natural history

Ep. 38 - Ants in Our Plants

Ep. 38 - Ants in Our Plants

Have you ever heard of myrmecochory? It may not pop up much in casual conversation, but this strange word is your doorway to a tiny, fascinating world of ant-plant interactions. Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants (don’t worry, we cover how to pronounce it in the episode), and while it may seem simple on the surface, it’s a beautifully complex spectrum of behaviors and benefits, , including some questionable ones.

Myrmecochory has long been considered a classic example of mutualism, in which two species benefit from a shared interaction, but recent research has called this idea into question. Are the ants really benefiting? Is it possible that plants are parasitizing the ants? Are the ants inadvertently ‘cleaning’ the seeds, inoculating them against harmful soil microbes? There is so much more to myrmecochory than Bill and Steve ever imagined! Join the guys as they hit the trail, exploring the seldom-seen world of ants and plants.

Ep. 37 - Bill and Steve Go Timberdoodlin'

Ep. 37 - Bill and Steve Go Timberdoodlin'

In spring, a naturalist’s fancy turns to thoughts of Timberdoodlin’, and that means heading out into the spring twilight, finding a brushy meadow, and listening for the buzzy “Peent!” of the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) . AKA the Timberdoodle, this odd bird (it’s a shorebird that doesn’t live near the shore) performs a strange and stunning sky dance that is a must-see for any wildlife lover.

Join the guys as they focus on the fascinating natural history of this bird and head out on a cold March evening to see if they can witness the Woodcock in action.

Ep. 36 - Spring Science Geek Out!

Ep. 36 - Spring Science Geek Out!

Spring is here, and the guys hit the trail to discuss spring-related science, including how climate change is impacting global plant growth and how it’s changing bird migration. Plus, Bill gives a (sort of) rebuttal to Steve’s unprovoked and vicious attack on Charles Darwin from last episode. Happy Spring!

Ep. 33 - Hart's-Tongue Fern - Restoring an Endangered Species

Ep. 33 - Hart's-Tongue Fern - Restoring an Endangered Species

“Richer than millionaires! Happier than Kings! Envied by multitudes! May be said of hobnobbers with Hart’s-tongues.”

So said one enthusiast of the Hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum) long ago, and we think you’ll agree. This species is exceptional in many ways; its appearance (it doesn’t look like your typical fern), its uncommon habitat, and it’s rarity all add to the Hart’s-tongue fern’s mystique.

This month, the guys hit the road, traveling to central NY and hitting the trail with Mike Serviss, a conservation biologist working with New York State Parks. Among his many duties, Mike is researching the most successful ways to restore this picky plant to its habitat, and he’s also a fantastic science communicator.

Join us as Mike helps us peel back the mystery of what’s involved in restoring an endangered species.

Enjoy!

Ep. 32 - The Devil Crayfish (Feat. Dr. Wayne Gall)

Ep. 32 - The Devil Crayfish (Feat. Dr. Wayne Gall)

Have you ever heard of a burrowing crayfish? We hadn’t, until our much-smarter-than-us friend, Dr. Wayne Gall, shared the story of how he discovered one particular species living in western NY 30 years ago - Cambarus diogenes - the Devil Crayfish.

Wayne invited us to join him on a hunt for this species, to see if it was still present at Tifft Nature Preserve, three decades later.

Now, we invite you to come along with us, braving deep mud, crayfish pincers, and audio challenges (Tifft is lousy with the sound of trains, barges, and jets overhead). Along the way, Wayne proves himself a consummate storyteller, spinning the yarn of amazing coincidences that led to his connection with this species and publishing research about its presence in New York. We also give some visitors to the preserve a good scare.

A big thank you to Wayne for his time, expertise, and persistence. This episode may be shorter than usual, but we want you to know that Wayne spent hours with us at Tifft, his arms buried in the mud up to his shoulder, searching for our target species.

Bonus 08 - The Field Guides Live! (at the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage)

Bonus 08 - The Field Guides Live! (at the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage)

Imagine a gathering of nature-lovers where, for three days, you could attend hikes, talks, and other programs on dozens of natural history topics. Such a gathering takes place each year in Allegany State Park in southwestern NY. For over sixty years, The Allegany Nature Pilgrimage has taken place the weekend after Memorial Day, bringing like-minded individuals from across the country to share their knowledge of and passion for all things nature-related. The guys were invited to lead a hike at this year's Pilgrimage, and, in this special bonus episode, you can listen in on what it sounds like when a big group of people join Steve and Bill for a hike in the woods.

Our program was titled "The Skeptical Naturalist", and we focused on common natural history myths and some of the most interesting stories from past episodes. Enjoy, and we hope to see you at the Pilgrimage in the future!

Bonus 07 - Wild Ideas...The Podcast (Feat. Gordon Maupin)

Bonus 07 - Wild Ideas...The Podcast (Feat. Gordon Maupin)

During this bonus episode, Bill interviews Gordon Maupin, former director of the Wilderness Center in northeastern Ohio and, along with Joann Ballbach and Gary Popotnik, the former host of "Wild Ideas...The Podcast".

"Wild Ideas" was (and is) an excellent resource for information on natural history and it was a strong influence on our decision to start our own podcast after it ended in November 2014- less than a year before we released the first episode of The Field Guides. 

Enjoy the episode and "...as always, all you moms and dads, make sure your children get outside. Always great to let them go out there and roll over a log, turn over a rock. Make sure they get wet, muddy, and dirty, Just make sure they get outside and play."

Ep. 30 - Have You Seen the Light?: Foxfire and Bioluminescent Fungi

Ep. 30 - Have You Seen the Light?: Foxfire and Bioluminescent Fungi

Have you seen the light? This month, the guys take their first foray into the world of fungi, specifically bioluminescent fungi! Although fireflies and other glowing critters have been well researched, fungi that glow are not nearly as well understood. Often referred to as "foxfire" or "fairy fire", their glow was first documented way back in ancient times, but researchers are still figuring out what it's all about. Join Bill and Steve as they shed some light on the latest research into these fascinating fungi.

This episode was recorded in the Eternal Flame Falls section of Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, NY on July 4th, 2018.

Ep. 29 - Jack-in-the-Pulpit, AKA George-Michael-in-the-Banana-Stand

Ep. 29 - Jack-in-the-Pulpit, AKA George-Michael-in-the-Banana-Stand

This is the story of two guys who enter the woods looking for Arisaema triphyllum, the graceful woodland wildflower known to many as Jack-in-the-pulpit. Not only is it beautiful to behold, but this member of the Arum family has a fascinating natural history; it can switch its sex, fool midge flies, and cause botanists to have heated debates about subspecies. During the episode, Steve makes a contribution to botanical history by coming up with the best alternative common name Bill has ever heard (see title), and we wrap things up with Bill eating some of this toxic plant. Listen to the end to see if Bill dies. Enjoy! 

Ep. 26 - Don't Hassle Me, I'm Local: Ecological Restoration and Local Ecotypes

Ep. 26 - Don't Hassle Me, I'm Local: Ecological Restoration and Local Ecotypes

Can one specimen of a native plant be more "native" than another?  For those ecologists who are working to restore damaged ecosystems, whether or not they should use local ecotypes is an important question to consider. In this episode, Bill and Steve hit the road to visit Sonnenberg Gardens and the NYS Parks staff working to help restore ecosystems with an emphasis on natives and local ecotypes.