The Art of Karen Carr

I'd like to direct your browsers to the online home page for international wildlife and natural history artist Karen Carr and Karen Carr Studio, Inc.

Here artwork is incredible and demonstrates a world-class level of care for her topics. I even read (but lost the source) that when she worked with traditional media and was attempting to portray a scene or organism underwater, she would snorkel and make sketches underwater (presumably with waterproof materials!). I had come across her art several times in my internetting, but never realized that it was all mostly from one woman!

Here website and online gallery are easy to navigate and contain a treasure trove of wonderful biodiversity - alive or extinct. She also posts directions on how she paints digitally, which is neat.

Her best known work and association is with The Field Museum in Chicago, IL, an incredible museum of natural history.

The following images are samples of her work (all copyright Karen Karr and are available on her website):

PS - if you find yourself interested in illustrating natural science (I know I am!), check out the website for the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI).

Museum of Living Art (MOLA) - Now Open

As summer approaches, I am getting mixed news about what I'll be doing for the next few months. I had applied to several internships, but none of them had positions open :/

One place that I am interested in is the Forth Worth Zoo. I had a post at the beginning of the year which described the zoo and a new exhibit - the Museum of Living Art (MOLA). This exhibit replaces their Herpetarium built in 1960.

Upon visiting the FW Zoo's website, I see that MOLA opened in March of this year!

Check out their over-the-top promotional videos here or here.

The size and scope of the exhibit are phenomenal. The 30,000 sq. ft. facility houses (at current) around 1,000 individuals representing a hundred different species of reptiles and amphibians.

I'm super-pumped! I'll report in when I have the chance to visit them next.

Update: When searching for images for this article, I spotted one of my pictures in the top results of a Google Search. Moving up the food chain. We also recently hit 1,000 pageviews. Hooray!:

Lots of Stuff - Videos, Snake Bites and More!

Here's the setup.  Whenever I find something I think would make an interesting post on this blog, I bookmark it with intentions of writing an article at some point.  That happens for the things with some substance, but over time, I have accumulated all kinds of internet knick-knacks that I'd like to share in one large post.

  • Here's a neat one. On this website, you can view high-quality, color, streaming video of a nesting Red Tailed Hawk (tipoff from here). The nest is located in Philadelpha, PA at the Franklin Institute Building. Here's a screencap of what I saw when I visited :)
  • A study has found that denim denim may guard against rattlesnake bites. Read the fine print, as the study was just measuring the amount of venom that was injected into warm saline-solution filled gloves - not necessarily accounting for physical damage or psychological damage (I think you'd be a bit freaked out if you were bit by a poisonous snake!). Nonetheless, it's an interesting read (especially since I'm always wearing denim jeans).
  • A species of frog thought to be extinct in the wild for 30 years has been rediscovered on farmland in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales state of Australia. The Yellow-Spotted Bell Frogs are quite adorable and the article notes optimism for similarly-"lost" species. Seven of Australia's 216 known species of frogs have disappeared in the last thirty years.

Hope that was enough for you! I'll continue updating throughout the week as I tactfully do not do homework before finals week.

Review - "How to Train Your Dragon"

With much that I talk about on this blog being so seemingly obscure, perhaps you can take comfort in something much more mainstream. :)

I recently wrote a review of the DreamWorks Animation's most recent film "How to Train Your Dragon."

You can read the review here.

This movie has been all I've been thinking about for the past two weeks. I highly recommend it and, if you have the opportunity, see it in 3D.

Here's a trailer:

Lizards 'Shout' Against A Noisy Background

One of my interests as an ethologist is animal communication. I can find almost infinite wonder in pondering how whales thousands of miles away can tell each other about their location for breeding, how bees communicate food locations, or how birds signal conspecifics for a predator alert.

This interest was one reason why I took pause at an article published via ScienceDaily a few years ago.

The researchers, Terry Ord, Richard A. Peters, and Barbara Clucas, recorded anoles in more and less visually "noisy" environments.  They found that lizards modify their visual displays in more visually busy environments.

But what are we talking about? If you've never seen lizard communication, it's pretty ethereal. Anoles do not exhibit all of reptile communication, but here are some videos of bearded dragon arm waving and head bobbing.

Visual displays are very important to mostly-mute squamates (snakes and lizards). For example, anolis lizards use colorful dewlaps while other lizards display colorful underbellies:

Article - Huge Monitor Lizard Species New to Science

What a find!

Ethnobiologists in the Philippines recently discovered a whopper of a lizard. Now introducing the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard (Varanus bitatawa)! This large (~10 kg) lizard is apparently one of only three known fruit-eating species in the world.

To learn more, check out this article from ScienceDaily.

According to this article, the fruit-eating lizard lives in the trees on the northern Philippines island of Luzon. The species was probably so difficult to find because the lizard has actually been hunted by humans (their main predator) for so long that the behavior of the species has become highly secretive and skittish.

Nowadays, discovering large vertebrate animal species is a fairly rare event (when one omits genetic testing, I suppose). That the lizard is fruit eating and quite brightly colored makes the find even more remarkable.

That's what you get for being observant :)

EDIT: Fixed broken link. Sorry for the confusion.

Free Online Ornithology Course

This post is a short one. I'd just like to share with you an online ornithology course I found recently.

The free course is in the form of a blog and can be viewed here.

The blog is offered via the ornithologist and retired biology professor Dan Tallman, one of my favorite bloggers (view his blog here).

I have not read the whole blog, but a couple hours of flipping through it tell me that the course is appropriate for any level of bird enthusiast. If you have some free time this summer, give it a look-see.

Article - All-Female Lizard Species Crosses Its Own Chromosomes

Today's article is an interesting one, even if it might require a bit of background in genetics.

From grade school, you probably know that in sexually-reproducing species (includes most animals), a combination of male and female DNA (in the form of compressed chromosomes) crosses and creates new combinations of genetic information. This process is very complex from an evolutionary standpoint, but has survived because of the genetic resistance to random change it affords.

Now read this interesting article published via Scientific American.

When it comes to the sexual behavior of lizards, things get weird, but this article describes an interesting scenario where female checkered whiptail lizards (Aspidoscelis tesselata) are capable of carrying two sets of chromosomes and crossing them over to create a new combination of genetic information - without a male individual! This is new research to the field of reproduction without sex (i.e., parthenogenesis). This research subtly suggests that in well-adapted species, parthenogenesis could be carried out for far longer than previously hypothesized.

Why would a species even adopt parthenogenesis as a strategy of life? First off, remember that evolution is blind and without a cause. Then postulate that in environments where finding mates is especially taxing on a species, individuals that are able to create their own offspring would have a significant advantage in passing along their genes. Often, it is the case that parthenogenesis involves female individuals asexually creating clones of herself and occasionally asexually producing male individuals to add genetic diversity to that population via sexual reproduction. Here is a visual representation of this cycle:

The break from this "normal" parthenogenesis is that now female checkered whiptails have been shown capable of crossing their own chromosomes - seemingly eliminating the need for males in a population. Another interesting note is that in some species exhibiting parthenogenesis, courting behaviors are still observed, even when no males are present. I will be researching this oddity at a later date, but I am gathering that these behaviors increase fecundity (reproductive success) by increasing circulating crucial sex-related hormones released during stimulations associated with courtship (e.g., mounting).

Article - Fire Ant Decapitating Flies

Long time no see. It's busy season here at SU, but I have lots to share.

The topic of the day is like something out of a science-fiction story. Imagine an insect that lays its eggs inside an organism so that its larvae eats its hosts brain from the inside. Sound far-fetched?

Read this article from EcoTone.

Pretty insane, huh? These insects, phorid flies, apparently specifically target imported red fire ants for laying their eggs. They stalk fire ant mounds and oviposit one egg in an ant's thorax where the egg will hatch. The larva goes on to eat the ant-hosts brain causing the ant to wander aimlessly for hours until the larva causes the ant's head to fall off.


Fire ants, as you may know, are not native to the USA, and are quite the stubborn pests. In fact, many scientists believe that their dominance over native harvester ants is partly responsible for the decline of the Texas horned lizard.

Who wants to see this cute face go? Certainly not me - although I believe that there's more to that story (for another post).

A similar article I recently read in the Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine described how the use of phorid flies as a biological control for fire ants is being taken to new heights.
Researchers have been experimenting with phorid flies since 1997, and in April 2009, AgriLife researchers released a species that was raised by a team at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously released species would attack only disturbed mounds, but the new species also targets undisturbed mounds and foraging ants. Other than a minimal amount of nectar consumption by adults, the phorid flies eat only fire ants, and each species of fly exclusively eats a certain species of ant.
That's incredible! These science-heavy phorid flies will now, according to this article, attack fire ants less judiciously and could push their invasive status down to a reasonable level.

Edit: I had uploaded a picture of a Desert Horned Lizard, not a Texas Horned Lizard. Whoops!

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