Awards biodiversity Durango Herald Environment

Favorite Species Contest Results

Favorite Species Contest Results

© Richard Grossman MD, 2008

In September I announced a contest to promote knowledge of biodiversity. Readers were invited to describe their favorite species of animal and to tell why they favor that species. For the Birds, a Durango store featuring products to explore backyard nature, kindly offered to supply prizes in both adult and kids’ categories.

One of the requirements for all entries was to include the animals’ scientific name, which is more exact than the common name. Another requirement was to mention the animal’s conservation status. In judging I looked for originality, persuasiveness and a good description of the animal.

You know that some animals are already extinct, some are endangered and some are plentiful. What animals are at risk? The best authority is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). It publishes an annual Red List of species in several categories, from “extinct” to “endangered” to “vulnerable” to “least concern.”

November’s article touched on the importance of biodiversity to humans. It described my favorite animal, Hyles lineata (the white lined sphinx moth), and told why it intrigues me. Fortunately it is common—in the “least concern” category.

I was delighted to receive over 40 entries from kids. They were all in Ms. McManus’ seventh grade science class at Miller Middle School. It was difficult to decide which was most deserving of the two prizes. Perhaps the most unexpected is Mikayla Montoya’s description of European nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis). This worm, an exotic from Azerbaijan, is ideal for fishing. Mikayla seems to be on her way to being a nature writer or biologist with her description of worm hunting with her dad in their neighbor’s yard! Unfortunately, she did not include the conservation status in her essay.

Some of the animals students described are pretty exotic—and endangered. My mother and Charly Cooper would agree that the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) is both beautiful and threatened by human expansion. I was amazed to learn from Mady Ward’s essay that the longhorn cowfish (Lactoria cornuta) likes to be scratched between its eyes! Eli Kopp-DeVol’s description of Osteoglossum bicirrhosum, also known as the silver arawana or water monkey is intriguing. He explains that this fish can jump out of the Amazon onto the limbs of trees when the river floods. The seeds it eats are dropped on the river below, where they grow into new trees. These essays all deserve honorable mention.

It was difficult to choose winners in the kids’ category because of the wide variety of species and the obvious interest that the writers have in their choices of animals. The first place winner is Nick Tarpley who notes that the leaf-cutter ant (Atta cephalotes) has amazing abilities, including lifting three times its own weight. ”They don’t eat leaves, unlike popular belief. Instead they use the leaves to help grow fungus, which is their main diet.”

Second place goes to Hannah Smith for her description of Przwalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii). I learned that the wild population of this precursor of modern horses is fewer than 300! Fortunately there are a few more of these animals living in zoos and reserves. The species is endangered, of course. Hannah wrote: “I love horses for their beauty and movement. The Przewalski horses are not as beautiful as the domestic horse but are an important part of living history.”

There was only one adult entry, from Diane Trembly. She has friends in high places—western scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica) who have trained her to provide peanuts. Diane is impressed by their intelligence, writing “If I toss out multiple peanuts, the birds “weigh” them to see which is heavier, returning later for the lighter peanut.” Smart birds! And smart Diane, who gets a gift certificate to For the Birds.

Awarding the adult second prize is easy. It took an enthusiastic teacher to motivate all of the seventh graders. This is Jackie McManus’ second year teaching in Durango. She writes: I love teaching 7th grade – the kids are so funny! One day, after reminding the kids that fair isn’t always equal and equal isn’t always fair, one of my students blurted out, “Yeah, because if life was fair and equal, horses would be riding US half the time!” I love it!

I would like to finish with a quote from Kevin Brinkley, who chose to write about the Adelie penguin (Pygosecelis adeliae). Although his entry didn’t win a prize, I like his closing: “Thanks for reading. I hope you learned a lot.”

Published in the Durango Herald 12-2008

The article above may be copied or published but must remain intact, with attribution to the author. I also request that the words “First published in the Durango Herald” accompany any publication. For more information, please write the author at:


Population Institute Global Media Award Winner

Dr. Richard Grossman, a Colorado gynecologist and columnist for the Durango Herald, has been named a Population Institute Best Columnist for his provocative long-running “Population Matters” columns. His column, “Effects of poverty create the most haunting images of India,” recounting his personal realization of the connection between leprosy and poverty is illustrative of his efforts to bring development and population issues to the attention of his readers.

To read the press release on the Global Media Awards please visit