caterpillar on milkweed

The World of Insects

It’s common knowledge that monarch butterfly caterpillars eat only milkweed, but did you know that many other insects also feed exclusively on this host plant? Munched milkweed leaves could also be the work of (among other things) milkweed tussock moth caterpillars (Euchaetes), milkweed longhorn beetles (Tetraopes), milkweed weevils (Rhyssomatus), or swamp milkweed leaf beetles (Labidomera […]

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sunshine on the coast

Solar Weather

When most of us think of weather, we tend to regard it as something that influences our decision to carry an umbrella or add a few more layers of wool. The patterns of storms, the variations of temperature and humidity, even the presence of clouds, are all largely viewed as local phenomena – and very […]

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sunshine in the trees

The Sun Inside Your Head

Aaahh, the warmth and the light filtering down from above, slowly sinks inside you and feels so very good. Whether you are lying on the grass, sandy beach, in your hammock, or just facing that wonderful star that nurtures all life on our beautiful planet Earth, every sentient being needs, reaches for, and fondles these […]

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icy waters from above

The Origins of Water

There are few sights as awe-inspiring as seeing our beautiful Earth from space – the puzzle-piece continents framed against the breathtakingly blue backdrop of the oceans, highlighted by the nebular swirl of clouds, and punctuated with the starkness of polar ice. An enchanting sight, to be sure. And of all the aforementioned, what makes the […]

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The Phylogenetic Tree

Why are there no green mammals? A graduate student colleague of mine was recently faced with this question in her PhD qualifying exams. The professor told her that she was not to discuss sloths—which appear green due to algal growth in their fur—nor was she to argue that green coloration must not be adaptive (evolutionarily […]

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snake

The Predator

Along the trail’s edge a predator waits. Its keen senses are sharpened by hunger and it constantly tests the wind for a trace of scent that might mean food. Then from a distance, it feels vibrations of something big, and it determines that this large non-food thing is going to pass close by. There are […]

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Ecological Interactions and the Bullfrog

Amphibians are key players in ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica. They contribute to both terrestrial and aquatic nutrient cycling and energy flows that hold ecosystems together. In particular, they are excellent and efficient converters of food energy into growth and reproduction and serve as both predators and prey. Tadpoles, for example, convert detritus (decaying […]

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Finding the North Star

The North Star Points True North Knowing how to find the North Star in the northern hemisphere is one of the most basic survival skills. Those of us in the north are fortunate to have the North Star as a handy survival tool for determining direction without a compass. Visible from the surface of the […]

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sparrow in the autumn

The Season of Zugunruhe

A Redstart gleams glossy black and is gone. Kinglets trickle past me, their high calls scattering south. Bird migration is in full swing. The birds may be finding their way by seeing the magnetic fields of the earth by virtue of magnetite crystals in their brains, internal compasses that let them perceive magnetism as we […]

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Bird Skeletons and Avian Physiology

Before the advent of airplanes, people mimicked the design of bird skeletons in hopes of achieving the freedom of flight. A great many flapping and gliding contraptions were conceived and tested, endeavors that yielded only a sense of disappointment and a few good lessons about flight dynamics. Others involved in similar experiments were far less […]

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