Finding beauty all around us on Nature Photography Day

Today, 15 June, is Nature Photography Day. Originally started by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) to “promote the enjoyment of nature photography, and to explain how images have been used to advance the cause of conservation and protect plants, wildlife, and landscapes locally and worldwide”, I am sure it is a day that most photographers, amateur or professional, will have some affinity for.

Nature Photography Day was first celebrated in 2006, and it has been enthusiastically adopted around the world. As stated on their website, “NANPA encourages people everywhere to enjoy the weekend by using a camera to explore the natural world. A backyard, park, or other place close by can be just right. Walking, hiking, and riding a bike to take photos are activities that don’t lead to a carbon footprint. And fresh air can do wonders for the spirit!” And how true that is – nothing like spending some time in the fresh morning air, camera in hand, to capture the majesty of the natural world around us.

(© All Rights Reserved)
(© All Rights Reserved)
Whether it's a majestic vista or a tiny bit of natural magic in the corner of the garden, there's beautiful subject matter all around us for Nature Photography Day. (© All Rights Reserved)
Whether it’s a majestic vista or a tiny bit of natural magic in the corner of the garden, there’s beautiful subject matter all around us for Nature Photography Day.
(© All Rights Reserved)

And you don’t have to go far to discover something wonderful – an attentive eye is all that is required to find beauty all around us – plants covered in early morning dew, insects busily at work around the garden, animals small and large, birds of all shapes and sizes.

While Nature Photography Day is first and foremost a day for personal enjoyment, meant to bring each of us closer to nature, NANPA is also hosting a Nature Photography Day Facebook Page, where anyone is invited to upload their images – the only ‘rule’ being that all photos “must be taken on June 15, 2013, within walking (or biking) distance of wherever you are.”

By the time that this blog entry is published, I will be spending some time in New Zealand’s majestic Tongariro National Park, and I sincerely hope I will be able to capture some moments of natural beauty. Irrespective of the results of my photographic endeavours on the day, however, I am first and foremost hoping to have fun doing it – after all, that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Libbie Hyman and the Invertebrates

Today we celebrate the birthday of Libbie Henrietta Hyman (6 Dec 1888 – 3 Aug 1969), the US zoologist who was responsible for one of the most important zoological reference works, ‘The Invertebrates’ – an amazingly comprehensive, 6 volume labour of love covering most phyla, and still used today. The sixth and final volume was completed at the age of seventy eight, by which time Hyman was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

An earth worm, just one of many, many, many, many invertebrate animals.(© All Rights Reserved)
An earth worm, just one of many, many, many, many invertebrate animals.
(© All Rights Reserved)

What makes a reference work addressing the subject of invertebrates so daunting, is that something like 97% of all animal species fall in this category. Basically, invertebrates are all animal species that do not develop a vertebral column. Which means, it’s all animals except the vertebrates (reptiles, fish, amphibians, mammals and birds). Invertebrates include insects, worms, spiders, mollusks, sponges and more.

The classification of ‘Invertebrates’ is so wide that no single characteristic describes them all. While they all lack a vertebral column, they are otherwise very dissimilar, with widely varying body plans from fluid-filled hydrostatic skeletons (jellyfish, worms) to shell-like exoskeletons (insects, crustaceans).

Given this diversity, Libbie Hyman’s achievement of incorporating so many invertebrates into her six reference volumes seems even more impressive. She was certainly no spineless academic!

Take Your Dog To Work Day – what’s your pooch thinking?

Today, believe it or not, is Take Your Dog To Work Day. This day was initiated by Pet Sitters International, and has been celebrated since 1999.

The rationale behind the day is the celebration of the human-canine bond, and the promotion of pet adoption by making life – including the workplace – more accepting to pets, in particular dogs. Employers are encouraged to open their workplace to employees’ pets on this special day.

The lovable bulldog – breed of choice for Adam Sandler and Winston Churchill, among others.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Seems a good enough idea, doesn’t it? I think the following bit of research has the potential to further promote and enhance the human-canine bond:

According to a recent article in Scientific American, scientists have (pun alert!) embarked on a study of dogs’ thoughts, by means of fMRI brain scans of unsedated dogs. The research team says this provides a first peak into the thought processes of dogs.

Of course the key problem in scanning the brain of an fully awake, unrestrained dog, is that the animal is unlikely to remain still for the duration of the scan. However, after seeing the level of training achieved with dogs in the US Navy, lead researcher Gregory Berns from the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy, felt they should be able to train a dog to behave inside the fMRI.

Two dogs – a 2-year old feist and a 3-year old border collie – were trained to walk into the scanner and remain still while being scanned. In addition, they were trained to respond to certain hand signals – one indicating the dog was about to receive a treat, and the other that it wasn’t.

Recognition of the “treat” signal caused activity in the caudate region of the dogs’ brains – a region also associated with reward in the human brain.

While this can perhaps be viewed as a rather simplistic result, it is early-stage canine  neuro-research, and it does open the door for further studies into canine cognition, for example how they respond to human facial expressions, and how they process human speech.

Such research could definitely shed new light on the 15 000 year old human-canine bond – perhaps it can even help explain why certain people prefer certain breeds.