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Latest Cal Nat Blog

Snakes have much to teach us

“A snake knows more about what is happening around than any other creature, because it has no ears to listen to gossip — only direct perception.” — Jaggi Vasudev Ever since a serpent encouraged Eve to taste fruits from the tree of knowledge, snakes have been part of the fables, the lore, and culture of...

Reductionism Absurdum

“Since 1995, the median number of natural history-related courses required for a BS degree in biology in US courses has been zero. Zilch. Zip. In other words, the people society depends on to know the most about life — people with college biology degrees — in nearly all cases have no obligation to learn anything...

What defines a desert?

“The desert smells like rain” – Gary Nabhan Rainfall, or rather the lack of rain, defines deserts. The rule of thumb is that if a region typically receives less than 10” (25 cm) of rain, then it is a desert. However, like everything in nature, it is more complicated than that. Aridity might be a...

Deep time thinking helps us interpret our world

“A million years is a short time — the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet's time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.” — John McPhee For many or us, perhaps...

It's Getting Hot Out Here

“Preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known” — Carl Sagan Changes born of a warming planet are evident to anyone and anyone who takes the time to look. Rising sea levels, retreating glaciers, temperature records that are being broken every year, extreme weather events that were once rare but...

The benefit of common names versus Latin names

The naming of species is a critical task allowing us (naturalists and community scientists and other scientists) to know what we are talking about when we say we saw a blue bird today. But was it a Western or an Eastern Bluebird, or was it a Blue Jay, a California Scrub-Jay, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, a Stellar's...

Detecting Climate Change Impacts

“Climate change is the greatest threat to our existence in our short history on this planet. Nobody’s going to buy their way out of its effects.” — Mark Ruffalo “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead...

A different way of knowing

First you have to understand about rain….The gift of rain the Kokkos brings is like a blessing. Snow is a promise. – Virgil Wyaco, Zuni Tribe Virgil’s description a desert is in sharp contrast with the Oxford English Dictionary definition: A dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand, that is characteristically desolate...

Naturalists, Collectors, and iNaturalist

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you” —Frank Lloyd Wright A common trait of young naturalists, or many older naturalists as well, was (and is) a passion for collecting. Rocks, fossils, bones, leaves, seashells or seed pods would fill the empty niches in their rooms. Not too many decades...

The desert is not a sterile landscape

“The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.” - E. O. Wilson The term “habitat” is often misused. Habitats are places where something...

Identifying patterns in nature

“Nature is not more complicated than you think, it is more complicated than you CAN think” ~Frank Edwin Egler Nevertheless, a goal of conservation-minded naturalists is to document and understand nature, at least enough to be able to identify patterns and drivers of biodiversity and abundance, and ideally to then be able to identify problems...

How to think like a mountain

“In wilderness there is the salvation of the world.” — Henry David Thoreau “Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.” — Aldo Leopold This quote comes from Leopold’s essay titled, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” where he relates his epiphany for considering...

The difficulty of naming species

"No term is more difficult to define than 'species,' and on no point are zoologists more divided than as to what should be understood by this word." — H.A. Nicholson (1872) Naming species has given naturalists a common vocabulary that allows us to communicate to each other about broader concepts such as conservation, biodiversity, or...

How lizards communicate with their own species

“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein There is an inherent conflict for many animals: blend in with your surroundings so that predators will not see you, but at the same time make yourself obvious so that you can attract a mate and pass along your genes. Birds...

The color tricks to attract a mate

"The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick." — Charles Darwin Darwin did not disdain peacocks, rather he worried that they represented a serious challenge to his theory of natural selection. How could natural selection result in such gaudy oversized feathers that clearly represented a liability...

What were the effects of the Mountain Fire?

“Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.” — Michael Shermer “From where we stand the rain seems random. If we could stand somewhere else, we would see the order in it.” — Tony Hillerman, Coyote Waits Scientist too are storytellers, pattern seekers...

What are the mechanisms that keep populations in check?

“There is nothing stable in the world; uproar's your only music.” — John Keats In his 1798 book, An Essay on the Principle of Population, using an elegant mathematical model, Thomas Malthus showed that if unchecked, populations will grow exponentially until they consume all available resources. Malthus was focused on humans, but his model applies...

A look at ecological niches — and how they shift

“Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, is limited in act and understanding…” — Francis Bacon For much of humanity, nature appears chaotic — a jumble of plants and animals lacking pattern or reason. Naturalists see the natural world differently. We see patterns and from those patterns we develop expectations (hypotheses) of where we...

The wisdom of nature, as learned from the backyard

“Modern man’s difficulties, dangerous beliefs and feelings ... are caused by his illusions about, and separation from, the natural world” — Benjamin Hoff One positive outcome of the necessary isolation, keeping myself and all those I care about safe and healthy during this pandemic, is that I have been able to gain a deeper appreciation...

How species are named — and how those names change

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." — William Shakespeare Attaching a name, the correct name, to a species is fundamental to the role of a naturalist. How else to communicate to others about where a species occurs, changes in their distribution and abundance, and what role they might play in nature...