Caught in a trap? The surprising journey of the New Zealand trapdoor spider

Back in 2015, my supervisor (Adrian Paterson)wrote about how I used tethered beetles to collect trapdoor spiders (genus Cantuaria) without harming the beetles, spiders, or their habitat. I needed to collect those spiders for my PhD research into their biogeography (where they live), ecology (how they live), and conservation (if…

Nothing to see here: the case of the disappearing katipo

 Mislaid. We’ve all done it. We all have things that we know that we had once but can no longer find. From a stray sock to our hopes and dreams, life is full of lost things. Sometimes things are just gone. The broken vase, the wrecked lamp, the old decrepit chair…

When history is evolution: the seals of Banks Peninsula

Recently, I caught up with an old school friend. It seems a long time since we played aspects of the same character in the musical “I was a teenage Jekyll and Hyde” at South Otago High School. Brent has a successful career as a history teacher, publishing text books and generally…

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…

Habitat invasion in the Southern Alps: why no forest-orcs in Middle-earth?

I guess I was always destined to spend my life in evolution and ecology. I distinctly remember from an early age, as I read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, worrying about the orcs. Not whether they are scary and nasty, that was a given, but rather how they…

Staying with your relatives at the beach

Most years of my life I have spent the summer holidays staying at a beach. Usually the beach is at Kaka Point, a great sandy beach at the northern end of the Catlins in southern South Island. New Zealand has an enormous coastline full of beaches, most  further north and…

Don’t tell me what to do in my own backyard! Involving communities in conservation decisions

Everyone has seen adverts or read about how tropical forests are being cut down for human uses, such as furniture, fire wood or just to clear land for farming, which is significantly decreasing wildlife populations globally. One method to combat this decline is for governments to create nature reserves and restrict…

Tolkien made me an evolutionary biologist

I’ve been an evolutionary biologist for over two decades now and I have been reflecting recently on how I came to join this profession. I started re-reading Stephen Jay Gould’s Ever since Darwin, Goulds first collection, and have to acknowledge that Gould’s amazing essays played a role as an undergraduate. Darwin’s…

The different meanings of ‘Gondwanan’

Tuatara, leiopelmatid frogs, weta (Orthoptera), peripatus (Onychophora), southern beech (Nothofagus) and kauri (Agathis australis) and other New Zealand species are often referred to as Gondwanan taxa. What does this mean? Gondwanaland was a large landmass made up of the southern continents that slowly broke apart through Jurassic and Cretaceous time….