Category Archive 'Natural History'
30 Sep 2017

Hearty Appetite

09 Sep 2017

Ten Best Bird Photos of 2017

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And they are great!

HT: Karen L. Myers.

01 Sep 2017

Mother Said There’d Be Days Like This

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05 Aug 2017

When You Finally Meet the One

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When you finally find the one

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Wikipedia article

HT: Steve Bodio

21 Apr 2017

Compare

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08 Apr 2017

Kermode Bear aka Spirit Bear

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Ark in Space:

This is not a polar bear which has decided to migrate to warmer climes.

This is a remarkable sub-species of the North American Black Bear. It is the Kermode Bearr – also known as the spirit bear.

Living along the shorelines and central interior of British Columbia on the west coast of Canada, around ten percent of Kermode bears have white or creamy coats. They are revered among the native peoples of the province.

Pronounced kerr-MOH-dee, the lighter Kermode bears are not albinos. They appear much brighter than most of the population because of recessive alleles.

Full story.

31 Mar 2017

The Australian Bin Chicken

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Threskiornis moluccus:

“Historically rare in urban areas, the Australian white ibis has immigrated to urban areas of the east coast in increasing numbers since the late 1970s; it is now commonly seen in Wollongong, Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Townsville. In recent years the bird has also become increasing common in Perth, Western Australia and surrounding towns in south-western Australia. Populations have disappeared from natural breeding areas such as the Macquarie Marshes in north-western New South Wales. Management plans have been introduced to control problematic urban populations in Sydney.”

Hat tip to SuperversiveSF.

06 Mar 2017

The Authorities Will Tell You: Eagles Don’t Kill Baby Lambs

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Except they do, and lots of other things, too! Go, Eagles.

3:38 video

21 Oct 2016

Stung by a Tarantula Hawk

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Coyote Peterson is one of those weird guys with a unique approach to Natural History. He makes videos showing a variety of critters biting him or stinging him.

He’s been working his way up the great chain of painful insect bites, and this morning I came upon the video in which he serves up his own forearm to reputedly the second-most-painful insect sting in creation, the one delivered by the Tarantula Hawk, specifically Pepsis grossa.

As Wikipedia informs us:

Wasps of the genera Pepsis and Hemipepsis produce large quantities of venom and when stung humans experience immediate, intense, excruciating short term pain. Although the immediate pain of a tarantula hawk sting is among the greatest recorded for any stinging insect, the venom itself is not very toxic. The lethality of 65 mg/kg in mice for the venom of P. formosa pattoni reveals that the defensive value of the sting and the venom is based entirely upon pain.

20 Oct 2016

Pileated Woodpeker

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pileatedwoodpecker1

13 Oct 2016

From Down Under

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wedge-tailedeagle
On Nullarbor Plain near Cocklebiddy, Western Australia… a very isolated part of Australia with nothing but views of saltbush in all directions: Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) munching road-killed kangaroo.

16 Aug 2016

Largest Animal War in History

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ArgentineAnts
An Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) attacks a much larger fire ant (Solenopsis invicta).

Every now and then there is a good question and answer on Quora. Someone asked: “Do animals fight wars and if so what was the largest war?”

Zoologist Suzanne Sadedin replied:

The largest war in animal history — in fact, by numbers the largest war in history — is going on right now.

Once upon a time there was a tiny brown ant who lived by a swamp at the end of the Paraná River in Argentina. Her name, Linepithema humile, literally means “humble” or “weak”. Some time during the late 1800s, an adventurous L. humile crept away from the swamp where giant river otter played and capybaras cavorted.

She stowed away on a boat that sailed to New Orleans. And she went to war.

At home in the Paraná delta, L. humile nests would ferociously defend themselves from other nests, both of their own species and other kinds of ant. It was a life of never-ending territorial skirmishes, where nobody could really get ahead. When two L. humile met, they would flick their antennae over each others’ bodies, tasting the combination of hydrocarbons on their skin. This flavor would tell them whether the stranger belonged to the same nest. If she tasted familiar, she would be recognized as a sister. She would be gently stroked, offered food and welcomed into the nest. But if the flavor were not recognized, the ants would try to kill each other.

In New Orleans, something changed. L. humile, invading the United States, spread like wildfire. Instead of forming discrete, competing colonies, they behaved as a united army. They would brutally attack ants of other species, but welcome every L. humile as a long-lost sister in arms. Like L. humile in Argentina, other species of ants in the US must defend their territories against their own species. This gives the cooperative L. humile a huge strategic advantage; they waste neither lives nor energy on fighting with their own kind, but focus ruthlessly upon species-level conquest. Though individually tiny, they can swarm over native ants many times their size.

The supercolony grew to cover most of the United States. Then it spread to England, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. L. humile is now abundant on every continent except Antarctica, and wherever she goes, she slaughters native ant species.

How did she do this? Did inbreeding reduce the diversity of hydrocarbons on the ants’ skin, such that they no longer saw one another as enemies, but as sisters? Did natural selection tone down L. humile’s territorial instincts to suit their environment, so they would react aggressively only to the strong stimulus of another species? It seems likely both mechanisms were involved.

Things have not been perfect. Near San Diego, a schism formed, and a separate supercolony was created. The battlefront extends for miles; some 30 million ants die there every year. Another super-colony has formed in Catalonia. Perhaps as L. humile eliminates her competitors, her alliance will fracture entirely into squabbling tribes. But for now, from Europe to the United States, all the way to New Zealand, a global megacolony still persists, consisting of around 1 trillion individuals: a humble brown ant united in war against every other ant alive.

People always talk about the meek inheriting the earth. In L. humile’s case, it’s clearly working.

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ArgentineAntUSMap
L. humile distribution by US county

14 Jul 2016

Seriema Golf

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Red-legged seriema (Cariama cristata) at golf course in Brazil.

28 Jun 2016

Wolf Takes Bighorn Sheep

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(“Oh, My God! says wife in car. A lot.)

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