Goblins, orcs and Uruk Hai: taxonomy and Tolkien

Tolkien knew the value of naming. More than that, he knew the value of understanding and labeling diversity. Tolkien was not satisfied with simply mentioning pipeweed, he needed to mention several varieties (Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby, Southern Star), each with its own properties. I have commented on the subspecies of hobbits that…

Explaining science: laypeople, layers of meaning and lazy writing

I would estimate that about half of my time as a University lecturer is in writing/reading science. The vast amount of this is either writing or reading articles by scientists written for scientists. Science writing values precision over clarity and a layperson has very little chance of easily following along….

Splitting up the beetles: Come together on Banks Peninsula?

I’ve always been a fan of the beetles. They are some of the most obvious insects in our environments as we grow up and they don’t seem to have the ‘ick’ factor for people, like flies and spiders do. I’ve also always been a fan of the Beatles. My parents…

Concerning Hobbit subspecies: Tolkien and the taxonomy of damselflies

Tolkien was a taxonomist. At least, he had thoughts like that of a taxonomist. A taxonomist is someone who thinks about taxa, about how to make sensible groups out of individuals, especially about what constitutes a species. Without taxonomy the world is just a place full of individuals and biology…

Ecoblitzing Cambridge

Over the last few days we ran a successful ecoblitz at St Peters School in Cambridge. How does an ecoblitz differ from the more common bioblitz, I hear you ask? In a bioblitz we arrive at a location and try to record all of the biodiversity at that site, typically…

There is only one species of katipo in New Zealand

About the katipo The katipo spider (Latrodectus katipo) is a small spider, their abdomens are about the size of one of your fingernails. They are black and often have a pretty red stripe down their back,   hence their Australian cousins are called “Red Backs”. In the North Island there is…

Weta workshop: The highs and lows of finding a new species

Morgan Shields was a third year undergraduate student when he found a new species of weta as part of his field ecology course. Morgan tells us how this came about. A brand new weta species! Finding a new species is a dream of most budding biologists. However, for many this…

Rowan Emberson: entomologist

Rowan Emberson has been awarded a Lincoln Medal for his services to entomology. Rowan was a senior lecturer in the department when I first started at Lincoln University. He became a valued colleague with several shared postgraduate students that we supervised. To me, Rowan is one of the last gentlemen…

Fairy penguins of Oz

The blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) is found around New Zealand’s coastlines and in many parts of south-eastern and western Australia (where they are sometimes known as fairy penguins). Over the years there have been many different suggestions put forward to explain the regional variations seen throughout the range of this…