21 May 2010


Forget about ants, I have a new animal obsession: the beaver.  A few hours ago my Netflix account recommended--based on my interest in Blue Planet and Raising Arizona--that I watch the recently released DVD version of the 1988 IMAX starring the busy semi-aquatic builders. And because I dutifully do everything my Netflix tells me to, I watched it.

Beavers (The Biggest Dam Movie You Ever Saw) was cute; I'll give it that.  But beyond that, the movie is short, and the picture it paints of beaver life is painfully shallow.  It raised a lot more questions than it answered.  I know beavers make dams, but how?  How do they choose the spot?  How do they carry those huge trees?  How do they know where to put the wood?  Do the males and females take on different building roles?  How do they decide where to put their home?  What are the advantages for the beavers of the drastic changes they make in the ecosystem around them?  How do they rebuild when a bear attacks the dam??????????

I was also puzzled by the tameness of the interactions between the beavers, the cameras and the other animals in the film.  Why didn't the bear eat the beaver?  Why didn't the skunk scent the beaver?  How could there possibly be a situation where a beaver fells an aspen with a bear cub still in it????????

05 May 2010

Argentine Pirate Ants

Last night Stephen Colbert interviewed a myrmecologist with a new book out.  If you've glanced even casually at previous Zblog entries you've probably noticed the recent development of a borderline unhealthy fascination (obsession?) with ants--so this was right up my alley.  The myrmecologist was Mark Moffett, (whose surname brings back warm memories of living on Moffett Field when I worked for SETI in 2006), and the book he wrote looked amazing, so if you haven't gotten me a birthday present yet...

Moffett announced that California was being invaded by Argentine Ants (Linepithema humile) who are terrific at stowing away on boats.  Colbert took this to indicate that these were "Pirate Ants."  But if my sources are correct (and Johnny Depp is rarely wrong), pirates are rarely stowaways, preferring instead to make their presence felt quite dramatically. These ants are more like armies of conquistadores than simple pirates.  They come, they detect chemical signals, they conquer.