The amazing primatologist, naturalist and conservationist Jane Goodall turns 82 years old on April 3. To celebrate that, we created an interactive quiz about her life. Don't worry if you don't know all the answers—you'll learn a lot and have fun trying! Just click on the quiz below.
Don't let this weird you out, but at least 75 trillion bacteria and other microbes live in you and on you.
You may not want to know that 90 percent of the cells in your body are non-human—bacteria, viruses, yeasts, fungi, mites and other micro-critters—but those tiny passengers keep you alive. One top scientist has called your gut "a zoo of bacteria," with more than 40,000 species, many of which help you digest food. There are even specialized mites that live at the base of your eyelashes and do you a favor by eating what esoteric-science expert Sir Pilthington-Smyth, in his marvelously entertaining book A Beastly Menagerie, calls "the flotsam and jetsam on your skin."
Indeed, your entire skin is a feeding ground for microscopic creatures. And, because some bacteria produce gas when breaking down old skin cells, your dog can smell what those bacteria have been doing.
Pamelia and I have been doing research on animal senses. When you walk into The Naturalist's Notebook this year, you will be expected to use all five...I mean all six...no, it might be all 23 of your human senses. (Guess you're going to have to visit, eh?) Our bloodhound-like noses have led us to fascinating facts about bacteria, eyeballs, tongues, brains, nerve cells and, of course, dogs, the ultimate smelling machines.
Dogs have 44 times as many scent-receptor cells as people do. When Wooster, our Wheaten terrier, steps outside, her nose is bombarded with as many smells as your brain has thoughts in a day. Like other dogs, she ignores many of them. She cares most about smells that she associates with good things (food, affection, play) or bad things (horses, skateboarders, tall men who wear hats).
Tracking dogs pick up extraordinarily minute evidence when following a human's trail. We homo sapiens constantly shed dog-sniffable skin cells—genetically unique to each of us, and with odor-belching bacteria on board as they flutter through the air and eventually settle on the ground. Not only do our shoes leave aromatic clues, but our every footstep also crushes plant cells and causes the cells to give off a scent that clearly distinguishes our trail from the land around it. The list of smelly evidence we leave on the landscape can make a person quite self-conscious when stomping through the woods.
I've been puzzled by Wooster's frantic sniffing of the snow. She seems to pick up even more intriguing scents after a few inches have fallen, which makes no sense, given that the ground and its odors are covered up. It turns out that at least a couple of factors are at work. One is that by eliminating a lot of smells the snow allows the dog to focus more on certain ones, like the aroma of that fresh squirrel track. Another is that if the snow is airy and powdery, smells do make their way up through it. Avalanche rescue dogs routinely find people buried under five to six feet of snow. In one case in Austria a dog located a skier who was down 24 feet.
I know, I know, you're still thinking about those 75 trillion microbes that are crawling over every inch of your body. Perhaps I shouldn't mention that the eyelash mites are arthropods, part of the same phylum of animals as spiders, cockroaches, centipedes, barnacles, crabs and lobsters. But at least they're small. As the aforementioned Pilkington-Smythe notes, eyelash mites "are in fact only about a third of a millimeter long, which is probably for the best as nothing spoils a pretty face quite like a visible infestation of large armored invertebrates."
Speaking of Pretty Faces...
You may or may not have watched the red-carpet, fashion-fixated prelude to the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday night. It brought to mind a delightful section in Bill Bryson's book At Home in which he traced the evolution of humans' often bizarre obsession with looking beautiful, from Stone Age clothing through the invention of buttons to the two-and-a-half-foot-tall wigs worn by European women in the 1700s. He wrote that in the late 1700s people in England started festooning themselves with artificial moles, called mouches. And I quote:
"[Mouches] took on shapes, likes stars or crescent moons, which were worn on the face, neck and shoulders. One lady is recorded as sporting a coach and six horses galloping across her cheeks. At the peak of the fashion, people wore a superabundance of mouches until they must have looked rather as if they were covered in flies. Patches were worn by men and women, and were said to reflect one's political leanings by whether they were worn on the right cheek (Whigs) or left cheek (Tories). Similarly, a heart on the right cheek signaled that the wearer was married, and on the left cheek that he or she was engaged...In the 1780s, just to show that creative ridiculousness really knew no bounds, it became briefly fashionable to wear fake eyebrows made of mouse skin."
Upcoming Earth Day Movie
Not sure if the stars of this film will end up on the Hollywood red carpet before next year's Academy Awards, but DisneyNature is releasing Chimpanzee on Earth Day, starring a chimp named Oscar. The footage looks amazing and the very idea that a male chimp would help raise an orphaned baby chimp is startling. If you go to a theater during the opening week of the film (April 20-16), Disney will donate part of your ticket money to the Jane Goodall Institute, another of our favorite organizations. Here's the trailer:
Quote of the Week
From Natalie Wolchover of Life's Little Mysteries in an article on bird vision: "If you swapped your eyes for an eagle's, you could see an ant crawling on the ground from the roof of a 10-story building."
And That Ant Saw Two Eagles Landing...
Two juvenile bald eagles (no white feathers on their heads yet) just flew in and riled up the 180 or so mallard and black ducks that were floating near our shore. If this was hunting practice, it didn't go well; the ducks flew off unscathed, and some crows then chased the eagles.
Ah, yes, back to crows. Some of you may have missed seeing this video link in the blog's "comments" section, sent in by Regina, one of the Notebook's New York correspondents. Click on it to see a crow engaged in a new winter sport.
Neanderthals In the News Scientists keep learning more and more about the many human species that preceded homo sapiens. Most went extinct, including the Neanderthals. The widespread belief has been that modern humans helped exterminate Neanderthals (though perhaps there was some interbreeding). Here's the latest:
Answers to Last Puzzlers
1) The unscrambled words:
a) direans = sardine
b) bronca = carbon
c) suclumu = cumulus
d) maqunut = quantum
2) Bryology is the study of mosses.
1) Unscramble these words from nature, science and art:
2) Fifty-nine years ago next month James Watson and Francis Crick (using the X-ray crystallography data of Rosalind Franklin, who got almost no credit) discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. Which of these statements is NOT true:
a) DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid
b) Human DNA contains about 25,000 genes
c) One gene contains about 25,000 types of DNA
d) Plants and animals both have DNA
“Ninety-seven percent of all charitable giving goes to support human causes. The remaining three percent is split evenly between our pets and the whole of non-human nature." —Graeme Gibson, author of The Bedside Book of Birds and The Bedside Book of Beasts and council member of the World Wildlife Fund Canada
It's hard to decide which charitable causes to support when so many are so worthy. But I'll go way out on a limb of an endangered old-growth tree to say this: Our home planet deserves more than a 1.5% cut. Here are just a few of the many, many ways to give a holiday gift that helps nature. Click on the links to learn more:
Adopt a whale:
Sponsor an orphaned elephant (one of our favorites over the years):
Help preserve ancient trees (a wonderful woman from the Michigan-based Archangel Ancient Tree Archive visited the Notebook this summer):
Adopt a tree to be planted:
Adopt an acre of rainforest:http://adopt.nature.org/acre/costa-rica/gift.html
Help the Jane Goodall Institute protect chimpanzees:
Help care for an abandoned gibbon (our friend Virginia worked here as a volunteer—we'll be sharing more of her stories and photos in the future):
Help rehabilitate an injured bird of prey:
The Other World-Wide Web
I don't know of any sponsor-a-spider holiday gift programs, but maybe there should be one. Even if you suffer from arachnophobia, you'll find the Ted.com talk below interesting. You'll never look at a spider in quite the same way.
Always Leave 'Em Laughing
I was reading last night about kookaburras, the Australian birds (a type of kingfisher) known for their laughter-like calls, so I couldn't resist sharing the sense of hilarity:
When I was about 12, my parents, my brother and I were camping on Cape Hatteras in North Carolina when a hurricane approached. Heavy rain quickly flooded the campground and rose on both sides of the road we took on our escape to the north. Occasionally the water engulfed the road and the land on both sides, creating the uncomfortable sense that we were driving IN the ocean.
I learned to respect hurricanes. My dad and mom often told stories of the huge 1938 and 1955 storms that had inundated parts of our home state, Connecticut. When my brother moved to Gulf Coast of Mississippi, I saw the damage that had been done years earlier by Hurricane Camille.
With Hurricane Irene due here in Maine in several hours, we have battened down our coastal home and are about to stow the deck furniture at The Naturalist's Notebook, which sits just a few hundred yards up the road from Seal Harbor beach. We won't get swallowed up by the Atlantic storm swell, but the beach and the coastal road near here may not fare so well. The campgrounds in Acadia National Park are being shut down, so we're absorbing a family of five into our house temporarily. Should be a memorable couple of days. The highest winds we've experienced at our house have been about 60 mph—and I hope that that record is still standing 48 hours from now. I'd be eager to hear what you fellow East Coasters are going through.
Our Thursday night event at the College of the Atlantic was a grand success. Dr. Lilian Pintea, the vice president of conservation science for the Jane Goodall Institute, delivered an engrossing talk on the state of chimpanzees and how the institute is using new technology to help study and protect them and their rapidly vanishing habitat in Tanzania, Uganda and Congo. I might try to post a video of part of his talk if I can figure out how. Below are a few photos from the event and the Jane Goodall celebration that preceded it at the Notebook.
Sweet 16 Update: Meet the Final Four
Even as the Hurricane Irene has forced the cancellation of other major sports events, our Sweet 16 Honey-Tasting Tournament has continued. Visitors to the Notebook continue to dip their ice-cream sticks into jars of competing honeys and then vote for the one they like better. We have narrowed the field from 16 honeys to a Final Four and are about to start the semifinals. Here's the skinny:
Semifinal One: Italian Sunflower vs. Maryland Bamboo (actually that pesky invasive species Japanese knotweed)
Outlook: On paper, the Italian Sunflower has the edge—more exotic locale, creamier texture, more popular plant—but on the tip of an ice-cream stick, who knows? Just as the University of Maryland Terrapins use the phrase "Fear the Turtle" in supporting their basketball team, fans of the Maryland honey declare, "Fear the Knotweed."
Semifinal Two: Maine Wild Raspberry vs. Oregon Wild Red Huckleberry
Outlook: A clash of the titans! Maine Wild Raspberry, the defending Sweet 16 champion, reached the semis by crushing unheralded but highly tasty Massachusetts Breakwind, 30-11. Oregon Wild Red Huckleberry, a tournament newcomer, shocked longtime Sweet 16 watchers by annihilating New York Basswood—one of the alltime greats—42-18 in the quarterfinals after crushing California Avocado 40-17 in the opening round.
Maine Wild Raspberry is one win away from becoming the first two-time champion. But Oregon Wild Huckleberry comes from a region that has produced some of the Sweet 16's best honeys (who can forget 2009 champ Washington Fireweed?), and it has so far shown an elegant, refined style that suggests greatness. Stay tuned...or stop in.
Don't forget that (in can't you read the small type on the poster above) we are hosting a fascinating talk by Dr. Lilian Pintea of the Jane Goodall Institute this Thursday evening at 7 at the College of the Atlantic's Gates Auditorium in Bar Harbor.
Please come! Lilian will talk about how he and his colleagues at the Jane Goodall Institute are using new technology to map, study and protect highly endangered chimpanzees in Africa. He will also talk about his experiences working with Jane herself.
We have a full slate of fun, creative activities scheduled at our shop/exploratorium starting at 10 a.m. on Thursday, which we have declared Jane Goodall Day at The Naturalist's Notebook. Learn about chimpanzees, create puppets, do art, hear a lunch-time reading, write a message to send to Jane—all of that and more!
Send a Message to Jane
As I just mentioned, we're encouraging you to share with us any thoughts, memories or experiences related to Jane Goodall or any of her books or projects. Did she ever inspire you? Send us a message that we can ask Lilian to pass along to her.
Below is an email we received from our friend Kimber, a conservationist who has worked with rhinos and done other important work:
"I have a handwritten letter from [Jane] that she sent after I wrote to her (years ago when I was finishing up my BA in Anthropology) about my disappointment in not being able to see her in Austin where she had a speaking engagement because it was sold out. I couldn’t believe that she would take the time to write to me, with all of the lecturing and work she was doing! Years later she came to San Antonio for a speaking engagement and after standing in line for many hours, I was given the “Golden Ticket” so that I could go see her. It was so wonderful to hear her speak and then to have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually meet her face to face. She is truly a very special person who really believes in what she is doing to try and help the chimpanzees – she’s amazing."
Among the Jane Goodall- and chimpanzee-related titles we have for sale is Me...Jane, a fabulous illustrated book by one of my former Sports Illustrated colleagues, artist/author Patrick McDonnell, who also draws the wonderful dog-themed comic strip Mutts.
The "Green Thing" and the Greatest Generation Our friend Kimber also forwarded us one of those funny emails that make the rounds. This one involves senior citizens, taking care of the environment, and a bit of perspective. It's pretty good:
In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.” The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”
She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint. But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?
That's all for now—it's time to head over to the Notebook for this week's Earth News kid-reporter program...
We are such fans of the new book Field Notes on Science & Nature, edited by Michael R. Canfield, that we asked Michael to write a guest blog for us. Michael is a lecturer on organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard. As he explains on the book's website, he is "fascinated by the history of biological exploration and how scientists and naturalists record work in their field notes." Field Notes On Science & Nature is filled with examples of the sketches, notes, paintings, photographs and calculations done in the field by some of the world's leading scientists and naturalists, whose essays take the reader on a fun and enlightening journey through the world of natural history. Michael himself is a field naturalist and scientist. As he describes it, "My research investigates the evolution of flexible developmental pathways in geometrid caterpillars, or, to put it simply, how the camouflage forms of caterpillars can be determined by what they eat."
WHAT NATURALISTS CARRY
by Michael C. Canfield
You might think that it would be hard to fall in love with a hammock. After all, a brief perusal could suggest that these devices are no more than a bit of fabric and a tangle of ropes. The naturalist and explorer William Beebe, however, would urge you to think otherwise. He was so attached to his sling that he wrote a 35-page ode to his hammock in Edge of the Jungle (1921). It turns out that for this hard-core naturalist a simple military supply hammock was wholly inferior, and he felt a true field worker needs a hand-woven indigenous hammock. And not one created by any of the peoples of the Neotropics, but one carefully crafted by the Carib peoples of the islands of the Caribbean. Beebe clearly was attached to his gear.
I recently participated in a symposium to remember the legendary New England naturalist Les Mehrhoff and observed a modern example of this phenomenon of gear attachment. In this case, almost all of the presenters wore a hand lens around their neck, and described how they, like Les, would be naked without this critical tool for studying nature. Unfortunately, I never got that memo and presented, so to speak, in the buff.
There are certainly many things we naturalists carry in the field that do not rise to this level of trusted and essential equipment. There are vials, jars, plastic bags, binoculars, camera equipment, and all manner of fancy nylon- and Gortex-inspired clothing. A waterproof-breathable jacket is nice to have in a storm, but certainly the likes of John Burroughs did just fine without this along with almost all of our current gadgets. However, a few things do transcend the inanimate and find the place of a loved and trusted friend.
Over our time in the field these trusted implements are either actively chosen or slowly rise above all of our other less important gear. It might be a pair of boots that has saved our skins from snakes or slippery slopes in the rainforest, or a hat that fended off brutal rain pellets on a mountaintop crackling with lightening. These holy items have kept us company and served us well on many adventures, and I think that each of us has one or two, regardless of whether these intimate relations are revealed to others.
My most trusted and important piece of gear is a field notebook. A small notebook, paired with a simple pen, allows me to record observations and sightings to which I can return years in the future, either to access data or relive adventures. It provides a rigorous companion who forces me to focus on really observing nature, because to sketch, draw, and describe an experience in a notebook takes concentration and investment. And the notebook page can be a wicked critic. When my ideas and output are poor, my companion holds me accountable. But when I have stayed true to the tradition of note-taking that stretches back three centuries, my notebook stays open and lets me know that these records will remain in the spiritual company of the records of so many other naturalists who have worked to understand the complicated riddles of nature. Regardless of whether you are already engaged with hammocks or hand lenses, hand-sewn boots or fancy parkas, I recommend a trip to out with a field notebook. You may be surprised to find a lifelong companion. **********
Jane Goodall News
We just learned that Lilian Pintea of The Jane Goodall Institute is coming to the Notebook in August and will give a lecture on Jane, chimpanzees and the new technology that is changing the way species populations are mapped and studied. "I absolutely love your Notebook and what you do," Lilian says. Stay tuned for details about the event.
A Little Squirrelly
As you know if you've ever encountered one, red squirrels are feisty. They loudly chatter at us—seemingly telling us to get lost—even when we're filling the bird feeders at which they dine. Friends staying at a nearby cottage this week weren't used to taking such verbal abuse from small animals, but we assured them that it's normal. Here's a short video that shows how fearless red squirrels can be:
Answer to the Last Puzzer:
Match the great naturalist to one of his quotes. Answer: a) “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”–John Burroughs (1837-1921) b) “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”—John Muir (1838-1914) c) “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’ ”—Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)
To which animal group do lizards belong? a) amphibians b) reptiles c) invertebrates d) mammals
A Cool Thought for These Hot Days:
This week is the anniversary of the invention of the ice cream cone. The cone was born in a flash of ingenuity at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis when ice cream vendor Charles Menches ran out of bowls. A nearby concessionaire, Ernest Hamwi, rolled one of the thin Persian waffles he was selling into a cone shape and offered it to Menches. And we remain grateful.