The Burrowing Owl of South & North America.


“Athene-cunicularia-burrowing-owl-0b” by I, Adamantios. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is a small, long-legged owl found throughout open landscapes of North and South America.
Burrowing owls can be found in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.).
Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, although they tend to avoid the midday heat.
But like many other kinds of owls, burrowing owls do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn, when they can use their night vision and hearing to their advantage.
Living in open grasslands as opposed to the forest, the burrowing owl has developed longer legs, which enables it to sprint as well as fly when hunting.
via Burrowing owl – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

‘Rabies’, the Demonic Virus.


A woodcut from 1512 of an attacking werewolf by the German painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach the Elder. Image: Gotha, Herzogliches Museum (Landesmuseum).
Our demons have their origins in our dread of death and the unknown.
Halloween, is a time for costuming ourselves and confronting those fears (and, most importantly, for outsized consumption of sweets).
For those of us celebrating Halloween disguised as vampires, werewolves and zombies, we owe a great debt to one of the world’s deadliest and most feared zoonotic viruses, rabies.
I have written about the fascinating microbial origins of some of our most enduring humanoid monsters in “The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires.”
An unrecognizable family member demonically possessed by some unfathomable but instantly recognizable animal instinct.
The frothing at the mouth, the lucid madness, the lost humanity: it’s all here and stems from our ancient, tragic history with rabies and canines.
To be human is a sacred and inviolable thing; rabies infection breaches that principal.
The animal bite and the transmission of disease represent a moment of transgressive contact between animal mouth and human flesh, the possibility of losing one’s humanity and regressing to an animal state.
Our horror stories capitalise on this lurid fear.
Rabies, that bestial virus, that grand transmogrifier, has terrified generations with its guarantee of “a slow warping of the mind and a pained, gruesome demise.”
Its inescapable death sentence and dreadful, transformative effects in the infected have seared itself in our public imaginations while infiltrating our literature and cinemas.
Read more via Halloween’s Debt to a Demonic Virus – Body Horrors |

‘Look out for the Clever Rooks.’

Rooks have already demonstrated their intelligence in lab-based studies that have tested their ability to solve problems and use tools.
The rook is a member of the corvid or crow family, which is famed for its intelligence.
As well solving laboratory-based puzzles, crows have been spotted exploiting urban environments by, for example, dropping walnuts onto busy roads and using the traffic to crack them open.
And although rooks are farmland birds, and tend to keep away from the middle of big towns and cities, they are increasingly being tempted into our gardens by bird feeders, so researchers hope this will provide the ideal setting to study their natural behaviour.
“We’ve done a lot of different studies on a number of corvids looking into their intelligence and behaviour, focusing on their amazing memories, their ability to imagine future scenarios and plan for them,” he told BBC News.
“This survey will provide vital information that couldn’t be attained any other way into how rooks use our gardens, eat and cache our food and, importantly, whether rooks can produce innovative solutions to novel problems they don’t encounter in the wild.”
via BBC News – Bird brains: Public asked to look out for clever rooks.

This delicate little treeswift is the best mum.

Image Credit: Photograph by Jamil Bin Mat Isa/Shutterstock.
Contributor Becky Crew .
This plucky little bird belongs to the treeswift family, alongside the very dapper moustached treeswift and the crested and grey-rumped treeswifts.
Hailing from India and South East Asia, including Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, treeswifts inhabit all kinds of environments, from mangroves and woodlands, to dense, tropical forests.
A few have even made it to Australia, but they’re classified as vagrants, which means they’ve never managed to establish an actual population here.
Unlike members of the true swift family, which – oddly enough – are incapable of perching, treeswifts can perch, and are arguably prettier birds, with more noticeable markings and more elaborate colouring.
They’re also not social like true swifts are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take family very seriously.
During the breeding season, between February and August, whiskered treeswifts will pair up, and the male and female will build a little nest in the shape of a half-saucer up in the forest canopy.
This nest is so tiny, it can only hold a single egg, which the parents will manoeuvre into an upright position in the nest, as if it’s sitting in an eggcup made of twigs, feather down, and saliva.
Source: This delicate little treeswift is the best mum

Zebras Migrate 500km in Botswana.

1-migration-zebras-runningA population of zebras undertakes the longest terrestrial migration in Africa, according to researchers who just identified the zebras’ 311-mile journey.
The discovery, published in the latest issue of the journal Oryx, provides compelling evidence that conservation efforts often require multinational coordinated support.
In this case, “The migration involves up to several thousand zebra making a return journey from the Chobe River floodplains in Namibia/Botswana to Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana,” lead author Robin Naidoo told Discovery News.
“This is a 500-km (311-mile) round trip journey along an almost direct north-south axis,” continued Naidoo, who is a senior conservation scientist at World Wildlife Fund.
The zebras spend the dry season along the Chobe River floodplains, and then when the rains begin, migrate over several weeks to the Nxai Pan National Park, where they spend several months before returning to the Chobe River floodplains.
via Zebras Travel 311 Miles in Longest Migration in Africa : Discovery News.

‘The Life of Oceans’.

It pays to be nice. One of the most absolutely, emphatically wrong hypotheses about the oceans was coined by one of the most carefree and amiable people in nineteenth century science.
It should have sunk his reputation without trace. Yet, it did not. He thought the deep oceans were stone cold dead and lifeless. They’re certainly not that. Even more amazingly, it was clear that the deep oceans were full of life even before he proposed his hypothesis — and yet the idea persisted for decades.
He is still regarded as the father of marine biology. There’s a moral in that somewhere.
Edward Forbes was born a Manxman who early developed a love of natural history. He collected flowers, seashells, butterflies with a passion that saw him neglect, then fail dismally in, his studies: first as an artist (he had a fine talent for drawing) then as a doctor.
He drifted into becoming some kind of itinerant naturalist who naturally shook things up around him.
Going to the British Association meeting in Birmingham, he reacted to the formal atmosphere by decamping to a local pub, the Red Lion, and taking a good deal of the membership with him. There, fueled by beef and beer, they debated the great scientific ideas of the day.
They expressed agreement or disagreement with debating points not by a show of hands, but growling like lions and fluttering their coat-tails (Forbes’s technique with the coat-tails was held up as a model for the younger Lions).
In 1841, Forbes was on board a surveying ship, the HMS Beacon, in the Mediterranean. He noticed that as they dredged in deeper waters, the dredge buckets brought up fewer types of marine organism.
He extrapolated from that to propose the “azoic hypothesis” — that the deep oceans were dead. It seemed not unreasonable — as one climbs higher up mountains, life diminishes, then disappears. For it to do the same in the oceans would show a nice symmetry. The azoic hypothesis took hold.
The trouble was, even then, commercial ships — with sounding lines far longer than the Beacon’s dredge buckets could go — were occasionally pulling up starfish and other animals from as much as two kilometers down.
That should have killed the azoic hypothesis stone dead. But it didn’t. As luck had it, the first reports of such things happened to be sent in by ship’s captains who were either known for telling tall tales or who were plain bad-tempered.
They couldn’t compete with Forbes’s eloquence or charm.
It took quite a few years before the weight of evidence finally dragged down the azoic hypothesis.
We now know that the Earth’s deep oceans are alive, the thriving communities sustained by a rain of nutrients from above. Edward Forbes’s brainchild is simply one of many of the ideas through which we have gained — tortuously — a better understanding of the Earth’s oceans.
Read on via The life of oceans: a history of marine discovery | OUPblog.