I thought you might like to see what’s blooming in my yard.
The chili pepper vanda orchid blooms several times a year, and here it goes again. It doesn’t care about government shutdowns; it just does it.
Time for the annual Florida cold-snap post on reptiles, metabolism, and gravity.
Beware the falling iguanas in South Florida.
When temperatures dip into the 30s and 40s, people from West Palm Beach to Miami know to be on the lookout for reptiles stunned — but not necessarily killed — by the cold. They can come back to life again when it warms up.
In Boca Raton, Frank Cerabino, a Palm Beach Post columnist familiar with the critters, stepped outside and saw a bright green specimen by his pool on Thursday morning, feet up.
“It’s one of those ethical things: What do you do?” he said in an interview.
Iguanas, which can be as long as six feet, are not native to South Florida. They have proliferated in the subtropical heat, causing headaches for wildlife managers — and occasionally popping up in toilets. It took a prolonged cold spell to significantly reduce their population in 2010. (The same cold snap also resulted in the deaths of many invasive Burmese pythons.)
Iguanas climb up trees to roost at night, said Ron Magill, communications director for Zoo Miami.
“When the temperature goes down, they literally shut down, and they can no longer hold on to the trees,” he said. “Which is why you get this phenomenon in South Florida that it’s raining iguanas.” (Including on windshields.)
The larger the iguana, the greater its chance of survival, Mr. Magill added.
“Even if they look dead as a doornail — they’re gray and stiff — as soon as it starts to heat up and they get hit by the sun rays, it’s this rejuvenation,” he said. “The ones that survive that cold streak are basically passing on that gene.”
He suspects that, within a couple of decades, iguanas will creep north because they will be able to withstand colder climates.
On Thursday, Mr. Cerabino poked at the animal with his pool skimmer, hoping to wake it up. In a previous backyard encounter with a paralyzed iguana, he said, picking it up with a shovel did the trick.
But no luck this time.
“He didn’t move,” Mr. Cerabino said. “But he’s probably still alive. My experience is that they take a while to die.”
So he opted for leaving the iguana where it was, “and dealing with it when I come home.”
“He’ll either get enough sun where he’ll revive himself and get himself up the tree, or he’ll continue to freeze and turn dark brown — almost black — and I’ll know he’s dead,” Mr. Cerabino said.
The iguana lived.
Now if only the same thing would happen with peacocks: Scoop ’em up and ship ’em out.
Photo by Frank Cerabino/Palm Beach Post, via Associated Press.
I had a wonderful time yesterday with friends at the feast complete with appetizers and the whole turkey lollapalooza. Thank you.
Today will be quiet here; no shopping and no venturing out. If you go, remember where you parked.
Meanwhile, the chili pepper vanda is showing its colors with some new blooms, and the hibiscus is always blooming. Enjoy.
Because I had the windows open overnight, I got to hear a Barred Owl.
The Barred Owl’s hooting call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a classic sound of old forests and treed swamps. But this attractive owl, with soulful brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, can also pass completely unnoticed as it flies noiselessly through the dense canopy or snoozes on a tree limb. Originally a bird of the east, during the twentieth century it spread through the Pacific Northwest and southward into California.
Thanks to my 1962 Field Guide to the Birds and the recordings of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I was able to recognize the distinctive hoots of this bird. I can now add it to my life list.
If you think it’s unusual to hear a denizen of old forests and treed swamps in the suburbs of Miami, remember that I live in a part of the county that still has such growth. And at times when I’m coming to work at my office, which is just north of downtown Miami, I hear roosters crowing in the pre-dawn darkness.
My dendrobium is blooming.
This is the orchid I won at the first Cars in the Garden show at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens three years ago. The great thing about growing orchids in Florida is that it’s their natural habitat. Hang them up in the back yard and let nature take its course.
The Miami Herald reports on the infestation of peacocks in the Miami suburb of Coconut Grove and other neighborhoods, including my own.
Beneath the oak canopy, residents who lived for decades in a cozy, peaceful, jasmine-scented corner of north Coconut Grove walked dogs, tended gardens, exchanged recipes and followed the love-thy-neighbor commandment.
Then the peacocks moved in. And multiplied. When they weren’t fanning their regal plumage they produced prodigious piles of poop. They howled and shrieked at all hours. They pecked at the shiny paint of cars — birdbrains who mistook their reflection for a rival. They ate flowers. They pried off roof shingles. They paraded in packs. They roosted in trees and dug dusty holes in green lawns. They had chicks, who grew into defecating, squawking, scratching, denuding adults.
Double-decker tour buses began rolling through the lush lanes, disgorging passengers who took pictures and dropped cigarette butts in front yards.
Today, the neighborhood stands divided. A nasty feud has pitted those who adore and feed cat food to the pretty peacocks they’ve nicknamed Cookie and Peg Leg Pete against those who loathe and shun the nuisance birds. They have called the cops, accusing neighbors of poisoning or abusing peacocks. They’ve tattled to code enforcement for revenge.
“Arguments, insults, fistfights — it’s out of control, just like the peacock population is out of control,” said Frank Cabreja, former chair of the Coconut Grove Quality of Life Coalition who lives on Natoma Street. “Our street is an example of the conflict between people who think they are cute and people like me who see this as a serious health and hygiene problem. If we were talking about ugly rats instead of beautiful birds, something would be done. Let’s not wait until there’s a horrible incident between emotional neighbors.”
All because of the peacock, or — to use the less sexist term that includes peahens — peafowl, which is the national bird of India, a spectacular creature with its iridescent blue and green coloring, long tail feathers with distinctive eye markings and crowned head that makes it look like a bejeweled invitee to a royal ball.
The peacock was likely introduced to the Grove by homeowners who wanted a stunning yard ornament. They’ve proliferated to Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, up north to El Portal, down south to Palmetto Bay, causing tension wherever they flock.
Nobody from the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County or state seems to know what to do about them because the city is considered a bird sanctuary and county law prohibits tampering with eggs or trapping and removing peafowl unless they are transferred to a protected place.
Even Ron Magill, the Zoo Miami communications director who would never hurt a fly —and would probably build a fly conservation area if he could — does not understand the preoccupation with feeding wild peacocks — an absolute no-no. Like pythons and lionfish, peafowl are non-native species that have upset the equilibrium of nature — and neighborhoods.
“South Florida is a Club Med for exotic, invasive animals,” he said. “People think that instead of a plastic pink flamingo they can have a peacock in their yard. But peacocks do not belong here. They are vectors for disease and parasite transmission, property damage and noise pollution. They have no natural predators. Birds are the most aggressive vertebrates on the planet. Through no fault of their own, these beautiful chickens have become pests.
“Everyone’s heart is in the right place, but even the most passionate animal lover will lose his patience when he slips and falls in peacock feces.”
Cathy Moghari is an animal lover. Her neighbors call her the Peacock Whisperer. At least a dozen peafowl make their home at her home on Crystal Court. They eat sunflower seeds out of her hand and come to her when she clucks her tongue.
“I think of it as a gift to wake up and see these guys in the morning,” said Moghari, calling Blue by name. “It’s kind of a paradise here, and if you can’t bond with nature in the Grove you should live in a high-rise.”
The solution is to round up all the nuisance peafowl and enclose them in the yards of the people in Coconut Grove who feed them. If they love them so much let them have them and see how long it takes for them to get that murderous gleam in their eyes after they scratch the paint off their car or kill their dog.
This week I am staging my own version of Aaron Posner’s play “Stupid Fucking Bird,” a hilarious send-up of Anton Chekhov’s “The Sea Gull” in my driveway. It seems that one of the perpetually in-heat feral peacocks was attacking my Mustang which is parked in the driveway while I am boarding a friend’s car while they have work done on their house.
Peacocks may be beautiful to look at but they are stupid beyond repair. This horny bastard thinks his reflection in the side of my car is a rival, and therefore he attacks it. I caught the befeathered and bewildered Lothario in action, chased him off around the house with a broom (and got in my cardio for the day, thank you), and then dug out the cover that used to protect the Pontiac, hence the tribute to Mr. Goodwrench.
In the meantime I am researching recipes for roast peacock. How about on a bed of wild rice with a side of red cabbage?
Getting your garden ready?
I had a wonderful time yesterday with friends at the feast complete with appetizers and the whole turkey lollapalooza. Thank you.
Today will be quiet here; no shopping and no venturing out. If you go, remember where you parked.
Meanwhile, the chili pepper vanda is showing its colors with some new blooms, and the hibiscus is always blooming. Enjoy.
“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an iguana on the top of the patio enclosure!”
Beautiful creatures; a throwback to the primordial life on the planet, and quite mellow. This one let me take its picture several times, then wandered off to find some lunch. I’ll take them any day over the peacocks who squawk and leave turds the size of baseballs.
PS: Someone once asked if they are dangerous. The only time iguanas pose a danger to humans is when the weather gets cold. They are cold-blooded, and when the temperature dips they become comatose and fall out of the trees and land on a person. It’s happened.
This story is from last year, but I thought I’d share it because it reminds me of two things: first, I used to live in Petoskey, Michigan; named not for the fossils but for the native chief that ruled the area before the white folks — and their fudge — came along; and second, because it’s informative about preserving our natural resources and enforcing the law without getting too dramatic about it.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN — Nearly three months after Tim O’Brien lugged a giant 93-pound Petoskey stone from Lake Michigan, the state has confiscated the rock.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources officers went to O’Brien’s home in Copemish on Wednesday, Dec. 9, to collect the 93-pound rock he found in mid-September.
The reason? Taking it violates a little-known state ordinance, officials say.
Controversy began to erupt over the rock shortly after O’Brien posted a photo of his discovery on Facebook and the find went viral.
Some readers who saw the social media post and subsequent news coverage brought up the prohibition of anyone from taking more than 25 pounds of rock or fossil from state land. The Lake Michigan bottom land is state property.
O’Brien said he was never aware of the ordinance and he never intended to do anything with the Petoskey stone except display it on his lawn.
“I wasn’t going to cut slabs off of it and sell them for $100 a piece,” he said Thursday. “And I’m not trying to rape the land.”
O’Brien talked to a DNR official in September, but it wasn’t clear how the state would handle the situation. He found the stone in shallow water near Northport along the Leelanau Peninsula.
“I really didn’t think they were going to come get it,” he said.
Then on Wednesday, DNR officers showed up at his home. He was not there.
O’Brien said others at the home pointed out the wanted Petoskey stone because it wasn’t obvious to officers which rock in the yard was the right one. The rock looks fairly ordinary in dry conditions.
DNR spokesman Ed Golder said the state took no action over the past three months because it wasn’t an urgent issue. The busy deer season was approaching, and state officials wanted to “thoroughly review the law and facts.”
He described O’Brien as fully cooperative during the investigation.
Golder said a decision was made to confiscate the rock because it did violate the 25-pound limit and “we want to make sure this common, public resource isn’t commercialized.”
He said the 25-pound limit exists to allow rock hounds to take a reasonable amount of public resource, while setting limits so there is enough for everyone to share.
Golder said DNR supervisors eventually plan to put the giant Petoskey stone on display but are looking for an appropriate spot.
Meanwhile, O’Brien said he still plans to pick up stones along the Lake Michigan shoreline. He describes himself as a hobby collector.
One more thing: our family spent many summers in Northport; in fact my parents lived there year-round for fifteen years and we had Petoskey stones everywhere.
HT to AJP.
“It Has To Be Hillary Clinton” — It’s not really a surprise that the New York Times endorses Hillary Clinton, but when the Cincinnati Enquirer, the paper from the city that gave us William Howard Taft and hasn’t endorsed a Democrat in a very long time does it, that’s news.
Presidential elections should be about who’s the best candidate, not who’s the least flawed. Unfortunately, that’s not the case this year.
Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the most unpopular pair of presidential candidates in American history, both have troubled relationships with truth and transparency. Trump, despite all of his bluster about wanting to “make America great again,” has exploited and expanded our internal divisions. Clinton’s arrogance and unwillingness to admit wrongdoing have made her a divisive and distrusted figure as well.
The Enquirer has supported Republicans for president for almost a century – a tradition this editorial board doesn’t take lightly. But this is not a traditional race, and these are not traditional times. Our country needs calm, thoughtful leadership to deal with the challenges we face at home and abroad. We need a leader who will bring out the best in all Americans, not the worst.
That’s why there is only one choice when we elect a president in November: Hillary Clinton.
Clinton is a known commodity with a proven track record of governing. As senator of New York, she earned respect in Congress by working across the aisle and crafting bills with conservative lawmakers. She helped 9/11 first responders get the care they needed after suffering health effects from their time at Ground Zero, and helped expand health care and family leave for military families. Clinton has spent more than 40 years fighting for women’s and children’s rights. As first lady, she unsuccessfully fought for universal health care but helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provides health care to more than 8 million kids today. She has been a proponent of closing the gender wage gap and has stood up for LGBT rights domestically and internationally, including advocating for marriage equality.
Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. He has no history of governance that should engender any confidence from voters. Trump has no foreign policy experience, and the fact that he doesn’t recognize it – instead insisting that, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do” – is even more troubling. His wild threats to blow Iranian ships out of the water if they make rude gestures at U.S. ships is just the type of reckless, cowboy diplomacy Americans should fear from a Trump presidency. Clinton has been criticized as being hawkish but has shown a measured approach to the world’s problems. Do we really want someone in charge of our military and nuclear codes who has an impulse control problem? The fact that so many top military and national security officials are not supporting Trump speaks volumes.
Clinton, meanwhile, was a competent secretary of state, with far stronger diplomatic skills than she gets credit for. Yes, mistakes were made in Benghazi, and it was tragic that four Americans lost their lives in the 2012 terror attacks on the U.S. consulate there. But the incident was never the diabolical conspiracy that Republicans wanted us to believe, and Clinton was absolved of blame after lengthy investigations. As the nation’s top diplomat, Clinton was well-traveled, visiting numerous countries and restoring U.S. influence internationally. She was part of President Barack Obama’s inner circle when the decision was made to go after and kill Osama bin Laden and negotiated U.N. sanctions that led to the Iran nuclear deal.
Her presidential campaign has been an inclusive one, reflected by the diversity of her supporters. She has even moved to the left on health care, expressing a willingness to consider Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer “Medicare for all” health care plan. Clinton has talked about building bridges, not walls, and has a plan to keep immigrant families together with a path to citizenship.
We have our issues with Clinton. Her reluctance to acknowledge her poor judgment in using a private email server and mishandling classified information is troubling. So is her lack of transparency. We were critical of her 275-day streak without a press conference, which just ended this month. And she should have removed herself from or restructured the Clinton Foundation after allegations arose that foreign entities were trading monetary donations for political influence and special access.
But our reservations about Clinton pale in comparison to our fears about Trump.
This editorial board has been consistent in its criticism of his policies and temperament beginning with the Republican primary. We’ve condemned his childish insults; offensive remarks to women, Hispanics and African-Americans; and the way he has played on many Americans’ fears and prejudices to further himself politically. Trump brands himself as an outsider untainted by special interests, but we see a man utterly corrupted by self-interest. His narcissistic bid for the presidency is more about making himself great than America. Trump tears our country and many of its people down with his words so that he can build himself up. What else are we left to believe about a man who tells the American public that he alone can fix what ails us?
While Clinton has been relentlessly challenged about her honesty, Trump was the primary propagator of arguably the biggest lie of the past eight years: that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump has played fast and loose with the support of white supremacist groups. He has praised some of our country’s most dangerous enemies – see Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Saddam Hussein – while insulting a sitting president, our military generals, a Gold Star family and prisoners of war like Sen. John McCain. Of late, Trump has toned down his divisive rhetoric, sticking to carefully constructed scripts and teleprompters. But going two weeks without saying something misogynistic, racist or xenophobic is hardly a qualification for the most important job in the world. Why should anyone believe that a Trump presidency would look markedly different from his offensive, erratic, stance-shifting presidential campaign?
Some believe Trump’s business acumen would make him the better choice to move America’s slow recovery into a full stride. It’s true that he has created jobs, but he also has sent many overseas and left a trail of unpaid contractors in his wake. His refusal to release his tax returns draws into question both Trump’s true income and whether he is paying his fair share of taxes. Even if you consider Trump a successful businessman, running a government is not the same as being the CEO of a company. The United States cannot file bankruptcy to avoid paying its debts.
Trump’s rise through a crowded Republican primary field as well as Sanders’ impressive challenge on the Democratic side make clear that the American people yearn for a change in our current state of politics. However, our country needs to seek thoughtful change, not just change for the sake of change. Four years is plenty of time to do enough damage that it could take America years to recover from, if at all.
In these uncertain times, America needs a brave leader, not bravado. Real solutions, not paper-thin promises. A clear eye toward the future, not a cynical appeal to the good old days.
Hillary Clinton has her faults, certainly, but she has spent a lifetime working to improve the lives of Americans both inside and outside of Washington. It’s time to elect the first female U.S. president – not because she’s a woman, but because she’s hands-down the most qualified choice.
For comparison, Gary Johnson has garnered more newspaper endorsements than Donald Trump.
My Vote — Roger Angell of The New Yorker.
I am late weighing in on this election—late in more ways than one. Monday brought my ninety-sixth birthday, and, come November, I will be casting my nineteenth ballot in a Presidential election. My first came in 1944, when I voted for a fourth term for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, my Commander-in-Chief, with a mail-in ballot from the Central Pacific, where I was a sergeant in the Army Air Force. It was a thrilling moment for me, but not as significant as my vote on November 8th this year, the most important one of my lifetime. My country faces a danger unmatched in our history since the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962, or perhaps since 1943, when the Axis powers held most of Continental Europe, and Imperial Japan controlled the Pacific rim, from the Aleutians to the Solomon Islands, with the outcome of that war still unknown.
The first debate impends, and the odds that Donald Trump may be elected President appear to be narrowing. I will cast my own vote for Hillary Clinton with alacrity and confidence. From the beginning, her life has been devoted to public service and to improving the lives of children and the disadvantaged. She is intelligent, strong, profoundly informed, and extraordinarily experienced in the challenges and risks of our lurching, restlessly altering world and wholly committed to the global commonality. Her well-established connections to minorities may bring some better understanding of our urban and suburban police crisis. I have wished at times that she would be less impatient or distant when questions arrive about her past actions and mistakes, but I see no evidence to support the deep-rooted suspicions that often surround her. I don’t much like the high-level moneyed introductions and contacts surrounding the Clinton Foundation, but cannot find the slightest evidence that any of this has led to something much worse—that she or anyone has illegally profited or that any legislation tilted because of it. Nothing connects or makes sense; it beats me. Ms. Clinton will make a strong and resolute President—at last, a female leader of our own—and, in the end, perhaps a unifying one.
The Trump campaign has been like no other—a tumultuous and near-irresistible reality TV, in which Mr. Trump plays the pouty, despicable, but riveting central character. “I can’t stand him,” people are saying, “but you know, wow, he never stops.”
We know Mr. Trump’s early transgressions by heart: the female reporter who had “blood coming out of her whatever”; the mocking of a physically impaired reporter; the maligning of a judge because of his Mexican parents; the insulting dismissal of the grieving, Gold Star-parent Khans; the promised mass deportation of eleven million—or two million—undocumented immigrants, and more. Each of these remains a disqualifier for a candidate who will represent every one of us, should he win, but we now are almost willing to turn them into colorful little impairments. “Oh, that’s ol’ Donald—that’s the way he is.”
But I stick at a different moment—the lighthearted comment he made when, in early August, an admiring veteran presented him with a replica of his Purple Heart and Mr. Trump said, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.” What? Mr. Trump is saying he wishes that he had joined the armed forces somehow (he had a chance but skimmed out, like so many others of his time) and then had died or been scarred or maimed in combat? This is the dream of a nine-year-old boy, and it impugns the five hundred thousand young Americans who have died in combat in my lifetime, and the many hundreds of thousands more whose lives were altered or shattered by their wounds of war.
I take this personally, representing as I do the last sliver of the sixteen million Americans who served in the military in my war. I had an easy time of it, and was never in combat, but, even so, as I have written, I experienced the loss of more than twenty close friends, classmates, and companions of my youth, who remain young and fresh in memory. I have named them in previous pieces, along with some wounded survivors, like my friend Gardner, an infantry captain who landed at Normandy Beach and fought at Hürtgen Forest and Aachen and the Battle of the Bulge, was twice wounded, had five Campaign stars, and received numerous decorations, including the French Croix de Guerre, but who for the rest of his life would fall into wary silence whenever a thunderstorm announced itself. Also my late brother-in-law Neil, who lay wounded on the field for two days during the battle of Belfort Gap, and who hobbled with a cane all his life, and with two canes near the end. Every American of my generation can supply stories like these, and once learned and tried to forget that, worldwide, seventy million people died in our war.
Mr. Trump was born in 1946, just after this cataclysmic event of our century, and came of age in the nineteen-sixties, when the implications and harshness of war were being debated as never before, but little or none of this seems to have penetrated for him—a candidate who wants to give nuclear arms to Japan and South Korea and wishes to remain unclear about his own inclinations as commander of our nuclear triad. This makes me deeply doubt his avowed concern for our veterans or that he has any sense of their sufferings.
Reservations like this are predictable coming from someone my age, but I will persist, hoping to catch the attention of a few much younger voters, and of those who have not yet made up their minds about this election. I do so by inviting them to share an everyday experience—the middle-of-the-night or caught-in-traffic moment when we find our hovering second thoughts still at hand and waiting: Why did I ever?… What if?… Now I can see… and come to that pause, the unwelcome reconsideration that quiets us and makes us mature. It’s the same thought that Judge Learned Hand wanted posted in every school and church and courthouse in the land: “I beseech ye … think that we may be mistaken.”
Mr. Trump has other drawbacks I haven’t mentioned: his weird fondness for Vladimir Putin; his destruction of the lives and hopes of small investors and contractors unlucky enough to have been involved in his business dealings; his bonkers five-year “birther” campaign, now withdrawn, though without accountability—but never mind all this, for now.
Mr. Trump is endlessly on record as someone who will not back down, who cannot appear to pause or lose. He is a man who must win, stay on the attack, and who thinks, first and last, “How will I look?” This is central, and what comes after it, for me, at times, is concern for what it must be like for anyone who, facing an imperative as dark and unforgiving as this, finds only the narcissist’s mirror for reassurance.
If Donald Trump wins this election, his nights in the White House will very soon resemble those of President Obama. After he bids an early goodnight to his family, he sits alone while he receives and tries to take in floods of information from almost innumerable national and international sources, much of it classified or top secret. His surroundings are stately, but the room is shadowed and silent. There are bits of promising news here and there, but always more bloodshed, sudden alarms, and unexpected lurking dangers. The import of the news is often veiled or contradictory, or simply impenetrable. The night wears on, and may contain brief hours of sleep. There’s time to tweet. A new day is arriving, and with it the latest rush of bad news—another police shooting out West, another suicide bomber in Yemen, and other urgent briefings from a world already caught up in the morning’s difficult events. He needs to respond, but the beginning of this President’s response is always reliably at hand: How will I look?
Rapid Evolution — Menno Schilthuizen on the rapid pace of nature adapting to human civilization.
Amsterdam — A FRIEND recently invited me over to see the blackbird that had taken up residence in a potted plant on her balcony.
Serenely incubating eggs in the inner city, this bird had little in common with its shy, reclusive ancestors that nested in Europe’s forests. Early in the 19th century, probably in Germany, blackbirds began settling in cities. By the mid-20th century, they were hopping around on stoops all over Europe.
Many “wild” bird species — like the peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks and laughing gulls of New York — have set up camp in cities. But the thing about Europe’s urban blackbirds (a relative of the American robin, not to be confused with North American blackbirds, which belong to a different family) is that they are very different from their forest-dwelling relatives. They have stockier bills, sing at a higher pitch (high enough to be heard over the din of traffic), are less likely to migrate (in cities there’s food and warmth year-round), and have less nervous personalities.
For many of these differences, genes are responsible. The birds’ DNA, after 200 years or less of adaptation, has diverged from that of their rural ancestors.
For a long time, biologists thought evolution was a very, very slow process, too tardy to be observed in a human lifetime. But recently, we have come to understand that evolution can happen very quickly, as long as natural selection — the relative benefit that a particular characteristic bestows on its bearer — is strong.
And where else to find such strong natural selection than in the heart of a big city? The urban environment is about as extreme as it gets. Temperatures in the city center can be more than 10 degrees higher than in the surrounding countryside. Traffic causes continuous background noise, a mist of fine dust particles and barriers to movement for any animal that cannot fly or burrow. Much of the city is clad in impervious surfaces of stone, glass, steel and tarmac. There is pollution of soil, water and air, mainly human-derived food sources, and an especially motley crew of local and invasive flora and fauna.
With urban environments expanding all over the world, wildlife and biologists alike are starting to treat the city as a true ecosystem. Many species’ original habitats are being squeezed into annihilation. For them, it’s adapt or die. And field biologists like me are following suit. As we have to travel ever farther to find untouched wilderness, we are beginning to realize that the expanding urban sprawl is perhaps not something to be depressed about, but rather something very exciting, as entirely novel forms of life are evolving right under our noses.
A Fordham University biologist, Jason Munshi-South, studies the populations of white-footed mice marooned in New York City parks. These native mice once lived all over the place. But as the city expanded, they became confined to the small pockets of forest left behind in parks. Thus isolated, the mice in each park began evolving a park-specific genetic blueprint. In some parks, Dr. Munshi-South found mice carrying genes for heavy metal tolerance, probably because soils there are contaminated with lead or chromium. In other parks, the animals have genes for increased immune response — maybe diseases spread more easily in some high-density populations.
French biologists have been studying a daisylike weed called Crepis sancta, which normally produces two kinds of seeds: heavy ones that fall to the floor, and light seeds that drift in the wind for long distances. But in Montpellier, in southern France, C. sancta makes reduced numbers of the airborne seeds. Small wonder: The plants grow in pockets of soil on sidewalks, and any seeds that are carried on the wind are likely to land on concrete. The heavy seeds that land at the parent plant’s feet, on the other hand, are pretty certain to find a patch of fertile soil. So plants genetically predisposed to produce more heavy seeds have been favored by urban evolution.
THERE are more examples: Spiders in Vienna are evolving to build their webs near moth-attracting streetlights. In some cities, moths, in turn, are developing a resistance to the lure of light bulbs. Certain Puerto Rican city lizards are evolving feet that better grip urban surfaces like concrete. Some grass is adapting to the relentless regime of the lawn mower by acquiring a shorter stature.
The most exciting projects are perhaps no longer in faraway forests and canyons, but just there on our doorstep. We evolutionary biologists are trading our expedition gear for subway tickets and studying street grass and house mosquitoes instead of jungle orchids and mountain birds.
And we have millions of city dwellers to help us. Citizen science projects on urban ecology and evolution are springing up everywhere. This year, my students and I will introduce a smartphone app to measure how snail shells in hot inner cities in Europe and North America are evolving lighter colors to shield against overheating. Adeline Murthy of the University of New Mexico used the Christmas Bird Count, an annual census conducted by volunteers, to show that North American cities harbor an avifauna that is pretty much homogenized across the continent. At least 18 bird species are shared by all of them — something not the case in non-urban areas.
In fact, that Christmas data highlights one feature of urban nature that sets it apart from all other ecosystems: globalization. City-adapted wildlife is likely to hitch rides on human transportation and colonize other cities — at least within the same climate zone.
What’s more, as cities continue to grow, they will exchange more goods, people and information over greater distances. So each change in the environment (a particular pollutant, a certain novelty in road construction, a new kind of food source) will spread quickly across the world, and urban wildlife everywhere will be faced with the same novel challenge. Those that evolve adaptations will also easily spread to other cities, leading to a truly globalized urban flora and fauna — continually evolving at breakneck speed to keep up with an increasingly human-dominated world.
Back on my friend’s balcony, I peered through the branches at that nesting blackbird. She returned my stare with one glistening eye, as if to say: “Consider me your Darwin’s finch. And this city is my Galápagos.”
Doonesbury — Adding them up.
It was easy to get them to stand still for the photograph.
I got these for my parents for their 50th anniversary in 1998 because cranes mate for life, as did Mom and Dad. The cranes moved along with them to their new place in Cincinnati and there they put on a little festive decoration for the season.
HT to JeffG166 for sending on the color correction. (You mean Ohio isn’t grey and dreary in December?)