Woodpeckers in Love
If humans had evolved the same courtship rituals as other animals, imagine the embarrassing acts you might have had to perform to get your first date. Perhaps (like a frigate bird) you would have puffed your throat out into a giant, heart-shaped party balloon. Or rolled (as a dung beetle might) a giant ball of excrement on which your potential date could sit. Or moonwalked across a branch like the colorful bird called the manakin:
I won’t even get into the chirping, bugling, biting, head-smashing, chest-butting, tail-wiggling, color-changing and other forms of wooing. There are more restrained displays to be seen, of course. Yesterday Pamelia and I stepped out onto the birdsong-serenaded deck behind The Naturalist’s Notebook and watched a comparatively modest ritual involving three hairy woodpeckers (two females and a male). We couldn’t entirely figure it out, but the two females were alternating between herky-jerky dances (for the male?) and rapid-fire attacks on each other. I guess I’ve seen love-stricken teens do that too, but never in the upper branches of a tree.
If you’ve seen any (non-human) animals doing anything interesting this spring, let us know. We’d also love to see any fun spring nature photos you’ve taken. This is a great time of year to observe.
Speaking of which, we looked out the window at our house this morning and saw our first great blue herons of 2012 arriving in the low-tide zone. Two years ago, in a memorable spectacle, we had two dozen fly in on the same day—a sort of dinosaur invasion. Only two or three herons normally stay around our shore for the summer.
How Food and Farming Are Changing the World
The latest batch of TED.com talks includes an excellent one on how agriculture has affected the planet and how it now poses as big a challenge to humans as climate change does (the two are connected, by the way). The talk was given by Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Click on the video link below to watch and listen. It’s well worth 15 minutes of your time.
In this election year, with candidates on both sides talking about doing what’s right for the next generation, little attention is being given to this sort of big-picture issue. Indeed, few candidates (if any) look farther ahead than one generation when talking about the “future.” The Iroquois, by contrast, looked ahead seven generations (almost 200 years) when assessing whether a course of action was appropriate or not. That time frame may be too long for many people to grasp, but it’s the blink of an eye in the history of both the Earth (age: about 4.5 billion years) and the human race (age: roughly 200,000 to 300,000 years). Maybe we should try to stretch our minds a bit and imagine what life on Earth will be like 200 years from now…or 2,000 years…or 2 million years…or 2 billion years. And how our actions might affect it.
The New Bridge
Answer to the Last Puzzler
If a person weighs 150 pounds on Earth, how much will he or she weigh on the Moon? Just 25 pounds, because gravity on the Moon is just one-sixth that of Earth.
I’m borrowing a couple of number puzzles from the book Entertain Your Brain, which is one of my favorites:
1) I’m looking at my watch. From this moment on, the hour hand will take exactly as long as the minute hand to reach the number six. What time is it?
2) The number six is considered a “perfect” number because its factors add up exactly to the number itself (1+2+3=6). What is the next perfect number?