Biology

Touch Press sale: Gems and Jewels app

February 23, 2017
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Touch Press sale: Gems and Jewels app

Gems and Jewels is an app and the product of a unique collaboration between the University of Chicago Press and the Grainger Hall of Gems at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (along with the Field Museum’s senior vice-president and curator of gems and gemstones, Lance Grande), published by the digital mavens at Touch Press. Crystals, crystals, crystals—also Etruscan gold necklaces, insects paralyzed in Baltic amber, and a 16th-century Aztec opal made in the image of the Sun God—all in 360-degree rotation, along with detailed captions and scientific data from Wolfram|Alpha, including classification, group, hardness scale, and chemical compound. Accompanying text unfolds from the upper left corner of each page and explores the roles of particular gems in human culture, explains geographic origins, and recounts the extraordinary histories of particular jeweled pieces. Starting today and for the next week, all Touch Press apps are 50 percent off at the iTunes store, including Gems and Jewels. You can check out the sale here. If you’ve never had a look at the app before, the video below should give you an indication of what you’re missing: To read more about Gems and Jewels, click here. . . .

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How to make a minor motion picture about the timber rattlesnake

February 10, 2017
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How to make a minor motion picture about the timber rattlesnake

Michael Swingen was assigned to review Ted Levin’s America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake for Rain Taxi Review of Books. What did he do instead? He created the 30-minute short film, “Snakes and Such,” about “the book, the author, and the process of reviewing.” Watch it in full below: To read more about America’s Snake, click here. . . .

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How the Zebra (and the researcher) Got Its Stripes

February 6, 2017
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How the Zebra (and the researcher) Got Its Stripes

If that doesn’t grab your attention, then perhaps this? A recent piece at WIRED profiled wildlife biologist Tim Caro’s fieldwork for Zebra Stripes, under the zingy headline, “The Man in the Zebra Suit Knows the Secret of the Stripes,” though the article itself willingly deep dives into Caro’s behaviorial-ist adventures. Zebra Stripes is based on Caro’s decade of fieldwork, which questioned the significance of black-and-white striping, and through every possible hypothetical series of circumstances, arrived at an unexpected conclusion: zebra markings are nature’s defense against fly bites. As WIRED writes: At four in the morning, Tim Caro roused his colleagues. Bleary-eyed and grumbling, they followed him to the edge of the village, where the beasts were hiding. He sat them down in chairs, and after letting their eyes adjust for a minute, he asked them if they saw anything. And if so, would they please point where? Not real beasts. Despite being camped in Tanzania’s Katavi National Park, Caro was asking his colleagues to identify pelts—from a wildebeest, an impala, and a zebra—that he had draped over chairs or clotheslines. Caro wanted to know if the zebra’s stripes gave it any sort of camouflage in the pre-dawn, when many predators hunt, and he needed the sort of replicability he . . .

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Microbes from Hell in Nature

November 7, 2016
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Microbes from Hell in Nature

From a sterling write-up of Patrick Forterre’s pursuit of the single-celled archaea, via a review of Microbes from Hell in Nature: Forterre was fascinated by the ideas of microbiologist Carl Woese. In the 1970s, Woese realized that ‘archaebacteria’ were distinct from bacteria, for instance in the sequences of their ribosomal RNA. In 1990, Woese and his colleagues proposed to divide life into three domains: bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes. The concept has gradually been accepted, but Forterre — with microbiologists Wolfram Zillig and Otto Kandler, among others — was an early ‘believer.’ As he relates, most of the archaea that had then been isolated were extremophiles. These include hyperthermophilic microbes that thrive above 80 °C and are typically found in habitats such as deep-ocean vents. Up to the 1970s, the consensus had been that most such habitats were hostile to life, but a handful of groundbreaking microbiologists changed that. Thomas Brock, for instance, began to isolate hyperthermophilic archaea, including the genus Sulfolobus, from hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Later, German microbiologist Karl Stetter showed that many surprising habitats, even oil fields, teemed with microbial life. In the 1980s, Forterre began to analyse the hyperthermophilic archaea isolated by Stetter and Zillig, looking . . .

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October 4: Happy World Animal Day!

October 4, 2016
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October 4: Happy World Animal Day!

In honor of World Animal Day and to raise awareness of its significance, University of Chicago Press author Marc Bekoff dedicated his recurring Huffington Post column to the event, which originated in 1925 (and whose fascinating history you can read here). The purpose of World Animal Day? From the mission statement: Raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe. Building the celebration of World Animal Day unites the animal welfare movement, mobilising it into a global force to make the world a better place for all animals.  It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, irrespective of nationality, religion, faith or political ideology.  Through increased awareness and education we can create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare. Bekoff’s post considers the ongoing relevance of a day devoted to invoking awareness around animal needs and welfare, including the hyperlink-filled excerpt below, which connects to just a few of the concerns worth our attention, chief among them the continued role we play in animal abuse, and what we can do about it: There’s no shortage of examples in which billions of nonhuman animals (animals) are abused by humans . . .

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Free e-book for September: Hope on Earth

September 6, 2016
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Free e-book for September: Hope on Earth

Our free e-book for September is Paul R. Ehrlich and Michael Charles Tobias’s Hope on Earth: A Conversation. Download your copy here. *** Hope on Earth is the thought-provoking result of a lively and wide-ranging conversation between two of the world’s leading interdisciplinary environmental scientists: Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book The Population Bomb shook the world in 1968 (and continues to shake it), and Michael Charles Tobias, whose over 40 books and 150 films have been read and/or viewed throughout the world.  Hope on Earthoffers a rare opportunity to listen in as these deeply knowledgeable and highly creative thinkers offer their takes on the most pressing environmental concerns of the moment. Both Ehrlich and Tobias argue that we are on the verge of environmental catastrophe, as the human population continues to grow without restraint and without significant attempts to deal with overconsumption and the vast depletion of resources and climate problems it creates. Though their views are sympathetic, they differ in their approach and in some key moral stances, giving rise to a heated and engaging dialogue that opens up dozens of new avenues of exploration.  They both believe that the impact of a human society on its environment is . . .

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Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris

August 31, 2016
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Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris

Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris tells the story of the titular primate, who (to cite the book’s jacket copy) “drinks tea, sews, draws on papers and is a self-taught master of tying and untying knots.” Again, and true to the title, it was in Paris where author Chris Herzfeld first fell in like with Wattana, who lives in the Jardin des Plantes Zoo, and where she began her expansive chronicle of primates in captivity—from the first arrival of orangutans from Europe in 1776 to the experience of caretakers and their captive subjects in several contemporary zoos. Along the way, Herzfeld’s research confirmed an ominous likelihood: scientists anticipate that orangutans will disappear from the wild by 2030. The book epitomizes recent efforts by the University of Chicago Press to lead the field in scholarship on human-animal relationships, capped off by our new Animal Lives series, and showcased in the bond that develops between Herzfeld and Wattana, which extends beyond the anthropological into the intimacies of daily life. In the meantime, Herzfeld has produced a series of videos documenting Wattana’s activities. Below, you’ll see a nine minute clip in which she ties and unties knots in over twenty different sequences, each more complex than . . .

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August excerpt: What Is a Dog?

August 26, 2016
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August excerpt: What Is a Dog?

“Why Do Village Dogs All Look Alike?”* Of the billion dogs in the world, three-quarters of them look as much alike as do the individuals of any other species. A few years ago we asked a Navajo shepherd what a Navajo sheepdog looked like. He said, “A Navajo sheepdog is not too big and not too small.” To us the Navajo sheepdogs were identical in size and shape and color variations with the sheepdogs of Sonora and the village dogs in the mountains of Venezuela or the ones we worked with in eastern and South Africa or saw in India and China. That is true of the majority of dogs in the world—they are not too big and they are not too small. One of the most fascinating details about that 85 percent of the dogs in the world that control their own reproductive life is: they all look alike. The similarity between the pigeon world and dog world continues. Pigeons, in some sense, all look alike. The pigeons in the Mexico City dump fly and look just like the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, like the pigeons in Istanbul, like the pigeons in Central Park, like the pigeons in Milan. . . .

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Free e-book for July: Bigfoot

July 6, 2016
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Free e-book for July: Bigfoot

Our free e-book for July is Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs— download your copy here! *** In August 2009, two men in rural Georgia announced that they had killed Bigfoot. The claim drew instant, feverish attention, leading to more than 1,000 news stories worldwide—despite the fact that nearly everyone knew it was a hoax. Though Bigfoot may not exist, there’s no denying Bigfoot mania. With Bigfoot, Joshua Blu Buhs traces the wild and wooly story of America’s favorite homegrown monster. He begins with nineteenth-century accounts of wildmen roaming the forests of America, treks to the Himalayas to reckon with the Abominable Snowman, then takes us to northern California in 1958, when reports of a hairy hominid loping through remote woodlands marked Bigfoot’s emergence as a modern marvel. Buhs delves deeply into the trove of lore and misinformation that has sprung up around Bigfoot in the ensuing half century. We meet charlatans, pseudo-scientists, and dedicated hunters of the beast—and with Buhs as our guide, the focus is always less on evaluating their claims than on understanding why Bigfoot has inspired all this drama and devotion in the first place. What does our fascination with this . . .

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Jellyfish (in nature—the other Nature)

May 27, 2016
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Jellyfish (in nature—the other Nature)

Just in time for this weekend’s unofficial “start of summer” gong, Nature (yea, that Nature—though also, ostensibly, “nature,” the wilder of nouns, not that other one qua Lucretius’s De rerum natura) came through with a review of Lisa-ann Gershwin’s Jellyfish: A Natural History. Stuck behind a paywall? Here it is in its glory, for your holiday reads: One resembles an exquisitely ruffled and pleated confection of pale silk chiffon; another, a tangle of bioluminescent necklaces cascading from a bauble. Both marine drifters (Desmonema glaciale and Physalia) feature in jellyfish expert Gershwin’s absorbing coffee-table book on this transparent group with three evolutionary lineages. Succinct science is intercut with surreal portraiture — from the twinkling Santa’s hat jellyfish (Periphylla periphylla) to the delicate blue by-the-wind sailor (Velella velella). To read more about Jellyfish, click here. . . .

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