonplace in the United States, and Washington, D.C. is no exception. They lurk in my neighborhood, chirping from eaves, taking shelter beneath cars, and holding noisy palavers inside cedar trees.
The rarity was a fox sparrow, by no means an endangered species, but one of those birds that most people who share its geographic range will go through life with no clue to its existence.
As a bird watcher for over 30 years, I had encountered fox sparrows on just four prior occasions. Through the naked eye, a fox sparrow wouldn’t merit a second glance. A small brown bird flitting furtively in the brush, they are what some might dismiss colloquially as an LBJ.
Through binoculars, “little brown job” resolves into a strikingly handsome creature: eyes ringed with white, arrow-head spots corn-rowed down a snow-white breast and converging into a central spot, and a robust, bi-colored beak. For me, a fox sparrow sighting instantly transforms even the most ordinary nature foray into a memorable event.
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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures. One of the rewards of being a passionate animal observer in this day and age is the proliferation of video clips that circulate on YouTube and Facebook. These authentic segments of animal lives provide precious glimpses of their emotions, and they often belie common prejudices about animals and nature.