Museum of Living Art


2009 was a rough year for everyone. Possibly the least popular year of the decade. One of the biggest let-downs I experienced in 2009 was the delayed opening for the Fort Worth Zoo's Museum of Living Art. Before I explain, allow me to remind you that my family visited the Ft. Worth Zoo last year with intentions of seeing some progress on this world-class project. Unfortunately, it appeared that delays had pushed its opening to sometime this spring.

What the heck am I talking about, pray tell? Only the construction of the world's most awesome herpetarium (like an aquarium, but for reptiles and amphibians)! This thing's going to be huge - probably the largest in the world (both in square footage, number of species, and possibly number of individuals).

When the zoo's current herpetarium opened in 1960, it held more species of reptiles and amphibians than any other facility. Throughout it's history, the staff have been responsible for the breeding of several individuals, included many rare and endangered species. This new facility will continue their previous vision, but with the world-class resources deserving of their world class efforts. In addition to housing more species than any other facility, the MOLA will continue and expand upon their significant conservation efforts for amphibians (If you would like to know more about their conservation efforts, read this article here).

The MOLA will have several different "habitat" areas for viewing by patrons, including a deserts, swamplands, and rain forests. Just check out this huge list of species the MOLA will be keeping, or should I say curating? If that doesn't get you salivating, you can view the online floor-plan for the new facility which indicates generally what will be exhibited. For zoo activity in the new decade, keep an eye out for the MOLA.

Here are two shinglebacks in the Fort Worth Zoo's current herpetarium. Shinglebacks are highly monogamous (single pair breeders). There are cases of them breeding with their mate (to the exclusion of other individuals) for up to twenty years:

Art and Biodiversity


I love combining topics. My field of study is a combination of biology, psychology, and ecology; I'm attending a liberal arts institution, as a Boy Scout I earned over 60 merit badges (far above average), and the list goes on. When all is said and done, my favorite combination of two topics is animals and artwork (as can be witnessed by a previous post of mine). I'm just giddy to see two of my favorite topics combining with such a natural feel!

My passion for seeing art and animal diversity combined may be why I have been drawn to a couple of articles lately.

First check out
this summary of a project done by an undergraduate through the School for Field Studies (SFS). This student organized the painting of several murals in Baja, Mexico emphasizing the conservation of sea turtles. That's herpetology, conservation biology, and artwork - all rolled into one!

Additionally, my academic adviser relayed this neat project to me: The Hyperbolic Coral Reef. Here's a quote from their website:
The Institute For Figuring is crocheting a coral reef: a wooly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.
What a wild idea, right? There's a lot going on here, but to summarize, a feminist crocheting organization has responded to declining coral reefs by expressing their beauty in a knitted form. Using a fairly new style of knitting, "hyperbolic crochet," inanimate yarn is 'brought to life' in the form of corals, anemones, urchins, you name it. One of the organization's representatives, Margaret Wertheim delivered a lecture on our campus yesterday, but unfortunately, I arrived at the wrong location and missed the boat. Bummer luck, but their expansive website should please your visual palate.

Share your favorite art-fusion links in the comments below.

Here are a few more pictorial examples:

NOVA Series - Lizard Kings


Perusing some other blogs, I discovered a fascinating NOVA series on monitor lizards titled "Lizard Kings."

NOVA is well known for their awe-inspiring filming, and this program certainly does not come up short.

I'm posting this because it's free to watch online, visit their website and click "Watch online." The whole program runs at 52 minutes.

Bat Echolocation Animation

Here's a semi-random animation of bat echolocation I found while learning about neuroethology. I hope you find it as cool as I did:

Bats are cool.

New Species Found Every Day


Scientists often ask the question "How many species are there currently living on Earth?" How many do you think there are? 50, ooo? 100,000? 1 million? Estimates vary from study to study, but conservative estimates point to 7-10 million species, and other studies claim up to 100 million species. That's a lot!

Certainly, the ability to understand just how many species are currently on our planet is crucial to understanding what changes affect living things. Without baseline information, detecting trends is near-to if not impossible. (For related topics, see my posts on biodiversity here and here).

Although the estimates of the number of species varies so widely (93 million is a huge number, last time I checked), there seems to be a consensus that large and charismatic species are described more completely than, say bacteria or lichens. That is why you may find it surprising to hear that scientists find new vertebrate species all the time. Yep. A recent news article (with beautiful photos) describes species of frogs, geckos, snakes, birds, and even a flowering plant that are all new to science. If that piques your interest, here's another article (again, with great photography)

I have previously commented that taxonomy (the science of naming species) is a dying science and art. This is especially unfortunate in an era when our estimates of the number of undiscovered species on our planet are so massive! In my naive mind, a solution to this problem would be a grassroots effort in the sciences to support taxonomists and the work they do. Fellowships, labs, and doctoral positions should be competitively awarded to taxonomists in academic institutions, not just at Harvard or Oxford, but around the world. This network, coupled with online diversity indices (such as Encyclopedia of Life and GeckoWeb), will aid in conservation and education efforts destined for governmental policy. I feel declines in worldwide biological diversity are worse than eminent global warming (regardless of cause) and the only way to effectively combat those declines is via workable, worldwide diversity indices.

If you're interested in following new species discoveries, try ScienceDaily's New Species News.

Now for some animal photos. We all like those:

Reptile Communal Nesting

Check out this cool article about normally-solitary reptiles laying eggs in communal nests.

Communal nesting!? What's that, Alex? For one, it has traditionally been thought of as a non-reptilian behavior. Communal nesting is simply the laying of eggs by a female animal into the nest of a conspecific (same species) animal. This behavior is different than cooperative breeding, which could be thought of as a "daycare system" - individuals care for the young of other individuals, even at the expense of their own breeding abilities.

A quote that summarizes the opinions of the authors on why communal nesting occurs in some reptiles:
Building a nest can be hard work for reptiles. Some female lizards, for example, may spend days digging a hole deep enough to deposit eggs. During those days, she is not doing other important things such as finding food. She is also more vulnerable to predators. Females can avoid these costs by simply laying eggs in a nest that someone else has gone to the trouble to build.
The model, the authors argue, could be advantageous in an evolutionary sense. It is common sense to note that anything that reduce an animal's required level of energy expenditure to successfully pass on genetic material is good for the species in the long-run. This argument does NOT always hold true; however, that's the common sense approach. It is still true that parental care is not the norm in most described species behaviors THUS FAR, but read on...

While searching around for the topic, I found another well-cited article summarizing review articles (articles that synthesize scientific literature) which argues that communal nesting is probably much more common in reptilian species than first thought. If you read through the article, you note how little is known about nests in most species of reptiles. In fact, for most named species, nests have never even been reported in the scientific literature! Just another opportunity to grab your hiking boots and go outside!

Review - "The Diversity of Life"

Prepare for the onslaught - I've promised myself to update this blog at least once a day for the next week. I have lots of ideas to share. Let's start:

"The Diversity of Life" is a most wonderful book I recently read by E.O. Wilson.

Where to begin?

For those not in the know, E.O. Wilson is a senior professor of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and is the world expert on myrmecology (the scientific study of ants). Recipient of two Pulitzer prizes for general non-fiction, the man is also a brilliant science writer.

Certainly, DoL is not Wilson's most famous, nor most read book (he's written 25 to date), but ever since its first publishing date in 1992 those in the know have found its pressing and fascinating tone necessary for the topic. Though the title seems to speak for itself, I should note that the topic of the book is biodiversity. In it, Wilson sucks the reader into a comprehensive array of historic, anecdotal, scientific, and economic view points on studies of biodiversity.

In a previous work of his, Biophilia, Wilson puts forth the concept that there is an inseparable and instinctive connection between humans and other living things (see biophilia hypothesis). Though not as strongly, DoL restates the innate love for living systems humans share. Wilson also emphasizes the strategic, practical, and economic importance biodiversity gives to humanity.The following segment was the most poignant point I believe Wilson wishes everyone knew:
Every country has three forms of wealth: material, cultural, and biological. The first two we understand well because they are the substance of our everyday lives. the essence of the biodiversity problem is that biological wealth is taken much less seriously. This is a major strategic error, one that will be increasingly regretted as time passes (Wilson, p 331).
In all, this engrossing book leaves you feeling accomplished for having a more complete grasp of the topic of biological diversity, regardless of what kept you reading. Case studies and anecdotal accounts are side by side with easy-to-understand figures and beautiful illustrations by Sandra Landry & Amy B. Wright.

Overall: 5/5 - A superb synthesis of scientific knowledge on the topic with a conservation slant.

Article - Zoo Animals in the Snow

Haven't posted in a while. Last semester was rough.

To make it up, here's a cute slideshow of animals in the snow from zoos worldwide:

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