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What a long week! What with mad bombers and North Korea and taxes and sexy exes and goodness knows what else, I am totally ready to phone in today’s blog post. Fortunately I have the ideal solution for a quick but fun post! This year I forgot to celebrate Ferrebeekeeper’s 3rd anniversary. For our first year celebration I published a group of doodles. These are little drawings which I do at the Monday morning staff meeting at the beginning of every work week. This might sound well…sketchy, but I assure you doodling keeps me alert and allows me to remember what was said at each meeting. As you can see from the strange eclectic subjects, I think the whimsy and freedom of the weekend hasn’t quite worn off when I draw these. Sometimes, during my lunch break I color my little doodles in with highlighters or crayons. So here are 21 weeks’ worth of Monday morning staff meeting doodles. These little throw-away doodles open up a world into the subconscious where our true feelings about the universe can be found. Strangely these doodles reveal that I really like melting Middle Eastern cities of arabesques and angels (?). Less surprisingly I love fantasy beasts, gardens, fish, and mammals. I’m not sure why I love paisleys so much—maybe the sixties had a greater influence on me than I know (though I certainly wasn’t around back then).
My favorite is the little purple pleasure garden where a flamingo watches a phoenix fly away from the ruins of an alien robot (below), but I also like the bat and the geometric widget beast relaxing by a tree at sunset, as well as the underwater city of sharks and biomechanical walking buildings. Which ones do you like? Please leave a comment–I promise I’ll respond next week!
Tamandua is a genus of arborial anteaters with two species, the southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) and the northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana). Tamanduas have prehensile tails which help them grip the trees, bushes, and scrub where they hunt for ants, termites, and bees (which they vacuum up through a tubular mouth or capture with a 40 cm long sticky tongue). The two species inhabit a large swath of the Americas—the northern tamandua ranges from Mexico down through Central America and west of the Andes through coastal Venezuela, Columbia, and Peru. The southern tamandua inhabits the entire area surrounding the Amazon basin and ranges from Trinidad, through Venezuela, the entirety of Brazil, and into northern Argentina. Tamanduas weigh up to 7 kilograms (15 pounds) and grow to lengths of about a meter (3 feet).
Tamanduas have immensely powerful arms which they use for climbing and ripping apart ant and termite colonies. If threatened they hiss and release an unpleasant scent (they can also grapple by means of their formidable arms and huge claws). The creatures spend much of their time in trees and they nest in hollow trees or abandoned burrows of other animals. Tamanduas can live up to nine years. They are widespread but comparatively scarce.
I’m afraid I don’t have a huge amount of time to write a complicated blog post today, but I thought I would share these endearing photos of a broody chicken nesting on a basket of cute puppies. Mabel the chicken is a pet chicken who lives on a farm in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Her owners saved her from the dining table because of her likeable personality. The hen looks after the puppies as though they were chicks whenever the puppies’ mother is outside.
According to contemporary taxonomy, the primates (whom I haven’t yet written about because they are so near and dear) are closely related to two other groups of living mammals—both of which are native to Southeast Asia. The closest family, the Colugos, consist of two species of delicate tree-gliding mammals described here. The other close relatives are treeshrews (aka banxrings), 20 species of (largely) arborial tree-shrews which make up an entire order, Scandentia.
Actually “treeshrew” is a misnomer, the banxrings are not true shrews at all. They are small slight animals with long tails and neutral colored fur. They have large sophisticated eyes and they are largely diurnal. The arborial species have binocular vision so they can navigate in a three-dimensional world of branches where leaps must be perfectly gauged. The slightly larger terrestrial species uses its claws to dig for insects, grubs, and roots. All banxrings are omnivorous, feeding on arthropods, tiny vertebrates, seeds, berries, and fruits.
Treeshrews live in jungles, forests, mixed woodlands and bamboo groves. They range from India to Vietnam down through Southern China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Of all mammals they have the largest brain to body mass ratio (although considering their slight mass that isn’t saying too much). They are social and families mark out small territories which they mark and vigorously defend. The treeshrews are anxious skittish creatures since they have numerous predators, including birds of prey, small carnivores, and snakes.
Treeshrew mothers leave their helpless silent babies for up to two days at a time. When the mother returns the baby treeshrews can put on up to 60% of their weight in one feeding. The mother is not inattentive: she interacts infrequently with her offspring so that they are not discovered by predators while they are completely helpless. Once the treeshrews grow big enough to venture beyond the nest, the mother becomes extremely engaged with them and she helps them to learn about predators, gathering food, and climbing.
When I think of China, I tend to imagine coastal China or the Yangtze River valley—which is to say areas of tremendous human population density where neighbor lives smashed up against neighbor and black smokestacks belch poison smoke onto the churning masses. Yet China is truly vast and parts of the nation are among the least densely populated places on Earth. The great northwest deserts of China are a land of shifting sands, xeric scrubland, and nothingness. Yet the dry wasteland is home to one of the world’s rarest and fanciest leaping rodents.
The Long-eared Jerboa, Euchoreutes naso, is an insect-eating, long-jumping, mouse-like creature which lives in the deserts of China and Mongolia. The animal’s habits are largely unknown–since it is a master of stealth and also since it lives in such an unforgiving and desolate regions where biologists are infrequent guests. The long-eared jerboa is sufficiently distinct that it is classified in its own genus and its own subfamily. It is (self-evidently) notable for its long ears which it uses to hunt insects in the desert nights and to avoid predators.
The animal is lightweight with a mass of only 24 g (0.85 oz) to 38 g (1.3 oz) and its body is small, measuring from 70 mm (2.8 in) to 90 mm (3.5 in)—although its tail is just as long as its body so the whole creature measures up to 180 mm long (7 inches) if you count the tail. Like other jerboas, this species probably excavate burrows where they rest during the day. Because they are so enigmatic and poorly understood (and also so endearing), the long-eared jerboas are a kind of symbol of truly wild creatures and the little rodent was identified as one of the top-10 “focal species” in 2007 by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project.
To balance yesterday’s post about the dog star, today we feature three whimsical cat paintings by Tokyo born surrealist Tokuhiro Kawai. I am calling Kawai a surrealist, but perhaps it would be more correct to call him a painter of fantastical narrative: all of his works seem to have some sort of magical fairy-tale story behind them. Although the three monarchical cats shown here are lighthearted, some of Kawai’s other paintings are much more melodramatic and feature fearsome conflict between devils, angels, and heroes.
Each of these paintings features a Scottish Fold housecat either wearing a crown or being ceremonially coronated. The little black and white cat is so self-assured and regal that we hardly wonder at its elevation to the throne. With broad gleaming eyes and fur that seems as though the viewer could touch it, the cat seems real. One wonders if perhaps it belongs to the artist.
Kawai has a particular gift for painting animals and many of his compositions are filled from top to bottom with flamingos, foxes, owls, ammonites, and pelicans. Cats seem to be his favorite and they are pictured as conquerors, tyrants, and gods—in one of his pictures a feisty cat has killed an angel like it was a songbird and is holding the limp corpse in his fangs while standing like a stylite atop a classical column. Fortunately the cat in these three paintings does not seem as violent. The little kitty is clearly dreaming about the trappings of power—what it would be like to wield absolute authority and be pampered all day. Knowing my own pet housecat’s personality, I believe that such an interpreatation of feline psychology is not entirely a stretch.
Things have been a pretty grim here at Ferrebeekeeper lately, what with the inexorable takeover of the labor market by machines, the child-killing Christmas demon Krampus, and the death of the universe. To cheer things up as we go into the weekend, here is a post about baby cheetahs. Some people may claim this topic is a cynical attempt to exploit the endearing cubs and drive up ratings. To those naysayers I respond “baby cheetahs!”
Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)are well known as the fastest land animal–capable of running at blazing speeds of up to 120 km/h (75 mph). To run at such a velocity the cheetah was forced to forgo some offensive advantages possessed by other comparably-sized cats. Cheetahs’ jaws are smaller and their claws are permanently fixed in place–which makes their slashing implements shorter and duller than the razor sharp claws of other hunting cats. Because they concentrate on running prowess to hunt they can never risk a sports injury from fighting. These adaptations make it difficult for mother cheetahs to defend their cubs from predators. Naturally the tiny cubs can not rely on the mother cheetah’s best defense—her legendary speed.
Female cheetahs gestate for ninety to ninety-eight days and give birth to a litter of 3 to 9 cubs which each weigh 150 to 300 g (5.3 to 11 oz.) at birth. Since they are so small and slow, (and since they impede their mother’s hunting) cubs suffer from high mortality. Evolution however has utilized certain tricks to minimize the danger they face. Unlike many feline cubs, cheetahs are born already covered with spots. They are adept from a young age at hiding within thorny scrub. Additionally the cubs have a remarkable adaptation to aid their defense. Until they are near maturity, they possess long punk-rock mantle of downy hair along their neck. These wild manes act like ghillie suits—breaking up the cubs’ outlines when they are hidden in dense scrub. The mantles also mimic the Don King style hair of the honey badger (well-known as one of the craziest, bravest, angriest small animals of the savannah). No animals want to mess with honey badgers since the angry badgers despise their own lives only slightly less than those of other living things and are thus extremely unpredictable.
When cheetahs reach adolescence they lose their mantles and acquire their extraordinary speed, but they still have a certain kittenish playfulness. I was once in the Washington DC zoo on Sunday morning (when the cheetahs are each given a frozen rabbit as a treat). The cheetah run in the National Zoo is long and narrow giving the animals space to build up full speed. The male adolescent cheetahs were excited for their rabbits. They were crouching and slinking back and forth faster than most people could run. One of the adolescent cheetahs got too close to the powerful electric fence surrounding the enclosure and there was a sizzling “pop” as he accidentally touched his delicate nose to the wire. The young male ran off and, because cheetahs are bred to the bone for the chase, his brother ran after him. They ran faster and faster, becoming an exquisite blur. The elegant forms left footprints of fire behind them until the first cheetah slid to a (10 meter) sliding stop and emitted an otherworldly angry chirp-yowl. The spectacle only lasted a moment, but compared to those cheetahs, all other runners I have seen–athletes, racehorses, greyhounds, rabbits–all seemed slow and awkward.
The Perissodactyls (horses, rhinos, and tapirs) were the planet’s dominant grazers for many millions of years–from the beginning of the Eocene to the end of the Miocene–but, in the most recent geological period they have been greatly outnumbered and outcompeted by the multitudinous artiodactyls (pigs, cows, deer, goats, antelopes, giraffes, and so on). The vast distance separating the Earth’s remaining tapirs illustrates how much their range has shrunk. Three species live in very different parts of South America and one live on the other side of the world in Malaysia and Indonesia. The tapir species look different as adults but their incredible similarity as calves indicated their fundamental closeness. Such a study is also a study of insufferable cuteness since juvenile tapirs, with their waving proboscises and dappled coats are very endearing. Although the tapirs are vanishing from the wild there are more of each of the 4 species in zoos every year. Here are some more of the new ones for your viewing pleasure!
Hooray for little tapirs!
Woodblock prints of ages past show giant octopuses ripping apart boats and feasting on sailors like popcorn. These artifacts of ancient sea-lore make for rousing images, but they are quite wrong: octopuses are fierce and cunning hunters but they present little danger to humans—with a noteworthy exception. The truly dangerous octopuses are not giant monsters (perhaps the artists of yesteryear were thinking of the mighty giant squid?) but rather tiny jewel-like beauties from the genus Hapalochlaena which includes only three or four species. Known as blue-ring octopuses the tiny creatures swim in tide pools and shallows of the Indo-Pacific Ocean from Japan down to Australia (where they are most prevalent). Blue-ringed octopuses live on shrimp, crabs, minnows, and horseshoe crabs. They are tremendous hunters who use camouflage, stealth, and guile to catch their prey. However, these tools pale before their greatest weapon: the little octopuses are among the most poisonous creatures on planet Earth.
Like the flamboyant cuttlefish, the blue-ringed octopus does not like to bite without giving warning but advertises its toxicity with vivid coloration. The octopus can conceal itself with tremendous prowess however, as soon as it becomes aware of a predator or some other threat, it dials up its coloration changing from muted reef tones to brilliant yellow with iridescent blue rings. If you see something like this in the ocean, for heaven’s sake don’t touch it. The octopus’s warning colors let ocean predators know to leave it alone but immediately attract humankind’s magpie urge to grab shiny things. Although blue-ringed octopuses are good natured and have been known not to bite people who were provoking them rather intensely, their bites have caused more than seventy recorded fatalities in Australia. The octopus has a tiny beak and often a victim does not realize they have been bitten until they began to fall into paralysis and their respiration starts to fail.
The venom of the blue ringed octopus is a complicated pharmacological cocktail which includes tetrodotoxin, 5-hydroxytryptamine, hyaluronidase, tyramine, histamine, tryptamine, octopamine, taurine, acetylcholine, and dopamine. The most active ingredient tetrodotoxin blocks the sodium channels which conducting sodium ions (Na+) through a cell’s plasma membrane. This causes total paralysis for the octopus victim, however if clever and persistent rescuers are present at the time of the bite they can rescue the unfortunate soul with continuous artificial respiration. This is no small matter as bite victims are often rendered completely unresponsive by the paralytic victim. Although completely conscious they are unable to communicate in any way or even breathe. If artificial respiration is initiated immediately and continued until the body can metabolize and eliminate the toxin, bite victims can survive (although it sounds like rather an ordeal).
Blue ringed octopuses are tender and solicitous mothers. The mother octopus lays a clutch of approximately 50 eggs in autumn which she incubates beneath her arms for about six months (during which time she is unable to eat). When the eggs hatch, the mother octopus dies. The baby octopuses reach sexual maturity in about a year. Despite their cleverness and beauty, the animals are as ephemeral as they are deadly.