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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
ZeFrank appears to have invited himself on a virtual NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) “deep dive” from the Okeanos Explorer, a research ship that has a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can descend to 6,000 meters. A variety of videos reside on the NOAA website, and I suspect that ZeFrank took the video, with permission, from the site.
The goals of the Ocean Exploration mission are these:
With the mission to explore the ocean for national benefit, NOAA Ocean Exploration is the only U.S. federal organization dedicated to exploring the deep ocean. We are filling gaps in the basic understanding of U.S. deep waters and the seafloor and delivering the ocean information needed to strengthen the economy, health, and security of the United States.
The “conversation” you hear is the narration of the original videos combined with voiceover from ZeFrank, creating a “dialogue” between him and the Explorer personnel. Regardless, you’re here for the weird creatures that live in the depths of the ocean.
Since I noted that this may become a sporadic feature because of a lack of submissions, I’ve gotten many of them. Thanks!
Today we have a new photographer prompted by my plea. Here are photos from Florida by reader Quentin Tuckett. His notes are indented, though I’ve left out the Latin binomials. Click on the photos to enlarge them. Be sure to check out the amazing snack-mimicking caterpillars at the bottom.
Some photos attached (and captions) from my travels in and around Tampa, FL. I am not a photographer, even an amateur one; thus, most of the photographs were taken with various phone cameras. Ultimately, I am sending these along because I enjoy the wildlife photographs and would love to see them continue,
Green tree frog in the morning light:
Some type of skink; perhaps the readers will know. Photographed near Tampa:
Gopher tortoise in Little Manatee State Park; the disturbed earth is due to rooting wild hogs:
Gopher tortoise in the backyard; this species (and its burrow) is protected under Florida law:
Turtle with shell damage, presumably due to a car strike:
Green swordtails captured in Hillsborough County; feral populations exhibit extensive color variation:
Juvenile bowfin; they are really cute when small. Students of comparative zoology will be familiar with this fish:
Blackchin tilapia, a non-native species in Florida. Captured in estuarine waters of Tampa Bay:
Tilapia (probably blue tilapia) bower, the light patches; the tilapia are the dark shapes; many tilapia are moothbrooders so it’s not a nest:
Parakeet, likely escaped from a pet owner; I suspect it didn’t last long due to its bright color and the presence of raptors:
Sandhill crane; these birds are lawn ornaments in my area of Florida:
Turkey in scrub habitat:
Yellow-crowned night heron in a red mangrove along the coast of Tampa Bay:
Three pictures of a snake mimic; we’ll see if the readers can identify it; Hillsborough County, FL:
I have a queue of photos, so if you haven’t seen yours yet, please be patient. And of course I can always use more.
Today’s photos are by Tony Eales from Queensland. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.
I’m headed to the outback next week so with luck I’ll have some cool things to share when I get back. For now I have a grab bag of reasonably recent shots of this and that.
I’ll start with a new mimic for me. This is one of several jewel beetles that mimic the presumably very unpalatable lycid beetles. This is the most widespread species being found in every mainland state of Australia, mainly across the southern half: Castiarina rufipennis.
These are tiny Monomorium sp. known as Timid Ants. But they’re struggling mightily with this seed.
One of our common species of fish that lives in both brackish and fresh water. Pseudomugil signiferPacific Blue Eye. They are a popular aquarium fish here and a member of the colourful family of Gondwanan and mostly Sahulian freshwater fish Melanotaeniidae, known commonly as Rainbowfish. Unfortunately, these blue-eyes are being driven out by the imported Gambusia mosquitofish. These Central American fish are livebearing and eat the scattered eggs of rainbowfish like Blue eyes as well as occupying the same niche.
As everyone should know by now, I love spiders. However, I’m also fascinated by the fungi that prey on them. This is probably Gibellula sp.
Finally, an orchid I’ve seen plenty of times in the rainforest near me but never caught flowering before. It is an epiphyte, Plectorrhiza tridentata, the Common Tangle Orchid.
I am still asking for readers to send their photos in, as at most I have a week’s contributions in reserve. Thank you!
Today is Sunday, and that means another batch of themed bird photos from biologist John Avise. I particularly like this week’s theme, which involves two groups of animals. (As you’ll see, John knows his fish as well as he knows his birds.) His notes and IDs are indented, and you can click on his photos to enlarge them.
Piscivorous Birds with Their Fish
Many birds are piscivorous (fish-eating), so it’s common to see piscivores in action. Occasionally, I’ve managed to photograph a bird and its piscine prey with sufficient detail to reveal the general type or even the species of fish recently captured (this is often helped by knowing the piscine species that inhabit the body of water where the bird was feeding). In this batch of photos, I try to identify not only the piscivorous bird but also the type of fish it is about to consume. The White Tern was photographed in Hawaii; all other pictures were taken in southern California.