Wednesday, March 30, 2011

$4.99 eco fiction

One of the lovely thing about e-books is that they can be offered at a much lower price than traditional paper books. For about the price of a venti latte, Kidnapping the Lorax is available at Amazon for kindle and Barnes & Noble for nook.

I'm not sure what the paperback version will cost when it is available, but I will be sure to let you know!

Kidnapping the Lorax is the story of three young environmentalists who kidnap the Secretary of the Interior and take her to the Pacific Northwest woods to reeducate her, in the belief that once she sees the forests as they do, she will start making the correct decisions for the land. But will all go as planned?

Do you hear coyotes where you live?

Or maybe see them? I'm surrounded by suburbia, but there are coyotes within a couple of miles of me, picking off kitties that are left outside overnight.

How about you? Do you see them, or hear them howling at night? Coyotes are opportunistic and their range is increasing. As wolves were killed off in North America, coyotes moved into their niche. As forests were converted into croplands and suburban communities, coyotes took advantage of the newly opened spaces. As dense forests were clearcut, and logging roads created links between them, coyotes learned to travel them. Unlike many other species, the coyote has managed to benefit from the activities of modern humans.
Do coyotes live near you?
Photo by David Mitchell

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dolphins and whales give themselves names

Scientists have known for a while that bottlenose dolphins give themselves "names"--unique whistles they use to identify themselves and each other.  Now it's thought that sperm whales might be doing the same, using sonar clicks as personal identifiers.

Read here in the U.K.'s The Sunday Times about scientists who suggest that dolphins should be considered "non-human persons."

Do you agree?

Here's a dolphin I once knew. We called her Rosie--
now I wonder what she called herself.
(Photo from 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are you seeing robins yet?

If you live in American robin range, have the robins returned yet? This bird is generally so beloved that it's startling to read John James Audubon's description of them as "fat and juicy" birds that "afford excellent eating." Long before laws were passed that prohibit killing most birds, the great ornithologist sampled many of his subjects.

And he certainly wasn't alone. In 1841, he wrote that the robins' return to Southern states in the fall caused "a sort of jubilee among the gunners, and the havoc made among them with bows and arrows, blowpipes, guns, and traps of different sorts is wonderful. Every gunner brings them home by the bagsful, and the markets are supplied with them at a very cheap rate. Several persons may at this season stand round the foot of a tree loaded with berries, and shoot the greater part of the day, so fast do the flocks of Robins succeed each other."

Today it's not only difficult to imagine people shooting and eating robins--it's also startling to think how many birds there must once have been compared to what we see today.

The red, red robin 

You can read more about the red, red robin in Passionate Slugs & Hollywood Frogs: An Uncommon Field Guide to Northwest Backyards.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Earwigs--nothing to do with ears (or wigs)

Earwigs had a bad reputation in folklore, which suggested they crept into the ears of sleeping people and then either bore into eardrums or burrowed into brains, causing insanity.

Consider instead this sweeter and scientific view: for an insect, an earwig mama is unusually attentive. She regularly turns and cleans her eggs. And if the young are threatened, she'll defend them with opened pincers, or pick them up in her mouth and move them. She continues to guard her babies after they hatch, bringing food and frantically gathering them if they disperse. However, after a week or two they are strongly motivated to leave when she develops a tendency to eat them. An earwig's mother love only extends so far.

You can recognize the gender of earwigs by their pincers.
Males'  pincers are curved; females (like this one) have
straighter pincers. Impress your friends with this knowledge!  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Flying squirrels

Maybe you already know that flying squirrels don't really fly. Maybe you even know that bats are the only mammal to have achieved this feat under their own power.

But do you know whether flying squirrels use their flattened tails as rudders? If you guess yes, you guess wrong. The squirrel launches itself from high in a tree, spreads its four legs, which stretches its skin flaps, and sails at a downward angle. It steers by raising or lowering a foreleg--dropping the right leg, for example, turns the animal to the right. The tail acts as a stabilizer rather than a rudder as you might logically assume.

A flying squirrel not in its natural habitat.
 Read more about flying squirrels and other denizens of Pacific Northwest mountains in River-Walking Songbirds & Singing Coyotes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Novel launch date: March 20

Three young environmentalists kidnap the Secretary of the Interior and take her to the Pacific Northwest woods to reeducate her, in the belief that when she returns to D.C., she will begin making correct, informed decisions for the land.

Details to come on how to order as a ebook or hardcopy.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shakespeare is to blame for starlings in the US

Okay, maybe not Shakespeare as much as a guy who liked his writing: Eugene Schieffelin. Eugene had the bright idea of introducing to America every bird found in the works of William Shakespeare. And, alas, in Henry IV, the Bard mentioned starlings.

In their homelands of England and Eurasia, starlings fit in nicely, but here in the US they agressively outcompete and displace native birds. Eugene released starlings into New York City's Central Park on March 16, 1890 (a day that lives in avian infamy) and by the 1950s starlings had pushed its way across America to the west coast.

Way to go, Eugene.

You can read more about those pushy starlings in my book Passionate Slugs & Hollywood Frogs: An Uncommon Field Guide to Northwest Backyards.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All hail the earthworm

Don't dis earthworms: Charles Darwin doubted there were any other animals "which have played such an important role in the history of the earth." And Chuck should know--he spent 40 years studying them, and pointed out that they tilled the soil long before the plow was invented. Aerating and loosening the soil is all in a day's work for earthworms. Basically, they eat up dead things and poop out fertilizer.

Ever see a bird trying to pull a worm out of its hole? Earthworms have a surprisingly good grip with tiny bristles called setae, which can be extended and retracted to help it move.
You think opossoms have an interesting sex life? I'm a hermaphrodite.

There's plenty more to learn about earthworms and other creatures in Passionate Slugs & Hollywood Frogs: An Uncommon Field Guide to Northwest Backyards.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The opossum's penis

Opossum mating has been the subject of folklore. Because the male has a forked penis and because the only obvious double opening in the female's body is her nostrils, it was once assumed that she was impregnated through the nose. (Her babies landed in her pouch, of course, when she bent over and sneezed them into it.) The real story is not quite--but nearly--as bizarre.

The male mounts the female, and she does indeed have a forked vagina that nicely matches his sex organ. Donald and Lillian Stokes' A Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior states that impregnation occurs only if the couple falls over on their right sides. Opossums that remain upright or fall to the left during mating are less likely to become parents.

What you lookin' at?
You can read more about the private lives of opossums in my book Passionate Slugs & Hollywood Frogs: An Uncommon Field Guide to Northwest Backyards.