Leaf it alone

A science journalist's newsletter about human-animal relationships Vol. 4 Iss. 1

Welcome to Vol. 4! What’s new: the newsletter comes out on Saturdays or Sundays now; the “More things I read this week” section is divided into news and longreads; pullquotes from fiction aren’t allowed to be more than four sentences long (I need to rein in my excesses somewhere.)

In other news, I’m fundraising to start a CREATURE FEATURE podcast where I’ll go deeper into the stuff we talk about here every week. I’m hoping to launch it for my birthday on December 14.

This week’s issue of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by my colleagues and friends, without whom this job would be impossibly hard. Here are a few of their newsletters that I like reading: Hu Cares (Jane Hu), The Purposeful Object (Navneet Alang), Shake It Off (Eva Holland.)


The diamonds? Real. The teeth? Possibly false. The fur? Definitely fake.

Queen Elizabeth II of that island nation has stopped wearing real fur, Rory Sullivan writes for CNN. The royal family and especially the monarch have gotten shade for continuing to wear fur before, Sullivan reports, but no word on exactly why 2019 was the year HRH decided it was time to cut it out.

Extra credit: I’d argue wearing fur (or leather, or whatever) isn’t inherently any better or worse than eating animals, which nobody in the British Royal Family is likely to stop doing any time soon. And most alternatives to these products are made out of plastic.

In January this newsletter featured an amazing piece on the significance of wearing furs for her mother and other Black Americans from Jasmine Sanders—you can read that here. Then there is the sustainable harvest and use of animals such as seals from the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic—which is also stigmatized by white organizations, eg. PETA. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

You could just… stop raking leaves

A Canadian conservation group has a suggestion: just stop raking up the leaves in your yard and removing all the dead plant stuff. It’s not just less work, writes Basem Boshra for CTV News Montreal, it might also help capture carbon in your lawn.

Full disclosure: I write for a competitor organization’s membership magazine, Canadian Wildlife.

“Backyard animals, such as toads, frogs and many pollinators, once lived in forests and have adapted to hibernate under leaves,” said Dan Kraus, the [Nature Conservancy of Canada]'s senior conservation biologist. “The leaves provide an insulating blanket that can help protect these animals from very cold temperatures and temperature fluctuations during the winter.”

Leaving plant stalks, dead branches and shrubs in one's yard or garden through the winter months can also help provide an inviting winter habitat for native insects and birds, Kraus added.

Wearable art and wild blood

This Lithub longread by Richard Louv, the man who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” is… interesting. I find the whole argument that we yearn for an Edenic connection with nature to be specious. After all, where we live is nature too. But it’s a common argument, and this piece has some good reporting on the community of those who keep reptiles as pets, known as herpers.


GIF: A shovel-snouted lizard in the wild does a weird dance to keep their feet from burning on hot sand. (BBC Planet Earth)


A raggedy brown and white springer spaniel was cruising the pavement for scraps. It wandered over to our group and began to snuffle excitedly at our hands and pockets. Its coat was matted with stalactites of dirt and its tongue hung from its jaws like a sodden pink sock. It stank like a heap of used bath towels, and was clearly a stray.

Colin Barrett, from “Let’s Go Kill Ourselves”


Extra credit

More things I read this week.

  1. Ram the owl rescued from Maria Fire (Venture Country Star, Gretchen Wenner) 

  2. No more Russian whale jail (National Geographic, Natasha Daly)

  3. US en route to making (some) animal abuse a federal offense (ABC Action News, WFTS Digital Staff)

  4. Australia horse race gets shade (The Guardian, Luke Henriques-Gomes)

  5. Rabies-proofing the raccoons (National Geographic, Jason Bittel)


Please read me

My most recent work.

  1. Arctic critters are sneezing on each other like never before

  2. California power outages hit small businesses—but bolster generator companies

  3. Teen vaping is on the rise, and their favorite flavor is flying under the radar


Questions? Comments? Compliments? Complaints? Contact me at my email or on Twitter. If you enjoy this newsletter and would like to tip me, I am on Ko-fi.

All images in CREATURE FEATURE are used under Creative Commons licensing. Efforts have been made to ensure that photographs of living animals or natural scenes have been taken ethically, in responsible pet ownership conditions, at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums or under safe, non-damaging conditions in the wild. If you see an issue with any image we share, please notify me.

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