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Vintage Nature Illustration Wednesday – Mushrooms

(This one was a gift - I sadly do not have illustrator info. If you know it, please tell me!)

(This one was a gift – I sadly do not have illustrator info. If you know it, please tell me!)

Curio Cabinet: Wing of the Luna Moth

CC luna moth wing

The Curio Cabinet series (#curioTuesday) is published biweekly, featuring an artifact of natural or cultural history and a brief selection of nifty facts. Curio Cabinet celebrates the history of curio collections, the roots of which played a part in the globalization of learning and scientific knowledge. Learn more here.

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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!

The Milkweed & Monarch Situation – Links & Resources

Butterflies feed on lots of different plants, but each species need a particular plant or group of plants on which to lay their eggs. Monarch butterflies need Milkweed (Asclepias species) for reproduction, and these lovely indigenous flowers are in decline – between agricultural practices, roadside chemical sprays, and everything else that puts native species in decline, milkweed species, like many other plants that support native wildlife, are in trouble.

I wanted to take just a quick minute to assemble some resources and links that will help you gather all the necessary info on this topic, and the exciting movement happening in backyard gardens to protect the gorgeous, famous butterfly we call the Monarch.

Female Monarch on clover, by Kenneth Harrelson on Wiki.

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Extinction and Heartbreak

Today a woman came into the nature center and, after perusing for a good while, came over to the desk to speak to me about a recent trip she’d taken to the Field Museum in Chicago, which is both a natural history and cultural history museum. (I now have a reason to go to Chicago – check out that site, the place looks amazing. Not only that, but they have beautiful descriptions of their exhibits and educational info all over the website.)

The visitor spoke to me about a permanent exhibit there called Evolving Planet, which focuses on how the earth has changed in the last 4.5 billion years. One component of the exhibit focuses on the big extinctions, like that of the dinosaurs at the end of the Mesozoic Era. The extinction of the dinosaurs was actually the fifth large extinction in earth’s history which is kind of astounding to us, since we think of it as being ‘the big one.’

The woman said to me, “The exhibit talks about how we’re in another big extinction right now. That one species – mankind – is the cause of the extinctions. That’s never happened before.” She went on to describe a ticker that shows in real-time how many extinctions are happening right now. She quoted 30,000 per year (an underestimate according to the UN Environment Programme), and as she stood there at the end of the tunnel of earth’s evolution, she witnessed the extinction of four species as the ticker ticked away.

Her eyes teared up. She turned away slightly and her voice caught in her throat. “It’s awful,” she said. “It’s so heartbreaking. I want to learn more.”

Admittedly, I’m a big softie inside and I had to fight from tearing up too. The truth is, for a lot of us, this kind of information is devastating. It’s overwhelming. It makes you feel powerless, and nothing feels worse than powerlessness. For this exact reason, I admit that I never read or looked at any photos about the BP oil spill other than what I had to hear from other people’s conversations. I just couldn’t bear it.

Extinctions have sped up since the times of colonization because modern societies have an absolute addiction to development. We wipe out forests, wetlands, and meadows for housing, farming, and shopping centers. We’re only now realizing the interconnectedness of all things; there’s still an argument that early hunters caused the extinction of mammoths, but things are never so simple. Changing climates, changing plant communities, competition, and predator pressure all play a factor in the extinction of a species. Unfortunately, mankind’s need for expansion destroys habitats, which destroys food, and also introduces invasive species that increase competition or predation. While it’s true that extinctions are part of the natural cycles of the earth, there has never before been such a mass extinction on a global scale, encouraged by one singular species the way there has been in the last several thousand years. We still battle for animal rights; it’s clear that the Gray Wolf is an endangered species, but the government allows inflated rancher “interests” to pull the species off the list, further threatening its already dwindled existence in the US.

The Po’ouli, a rare Hawaiian bird believed to be extinct as of 2004.

We’re only now learning to take into account the whole picture. When we fill up our gas tanks, we imagine oil fields in the Middle East, out in the middle of barren deserts. Like the mammoths, it’s not always that simple. For example, Shell is a mega-corporation that owns oil wells in South America and a great deal of oil pollution washes into waterways used by indigenous communities. Villages have been ruined and natural resources dramatically reduced. Because they have no money and no voice, they usually cannot fight to save their lands. This is not just a story of Shell, but of dozens of enormous, wealthy corporations who put money over life.

There are many more pieces to the puzzle than we’ve been taught to believe. At least in America, we’re still teaching our children that we have the right to lord over natural resources and use them up. We’re still indirectly teaching manifest destiny. We are literally taught that being parasites is natural, okay, and the way it should be.

My heart went out to this visitor because I empathize with her pain and the pure shock of such information. A quote attributed to Freeman Tilden but actually by an anonymous park ranger came to mind: “Through interpretation, understanding. Through understanding, appreciation. Through appreciation, protection.” We can’t protect something until we care for it, and often – especially in this society – we can’t care for it until we learn about it. We also have a lot of social injustice to overcome before we can really do what’s necessary; after all, when there are communities struggling to feed their children, how can you convince them to care for their environment?

I told this woman that there’s hope yet. There are tons of amazing organizations that get people out in the dirt, rebuilding shorelines, planting new forests, and trying to restore some of what we’ve lost. The best way to fight the destruction is to become a part of the conservation and reconstruction. Even if all you have time for is conversing with people about the issues and spreading accurate information, you can be a part of the solution.

In the end, our efforts may be futile; at some point, our species will go extinct too, and the earth will do what it’s always done: regenerate and produce new life. A lot of people think that’s nihilistic, but those people are still convinced that nothing is more important than I, we, and man. Sometimes it’s the only notion that rests my heart.

How do you deal with environmental degradation? Does it affect you negatively?

Thanks for reading. Happy Wednesday everyone. :)

{Nature News Flash} Rare species! Oh, how I love rare species!

It’s okay, you can call me a NatGeo Nerd if you want, but I can’t repress my excitement when I see photos or stories about new/rare species. I suppose somewhere in my brain I’ve bought into that whole “We’ve pretty much discovered everything” mentality, so when something “new” pops up, I do the happy naturalist dance. These are labeled “rare,” so let’s get to the photos!

GOO! A Feather-Tailed Opposum. CanIhaddat? Researchers think that this critter’s diet may include moths and nectar!

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Pedro the Giant Peruvian Penguin

I just came across this article and had to share it with you guys. I got my BA in Anthropology and Archaeology in college, so anything having to do with paleoanthropology or paleontology makes my little nerd heart sing with joy.

You can imagine how this artist’s rendering of a giant ancient penguin makes me feel.

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{News Flash} New Deep-Sea Species Discovered

This freaking adorable purple octopus is part of a group of potentially new species discovered off the coast of Canada.

Via NatGeo

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