Is Your Favorite Animal a WUG?

AnimDiversity_RNG

Think of your favorite animal. Is it warm and fuzzy? Or fine and feathered?

Many people think of “animals” as mammals, birds, or reptiles. Occasionally a fish, crustacean, or insect will creep in there. But, let’s face it, our view of animals is limited.

Children reflect this discrepancy when asked to draw a picture of a habitat. For instance, Snaddon et al. (2008) found that children drew ~75% mammals, birds, and reptiles in their portrayals of a rainforest. In reality, rainforest animals are 90% insects.

The rainforest isn’t unique. Most animals are insects (beetles, to be specific). It makes the Victorian hobby of beetle-collecting seem a little more understandable now.

And the Nematodes! Nematodes (roundworms) make up a surprisingly high percentage of animal species. Scoop up a trowel-full of soil from your yard, and you’re likely to have thousands upon thousands of nematodes in there.

If we can get children to understand that ecosystems, like rainforests, contain more animals than just vertebrates (and plants too!), the consequences include a better understanding of ecosystem functions and conservation issues.

So introduce yourself and your children to insects and worms (sometimes called “wugs” – worms and bugs). Attend insect-related events at a museum, make insect-face masks for play, visit natural environments, sow insect-promoting native plants (and keep careful track of all the worms in the ground), or tend an insect or worm as a pet for a couple days.

Maybe your new favorite animal won’t have fur or feathers.

 

Snaddon JL, Turner EC, Foster WA (2008) Children’s Perceptions of Rainforest Biodiversity: Which Animals Have the Lion’s Share of Environmental Awareness? PLoS ONE 3(7): e2579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002579

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Where Art & Biology go to Shop

etsy

Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me to set up a shop for the illustrations found on this blog and on A-wing and A-way – it’s now OPEN!

Welcome to RedNewtGallery on Etsy!

p.s. If you see any artwork on either blog you’d like posted in the Shop, just comment below and I’ll add it ASAP. For instance, the illustration from my most popular blog post (Penis Bones) is not currently on the site. Hope you can see why! Haha!

Cold feet, warm heart

SnowyGoose

Watching this snow-covered Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) swim around an icy lake, I thought “Brr”.

The core temperature of a goose, wrapped in its fluffy down coat, is ~104° Fahrenheit. But what about those feet? They must be freezing!

In a way, they are. The feet of this goose are only ~35°. As warm blood from the body travels to the toes, it transfers heat to the blood making the return trip. By the time the blood reaches the feet, it’s cold – so cold that little heat escapes through those exposed tootsies.

When the blood moves back toward the heart, it gathers heat from blood vessels traveling toe-ward. This process, called countercurrent heat exchange, keeps the goose nice and toasty.

Vulture – fashionable and practical

vulture_webTurkey Vultures remind me of 16th century European royalty (you know those “ruffs” they wore around their necks?). That regal appearance results from a bald head, which keeps the birds a little cleaner as they dig around in decomposing roadkill.

Evolving with bacteria goes beyond losing some feathers though. After all, if you ate rotten meat, you’d get sick. Vultures have extremely acidic digestive tracks and beneficial relationships with bacterial species that are dangerous to the rest of us.

Oh, and don’t bother Vultures while they’re feeding. They’re known to vomit as a defense mechanism.

p.s. Robert Krulwich of NPR wrote a super-amazing post about Vultures and their sense of smell (keep reading for the part on the oil pipelines – awesome!). As a painter, some of the early experiments sound like great fun!!!