Saturday, 28 September 2013

Radar Love...

Good things come in small packages...

As I research the characters of Beautiful Creatures I get to embark on my on journey of discovery. The Beautiful Creatures series is one that weaves together stories of perseverance, determination, kindness and adventure through the lens of other species. However, through these journeys the stories are equally infused with lessons about biology, history, geography… The research that I do for the characters is one that nourishes my own need for intrigue by looking to popularise specific lesser, or unknown facts about species that I can weave into the tapestry of my narratives. One of these facts is the concept of nuptial gifts in arthropods. This week I have been researching the practice of how male spiders sweeten the courtship deal by offering females what is known as a nuptial gift. These gifts enhance the likelihood that their advances will be accepted by the female they are courting. The way that this occurs is by boosting a female’s “friendliness” by tapping into her foraging instincts through such offerings. The study in question that I am writing about here, relates to a specific neotropical spider known as Paratrechalea ornata.

So what are some of the reasons for why these spiders gift at all?

The nuptial gift giving behaviour has been explained as a way to both increase male reproductive success by attracting females and facilitating coupling. Some scientists also agree that the nuptial gift is a way for males to invest in the reproductive endeavour by providing females with a nutritional offering that will “increase her reproductive output”. So what exactly does this mean? From an anthropocentric perspective, the nuptial gift makes a female more approachable and amenable to the male’s flirtatious efforts. And, from the male’s point of view, his gifts help to ensure that he will father more offspring and that he has contributed by providing the nourishment that the female needs to reproduce.

But what makes these gifts so appealing to the female? And can they really tell the difference? Well, in the neotropical species analysed in the article by Brum et al. the nuptial gift contains a prey item that the male has wrapped in a special silk that he only uses for this purpose. So what attracts the female to accept this gift? Is it the “pretty” wrapping or the contents of the package? As it turns out, these spider gals were not interested in any visual cues (aka the “pretty” package), but rather the chemical signals that are found within the silk layer of the gift. So it seems that “spidey love” is somewhat “silk deep.” Something to think about…

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Living Kaleidoscopes

One not need look far to be inspired by the beauty of nature

I am lucky to be surrounded by so many talented and amazing people that share common interests and connection with the natural world that surrounds and is a part of us all. Every once and a while I am reminded of the lovely work that they do, and so I wanted to take a moment to share this with all of you…

Scrub Jay in Watercolour By Emily Soden
In no particular order, the first I will begin with is Elsa Mora. She does some absolutely lovely paper-cutting work but one of my favourite images is of a girl and a dragonfly that you can find in her drawings gallery. Next is Emily Soden, who comes from an extremely talented group of siblings, and her character illustrations echo childhood memories of animal characters and wild imaginations.  A couple of the soulful paintings by Britt Fuller can be seen here and John Viljoen’s landscapes will lead you into a visual escape from all the chaos that may surround you or you may simply like to gaze at the amazingly vivid portraits and wildlife images by Tom Middleton.

Along my journey working on the Beautiful Creatures project I have also come across a fair number of wonderful artists and writers. One of my favourites is Liz Climo. Her charming illustrations are peppered with colourfully imaginative commentary. Her illustrated animals speak to with real life issues in a light homouristic way that is bound to brighten your day. She references childhood stories, fables and games which create a delightful collection that is sure to bring back your fondest memories. One of my favourite of her illustrations is of Larry the Narwhal, a species I have written about myself. All the while, James Suhr teaches some important lessons with his charming and amusing animal sketches. Meanwhile, Jo Marshall’s Twig Stories will take you on a delightful adventure captivating you through D.W. Murray’s spectacular illustrations.

This is just a brief selection… However, I hope it will encourage you to gaze around your own web to appreciate all the creative influences that inspire you.

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