Tag: everyday nature

Everyday Nature: Cartoonish Coot Chicks

Most baby birds, cute though they may be, are not exactly colorful. This makes good evolutionary sense: Baby birds, unable to fly, make easy meals for predators.

They thus must blend into their surroundings. A drake mallard or canvasback is a colorful, striking water bird, but baby ducks are nondescript. They disappear into the marshy reeds, making it harder for a hungry raccoon or mink to find them.

Not so the American coot.

Adult coots are fairly drab birds. But their babies? They look like they were designed by a deranged tattoo artist.

The front half of the coot’s body is covered in orange-tipped plumes, giving them a jarring appearance. We’re not used to seeing baby birds covered bright feathers. While this orange fades rather quickly—in about six days—it still leaves them conspicuous when they are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives.

This coloration makes them more susceptible to predation. What advantage would such feathers possibly confer?

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Everyday Nature: The Microbes Around (and In) Us

Try this: close your eyes and conjure up an image of a “biodiverse ecosystem.”

What do you see?

Perhaps a tropical rainforest, dewy vines glistening, howler monkeys calling through the trees, and butterflies flitting in the sun-dappled heat?

Or maybe you pictured a coral reef, replete with white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles, brain coral, and giant iridescent clams? Admittedly, tropical ecosystems in places such as Costa Rica and Indonesia do contain a stunning array of macro-biodiversity– that is, larger plants and animals.

But what about the little guys?

Microbes make up the vast majority of life on earth, and they are ubiquitous; a single teaspoon of your backyard soil may harbor millions of individual organisms and upwards of 100,000 unique microbial taxa.

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Everyday Nature: How I Came To Love House Centipedes

I’ve been called a lot of strange things in my life, but I never thought I could be called a nematode-lover.

I certainly never envisioned a day when my wife would start referring to house centipedes – those terrifying huge invertebrates that seem to have a million legs and run at top speed – as our “honored guests.”

We’re definitely not “bug people,” so what turned us around?

As an ecologist, I can appreciate that even unlovable critters serve valuable functions in nature like decomposing organic matter and keeping the populations of other organisms in check.

Then again, I never thought the indoors had room for biodiversity or strange “guests.” Living in the aptly named “eco-house” in college (where a dirt floor basement and holes in the walls contributed to hefty populations of slugs, moths, flies, and more) forced me to get used to it, but it certainly wasn’t my ideal living situation.

So you can imagine my unhappiness when I discovered several years ago that I’d moved into a condo chock full of house centipedes.

Then the ecologist in me started wondering why they were there, and what would happen if I successfully got rid of them.

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Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

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