Bird Brains?

I have always been fairly unimpessed with the “linguistic” exploits of our closest genetic relatives, the great apes– the communications chasm seems wider than that between us and our dogs, despite their having been trained to manipulate some symbols.

Which is why recent developments in bird speech and cognition are so mind-boggling, especially as the avian brain is physically extremely different in
its structure. There is a lot of info out there, but check out this BBC
story for a good example of the most talented talking bird, the African gray


A good line from contrarian blogger- evolutionist- film critic Steve Sailer: “One conservative element I like about “Lord of the Rings” is Tolkien’s arch-Tory / proto-hippie conservationism. Here in the U.S., conservatives tend to assume that the essence of conservatism is to bulldoze a forest and build a Costco. Tolkien would have shuddered.”

Panther Purity

A cougar, probably of the so- called “Florida panther” race, was hit and killed by a car in northern Florida, far from the usual southern haunts of the subspecies. A story in the St Augustine Record by Peter Guinta– it requires registration so I’ll just quote– records the good news that the cat’s range is expanding but flirts with an odd obsession with genetic purity that crops up in many places, from genetics- obsessed dog standards to the sneers at the restored eastern peregrine as “Cornell chickens”.

” “In recent years their numbers have been increasing, and now we’ve just
lost one,” she [ Sarah Owen of the Florida Wildlife Federation]said. “But we’re not going to get too excited until we find
out through DNA testing where it’s from.”

Cunningham said the same thing — a DNA test is required because there was an experiment in North Florida three years ago that involved releasing
sterilized Texas cougars to find out if a second population of Florida
panthers could survive there. Some of the vasectomies given to those cats
were not effective and they began breeding, he said.

“I couldn’t tell the difference at necropsy,” he said. “This one did not
have some of the characteristics of the pure, inbred Florida panthers. I
still think it was a Florida panther, but I don’t want to rule out that
this could be connected to that project.””

Don’t get me wrong– having the locally- adapted type would always be better– unless there were none, or the population was dwn to where the remaining animals had problems. But Florida’s panthers were in exactly that kind of shape.

“In 1989, data collected from 29 radio-collared panthers indicated that the
population was losing genetic diversity at a rate of three to sevenpercent
yearly. Researchers believed that the gene pool would continue to erode
even if the population stabilized, leading to extinction within 40 years.
Three years later, with the health of the population continuing to
decline, biologists made a controversial decision. In an effort to increase genetic
diversity, wildlife managers introduced several female Texas cougars —
the closest remaining cougar population that had historically shared Florida
panther range — into the Florida panther population in 1995. Several
hybrid litters have since been produced, and the introduction seems to
have corrected some of the problems experts generally attribute to inbreeding.
Experts are still debating the role of the Texas cougars in panther recovery.”

Debating? Why on earth, other than purely pohilosophically? Is it better to lose the panther entirely? Most likely, the environment will shape it back eventually in the direction of the Florida “type”– though some think that the defining characters of that type may have been signs of inbreeding pathology!

Other questions raised: if the environment is different, does a reintroduced species take on different characteristics? The old eastern anatum peregrine was bigger than its replacement. But if it was because its prey was the big, swift, and abundant passenger pigeon, will the new peregrine ever get as large? Species and ecosystems are fluid entities…

Also: what does this tell us about closed dog studbooks? Hint: nothing good.

I’ll soon have some stuff on the passenger pigeon ecosystem up in “Other Works”.

Thanks for the tip to Grayal Farr.

Decline and Fall

I have a feeling that the decline and fall of Britain may end up a constant theme here. This just in from Jonathan Hanson– emphasis mine: “Official guidelines issued in May by Britain’s Joint Council on Qualifications, directed to agencies that administer high school and junior high standardized tests, call for students to receive extra points on the test if they have experienced pre-exam stress due to selected circumstances: death of a parent or close relative (up to 5 percent extra), death of other relative (up to 4 percent), death of pet (2 percent if on exam day, 1 percent if the day before), WITNESSING A DISTRESSING EVENT ON EXAM DAY (up to 3 percent), just-broken arm or leg (up to 3 percent), headache (1 percent).

At Last!

After long planning and infinite patience from web designer Matt Mullenix, my website and blog are up and running. Please look around and, I hope, enjoy. Eventually– like perhaps later this week– I will post longer and even coherent posts, but it has been a long weekend. For now, let me give you a few links that have been sent to me in recent days, which may give you an idea of what kind of subject matter you may expect to encounter here. Also, please check out my blogroll, which starts with friends but will expand. There are also MANY links in the website.

From Jonathan and Roseann Hanson of Alpha Environmentalist ( : the further decline and fall of the publishing biz. Chain bookstores are demanding fees for displaying books:

From Roseann: Private land conservation:

From Chas Clifton of NatureBlog( Wimpy parents are making it impossible for children to connect with nature (I have also written on this for Chas):

And for sheer fun, also from Chas: Cave Bear DNA. Does this mean that we can clone bears from the Ural cave bear hand given me by Peculiar of Odious and Peculiar? ( Or the cave bear TOOTH and mammoth hair I got from his mother last Christmas? Sadly, science isn’t there yet, but it would be a great boon to Pleistocene Park ( Hunting mammoths in Siberia while great cats wait silently nearby– sounds like fun to me. Mammoth steaks…. mmmmmm.

More soon. Meanwhile, does anyone know anything about St. Tryphon, falconer to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovitch in the 17th Century and patron saint of falconry in the Eastern Orthodox church? I know he is depicted on his ikon with the gyrfalcon that he lost and miraculously found….