Bird flocks – the more the merrier!

The vast blue sky, and in it hundreds of thousands of birds have taken wing. They make swift turns and move like they are one. Have you ever wondered how big flocks of birds or big schools of fish are formed? Their coordinated movement has fascinated scientists for long. Today, we have some understanding of how such schools or flocks are maintained, and here is a short summary of a recent paper by Pearce et al in PNAS (Role of projection in the control of bird flocks) that proposes a new model to describe flocking in birds. Many animals show … Continue reading Bird flocks – the more the merrier!

The Art of Ornithology

Our second story in the series Specimen Tales Anand Krishnan~ In the modern era of the Internet, field guides and the ever-burgeoning field of wildlife photography, it isn’t hard for us to get the information we may need on both the appearance of an animal and its posture and behavior in the wild. It is, however, important to remember that this was not always the case. The 19th century saw a rash of wildlife exploration and the description of new forms, and as I mentioned in my last post, these descriptions were based on the collection of specimens for museums. An … Continue reading The Art of Ornithology

The story of an underground hoarder

Imagine a forest rat, scurrying about in the forest in search of food. Forest rats eat different things, but have a particular liking for seeds. These seeds each contain an embryo, sent out by parent plant with enough food reserves to sprout leaves and roots given just enough moisture, oxygen, temperature, and sunlight. These reserves drive rats to seek out seeds on forest floor and hoard them in their private stores. This behavior of rats, affects the survival of seeds, and the manner in which seeds get distributed in forests. To get a sneak-peek into the lives of rodents, we … Continue reading The story of an underground hoarder

The human caravan

We share our houses with a very many different species of plants and animals – some that we want (like our pets), some for which we don’t really care. Many of the latter are species that have made human habitation their home. Are we really a habitat?  It was one of those days – warm one minute and cloudy the next. We sat in the open-air cafeteria, right next to the silver oak plantation on the campus, drinking our mid-morning tea. As we sat talking, we saw a skink dart out from one corner and scamper along the floor. Mabuya … Continue reading The human caravan

Dinner with the Rattuses

I spent the past 8 months capturing small mammals in the tropical paradise that is northeast India. My aim was to study how microhabitats affect small mammal abundance in these forests. One of the rats captured during fieldwork — Rattus andamanensis — was very much like us humans. Before handling any animal, I would treat it with a teeny dose of the anesthetic halothane to minimize handling stress. Most animals sobered up, but trapped R. andamanensis individuals were as colorful as characters at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. In fact, they would fit right in at your dinner table: Portly Grandfather: … Continue reading Dinner with the Rattuses