"[E]veryone’s an environmentalist — and yet the environment appears to be in worse shape than ever. The problems of the seventies are back with a vengeance, often transposed into new landscapes, and new ones have joined them. Species we hardly knew existed are dying off en masse; oceans are acidifying in what sounds like the plot of a second-rate horror movie; numerous fisheries have collapsed or are on the brink; freshwater supplies are scarce in regions home to half the world’s population; agricultural land is exhausted of nutrients; forests are being leveled at staggering rates; and, of course, climate change looms over all.
These aren’t issues that can be fixed by slapping a filter on a smokestack. They’re certainly not about hugging trees or hating people. To put it bluntly, we’re confronted with the fact that human activity has transformed the entire planet in ways that are now threatening the way we inhabit it — some of us far more than others. And it’s not particularly helpful to talk in generalities: the idea that The Environment is some entity that can be fixed with A Solution is part of the problem.
The category “environmental problems” contains multitudes, and their solutions don’t always line up: water shortages in Phoenix are a different matter than air pollution in Los Angeles, disappearing wetlands in Louisiana, or growing accumulations of atmospheric carbon. So instead of laying out some kind of template for a sustainable future, I argue that there’s no way to get there without tackling environmentalism’s old stumbling blocks: consumption and jobs. And the way to do that is through a universal basic income.
This obnoxiously long infographic is your reminder to check out this post from earlier today and join me in calling for a stop to the inhumane and unscientific Western Australia shark cull (not to mention shark finning in general, which is an even greater problem)!!
Maratus volans, better known as the Peacock Spider. The brilliant colouring is not just for decoration but also to attract females. The peacock spider has earned its name when he courts with his mate through dancing. Like a peacock, he raises his two magnificently coloured flaps and dances for the female.
These fuzzy little guys, some just a few millimeters in length, have intricate, species-specific dance moves. Not only are they likely displaying their health and vigor to potential mates, but they are also reminding females that they are the same species, so, like “please don’t eat me, hun!”
If you want to learn more about this arachnid tango, head over to Wired and read all about it. If you’d really want to dig in to the science of peacock spider dancing, including the sounds that go along with this eight-legged twerking display, here’s an open-access paper at PLOS One.
Learning to Love the Blobfish Through Music…
Remember the blobfish? That unfortunate pile of gelatinous aquatic life with a face on one end resembling a Muppet held over a blast furnace?
Last year it was declared the ugliest animal alive by a group called the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. They did this in an effort to raise awareness for the candle-left-in-a-hot-car known as Psychrolutes marcidus. The thing is, the blobfish isn’t getting a fair shake.
Back in September, Colin Schulz pointed out that the blobfish doesn’t look like that down at its native depth, where its low density flesh and minimal skeleton help it withstand the high pressures and remain buoyant in the extreme deep sea. At home, it looks more like this:
Now Songs For Unusual Creatures hits us with the musical version of “this is really what a blobfish looks like”, featuring an apt soundtrack for such a deep-sea wonder, a face-off between tubax and contrabassoon.
By the way, it’s the rapid ascent at the hands of some lucky fisherman that transformed the blobfish from dashing denizen of benthic origin to something more like a concerned booger with a floppy nose.
Oh… at the end of the video, a bunch of people making hilarious blobfish faces are featured. Fancy showing me your best blobfish impression, science pals?
Does a single bird’s flight a pattern make? Or does it take two to tango in an organized flock? Three? Thirty?
When do starlings go from “meh” to murmuration? When does coordinated unity emerge from chaotic individuality?
Dennis Hlynsky’s After Effects-enhanced time-lapse videos, tracing the trails of birds in flight, may answer that, or they may make you wonder anew. Simply beautiful.
Roll Them Bones
These amazing posed skeleton portraits of Patrick Gries breathe life back into stacks of bones.
Through a combination of careful photography with digital editing, Gries was able to breathe action into 300 of the Paris Museum of Natural History’s skeleton specimens (the bones are his, I added the actual photos to show how freakin’ amazing they are).
All (vertebrate) creatures great and small, no matter their shape, no matter than evolutionary history … they all have bones.
My friend Jason Goldman has an interesting article over at Slate about how our own psychological squeamishness about where meat comes from could be bad for pets and zoo animals. Instead of bones, fur, and all, did you know big cats are sometimes fed the equivalent of horse-sourced taco meat?
Our moral dilemma is obviously not about meat eating per se, but about the predatory nature of carnivory. Meat is tasty, but most of us would prefer not to know too much about how chickens become nuggets. We’re meat-eating, animal-loving hypocrites who are simultaneously in love with dogs and in love with bacon. We are predators, to be sure, but we sure don’t like to think of ourselves as predators.
Would you step up and watch a tiger eat real animal parts at the zoo? I know I would.
Anyway, it’s important to remember that no matter how complex our relationship is with our food, or how distanced, zoo animals are inherently wild and should be allowed to eat a complete, psychologically delicious meal. We make them live in pens, it’s the least we can do, right?
Iori Tomita - New World Transparent Specimens (2005-)
Fisherman-turned-artist in Yokohama City, Japan, Tomita creates art using the skeletons of various dead marine specimens, which he preserves and then colors with bright shades of dye.
The process strips down each creature to the toughest parts of its remains and Tomita has dyed more than 5,000 dead creatures since 2005, which is amazing, considering each piece takes at least a few weeks to complete, and some up to a year.
"Although these are just transparent specimens, they’re filled with the drama of organisms which I have so much love for. I want people to enjoy the beauty of life, treat life with respect and understand that there is drama happening that is not centered on themselves when they look at the specimens. These specimens which you see here are actually animals that have died for some some reason or whose carcasses were discarded from pet shops or fishermen. I use those animals which passed away and repurpose them."
Earlier this year a field biologist snapped a picture of a curious silk structure attached to an Amazonian tree, and, not knowing what in the heck it was, posted it to Reddit’s r/whatsthisbug. You may remember it:
(image by Troy Alexander)
Well, now we know what made it! Pretty much, at least. Nadia Drake, who writes for Wired, took a trip down to the Tambopata Research Center down in the Peruvian Amazon along with entomologist Phil Torres and wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer, and they cracked the case… thanks to a lot of hiking, some sharp eyes, and a ton of patience. I’m happy to call all three of those people friends, and considering their combination of smarts and energy, this awesome discovery couldn’t have happened to nicer folks.
I won’t spoil the surprise for you. Spoilers! as River Song would say. Head on over to Wired and read it for yourself.
Sadly, my theory of “insect Isengard” was proven incorrect.
(top photo by Ariel Zambelich/Wired)
It’s a cloudy, cold, wet day here in Austin, and I’ve been working my neurons to their myelinated bones getting ready to film a bunch of stuff before the holidays … I really needed this.
Enjoy Michael Shainblum’s Into the Atmosphere, a timelapse exploration of the great state of California, over 12,000 photos stitched together in a stunning moving portrait.
THOSE SUNSET COLORS … AHHHHHHH i can’t
And thanks to the fine folks at Vice/The Creators Project, here’s a behind the scenes feature on how Shainblum does his work, and overcomes his learning disabilities through art: