Natural Selections

Natural Selections

From NCPR

Conversations about the natural world with Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley, from member-supported North Country Public RadioMore from Natural Selections »

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Nature journals put the history in natural history

Martha Foley has never succeeded in keeping a nature journal long-term, but Curt Stager finds them invaluable in his work. He records his observations on paper, but also finds great data through researching the journals of past observers, from Samuel de Champlain to Thomas Jefferson, to ordinary little-known North Country folk.His hint—always put it on paper. Whatever became of all that stuff on your floppy diskettes?

Listen5:43

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Fun and games when it's way too cold

In some places, winter is just too long to ignore. Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley explore some ways to have fun in extreme cold, everything from throwing hot water up into the air to guessing the temperature by the facial-hair scale.

Listen5:48

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Just how individual are animals?

We tend to think that dogs do this, and that cats do that. We think animal species have a recognizable set of behaviors that define the nature of their kind. But what about individual animals? Does each have something we could understand as a unique personality? Curt Stager said his cat is not like Martha Foley's cat. But what about individual birds, or even insects? Researchers say they can identify individuality even in some of the simplest creatures.

Listen5:00

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A new neighbor in the north: fish crows

There’s a new crow in the neighborhood! "Fish crows" look an awful lot like our regular crows, but they’re new to New York State and moving north.Martha Foley and Curt Stager share the scoop on the life and habits of the immigrant species.

Listen5:50

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How do electric eels use their "juice"?

Aside from their properties as biological dynamos, electric eels have other peculiarities—they are not true eels, but are a kind of fish—and a kind of fish that needs to breathe air. The South American predator of river bottoms can reach 40 pounds in size and deliver a fatal shock to humans.They use electricity for a number of purposes other than shocking their prey, as a navigation aid, to communicate with others of its kind and to detect unmoving prey by making its muscles twitch.Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss the life cycle of a shocking species.

Listen5:00

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Closet nemesis: the clothes moth

Keratin, the substance wool, hair, and feathers are made from, makes a pretty thin diet, but the clothes moth has been dogging humanity's closets and drawers for hundreds of years, unravelling the work of generations of knitters and weavers to feed its larvae.Martha has a personal beef with the moth and talks with Curt Stager about the life cycle of the moth, and how to fight its ruinous effects.

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Bats can sing, too!

Humans, birds, and whales are not the only creatures who can sing. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss recent research that uncovered bats also use learned songs to communicate.

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Are porcupine quills like hairs or like feathers?

Porcupine quills are hollow, like feathers, and are made from the same material, but then so are hairs, and fingernails, and claws and scales. The quill is a unique adaptation of one of nature's commonest substances and it varies even among porcupines.African porcupines can weigh as much as 60 pounds and have quills as thick as soda straws. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about "prickly" matters.

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Why does the moon look bigger when it's on the horizon?

Why does the moon look bigger when it's on the horizon, than it does when it is high in the sky? Curt Stager shoots down all of Martha Foley's theories.There are a couple ways it could be a trick of the mind, but why then doesn't it work all the time? After physics, optics, geometry and psychology, what are you left with? "Wow, big moon."

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Why is the sky blue?

Martha Foley poses the classic child's question. According to Dr. Curt Stager, the answer lies in the composition of the atmosphere, and in the refractive qualities of different wavelengths of light.

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