Archive for April 5th, 2010

Graffiti for Butterflies

April 5, 2010 @ 6:59 pm | Filed under: , ,

Another tidbit from The Dangerous World of Butterflies:

[Elliot Malkin of Brooklyn, NY] worries that migrating Monarch butterflies, in search of their plant food milkweed, will find a dearth of the needed vegetation in the urban reaches of New York City. Intent to do what he can to help, he placed potted milkweed plants on the balcony of his apartment. Concerned that it might be difficult for the butterflies to locate his few plants in the asphalt jungle, two ideas came to him: paint giant pictures of milkweed adjacent to the real plants to alert the flying Monarchs, and then paint them with sunblock.

“Milkweed flowers,” says Malkin, “have natural ultraviolet patterns that are recognizable to Monarch butterflies. These patterns are invisible to us because we can’t see light in the ultraviolet spectrum. So Graffiti for Butterflies uses sunblock to pain the graffiti in a way that mimics these natural ultraviolet properties.” Sunblock is a perfect medium, he says, because it reflects ultraviolet light. Malkin considers his work “the equivalent of a fast-food sign on a highway, advertising rest stops to Monarchs.”

Malkin can’t say conclusively whether his sunblocked paintings are responsible for attracting the butterflies to his rooftop garden, but they are indeed visiting his milkweed plants. Here’s Malkin’s website.

In other news, our milkweed is blooming.

(Photo of last year’s crop.)

Nonfiction for Teens

April 5, 2010 @ 7:48 am | Filed under:

Books my 14-year-old has enjoyed in recent months (and me, too, many of them):

The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists by Peter Laufer. My first-half-of-the-book notes here. (Edited to add, now that I’ve finished the book: there is a bit of, erm, mature content in the chapter about convicted butterfly smuggler Yoshi Kojima. Parents of younger readers may want to preview that bit.)

Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen. Posts here and here.

Also by Rowan Jacobsen, Chocolate Unwrapped: The Surprising Health Benefits of America’s Favorite Passion. My MFA classmate was ahead of the wave on the “chocolate is health food” news. This slim little book packs a ton of information in Rowan’s typically engaging style, delving into the science behind these glad tidings. My thoughts here.

(We are keen to read his latest work, American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of our Woods, Waters, and Fields—”Why does honey from the tupelo-lined banks of the Apalachicola River have a kick of cinnamon unlike any other? Why is king salmon from Alaska’s Yukon River the richest in the world? Why do coffee beans from a single estate in Panama sell at auction for ten times the price of any other beans in the world? The reason is terroir, the ‘taste of place.’” His shellfish and shorelines book looks interesting, too.)

Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. I heard about this one at Mental Multi-vitamin and knew both Jane and I would enjoy it. I read a few early passages out loud, and Jane recalled reading about Alexander Wilson’s woodpecker misadventure in Muse magazine some time earlier. She took over Of a Feather and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Don’t Know Much about History
Don’t Know Much about Geography
Don’t Know Much about the Universe
, all by Kenneth C. Davis

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif, about the discovery of microbes and their role in the transmission of disease.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. Although I was a little disappointed in the depiction of Emma Darwin’s religious conviction—it seemed more like a salve deliberately applied to soothe grief than an authentic, considered belief system, which is at odds with the sharp intelligence and probing powers of examination we see in Emma’s letters—I really liked this book about the Darwins’ marriage and the development of Charles’s ideas. Deborah Heiligman’s affection and respect for both Charles and Emma is shiningly apparent. I was surprised to learn what a doting teddy-bear of a father Charles was, and I loved reading his letters and journal writings which are overflowing with expressions of his deep love and admiration for his wife. Jane remarked upon how interesting she found their relationship, how they made it work despite differences of belief. Yes, that resonated with me too. 😉

This week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup can be found at Lerner Books.