Nature shakes the foil again

Exciting news for anyone with a fascination for biological taxonomy — in the plants and critters version of American Idol, scientists from the International Institute for Species Exploration announced the top ten new species discovered in 2010. Apparently the winners were selected out of a field of 18,000, which is pretty stiff competition and must have made the shortlisting quite a challenge. It was an equal opportunity finish, though, with representation from insects and spiders, bovidae (or cloven-hoofed mammals, if you prefer), bacteria, fungi and highly unpleasant-looking leechy things, among other families.

Personally, I could have continued quite happily in my ignorance of the existence of Saltoblattella montistabularis, or the Leaproach as it’s more commonly (not to mention disconcertingly) known, a cockroach able to jump several times its own height. The crawling-on-the-ground species are quite creepy enough, one would have thought.

If you prefer a more science-fictiony flavor to your waking nightmares, look no further than Tyrannobdella rex, discovered in all its leechy glory up the nose of a little girl in Peru. It looks very much like a wrinkly fang-mouthed thumb; definitely not the kind of thing you’d want rootling around in your nasal passages.

Less unsettling are the ”eternal light mushrooms” from Brazil Who needs candlelit dinners with a few of these tossed into the salad?

And, sorry, but back to the horror stories, how about the Darwin’s bark spider that can spin a web across 25 m of water. Definitely wouldn’t want to be kayaking down this river in the dark – unless, of you course, you’d remembered to pack a sack of glow-in-the-dark mushrooms to light your way…

Ah, nature, how you continue to astound us, “flaming out,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “like shining from shook foil.” And, according to the experts at IISE, more wonders await: an estimated 10 million species of plants and animals on this planet have yet to be described, named and classified.

Flame on, mother nature.

All images from International Institute for Species Exploration.

The fine art of procrastination

It’s amazing the lengths a person will go to in order to avoid plunking her butt down in the chair and getting down to writing, isn’t it? It’s only May 5, and already this year I’ve:

  • Taken up knitting again, even though I suck mightily at it and have to unknit almost everything I start at least fourteen times
  • Started watching an excess of TV again–even the shows that bore me rigid–with the automatic, zombified devotion of a born couch potato
  • Bought and partially read at least seven books on writing
  • Subscribed to six podcasts on writing, not to mention another half dozen on topics ranging from philosophy to news quizzes to the indie Canadian music scene
  • Enrolled–albeit briefly–in an Italian course
  • Created an even greater degree of chaos and clutter in my writing space than the already mind-boggling degree of chaos and clutter with which I began the year; there is now, in fact, no available surface on which to plunk my butt should I be so inclined and a scant few inches upon which to rest my laptop

There’s nothing wrong with knitting, of course, or with watching TV in moderation, or with taking the time to find out how others deconstruct and elucidate the writing process, or with striving to improve one’s mind with the odd helping of Spinoza or Mark Kermode’s film reviews. And let’s face it,  Italian is a beautiful, roll-off-the-tongue-like-butterscotch language — who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours each week learning it?


Knitting, staring at the tube, reading about writing, overdosing on podcasts,and learning how to conjugate Italian verbs leave very little time, as it turns out, for excavating my writing space from the chaos into which it has descended. It’s time to reassess priorities: a little more discipline, a lot less self-indulgence, no more excuses. Excuses, oh, yes. I have a bazillion of those–but that’s for another post.