Vintage Nature Illustration Wednesday – Feathers

Adolphe Philippe Millot (Paris, 1 May 1857 – 18 December 1921)

Adolphe Philippe Millot (Paris, 1 May 1857 – 18 December 1921)

Ole Worm and the History of Curio Cabinets

I am an avid collector of small things both natural and cultural: rocks, seedpods, carvings, fetishes, art, more rocks, curiosities, skins, and – wait – did I already mention rocks?

Many of my naturalist comrades share this tendency to hoard similar items, perhaps as a way to remember the places we’ve been or to bring the outdoors inside. Our fascination with these items is not a new trend; in fact, collecting “curios” (defined as a rare or unusual object, considered attractive or interesting) dates back to the ending of the Middle Ages and the opening of the Renaissance.

1592 collection of engravings by the Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel. University of Massachusetts Amherst. Photo credit: www-sicd.u-strasbg.fr

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[Naturalist Notebook] Snakes Awake!

I’ve had my Rosy Boa Isis and my two Rubber Boas for several years now. Amongst the other thousand reasons that I love spring, these three slithery friends give me one more reason: they wake up from their winter sleep.

My three boas hibernate during winter, even though I have their heat lamps on at all times. Their internal clocks just know when it’s time to rest and right around August or September, they’ll all lose interest in eating and start slowing down. The two Rubber Boas will bury themselves into the wood chips and hardly emerge for more than six months. The Rosy Boa, however, doesn’t dig down or curl up in her hideout: she likes to lay right out in the open on the cold side of the tank and snooze. Every few weeks she’ll rouse herself for some water and a quick bask under the heat lamp, but then she’s right back to rest.

Any offer of food during winter is duly ignored, so I get really excited for that first meal of the year. This year, the Rosy started to get more active in early March, while the two Rubbers didn’t appear until the end of March.

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The last time I moved, I needed somewhere safe to keep my giant Sugar Pine cone so I put it in the tank thinking at least it would be safe til I arrived at my new place. Turns out the Rubbers love climbing all over it and sleeping on it, so, well, it lives in their tank forever now.

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There was a full bowl of fresh, clean water in the tank but they apparently preferred slurping it off the walls after I sprayed the tank to raise the humidity a bit. Which seems weird, but I suppose I’m not one to judge weird.

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The Rubbers readily take pinkies by hand now, which is spectacular because it’s much easier to keep track of how many each snake eats when you’re giving them food individually. If I ever had to leave food in the tank overnight for them to eat, I had no way of knowing which one ate all the grub. These two happily each took three pinkies without hesitation. The male (pictured in the back, with the darker skin color) seemed a little confused as to how to find them and kept trying to eat my hand, but that’s pretty typical for him. The female (lighter color, up front) eagerly snatched her mice and wolfed them down faster than the male.

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Here’s a great shot of her jaws stretching wide and her using her coils to push the mouse into her mouth.

Usually the male is the feistier of the two when it comes to being handled – he’s musked me countless times (and it smells TERRIBLE). This time around, the male didn’t put up much of a fight (maybe he’s still sleepy) and the female was the one to get testy after eating. Understandable, since they hadn’t eaten in close to nine months, I’d be testy too!

Once I put her back in the tank, she actually coiled up into the typical Rubber Boa defense pose: the tail, which resembles the head but has a bony plate to protect it from jabs and pokes, sticks up above the coils to mimic the head while the head is protected beneath the whole body. Rubbers will sometimes even wiggle the end of the tail to confuse predators. She’s slowly coming out of the posture in the pic, but I wanted to share it with you guys anyway since it’s a neat one.

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They’ve grown so much! The female is finally noticeably larger than the male and they’ve both developed their individual colors, with the male being a darker olive brown and the female being a paler, sandier brown. (Their faces actually look quite different too!)

I didn’t take any pics of the Rosy eating this time around because I get worried about disturbing her too much with the first meal (the Rubbers were both on their third pinky by the time I took these shots), but if you want to check out pics of her eating you can go here! If you like reading about these guys, you can see some baby pics here and here too.

How do you feel about snakes? Do these pictures freak you out? I hope not – these boas are incredibly gentle, amazing creatures, and they play such an important role in the ecosystem that humans would be in a bad way without them! :)

Thanks for reading!

Vintage Nature Illustration Wednesday – Gems

Reinhard Anton Brauns (1903)

Reinhard Anton Brauns (1903)

Call for Submissions: Backyard Plants to Save the Planet

Hello friends and fellow bloggers!

We’re hosting the May edition of Berry Go Round here and we want your articles. What better time to talk about important backyard plants than first thing this spring? We realize that calling it “Backyard Plants to Save the Planet” might be a lofty title, but the plain truth is that backyard gardeners have an incredible amount of power in the race to support failing populations of native birds, insects, and more. We can also support ourselves and reduce our dependence on the industrial food system by growing some of our own food, even if it’s just a little!

We want to focus on plants and projects that are accessible to the average gardener. The more we know, the more we can do!

Get creative and send us up to 3 of your articles (start writing!) on the following topics by posting a link in the comments section or tweeting it to us @RoamngNaturalst. Deadline is April 30th!

1. Plants that support reptiles/amphibians in your backyard.
2. Plants that support mammals in your backyard.
3. Plants that support native birds in your backyard.
4. Plants that support beneficial insects and especially pollinators in your backyard.
5. Plants you can eat that will contribute to reducing dependence on food system.
6. Plants that support the soil in your backyard.
7. Plants that support water conservation and purifying in your backyard.

Your article will be linked in the final post, published towards the end of May, and will be available for lots of new readers to see. We hope you’ll join us!

March Tweets & Pins

Here’s the monthly roundup of our favorite tweets and pins for your perusing pleasure. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Pinterest if you like what you see!

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Polluted Milan is planning to construct a vertical forest by planting 900 trees on the balconies of two towering buildings.
A new supernova was discovered, which is important because supernovas can help refine distance measurements in our big gigantic universe.
Chinese researchers discover that ball lightning has to do with dirt. UFOlogists all over the world cry.
Activism has inherent risks, the worst of which are murder.
Umbra at Grist gives some pointers for tackling home mold problems before calling in pros.
All it takes is a mutation in one gene to turn a protein into a toxic venom.
Black widows, like rattlesnakes, can decide how much venom to inject when under threat.
I’ve probably said this before, but don’t feed deer corn in the winter.
Swedish people made this. I like them.
Science is learning how to make power out of.. heartbeats.

[Naturalist Notebook] March Reads

Do any of you ever have that experience where you’re looking at your amazon.com wishlist and you’re so overwhelmed because there’s so much to READ and LEARN and DO and TRY that you have to just walk away and take a deep breath because how can you possibly accomplish it all in one measly lifetime?

No? Okay, well, it doesn’t happen to me either, I was just being hypothetical. Tooootally hypothetical.

Books are, for me, one of the greatest things mankind ever came up with, next to cars, the post office, and waffles. To be able to disseminate such vast amounts of information so easily and widely is priceless, even in the age of Google. I haven’t taken the dive into the Kindle or tablet reader yet – have you? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.) There is something so intimate and tactile for me about sitting down with a new tome and folding the corners of pages I want to remember. And really, it even starts before that: there are few more kid-in-a-candy-shop experiences for me than buying myself something at a bookstore and excitedly rushing it home to put it on the dresser. Or, as is more common, pouring through webpage upon webpage of books to select the exact one I want to order, and then checking the mail every day (even though I know it will take many days) until it arrives.

Books are like people I know. They have things to tell me. They stay with me. Sometimes I share them with others. Sometimes I read them so much that their pages wear and their spines wither, but they always forgive me.

Okay, I’m starting to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, so let’s get to the point of all this rambling before I float off into space. Really, I just felt like sharing a few from my library with you.

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To be fair, I’ve only read two of them. Weed ‘Em and Reap: the weed eater reader by Roger Welsch is one I bought forever ago and never got around to reading, so it’s been pulled out and placed in the “Time to Read This Now” pile.

The other two are strong favorites.

Making an Impression by Geninne Zlatkis is an instructional book about carving your own stamps and producing a wide variety of items or art pieces with them. This of course appeals to me greatly as a printmaker, but even more so because of Geninne’s deeply individual style. Her nature sketches are simple but evocative, and she encourages the reader to go on their own journey in finding a style. She gives you lots of projects and patterns to try on your own, and just looking through her photos is like perusing an art catalog. I love her work. In fact, this book has been a huge influence in my stamp-making and printing recently and whenever I’m feeling stuck in the mud creatively, I can pull this one out and refresh instantly. I don’t want to give away too many goodies, but if you’re artistically or craftily inclined, I highly recommend this book. (You can also check out what Geninne is up to at her blog) You can click on the photo to go to Amazon, where you can actually flip through some of the pages and see what I mean.


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stamps

I went on a bit of a stamp carving bender recently. Above are some test prints as I carved away, and below are some pieces I’ve made for my Etsy shop. What do you think?

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Greeting cards with a variety of natural curios.

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Mini-envelopes for seed sharing, small treasures, for hiding love notes in lunch pails and coat pockets, scrapbooking, business cards, and whatever else your imagination can come up with!

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Thanks Geninne! You have officially rocked my socks.

The other book I wanted to share with you is called Li: Dynamic Form in Nature by David Wade. Holy cow, you guys. I could not put this little gem down. It’s produced by Wooden Books, which is a UK company, and most of their books follow a similar formatting: small, simple designs, and enough info and illustrations to get you excited about the topic. Some of those topics are little known in the Western world, like the study of Li, or the Golden Mean (which will be my next Wooden Book purchase).

So what’s “Li,”  you ask? Well, let’s see if I can explain it without completely butchering it. So there was this Confucian scholar named Zhi Xi who lived in the 1100s. He brought the idea of Li from the I Ching, and taught it as being the underlying organizational principles of the universe. These principles show up in nature as patterns, mostly that we take for granted but that actually are related and have particular causes. (I hope I got that right – if any of you out there know more about this topic, please comment, I would love more information!)

I had heard about this idea briefly while watching a video on our magical universe, and then got to work looking for books about it. I either broke the internet or it’s just not a thing here, but David Wade’s book was the only book I could find solely on the idea of Li without diving too deeply into Chinese history.

I’ve snatched two sentences from the Introduction in hopes of summarizing what this book is about:

What we are dealing with here then are graphic expressions of a great range of archetypal modes of action, whose traces may be found throughout the natural world. They present, in a traditional Chinese view at least, an order that arises directly out of the nature of the Universe.

Still confused? That’s okay, here’s a picture to make it all better.

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I don’t want to give away all the goodies in this book (as Wade has both written the book and illustrated it) but hopefully this little peek will intrigue you. This chapter is on the “Rivas,” or river-like drainage systems, which, Wade writes, “are representations not of mere conduits but portray the most active part of the earth’s hydrological cycle, and as such are important energy distribution patterns.” (p. 38) So it’s not just about lines – it’s about energy, movement, and the constant not-sameness of the planet. It’s pretty amazing stuff, and if you aren’t into the ethereal part of it, that’s okay: if you’re a naturalist in any sense, you will love seeing nature’s patterns pulled out of context and how they associate with one another, or what causes them. Each image is unlabeled on its page (Wade tells you what each image is in the text), so I had a great time trying to guess what was represented in each illustration before reading the text.

This book also makes a great gift for your loved ones that enjoy art, design, mathematics, physics, printmaking, geology, etc. The list could go on. I love this book, have I mentioned that already?

I’ll get back to you on the Weed ‘Em and Reap book, but in the meantime I hope you’ve enjoyed these two. Do any of you out there have either? I’d be interested to know if you’ve ever heard of the Chinese concept of Li, too. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day! :)

Vintage Nature Illustration Wednesday – Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes)

Nepenthes (Pitcher Plants) by Ernst Haeckel in Kunstformen der Natur.

Nepenthes (Pitcher Plants) by Ernst Haeckel in Kunstformen der Natur.

Baby Birds 101 – To Rescue or Not to Rescue?

Working as a naturalist, I’ve received tons of calls about injured animals and thought I’d share some of my knowledge with you about handling situations with baby birds, since it’s the most common one.

Baby finch. Author photo.

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Roaming to the National Museum of Natural History

roam: verb - To move about without purpose or plan; to wander.

I am spoiled rotten to live so close to the Smithsonian Institution. If you’re not familiar, the Smithsonian is a group of museums, galleries, and a zoo that are located in Washington DC. I will admit with great shame that I have only visited a couple of the many locations, but the trouble is they’re so amazing that I end up returning to the same one(s) over and over.

I recently took my niece to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), since at the end of April the Fossil Hall dinosaur exhibit will be closing for renovations – FOR FIVE YEARS. As any good auntie should be, I was panicked and made sure, come hell or more winter weather, that I’d get her there.

Now of course, being a standard 4 year old, she was only mildly interested in the bones, particularly after  overhearing someone say the phrase, “dinosaur gummies,” in reference to candy available at the gift shop. These were essentially the only dinosaurs she was thereafter interested in, but I persevered.

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“RAAAR” is dinosaur for “I love you.”

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