Posts Tagged: Nature

Life and Death on the Bear Cam

The bear cams are back: Feeds from Katmai National Park in Alaska are going live this week. Some are powered up already and in testing; others are still coming online. The bear cams have become an odd yearly ritual for the nature-obsessed and vocationally computer-bound alike, developing an avid fan base that tracks the comings and goings of dozens upon dozens of feeding bears. Each year the cameras get better, their hours longer, and their stories richer.

So what will happen in 2014? What are we in for? I called Roy Wood, Chief of Interpretation for Katmai National Park, who helps run the cams. He told me a [...]


Try Not To Catch Face Cancer From An Endangered Tasmanian Devil!

"Biologists first encountered the cancer in the late 1990s. The tumors grew on the devils’ faces or inside their mouths, and within six months the animals were dead. The first cases appeared in eastern Tasmania, and with each passing year the cancer’s range expanded westward. When scientists examined the cells in the tumors, they got a baffling surprise. The DNA from each tumor did not match the Tasmanian devil on which it grew. Instead, it matched the tumors on other devils. That meant that the cancer was contagious, spreading from one animal to another." —Nature, in all its weird and terrifying glory, is killing off the already endangered Tasmanian [...]


One Day Soon, Ferns Will Rule the World

As we head into the late days of November, at least here in the region around New York City, most of the ferns have turned sallow and dry, so that it’s difficult to believe that only a few months ago, they formed a lush, dense carpet of shadowy green on forest floors everywhere. While it’s tempting to be taken in by these superficial signs of frailty and expiration, do not be deceived: those of us who spend time with ferns understand that they are plotting, and one day soon will again rule the world.


Monument Mountain

Because I had only planned to stay in the Berkshires for less than a day, my friend suggested we go on a hike up Monument Mountain. I agreed: New York City has a lot going for it, but mountains are not included. I was also happy to take my mind off of a reading I was scheduled to give that night as part of a local arts festival. My slot was between two bands, which when I accepted the invitation sounded great in theory but felt more problematic as I saw myself talking to a bunch of drunks about opera, German Romanticism and the challenges of being a non-heterosexual writer [...]


Achromatic Quarter-Wave Retarder-Having Shrimp Are Terrifying

Scientific American translates that terrifying letter abstract about shrimp eyes from Nature into English. "The compound eye of the peacock mantis, the new study's authors found, harbors a natural quarter-wave retarder, a sort of filter that converts circularly polarized light to linearly polarized light, which then activates receptors below." (Umm. Okay. And that's good, right?) Also, the peacock mantis shrimp are very strong. They range from 3 to 18 centimeters in length, but have been known to shatter thick aquarium glass with a blow from a forelimb. Says Roy Caldwell, a University of California, Berkeley, biologist: "We have had a couple cases where animals have hit a pane [...]


The English Elm of Washington Heights, or, 'The Trees of Manhattan Island Are Gradually Following the Fate of the Red Men'

Looking north from the intersection of St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Avenues toward 163rd Street in Washington Heights, you might notice what appears to be an exceedingly large tree. And as the August heat radiates off the surrounding pavement, you might say to yourself: WTF, is that a mirage? Because really, there's nothing about the neighborhood-replete with liquor stores, decaying apartment palaces, abandoned lots and vacant storefronts-that would seem to lend itself to hosting such a magnificent specimen.


Catmint In New York City Parks

Attention New York City cat lovers! There are at least three little round beds of catmint growing in Stuyvesant Square Park, at East 16th Street and Second Avenue, tucked just behind the gates on the west side of Second Avenue, right where you enter from the crosswalk. (The park across from Friends School, where Julianne Moore is dropping off her children now, not the park across from Beth Israel, where Jews are convalescing.) The plant looks like mint, obviously, and grows in a circle with a little hole in the middle. Bring a leaf home to your cat friend today, he will thank you with insanity and perhaps [...]


Quit Your Job! Living With the Wild Things, Without Compromise

Wild Nature Institute is the nonprofit creation of wildlife biologist Monica Bond and quantitative ecologist Derek Lee. They live and work for much of the year in Africa, where they study and inventory iconic and threatened wildlife populations such as the Masai Giraffe, which is rapidly declining due to lost habitat, disease and illegal hunting.

Ken Layne: Hello, Derek Lee! Because you are traveling between Nairobi and Zanzibar and I'm on the other side of the planet, maybe we'll do this in email format? So what is it that you and Monica do in Africa? This past week sounds like it held a lot of safari travel and [...]


Scorpion-Eating Mouse Monster Is America's Scariest Tiny Rodent

Is this carnivorous scorpion-eating mouse the only American rodent who howls at the moon? Sure, why the hell not.


Remember That Time It Snowed Before Halloween?

And how was your nutso, record-smashing, disconcerting Snowtober? One hopes you weren't trapped on a diverted plane for seven hours or a victim of the (bizarre) Amtrak shutdown or one of the three million without power or, you know, one of the nine dead. Happy… Halloween?

Photograph by Rachel So


Daz and Chip, Perfect Lovers

As you know, our otter friends in New Zealand, together for 15 years in the delicious waters of New Zealand, died within an hour of each other. What you may not realize is that Daz and Chip were essentially recreating "Untitled (Perfect Lovers)," a minimalist lump-in-your-throat-when-you-realize-what-it's-about work of art by Cuban-American conceptualist Felix Gonzalez-Torres.


Science Makes Man Feel Like An Achromatic Quarter-Wave Retarder

Articles at Nature magazine's website are often great fun to read. This one, though, a "letter abstract" about (I think) how shrimp's eyes work better than camera lenses, is clearly intended for an audience with more than a layman's understanding of the subject matter: "Here, we report a biophysical mechanism that creates a natural full-visible-range achromatic quarter-wave retarder in the eye of a stomatopod crustacean. Analogous, man-made retardation devices are important optical components, used in both scientific research and commercial applications for controlling polarized light. Typical synthetic retarders are not achromatic…." Boy. Actually, that is kinda fun to read, once you've given up on understanding and let it flow [...]


Everything You Thought You Knew About Anomalocaris Is Wrong

Crack bit of paleontological detective work detailed in a new Nature article about Anomalocaris, a three-foot-long shrimp-like creature widely believed to have dominated the seas of the Paleozoic era's Cambrian period by "hunting and eating hard-shelled prey such as trilobites." In a recent computer-assisted analysis of fossilized Anomalocaris mouth parts, Amherst College's Whitey Hagadorn determined that the "Tyranosaurus rex of the Cambrian" lacked the chomping power to match its reputation. "Everyone shows it grabbing trilobites and munching them. Like a cookie monster," Hagadorn says. "Not possible." Hagadorn suggests Anomalocaris subsisted on a softer diet of jellyfish and worms, or maybe just filtered plankton. In turn, Hagedorn's colleagues insist [...]


Sorry, Bears: Ban On Killing Polar Bears For Rugs Defeated

Some 20,000 polar bears are left on Earth, their only planet, and most of them live in the Canadian Arctic. While the bears have been distracted by the melting away of polar ice and their entire habitat, humans at a meeting in Thailand have decided that's it's okay to continue killing the endangered animals to sell their parts on the international market for bits of endangered animals—bearskin rugs and claws and "other body parts."

The United States delegation proposed not hunting the polar bear to extinction. Although the ban had the backing of Russia, which also has a declining polar bear population in its arctic zone, the Convention [...]


The Search For The Oldest Living Thing In New York

Antarctic Beech Fairy Ring #1211-P1020362 (12,000 years old, Queensland, Australia)

For the past six years, Rachel Sussman, 37, has devoted her life to chronicling the oldest living things in the world before they disappear. A photographer by training and hedge scientist by necessity, her photos are a mix of Annie Liebovitz and Ansel Adams: portraits whose subjects happen not to be human. Sussman has chased down nearly three dozen different organisms, a 400,000-6000,000 year-old bacteria in Siberia, a 2,000-plus year-old olive tree in Crete, and some 3,000 year-old lichen in Greenland, to name a few. She spent February and March chasing down 5,000-year-old moss in Antarctica. [...]


Real Penguin Just Like The Penguin From Batman

The BBC nature series Frozen Planet starts next week on the 26th. It will of course be amazing. Watch this sneaky penguin steal his neighbors rocks!


Plant Actually Toilet

"Apparently scientists now think that a pitcher plant they had assumed was so large that it ate shrews is actually a shrew toilet. And just to illustrate that point further, here is a shrew taking a dump in one. UGH! Look at his little guilty, smiling face. Have some decency, you shrew!"


Global Warming Deadheads' Fault After All

"Nitrous oxide (N2O) has become the greatest threat to the ozone layer, a new analysis suggests. The ozone-destroying abilities of the gas have been largely ignored by policy-makers and atmospheric scientists alike, who have focused on the more potent chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)-historically the dominant ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere." So says Nature magazine, reporting on the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado (figures.)


Nature Reclaiming Abandoned Middle America (Now To Be Called "Middle Earth")

"As communities from Buffalo to Milwaukee struggle with shuttered factories and vacant neighborhoods, some have turned abandoned properties into parks, gardens and other open space, even going so far as to plow under entire neighborhoods."