Nov 7, 2020 • 51M

Episode 11: Singing sparrows, snapping shrimp

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Appears in this episode

Paul Bowers
On struggles, schooling, and raw concrete in the dirty dirty south. A companion podcast to the Brutal South newsletter.
Episode details

I wrote in the newsletter a few weeks ago about this thing I saw with my kids when we were camping in the South Carolina Upstate. It was long and yellow and it moved like a slug, but it was shaped like a snake and it had a flattened sort of hammer head. It was horrifying. When we got home I wrote in to Rudy Mancke, who is sort of a legendary naturalist with a show on South Carolina Public Radio, and he informed it was a land planarian, an invasive species that probably got here on plants imported from Malaysia.

I kept reading about this thing online, and every new detail was disturbing. Its mouth is its anus, it eats worms, and if you chop it in half it just becomes two planarians. Really gross stuff.

Anyway it got me thinking about horror and beauty in the natural world, and how there is so much going on out there and there are so many creatures who probably never think about us either unless we happen to cross paths. And it prompted me to send an out-of-the-blue inquiry to Dr. Melissa Hughes, a professor in the biology department at the College of Charleston.

She doesn't study land planarians. She mainly studies song sparrows and snapping shrimp, and she was very gracious with her time explaining these weird animals to an absolute layman. Her research focuses on animal behavior, communication, territorial aggression, and deception.

I'm not a scientist, but I love talking to researchers like Dr. Hughes. I learned a lot, I came away with a new appreciation for animals I never thought much about, and I hope you enjoy this too. Let's talk about birds and shrimp for a little bit.


If you would like to read some of Dr. Hughes’ writing, here are the two pieces we discussed from Scientific American:

The Not-So-Simple Secret World of Song Sparrows

Hopeful Monsters and the Snapping Shrimp

You can find a list of her publications on Google Scholar.

The field recordings in this episode were graciously provided by Dr. Hughes. All of the birdsongs came from a single male song sparrow.

The episode art is a photo of a song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) in Battery Park, Newcastle, Delaware. It was uploaded by Flickr user Keith (Pheanix) with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.