I’ve just read Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, a novel based on the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over AC vs DC electrification in the 1880s. This was a fascinating story*, but I’m taking off from it on a tangent today. The epigraph for Chapter 23 is a quote attributed to the architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller: “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly”. Now, given my cringeworthy memories of what I was like in high school, I should be 100% behind this quote. The problem: as an entomologist, Buckminster Fuller was an excellent architect.
The quote, you see, is nonsense. Continue reading
Image: Balloon release at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival, by Editor5807 CC BY 3.0, via wikimedia.org
Someone’s cat just wandered across my back yard, and that got me thinking about butterfly releases. No, really – stick with me for a moment. There’s a connection, and, eventually, a bigger point.
By now, everyone ought to be aware that letting domestic cats roam outdoors is a terrible idea. It’s terrible for the cats, who live shorter and less healthy lives; but much more important, it’s terrible for wildlife – cats kill millions of songbirds each year, and have (on islands) even been directly responsible for bird extinctions. That there are self-identified cat “lovers” still insisting on letting cats outside says a lot about the phenomenal ability of humans to avoid (often deliberately) the acquisition of knowledge. But this post shouldn’t become a rant about cats, so I’ll move on.
Balloon releases have more recently come under scrutiny, and it’s pretty obvious that they’re also a terrible idea. Continue reading
Photos: Wildlife-Friendly Garden and signage, © S Heard CC BY 4.0. Monarch caterpillars on milkweed (in Minnesota), Courtney Celley/USFWS, CC BY 2.0.
My university, like many, is concerned with appearing green, and among its projects is a series of small plantings that offer (mostly) native plants with educational signage. I pass by one of these every day on my walk to work: the “Wildlife-Friendly Garden”. It has Joe Pye weed, roses, goldenrod, and a few other things, and it has some signs introducing passers-by to its “frequent visitors”.
One of the “frequent visitors”, we’re told, is the monarch butterfly: it has a lovely and informative sign. This seems unremarkable: everyone loves monarch butterflies, everyone knows they’re common visitors to late-summer flowers like goldenrod and Joe Pye, and everyone knows they’re a species at risk* worth cherishing. So how could I possibly have a beef with this sign? Continue reading
(Image credits: Left, Opsiphanes cassina merianae, ©Andrey Zheludev, used with permission. Right, Erinnys lassauxii (=merianae), Shawn Hanrahan via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.5.)
I chose the first two entries in my Wonderful Latin Names series for the sound of their names. Today’s entry celebrates names that are wonderful for a different reason: for the amazing story of the woman for which each species is named. Continue reading