— by Susan Eirich, PhD — When you look up into the sky and see ragged looking formations of geese (very ragged), you know it is late summer. The young ones are practicing for their long migration. In late summer, their haunting cries fill the air as they begin their sessions- a few geese here, a few there. I wonder how they find each other in the end, choosing companions for the long and dangerous flight. By now they have become more coordinated, individually and as a flock, and the flocks are larger, one goose after another taking turns at the helm. It is not an easy thing, making a perfect aerodynamic V formation. It takes work and leadership as well as instinct. I feel...

Beaver eating leaves in a pond

Beavers are charming and fascinating creatures. Dr. Donald Griffin, the father of animal cognition, notes, "When we think of the kinds of animal behavior that suggest conscious thinking, the beaver comes naturally to mind." They perform their incredible engineering feats not just through instinct, but through imitation and experience. But even more than that they are incredibly important ecologically, a fact we have belatedly recognized. Called nature’s finest wetland engineer, professional human water engineers study them for water management. Beavers reliably, and economically, maintain wetlands that sponge up floodwaters, alleviate droughts and floods, lessen erosion, raise the water...

Close up of bear feet

— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. — There are places in Yellowstone National Park where alternating grizzly bear footsteps are worn deep into the earth, forming trails that lead to very specific sites at geothermal vents. These footsteps are almost sculpted into the ground as each bear places its foot precisely into the tracks of its predecessor, rubbing its feet sideways in each track. Arriving at the site, the bears begin to eat the soil, high in potassium and sulfur. One theory is that the sulfur helps rejuvenate their digestive system after the long inactivity of hibernation, and they may be low in potassium after their winter’s fast. How do they know to go there? Does each bear...

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