31 August 2007

Spineless with Pride

Leeches, though short, stand straight as a steeple.
And mantids? Nought need to be said.
It's an oner misnomer when vertebral types
"stand up for" as if they were dead.

Female "spiny bark" mantid Gyromantis (?), Amorphoscelidae-Paraoxypilinae family

30 August 2007


Hardenbergia violacea, otherwise known as False (or Native) Sarsaparilla and Purple Coral Pea

Many variants have been developed for gardens, but though they have many more thick-lipped flowers, they are not as lovely and delicate looking at all. Nor do they have that contrast that the natives do, now blossoming in the midst of acacias inflorescing to rival the sun.

26 August 2007

The Chosen

It is a feature of successful religions, that they bring together disparates under a roof of common beliefs, as long as all believers feel bound together by their specialness in the scheme of things. As the most successful religion of all time, the Congregation of the Specially Favoured counts both its disparates and their great range of specialnesses, in spades.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the growth rate of membership is nothing short of spectacular. Just now, perhaps four million souls joined, but depending on your definition of now, the figure could just as easily be forty billion. And of disparates who are qualified for induction--the Favoured but still unaware--no one knows the number. Our outworkers find new communities each day.

The Great Most and Her Beadles rule on eligibility to join the congregation, as well as confer Sainthood and Martyrdom.

The Great Most also presides over the nightly Mass. Tonight as usual, the church is packed with the faithful.

"Let us all bow to the Gods," the Great Most intones. The little priest at her side trembles in awe, not at the Great Most's size, which is only 20 times that of the little priest himself, but at the authority of the Great Most, her ancestry's Most Favoured status with the Gods--and most of all, at the priest's proximity to the life-size statue of a God, looming behind the Great Most--a statue of which the priest can only see the lowest stratum.

"Prostrate yourselves," the Great Most commands. And the members of the congregation in their disparateness, fling, squat, stay put, burrow lower, remain virtually motionless, or at least delay dividing themselves for a moment of reverence.

"You may stand," and again, members obey in their own ways. "Now let us offer the Prayer of Thanks."

The little priest's voice is drowned out by those of the congregation. His own family's motto is a common one, and it is easy to hear why, as their identifiable squeaks can be discerned from the mass as easily as that of that of the Argentines. But the Argentines are stronger, as they follow the motto with unique scrupulousness. While the priest's family still fights with relatives from other houses, United We Stand applies, as far as the Argentines are concerned, to all Argentine ants--a factor that makes them respected by more than a few other members of the congregation.

As to the priest, he could have killed the Great Most by stinging her multiple times. But the priest doesn't think as a loner, and would only kill the Great Most if he met the her outside church, and the priest's fire ant family were around to murder the Great Most, same as they would any other cockroach--as a group effort.

For her part, The Great Most regards the priest, as many other members of the congregation, as individuals not to be socialized with in the community at large. The rambunctious and lascivious toads in the congregation would like to make short, scrumptious work of the Great Most. In fact, they adore her kind; but they defer to the cockroach's status as the Most Favoured.

And besides, members never squabble or look on each other as food in the Place of Worship. On the contrary, goodish manners are the rule.

"We give thanks to the Gods." The voices sing out the memorized phrases. ". . . for they provide us with shelter. They succour us against the harshness of the seasons. They provide us with food. They lead us into new places. They nurse us with medications. They strengthen our populations by destroying our weak ones, so that the weak may not hold back the progress of our generations."

The congregation is solemn as each thinks of the fallen. "Let us thank our martyrs who died so that we might live, stronger and more fruitful than they ever dreamed possible. Thanks be to the Gods, who are building our numbers to the multitudes. Oh, Humans. Hallow will be they name."

And the congregation in a multitude of clicks, clatters, vibrations, scents, colours, and other signals, ends the prayer with "Amen."


About one hundred grandmothers ago for the Great Most, the church was established, when it became clear that for the Chosen, the world had entered the Age of Special Attention, and to keep this paradisiacal Age going for as long possible, it would be a good idea to give praise to the Gods as they deserved.

The Gods must be pleased with the praise, as the skies still rain blessings daily on the Favoured Ones' behalf, and new health programs are constantly being introduced. Now, only the strong reproduce, and they parent even stronger offspring. Today, the congregation can look around at its members and see health, strength, toughness, and reproductive vitality glowing from every body.

Cockroaches, mosquitoes, corn borers, cotton weevils, fruit flies, and many ant communities all sit in the front pew as some of the Gods' Most Loved. But many other communities have been also Chosen for Special Treatment. Bred and spread: the lacewings, ladybugs, mantids, and dungbeetles all lounge on the bench in high status.

Assisted migration has helped others. Zebra mussels have been transported to America's Great Lakes. Crown of thorns starfish have been dropped in the playground of the Great Barrier Reef. The diaphanously lovely comb jellies Mnemiopsis leidyi from America are relatively new church members, and revel in their distinction of having two lush new homes that the Gods have chosen for them--the Black Sea where they have thrived, and their even more spectacular new territory: the Caspian Sea.

Those lascivious cane toads squat smugly in centre of the first pew--regarded as they are, in almost Most Favoured status. The toads had been having a mundane existence in South America. The Gods saw, and gave them a whole new continent--Australia. An even better environment than their original home, they now have no enemies, and eat and reproduce so massively that they fornicate just for the lazy joy of it.

Tonight, as every night, good will reigns during the service. The Great Most delivers the sermon, and it is a familiar theme: The Strong Will Inherit the Earth.

At regular intervals, the congregation breaks in with a rousing chorus of "and may unbelievers be sacrificed."

The Great Most ends the sermon with the usual "Blessed be the Humans who have chosen us above all." She then presides over the sacrifice. They all look forward to the sacrifice part. Naturally, no member of a community that is part of the congregation may be sacrificed. But that still leaves many who qualify. There are, for instance, few four-legged or feathered animals, and practically no fish, who are members. Among the many communities, belief in the Church is influenced by personal experience and family lore. It ranges from fervent belief (rats fall into this category), to agnostic, atheist, to communities that regard the Congregation of the Specially Chosen--as nothing short of devil worshippers. Those communities with these extremist views often disappear.


Tonight's sacrifice is particularly successful, as the sacrificial subject heartily disagreed with the views of the Church, and resisted her role in tonight's worship with squawks that could be heard clearly even to the last rows. When all have finished relishing the ceremony, it is time for the last part of the service: the Induction of new members.

Recently there have been so many communities welcomed that this formerly exciting part has become less solemn, time for a bit of raillery by the more restless members. The Great Most permits this, as she wants to keep her popularity with the congregation. She retires to her throne by the pulpit.

The inductions are conducted by the little priest who must take the brunt of the congregation's heckling, while the Great Most looks benignly on.

"Let us welcome the parasitic phorid flies from Brazil," squeaks the little priest. But no one hears "from Brazil," as laughter drowns out the priest's words. His body quakes, his fear-scent molecules ooze a dense fog.

"Ha ha ha, crick crick, hee, urqu, scruffle, pt pt pt," the congregation giggles in unleashed merriment over the priest's discomfiture.

The little fire ant can't help himself, and blurts out a drop from his rear sting. This only sets the congregation off more as they look around at the community to which the little priest belongs. All his close fire ant relatives look decidedly unhappy.

"Tell us, tell us, how you were Chosen," the congregation yells out to the phorid flies.

"We are being bred in one of the Gods' palaces," announces the lead fly proudly.

This is indeed a singular Choosing, and the congregation is suitably awed.

"We'll cost three dollars each," piped up a rather immodest member of this new elite.

A sibling of the priest's, a gloomy fire ant from southern North America, speaks up. "The Gods mustn't love us any more. That palace where all the phorid fly babies will be born is right near me. I heard the farmer say what he's going to buy them for, and that farmer is no friend of us fire ants. He's going to settle a bunch of phorid flies on his farm so they can go around to ants like me, and . . . Ugh! I can feel what one of them will do to me now. I heard the farmer say it . . . and laugh! Some fly will pierce my body and lay an egg inside, and then its larva will move into my head, and my head will fall off, but that larva will feed off me till it's finished. What a parasite!"

The congregation breaks into chittering laughter again, now that they know what the priest is worried about. But at a sign from the phorid flies, everyone shuts up. This is juicy, and no one wants to miss anything.

The head phorid fly speaks to the priest. "You heard that story, but I wouldn't worry too much." His tone isn't really reassuring. More of a gloat. He waves his hand to stop the heckling of "You don't have that great tropical taste any more," directed from the phorid flies to the now North American fire ants.

"Travel broadens the mind," the head fly preaches in a somewhat superior tone directed at the fire ant priest, who now feels insulted. "Actually," the fly brags. "We've been Chosen, all right," and he looks at the priest's family, ". . . and we'll be your neighbours, it is true. But," the fly says, and he puffs himself up to his greatest size, still a fraction of that of the little priest. " . . . we think we can do better than concentrating on just your kind for dinner."

And suddenly the church air shimmers with a fervour of phorid fly voices uplifted. "Blessed be the Gods who are setting us up in Paradise."

At this point, the Great Most rises again from her throne, and the congregation becomes silent in respect.

"Let us now sing the final hymn . . ."

The service ends, and the members of the congregation in their great disparateness leave as quickly as they had arrived--wheat and water hyacinth, golden delicious and golden staph, starling and knotweed and Colorado potato beetle, and tuberculosis, and the rectangular potato and unsquishable tomato and the doddery old damask rose. With a hop, slip, and a waft, they disappear.

There are only two devout members left standing at the door--a magnificent Arabian stallion, and a huge, fluffy ragdoll cat.

"Lovely service as usual," says the horse to the cat.

"But you must admit, even better when it ends," smiles the cat to the horse.

And bending their heads in bliss, they each bite the bejesus out of a few over-friendly parishioners.

“The Chosen” copyright © Anna Tambour, was originally published in Elsevier Science's HMS Beagle: The BioMedNet Magazine (www.hmsbeagle.com), Issue 102, May, 2001, and also appears in Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales &, Prime, 2003.

23 August 2007

on the Science Fiction Awards Watch

"Well, there are few things that the science fiction community likes to talk about more than awards, so we thought it might be good to have a central place where these conversations can take place."

There are few things I've disliked reading more than the whinge, stab, burn, grizzle and gripe about awards.

It's impractical to hand out bottles of Gripe Water, and there are so many people with so much worthwhile to say, so the
Science Fiction Awards Watch gets a virtual comfit from me.
I'm all for fostering civilized discussion of books (hell, civilised discussion of anything!) in an atmosphere of relative calm.

And hmmm.....There is another reason I like this Watch idea. There is, enough that I have noticed (which means the occurrence is at least sometimes and possibly often) a huge gap between public praise for something and/or someone (and the ensuing raining of awards) and private judgement as expressed in one-to-one, really private discussion. If praise and awards take on a life of their own they develop a sort of flywheel force, with the consequential result (in this world) of great gaseous goops growing, turning into spinning clouds of eartia, which are pretty but ultimately unhealthy for anyone; and when the small ones choke on this, it's not enough to pat them on the back, and impolite to stab them.

22 August 2007

Saying "The law is an ass" should be made illegal

as an insult to asses, if it were up to me.

Every law is sacred
Instead, there are millions of laws that live despite their worth (and new ones born each day) that are so . . . so . . . ? Forgive me for being lost for words, not being a lawyer, but these laws, only humans could create.

A few of them are listed in Alex Wade's hilariously hawful piece in the The Times (London) titled (incorrectly, I'm sure)
The world's strangest laws

21 August 2007

Moths who astound, confound, and quietly resound

Budak (of the marvelous annotated budak) said, in a comment that you might not see, so I'm posting it here —

Moths are severely underrated.

My friend Arthur, in one trip, found hundreds of bizarre species in Borneo, as recorded here: Moths of Sabah (Borneo).

Meanwhile, the 'Moths of Borneo' project has reached Vol. 18...

Budak has such good taste in species! And there's so much to see in both these sites.

In particular, one perfectly named moth in Arthur's jaw-droppingly weird collection makes me need to ask about its proper name. Is it, or will it be named as aptly? Or will it be named after someone's cousin? or slimy someones of renown? or does its future lie in algorithm?

This brings to mind the reverse problem of a butterfly who was such a thrill to me last summer when I (my other name is M. Mistakikov) thought she might be a Painted Lady. Such a disappointment when I learned she was – horrors! – a Common Brown. But the Common Brown, to those who know, is also, by another name, that alluring and mysterious Heteronympha merope.

Even if some species have been saddled for the term of the life of our species (?) with the names of people who were best forgotten before they were ever known, there must be many species that were named in respect, in fun, in pun.

Do you have any tales of the stories behind those names?

And what do you think is coming? Is this moth, in our future, going to be known as Catalogue Bar Code #LFЖ/8476.003-D?

20 August 2007

More views of that casuarina

The first view was one that I posted a while ago, titled A deformed she-oak by the highway

I'm clueless as to the why of this. These pictures are taken in natural light, though I broke off the whole tree and brought it home to plonk in my forest and take these pictures. Otherwise, it was a spindle on the highway verge. It is less than two metres tall.

17 August 2007

Those spectacular hairy things

Perhaps the hardest part, for those brave folks who become Circus of the Spineless ringleaders, is the job they have introducing. Their challenge is our gain, as they surprise every month, perhaps more than they know.

Roger Butterfield has certainly surprised me with his wonderfilled Circus of the Spineless #23. He starts out talking about this summer in the UK, the wettest since records began, and goes on to say a few words about Yorkshire, where he lives:

The garden is crawling with slugs and snails but, apart from a few hardy bumblebees, there is a distinct shortage of flying insects.
How different to here in southeast Australia where we had the first decent wet in many years. Heavy rains brought out an explosion in the moth population.
As we don't have curtains in my house, each night our windows were thick with what looked like a vertical rain falling upwards, of fluttering males, interspersed with the relatively still bodies of many females. During the day, moths were thick in the shadows on the verandah floor, and on its wooden rails.

Here are two that had spent the previous evening on the window. The male, when held on the palm of my hand, vibrated.

The female laid those eggs as I was taking the picture of the male, not two metres away. The eggs were not laid near a food plant, as I have read that they should be, nor were they dropped in flight, which seems to be the other acceptable behaviour . They were obviously not attached to anything, but rolled free in the breeze.

Was she an anarchist?
uld she be reported to

After laying her eggs, she flew
away, presumably to die free of the prying lens. The male stayed on the post all day. I lost track of him that evening and never found his body amongst the dead. As for their names, don't trust me further than taking my word for them being of the Lepidopteran order. Are they male and female of the same species? I'm guessing maybe as quite a few species are known for dimorphism. What I'll guess with more certainty, however, is that they don't have a common name.

Common names
Australian moths suffer from a lack of common names, as so little is known of them. Moths in the UK and the USA are distinguished by names so charming, the name itself invites curiosity. Who can resist wanting to know the Why of the Feathered Thorn, the Scalloped Oak, the Cinnabar and the Garden Tiger?

In the case of moths as of so many residents of the world, unfamiliarity breeds contempt.

The more people get to know moths, the more it's inevitable that they will earn common names, even for their other life stages. And though those names might be common and below the notice of certain entomologists, the commons will benefit.

Making Moths Count
I'm all for us having a moth count here, as David Attenborough has urged in his capacity as president of Butterfly Conservation in the UK. Actually, I'm very much in favour of having a moth count, partly because I'm crazy about moths. Butterflies get so much more publicity and image, but I think moths are far more subtle, when they're not more spectacular! Take this, you of the club antennas!

The young and the foolish

From the time the first female ANTHELID varia moth flew onto our verandah, I have had all the help, support and encouragement I could ask for. That has been from home, school and the gentlemen from Sydney and Canberra, not to mention the policeman from next door, who assured me I was quite safe collecting the moth traps from the scrub at 4.a.m.because I was "the only silly fool around at that time".
The children in my class and I will continue our study of moths in our area, as much of the scrub close to our city is being cleared for housing.
I am told Port Lincoln is expected to double in size in the next ten years.
I hope that does not mean the moth population will halve in size.

– Lorraine Jenkins, Moths of the West Coast (South Australia)

Also be sure to see one of my favourite sites on the web, the Chew family's Insects of Brisbane!

Feeding the multitude
Needless to say, the verandah with its daily scatter of dead and dying moths attracted magpies and kookaburras who wouldn't have cared if I'd called their food Hymenoptera, or eggplants.

16 August 2007

Keith Brooke makes a heavy play worth falling for

Keith Brooke, that "fool" I interviewed last year when he tilted at the windmills of apathy, is at it again.

This time he is not only a fool, but a dictator. He still thinks that people can make a difference, but he never asked his muscles when he committed them to the Great North Run for the Big Issue Foundation.

He writes:
As some of you know, I've had a pretty rough summer, and the things that have pulled me through are running, writing and my friends - taking up this challenge makes a big difference to me, and your support means a lot to me, as well as to all the people Big Issue help. And if you think I'm making a heavy play for the sympathy vote, too bloomin' right I am!

It's a great cause, and one that fits themes he writes about so well.

By the way, another of Keith's altruistic projects is the huge and excellent infinity plus website that he and Nick Gevers have run for over ten years.

15 August 2007

Bedtime reading to keep you awake: Subterranean Magazine #7

Subterranean #7
Guest Edited by Ellen Datlow

Table of Contents:

  • "Old Mr. Boudreaux" by Lisa Tuttle
  • "The King of the Big Night Hours" by Rick Bowes
  • "Under the Bottom of the Lake" by Jeffrey Ford
  • "City of Night" by Joel Lane and John Pelan
  • "Holiday" by M. Rickert
  • "The Jeweller of Second-Hand Roe" by Anna Tambour
  • "Pirates of the Somali Coast" by Terry Bisson
  • "Vacancy" by Lucius Shepard -- a 27,000 word novella!

14 August 2007

on Trevor J. Hawkeswood, a naturalist's naturalist: Part 1 of 2

30 Jan 2010 — POSTSCRIPT as a preface:
here has been enormous controversy about the scientific rigour of Trevor Hawkeswood and both the integrity and tone of the journal he publishes, so before reading anything by me below, I highly recommend reading The Rogue Taxonomist by Dr. Alex Wild; and then the comments, particularly today's, by "R" in my subsequent posting about Calodema here.

Nowadays, any fool can take a photo of something wonderfully sma
ll, and as I have proved time and again, told what the photo shows, wrongly.

Trevor J. Hawkeswood
has been kind enough to correct my latest adventure in misinformation, and I hope he will again, though he causes me all kinds of inconvenience with his intransigence

I have many portraits that I never put up here because I don't know what they show. Sometimes I am so entranced by the mystery sitter that, after I think I have done enough research to be accurate, I display the portrait and say it is a ......... Hah! Some amateurs tap people like Hawkeswood as if he were a maple, and he gives generously. But this tree of knowledge has legs. Hawkeswood is often in the field. His life is not one bent over trays of dessicated lepidoptera collected decades ago, but out tramping and crouching in the elements where he can be a part of ever-changing ecosystems, as he is sucked and chewed by the spineless themselves.

Hawkeswood's works are so lively and communicative and so much about the living and so much in the tradition of J.H. Fabre and A.R. Wallace and Thomas Belt and Asher E. Treat and George D. Shafer, and W.J. Dakin, and Mabel and Agnes Brewster and Naomi Crouch, and Bert Brunet, and Densey Clyne (and so unlike that of the CSIRO in, say, their two-volume Insects of Australia: A textbook for students and research workers ) that I recently contacted Dr Hawkeswood saying I wanted to write something about him and his works, and would he mind if I called him a naturalist's naturalist **. He said that since it was good enough for Edward O. Wilson to call himself a naturalist, it was good enough for him.

Hawkeswood's latest book:

Spiders of Australia: An Introduction to their Classification, Biology and Distribution
Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria

This superb 264-page guide should be in every public library collection in Australia, and on the shelf of every arachnophile. There have been previous guides to Australian spiders such as Densey Clyne's excellent 1969 work,
A Guide to Australian Spiders, their collection and identification (see also Ed Niewenhuys' Literature List in his excellent Spiders of Australia site) and there is in print now the Green Guide.

However, I think that Hawkeswood's Spiders of Australia is the most useful guide to date. It is not only written to inform and to fascinate, but is presented in the most intelligent manner of any guidebook bar that other classic Tracks, Scats and Other Traces: A Field Guide to Australian Mammals by Barbara Triggs.

The book is beautiful. The full colour pictures are large enough to be easily seen, but not too large so as to make the book unwieldy. The photographs are just what one looks for, living spiders caught the act of living, not grey and grey photos of pinned specimens as fresh as Tutankhamen.

Before photography became a readily available tool, marine biologists relied upon words and drawings to communicate their observations on living organisms to others. Rapid advances in recent years, particularly in the quality of colour film emulsions . . . have made it possible to obtain first-class photographs of living marine animals in their natural environment. . . . The importance of obtaining a photographic record of living marine invertebrates cannot be overemphasised, since on preservation soft-bodied organisms in particular may become so distorted as to be almost unrecognisable to anyone but an expert.
- David and Jennifer George, Marine Life: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Invertebrates in the Sea, Rigby Limited, 1979 (out of print and well worth hunting for)

It might seem that I am stuck on baby-talk language and colour photographs, when the truth is that one of my favourite books shows how a book can be written clearly without dumbing down or shying away from proper terminology, and without containing any but the crudest black-and-white line drawings. Brewster, Brewster and Crouch's Life Stories of Australian Insects (Dymocks Book Arcade Limited, 1946) is completely enthralling and utterly informative, and Hawkeswood's Spiders of Australia follows in this tradition (complete with the evidence of almost insanely patient observation) – vivid writing; sensible, accessible organisation of material, and in Spiders, the addition of those colour photographs that help so much (and a few paintings that though not masterpieces, are quite serviceable).

The index in Spiders of Australia is excellent and non-snooty. In contrast the CSIRO's Insects of Australia index might list a common name (don't bother looking up Emperor gum moth) but does not stoop to give the page number. Instead Insects says, for instance, "fruit flies, see Tephritidae".

There is an excellent glossary in Spiders of Australia (unlike the CSIRO's Insects of Australia, which has none). The way entries are cross-referenced in Spiders of Australia makes using the book efficient and a pleasure. The publisher must be commended, as there has been much thought put into the layout of the book, which is superb. Hawkeswood's language is crisp and clear, informative enough to be used by experts but inclusive enough for the book to spark a life-long interest. The use of colour photographs is an intrinsic part of the book, not a teaser on the back like in the CSIRO's Insects of Australia. Although F. Nanninga's drawings and paintings in Insects of Australia are of the highest quality, and in the case of, say, the illustrations "Eggs of Australian Phasmatodea" and "Ants, workers", more informative than photographs, the claim "Colour illustrations" in the CSIRO's book description is bound to disappoint when one is, for instance, trying to identify Lepidoptera. There are. in fact, 8 pages of colour plates in Insects, all by Nanninga, and beautiful paintings of various insects they are, but they are in the style of the 18 pages of colour plates in my Mirriam-Webster Dictionary of 1966, which never said "Color illustrations!" (The reason I am comparing the two books is that their selling blurbs are so similar.

CSIRO Publishing says: Insects of Australia will be an indispensable work of reference for all entomologists, students and naturalists for many years to come.

Pensoft Publishers says: (Spiders of Australia) is aimed for the scientist, naturalist, student and layperson both in Australia and overseas.)

It is my opinion that Spiders of Australia is indispensable at every level of interest. It is even affordable and portable! As for the CSIRO's Insects of Australia, I don't know who the book is truly useful for as each section is not exhaustive enough to be useful to a specialist and yet the whole is, to this reader, almost aggressively not about the living, natural world, and not really usable in the case of people like me who just want to get close to identifying a moth who didn't stand still long enough to have its veins counted. Furthermore, I fear that to the true student, Insects could put them off the study of the living forever, as the language is so dull in most of the sections (which are of varied quality, having different authors). If one of the great books ever written, Asher E. Treat's Mites of Moths and Butterflies could, from the first page to the last, charm a dilettante like me, there is no excuse not to do as good a service to the Kingdom of Insecta. Trevor J. Hawkeswood does a brilliant service to spiders, as he does to everything he studies and writes about.

Like a warrior
A true naturalist is like a warrior. Much time is spent waiting, and if you fall asleep at the wrong time, it can be over before you know it. Spiders of Australia allows anyone to be an armchair naturalist in comfort, with the assurance that the writer knows what he's talking about. One other feature in Hawkeswood's work (reflected in the large annotated reference section) is his passion for accurate citing, and his respect for the early explorers of the natural kingdoms.

Two recommended booksellers who stock Spiders of Australia
Andrew Isles Natural History Books
NHBS Environment Bookstore

This little "crab spider" (the proper name for the family is Thomisidae) starred in my story "Valley of the Sugars of Salt". Every year she and her sisters make their egg sacks in the calyx of a medlar and you can always see them on guard, though they traverse their globe at the speed of thought. For years she remained nameless, but thanks to Spiders of Australia, I can now get closer to naming her something that I cannot pronounce. Since Hawkeswood gives an excellent description that goes beyond looks, I can now guess with certainty that this spider resembles, but isn't, the Diaea Pilula.

* The problem with Trevor Hawkeswood is not only that he is not available to be tapped for information at the 23:09 call of a mystery cocoon, but that he has refused to allow himself to be zapped with my new Scientist Minimiser, the tool that allows any amateur to compress an expert to the size of a loupe. I promised that I would uncompress him as soon as I had downloaded everything he knows so far, and that the Return command would not impede his field trips and continuing research. Inexplicably intransigent, he refused.

** This naturalist is also a taxonomist, biologist, ecologist, botanist, zoologist, environmental scientist, and entomologist.

on Trevor J. Hawkeswood - Part 2: The swashbuckling knowledge-sharer

10 September 2010 — Post-postscript: This recommendation has proven itself to be rotten, and getting stinkier as time goes on. Please read all the comments below and also, these posts by Dr Alex Wild on his excellent Myrmecos Blog.
I am sorry that the journal Calodema, which had such potential to be a fresh and bravely outspoken voice, has instead become an organ that peals out arguments for the indefensible. All discoveries made must be open to scrutiny, and in the exploration of the most marvelous — species other than ours — the goal should be not numbers, as if the manifest destiny of everyone interested in, say, beetles, should be to stake a claim on every little crawler that comes into one's path.

In the case of frequent contributor to Calodema, Mr. Dewanand Makhan, the rogue in the eye of this storm, it's taken me years to write this more definitive reassessment because the criticisms of him by the scientific community have been polluted by many scientists who pealed out arguments against him that were petty and not relevant, thus obscuring what was and is important. The outrage over naming a new species after members of his family is just silly, when compared by the fates suffered by the slime-mold beetles named after Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. May those entomologists who burdened those innocents with the names of this trio be visited pre-dust by other members of the coleoptera family who can hasten inevitability.

These are the valid criticisms of DM and thus Calodema, in my opinion.
  • DM does not allow scrutiny.
  • DM does not show adequate knowledge of the phylogenetic relationships of species, and even makes many mistakes that show a poor knowledge of anatomy.
  • DM shows an overriding interest in the numbers of species he "discovers", and pretends an expertise level adequate to claim discovery of a peaceable kingdom's-worth of creatures. (My hero, Asher E. Treat, devoted a lifetime to mites of moths and butterflies, and would have considered himself unworthy to say "eureka" to a beetle, even if it had a molybdenum-coated pronotum and elytra that blared "Rule, Brittania" when opened. He would, however, save that beetle, and send it to an expert, specifically, one who is most knowledgeable in the field of coleoptera that sound out prom tunes.)
  • Thus, DM brings the historically important, respectable, and necessary "amateur enthusiast" into disrepute. By publishing the papers of this charlatan and arguing on his behalf, Trevor Hawkeswood has ruined what could be a valuable publication and hurt his own reputation.
I have not removed this post, however, as all of it is healthy in its own way. The discussion, however, is now closed, so for those scientists who look in daily, my apologies for causing stress. Onwards with good science, forever recognising that discovery often comes from mistakes, and many of the best scientists were once thought outrageous, their theories only worth laughing at.

30 Jan 2010 — POSTSCRIPT:
There has been enormous controversy about the scientific integrity of this journal and about Trevor Hawkeswood, so please read the comments, too, especially today's post by "R".

I applaud scientists who uphold the tenets of true science, and have called for those standards to be upheld also, in posts such as "So really. What IS science? Mere miracles?"

So the controversy about Hawkeswood is important insofar as it illustrates how much scientific integrity matters to some scientists.
If only they would speak up more when it comes to "science" in the aid of profits or a well-funded machine of a campaign.
How, for instance, could the Himalaya melt debacle happen?

CALODEMA natural history and biology journal

In my introduction to this unboxable footsore researcher and prolific writer, I didn't touch upon his journal, Calodema, a publication so surprisingly fascinating that I urged him to adjust his subscription prices so that subscriptions are attractive. And they are now, though this is one journal that is worth every issue at full price.

The surprise is that the articles in Calodema (named after the cover
star of Hawkeswood's indispensable though long out of print Beetles of Australia, Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1987) are page-turners, even to this layperson.

The writing in Calodema is never dry, though sometimes it is scorching. There are topics that resound far beyond the world of natural history. One issue, for instance, gave me the excuse I always needed for my habit of reading several things at once. In this case, a book review by K.L. Dunn discussed plagiarism, and the rather sneaky style of plagiarism that he showed was practiced in that book was exactly that of the famed Mrs. Beeton as discussed by Kathryn Hughes in the enlightening book The Short Life & Long Times of Mrs Beeton. Another article in Calodema, by Hawkeswood himself, discusses the process of submission review procedures of another journal--and he doesn't mince words. There is a good deal of irreverence in every issue. J.D. O'Dea dares to bring up "Problems with the Honeybee Dance Language". A series of articles by Dewanand Makhan answered with a good deal of charm, a question that I've never had answered – Where do names come from? Also in that issue are the largest drawings I've ever seen, of
coleoptera male genitalia.

So far, I haven't found an uninteresting page in Calodema, and it's refreshing that the journal is so understandable to someone like me, who enjoys the Janet and John part of Nature, but finds the papers themselves mostly incomprehensible. The first issues of Calodema had a majority of articles authored by Hawkeswood (rightly called a swashbuckler by another scientist who sails the dangerous seas of research and submission), but increasingly there are more (brave?) authors in Calodema, and the journal is truly international. I highly recommend Calodema to everyone with even a smidgen of interest in the world around them.

Sharing knowledge
Although Hawkeswood doesn't blog, his website is a virtual Circus (and not just of the spineless). The site contains an ever-growing body of papers that he has put on for anyone to read. His attitude to knowledge is in the spirit of the open access movement, and his works tie in perfectly with the attitude of The Encyclopedia of Life and Edward O. Wilson, who Hawkeswood calls his "hero".

Hawkeswood actually said to me that he didn't want to hide his investigations, only to "pop off" with the information lost, as some have. Unless he meets the mother of all assassin bugs, we have many years left to enjoy along with Hawkeswood, a literate passion for the natural world.

10 August 2007

The F Queen's advice

The Princess worked so hard,
' You have to face reality,' her mother said.
' When you grow up, you'll still only be a fairy. '

cicada nymph

02 August 2007

They all say Ee! at virii

There's always more than one virus when you want only one, for what do you call them?
Modern linguists view language as a system of rules and processes that generate forms, phonological, lexical, morphological, semantic. A word ''belongs'' to a language by virtue of its participation in the network of those rules. There is no such thing as a Latin, English, Chinese, Hindi word that exists apart from its participation in the rules of a natural language. That being the case, it is natural that the form virus, when borrowed into English, should conform to English rules of pronunication and to English rules of plural formation.

The view of this Latin scholar is that ''virus'' has no attested plural in Latin. It was an unusual, rather rare, indeclinable mass noun. I don't know the actual origin, but most Latin speakers probably thought it was Greek or some other neighboring language.
- from Linguist list, a discussion that goes far beyond the initial question:
Latin / English plural of 'virus'