Exquisite Feathers

Bird feathers are evolutionary wonders.

“As the saying goes in architecture, ‘form follows function,’ but when it comes to feathers I would say if form follows function, then beauty follows form.”

The book Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage by Robert Clark  is brimming with exquisite photos and facts to tempt the curious mind to embark on a journey filled with beauty and ideas about how the thousand of varieties of feathers have developed throughout history. Feathers have been designed for warmt, camouflage and sexual competivesss. This book is a perfect marriage between art and scienc; detailed cl0se-ups of feathers is paired with text about the utility as well as the evolution of the feather on the photo..

Robert is taking us on a journey filled with elegance as well as the past and interesting uses of feathers.

“The ways in which feathers have evolved and manifested themselves over time is riveting to me; over millions of years the scales of a dinosaur deviated and began to grow upward in spines that covered the body of birds. Through many generations, these spines spread, evolving specific purposes for the regions on the body on which they grew; eventually these spinal structures were imbued with extravagant colors and features,” writes Robert.

The aim is to make the feathers “look as if you could pick them up” and I could not agree more. So pick up the book and enjoy!


The colour of scarlet macaw’s feather helps it live and blend in various different habitats. This is a secondary wing covert feather.


Bird of Paradise.


Golden Headed Quetzal (Pharomachus auriceps)
Golden-Headed Quetzal (Pharomachus auriceps)
FEATHER TYPE : contour feather from the flank   LATIN NAME: Ithaginis cruentus   ENGLISH NAME: Blood Pheasant   REGION: Asia   OTHER NOTES: The green colour stems from a rare pigment called Turacoverdin   Further Information contact : Dr. Peter Mullen Kirchplatz 6 42489 Wuelfrath email: petermullen@gmx.de cell: +491726411691
The green colour stems from a rare pigment called Turacoverdin. Blood Phesant.

FEATHER TYPE : Wing   LATIN NAME: Lamprotornis superbus   ENGLISH NAME: Superb Starling   REGION: Africa Further Information contact : Dr. Peter Mullen Kirchplatz 6 42489 Wuelfrath email: petermullen@gmx.de cell: +491726411691

Superb Starling












It’s Not Eureka! But That’s Beautiful!

Isaac Asimov, the science fiction novelists, reportedly once said that *The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the once that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny!”

The theme in this blogpost is “That’s beautiful!” Beauty can be a great inspiration and a powerful motivator.  In the last years several articles have been written about teh improantce of teaching chidlren to care for nature. That is great. But we also need to find ways to motivate adults and politicians to care about nature.

Bugs and beetles may be small but they are a great tools to practice observing nature. Here are some stunning colourful examples that may inspire you to look at insects.

Let’s start with a beetle that is found in at least my backgarden. Always welcome and much loved.



Image: by yokohamayomama. The Most Beautiful Bug I’ve Ever Found.

The Frog-legged Leaf Beetle (Sagra buqueti) looks like iridescent  sparkling wrapping paper. This colourful beetle is found in jungles in Souteast Asia.





Giving Wildlife a Voice – Animal Law

What does it feel like to have no voice?

How can we improve Animal Laws?

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Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is never easy. When the other mind belongs to an animal, it requires more than compassion for the animal to help. Imagination and different ways to trick your mind to breaking old thinking patterns is the first step

The GAL Project supports the introduction of laws that will put an end to practices that are responsible for animals suffering. Ethical values are important for the Swiss lawyer Antoine Goetschel. He represents abused animals in the court.  The clients are mostly dogs but he also represents farm animals who may have been exploited for food, clothes or other products. An animal lawyer may also represent wildlife.

Farm animals may be kept in extremely cramped conditions, which are responsible for an enormous amount of suffering. There are several issues related to animal farming, industrial livestock production and factory farming of animals.

Many countries have banned and condemned certain cruel practices such as force-feeding to produce foie gras or egg farmer griding alive baby chicks. But in many countries, they are still legal. Today, there are not many lawyers that focus on animal law. Often in life, the things that do not pay that much are the most interesting and exciting to work with. Hopefully, there will be more animal lawyers in the future because there is so much important work to be carried out in regarding, for example, sports animals and using animals for entertainment and using animals for experiments.

The protection of wild animals is often covered by environmental laws. The focus on these types of laws is usually on species conservation with the aim to protect species. The laws are rarely written to protect individual species from suffering. Anticruelty laws protect pets and farm animals but not wild animals. If a wild animal is captured, then they are covered by laws but in many cases not while they are living in the wild.

In the Uk, The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects wildlife. What laws protect wildlife where you are living?

There are several things that wild animals should be protected from.

Here are a few examples to start your thinking:

  • habitat pollution
  • trapping
  • shark fining

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P.S. Looking for great photos?

Check out Ann-Margrethe Iseklint’s stunning photos.









What does the “Whoop” sound really mean?

Honeybees make a “whoop” sound. Is this a sound a tells other bees to stop looking for food in a certain area?

Or it is simply a sound of surprise?

Bee-apisHoney By Maciej A. Czyzewski – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8786717

By using accelerometers to record vibrations inside hives for a year, researchers from Nottingham Trent University managed to isolate the sound. You can hear it in the sound cloud below.

Lots of interesting ideas to why the honeybees make the “whoop” sound has been put forward. Yet, it seems that these whoops happen rather frequently. The bees made these whooping sound more frequently than would be expected if they were trying to tell other bees not to look for nectar or other types of food in a certain area. The whoops sounds happen mostly night. When the bees bumped into each other they were startled. So perhaps the whoop sound is a sound of being surprised when you bump into a bee in the middle of the night.

The insight could help us to monitor how healthy a bee hive is. A stressed colony would most likely not react to small stimulus such as the bumping into another bee in the middle of the night. Considering the many challenges that bees around the world are currently facing it is indeed important to find out ways to monitor their health.



Compassion for All Living “Conscious?” Creatures

” We must stop ignoring their gaze and closing our heart to their pleas.
We can easily do what they ask – to stop causing them unnecessary pain, suffering, loneliness, sadness, and death, even extinction. “

Mark Bekoff


Imagine that you are suggesting at a dinner party that bees have feelings and that you are considering ideas to improve their life.

What would the reaction be?

Would people at the party look at you with deep admiration?

Or would they quickly try to change the subject and just stare at you like you were mad?

This is the sort of question that often whizz around in my head but I rarely dare to raise the question. Why? Well, sometimes it feels like it is a too big provocation and people simply are not ready for these kinds of ideas.

So I was delighted when I read the article “Insects may have feelings, so do we need more humane fly spray?” by Peter Singer. He is famous for his book Animal Liberation and he works with bioethics. In the article, he discusses ethical questions related to the way we treat insects.

Scientists are increasingly more willing to draw parallels between mammals and insects. Some of these areas where they have found parallels raise ethical questions about the way we treat insects. For example, the main part of the nervous system of insects operates in a similar way as a mammalian midbrain. The central ganglion in insects may provide them with a most basic form of consciousness. Bees have recently been found to show positive emotion-like states. The term emotion-like state is not necessarily the same as saying that they do indeed feel happy or sad, and the bees may not be conscious. Yet, they could be. For an ethical and moral point of view, the presence or absence of consciousness is crucial. Consciousness opens the room to the ability to suffer.

Laws related to the protection of animals used in research are limited to vertebrates. There is little doubt about the capacity for suffering. But if bees can suffer, should they be included too. What about mosquitoes? Are bees special because of their way of communicating? Honey bees perform an intricate waggle-dance. But so far they are the only insects that have been found to use such a complex way of communicating, so maybe not all insects are conscious.  . .

And of course, being conscious does not necessarily give a living creature the right to life. But at least, it is a good argument to start demanding for a human treatment. Or, what do you think?


Shape Matters

Shape Matters!

What if we could transform our thinking and use less material and more clever shapes?
What if we could build things of whatever flies around like a spider ?


Photo Greenstone Girl

All spiders produce silk but not all spiders use it to produce webs. Different spices of web-building spiders spin different patterns. So you can identify the type of spider by looking and the intricate web they spin.

Animals do not spend time trying to create a wonderful material. They use the material that is available and the results are often mindblowing. A spider squirt the liquid silk out of their spinneret glands and this material is in liquid form until it hits the air where it hardens into a sticky substance.  Making the web is energetically costly process that requires a large amount of protein, the silk. A spider-web can use a fly to produce more webs to help them catch more flies. Spiders also eat their own web to reuse some of the energy that was used to spin it. They recycle the silk proteins.

Gecko’s feet are sticky something that has spark several ideas from climbing robots to surgical bandage. Yet, the feet are not sticky because of some special material, rather the shape of the hairs on the feet makes them sticky. The answer is molecular attractions that operate over small distances – van der Waals forces. The tiny hairs help to maximise contact with the surface.

Material is nature is expensive while shape is cheap.

This is a great lesson that humans perhaps should consider more often when designing things and solving problems.

In the video below, an exciting  research project,  ‘Metamaterial Mechanisms’ , at the Hasso Plattner Institute shows a new way that shape is used to create a material that can be used for a range or purposes. Different types of performances based on the shape. Exciting!




Emblems of Devoted Love is Facing GLobal Extinction – Turtle Doves

How devoted are politicians to saving the bird that has become emblem of devoted love?


Photo Yuvalr

European turtle doves form strong bonds and the rather small dove with the wedge-shaped tail with a dark centre and white borders and tips is a threatened species. The UK turtle dove population is halving every six years – down 93% since 1994.

In Spring, turtle doves arrive on the Brittish shore after a long migration fromWest Africa.  And often they find that their breeding grounds have been lost to modern farming methods. The birds are struggling to find food to raise their chicks.

In Autumn, the birds are flying to Africa.

Think about what it would feel like if they never returned?

No purring would be heard in the summer.

Do better understand why the numbers are declining so rapidly, six turtle doves are being satellite tracked. Last year, turtle dove named Titan was tracked and this year this project which is a cooperation between RSPB and the Operation Turtle Dove is adding more doves. Sadly Titan’s satellite signal was lost earlier this year. Yet important information about the migratory route and stopover sites were collected.

A picture of the threats that the birds face can help to identify strategies to support local conservation groups. But when you look at the migratory route, it is clear that to save the birds requires more than the engagement of one nation.

Go here to read about how old traditions are creating a problem for robins.

Postcard-from-Titan-postcard-front migration

Image: Operation Turtle Dove