Blue Skies

Since I mentioned in my last post that my wife and I were expecting our first baby any day, I thought I’d check in to let the world know that our little bundle of joy arrived earlier this month, that mom and baby are both healthy, and that we couldn’t be happier. Not sure when Read More …

Onward and Upward

I recently informed my wife that I was thinking about shutting down this blog. “I thought you shut it down a long time ago,” she replied. It’s hard to argue with the facts. When I started this blog, I rattled off twelve posts in the first two months. By comparison, I’ve published just seven posts Read More …

Virginia from Space

Big shout-out to astronaut Ricky Arnold, who snapped this amazing photograph of Virginia a few hours ago. Most of my family, and most of the people I grew up with, are contained within this single frame. Beautiful, heady stuff.     

Latest from Low Earth Orbit

Since I’ve previously used this blog to write about my admiration for astronauts (links), I thought I’d provide an update on some of the people currently inhabiting the International Space Station. First and foremost, a big shout-out to Iowa-born Peggy Whitson, the current ISS commander who has spent more time in space than any other American, male Read More …

Fly Me to the Moon

You may have missed it given all the other headlines of late, but we have an early candidate for science story of the year. Two weeks ago, Elon Musk announced that his company, SpaceX, had been approached by two as-yet unnamed people who want to visit the Moon on one of his rockets and then return Read More …

Science in the White House

As the Presidency of Barack Hussein Obama draws to a close, I thought I’d remind everyone that he has been a tireless promoter of science for the past eight years. Among other things, he launched the BRAIN Initiative, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and he helped broker a global climate agreement in Paris. He privatized the space industry. He even Read More …

America the Beautiful

I don’t often shill for multi-billion dollar corporations, but the past few weeks have got me thinking about one of my all-time favorite commercials. It’s the now-famous ad for Coca-Cola that features “America the Beautiful” being sung in multiple languages. The commercial irked a surprising number of people when it first aired during the Super Bowl Read More …

Wild Horses at the National Zoo

The so-called wild mustangs who roam the American West are actually descended from domestic animals, and are thus technically feral mustangs. In fact, most of the world’s free-ranging horses are feral, though there is one famous exception. The horses who roam the Mongolian highlands, known to science and history as Przewalski horses, have never consented to Read More …

Basket of Adorables

One of the benefits of studying the history of animals is that you occasionally come across images like this one in the archives. Vermont studio H.C. White and Co. photographed this basket of puppies for the stereoscope in 1906, and the stereo card is now housed at the Library of Congress. In fact, the Library contains Read More …

Panikpah the Survivor

Dogs played a critically important role in late-nineteenth-century polar exploration, but they often paid a steep price for their participation. During one especially treacherous expedition across the “Great Ice” of northern Greenland in 1895, the famed explorer Robert Peary lost 41 out of the 42 dogs he brought with him. The lone survivor, a dog named Panikpah, Read More …

Porcineograph, 1875

Sometimes you discover treasures in the archives on your own, and sometimes it’s through word of mouth. I first learned about this map, titled “Porcineograph (1875),” from Slate Vault, one of my favorite historical resources on the web. The map was commissioned by William Emerson Baker to help promote his belief in hygienic farming. It’s a Read More …

Window to the Soul

In the early nineteenth century, naturalists spent considerable time drawing animal eyes in exquisite detail. My favorite example is featured below (and sampled above). Titian Ramsay Peale drew these “Indian dogs” in the spring of 1820, and his illustration is housed at the American Philosophical Society (link here). If you’d like to learn more about the artist, you’ll be happy to Read More …

Native American dog, 1585

In  1585, approximately 600 prospective colonists left England en route for the New World. Though stormy seas forced them into a brief layover on Puerto Rico, the colonists eventually arrived in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and started building a fort on Roanoke Island. Within five years, the colony and all of its colonists had vanished. The Read More …

Autumnal Equinox

Since today is the autumnal equinox, I though I’d share this cool illustration that I found while exploring the amazing Chronicling America website. I found the image in an old issue of The Times (Richmond, Va.) from September 23, 1900. You can view the image in its original context by clicking here. Meanwhile, if you want to Read More …

Extreme Varieties

Now that Feral Animals in the American South has finally gone to press, I thought I’d make good on my promise to share goodies from the cutting-room floor, and to promote the book with shameless abandon. This magnificent photograph first appeared in Charles Henry Lane’s Dogs Shows and Doggy People (London: Hutchinson & Company, 1902). The Read More …

Sounding the Old Wolf Cry

NOTE: This post first appeared on the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ official blog, The Bigger Picture, on September 14, 2013. Click here to visit the original post. While researching my last blog post on the “mad wolf” who escaped from the National Zoo, I came across an old black-and-white photograph in the Smithsonian Institution Archives that Read More …

Time 100 Animals

In case you missed it, Time magazine recently published its first-ever list of the year’s 100 most influential animals. Absurd? Maybe. Probably. But that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. As one who studies the history of animals for a living, I welcome any effort to shed light on our complicated relationship with other creatures. Especially since those efforts Read More …

Zika and the Olympics

Let me first say that as both a sports fan and a human being, I absolutely love the Olympics. Frankly, I find it inspiring that we the people of planet Earth, all 7,326,969,000 of us, regularly put aside all of our differences so that we may reconvene every four years to play games (read my previous post on the Read More …

“Wild Horses on Core Island” (1946)

Title: “Wild horses fighting on Core Island” Date: 1946 Photographer: Thomas D. McAvoy Source: Life Magazine URL: http://images.google.com/hosted/life/09a92ae45d639b26.html Notes: This photograph was taken in the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the summer of 1946. Despite the photograph’s title, the horse in this image is technically feral rather than wild.

The CRISPR Revolution

I’ve now mentioned CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) gene-editing technology on several different occasions (examples here and here), but I’ve never done a very good job explaining what it is or why it matters. Since I’m convinced that CRISPR will transform the life sciences and, in a sense, Life itself, I thought I’d share some of the links that Read More …

Down to Earth

As you may have already heard, American astronaut Scott Kelly will soon return to Earth, both literally and figuratively, after spending (almost) an entire year aboard the International Space Station. During his lengthy stay in low-Earth orbit, he conducted hundreds of scientific experiments, and was himself subjected to scientific experimentation on a daily basis. Capt. Kelly, who had already Read More …

Global Map of Trees

Around this time last year, I wrote a blog post about a multinational team of scientists that had used high-resolution satellite imagery to count the number of lakes on Earth. Now comes news that another multinational team of scientists has counted the total number of trees. After analyzing hundreds of thousands of ground-sourced measurements from Read More …

Year in Space

Those of you who watched President Obama’s State of the Union address last January may remember the President giving a shout-out to astronaut Scott Kelly, who was preparing to embark on a yearlong mission to the International Space Station. As the President explained at the time, the mission will monitor the effects of extended stays Read More …

First Mission to Pluto

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the New Horizons spacecraft recently streaked past Pluto and is now transmitting data from its close encounter with the distant dwarf-planet planet back home to Earth. It will take NASA scientists a while to decipher all the data, but the first HD images are already pretty impressive. One Read More …

Stars and Bars

I’ve always found it interesting that, for all their sharp differences, evolutionary biologists and young-earth creationists agree on one very important fact: every human alive on Earth today, all 7,255,000,000 of us, belongs to the same family tree. They may differ on the details, but both parties accept as fact that all people are cousins, Read More …

Updates from Space

Given that we’ve seen an avalanche of historic headlines over the past week or so (examples here, here, here, and here), you might not have heard about a slew of interesting developments in outer space. For example, you may recall that the world was ecstatic when the Philae lander bounced onto the surface of Comet Read More …

Tragedy in Charleston

I generally use this blog to write about science, history, or sports, but I am compelled to break my typical silence on current events and acknowledge the recent mass shooting in Charleston. Nothing I could write would do justice to the profundity of the tragedy, so I will instead solemnly direct readers toward several online Read More …

Mountain Gorillas

Few megafaunal species are more iconic than mountain gorillas, and few are now more threatened. According to our best estimates, there are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas left in their home range, the Virunga Mountains of central Africa. Although scientists have monitored these primates for more than fifty years, they have performed surprisingly few genetic Read More …

The View From Here

Yesterday marked 25 years since the Hubble telescope was launched into orbit. After a famously blurry start, more than a few servicing missions, and at least one totally awesome IMAX movie, the telescope has provided reliably amazing images of the universe for more than two decades. To celebrate the achievement, NASA released this gorgeous photograph Read More …

Designer Humans?

Humans have breached yet another taboo, and this time it’s a biggie. Reports are now surfacing that a group of Chinese scientists recently “edited” DNA in human embryos for the first time ever. Utilizing a new method of genetic cultivation based on CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes, the scientists experimented on more than 80 embryos. They dismissed their Read More …

Drought in California

The ongoing drought that has crippled large parts of the American West for the past decade is getting worse all the time. In recognition of this fact, the governor of California recently ordered mandatory water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history. I applaud the governor’s actions, but I can’t help but wonder Read More …

“Go to the Ant…”

If you find yourself anywhere near the Florida panhandle this weekend, you’re free to join me at the Evolution & Ethics conference in Tallahassee. The event was organized by philosophers Michael Ruse and Robert J. Richards, is being hosted by FSU’s world-renowned History and Philosophy of Science program, and will feature speakers from no fewer Read More …

Desert Canaries

If you find yourself anywhere near the nation’s capital this weekend, you’re free to join me at the annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History, where I’ll be giving a talk on the history of feral burros in the American West. If that somehow fails to persuade you, then you can learn about Read More …

Sunsets on Tatooine

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God?” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson Yesterday, astronomers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California made an interesting discovery. While studying an exoplanet in a triple-star system, they Read More …

Selfies in Space

I’m happy to report that yesterday’s spacewalk went off without a hitch, and that American astronauts Barry Wilmore (Commander) and Terry Virts (Flight Engineer) are now safely back inside the International Space Station. The pair completed several tasks during their six-hour spacewalk, including one that is quickly becoming an informal tradition when leaving the ISS: Read More …

Ancient Planets

Another day, another major development in humanity’s rapidly advancing search for Life elsewhere in the universe. You’ll recall from previous posts that scientists have discovered more than 1,700 exoplanets orbiting distant stars over the past few years. Now comes news that astrophysicists have discovered five Earth-sized terrestrial exoplanets that are more than 11 billion years Read More …

Superb Owl XLIX

There’s obviously no use in rehashing the Seahawks’ last play on offense during last night’s Super Bowl XLIX (and props to Marshawn Lynch for taking the high road), so I thought I’d instead draw attention to what I considered the best commercial of the night. During the third quarter, Jeep aired an impressive 90-second spot, Read More …

Land O’ Lakes

Last month, a multinational team of scientists announced that they had determined the number and volume of the world’s many lakes for the first time ever. After analyzing reams of high-resolution satellite imagery, the team reported that there are more than 117 million lakes scattered across the globe, and that lakes cover approximately 3.7 percent Read More …

Astronaut Tweets

In 2009, astronaut Mike Massamino made headlines when he became the first person to ever tweet from space, and, a few months later, astronaut Timothy J. Creamer made additional headlines when he became the first person to ever live tweet from space. At least that’s what I’ve read. Truth be told, I don’t actually remember Read More …

Vaccinating Wild Chimpanzees

The world’s chimpanzee population is shrinking. There are now barely 150,000 chimpanzees left on Earth, fifty-percent fewer than there were just fifty years ago. By comparison, there are now more than 7,181,650,000 humans roaming the planet. There are both scientific and ethical reasons why we should try to save the species with whom we share Read More …

Updates on Titan

Scientists have long identified Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, as one of the most intriguing objects in the immediate celestial neighborhood. For starters, there’s its size. Titan is the second-largest moon in the solar system (behind only Ganymede), and is even larger than Mercury. What’s more, Titan is covered by an unusually thick atmosphere. This feature Read More …

World’s Oldest Skeleton

Scientists have discovered an ancient reef in the unlikeliest of places: the arid plains of southern Namibia. The fossilized reef was produced by coral-like members of the wonderfully named Cloudina genus around 548-million years ago (give or take). These fossils provide the earliest evidence of “skeletonization” among multicellular animals, and they offer scientists a rare Read More …

Through the Strait of Gibraltar

Last week, scientists announced that they had discerned new historical details about one of the planet’s most famous waterways, the Strait of Gibraltar. After analyzing core samples from the Gulf of Cádiz, they confirmed that water began trickling out of the Mediterranean Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean around five-million years ago, that it had Read More …

100 Years Ago Today

If you haven’t already heard, the Library of Congress hosts a great website called Chronicling America that allows visitors to search millions of newspaper articles published between 1836 and 1922. You don’t have to be an historian to realize how cool this is. For example, the website provides a handy little feature that allows users Read More …

Earth from Space… LIVE

Last month, the privately funded Dragon spacecraft delivered the nationally funded High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment to the globally funded International Space Station.  We are all the better for it.  Astronauts have since installed four HD cameras onto the exterior of the International Space Station, thereby providing the rest of us with a LIVE Read More …

Fountain of Youth

Scientists in Palo Alto recently showed that transfusing the protein-rich blood of young mice into the parched veins of old mice can reverse the effects of aging in the latter population. Scientists who conducted the experiments reported that older mice saw dramatic improvements to their hearts, muscles, and brains.  Because mice share certain proteins with Read More …

Manatees in Space

Although I’ve spent most of my adult life studying the history of biology, the people who know me best know that my first love was and always will be astronomy. That’s why I was so excited when I recently came across the image in the overhead banner. The nebula is more than 700 light-years across, Read More …

Hillsides and Hippies

There’s a very good chance that you and everyone you know have probably seen the photograph in the overhead banner hundreds of times.  That’s because Microsoft used the photo as its default desktop wallpaper when it released Windows XP way back in 2001.  This was around the same time that approximately 95% of Americans were Read More …

Evolutionary Stasis

Last month, a team of scientists announced that they had analyzed an “exquisitely preserved” fossilized fern that was more than 180 million years old. They analyzed the calcified fern’s particularly well-preserved stem using a variety of microscopic instruments, and the detail they found was incredible. Every aspect of the fern’s cells had been preserved in Read More …

Lazarus Moss

Located roughly equidistant between Antarctica and South America, Signy Island is one of the most remote, and least hospitable, places on Earth. Half of the island is covered in a permanent ice-cap, and the rest is covered in rocks. Few species can survive these conditions, but among those that do are an incredibly durable population Read More …

Where the Sun Don’t Shine

You may recall that I recently posted a remarkable photograph of the Korean Peninsula at night. Taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, the photograph shows South Korea ablaze in artificial lights, while North Korea is shrouded in almost total darkness. Not long thereafter, Nature published this fascinating article that shed considerable light on Read More …

The Underground Ocean

Last week, a team of scientists announced that they recently discovered a small amount of Ringwoodite ensconced in an otherwise unexceptional diamond from South America.  Led by geochemist Graham Pearson, the team claims that this particular rock formed deep within the Earth’s mantle, and that its existence proves an enormous amount of water lies buried more Read More …

The Hunt for Hogzilla

If you find yourself in the greater San Francisco area this weekend, you’re free to join me at the annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History, where you’ll meet lots of congenial folks who love talking about nature. On Saturday afternoon, I’ll be giving a talk on the nation’s skyrocketing number of feral Read More …

The Verdict Is In

While watching the first episode of Cosmos last night, I found myself wanting to scribble down notes each time Neil deGrasse Tyson effortlessly rattled off an amazing fact about the universe.  That, my friends, is the sign of a good show.  I’m sure there are more comprehensive reviews of the first episode elsewhere on the Read More …

Cosmos Redux

Hard to believe that more than thirty years have passed since Carl Sagan first shared his remarkable labor of love, Cosmos, with the rest of the world.  The thirteen-part miniseries was an instant success and an unlikely cultural phenomenon.  Originally broadcast on public television in 1980, the show spread the gospel of science to hundreds Read More …

Three Blind Mice No More?

Last week, a team of researchers at UC Berkeley announced that they had devised a method of restoring sight in blind mice. Led by molecular biologist Richard H. Kramer, the scientists injected a synthetic chemical directly into the eyes of the blind mice. Doing so restored the eyes’ sensitivity to white light, particularly that part Read More …

Rock of Ages

Scientists have discovered an ancient piece of the Earth on a ranch in western Australia.  Using highly specialized equipment, a team of geochemists led by John W. Valley analyzed a single grain of zircon crystal and determined that the grain is around 4.374 billion years old, give or take a few million years.  That makes Read More …

Dr. Egon Spengler

The world of cinema has lost another great one.  Harold Ramis made some truly great movies over the years.  My personal favorite was Groundhog Day, one of the most profoundly original movies of all time.  You can listen to Ramis reflect on the film’s enduring popularity and spiritual appeal at this link.  Fans of the Read More …

A Nation of Immigrants

“Unless you are one of the first Americans, unless you are a Native American, you came from someplace else.  That’s why we’ve always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants.”  ~ President Barack Obama, March 25, 2013 President Obama made the foregoing remarks during a naturalization ceremony at the White House last spring.  As per Read More …

The Real da Vinci Code

This week, my students will begin learning about some of the strange ways that art and science commingled during the Renaissance.   For example, they’ll learn how Leonardo da Vinci used his considerable artistic gifts to improve our understanding of science and medicine.  It was fortuitous luck that I also just happened to come across Read More …

Superb Owl Preview

    Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you have to admit that the United States is a football nation.  We may still refer to baseball as the national pastime, but there’s no denying that, for the time being, football is our national passion.  And this weekend, yet another exciting season will culminate in Read More …

State of the Union

Like many Americans, I just finished watching President Obama deliver his fifth State of the Union address.  If you’re looking for someone to help you make sense of the speech’s political ramifications, you’ve come to the wrong place.  There are many people who are far more qualified to dissect the President’s comments.  Nevertheless, I thought Read More …

“Please call Stella…”

“I have traveled more than anyone else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent.” ~Mark Twain For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I have always loved accents.  Jersey shore, eastern Tennessee, southern California, South Beach, Louisiana bayou, Fargo, boogie-down Bronx, Liverpool… you name it, I love them all.  It Read More …