From New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Balcombe comes this charming and affecting tale of young Jake, who on his first fishing trip with his grandfather, makes a crucial […]
Winner Of The National Outdoor Book Award | Natural History Literature
From an expert in animal consciousness, a book that will turn the fly on the wall into the elephant in the room.
For most of us, the only thing we know about flies is that they’re annoying, and our usual reaction is to try to kill them. In Super Fly, the myth-busting biologist Jonathan Balcombe shows the order Diptera in all of its diversity, illustrating the essential role that flies play in every ecosystem in the world as pollinators, waste-disposers, predators, and food source; and how flies continue to reshape our understanding of evolution. Along the way, he reintroduces us to familiar foes like the fruit fly and mosquito, and gives us the chance to meet their lesser-known cousins like the Petroleum Fly (the only animal in the world that breeds in crude oil) and the Chocolate Midge (the sole pollinator of the Cacao tree). No matter your outlook on our tiny buzzing neighbors, Super Fly will change the way you look at flies forever.
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A study recently published in a prestigious journal reports a surprise finding: that jumping spiders twitch during sleep in a way that resembles what cats, dogs and other mammals do […]
On July 31, my mother celebrated her 88th birthday. Based on recent discoveries, it is quite possible—even likely—that a fish somewhere turned 88 on the same day. It could have […]
The New York Times Book Review | Hosted by Pamela Paul | July 9, 2021
The Lives of Flies
Jonathan Balcombe talks about “Super Fly” and Marjorie Ingall discusses Holocaust literature for children
The subtitle of Jonathan Balcombe’s new book, “Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects” leads to the first question on this week’s podcast. Why “successful”?
“Their diversity, for one,” Balcombe says. “There’s over 160,000 described species — and it’s important to add that qualifier, ‘described,’ because it’s estimated there may be about five times that many that are undescribed. Insects make up 80 percent of all animal species on the planet, so that says something right there about how incredibly successful they are, and flies are arguably the most species-rich subset of insects. It’s estimated there’s about 20 million flies on earth at any moment for every human who’s on the earth. And they occupy all seven continents.”
Marjorie Ingall visits the podcast this week to discuss her essay about why she finds it troubling that children’s literature focuses so relentlessly on the Holocaust.
To listen to the interview online at The New York Times ~ please click here.
How fishes live and die in the human world. By: Jonathan Balcombe My boyhood relationship to fishes probably was not untypical of other boyhoods, with the possible exception that I […]
In Super Fly Jonathan Balcombe explores the world of the most annoying creature, moving beyond the buzz and drone. Book Review by: Rebecca Giggs – please click here to […]
In our fast-paced, human-centered lives, we are often oblivious to the remarkable capacities of so many animal species, like those of our underwater cousins: fish. Article: The Globe And Mail, […]
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The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins:
About The Book:
Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water?
In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes.
Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish―more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined―we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave.
Fishes Have Feelings Too: The Inner Lives Of Our Underwater Cousins:
When you think about fish, it’s probably at dinnertime.
Author Jonathan Balcombe, on the other hand, spends a lot of time pondering the emotional lives of fish.
Balcombe, who serves as the director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that humans are closer to understanding fish than ever before.
What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins
Jonathan Balcombe Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2016)
More than 30,000 species of fish — about half of all vertebrates — roam global waters. And as ethologist Jonathan Balcombe notes in this engrossing study, breakthroughs are revealing sophisticated piscine behaviours.
Balcombe glides from perception and cognition to tool use, pausing at marvels such as ocular migration in flounders and the capacity of the frillfin goby (Bathygobius soporator) to memorize the topography of the intertidal zone.
While diving off the Micronesian archipelago of Pulau, evolutionary biologist Giacomo Bernardi witnessed something unusual and was lucky enough to capture it on film.
An orange-dotted tuskfish (Choerodon anchorago) uncovered a clam buried in the sand by blowing water at it, picked up the mollusk in its mouth and carried it to a large rock 30 yards away. Then, using several rapid head flicks and well-timed releases, the fish eventually cracked open the clam against the rock.
In the ensuing 20 minutes, the tuskfish ate three clams, using the same sequence of behaviors to smash them.
Interview On: The Colin McEnroe Show (WNPRadio)
Animal rights have come a long way over the last century, providing, of course, we’re not talking about fish. While other vertebrates have slowly been recognized as social, feeling, even sentient beings, fish remain good for three things: owning, catching and eating.
It’s All About Food:
Interview of Jonathan by Caryn Hartglass on 9th June 2016 regarding his latest book, “What A Fish Knows” and related topics.[audio mp3="http://jonathan-balcombe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/AllAboutFood-06072016-jonathan-balcombe.mp3"][/audio]
This morning, still recovering from jetlag, I went for a bike ride as the sun rose on the suburbs north of Washington, DC.
As I cycled through one of the lovely state parks that grace my neighborhood, I spooked a small herd of deer enjoying some browse at the border of a woodland and field.
At first I thought they were accompanied by a domestic dog, until I realized I had seen a piebald white-tailed deer.
Closing The Buffet
Review by Justin Hickey on Open Letters Monthly (June 01, 2016)
In 1949, Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz introduced his concept of the “baby schema,” which theorized that the large eyes, shorter snouts, and round wobbly heads of infant animals trigger caregiving urges in their parents.
That this phenomenon crosses species lines is irrefutable, considering how much time we spend cooing at puppies and kittens—true fur babies—and any adult creature possessing a hint of benign fluffiness.
If Lorenz were alive today, he’d nod in sage commiseration at our vast internet cache of videos and memes celebrating owls, raccoons, pigs, hedgehogs, rabbits, and ducklings (to name a few, in this reviewer’s order of Descending Cuddliness).
How about fishes?
First Published: May 15th, 2016 – The New York Times
In March, two marine biologists published a study of giant manta rays responding to their reflections in a large mirror installed in their aquarium in the Bahamas. The two captive rays circled in front of the mirror, blew bubbles and performed unusual body movements as if checking their reflection. They made no obvious attempt to interact socially with their reflections, suggesting that they did not mistake what they saw as other rays.
The scientists concluded that the mantas seemed to be recognizing their reflections as themselves.
Mirror self-recognition is a big deal. It indicates self-awareness, a mental attribute previously known only among creatures of noted intelligence like great apes, dolphins, elephants and magpies. We don’t usually think of fishes as smart, let alone self-aware.
A recent article by British scientist and author Matt Ridley denies rats the capacity for empathy primarily on the flimsy basis that studies on ants show them helping a distressed fellow ant. As it seems “absurd” to attribute empathic suffering to a social insect, we should not stoop to crediting such feelings to rats either, according to Ridley, and the authors of a recent paper in Biology Letters.
For the record, I have great respect for ants, and I won’t jump to conclusions about their capacities. But why on earth would we use ants as a yardstick for the emotional capacities of rats—a species with a demonstrated capacity for laughter, pessimism, emotional fever, and metacognition (awareness of one’s own knowledge)?
Book Review Of What A Fish Knows:
Paul Taunton’s list of must-read books for June in The National Post includes, “What A Fish Knows”:
It’s a Sunday morning and I’m sitting on my deck in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C., which abuts a magnificent woodland plot.
In the winter one can just see through the naked trees to a field 500 feet beyond. But in summer this space is transformed into a lush green world. Regardless of the season it throngs with life, but it seems that summer days are the busiest. I have the added good fortune of having neighbors who ply the wildlife with a smorgasbord of bird and mammal feeders, so it sometimes looks like rush-hour at Grand Central Station.
This morning I’ve been out here for an hour and as usual there are plenty of little stories unraveling.
This morning as I went to fetch the paper from the front porch of my town-home in suburban Maryland, a neighbor took her dog across the parking area to a central green-space for a morning bathroom break.
I’ve seen this mid-sized, thickly furred canine on her morning ablutions before.
Usually it’s the man of the house who is on the other end of the retractable leash, but in either case, there’s a sense of rush-hour haste to the operation. These folks clearly have jobs to get to and the AM dog shift is all business—I only hope the evening walk is less perfunctory.
What A Fish Knows Puts Fish In The Limelight
Book Review on FanGirl Nation by Jessica Greenlee (June 01, 2016)
Jonathan Balcombe is talking about not only What a Fish Knows but how they know it, what they experience, and the question of whether or not they qualify as self-aware, sentient beings.His answer to that last is an emphatic “yes,” and he has the studies to back his conclusion.
Throughout the book, he examines fish senses, intelligence, social and family lives, and concludes with a chapter on fishing. He also points out that not all fishes are alike and we have not come close to studying the wide variety out there.
The book is fascinating, bringing to light an astonishing number of unexpected revelations about fish.
This morning I went grocery shopping at my local Whole Foods market. Whole Foods is the largest natural foods supermarket chain in the world. I consider people who shop here to be relatively enlightened.
I saw at least six people wearing coats with real fur trim collars.
Fur Fact: the fur industry has staged something of a come-back since it reached its low point in the mid-nineties.
Yesterday as I stepped from the train on my way to a Bach concert, I noticed a house sparrow lying prostrate on the platform next to a rain shelter.
No doubt she had flown into the shelter’s window. Hoping she was just stunned, I picked her up. Alas, she was quite dead.
I stroked the soft feathers on her neck and head, noted the robustness of her pink beak, and admired the perfect symmetry of her tail feathers before depositing her beneath some ground ivy, where ants, flies and other members of nature’s recycling crew might perform their services undisturbed.
House sparrows are commonplace in the United States, and Washington, D.C. is no exception. They lurk in my neighborhood, chirping from eaves, taking shelter beneath cars, and holding noisy palavers inside cedar trees.
The rarity was a fox sparrow, by no means an endangered species, but one of those birds that most people who share its geographic range will go through life with no clue to its existence.
As a bird watcher for over 30 years, I had encountered fox sparrows on just four prior occasions. Through the naked eye, a fox sparrow wouldn’t merit a second glance. A small brown bird flitting furtively in the brush, they are what some might dismiss colloquially as an LBJ.
Through binoculars, “little brown job” resolves into a strikingly handsome creature: eyes ringed with white, arrow-head spots corn-rowed down a snow-white breast and converging into a central spot, and a robust, bi-colored beak. For me, a fox sparrow sighting instantly transforms even the most ordinary nature foray into a memorable event.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures. One of the rewards of being a passionate animal observer in this day and age is the proliferation of video clips that circulate on YouTube and Facebook. These authentic segments of animal lives provide precious glimpses of their emotions, and they often belie common prejudices about animals and nature.
About The Book:
Nature documentaries often depict animal life as a grim struggle for survival, but this visually stunning book opens our eyes to a different, more scientifically up-to-date way of looking at the animal kingdom.
In more than one hundred thirty striking images, The Exultant Ark celebrates the full range of animal experience with dramatic portraits of animal pleasure ranging from the charismatic and familiar to the obscure and bizarre.
What Are Animals Thinking?
Interview Date: Monday 5th April 2010
Interviewer: Nell Boase
Jonathan Balcombe discusses animal emotions and whether non-humans can be virtuous.
His new book Second Nature – The Inner Lives Of Animals is out now.