The Carnival of Nature

Olivia Judson, a blogger on natural history and evolution for the New York Times has a terrific piece up today about wildlife extinction.  Wandering though a display of extinct animals in the Natural History Museum of Paris, Judson muses:

But to me, whether we need to save other species to save ourselves is not really the point. Each time a species vanishes, the planet becomes a poorer place. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never seen them, if they go extinct without our ever knowing they were here. To live is to participate in the carnival of nature, and the carnival is diminished by the losses.

For there is so much to marvel at. Like the spraying characid — a fish that lays its eggs out of water, jumping to stick them onto leaves that hang down over streams. (The male keeps the eggs wet by splashing them with his tail several times a day.) Or the just-discovered mimic octopus, which can assume the shape, colors and undulating swimming motions of a flat fish like a flounder. When it does so, the octopus even bugs its eyes out, so they look like flounders’ eyes.

Or what about the predatory fungi in the soil, which catch tiny worms by means of nooses and sticky webs. (When you get caught by a web of fungus, there is no spider. The web itself digests you.) Or, Philodendron solimoesense, a tropical plant that actively heats its flowers at night, keeping them several degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding air. It does this to encourage scarab beetles — which serve as pollinators — to stay a while. Safe inside the warm flower, the beetles engage in riotous living: feeding and having sex during the night, and resting during the day. Or the Darwin frog: the male guards the tadpoles by keeping them in his throat. Or, or, or.

Check out the whole thing.