The leopard, the which? and the wardrobe

There are very few lions in New Zealand. Or leopards. Or tigers. In fact, the only big cats that we have are, well, big cats. Once, when I was about 10, three circus lions escaped in the small town of Lawrence, not far from where I grew up. Or you…

The goodness of berries: Tolkien and the health of fruit

The spread of corruption, particularly in plants, was  a powerful idea that Tolkien used in his work, especially the Lord of the Rings, to show that something was wrong. “Wide flats lay on either bank, shadowy meads filled with pale white flowers. Luminous these were too, beautiful and yet horrible…

Romeo and Juliweta: kissing cousins or rival families?

Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers from two feuding families. What makes this story so epic, and such a tragedy, is that the Capulet and Montague families are such bitter enemies. The star-crossed lovers have it all in front of them if they want love to triumph. They might ask themselves…

Popping the seal: The fall and rise of the New Zealand fur seal population

One of my favorite places is the Catlins, a wild area of dripping bush, rugged southerlies, untouched beaches, and abundant wildlife in the far south-east South Island. There are some great spots within the Catlins, but the one I go back to time after time is The Nuggets. This area is a peninsula…

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….

Seal of approval: cover story

It’s very hard to explain just how satisfying it is when you finally get a paper published. Whenever a paper finally moves on out into the world and is a tangible thing for someone else to read, is the endgame of something which has usually taken several years from conception,…

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…

Small pieces of marine species in seal faeces

It’s always intriguing discovering what people like to eat. Eating is a reasonably private process. Sure we can go out for meals with friends or grab a bite with colleagues but we are choosing from a restricted menu (and the food on offer is different to what you would have…

Fishing for possum DNA

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is a reasonably  well known quote from Theodosius Dobzhansky. It makes the point that we never really understand biology until we see it through an evolutionary filter. In recent years we could play with this quote and say “Everything in biology can make…

50 shades of prey: finding hidden diversity in biodiversity capsules

Occasionally the wife has a hankering for oliebollen, a Dutch sweet doughnut/dumping creation. This is a legacy of her flatting with a Dutch couple when she was at university who would make a batch from time to time. Where do we go to find these oliebollen? There are not a…