Tarantula hawks, beneficial beavers and the mollusk option

Human Burnout “The trends in Vital Signs 2007-2008 make it overwhelmingly clear that while Earth itself is almost certainly not dying, many of the planet’s ecological systems are. And the…

November 15, 2007 | | Back Issues | Countryside Digest | Departments | Environment | Winter 2007

Human Burnout

“The trends in Vital Signs 2007-2008 make it overwhelmingly clear that while Earth itself is almost certainly not dying, many of the planet’s ecological systems are. And the names of the people killing them include political leaders, corporate executives, and millions of ordinary people who are part of an unsustainable consumer economy. It is increasingly clear that if we follow our current path much longer it will likely take Earth millennia to recover from the devastation we have caused. One entity among the thousands may not make it through this global change: human civilization.” Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs 2007-2008, WorldWatch Institute.

Memories of Eden

“For a sense of how the world would go on without us, among other places we must look at the world before us. We’re not time travellers, and the fossil record is only a fragmentary sampling. But even if that record were complete, the future won’t perfectly mirror the past. We’ve ground some species so thoroughly into extinction that they, or their DNA, will likely never spring back. Since some things we’ve done are likely irrevocable, what would remain in our absence would not be the same planet had we never evolved in the first place.

Yet it might not be so different, either. Nature has been through worse losses before, and filled empty niches. And even today, there are still a few earthly spots where all our senses can inhale a living memory of this Eden before we were here. Inevitably they invite us to wonder how nature might flourish if given the chance.” From The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman (HarperCollins, 2007).

To Be Sure

“At one of my recent talks, a man in the audience informed me that a belief in climate change is a religion, and that I am its Billy Graham. He pointed out that temperatures on Mars have risen: could that be because of all the people driving their SUVs there? Well, full marks for originality: I haven’t heard that one more than 100 times since the Martian data was published. But instead of trying to argue with him, this time I asked a question: what would it take to convince you that man-made climate change is taking place?

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘The climate has always changed. This is just another natural cycle.’

‘So, even if every scientist of every kind and every persuasion agreed that man-made climate change is happening, you would still place your own opinion above theirs?’


From “Climate Change Deniers Close Minds to Science,” by George Monbiot, in CCPA Monitor, Sept/07.


“The U.S. alone unrolls some 45 billion square metres of plastic wrap a year – nearly enough to cover a casserole the size of Nova Scotia.” From “You’ll have Another Reason to Avoid Leftovers,” by Patrick White, in Report on Business, Nov/07.

Parting Shot

“Jack Daniels whiskey may also be affected by global warming. The whiskey’s distillery in Tennessee has warned it may have to reduce or suspend production because its iron-free spring waters, the basis of its unique character, are flowing as much as two-thirds below normal.” Hugh Daubney, in Seeds of Diversity, Autumn/07.

First Pick

“My vote for the simplest object of all goes to one that is made of a single material, has a single part and is intended (at least originally) for a single purpose, from which it gets its name: the toothpick. This humble tool, so familiar as to be generally unremarkable, can be made by an idle boy with a stick and a jackknife.

“Anthropologists believe, based on the existence of nearly 2-million-year-old hominin fossil teeth bearing distinct grooves, that picking the teeth represents the earliest use of a nonlithic tool and is mankind’s oldest habit. The grooves may have resulted from the repeated and prolonged use of grass stalks containing hard silica particles.” From “The Simplest Thing,” by Henry Petroski, in American Scientist, Nov-Dec/07.

Smart Pick

“Just as meat that originates in a factory farm is different from meat that comes from animals raised on pasture, the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ seafood are many. For example, fish farming that focusses on large, carnivorous species like salmon and tuna consumes many times more fish in the form of feed than it yields for human consumption. Alternatively, raising fish that is low in the food chain, such as clams, scallops, and other mollusks, can provide healthy seafood without any feeds.” From Brian Halweil’s preface to “Oceans in Peril,” WorldWatch Report 174/07.

Sting Scale (1-4)

“At level 4 are tarantula hawks (Pepsis wasps), which immobilize tarantulas with a sting before laying eggs in them. To a human, this sting is like a high-voltage electric shock, unimaginably excruciating and debilitating. Fortunately, the pain subsides in minutes. Also at 4 are warrior wasps (Synoeca), which inflict a pain so unrelenting you can think of nothing else for a couple of hours. Yet nothing rivals the sting of the bullet ant (Parponera clavata), which causes wave after wave of burning, throbbing all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours – bad enough to warrant a 4+.” From New Scientist, Aug 18/07.

Beaver Tale

“Accepting beavers as neighbours is one thing, but many experts now believe we should be actively promoting their spread into their former ranges. For a start, they say, beavers bring ecological benefits by creating ponds upstream of their dams – instant wetlands recreating those destroyed through centuries of drainage campaigns.

In the Adirondack mountains of New York, the wetland habitats created by beavers along river banks are rich in plants found nowhere else. In Alaska, a remarkable diversity of mosses find home in beaver ‘meadows’ – micro-landscapes of pits and hummocks formed on the site of abandoned beaver ponds. Beaver ‘ghost towns’ are also a familiar feature in these wetlands because beavers move along when their preferred food plants are depleted, allowing vegetation to regenerate. In the process they become agents for renewal, helping to create dynamic, biodiverse landscapes.” From “Don’t Fear the Beaver,” by Gail Vines, in New Scientist, Aug 25/07.

Countryside Credo

“It’s not a single idea, but many ideas and attitudes, including a reverence for nature and a preference for country life; a desire for maximum personal self-reliance and creative leisure; a concern for family nurture and community cohesion; a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money; a certain nostalgia for the supposed simplicities of the past and an anxiety about the technological and bureaucratic complexities of the present and the future; and a taste for the plain and functional.” From “Our Philosophy,” in Countryside and Small Stock Journal, Sept-Oct/07.

About the Author More by Douglas G. Pearce

Douglas G. Pearce is a retired scientist who lives in Mono, you can read more miscellany in other issues of Countryside Digest.

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