Late last fall I visited Pedernales, in the Southwestern corner of the Dominican Republic, with two young field biologists to see about a toad entirely new to science, yet unnamed, and apparently about to become extinct in the only place it's ever been seen. It's a circumstance that's not as unusual as it sounds. Many species get discovered only to disappear; a cousin of this toad was seen once in the Dominican Republic, in 1971, and never again. In this short piece for The New Yorker I describe our trip to meet the mystery toad and the rather harrowing slashing and burning going on in the only forests where it's ever been seen. Photo courtesy of biologist Miguel Landestoy.
Frederik Sjöberg's The Fly Trap, a memior and biography of the Swedish entomologist Rene Malaise (inventor of of the Malaise trap, something no serious fly collector would be without) may be the best book I've ever read on entomology -- except maybe for Hugh Raffles' Insectopedia.
In this essay for TLS, which thankfully is free, I talk about Sjöberg's weirdly candid admission that entomology serves him as a sort of anasthetic drug, and about his hero Malaise's dramatic descent into scientific crankery. At some point in the 1950s Malaise dropped his fly studies, which had brought him world renown, to concentrate on the fabled lost continent of Atlantis, which he was convinced was real. Malaise’s sense of a sunken world was based, in Sjöberg’s view, on his youthful experience of a 1923 earthquake in Japan, in which the ground quite literally dropped out from under him. He never forgot it. Who could?
This is a little non-science piece for the New Yorker website on fast food in Central America and an intriguing donut mogul who is running for mayor of San Salvador, where I've been living for the past year or so. I wouldn't call it an entirely hopeful commentary, but it's slightly less depressing than the usual dispatches from this neck of the woods.
In the Wall Street Journal I take a look at Alan Rabinowitz's "An Indominitable Beast," a conservation book on jaguars and their extraordinary survival abilities both as individuals and as a species. Rabinowitz worked hard to establish the first jaguar reserve in the 1980s in Belize, and more recently, biocorridors through Mexico and Central America and into Brazil that should, in theory, guarantee the genetic diversity of jaguars. But how will any of this work if Nicaragua allows its monster canal to be built? Rabinowitz never says.