Tag: Urban Organisms

moths flying around a streetlight

Street Lights Permanently Change the Ecology of Local Bugs

The first “modern” streetlight was lit in London’s Pall Mall in 1807. That night may also have marked the first time a moth found itself trapped in an irresistible spiral around public lighting. Ever since then, streetlights have become a fixture of life in cities and suburbs, and a deathtrap for flying insects. Researchers at the University of Exeter have recently discovered that the abundance of insect life around these lights is not just a passing assemblage, but a permanent fixture. The diversity of invertebrate ground predators and scavengers, like beetles and harvestmen, remained elevated around streetlights even during the day. These insects had figured out the benefits of living in an island of artificially high prey concentrations.

These findings indicate that streetlights affect local ecologies for a longer duration, and at a higher level in the food web, than previously thought. Given the decline of pollinators and other invertebrates in the UK and around the world, it may be important to re-examine the impact of seemingly harmless nighttime lighting.

Image via Swburdine. Thanks to Twitter user Namhenderson for the story.

the reason why cities have squirrels

Squirrels Are in Cities to Keep Us Sane

If you stroll through a park in an American city, you might assume that all the squirrels you see got there on their own. After all, where there’s trees, there’s usually nuts, and where’s there’s nuts, there’s squirrels. But it turns out that those nut-bearing trees were specifically planted to support squirrels, and that all those squirrels were brought there on purpose. It turns out the existence of urban squirrels is linked to a history of changing attitudes towards nature, the wilderness, and animals:

The squirrel fad really took off in the 1870s, thanks to Frederick Law Olmstead’s expansive parks… the movement to fill the parks with squirrels “was related to the idea that you want to have things of beauty in the city, but it was also part of a much broader ideology that says that nature in the city is essential to maintaining people’s health and sanity, and to providing leisure opportunities for workers who cannot travel outside the city.” These squirrels were possibly the only wildlife the workers would ever see.

Read more about city squirrels at Gizmodo. Photo of a fry-loving squirrel via Serious Eats.

new york city dogs hunt for rats
Back to the Tribe

New York’s Dogs Hunt for Dangerous Game: City Rats

Before the advent of broadcast sports or animal rights legislation, a night at the pub used to mean one thing: watching small terriers snap the spines of dozens, if not hundreds, of rats. Sporting men placed bets on how many rats a dog could kill in a set period of time. Nowadays, dog breeds bred to hunt rats, rabbits, badgers don’t get much of a chance to exercise their killer instincts. The Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS) in New York, however, have figured out how to harness their dog’s inborn talents in order to make a (small) dent in the city’s rodent problem.

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tokyo subway

The Pulsating Heart of Tokyo

An astounding tangle of multi-colored water flowing throughout 18 arteries represents what happens every day in the pulsating heart of Tokyo. This is how Takatsugu Kuriyama, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, creates a 3D map of the subway system of the Japanese capital, visualizing the city as a creature.

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Gardening on the Roof of a Bus

In the streets of Girona, a sunny town near Barcelona, ?you can find an eco-friendly bus with a garden on the roof. It’s not an artistic work, but an experiment to expand the urban green area, in order to reduce CO2. Called Autocultural, it’s a classic bus with a thin layer of hydroponic components on the top, allowing the plants to grow without overloading to the vehicle’s structure with the weight of the soil. Public transporters drivers can now add green thumb to their CV.

Source: The Sunday Times

Nature is here to stay

Anthropo-scene #4: Longing for Nature

Nature, anybody? Heidelberger Platz is one of the more brutal urban spaces in Berlin. It is torn apart by the city highway and train lines. The few buildings that surround it look pretty ugly. There’s no feeling of a social fabric here, just a constant flow of people moving through. The whole experience of being here is pretty filthy. Except for the animals. Here they are, a dolphin and a turtle swimming in bright blue water, a happy chick and a healthy-looking ice bear, plastered on the walls of a drive-thru car wash under the highway bridge. The owners of the car wash could show race cars here or pictures of sexy women, but no: people get to see a pictorial zoo. An optimistic reading of this bizarre sight is that it exploits an in-built human longing for being in and with nature. If we feel happy hanging out with dolphins even in our car washes, humans will surely look after the well-being of Earth in the Anthropocene? The pessimistic reading goes like this: we’re fed Orwellian images of an abstract natural purity so we get distracted from how ugly human-made spaces can be. Either way, Nature is here to stay.

Screen shot 2013-07-03 at 3.58.53 PM
Manufactured Animals

Swans Float through Flooded Streets

In this peculiar image, swans float down a flooded street in Worcester, UK. A jarring sight to human observers, the swan’s blithe adoption of a new habitat illustrates the fact that most creatures don’t care about the differences between nature and culture. Via The Times.

nairobi lions prepare for hunt

Lions Relax in Morning Traffic

Old nature meets next nature as a pair of lions prepare for their day amidst morning traffic, while human bystanders snap photos and upload them to Facebook. As cities and suburbs infringe on lion habitat, these carnivores are increasingly becoming synanthropes – animals that, welcome or not, live in association with human habitations. Image via Naij.

Boomeranged Metaphors

Google Birdhouse Shows Birds Their Way

Maybe the Taiwanese artist Shuchun Hsiao was inspired by a cold winter day to reinvent the common birdhouse in the shape of the Google Maps icon. The designer understood the importance and the omnipresence of Google Maps in our society and created the Google Birdhouse Project, a modern way to accommodate birds in urban spaces.

The iconic symbol references the “surfing” of flying birds to find their arrival point, just like Google Maps does for humans. As Shuchun Hsiao explains: “Birds have the most real experience of Google Maps. Birds can fly through the city, through streets. A birdhouse becomes their destination”.

Eye-catching, but not intrusive, these niches are also interesting urban decorations. The micro in the macro, the abstract becoming material, the virtual in the real: the result of the Google Birdhouse is bewildering and strong. Perhaps something dealing with Twitter would have been more predictable.