ZeFrank: True facts about the mosquito

October 25, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Matthew sent me the tweet below, which of course compelled me to go see ZeFrank’s new video (also below). It’s a long one (17 minutes), but is superb—full of biological facts that show the diversity of mosquito behavior, and with unbelievably good photography.  While some of the jokes are a bit off-color, I can’t see that showing this to a class in middle school or high school would be offensive.

Do watch the whole thing; you’ll be much enlightened. (There’s a short ad in the middle.) I was. Just the way the mosquitoes bite is fantastic: their multipart mouthparts and the ability of the “needle” that sucks blood to actually search around under the skin to find a juicy capillary.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 14, 2020 • 8:15 am

We are seriously low on readers’ wildlife photos, and I’m getting quite nervous. Do me a favor and send in your good photos; don’t make me beg! If I have to, I’ll play the my-content-is-free-so-please-send-some-pictures-in-return card.

Today we have contributions from two readers—some photos and a video. The photos come from reader John Egloff, who admits that they’re not the greatest pictures; but I thought they were worthwhile posting, as one rarely sees these nocturnal creatures even though many of us live among them. John’s captions are indented.

 In response to your request for more wildlife photos, I admit to being a bit intimidated by the stunning quality of the photos submitted by others that have appeared on your website.  Although the attached photos aren’t of that quality, I thought your readers might enjoy seeing these pictures of a nocturnal animal that most people never see and (as was originally the case with me) may not even realize is native to the Midwest.

Several years ago, I was living on the third floor of an apartment building on the far north side of Indianapolis that backed up to a woods and river where the wildlife was plentiful.  One evening, after dark, I was grilling on my back patio when something plopped onto the bird feeder a few feet from my head, startling me.   When I turned to look, my first impression was that a mouse, or perhaps even a rat, had jumped onto the feeder.  I watched the creature munch on sunflower seeds for a few minutes when, to my surprise, it simply leapt off of my birdfeeder, some 25 or 30 feet in the air, into the darkness.

Looking through one of my handy wildlife reference books, I discovered that what I had seen was a Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus).  Although I had (mistakenly) considered myself to be pretty knowledgeable about our local wildlife, I had been under the impression that flying squirrels were something that existed in the tropics – and certainly not in Indiana.

I soon discovered that these flying squirrels were coming to my birdfeeder every evening as soon as it grew dark.  Perhaps because we were up so high, they didn’t seem to be the least bit afraid of people, and on one occasion when my father was visiting he even (foolishly) reached out and petted one!

Because it was dark, when the squirrels leapt from my birdfeeder I couldn’t really see them “fly.”  In order to try to capture that, I set up a camera and flash on a tripod and aimed the camera into the darkness in the direction where the squirrels seemed to go.  As soon as they leapt from the feeder, I would fire the camera and flash.  Although I ended up with a lot of photos with no squirrel (or sometimes half a squirrel), I did manage to get several shots of the squirrels in flight.  The photos aren’t the sharpest because it was dark and I had to simply guess at a pre-set focal point; they’re also a bit grainy because the image has been enlarged.

Good enough; such photos are quite rare.

And now some videos from reader John Crisp:

Here’s an amazing whale encounter we had on the Fram [JAC: A Hurtigruten polar ship, similar to but smaller than the one I was on last year] in January this year. We were surrounded by an estimated 200 humpback whales (counted by the resident whale researcher). Sorry about the human noises – not just tourists, but half the crew were on the deck, so unusual was the experience! Nonetheless, the roaring of the whales is awe-inspiring. My apologies for the last 20 seconds, where I lost the plot. I should probably edit them…

John added this:

If you think it is suitable for a family show, I also have some remarkable footage of copulating lions…

I’ve asked for that footage but just got it a few minutes ago. The captions:

Lions mating in the Masai Mara. Somewhat voyeuristically, we watched for a while. During the time when a female is receptive, the pair may mate every 20 minutes and up to 50 times in a 24-hour period.

It is a noisy and apparently antagonistic affair! Watch these two:

This one shows afterglow, but no cigarettes:

And a nursing lioness:


Readers’ wildlife photos (and videos)

October 14, 2020 • 7:45 am

Stephen Barnard from Idaho is back with some lovely photos—and two videos as lagniappe. His captions and IDs are indented.

The first four are mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight. Migratory mallards are pouring in from Canada and parts north. There will soon be thousands. Duck hunting season, popular here, starts October 19. You’ll be happy to know I don’t hunt ducks or allow it on my property. [JAC: Yes, I am delighted at this!]

Next is a photo of Hitch (Canis familiaris), two more mallards, two Canada geese (Branta canadensis), and a moose (Alces alces). It’s not much as a photo, but funny.

This bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sometimes perches in this tall blue spruce (Picea pungens) in my back yard, scanning the creek for fish. This is probably Lucy.

A rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) consuming a callibaetis (Callibaetis) mayfly.

Two short videos:

Rainbow trout spawn in the spring, and brown trout (Salmo trutta) spawn in the fall, which is convenient when they coexist because they use the same spawning beds, called redds. These brown trout are on a particularly nice redd, which is also what anglers call a “prime lie” — a favored spot for fish to feed and rest.  They compete with each other, and drive away the rainbows that threaten to eat their eggs. The bird calling in the background is a marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris).

Hitch moving cows (Bos taurus).

Capybaras nom a gigantic pumpkin

September 23, 2020 • 3:30 pm

Thanks to YouTube, people are beginning to discover the wonders of the world’s largest rodent, the capybara  (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), a denizen of South America. Their average weight is about 50 kg, or 110 pounds, but they can be twice that heavy. They are cute, cuddly, and very chill.  Here’s a group of them at the Nagasaki Biopark chowing down on an enormous pumpkin.

The YouTube notes are these:

We gave capybara a huge pumpkin. We didn’t weigh but it may be around 50kg? Do capybara like it?

They do!!

ZeFrank: True facts about the hummingbird

August 15, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Well, we’re out of photographs of readers; the tank is bone dry. For today I’ll end with a nice new video by ZeFrank on hummingbirds. It’s long for him: 12 minutes. ZeFrank keeps mentioning someone named “Jerry”, in the video but it sure as hell isn’t me.

Lovely video shots here, and, despite the mispronunciation, a lot of TRUE biology.

h/t: Alon, Rick

“A sea of people engaged in a shared delusion”: a three-part video about the fracas at The Evergreen State College

April 5, 2020 • 12:45 pm

I don’t know how I missed this article and the three video segments it discusses, as it came out in Areo a year ago, and I’ve been following the saga of The Evergreen State College (TESC) since 2017. That’s when the trouble began with the “Day of Absence” at the College, when biology professor Brett Weinstein refused to leave campus at the demand of the students of color, and all hell broke loose. (You can see all my posts about it here.) After Weinstein wrote an email to the campus explaining why he refused to be forced off campus, he and his wife, biology professor Heather Heying, were demonized, and eventually forced out of TESC with a meager settlement. In the meantime, the College was swept with rioting and rage, and the administrators, in particular the invertebrate President George Bridges, simply caved into the students’ demands, prostrating and self-abasing themselves in a race to be the most repentant about racism.

Click on the screenshot to read the piece; I’ve put the three videos that constitute the documentary below; they’re all on YouTube.

The movie is centered on Weinstein and Heyer, who have a discussion with Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian, and James Lindsay—the “grievance studies” trio. Present as well is the filmmaker Mike Nayna. The discussion is well integrated by the many horrifying video clips that will show you how far the termites have dined at TESC—and many American schools. (They’re starting to nibble at The University of Chicago.)

I think the three parts are very good, and even if you remember the controversy and already saw some video, there’s a lot new here. And what you’ll see (if you’re sane) will astound and sicken you. It’s well worth the 1.5-hour investment of time.

Part 1, “Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, and the Evergreen Equity Council”, shows that the seeds of the trouble started well before the Day of Absence, when the College devised an Equity plan, didn’t send it to the faculty for vetting, and then demanded that everybody adhere to it without discussion.  Notable in this initiative is its infusion with Critical Race Theory, especially the claim that all white people are by definition racist, and if you ask for evidence for that, you’re being even more racist. In other words, you can’t win if you’re white, even though Bret and Heather had a long history of antiracism.

You’ll notice similarities between the students’ and professors’ behavior to what happened during China’s Cultural Revolution: accusation, rage, debasement, and punishment.  You will enjoy what happens at 21:00, when the Equity Committee asks senior administrators to “get in the canoe” (they line up in twos), but before they do they have to espouse their antiracism. It’s embarrassing—and hilarious!

Finally, in all of this you’ll notice that the students continually decry the “institutional racism” of TESC, but, as far as I know, and as Bret says, there WAS no “institutional racism” at TESC. These are simply made-up complaints that you’re not allowed to question. Asking for evidence of racism, after all, is racism.

Part 2, “Teaching to Transgress”, continues documenting the indoctrination of the College by students and professors who are Woke, and then Weinstein and Heyer relate the dreaded “day of absence” incident and what ensued. Note the claim that “To ask for evidence of racism is racism with a capital R”, and the students’ demands that science teachers have their attitudes “adjusted” and then should be disciplined if they don’t “adjust.  You will see what a craven invertebrate Bridges is, and yet he remains as President of the crumbling College.

Day of absence.


In Part 3, “The Hunted Individual”, the punishment of Weinstein, Heyer, and the humiliation of Bridges (who is barricaded in a room and not allowed to pee) continues. You’ll cringe when you see video of the students invading a faculty meeting, producing what Weinstein calls “a race to the bottom” among faculty members to see who can virtue signal most vigorously.

If, after you watch all three parts, you’re not angry at the entitled students and the craven faculty, as well as with the repugnant Bridges, you’re on the wrong website. At any rate, when you’re sheltering at home this is a good way to spend 1.5 hours. And remember, as Bret says at the end, this kind of insanity is not limited to TESC: it’s spreading to other campuses, to the media (I’m talking to you, New York Times) and to politics.

A warning to other colleges: Evergreen, as Bret notes, has suffered greatly because of the College’s failure to clamp down on extreme Wokeness. Enrollment there has dropped by 50%, the budget has plummeted, and staff and faculty are being let go. I can’t say I’m sorry to hear that. TESC is now a laughingstock among American colleges, and I’d think hard before telling any young person to study there.

Readers’ wildlife videos

April 3, 2020 • 8:00 am

Tara Tanaka has been isolating herself in her wildlife blind on her wetland property in Florida, and we are the beneficiaries: she sent two new videos. (Tara’s Vimeo page is here and her Flickr page here.)

Be sure to enlarge these before watching.

I’ll put her descriptions of the videos in indented text.  First we see a lovely wood duck hen, or “woody” as they call them (Aix sponsa), in a video called “They just tuck their wings and fly right through the hole!” (Tara and her husband have erected a number of wood duck nesting boxes, from which the newly-hatched ducklings leap down to the water on the day of hatching.)

I’ve heard this for years – but here is the way that hen Wood Ducks enter a box or cavity – every time.


In this one, a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) eats an individual of Amphiuma (a genus of aquatic salamanders):

The water level in our swamp is dropping very fast, and some wildlife, including fish, tadpoles and amphiumas (a type of salamander) are getting stranded in drying pools. This Red-shouldered Hawk has discovered that if it perches in a cypress tree that overlooks one of these areas, he can find easy meals.

Readers’ wildlife video

March 24, 2020 • 8:15 am

While human life is locked down, it behooves us to remember that the rest of nature proceeds as normal—indeed, better than usual without having to worry about people.

It’s Spring in Florida, and the birds are active on Tara Tanaka’s wetlands. (See her Vimeo site here and her Flickr site here.) Today we have a lovely two-minute video of Egrets and a Wood Stork feeding on fish and tadpoles. One egret spreads its feathers and roosts.

Be sure to enlarge the video and turn the sound on. Here are Tara’s notes:

Yesterday morning I went out in the blind that was right next to the area where the Glossy Ibis and Great Egrets had been feasting on tadpoles the morning before, ready to capture individual Glossy Ibis feathers if they returned. One by one Great Egrets landed about 200’ directly to the east – not ideal light – but with their plumes and white feathers, and even their yellow beaks beautifully backlit. I waited for quite a while before rearranging everything in the blind in order to point my lens out a small side window, since I knew that if they were to move over near me I never would have been able to go back the way I was positioned without revealing myself to them.

One of the first birds to arrive was one of our older Wood Storks, his/her age demonstrated by the width and height of the black band running from side to side across the top of its head. Interestingly, the first stork scout to arrive last year had a very swollen foot, and this stork rarely stood on both feet, holding the left one in the air most of the three hours it stood on the wood pile.

Our Great Egrets were really late to nest this year since the swamp was so low until just a few weeks ago that the cypress trees they nest in were not surrounded by water, and therefore not protected from raccoons by our three large alligators. In the last few days I’ve seen a second wave of egrets arriving. They have not found mates yet and have the longest plumes and the most green color on their faces. Many of the birds feeding already have nests and are taking turn with their mates incubating their eggs, although those with the longest plumes are likely new arrivals. Despite the tadpole feast, there were other egrets deep in the swamp with other priorities. One male was displaying on an unusually high branch, and when an interested female circled and landed nearby, he joined her in the privacy of the dense cypress and Spanish moss.


Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

March 22, 2020 • 8:00 am

In honor of Ceiling Cat’s Day, we have contributions from two readers today. The first is our Official Website Videographer, Tara Tanaka from Florida. (Her Vimeo site is here and her Flickr site is here.) I much regret having my lecture trip to Florida canceled, as I was going to watch birds from her famous blind.

Her notes are indented, and be sure to watch the video on the big screen:

The last two mornings we’ve had large groups of Great Egrets [Aredea alba] that are nesting in our cypress swamp gathering to eat what we think are some kind of large tadpoles, however this morning we had a rare treat – sixteen Glossy Ibis [Plegadis falcinellus] joined them and fed for about 45 minutes before they all disappeared. This was shot from inside the living room, so there is no audio.

And reader Robie sent some photos of a dangerous interspecific interaction near Chicago. Robie’s notes, which include anthropomorphic captions, are indented:

I am a daily reader (but very rare commenter under the name of “Robie”). I have been meaning to send these pictures for a while, because I know you like your squirrel friends (as do I). I took these in November 2013 at the Morton Arboretum. Most of the squirrels I encounter in the woods at the Arboretum are fox squirrels [Sciurus niger] rather than grays.

While walking on a wooded trail I heard a commotion up in a tree, and looked just in time to see a red-tailed hawk [Buteo jamaicensis] land clumsily on a branch. As I admired the hawk, I noticed a fox squirrel right nearby, so I assume the hawk had been attempting to catch the squirrel. The squirrel started boldly pestering the hawk. I watched for almost ten minutes while the squirrel ran all around the hawk, peering at it from every angle, until the hawk left the tree.

“Hey buddy, I’m right behind you.”

“Pssst! On your right!”
“Now you’re looking the wrong way!”
“Oops, I think I’ve been spotted!”
Finally the hawk appeared to tire of this, and it left the branch and flew to the ground. It seemed to have forgotten I was there (or didn’t care), because it landed only about three feet away from me.
I hope you are weathering the stay-at-home situation without too much boredom. These pictures remind me that outdoor spaces are still open, and (I hope) it won’t be long before we have some fine early-spring weather.
I hope so!