Tolkien, new film, a critical review

This March 2019 film trailer video from the USA says about itself:

TOLKIEN | Trailer 2 | FOX Searchlight

TOLKIEN explores the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school. Their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up and weather love and loss together, including Tolkien’s tumultuous courtship of his beloved Edith Bratt, until the outbreak of the First World War which threatens to tear their fellowship apart. All of these experiences would later inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-earth novels.

The film is produced by Fox, part of the Rupert Murdoch empire. Not a good omen.

By Sandy English in the USA:

Tolkien: Biopic of author J.R.R. Tolkien rings false

5 October 2019

Directed by Dome Karukoski. Screenplay by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford.

Tolkien is a fictionalized biography of the early life of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit (1936) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1947-55).

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) is the most significant figure in the field of heroic fantasy, one of the most popular genres of fiction, film and television today. Fantasy, closely related to science fiction as a type of imaginative writing, emerged in the 19th century from the study of folklore, northern European epic poetry and medieval romance. The understanding of these sources was making great strides in the second half of that century, and helped to inspire fantasy, which was influenced by the romanticism of the earlier 19th century.

It is generally agreed today that Tolkien’s stature as an important English-language novelist—whether one agrees with this characterization or not—should not be diminished by the fact that he wrote about imaginary worlds with fictitious mythologies in which magic is used and which he populated both with humans and with a variety of human-like creatures.

After an initial success of The Lord of the Rings in the 1950s, the trilogy, and its prequel The Hobbit, steadily grew in popularity and are today a defining influence on the fantasy genre, which includes many bestselling novels and popular television dramas, such as Game of Thrones.

Tolkien was born in South Africa, where his father died in 1896. His mother relocated the family to Birmingham, England, and raised him and his brother in poverty until she, too, died in 1904. He spent the rest of his youth under the stewardship of a Catholic priest, Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan (played in the film by Colm Meaney), who sought to prevent his attachment to a fellow orphan, Edith Bratt.

Tolkien shows the author as a young man in the period preceding, during and immediately following the First World War of 1914 to 1918, in which Tolkien served as a junior officer in the British army on the western front. The film more or less stops there, however.

On this basis alone, the film must be judged wanting. It cannot possibly give a serious depiction of the times and experiences that produced Tolkien and his work while omitting the impact of the rest of the first third of the 20th century on Tolkien’s work. Even more seriously, it gives a simplistic and linear view of artistic development in general.

The film lavishes attention on Tolkien’s childhood and youth as an orphan, his association with a group of young friends, first at King Edward’s school in Birmingham, and after 1913—while he was at Oxford University—the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS). The TCBS scenes are given far too much emphasis in the film. Another focus is Tolkien’s courtship of Edith Bratt (Lily Collins). Both of these elements only add to a misleading impression of Tolkien as simply a typical middle-class youth of the pre-war period, with an interest in ancient languages.

This was the period of Tolkien’s life during which he formed an interest in the study of Germanic languages, ancient and modern. His love of linguistics and ancient Germanic literature (the Old Norse Eddas or the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, for example) and his play with word-origins became the focus of his academic career after the war, but also a significant source of his own fictional mythology of Middle Earth, the world of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and other works.

To its credit, Tolkien does show this interest—in one scene, John Ronald (Nicholas Hoult) approaches the famous Oxford Germanic linguist Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi) to ask to be transferred to his course of study.

The acting in the film is generally good. Jacobi is a scholar obsessed by his field, and Hoult has the right proportions of enthusiasm before and discouragement after the war.

Tolkien’s induction into the military, and the depictions of battle on the Somme in 1916, are vivid and affecting scenes. The nightmare visions of thousands of soldiers are here: the piles of corpses, the maddening artillery barrages. One gets a sense of the suffering and carnage that Tolkien saw in that battle, one of the worst in human history.

But the film makes completely misguided attempts to locate these experiences in the development of Tolkien’s art. At one point on the Somme, feverish, he goes on a journey through the trenches to find his TCBS friend Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney). He is accompanied by a soldier conveniently named Sam (the name one of the characters Tolkien uses in an epic journey in The Lord of the Rings 20 years later). Clouds of shell smoke form themselves into the shape of wraiths that resemble those of the Peter Jackson’s film version of The Lord of the Rings.

The rest of the film also indulges is this kind of oversimplification of the sources of Tolkien’s artistic work. When Edith asks John Ronald to tell her a story, he begins by saying, “It’s about journeys, the journeys we take to prove ourselves,” leading the viewer to assume that Tolkien already had in mind the kind of journeys that form the basis of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

While Tolkien was a flop at the box-office, it is true that anything associated with Tolkien is potentially worth millions. In this case, the film was disavowed by the Tolkien Estate, which announced before the film was released that it wished “to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film.” The estate has taken authors and business to court several times, and it sold rights for a television series based on his works to Amazon for $250 million in 2017. The company is said to be investing over a billion dollars in the production of this series.

Tolkien is loosely based on a biography by John Garth that covers the same period in Tolkien’s life, Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth (2003). Garth has also raised doubts about the accuracy of the film.

Garth’s biography is a better effort. Overall it sticks to the facts of Tolkien’s life. it makes some interesting observations about the work that Tolkien began writing when he was convalescing from trench fever and was associated with the mythology that later became the backdrop to the Lord of the Rings.

Garth, however, uses the same method as the film does when he fails to identify the place of World War I in history, to trace the conceptions that formed Tolkien’s sensibility or to compare his time on the Somme in any detail with those of other writers who experienced the war. There is little in his book about the immediate postwar period and the enormous impact of the war on European society and politics.

While the war unquestionably had a profound effect on Tolkien—years later he called it an “utter stupid waste” and “an animal horror”—the real question is, what impact did World War I and the next 20–25 years, which saw the rise of fascism, the depression and the coming of a second world war, have on him and his creative work.

Any assessment of the effect of the war itself would have to be weighed in that context, especially since his work about Middle Earth did not appear for nearly two decades. The complexity and richness of a whole historical period during which Tolkien worked out his languages, mythologies and fiction is missing from the book as well as the film.

The immediacy of the war came full force and gave expression to the feelings and thoughts of millions of active-duty soldiers, in works such as Henri Barbusse’s novel Under Fire (1916) and the poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, which were also published during the war.

But other works by soldiers took time to develop. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front was not published until 1928, for example, and William March’s Company K not until 1930.

In fact, few authors had a less immediate response to the world around them than J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien, who invented his own mythology and even whole languages, passed through a prolonged development, 19 years between the end of the war and the production of The Hobbit.

Understanding Tolkien’s life is an entirely legitimate project, especially for what it can reveal about the social, artistic and personal influences on his work, but the film unfortunately fails to give a broader sense of the times in which he lived.

Tolkien is not in any way critical of British society before the war. The viewer is as surprised as the characters when war is declared and when it turns into a disaster. The film offers few insights into the character of the war, aside from its bloody violence, and it does not show a world transformed by the war. At best we get a sense of what it did to Tolkien, but not to European society. This method does not help us understand the 20th century, the artists that it produced, or Tolkien’s own work.

Euro Birdwatch 2019 in the Netherlands

This 5 October 2019 Dutch video is about Euro Birdwatch 2019 today at the Tongplaat in Biesbosch national park in the Netherlands.

See here.

All the birds seen there that day: here.

The national Top Ten for the Netherlands of bird species and individuals seen today is:

1. Starling 159,905
2. White-fronted goose 69,497
3. Chaffinch 54,344
4. Siskin 47,026
5. Song thrush 31,922
6. Black-headed gull 21,920
7. Meadow pipit 19,081
8. Redwing 16,848
9. Graylag goose 15,533
10. Jay 14,331

Apart from these numerous birds, also rarer birds were seen in this EuroBirdwatch in the Netherlands.

Like a pallid harrier; two penduline tits; a red-footed falcon; an olive-backed pipit.

Really special: a red-flanked bluetail seen in the coastal sand dunes near The Hague.

A total of 208 species.

US neonazi Coast Guard officer pleads guilty

This 3 October 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson Pleads Guilty In Gun Case

A Coast Guard lieutenant accused of stockpiling weapons and targeting Supreme Court justices, prominent Democrats and TV journalists has pleaded guilty in a case charging him with gun and drug offenses. Katie Johnston reports.

By Matthew Taylor in the USA:

White supremacist Coast Guard officer pleads guilty to drug and weapons charges

By Matthew Taylor

5 October 2019

Christopher Paul Hasson, a US Coast Guard lieutenant and avowed white supremacist, pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to charges of unlawfully possessing a firearm silencer, illegal possession of the prescription painkiller Tramadol, and possession of a firearm by an addict of a controlled substance.

It was discovered during an investigation that Hasson had stockpiled at least 15 weapons, including assault rifles, as well as over 1,000 rounds of ammunition to potentially be used in carrying out a series of terrorist atrocities and assassinations of Democratic Party politicians, journalists, and others he dubbed “cultural Marxists”.

He is due to be sentenced on January 31 of next year and faces a maximum of 31 years in prison.

Hasson was arrested in February of this year after investigators learned he had been viewing far-right websites on his computer at the Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he served as an acquisitions officer. Hasson had previously served in the US Marine Corps from 1988 to 1993 as well as two years of active duty in the Army National Guard.

In arguing for his detention without bail, prosecutors in February introduced into evidence several documents found on Hasson’s computer in which he expounded his fascist views, as well as a record of his internet searches which indicate that his plans to carry out an attack had proceeded beyond mere bluster.

In one letter composed to a neo-Nazi leader but never sent, Hasson characterized himself as “a long time White Nationalist, having been a skinhead 30 plus years ago before my time in the military.” He went on to write, “I never saw a reason for mass protest or wearing uniforms marching around provoking people with swastikas etc. I was and am a man of action you cannot change minds protesting like that. However you can make change with a little focused violence.”

Hasson outlined the typical neo-Nazi view that white people in Europe and the US are under siege by Muslim and Jewish people and racial minorities. His letter spoke of the need for a new white homeland and complained about the weakness of other white supremacists.

In one passage, Hasson wrote: “We need a white homeland as Europe seems lost… until whites wake up on their own or are forcibly made to make a decision whether to roll over and die or to stand up remains to be seen.”

Though Hasson was inspired and researched numerous far-right figures, including the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, his primary model was Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in two attacks in 2011, many of them teenagers attending a Social Democratic party summer camp.

Breivik wrote a manifesto in the years leading up to the attack that detailed his ideology and discussed training and tactics for the upcoming war against “globalism”, Islam and “cultural Marxism”. His actions made Breivik a hero among the far right and his manifesto has been cited by numerous far-right terrorists since then, including Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 Muslim worshipers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year.

Prosecutors showed that Hasson had purchased multiple firearms from various sources, as well as a large amount of ammunition. He was also found to be in possession of a large cache of human growth hormone, following Breivik’s suggestion that potential terrorists take steroids in preparation for their attacks.

The list of potential targets found on Hasson’s computer included those Democratic Party politicians and media figures routinely attacked by President Donald Trump and his supporters, including most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and the Democratic Socialists of America as a whole, news anchors Joe Scarborough and Chris Hayes from MSNBC, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi …

The fact that most of Hasson’s proposed targets are all defenders of the capitalist system does not diminish the threat presented by Hasson and others like him. Nor does his conviction minimize the danger. Fascistic individuals and networks have been exposed throughout the police and armed forces, both in the US and internationally, and are being deliberately cultivated and encouraged at the highest levels including by President Trump.

White supremacist Coast Guard officer sentenced to thirteen years in federal prison after plotting massacre of Democrats and “leftists in general”: here.

Sacked English Thomas Cook workers speak

Sacked Thomas Cook workers queieng at jobs fair in Manchester, England

From the World Socialist Web Site in England:

Redundant Thomas Cook workers speak out at Manchester jobs fair

By our reporters

5 October 2019

Following the collapse of UK holiday giant Thomas Cook, hundreds of workers who have lost their jobs in Britain attended a day-long jobs fair Thursday at the Runway Visitors’ Centre at Manchester’s Airport.

Britain’s largest package tour operator folded overnight in the early hours of September 23 after a failed attempt to secure funding, including government investment, to keep the firm afloat. Of the total 9,000 jobs lost in the UK, 3,000 went in Manchester—where the firm is headquartered—and the surrounding North West of England.

The airline companies in attendance at the fair included TUI, and British Airways. Among the many other companies that sent representatives were travel brands Hilton and Mercure Hotels. Other companies in attendance included McDonald’s, Whitbreads, United Utilities, Network Rail, The Co-op, Bupa, Vodafone, Metrolink and Swissport. The Citizens Advice Bureau, the Airport Academy and Jobcentre Plus also attended to offer services to former Thomas Cook and supply chain employees. According to organisers, around 5,000 jobs were on offer.

WSWS reporters spoke to the company’s former employees attending the fair and gave them copies of the article “The mounting human cost of the Thomas Cook collapse.”

Lorraine explained how she first heard the devastating news. “I was at home. I was working the next day, on a course… preparing for that course. I found out at 2 a.m. in the morning. It was all on Sky News. I worked there for 32 years. Someone takes your job away after 32 years, it’s atrocious. It was like your world was falling apart. Your whole life has gone, no job, no money, with no notice. [The bosses] got their bonuses but we didn’t receive our last monthly pay.”

Lorraine said, “We’re stressed by it, we are shocked. It’s not what we expected, it’s not what we were told. We were told all year there were investors. There was a shortfall to the banks, but something could have been saved.” Regarding the multi-million-pound salaries and massive bonuses received by top management when the company was in difficulty she found this “very upsetting”.

Jim expressed his anger and frustration at losing his job a second time round after the collapse of Monarch airline in 2017, which led to 1,800 job losses and the flights and holidays of about 860,000 people being cancelled.

“I’d been at Monarch for 17 years and they did this to me two years ago! I’ve just had heart surgery five months ago and I was on a phased return to work. I’d been at Thomas Cook for three years and now I’m f——g skint.”

Debbie, who worked for Thomas Cook for twenty-two and a half years, attended the jobs fair with her sister Lindsay, a Thomas Cook employee of 25 years.

“I’m in repatriation, [awaiting redeployment] I’m cabin crew, but I haven’t heard anything yet,” said Debbie. “The job was a way of life, part of my identification. This will take some adjusting to. It was a successful company, it was an exciting time for us, but it has been snatched away.”

Sarah, who worked for Thomas Cook for 23 years, spoke of the implications beyond the immediate job losses at Thomas Cook. “It’s soul destroying, what’s happened,” she said. “It’s heart-wrenching when you think so many people are passionate about what they’ve done. And it’s the ripple effect—it’s not just us who worked directly for Thomas Cook. It’s the hoteliers, the caterers, lots of people, all the people in countries like Cuba that rely on us.

“The unions could have done a lot more, but they’re not interested in the ground staff, in the office, we were always at the bottom of the pecking order.”

“I worked for the freedom travel group, part of Thomas Cook,” said Sue, who was a Thomas Cook employee for 13 years. “I found out about the collapse at half past two in the morning, like everybody else. I kind of expected it but didn’t believe it would ever happen due to the size of the company, the heritage, the impact it would have financially across the world for business and for the people who worked for it. It was very surreal for the first week.

“I think there definitely has to be an accountability into why there wasn’t an investigation a lot sooner into the budget and how the finances were being managed. At our level everything was progressing at rate so there was no cause for concern. There was lots of investment happening across the brand, so it just side-swiped you when it came out—heart-breaking!”

Sarah, mother of two teenage boys, also found the news a terrible blow. “Just a few weeks away from Christmas, too,” she said. “I loved my job and they’ve robbed us.”

Thomas Cook cabin crew employee Sandra told a WSWS reporter, “I was working to help another group airline in Germany [when] I found out that I’d lost my job. They didn’t know how they were going to get us home.

“We’re all heart broken,” she continued. “We were a family basically … It felt like I was going to see family every day and having that ripped away from you is massive. It’s like a bereavement.

“I’m stressed as a result, because I may also be made homeless. My landlord in Manchester has said that if you are not in full-time employment then I need you out. Instead of being compassionate about it and letting me find another job, he wants me out.”

Sandra explained that the only help she received from the Unite union was to “put me in contact with the council services, who I’ve just talked to and they say that my landlord can’t kick me out with this Section 21 notice that he’s given to me, so they’re looking at that. I’m going to have to find a job and somewhere else to live.

“[Management] told us that everything was still business as normal, the takeover by [Chinese international conglomerate and investment company] Fuson [Tourism] was going ahead, and then we had the carpet pulled from underneath us. It’s devastating.”

On Wednesday, ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrated in London outside the Houses of Parliament and handed in a petition to Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, demanding answers as to why the company collapsed.

Dutch refugees’ solidarity with Iraq protests

Iraqi refugees' solidarity demonstration with protests in Iraq, in The Hague, the Netherlands, photo by NOS

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Around 300 people demonstrated against the Iraqi government at the Iraqi embassy in The Hague. They wanted to talk to the ambassador, but he didn’t come out.

The protesters left a list at the embassy with ‘goals’ to improve life in Iraq. They think that the successive governments have not done much for the common people. The demonstration went without incident.


In Iraq it has been restless for days because of protests. As a result of the lethal intervention by ‘forces of order’ nearly 100 people were killed and more than 4000 people wounded since Tuesday, the Iraqi section of the UN Human Rights Commission reports. Protesters were also killed today.

Young people in particular take to the streets to demonstrate against unemployment, corruption and the lack of social services.

The Iraqi demonstrators oppose not only the government but also media like the Saudi government’s al-Arabiya.

Saving northern white rhinos with new technology?

This 5 October 2019 video says about itself:

Planet SOS: New technology can save rare rhino

Scientists are developing a robotic tool which can save one of the world’s rarest creatures.

They say an unprecedented wave of wildlife extinction is underway because of global warming, a loss of habitat and poaching.

They are trying to save some critically-endangered species, including the Northern White Rhino, which has been hunted to obliteration.

The project aims to produce a self-sustaining herd of Northern White Rhinos, first in captivity and then returned to the wild in Africa.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds reports from Escondido city in California.

United States Amazon workers on strike

This 3 October 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

“They Treat Us Like We Are Not Humans”

At 9:15 pm on Wednesday October 2nd, over 50 mostly East African workers walked out of the Eagan, Minnesota Amazon delivery station, DMS 1.

Night shift associates are demanding: respect, reduced workloads, restrictions on heavy packages, and a reversal of the 30 hours a week cap.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Friday, October 4, 2019

US Amazon workers protest and strike over unpaid leave and hours cap

AMAZON workers in the United States have staged walkouts and protests this week to press their demands for paid leave and an end to an hours cap that deprives them of health insurance.

Staff at a warehouse in Sacramento formed a group called Amazonians United, Sacramento after a colleague was sacked for taking unpaid bereavement leave following the death of her mother.

Though she had requested the leave, time spent in the hospital while her mother was dying meant she had exceeded her three-day allowance and she was dismissed on her return to work.

Colleagues have submitted a petition to management demanding her reinstatement and paid leave.

On Wednesday night, 60 workers in Eagan, Minnestota, mostly women of Somali and East African origin, walked off the job for a two-and-a-half-hour protest over conditions.

Workers say they are all kept to less than 30 hours a week, meaning that Amazon does not need to provide them with medical insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

They also complain that if they take more than 20 hours off per quarter, even though it is unpaid, they can be sacked.

There is no sick pay, even when injuries are caused by lifting heavy boxes at work, and every day taken brings them closer to a 10-day annual maximum that gives managers the right to terminate their employment.

Night-shift worker Fadumo Yusuf said the firm claimed it could only hire people part time but was still recruiting. “We have no value here”. she said. “They treat us like we are not humans.”

Her interview and other information can be viewed here.

Why songbirds feed other species’ youngsters

Left, eastern bluebird, right tree swallow

From Penn State University in the USA:

Daddy daycare: Why some songbirds care for the ‘wrong’ kids

October 3, 2019

Interspecific feeding — when an adult of one species feeds the young of another — is rare among songbirds, and scientists could only speculate on why it occurs, but now, Penn State researchers have new insight into this behavior.

Like many scientific findings, this comes from pursuing a larger, unrelated question. In this case, whether noise pollution from Marcellus Shale natural gas development is disrupting songbird reproduction and behavior in Pennsylvania’s forests. The researchers conducted this work at Penn State’s Russell E. Larsen Agricultural Research Center.

“There are numerous hypotheses to explain why interspecific feeding behavior might occur, but in most cases observers can only speculate on the cause because they lack information on the nesting histories of the species involved,” said Julian Avery, assistant research professor of wildlife ecology and conservation in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “But in this case, we had much more information.”

For the industrial noise pollution study, researchers placed 80 nest boxes along gravel roads and fields in pairs, with paired boxes slightly more than three feet apart and about 100 yards between pairs. They paired the nest boxes to maximize settlement by Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows, which often are willing to nest in close proximity.

The researchers subjected 20 of the paired boxes to noise that played 24 hours a day from large speakers placed just behind the nest boxes. The sound was recordings of a shale-gas compressor that looped to create continuous noise, loud enough to simulate an active compressor station.

As part of the study, researchers recorded behavioral observations using cameras in the nest boxes. They observed each box once during incubation, once when the nestlings were young and a third time when nestlings were older.

“We crossed our fingers and hoped birds would move into the site to occupy those boxes, and they did in large numbers, so we had a nice experimental treatment between birds nesting in quiet boxes and birds nesting in very noisy boxes,” Avery said. “We’ll be reporting soon on how the industrial noise pollution affected the birds, but first this interspecific feeding component is fascinating.”

Lead researcher Danielle Williams, who received a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science in 2018, recorded the number of feeding events at the boxes by each parent in three-hour observations and analyzed the footage. That’s how she learned about the male bluebird repeatedly feeding tree swallow nestlings in Box 34B.

This nest contained four 10-day-old tree swallow nestlings. The second box in the pair, 34A, contained four Eastern bluebird eggs. The bluebird pair occupying box 34A had fledged young from box 34B more than a month before. The tree swallows then took over the box and laid their eggs, forcing the bluebirds to move to box 34A for their second brood.

“We inserted a camera into nest box 34B for an older nestling observation, and during the three-hour observation period, the male Eastern bluebird nesting in box 34A was shown providing food to the tree swallow nestlings 29 times,” Williams said. “When I looked at the video, I realized that there was a bluebird male in there caring for the young.”

The researchers, who noted that many songbirds do not recognize the begging calls or the appearance of their own young, believe the male bluebird, because he had nested in this box earlier in the season, was confused. He made a “place-based decision” to care for the young tree swallows.

“In this case, we think the male — since he was primed to raise nestlings and respond to begging behavior — was duped because he was hearing all of these begging calls and remembered this box,” Avery said. “It’s especially cool because he is going in and out of the box as the female tree swallow does as well.” songbird chicks

The bluebird even perched beside the female tree swallow on the box lid, Avery added.

“You’d think at that point the male bluebird would realize the gig was up,” he said. “He is engaged in very detailed behavior, even picking up and removing the tree swallow chicks’ waste. He doesn’t seem to have a clue.”

The findings, recently published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology, are important in helping us understand animal behavior, according to Avery.

“With all the other random observations out there of interspecific feeding behavior, observers never had any indication what was driving it,” he said. “With this we do, and we know to what degree the urge to care for young overrides other considerations.”

Margaret Brittingham, professor of wildlife resources and extension wildlife specialist, also was involved in this research.

Penn State’s Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, the Association of Field Ornithologists and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded this study.

Poison dart frog evolution, new research

This 2008 video is called A strawberry poison dart frog mother checks up on her tadpole brood.

From the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama:

Imprinting on mothers may drive new species formation in poison dart frogs

What do marrying one’s parents, Oedipus complex have to do with evolution?

October 3, 2019

Summary: By rearing frogs with parents — or foster parents — of different colors, biologists discovered that behavior in response to color may be more important than genetics in the evolution of new species.

The old saying that people marry their parents may be true for poison dart frogs, and it may even lead to the formation of new species, according to a new study in Nature based on work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

Strawberry poison dart frogs live on the mainland in Panama’s Bocas del Toro province and have been isolated on islands in the archipelago that formed during the past 10 million years as sea level rose. Only a single color morph exists on some islands — orange or green, for example, but on other islands several color morphs exist together, like blue and red frogs.

“In the past, people assumed that this group of brightly colored poison dart frogs were warning predators that their skin is toxic,” said Corinne Richards-Zawacki, research associate at STRI and professor of biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. “But predators don’t seem to care what color the frogs are, at least based on our earlier experiments. That’s why we started asking whether the way they choose mates might lead to populations of different colors on different islands.”

The team set up three different situations: baby frogs raised with two parents of the same color (red baby, red parents), baby frogs raised with each parent a different color (red baby, one red and one blue parent) and baby frogs raised by foster parents of a different color (red baby, blue parents). In each case they asked which color the female offspring would choose as mates and which color the male offspring would perceive as a rival.

“We discovered that female frogs with parents of the same color tended to choose mates of that same color, whereas frogs with foster parents of a different color would choose mates the color of the foster parents,” said Yusan Yang, who is completing her doctoral thesis at the University of Pitts-burgh. “The same was true for male-male aggression. This tells us that imprinting was more important than genetics when it comes to shaping these behaviors that are based on color.”

When baby frogs were raised with one parent of the same color and one parent of a different color, females chose mates the color of their mother, and males chose rivals the color of their mother, indicating that maternal imprinting was probably more important than paternal imprinting.

They also created a mathematical model showing that male aggression based on imprinting, in concert with female mate choice based on imprinting was enough to cause a scenario to evolve, where like mates with like, which could lead to two color morphs becoming separate species.

“We’re fascinated by the idea that behavior can play such an important role in evolution,” Richards-Zawacki said.