The natural photography of Théo de Gueltzl

Théo de Gueltzl is a Paris-born photographer who has found himself in a lot of different place since he left his native France.

When we last spoke to Théo in 2017, he was living in Bogota following a road trip he had undertaken from Los Angeles, through Mexico, and into South America. There he established a studio and began planning his future trips. He had “the bug for travelling” and, four years later, he still does. His recent photographic work is full of far-flung landscapes and portraits of different communities. This kind of work, he says, is integral to his practice and is the very reason he continues to pick up his camera. “I think I have been very much driven towards telling the stories of communities from other parts of the world in the hope of helping to preserve the diversity of culture,” he explains. “In a time where we are all looking at the world through the same filtered window, and living on a planet that is always growing and changing, I like the idea that photographs can act as proof, carrying information about how people lived in a certain place at a certain time.”

via It’s Nice That

Théo’s passion lies in nature and its richness. You’ll find jungles, beaches, lakes, and foliage in his work and beautiful backdrops to complement them.

Follow him on Instagram for more.

Argentinian capybaras reclaim their land; are called 'invaders'; memes ensue

There’s a gated community of rich people in Argentina called Nordelta. It was founded in 1999 and lies in the north of Buenos Aires, home to luxury homes, sports facilities, even a shopping mall. However, Nordelta also encroaches upon the Paraná wetlands, which is already under pressure from overfarming, and the extraction of natural resources. And capybaras live in those areas.

So what happens when humans build on or around animal habitats? The animals fight back and a group of plucky capybaras (known as carpinchos in Argentina) has been tearing through Nordelta, destroyed lawns and infrastructure, causing traffic jams, and even attacking pets.

So what happens when animals try to reclaim their homes that humans built on? They fight back with guns. According to The Guardian, some residents have brought out their hunting rifles to defend themselves and their property.

[…] But many other Argentinians have taken to social media to defend the rodents – known locally as carpinchos.

In politically polarized Argentina, progressive Peronists see Nordelta as the enclave of an upper class eager to exclude common people – and with tongue only partly in cheek, some have portrayed the capybaras as a rodent vanguard of the class struggle.

And that’s where the memes come in. I found these on a Tumblr post that brought the whole capybara story to my attention:

They’re magnificent and they warm my heart. As for the plight of the communist capybaras, it remains precarious but campaigners are still trying to pass legislation that will protect the wetlands from further development:

“Wealthy real-estate developers with government backing have to destroy nature in order to sell clients the dream of living in the wild – because the people who buy those homes want nature, but without the mosquitoes, snakes or carpinchos,” he [Enrique Viale] said.

Here at Cultrface, we are in full support of the capybaras. Solidarity with the rodents!

Related to animals in South America: Are Pablo Escobar’s hippos good for Colombia’s ecosystem?

What was François Mitterrand's final meal and why was it so controversial?

The ortolan is a small bird from the bunting family that lives in Europe and western Asia. It is also the last meal that former French president François Mitterrand ever ate, 8 days before his death. But eating ortolans is illegal in France (even though some chefs will still make it) and it comes with some… unique traditions:

[…] To prepare it, the ortolan is drowned in a glass of Armagnac. This is not a metaphor. It is actually drowned, and then it is cooked in a cassoulet.

[…]

You place a white cloth over your head and pick the bird up with your fingers, and then you eat it whole, wings, feet, organs, head, everything except the feet. The ortolan is supposed to represent the soul of France.

The white cloth is to create a closed sensory world of just taste and scent.

The cloth is also, traditionally, to hide the act from God.

via Interconnected

For more on Mitterand’s last meal and the ortolan, read Michael Paterniti’s 1998 piece for Esquire magazine. You can also read this Smithsonian article on the ortolan from 2018 and how it is/was eaten into extinction. (A note that while the ortolan’s global conservation listing is “Least Concern”, in France, it is “Endangered”.)

When Solomon Leyva took his titan arum to an abandoned gas station

Photo of a titan arum.
source: Flickr, via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), is a flowering plant also known as ‘the corpse flower’ due to its stench similar to a rotting corpse. Solomon Leyva owned one of these plants and decided to take it to the site of an abandoned gas station in California for others to admire. Atlas Obscura interviewed him about the idea:

What made you decide to take the flower out on the town?

What’s the point in having it? It was only going to bloom for a day—I mean, I have to share it. I don’t know what else I would have done.

There’s a really great, cute little community in the city that I live in, and I just thought everybody would enjoy seeing it. I was out from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and again the next day. The first day, it was really cold and [the plant] wasn’t enthusiastic about opening all the way. The second day, it had been in my greenhouse and opened more. Everybody was fascinated and happy—they’ve had their [vaccine] shots and are wanting to come out.

The cute Art Deco gas station that’s been out of commission for over 30 years across from city hall—I couldn’t think of any better place to bring it. Everywhere else has sidewalks or patio seating for restaurants. Also, I had to put in a wagon and was pulling it down the street, and I didn’t want to go across town. I couldn’t fit it in my van; it was too tall. I’m 5-foot-10, and it was a few inches shorter than me.

Nearly everyone remarked about the smell, but some didn’t find the smell until it wafted up with the breeze. Everyone took their mask off to smell it. I let kids play with it, dogs jump up on it. There’s no sense in protecting something that’s only going to live for a day. Everybody just has their memory, and that’s all you get. What better way to say goodbye to the pandemic than to watch a corpse flower bloom?

Not even the foul, deathly odour of a plant could stop people from keeping their masks on. Incredible.

The etymological identity crisis of Arctic bears

A fascinating read about bears and the Arctic and how their etymological histories are based on anonymity and opposites. The link to the Slovak Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh where the below quote is from is dead so here it is from the Boing Boing article:

The Old Slavic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of, e.g., Slovak, Polish, Croatian), Old Germanic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of, e.g., English, German, Norwegian), and Old Baltic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of Latvian and Lithuanian), who lived next to each other and interacted for many generations, came to believe that if you call the bear by his true name, he would hear and understand, and you would fail to catch him, or he would come to harm you. The bear was the only really dangerous animal in their woods. The original word artko was tabooed. Such beliefs about not calling prey and danger by their “true” names are not uncommon among hunters and people in general through the present.

And then there’s the etymology of the Arctic which basically means “the place of the bear” and Antarctica means the opposite of the place of the bear.

On the surface level, this makes for a rather literal and simplistic naming convention for the planetary poles. The Arctic, the place of the bear, has Polar Bears; Antarctica, the opposite of the place of the bear, does not have polar bears.

That all tracks. Until you remember that “bear” is just a placeholder name for That Big Furry Beast That We’re Too Scared To Mention. And so, the Arctic was technically named as the “place of the thing that shall not be named.” By extension, the name of Antarctica exists in direct reference to that signifier, which itself is a reference to something that shall not be named—literally, “the opposite of the place of the thing that shall not be named.”

I don’t know about you but I want to know what the bear’s real name is!

Flying fish doing what they do best

Flying Fish Picked Off From Above And Below | The Hunt | BBC Earth

Although I’ve eaten flying fish before, I’d never actually seen them “fly” until recently (easily accessible to me but not something I’ve ever gone out of my way to find). The above video, filmed for BBC Earth, shows a glide of flying fish soaring through the air. Truly majestic.

They’re also a significant part of Bajan culture (I ate them in Barbados while visiting my dad’s family):

Many aspects of Barbadian culture center (sic) around the flying fish; it is depicted on coins, as sculptures in fountains, in artwork, and as part of the official logo of the Barbados Tourism Authority. Additionally, the Barbadian coat of arms features a pelican and dolphinfish on either side of the shield, but the dolphinfish resembles a flying fish. Furthermore, actual artistic renditions and holograms of the flying fish are also present within the Barbadian passport.

Helsingin Sanomat's 'Climate Crisis' font weights shrink with the Arctic sea ice

Climate change font graph

Helsingin Sanomat is Finland’s largest subscription newspaper, based in the nation’s capital, Helsinki. In response to the growing climate crisis, the publication created The Climate Crisis Font, a variable font with weights that change gradually but dramatically:

The font’s design is based on data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (https://nsidc.org) and predictions provided by the IPCC (https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/). The heaviest font weight represents the minimum extent of the Arctic sea ice in the year 1979, when satellite measuring began. The lightest weight represents IPCC’s 2050 forecast, when the Arctic sea ice minimum is expected to have shrunk to only 30 % of the 1979 extent.

How a clownfish earns their stripes

Charismatic clownfish, the coral reef fish made famous by the film Finding Nemo, are instantly recognizable by their white stripes. These stripes, which scientists call bars, appear as clownfish mature from larvae into adults in a process called metamorphosis, but how these distinctive patterns form has long remained a mystery.

Now, a new study has found that the speed at which these white bars form depends on the species of sea anemone in which the clownfish live. The scientists also discovered that thyroid hormones, which play a key role in metamorphosis, drive how quickly their stripes appear, through changes in the activity of a gene called duox.

Something else I didn’t know about clownfish is how they transition from male to female over time:

Anemonefish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop into males first, and when they mature, they become females. If the female anemonefish is removed from the group, such as by death, one of the largest and most dominant males becomes a female. The remaining males move up a rank in the hierarchy.

I’ve got an idea for a Finding Nemo sequel!

(via SciTechDaily)

Fish related: The ‘vantafish’ that absorbs nearly all light that hits it and how fish skin is used for leather

The Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan

Deep in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan lies something extraordinary: a 230ft-wide hole with fire in it. Known to locals as “The Gates of Hell”, the crater (officially known as the Darvaza gas crater) was the result of a disputed accident:

[…] a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate.

To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. The Soviet drilling rig is believed to still be down there somewhere, on the other side of the “Gates of Hell.”

The hole has been on fire for 40 years. For more pictures and the story of a Canadian explorer who went down, check out this Guardian article.

(via Atlas Obscura)

Grizzly bear + polar bear = pizzly bear

Vanderbilt researcher explains Pizzly bear hybrid species

Climate change sucks but nature has an uncanny knack for adapting to new environments. After all, it’s been doing it for billions of years. An example that piqued my interest was the pizzly bear (or grolar bear if you prefer that portmanteau).

So what is a pizzly bear?

A pizzly bear is the offspring of a grizzly bear and a polar bear. They were first discovered in the wild in 2006 and the reason for the pairing relates to both species moving to better climates: grizzlies are looking for warmth and polar bears are looking for cold. They meet halfway, come into contact when hunting, and engage in “opportunistic mating,” according to Larisa DeSantis, an associate professor of biological sciences at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University.

DeSantis also says they’re “more resilient to climate change and better suited for warmer temperatures”:

“We’ve known about pizzlies for quite some time, but their occurrence may be more common with ongoing Arctic warming […] Usually hybrids aren’t better suited to their environments than their parents, but there is a possibility that these hybrids might be able to forage for a broader range of food sources.”

Animal related: that time when the UN claimed a million species were close to extinction

La Soufrière's eruption: before and after photos

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission captured the above images of La Soufrière before and after its eruption on 9th April.

La Soufrière is an active stratovolcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. A series of explosive events began in April 2021, forming a plume of volcanic ash reaching 8 km in height, and generating pyroclastic flows down the volcano’s south and southwest flanks.

According to the BBC, La Soufriere had been inactive for decades before it started erupting last week. No reported injuries but thousands have fled their homes.

(via SciTechDaily)

A Japanese study classified fish-shaped soy sauce containers into species

The fish-shaped soy sauce container

A Japanese entomologist has ventured from his area of expertise to delve into the taxonomy of these plastic fish and he has actually sorted them into distinct families and genera. You may wonder, why? Perhaps it is an ode to the humble soy sauce container, perhaps another outlet for a taxonomist to channel OCD, or perhaps just because.

The author of the book, Yoshihisa Sawada, is an expert in Japanese insect taxonomy and has worked at the Museum of Nature and Human Activities in Hyogo, having published several scientific papers in this field. He took his taxonomic expertise and applied it to an unlikely subject, seemingly below his expertise: plastic fish-shaped soy sauce bottles. He applies his same methodology and treats his subject with all the reverence and seriousness of an actual taxonomic study on living animals. The book was published in 2012 and, alas, is only available in Japanese. The rough translation of the title into English is “Soy sauce sea bream”. “Bream” refers to freshwater and marine fish from a variety of genera that are typically narrow and deep-bodied.

More on fish: Europe’s only fish tannery, did Danny DeVito eat a real fish in Batman Returns, and the vantafish that absorbs nearly all light.

(via ZME Science, h/t Alex Cassidy on Twitter)

Bees' brain cell density is higher than birds

This from New Scientist about bees:

Many bees have a brain cell density greater than that of small birds – but most ant brains contain a far lower density of neurons. The difference may be down to the insects’ lifestyles: because bees fly, they may need more brain cells than ants do in order to process visual information […]

However, the difference in the insects’ brain cell counts probably has little to do with intelligence, says team member Wulfila Gronenberg, also at the University of Arizona. The researchers think flying insects probably need more neurons to power the enhanced vision they need for flight, an idea that they will test in future.

See also: stingless bees and murder hornets

(via New Scientist)

Tam Tam: the cutest baby pygmy hippo in Japan

Tam Tam, the pygmy hippo looking at the camera

Tam Tam is a pygmy hippo from Osaka, Japan. He was born in February 2019.

As pygmy hippos are classed as Endangered, it’s remarkable to see newborns anywhere, let alone Far East Asia where they aren’t native. But the World Conservation Union estimates that fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos are left in the wild so captivity is unfortunately the safest place for them.

The video below shows Tam Tam at swimming in the pool showing his growing teeth and nursing underwater. But above all else, it shows him being the cutest baby pygmy hippo in Japan.

Stream it below and consider a donation to the Pygmy Hippo Foundation.

ミニカバの赤ちゃん 手乗りサイズだったけど大きくなりました! / Adorable baby pygmy hippo at Japanese aquarium

Hippo related: Pablo Escobar’s hippos and 10 hippos from cartoons, literature, and other media.