NHPR and The Music Hall present Writers on a New England Stage with biologist, ecologist and two-time Pulitzer prize-winning author E.O. Wilson. Wilson has spent decades researching some of the biggest scientific riddles of our time - from the origins of human social behavior to saving disappearing species of plants and animals. He’s out with a bold new book that takes on nothing less than The Meaning Of Human Existence. He’ll discuss his ideas on where we came from, what we are and where we’re going.
While hiking on Mount Monadnock this summer, I witnessed an odd phenomenon: nearly-motionless hovering insects with orange-yellow stripes over a dark body suggesting wasps or bees. The tight aerial formation of insects hovered at eye level in a shaft of sunlight over the trail.
The “Hover Flies” - sometimes called “Flower Flies” - belong to a LARGE group in the Order “Diptera” (the true flies). Those in the Family “Syrphidae” have only one pair of wings. All wasps and bees have two pairs of wings.
One of the state’s biggest environmental organizations is finishing the fundraising for a 1,300 acre conservation deal in North Conway. Once it’s finished, the land will be added to the 4,000 existing acres of the Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve, where it will provide recreation for people, and habitat for plants and animals.
But before the conservancy closes the deal it wants to know what it’s getting, and to figure that out it assembled plant and wildlife experts from all over the state for a sort of naturalist marathon.
We wash. We sanitize. We might wash again, just to make sure. But in the end, we will probably allow ourselves to believe that it (whatever it is – a hand, a dish, a children’s toy that the dog confused for its own) is clean enough. We carry on.
At least, some of us do.
This is the time that all the germaphobes out there reading this raise their sanitized hands and say “Me! Me! That toy is not clean. For the love of Clorox – it is not clean!” Was this your reaction? You may be suffering from mysophobia, the fancy term for “fear of germs.”
Today on Word of Mouth we're exploring the macro influences of the micro world. Then 99 Percent Invisible brings us a story about a menacing courthouse. (Perhaps a phantom menacing courthouse?) Finally, a conversation with Josh Ritter, whose album The Beast in its Tracks was recently released.
Listen to the whole show and click Read more for individual segments.
If Valentine's Day alone were not a slippery slope, consider this question: Muskrat Love?
Science long taught its practitioners--biologists in particular--to avoid ascribing human emotions or attributes to animals. But are we not animals ourselves? For the past century, animals were afforded no emotions despite exhibitions of behaviors humans recognize as emotional: anger, revenge, fear, and love.
Humans are vastly more social than most other mammals. Neuroscientists point to the development of our social brain as key to the survival of our species; early humans survived by cooperating with each other in the rearing of children, by hunting in bands, by organizing night watches. A battery of research reveals that people still need people.
Turbo is a big budget, animated, kid’s comedy about a snail’s dream to win the Indy 500, though the movie didn’t do as well as studios had hoped, one ecologist thinks it failed on a different level – accuracy. Fictional talking snail aside, Marlene Zuk argues that Turbo was another example in a long line of movies that misrepresent the biology of the animal kingdom. Marlene Zuk is an evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist and currently teaches at the University of Minnesota. Her recent opinion piece in the L.A. Times: “Animals to Hollywood: Get it Right” discusses the egregious errors filmmakers make when it comes to animals.
Fifteen-thousand years ago, nearly 100 species of large animals known as ‘megafauna’ roamed the amazon forest before going extinct. A team of researchers from oxford and Princeton University studying the ‘megafauna’s’ effects on the ecosystem discovered that they were crucial in maintaining soil fertility. Chris Doughty is currently a lecturer in ecosystem ecology within the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford, and lead author of a recent study: “The Legacy of the Pleistocene Megafauna Extinctions on Nutrient Availability in Amazonia.”
It seems like we’ve been hearing for years about a male birth control pill is in development that will soon be available… so, what’s taking so long? Jalees Rehman is a cell biologist and physician at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He wrote an article for Aeon Magazine discussing what he calls “society’s failure to produce male contraceptive options beyond the condom or the vasectomy,” and spoke with us about the future of the male pill.
“Leaves of three, let it be”…even kids and city slickers know the rhyme for identifying poison ivy… how about poison sumac…or oak? Even experienced hikers can have a tough time separating poisonous plants from harmless vegetation when deep in the woods…Tara Johnson is a field biologist and founder of the e-learning company Naturedigger. Their new app “Rash Plants” provides a comprehensive pocket guide to identifying and dealing with outdoor irritants.
The twinkling fireflies of a summer night bring a little magic. If we think beyond the twinkling, we probably realize it is courtship in progress: the signals of males and females.
There are a couple dozen firefly species in New England, each with a unique series of flashes, from males in flight to females perched below. Beyond the magic, very few people have knowledge of the medical benefits as well: the use of a firefly's light-producing chemicals in bioluminescent imaging.
You’ve likely heard about the seventeen-year cicada, last seen when the Macarena was popular. Long before the insects began to poke out of the ground along the east coast, the species was making headlines for its wacky life cycle. Nature has plenty of examples of biological oddities… science journalist Brandon Keim compiled a list of nature’s strangest life-cycles for Wired magazine.