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 [...]
"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 [...]
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.
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 [...]
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 [...]
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.
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 [...]