Of Gulliverian parrots and Lilliputian eagles: size changes on islands

This is the ninth post in the Specimen Tales series Anand Krishnan writes ~ The biogeography of islands has long fascinated scientists. The faunal diversity in the Galapagos Islands and the Malay archipelago, respectively, provided the impetus for Darwin and Wallace to propose their theories on the evolution of species. Birds typically arrive on islands by volant colonization (a fancy way of saying they flew there), and may then evolve different forms from their mainland ancestors. The work of J. Bristol Foster, Ted Case and others has related changes in size on islands to (among other things), the presence of … Continue reading Of Gulliverian parrots and Lilliputian eagles: size changes on islands

Divergent morphological and acoustic traits in sympatric communities of Asian barbets

Priya Tamma ~ What allows many species of barbets to co-occur? Our world is extraordinarily diverse, and birds are a perfect example of that. There are about 10000 species of birds in the world. Yes, 10000! In the Peruvian Amazon, up to 575 species of birds may occupy just 5500 hectares of rainforest. That is an astounding number of species packed into one small area. It is quite incredible that so many species coexist in the world, whether 500 in the Amazon or 30 in the Sahara desert. Do they not compete for food or for other resources? The organization … Continue reading Divergent morphological and acoustic traits in sympatric communities of Asian barbets

Species up a mountain

After a short hiatus, we are back! Anand Krishnan continues with the next post in his series Specimen Tales ~ In continuation with the previous post’s theme of how species distribute themselves, we deal here with altitudinal separation of species. Many species tend to replace each other over a gradient of elevations, such as that of the Andes of South America. Habitat types change as altitude increases; forests decrease in height, average temperatures are lower, and overall species diversity decreases as fewer and fewer lowland species can make it all the way up a high mountain. In many cases among birds, the … Continue reading Species up a mountain

It’s a magpie! It’s a vulture! No, it’s a bald crow!

This is the seventh post in the series Specimen tales Anand Krishnan writes ~ In continuation of the last post’s theme of evolutionarily “odd” birds, we will, in this post, discuss another family of paradoxical birds, this time from the rainforests of West and Central Africa. The Picathartidae, or rockfowl, comprise two species found in the Lower and Upper Guinean rainforests of Africa, where they nest in small colonies on rock surfaces such as cave walls (hence the common name). The scientific name Picathartes is literally a portmanteau of Pica (magpie) and Cathartes (vulture), which goes to show just how confusing … Continue reading It’s a magpie! It’s a vulture! No, it’s a bald crow!

How odd…

This is the sixth post in the series Specimen tales Anand Krishnan writes ~ A fundamental objective of the classification and scientific description of animals is the need to understand how they all relate to one another. This is crucial to deciphering the evolutionary tree of life; to sustain our planet’s biodiversity, we must first understand how it came to be. In continuation of the last post’s musings on scientific names, I will here elaborate again on scientific names, this time, ones that reflect the supposed relationships or characters of the species under discussion. For example, the epithet corvina may … Continue reading How odd…

The power of beauty

This is the fifth post in the series Specimen Tales Anand Krishnan writes ~ In meditating upon birds, one of the first thoughts to spring to most people’s minds is their beauty. For many, this beauty may arise simply in the mannerisms of the bird, a simple, understated elegance. Most commonly, however, our perceptions of avian beauty are tied largely to color, the varying hues of plumage that span a large proportion of the visible spectrum of light (and even the ultraviolet!). Many families of birds are gorgeously patterned in contrasting colors, with elaborate ornamentation. This has, in the past and … Continue reading The power of beauty

Yin and Yang: A tale of two ibis

Anand Krishnan writes the next story as part of Specimen Tales ~ Today, we tackle two birds, similar, yet different. Both birds are ibis, with long, curved probing beaks, and both stand out within this family in sporting a punk hairdo: bald skin at the front of the head, and a frill of feathers behind it.  Both are cultural symbols in their respective ranges, and both, sadly, have dramatically declined to near-extinction. That, however, is where the similarities end, as the two are markedly different both in plumage, and in the habitats they inhabit. The following is a discussion of the … Continue reading Yin and Yang: A tale of two ibis

Sand and snow: Wings in the desert

Our third story in the series Specimen Tales Anand Krishnan writes ~ Birds have colonized some of the most inhospitable environments on earth, and deserts are no exception. The sandgrouse are one of those Afro-Asiatic bird families that symbolize just how birds may adapt to these extreme environments. Famed for their specially adapted breast feathers, which enable adult birds to soak up water and transport it for many kilometers to their young, few other birds are as symbolic of the arid, windswept deserts. Several species of the family Pteroclidae are adapted to breed in the hottest deserts on earth, a fact … Continue reading Sand and snow: Wings in the desert

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

Tale from a museum

Series: Specimen Tales Anand Krishnan ~ Museums are a treasure trove of the extraordinary, the bizarre, and often, the forgotten. They present us with snapshots frozen in time, of places bygone and also of those unseen sights that few of us will ever experience in real life. Natural history museums are a comprehensive repository of earth’s biodiversity, with thousands of specimens collected together from far-flung areas of the world. Scientists and naturalists in the heyday of specimen collecting were obsessed with cataloguing and describing as much of the earth’s biodiversity as possible. Today, natural history collections retain immense and immeasurable … Continue reading Tale from a museum