Monthly Archives: January 2020

Gender differences in toy use: boys play with boy toys, girls with girl toys

Why Evolution Is True

Every parent I know with whom I’ve discussed the issue of sex differences has told me that, if they have children of both sexes, they notice behavioral differences between boys and girls quite early, and these include preferences for which toys they play with. Usually, but not inevitably, boys play with “boy toys” (trucks, trains, guns, soldiers) and girls prefer “girl toys” (dolls, kitchen stuff, tea sets, art stuff). Even when girls are given trucks and boys given dolls, they gravitate to the stereotyped toys. I’m using the classification employed by authors whose work is summarized in the meta-analysis I’m discussing today: the paper by Davis and Hine).

If you’re a hard-core blank-slater, you’ll attribute the toy-use difference to socialization: parents and society somehow influence children about which toys to prefer. If you’re a genetic determinist, you’ll attribute the behavior largely to innate preferences—the result of selection on our ancestors…

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Review of “John Adams” by David McCullough

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

John Adams” is the 2001 narrative biography of our nation’s second president, written by author and historian David McCullough.  Of the seven John Adams biographies in my library, McCullough’s “John Adams” is the most popular by an enormous margin, and is widely considered one of the best presidential biographies ever written.  Among many other accolades, the book received a 2002 Pulitzer Prize.

As my journey through the best presidential biographies swept me from Washington to Adams, I looked forward to this book with great anticipation. Few books in my library have received as many outstanding reviews as this biography.  With all but angels singing the book’s praises, I was only slightly worried about reports of the author’s overly-generous treatment of Adams.  And in the back of my mind, I harbored some suspicion that Adams may not have supplied history much in the way of interesting raw material.

On…

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Amazing patterns of bird flight captured in “ornithography”

Why Evolution Is True

Reader Lenora called my attention to some stunning bird photos on Atlas Obscura, which you can see in the following article (click on screenshot):

Have a look!

Ornithography #153. All photos by Xavi Bou

As author Winnie Lee notes, Bou captures the flight pattern of either single birds or groups of birds by taking videos and then lumping (as I gather) several frames into a single image).

Dark, sinuous lines float in a blue sky. It seems straight out of sci-fi or fantasy—a fantastical spacecraft transitioning into its cloaking shield, or a mythical beast in flight. In reality, it is cranes at Gallocanta Lake in Spain, dozens of them, traveling between where they feed in the fields and where they sleep in the water. It is many frames, compressed to a single moment. Catalan photographer Xavi Bou is fascinated with birds and the challenge of making their flight patterns…

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Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution Is True

In the spirit of last week’s Penguin Appreciation Day, we continue with our series on biologist John Avise’s penguin shots from a recent trip to the Antarctic, the Falklands, and South Georgia. And remember, it’s always Penguin Appreciation Day, as almost all species are endangered by global warming and the breakup of ice. John’s notes and IDs are indented.

Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome), Falkland Islands:

Carrying nesting material:

These penguins had nests interspersed with those of Black-browed Albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophris):

Sitting on two eggs:

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A stunning case of mimicry

Why Evolution Is True

I don’t remember encountering this case of mimicry, but it’s so amazing that, when I became aware of it from a tweet (yes, Twitter has its uses), I decided to give it a post of its own.

First the tweet, sent to me by Matthew. He added, “This is the Iranian viper, as featured in Seven Worlds, One Planet, made by the BBC. Amazing.”

You don’t need to translate the Spanish, though, as the video below tells all. I swear that when I first watched it, I thought there was a real spider crawling on the snake’s back.

The snake…

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Divers give an octopus a new home

Why Evolution Is True

This is incredibly cute: the combination of the kind divers helping a vulnerable little octopus, the way the creature explores the proffered shells with its tiny tentacle, and its final acceptance of a new home. Lovely!

Speaking of new homes, check this one out:

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Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution Is True

Today we feature a couple of photos from the past month or so, all sent by reader Christopher Moss. His captions are indented. The first pictures are of a Mystery Bird.

I’m stumped with this one! Starling sized, thin beak (unlike a grosbeak or finch beak), yellow breast and vent, with a whitish belly. No white lines around the eyes like the yellow breasted chat (and the chat doesn’t have the white edging to the primary wing feathers this one has). The best I can think of is that it might be a female northern oriole, Icterus galbula (aka Baltimore oriole, or Bullock’s oriole for the western race). If it is a northern oriole, it really ought to be in Florida or Mexico by now. But then again, I also have a flock of goldfinches that ought to have gone off to their trailer parks in Florida like good Canadian…

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Coordinated wing-waving in bees

Why Evolution Is True

The tweet at the bottom got me looking for longer videos of this mesmerizing behavior, and I found one (from BBC Earth) on YouTube. The coordinated wing displays are said to deter predators, and I can’t think of any other reason for it, but I wondered if it there really were data showing that it has this effect.  This PLOS One paper, however, shows that the shimmering effect of coordinated wing-waving really does deter wasps from picking honeybees out of the mass on the nest.

Another problem is how the bees manage to synchronize their movements so rapidly. In birds like starlings, which also move and change direction rapidly in similar “waves” during their murmutations, it’s been shown that this movement requires each bird to pay attention to and emulate the movements of six or seven neighboring birds. (Following one neighbor won’t enable such rapid changes.) I’ve put…

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January 16, 1547 – Grand Duke Ivan IV of Muscovy becomes the first Czar of Russia.

European Royal History

January 16, 1547 – Grand Duke Ivan IV of Muscovy becomes the first Czar of Russia, replacing the 264-year-old Grand Duchy of Moscow with the Czardom of Russia.

Ivan IV Vasilyevich (August 25, 1530 – March 28, 1584), commonly known as Ivan the Terrible, or more accurately, “Ivan the Formidable” or “Ivan the Fearsome”, was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547 and the first Czar of Russia from 1547 to 1584.

Ivan IV was the son of Vasili III Ivanovich Grand Prince of Moscow (1479 – 1533) and and his second wife, Elena Glinskaya, daughter of Prince Vasili Lvovich Glinsky from Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Serb Princess Ana Jakšić, member of the Jakšić family.

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Ivan IV, Czar of all the Russia’s.

When Ivan was three years old, his father died from an abscess and inflammation on his leg that developed into blood poisoning. Ivan was proclaimed the Grand…

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Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution Is True

Today we have the second set of bird photos taken by Joe Dickinson on a recent visit to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge in in the California Central Valley near Los Banos (the first set is here). Joe’s captions are indented.

This great blue heron (Ardea herodias)  looks to me like it has some blood on its beak.  Probably scored a gopher or mouse  recently.

This is a yellowlegs, probably lesser (Tringa flavipes).

A congregation of coots (Fulica americana).  I just decided that that is the appropriate collective term for coots.

This and two following, more sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis).

This gives an idea of the number of geese (Anser caerulescens and Chen rossii).  To make a decent photo, I had to crop this to about 1/3 of the line.

And more geese all the way down.

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