Category Archives: humour

Folk taxonomy, the postal service, and mailing live animals

Image:  Letterbox © Tim Green CC BY 2.0, via wikimedia.org. Don’t mail a live animal here.

Early in the summer, the legal humour blog Lowering the Bar had a good time with the fact that in the U.S. you can mail live scorpions – under certain amusing but also completely understandable conditions. (One of which is that they aren’t this kind.  Another is that they’re being mailed for use in medical research or the manufacture of antivenins.  So maybe I should have said that live scorpions can be mailed, because most likely you can’t mail them. This is probably just as well.)

This appealed to my admittedly peculiar sense of humour, so I promptly read the entirety of the U.S. Postal Service regulations on mailing live animals.  Then the equivalent Canada Post regulations.  Then the U.K. Royal Mail’s*.  I’m happy, today, to be able to share the results of my research with you.

Cultural anthropology and biology have an interesting point of contact in what are called “folk taxonomies”.  Continue reading

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On being nerdsniped by Dynamic Ecology

Photos: Artificial moths from @mothgenerator; thanks to Katie Rose Pipkin for permission to reproduce them here.

Warning: 100% silly.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy Fox over at Dynamic Ecology nerdsniped me with this link to the Moth Generator twitter account.

If you haven’t seen it, Moth Generator is a clever bot that constructs fictional moths by (somehow) recombining a library of graphic generation rules. For an entomologist and a nerd, like me, this is completely fascinating.  If you’re either or both, I recommend that you check it out. Continue reading

The funny papers on my CV

Most of my CV is pretty conventional.  It recites my job and educational history, lists my papers and talks, my students and the courses I’ve taught… and I can hear you yawning from here.  But my favourite part is comes at the end of my publication list, which has four sections.  The first is “Book” (some day it will be “Books”, but so far there’s just The Scientist’s Guide to Writing), then there’s “Refereed papers”, then “Non-refereed works”, and then finally the good part: “And with tongue in cheek”.  My tongue-in-cheek section lists two papers, and each is a joke. Continue reading

Searching for squirrels

Photo: Red squirrel, by Drew McLennan via flickr.com, CC BY-NC 2.0

When you have a blog, it’s possible to obsess over the statistics you have access to: chiefly, visitor counts by day, by month, by post, and by country of origin*. But nothing on the stats page is more fun than the list of search terms – terms by which people have navigated the seas of the Internet to wind up anchored (or perhaps more likely, accidentally beached) at Scientist Sees Squirrel. Inspired by similar exercises from Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field**, I present a few of the more interesting search terms by which this blog can be found.

  • lesser scientist

Continue reading

The centrifugal theory of species diversity

Photo: Jaguar – a large-bodied tropical mammal. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Digital Library System, public domain.

It’s frequently claimed that a person can expect to have only a handful of truly good ideas in a lifetime. One should, therefore, use them well! I had one of my best ideas (with tongue in cheek, that is) as a grad student – but I buried it in an issue of the Ecological Society of America Bulletin. If blogs had existed back then, perhaps things would have been different; but they do now, so I thought I’d resurrect this piece it from its obscure tomb.

I’m pleased that the ESA Bulletin occasionally indulges itself in a bit of levity, and am grateful for permission to repost it here. I hope you’ll enjoy the piece. Here it is, as originally published (ESA Bulletin (72(1):13, 1991):


The Centrifugal Theory of Species Diversity Continue reading

Vultures for England: A modest proposal

Image credits: Vulture, by Dori (dori@merr.info), CC BY-SA 2.0. Zane Grey in 1895, in Penn’s baseball uniform (http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/archives/20051010001), public domain.

A couple of weeks ago I was in California, keeping my eyes peeled for interesting birds. Disappointingly, the first bird I saw was a starling – a bird I could have seen almost anywhere in the temperate world. The second was a turkey vulture. Vultures are common and ecologically important scavengers across most of the world*, although none occur in England or Scandinavia. There, eagles, kites, and corvids include carrion in their diets, but the avifauna lacks a carrion specialist – that niche is vacant.

This got me thinking. Continue reading