Wonder on the Web

Issue 44: Links to amazing stuff.

England’s Chalk Streams

“Chalk is an alchemist,” narrator Stephen Fry explains in this lovely video on the chalk streams of Norfolk, England. The spring-fed streams, which are mostly unique to southern England, form from water that has seeped through the ground of chalk hills (think: White Cliffs of Dover). The chalk purifies the water and infuses it with extra nutrients. “Water is life,” the old saying goes. Water filtered by chalk is apparently even more fecund. More on why water is weird and wonderful: Gregg Davidson’s piece from one of our first issues.

Insect Architects

Singapore-based photographer Nicky Bay specializes in macro photography of the micro world. He usually turns his camera on bugs. But the images in a recent photo essay are of bug buildings—structures constructed by insects to protect larvae and pupae as they grow. Some of them, like this meticulously-twisted, symmetrical log pyramid, look surprisingly manmade. Others look a lot more alien. Like his subjects, Bay’s blog (which we learned about at Colossal) isn’t very big—but it’s worth a close look.

The Fragrance of Human History

We often remember to give thanks for our eyesight and our hearing, but “what of our sense of smell? Isn’t it, of all senses, massively underrated?” (We think so: just read Kate Shellnutt’s ode to smell from last year.) In this essay from The Guardian, Mark Cocker meditates on the scent of wood-smoke. This familiar aroma evokes contemplation about myriad things: jumping in piles of autumn leaves; mornings spent in Nepal, “where the houses are timber-made and traffic noise absent”; Palaeolithic cave paintings. It’s a scent, Cocker writes, that somehow encompasses all of human history.

The Hadza and the Honeyguide Bird

Over here at The Behemoth, we’re big fans of birds—and of Atlas Obscura. So when we came across AO’s “The Surprisingly Sticky Tale of the Hadza and the Honeyguide Bird,” we couldn’t resist clicking. The Hadza people group in northern Tanzania is one of the world’s few remaining hunter-gatherer societies. And they gather a lot of honey—the stuff makes up around 15 percent of their total caloric intake. The greater honeyguide is a species of bird that is particularly good at spotting beehives high in the tops of baobab trees. Here’s where their lives intersect:

When Hadza want to find honey, they shout and whistle a special tune. If a honeyguide is around, it’ll fly into the camp, chattering and fanning out its feathers. The Hadza, now on the hunt, chase it, grabbing their axes and torches and shouting “Wait!” They follow the honeyguide until it lands near its payload spot, pinpoint the correct tree, smoke out the bees, hack it open, and free the sweet combs from the nest. The honeyguide stays and watches.

Sounds like a tall tale, but Yale anthropologist Brian Wood will definitely vouch for its authenticity. And it’s a pretty sweet deal. At least for one party. (There’s a honeyguide clip from the BBC/Discovery series Human Planet available as well.)

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Also in this Issue

Issue 44 / March 17, 2016
  1. Editor's Note from March 17, 2016

    Issue 44: Walking Spain’s Camino, miscarriage and the universe, and a Good Friday groan. /

  2. Walk This Way

    Notes from a journey on the Camino de Santiago. /

  3. I, Universe

    What my miscarriage helped me see about my place in the cosmos. /

  4. Good Friday Blues

    The devastating, wordless groaning of one of the greatest songs of all time. /

  5. The Donkey

    “I keep my secret still” /

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