November 2015
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I suddenly have a million things to do, but managed to briefly distract myself with this image by AnimalDetector that I found in the Flickr pool:

kymograph of a robin going on and off her nest all day

It’s a kymograph of a robin going on and off her nest. Time passes from left to right, and when you see the background of the eggs that means the robin is not there. The stripy brown is the robin on her nest. There is a video that goes with it that might make it more clear:

time lapse robin’s nest from animal detector on Vimeo.

The taming of the shrew

A new type of elephant shrew was found in Tanzania. It’s called shrew, but it’s not really a shrew, and it isn’t very tame either (although not unfriendly).


It looks like a mouse, but it’s much bigger. According to the BBC article it’s “cat-sized”, but they also have a picture of the researcher, Dr. Rathbun, holding it, and they mention that it’s 700g and 30 cm, so let’s just say it’s half-a-cat-sized. Or rabbit-sized, for a less macabre comparison.

Easter Summer

easter_island.jpgIt’s back to school week! I just read in The Scientist that some students spent their summer at Easter Island doing field work. There is a slide show with some pictures as well.

The classic explanations for the disappearing population of Easter Island always put the blame on the people: in my favourite version they got so obsessed with building their giant statues that they held a kind of build-off, building bigger statues than their peers over and over, until they ran out of food and means to survive. Kind of like people playing computer games 24/7 and neglecting themselves or their children. Must build statues! More! Bigger!

But the group of students mapping the statues on Rapa Nui was looking at evidence suggesting that an explosion in the rat population was at least partially to blame for the food running out. It’s hard to solve ancient mysteries, but it must be exciting to work on.

Annual gosling relocation at York University

The video below shows the relocation of a Canadian goose family through an office building at York University in Toronto. (The last few seconds are utterly adorable.)
The geese are born in the enclosed courtyard of the offices, and are let out through the office once they’re old enough. This happens every year!

[through BlogTO]

Love the Loris

slender-loris.jpegIn high school I used to creep out my friend by leaving my Biology textbook open on a page with a picture I loved, but which she found hideous and creepy: It was a picture of a fascinatingly strange animal with gigantic round eyes and long bony fingers.

The creepy saucer-eyed animal was a slender loris*, and you can find it in the list of the top 100 EDGE species. These Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) mammals are all threatened in their existence, and are all unique in that when they disappear there will be no similar species left to replace them. Current preservation programs focus on well-known endangered species like pandas and rhinos, but a lot of other animals are equally endangered and equally important in maintaining a wide variety of species, and they are slipping under the radar. EDGE is trying to promote equal preservation for all these animals, and published their reasoning on PLoS ONE last week: “Mammals on the EDGE: Conservation Priorities Based on Threat and Phylogeny“**

If it’s up to EDGE, animals like the slender loris, the japanese dormouse, or the marsupial mole would get just as much attention as tigers and elephants.
Some animals may already be gone for good. Have you ever heard of the New Guinea big eared bat? It was last seen in 1890. The number one spot in the top 100 is held by the Yangtze River dolphin. Sound familiar? It was recently in the news for being very likely completely wiped out of existence. Until that time I, and may people with me, had never even heard of it, let alone of the fact that it was endangered. EDGE thinks that is a darn shame, and wants everyone to focus on all unique endangered animals equally. Even the creepy/cute loris.

Continue reading Love the Loris

Science on Sundays: geese migration

sign.JPGThe Royal Canadian Institute holds free public science lectures at the University of Toronto every Sunday afternoon in fall and winter. The lectures cover many different topics in science, and are aimed at a general audience.

Today’s lecture was “The embarrassment of Riches: The Ecological Consequences of Increasing Numbers of Arctic Geese”, by Robert L. Jefferies.
gooseHe talked about geese migration patterns, and how agriculture can affect geese population half a continent away: Snow geese breed in the Hudson Bay lowlands and migrate south in winter. A shift in agricultural activities has over time led to an increase of farm land along the geese’s migration routes. The geese eat farm land crops to get much needed nitrogen into their system. This used to be difficult for them, but the abundance of farm land has now made it easy for them to get their nutrients. On top of this, there are many protected wildlife areas along their route, which means that geese are being hunted less. As a result, more and more geese have been flying back north in the spring. This has in turn caused the Arctic lowlands to be completely overgrazed: all the vegetation is gone in several areas. This of course also affects other species that breed in these regions, and the complicated pattern of cause and effect makes it very difficult to manage conservation. Controlled hunting has brought the snow geese
numbers back down a little bit in recent years, but replanting the vegetation has proved to be very difficult.

Here is a relevant publication (in pdf) on the goose story.


Last week’s Science on Sundays lecture was a talk about Avian Flu, by Donald Low, Toronto’s most famous microbiologist, who you have all seen on TV a few years ago during the SARS breakout. Dr. Low’s talk should be available on the Royal Canadian Institute website some time this week. Meanwhile, you can have a look at multimedia presentations of this past fall’s lectures on the site, as well as the schedule for the upcoming weeks. They’re all on there!

(Geese pictures, both taken by me, are not of snow geese, but rather a European type of goose and regular Canadian geese, both of which were also mentioned in the talk.)