biodiversity Durango Herald Population

Describe your Favorite Species

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Describe your Favorite Species

© Richard Grossman MD, 2008


            Walking along the shore of Navajo Lake I saw lots of motion around the blue flowers of lupines (Lupinus angustifolius). At first they appeared to be humming birds, but they didn’t hum. Once I realized what species of animal they were, I became intrigued how their tiny brains could guide their complex behavior.

            These little animals flew from flower to flower, stopping to drink from each one. They hovered in front of flowers and carefully inserted their tiny straws to get the nectar. Even when a breeze blew and the flowers rocked in the wind, the creatures were able to maintain precise positions in front of flowers. When all of the blossoms on one plant had been emptied, the little wizards went on to the next plant.

The behavior of this tiny creature has fascinated me so much that I am still studying it after more than five years. Fortunately I don’t have to go to Navajo Lake to find them; they come right into our front yard. I have learned much about them and their invertebrate cousins. It is amazing how they fit into the complex web of life.

Perhaps you can guess what species this is. If not, its name will be in my November column.

            This introduction is to inform you how I became interested in one species. If you also have a favorite species, I would like to know about it. In fact, I am so eager to know that I am running a contest!

            Here are the rules. The contest is open to people of any age who live in southwest Colorado. Prizes will be given in two age categories—kids (12 and under) and adults (older than 12). Prizes are kindly supplied by For the Birds, a store that encourages studying back yard nature and enjoying our feathered friends. In each age group the first prize is a gift certificate for $15; the runner-up will get a gift certificate for $10. Only submit one entry per person, please.

            We all like cats and dogs, horses, cows, goats and sheep; domesticated animals and pets do not count for this contest. The species of animals entered into this contest have to be wild. Chose a single species; writing that you like jays isn’t exact enough. Describing the gray jay (Perioreus canadensis) because of its boldness would be much better.

            Each entry has to have the common name for the species as well as the scientific name. Did you ever wonder why scientists use names such as Felis concolor? Well, the mountain lion has lots of different common names such as puma, catamount and cougar. If two scientists got into a conversation about a large wildcat and used different names, could they be sure that they were talking about the same animal? The scientific name is precise.

            Entries must include the conservation status of the animal. Most animals in this area are in the “least concern” category, but some are endangered. You can learn this from the Red List at This status is also easily available if your animal is listed in Wikipedia.

            Most important is to write why the species is your favorite. This should be a short essay of 200 words or less. It can include personal experiences, significance to nature or anything that would help me understand why your species is important to you—and why it should be important to me. Please include your name, age (if you are entering in the kids’ category) and address.

            There are several criteria I will keep in mind when judging the essays. Personal experience with the animal is important, as is its importance to the web of life. Everyone values the warm, furry megafauna (like giant pandas [Ailuropoda melanoleuca]); I will give extra weight to lesser animals. There are many unsung heroes in the animal world, such as dung beetles. Where would we be if poop didn’t get recycled by these lowly creatures? Unsung heroes get extra credit.

            Finally, all submissions have to be by e-mail to The deadline for submission is 11-11-08. Decisions of the judge are final. All entries will become the property of the Durango Herald. The winners will be announced in the Population Matters! column on 12-28-08, and excerpts from the winning essays will be published.

            Please select the species that has special significance to you, and to nature. Enter this simple contest and perhaps you might win a valuable gift certificate to For the Birds.

By Richard

I am a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who has been fortunate to live and work in the wonderful community of Durango, Colorado for 40 years.

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