Our Window on Nature

. . . exploring the world around us

Animal Communication

Filed under: Critters — Lowell Christie -- September 7, 2015 @ 12:52 pm

GreatHornedOwlThe coyotes have begun singing outside our window, perhaps chorusing some meaningful message or merely entertaining themselves. It is, however, the season in which the boys and girls begin to look each other over, perhaps to evaluate the other’s contribution to the choir.

Also working the night shift, a pair of great horned owls pass through now and again; he hooting with a voice pitched at one level, his lady’s pitched at another. The night is anything but silent, even though our nearest human neighbor is camped many sites away.

So far as we know, only man uses words to communicate his thoughts; however, even though “lower” animals lack the complex system we call language, they get their point across very well. On a superficial level there doesn’t appear to be much commonality in communication among bats and bees, or among badgers and butterflies, yet these creatures actually send many of the same messages – for good reason. There is an almost universal need for understanding among creatures that establish and defend territories, attract and keep mates, bear young, and, in the case of many species, rear those youngsters until they are mature enough to survive on their own. (Read the rest …)

The Eyes (and the Teeth) Have It

Filed under: Critters — Lowell Christie -- September 1, 2015 @ 8:06 pm

BarnOwl-LHere in our desert campsite, daybreak means that coveys of quail will soon strut in for a morning meal. They dash this way and that while vocalizing cheerfully, competing with the cottontails for the seed that we toss out at first light. It means furry little ground squirrels popping their heads out of their burrows and, if the coast is clear, chasing each other around with just awakened vigor. It means a female coyote who, with her half-grown pup, comes in daily for water. When the coyotes near, other animals scurry for cover.

The morning hours are a time to seek food. There’s no morality in nature; each animal eats that for which its body is designed. Predatory creatures capture and devour other animals, while prey species try to escape becoming a predator’s next meal.

Examining eye placement is one way to determine whether an animal species is more likely to be predator or prey. There are exceptions to this rule, but when an animal’s eyes are situated to the front of the skull facing directly forward, that generally indicates that the animal is a predator – a meat eater. When the eyes are located farther back on the skull, and face more to the side, they indicate that the animal is typically prey. (Read the rest …)

Bats Above

Filed under: Mammals — Lowell Christie -- August 23, 2015 @ 9:05 pm

Big-eared-townsend-fledermausWhile we stroll idly through the campground, swatting mosquitoes and trying to enjoy the last moments of daylight, we’re joined by reinforcements. A pair of fluttering wings begins zigging and zagging above our heads.

Is it an owl? No; its flight pattern is too erratic. Even the most coordinated owl can’t manage such midair acrobatics. Our benefactor turns out to be a bat, a fierce predator of mosquitoes and other night-flying insects. Thanks, buddy; you can join our camping trip anytime.

Although these flying bug hunters are often the subject of horrid childhood fantasies, they are a camper’s good friend. Bats won’t take a bite out of your hide and – campfire tales to the contrary – it would be extraordinary if one came close enough to become tangled in your hair. (Read the rest …)

Nature’s Cleanup Crew

Filed under: Birds — Lowell Christie -- August 17, 2015 @ 7:18 pm

TVs in TreeThe beauty of it sailing,
not flapping, o’er the sky,
The wonder of it perched,
wings spread, hung out to dry.
The strangeness of its habits,
no meat too ripe to eat,
The wrinkles on its naked head,
the weakness of its feet.
No matter which it is,
adolescent or adult, sir,
It’s a marvel of construction,
this amazing turkey vulture.
….Author Unknown

If ever a bird had a face that only its mother could love, it’s the turkey vulture – it has more wrinkles than last year’s apple and not enough pride to cover it all up with feathers. Other than that, vultures are nice birds. (Read the rest …)

Left-Handed Plants And Right-Handed Snails

Filed under: Critters,Plants — Lowell Christie -- August 7, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

Fallen TreeFor the most part, left-handed people occupy the same status as unemployed brothers-in-law – they’re both insulted and ignored. It isn’t enough that automobiles and most tools and machines are built for the convenience of right-handed people, but even the dictionary perpetuates a variety of negative connotations associated with lefthandedness.

The American Heritage Dictionary includes in its definition of the word left-handed the description “awkward; maladroit, of doubtful sincerity; dubious” (as, for example, in a “left-handed compliment”). But while admittedly not the dominant pattern in nature, left-handedness does occur in a variety of living as well as nonliving forms (weather, for example.) (Read the rest …)

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