Where We’ve Been

This isn’t my typical blog post. No wildlife, fish sketches, or hiking anecdotes. This is an explanation for my recent sparsity in writing.

For those of you who don’t know, I decided to go back to school in January of 2018 to work towards a second bachelors/teaching license for Life Sciences for grades 9-12. This summer break, I was able to write quite freely. Even last spring allowed for ample time to share at least a weekly tidbit about earths creatures. This semester however, my final before student teaching in the spring, has been nothing short of chaotic with 24 hour days consisting of 36 hours of to-do’s. So, I haven’t been able to post as much as usual. Neither has my wife, aka @teacherwhohikes, who is also swamped with life as a high school English teacher.

All of that being said, the second season of the podcast is still under works. In fact, Richard will be in Minnesota next week when we will be recording several of the episodes. Despite the flurry of things impossible to name and categorize in any coherent manner blowing in our faces at all times as of late, we have carved out time to work on research, interviews, writing, and production work for what is guaranteed to be an astonishingly better second act of what was an admittedly okay-ish first season. We’re tackling topics from dinosaur extinctions and life on other planets, to secret military operations and the absurdity of jellyfish. It’s going to be epic.

As far as writing goes, expect more from me as the weeks roll on and I gain my composure enough to sit down for a brief moment to share observations and facts about life in the natural world. I’ve also been leading nature hikes and programs at a local park, the next of which will be on 10/27 as an in person version of the Twilight Zone episode of season 1. If you live any where near central MN, you should come on by.

Before I get back to the nightly grind that is my study and try-to-stay-sane time, I want to put out a call to anyone (naturalist, hikers, biologist, or every day people-ers) who would be interested in joining the writing team for The Wild Life. Not paid or anything like that, but simply and importantly a contributing or guest writer. If you are interested, even for just one post, email me at devonlbowker@gmail.com

With that, I say “good night”.

Except not for me. I’ll be up for awhile.

P.S. In a shameless plug, please remember that The Wild Life is listener, reader, and viewer supported. If you believe in what we are doing, you can show your support by becoming a patron here. Any amount truly helps us to do what we do. It helps remind us that the work is worth it, allow us to take the time to do the research and interviews (which is incredibly time consuming, I might add. For real, one episode takes at least 20 hours of research, emailing, calling, and interviewing to prepare for.), and allows us to fund the website (about $300 per year) and podcast expenses (equipment upgrades, editing resources, etc). If you choose to become a patron, I will love you always—plus you get perks and merch.


#SundayFishSketch Goliath Tigerfish

This #SundayFishSketch comes from Ichthyologist, Rene Martin. Visit her shop on InPrint to see more of her artwork or to order prints!

Meet the Goliath Tigerfish

Hydrocynus goliath

Hydrocynus goliath

If there is any fish that lives up to its name it’s the Goliath Tigerfish—a truly gigantic African predator with razor sharp teeth. The largest on record weighed over 150 pounds at nearly five feet in length. For perspective, that’s two German Shepard’s stacked on top of each other, or a welterweight fighter—and a fighter they certainly are.

The Goliath Tigerfish is found in the Congo river basin region of Africa where they lie in wait in calmer portions of rapidly moving water, using their impressive sight and ability to sense micro-vibrations caused by the movements of other fish to scope out the perfect potential target and ambushing them with incredible speed and voracity. For the Goliath Tigerfish, that target can be any fish they sense they can overpower. Sometimes these ambushes can take the form of a torpedo launching from the water to capture birds in flight, as well as some well documented cases of bites on humans, crocodile kills, and the ability to split fish in half in the event they feel so bold as to take on a fish larger than themselves. Their 32, dagger-like teeth are alternating and rest in grooves in the fishes opposite jaws, much like sheathing a sword.Hydrocynus goliath - Poisson-chien - Aqua porte Dorée 10

Its strength, speed, and ferocious appearance have certainly earned this fish a “goliath” reputation as one of the greatest gamefish in the world, assuming you don’t mind likely losing your gear. Sadly, its popularity as a gamefish can have negative consequences on their population health. It takes anywhere from five to 15 years for a population to double in size, so every fish removed has a lasting impact.

Moelants, T. 2010. Hydrocynus goliath. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T182833A7980766. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-3.RLTS.T182833A7980766.enDownloaded on 14 October 2018

#SundayFishSketch Redeye Piranha

This #SundayFishSketch comes from Ichthyologist, Rene Martin. Visit her shop on InPrint to see more of her artwork or to order prints!

Meet the Redeye Piranha

Serrasalmus rhombeus

That’s different, of course, than the Redhair Piranha, in case you were wondering.


It’s been awhile since we’ve done a post sharing some SciArt for #SundayFishSketch, but we’re glad to be back at it with this wonderful artwork from Ichthyologist Rene Martin depicting such a fascinating, legend inducing, fish.


When it comes to this particular species, much about it is up for debate—including its status as a species. As far as its range is concerned, it’s possible they are entirely confined to the rapids and deep zones of rivers in Guyana and that records of other locations may be of other species. Officially, however, they have been documented in the Amazon, Orinoco, and Arguia rivers (among others) in Guyana, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and several other South American countries. Confusing, right?

Now, if you’re the average person reading this, you’re probably just waiting for me to get to what piranhas are most known for—their dancing skills. Just kidding, obviously. What I really mean is their dental hygiene regimen. Look at those pearly whites!

All kidding aside, piranhas need no introduction being that their teeth and diet have earned them quite the reputation, especially around Hollywood as a super villains aquarium species of choice or as the center of several B-movies.

At up to 42 centimeters long, piranhas are opportunistic—not unlike us—eating just about anything they come across. Not ravenously killing for entertainment and pleasure like crazed maniacs, but eating what they need, when they need. Sometimes that’s small fish, crustaceans, insects, mammals, lizards, and whatever dead thing is floating around. Other times it’s fruit fallen from trees, seeds, and other vegetative matter. This ability to eat such a wide range of meals enables them to survive in a wide variety of habitats (all under water, of course).

During mating season, individual piranhas get just a tad aggressive. This is typically when reports of humans being attacked take place, which only makes sense. However, generally they are a very timid fish.

Interestingly and unfortunately, they are popular in the pet trade (though they don’t make even remotely hospitable tank mates) and are apparently an invasive species in Washington, presumably released pets.

For those who’d like to learn more, here is a video from National Geographic about their impressive bite force.


Birding by Smartphone

In 1917, the American poet Wallace Stevens published a poem called 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. In truth, 13 is a major understatement, with just as much variation in “why” as their is in “how”. Whether you’re a life “lister”, a casual admirer, or anywhere in between, at some point each and every one of has had a moment where we saw a bird and thought to ourselves, “what is that?”

In the past, this has been the moment that separates the bird watchers from the bird seers. It takes a certain kind of intrigue and drive to tear into a field guide, piecing together evidence to find the right ID, the kind that the casual observer might have balked at. Now, with increasing developments in technology, answering that question has never been easier and more accessible. All you need is a smartphone!

Binoculars, Birdwatching, Spy Glass, Spying, Spy, Watch

Why bird by smartphone? Well, it’s definitely a matter of preference, but I for one am a major fan. Using a smartphone eliminates the need and reliance on a bulky book whose pages wilt and stick together after an onslaught of rain and mud (if you’re like me), or the terrible moment of not having your book on you. In recent years, apps have boomed in their accuracy, usability, and even allow use not connected to a network. Here are two of my favorites:

Merlin Bird ID, available in the Apple app store and Google Play, is a free app which uses 5 guiding questions and a database of over 500 million observations to help you find your bird.

As a birder myself, if I’m uncertain on the ID of a particular bird, I ask myself a series of questions that guide me through a process of elimination—a process I call the WWASCAL method. (think Elmer Fudd saying rascal). It stands for “When, Where, Action, Size, Color, Angle, Lighting”, meaning “what time of year is it?”, “where am I?”,”what is it doing?”, “how big is it?”, “what colors do I see?”, “what angle am I seeing it from?”, and “how is the lighting?”.

For example, I know that if I’m seeing a large, brown eagle with a golden beak in Minnesota in July that is has to be an immature Bald Eagle since a Golden Eagle is only present in colder months. Or, if I see a bird flying at sunset, I can mentally compensate for how the colors might appear in different lighting—much like the blue/black vs gold/white dress controversy of a few years back. (Side note: I think at some point soon I will write an intro to birding post along with my 10 rules for birding. Stay Tuned!)

See the source image
Just stirring the pot again…

Anyway, Merlin Bird ID functions in much the same way an experienced birder would, just with the support of technology and an increasingly massive database. Merlin will ask for your location, date, size, color (up to 3), and what the bird was doing to generate a list of possible birds with surprising accuracy. In fact, the list of possible birds will be customized based on what birds are in your geographic area during that time of the year. Additionally, you can now upload a photo taken of a bird which is automatically checked against their database to find a possible positive ID. Within the app, you can download free bird packs for different locations and use the photos and facts to teach yourself about the birds in your neck of the woods. Want to hear what your bird sounds like? Merlin has over 3,000 audio recordings courtesy of the Macaulay Lab.

Binoculars, View, Focus, Optical, Distance, Lens, Scope

Want to take your smartphone birding to the next level? Download eBird (also for free in the Apple app store and Google Play. eBird is an online, global birding community and database. Sort of a citizen science utopia. Seriously, eBird is the largest citizen science and biodiversity project in the world with over 100 million sightings, photos, and audio recordings submitted each year.

With eBird, you can create your own birdwatching checklist to be uploaded to the overall database, explore findings, sightings, and hotspots in your area or around the globe, look at species distribution in real time, get alerts when a species has been spotted in your area, and best of all, using eBird contributes to citizen science, conservation, and the very database that makes Merlin Bird ID possible.

Of course, their are a multitude of other apps out there which serve as mobile equivalents to field guides (most of the major publishers have created app versions), help identify birds by sound, or help to track and monitor movement and location information. However, for those whose birding interest is just beginning to bud, those who care more about ID and less about tracking, and for novice to moderate birders, Merlin Bird ID and eBird are definitely the place to start.

Podcast Season 2 Updates, Topics

Season Two of The Wild Life is well in the works, with at least two interviews being done this week (for both the premier and the finale, coincidentally). With that being said, Richard and I wanted to take the opportunity to share with yall the episode topics (and working titles) for the upcoming season. Here it goes:

S2E1: Is Anybody Out There?

Debating the age old question, “are we alone in the universe?”, by looking at how life evolved on earth and how scientists search for extraterrestrial life—with special guests!

S2E2: Ant Farm

You’ve heard of ant farms, but have you heard of ants that farm (and herd ‘livestock’)?

S2E3: Colony Contra

Colonies are marvels and mysteries of nature, from their organization out of chaos to their collapse. We take a closer look.

S2E4: Animal Magnetism

The earth is a giant magnet. Many animals can tap into it. We look at the how and why.

S2E5: Bottoms Up

What do lanternfish, phytoplankton, submarines, and WWII have in common? Find out with us!

S2E6: Jellyfish

“How could you possibly have fun with a Jellyfish?” So many ways!

S2E7: Fungus Amongus

From controlling the weather, to communicating with trees, and zombifying ants. There’s fungus amongus.

S2E8: Smarter than you think?

Are plants actually “intelligent”? We find out.

S2E9: Light Up the Night

Bioluminescence is fascinating, but how does it work and why?

S2E10: Whale Song

Self explanatory topic with a surprise!

S2E11: Fire!

Wildfires bring great destruction, and new life. We explore fires role in a healthy ecosystem and how human interference as both changed that balance, and learned from it.

S2E12: The End

There have been 5 mass extinctions in the history of life. Now, we are in another. We’re exploring all of them.

Remember, The Wild Life is listener, reader, and viewer supported. If you believe in what we’re doing, you can show your support by becoming a patron here. When you become a patron, you’ll gain exclusive access to content and have the opportunity to appear on our show to ask us your questions or help read the credits!

Season One Title Tee is now available!

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