Wildlife at Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin

August 12, 2023 • 1:50 pm

by Greg Mayer

I’m going to try to post some of my own wildlife photos while Jerry is not in a position to post readers’ wildlife photos. (We can look forward to Jerry’s posts of Galapagos wildlife photos, which we eagerly await!) To start, here are some pictures from a field trip  I took to Vilas County, Wisconsin, last summer with colleagues from the University of Wisconsin Zoological Museum in Madison. These pictures are from our visit to Escanaba Lake, where the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a small field office that conducts careful surveys of the fish in the Lake.

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

We went out with DNR fisheries biologist Greg Sass, who showed us some of the research being carried out by the DNR. Greg got his PhD at Madison, where he is affiliated with the Center for Limnology.

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

Part of the DNR’s research involves fyke net surveys:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

Here are some of the fish found in the Lake. My ichthyological expertise is minimal, so the IDs will be to family only; feel free to volunteer species IDs in the comments. [Added: see species IDs by Mark R in comment #2.] Centrarchidae:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.


Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.


Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

A large Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) tadpole also turned up:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

But the highlight for me was that Northern Water Snakes (Nerodia sipedon) were very common at the boat launch. There were little ones:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

And big ones:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

Measuring the big one– about 44 inches, total length:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

Sometimes, the big and little hung out together:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

The biggest ones were under and around an overturned boat:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

The snakes were so common, I told Greg it would be a great place for someone to do a thesis on their population biology and behavior. Some more water snake photos:

Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.
Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.
Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 23 July 2022.

This being Wisconsin and all, we had dinner the night before at a supper club, accompanied, for most of us, by brandy old fashioneds:

Brandy old fashioneds (mostly) at Marty’s Place North, now sadly closed.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 9, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have a variety of photos from Daniel Shoskes.  The species are unidentified, but readers can help with that. Click on the photos to enlarge them; Daniel’s notes are indented.

From a cruise down the Peruvian Amazon organized by Natural Habitat Adventures (affiliated with the World Wildlife Fund). Have video with a glimpse of the elusive freshwater river pink dolphin but not photos.


Readers’ wildlife photos

January 27, 2023 • 8:15 am

Reader Chris Schulte sent some photos from a trip to the Galápagos archipelago. (I was supposed to be there in about a week, but since the trip was combined with a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru, and there are riots and unrest in that country, they canceled the whole deal. But I’ll be lecturing instead on a trip to the islands in August, and it will not be canceled because the Galápagos are part of Ecuador, not Peru).

Chris’s captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

My wife and I went to the Galápagos a few years ago and I’ve been meaning to send these to you for a while. I don’t know if everything is identified correctly, but perhaps someone who knows better can correct me.

Galápagos Tortoise – (Chelonoidis niger) at El Chato 2 ranch:

Lava Lizard, Microlophus spp.:

Large Ground FinchGeospiza magnirostris:

Woodpecker FinchCamarhynchus pallidus:

Marine IguanaAmblyrhynchus cristatus:
I’m not sure if this is a Striated Heron, Butorides striatus, or Galápagos Heron (also “Lava heron”), Butorides sundevali, at the fish market:

Galapagos Sea LionZolophus wolleboeki:

Galapágos MockingbirdNesomimus parvulus:

A Yellow warblerDendroica petechia, letting me get really close:

White-cheeked PintailAnas bahamensis:

We were able to go snorkeling at Kicker Rock. I think someone said that it was 800 ft. deep between the two islets. Of course that is where you splash in

The first thing I saw was… unexpected:

I saw something out of the corner of my eye and was able to take a quick snap of it:
And a couple of Nazca boobiesSula granti, on the rocks above:

Reader’s wildlife photos (and videos)

December 17, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have photos of a swell trip taken by Robert Lang, physicist and origami master. (I believe it was this trip, sponsored by New Scientist and Steppes Travel, and featuring Richard Dawkins as lecturer) Robert’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Hawaii Wildlife

We spent a week sailing around the Hawaiian islands. We saw quite a few birds, both endemic and introduced, but I didn’t get many good pictures of the endemics; most of them were too skittish and/or stayed in heavy leaf cover. But I did get this Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola), which is an introduced species, but was too pretty to pass up.

We also did some kayaking along sea cliffs. I loved the brilliance of this Red Pencil Urchin (Heterocentrotus mamillatus), which was just above the waterline.

At one point, the ship we were on spotted a pod of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins (Stenella attenuate). As we revved up the engine, they joined us to surf the bow wave.

The highlights of the trip were two snorkeling excursions. First, a night snorkel with Reef Manta Rays (Mobula alfredi). The organizers set up surfboard with lights, which attracted plankton; the plankton attracted the rays, which did repeated somersaults just underneath us—literally less than a foot away. This picture is a screen capture:

But I hope you will able to see the video:

Later we did a day snorkel on Lahaina with Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas). There were quite a few people in the water (as you will see in the video), but they just ignored us, coming up to the surface for a breath, then heading back down.


We’d arrived on the big island of Hawai’I while one of the volcanos, Mauna Loa, was undergoing an eruption (note, this is not the volcano with all of the telescopes on it—that’s Mauna Kea). We only saw lava distantly from the plane on the way in, but the ash in the sky gave us some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Robert didn’t ask me to put this up, but I couldn’t resist.  He sent it while on the trip, with the remark, “Richard had a slide in one of his talks comparing embryonic development to origami, which was why he pulled me in as a visual aid when that slide came up. That was, of course, great fun.  Charming fellow, I gather he’s done some biological something-or-other in his day.”

Finally, since Mauna Loa is having one of its rare eruptions on the Big Island, I asked Robert if he saw it directly. He responded:

We did see the eruption from afar, from the plane while flying in. (Pic below.) One of the days we drove up to within a mile of the flow, but it was fogged in so we couldn’t see anything.
What a great gig for Richard! I’m jealous.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 28, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have wildlife photos from reader Curt Hall, whose narrative and captions are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I’m fortunate to live near Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, near the Texas-Oklahoma border on the southern shore of Lake Texoma.

Hagerman is primarily known for the numerous bird species which live on the refuge either year round or as a part of a yearly migration journey.  Here are a couple recent bird shots from the Refuge:

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) watches a gaggle of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) take off.

Numerous birds beneath beautiful sunrise clouds.  Those present include at least Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Great Egret (Ardea alba), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi), and one or two unknown duck species.

However, I mainly wanted to share a sequence of images of two non-birds.  This sequence ended up good for one and decidedly bad for the other. These were captured when a North American river otter (Lutra canadensis) caught and ate a shortnose gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) a couple dozen feet from me.  The otter discovered a large gar in a shallow creek that recently became stranded from the main lake body as the lake level dropped through the dry summer.  The otter took advantage of this situation and managed to catch and eat a rather large breakfast.

Muddy otter retreats from an initial swim at the gar:

Otter begins his second foray into the water with gar splashing violently:

Gar continues to flail at the otters approach:

The final splash:

A quick breather before breakfast:

First bite:


Getting full:


September 11, 2022 • 2:30 pm

I finally managed to get a full night’s sleep last night, even though it consisted of my repeatedly surfacing to near consciousness and then diving back down to full sleep. The good news is that this alternation of states was as bracing as a full eight hours of sleep. I didn’t lie awake worrying about getting to sleep, and I awoke refreshed and full of energy.

But that’s not my point here. The point is that I had weird dreams all night, but they were all variations on the same theme: UNWANTED FISHCAKES.

The dream was this: I was with two old friends, and we were in some strange place trying to get a meal in a restaurant. But when I ordered something, I got FISHCAKES instead. The first dream, I recall, was fishcakes served with rice. And these weren’t even decent fishcakes: they were like compressed disks of gefilte fish, a fish I hate. I didn’t eat them.

I came partly awake, went back to sleep, and the dream continued. This time my friends were there, but more strange people wandered in, and we all sat down to eat. Once again I got FISHCAKES–the same odious piscine pucks–but this time with noodles on the side. Once again I rejected them, though I was hungry.

Again, I came partly awake and then dozed off. This time there were even more people, and we were in a large restaurant at a round table. We sat down, and though I didn’t order, the waiter placed a GIANT PLATTER OF FISHCAKES in front of me. I told him I didn’t like fishcakes, but that was all I could get. There must have been twenty of those noxious things on my plate.

The fishcake scenari;may have happened more than just these three times; I can’t remember. But I do remember these dreams vividly because I woke up (not fully) each time. (You usually remember the dreams that you have only right before you wake up.)

What does this dream mean? I have no idea, but since I’m not a piscivore at the best of times (I do like a good fish and chips), it would have to be classed as a nightmare.

I talked to two other friends who, without prompting, also told me that they had weird dreams last night. One was about an unhooded and unruly falcon, and the dreamer kept insisting that they put on its hood to calm it.

The fishcakes in my dream were not fried like these:

If you had a weird dream last night, please put it below.

Readers’ wildlife photos and videos

May 23, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have a subject not often seen here: underwater animals. The photographer is Peter Klaver, and the IDs, movies, and descriptions are indented. (Don’t forget to send in your photos; see the left sidebar for instructions.)

Earlier this year I had a scuba diving trip in the Maldives, which is a true scuba divers’ paradise. Pictures and video do not fully do it justice, especially if the water is a bit murky, as it sometimes was. But they give at least some impression of the kinds of things you see underwater there.
The main prize for us was schools of manta rays (I don’t know if we saw Manta birostris or Manta alfredi) that were circling above cleaning stations, where they come to let cleaner fish eat parasites off them. There are some video clips of them here, here, and here.

Bigger still than manta rays are whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, the biggest fish in the ocean. We briefly saw a smaller one in the distance, possibly a juvenile, of less than 10 meters.

Nurse sharks, Ginglymostoma cirratum, were not at all shy. There were plenty of opportunities to take photos and video of them from close up.

Sometimes they picked spots on the bottom right next to us to lie down.

There are some video clips of nurse sharks here and here.
Yellowtail snappers, Lutjanus lutjanus, often come in very big shoals.

I don’t know the name of this fish:

We saw different kinds or moray eels; there are video clips of them here and here.

Lion fish, of the genus Pterios, are common sight in tropical reef dives. Unless you see them near the surface under bright sun light, you see them as black and white. The red colors in the photo below are due to the use of flash.

Turtles are also a common sight in reef dives. There are some video clips of them here and here.

In some places the bottom is covered in hard corals.

The full collection of photos and video from the trip is at http://dutsm1217.tudelft.net/Maldives2022/ .

Do seahorses validate “queerness”? The naturalistic fallacy committed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust

January 21, 2022 • 11:15 am

Every day I get six or seven links from readers about the infestation of society by performative brands of DEI (i.e., “wokeness”). The links are often distressing and depressing, but I have to tell readers “I’m sorry, but I can’t write about everything!”

But when I am compelled by the laws of physics to write about something is when people try to bend biology to fit their ideological narrative. The most egregious example of this is the claim that there is no such thing as a sexual binary in humans and other animals, which is just wrong. Males have small mobile gametes (that’s the definition), and females big and immobile ones. Just like my Drosophila, about 99.99% of humans are either male or female by this definition. Hermaphrodites or other intermediates are not “other sexes”; they are developmental anomalies. (That’s not a slur on human intermediates; it’s a statement that you get the very rare intermediates only when development slips off the rails that have evolved to ensure a sexual binary.)

These attempts to refer to nature as a way of validating human behavior, morality, or ideology is, of course, an example of the “naturalistic fallacy,” usually described as the fallacy of saying “what’s seen in nature is good in humans.” And it’s a dumb fallacy, because a lot of animals behave in nature in ways that we would consider immoral in our own species. (Chimps, for example, attack other bands of chimps and rip individuals apart while they’re still alive. Some spider females kill and eat males after mating.) We can’t look to nature for morality, because, at bottom, nature is amoral, for animals don’t have the capacity to argue and make considered judgments about how to behave. Often “considerate” behavior towards others is the evolutionary product of reciprocal altruism or kin selection.

So when the Sussex Wildlife Trust tries to use the pregnancy of male seahorses as a justification for “queerness”, as they do below, they’re committing the naturalistic fallacy. The reason we shouldn’t discriminate against non-cis people is because discrimination is wrong and hurtful, not because male seahorses (and, by the way, male pipefish and sea dragons, contra the tweet below) get pregnant. Mallard drakes sometimes kill females during forced copulation, which in humans is the equivalent of rape. Does that make rape okay? You get my point.

Here’s the tweet. The original has been deleted (I wonder why?) but here’s a screenshot of the original:


Now a bit of biology before we go on to the associated article.  Seahorses have a fascinating mating and breeding system. They’ve evolved so that the males largely take care of the eggs. (In many species, males do at least half the tending and rearing). In seahorses, pipefish, and sea dragons, this occurs by males sequestering the eggs in their kangeroo-like pouches, fertilizing them there, and sequestering them until hatching.  (This may be a way to increase offspring number by favoring those individuals who protect their reproductive investment by protecting fertilized eggs.)

The important thing is that, in seahorses, sea dragons, and pipefish, the females produce eggs faster than the males can put them in their pouches, so females are always looking around for an “empty” male. Because—unlike in most animals—females are thus competing for males’ attention, and sexual selection is reversed. It’s the opposite of what happens in most other species, in which males compete to fertilize females. This is why, if there is sexual dimorphism in seahorses, it’s the females who are more elaborately decorated and with more secondary sexual characteristics. (See also here.)

Note that the males, while they take care of fertilized eggs and in that sense are pregnant, are still males, as they produce sperm rather than eggs. So you could say that “males get pregnant”, but that’s not the same thing as transsexual men who can sometimes get pregnant, nor does seahorse pregnancy somehow show that transmale pregnancy is “okay” or “moral”. It IS perfectly okay, but not because you find it in some marine species.

I like to show students the video below of a male seahorse giving birth, which looks almost as laborious and painful as labor in human females. This form of reproduction, given the female’s rapid rate of producing eggs, may have evolved to protect eggs and embryos from predation. We just don’t know.

What we do know is that males have a form of pregnancy, but this says nothing one way or the other about transsexual pregnancy in humans. The pregnant seahorses are neither queer nor transsexual, but males, and there’s no morality in the fishes (yes, seahorses, sea dragons, and pipefish are “fish”).

I wouldn’t have written all this if reader Al, who was steamed, sent me this associated link from the Sussex Wildlife Trust news (click on screenshot to read).  Now I’m not going to go after this very hard, as I want to just reiterate the naturalistic fallacy and how it’s used as a justification or valorization of human behavior. And yes, pregnant seahorses do show that animal behavior is diverse and unexpected.  But pregnant male seahorses remain males, and they’re not “queer,” either, as the author seems to imply in her piece.

But the seahorses are used to somehow buttress the insecurity of a woman trying to come out as queer.

A few quotes:

As a keen zoology undergraduate who adored, almost worshipped, Darwin’s theory of evolution, I couldn’t quite come to terms with his theory of sexual selection. It really didn’t add up as I was tentatively stepping out of the queer closet back in 1996. I lived and breathed evolutionary theory but where did I fit in? A deviation? An anomaly? A kink in the genetic spiral of life? So, of course, I started studying the evolution of sex and soon discovered how incredibly diverse and fascinating the plant and animal kingdoms (more like queendoms or even queerdoms) really are in terms of gender and sexuality.

. . . .In the plant world too there is a whole host of queerness to explore. In fact bisexual flowers are described as “perfect”, having both male and female reproductive structures. Examples include roses and lilies but also the horse chestnut, highlighted in a wonderful project by the Queer Botany Society at the Walthamstow Marshes SSSI.

Now, with my work for the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project much of my favourite flagship “queer” marine species are linked directly to our conservation work here on the Sussex Coast. For example bottlenose dolphins who are known to engage in homosexual behaviour and sex for fun, again thought to increase social bonding and cooperation. The black seabream which are all born female and change to male at maturity (known as protogynous hermaphrodites). And finally the incredible seahorse species that in my opinion can claim the throne of the animal drag-kingdom in having the only true reversed pregnancy.

I’m sure Darwin would agree that rather than it all being about nature versus nurture we should focus more on nurturing our true nature, that part of us that is wild and free and far from binary. Wouldn’t it be dull if everything were so very black and white… life and love is in fact gloriously technicolour thanks to evolution’s rainbow.

Now people can find solace where they will, but I think it’s misguided to look to nature to validate a behavior in humans. For every mammalian species that shows homosexual behavior, there are a dozen who don’t.  (Do those show that homosexuality is “unnatural, ergo wrong?” Of course not!) And homosexuality in humans, which often involves attraction solely to members of your own sex, is not at all the same thing as homosexual behavior in dolphins. For when a the male wants offspring, he knows where to go. Should a rapist find validation by studying ducks?

The last sentence of the piece above, referring to “evolution’s rainbow,” is likely a reference to Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow, a book-length attempt to justify human non-cis-ness by looking at animals (Roughgarden is a transsexual woman). I reviewed it for the Times Literary Supplement in 2004. My review is no longer online but I have a copy and will send it to those who want to read it. Here’s the last part of my review (it was mixed: I found Roughgarden’s descriptions of behavior being very good but her moral “lessons” untenable). Yet the warning about the naturalistic fallacy is apparently is as relevant today as it was when I wrote this 18 years ago:

But regardless of the truth of Darwin’s theory, should we consult nature to determine which of our behaviours are to be considered normal or moral? Homosexuality may indeed occur in species other than our own, but so do infanticide, robbery and extra-pair copulation.  If the gay cause is somehow boosted by parallels from nature, then so are the causes of child-killers, thieves and adulterers. And given the cultural milieu in which human sexuality and gender are expressed, how closely can we compare ourselves to other species? In what sense does a fish who changes sex resemble a transgendered person? The fish presumably experiences neither distressing feelings about inhabiting the wrong body, nor ostracism by other fish. In some baboons, the only males who show homosexual behaviour are those denied access to females by more dominant males. How can this possibly be equated to human homosexuality?

The step from “natural” to “ethical” is even riskier. As the philosopher G. E. Moore argued, identifying what is good or right by using any natural property is committing the “naturalistic fallacy”: there is no valid way to deduce “ought” from “is”. If no animals showed homosexual behaviour, would discrimination against gay humans be more justified? Certainly not. Roughgarden’s philosophical strategy is as problematic as her biological one.

Roughgarden believes that evolutionary biologists, with their enthusiasm for the “classical” gender roles of the neo-Darwinian theory of sexual selection, are partly responsible for society’s unease with gay and transgendered people. She is wrong. This theory is powerful and largely correct. Yes, there are nuances of behaviour that require special explanation, or that we don’t yet understand. But nobody, least of all Darwin, ever claimed that evolutionary biology is characterized by ironclad laws. Our field is not physics. Nevertheless, some generalizations, such as the pervasive competition of males for females, can be powerful and useful.

Yet in the end, all of this is irrelevant to the gay and transgendered community’s genuine concerns about repressive social attitudes. Rather than wringing her hands about the theories embraced by her biological colleagues, Joan Roughgarden might consider visiting a school board meeting deep in the American Bible Belt. There, ironically, she would find where opposition to a sexually diverse society really thrives, as does opposition to the very theory she is partly lambasting, Darwinism. It is not the intellectuals who are the problem; it’s the anti-intellectuals.

Nature, as varied as it is, can be used to “validate” any human behavior, therefore it can validate NO human behaviors.