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September 26, 2012 in Serpents, Trees, Uncategorized | Tags: Asia, Chrysopelea ornata, flying, forests, glider, gliding, palms, Paradise, slithering, snake, Southeast, tree, wing | by Wayne | Leave a comment
The paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradise) is a very beautiful tree snake which lives in Southeast Asia. It ranges from the Philippines and Indonesia, up through Malaysia, Myanmar and into India. The snake particularly enjoys climbing into the crowns of coconut palms where it feeds on arborial lizards (which it immobilizes with extremely weak venom). The snake lives in a variety of habitats including mangrove swamps, rainforests, tree plantations, gardens, and parks. It stands out because of its attractive pattern of yellow on black (sometimes tinted with red).
What really sets the paradise tree snake apart from other pretty tropical snakes however is its impressive ability to fly—or at least to glide. The snake holds onto its launching platform with the end of its tail and dangles the majority of its body into a j-shape. The daring reptile then swings back and forth and launches itself through the air! The snake sucks in its stomach and flares out its ribs so as to take the shape of a flying wing and then it slithers through the air making lateral motions with its body in order to cause air pressure underneath it to push its body up. Smaller snakes (which are better gliders) can glide up to 100 meters (over 300 feet) and are reckoned by biomechanical locomotion specialists to be finer gliders than colugos and gliding squirrels.
Ferrebeekeeper has written about actual flying squids which dart above the water waving their lateral fins to extend their gliding ability. But real squid are not the only cephalopods that one sees in the skies–especially around springtime. Two of the classical shapes for kites are squid & octopus shape. The squid’s finned oblong shape, and the octopus’ round shape are perfect for balance and for catching the wind. The dangling tentacles act perfectly as multiple tails. This spring has taken a cold gray turn—at least in New York, but while you are inside planning what to do during May, perhaps you should build some octopus and squid kites. Here is a little gallery of images from different kite festivals and kite makers around the world.
Like squids and octopuses, none of the kites I had when growing up ever lasted long (well none of the ones I actually flew). The beautiful range of mollusks suspended on the wind in the sky makes me wonder if I have any time to get out some dowels and crepe paper and build some more kites [sadly you do not have any such time—ed.]. As the soon as the weather clears up again, I hope you enjoy some kite flying!
August 15, 2011 in Art, Crowns, Deities of the Underworld, Farm, Serpents | Tags: Agriculture, ambrosia, ancient, Ceulis, Demeter, Demophon, Eleusinian, famine, flying, grains, Greek, immortality, Metanira, mystery, myth, reaping, snake-drawn, sowing, teaching, Tiptolemus, Triptolemos | by Wayne | 4 comments
The ancient Greeks reserved their most ardent and heartfelt prayers for the gods of the mystery cults. Among these mysterious deities of the underworld–great gods like Hecate, Cronus, and Persephone–one entity stood out: Triptolemus was not a god at all but a mortal. Unlike the other heroes and demigods the Greeks worshipped, Triptolemus was neither a warrior nor a doer of great deeds. He never seduced a goddess or slew a monster. The goddess who favored Triptolemus was not all-conquering Athena, or the dark sorceress Hecate. Yet a trip to an art museum with a good Greek collection will reveal that he was much on the minds of the Greeks: Triptolemus appears more often in actual Greek sacred art than do many figures much more familiar to us today.
Triptolemus owed all of his fame and respect to Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, seasons, and growing things (known as Ceres to the Romans). When Demeter’s daughter Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, Demeter aged from a beautiful woman into a horrible crone. The world lost its fertility as Demeter’s attention wavered away from keeping the world fecund. She stumbled through a desolate world of famine, death, and cold looking for her lost daughter. Most people turned away the desperate crone but Triptolemus’ father Ceulis, the King of Eleusis in Attica, was kind to her and asked her to raise his sons Demophon and Triptolemus. In the midst of the dark season which befell the world, Ceulis remained a charitable and generous host, and Demeter noted his kindness. To reward Ceulis’ family she decided to make his firstborn son Demophon into an immortal god. Nightly she smeared Demophon with ambrosia, the food of heaven & the balm of the gods, and then she placed him in the fire to burn his mortality away. One night as she was blowing her divine breath on the glowing child, Demophon’s mother Metanira entered the room. Horrified by the spectacle before her, the Queen flew into a frenzy and began screaming. Demeter grew angry at the Queen’s histrionics and decided to withdraw her boon from Demophon–who burst into flames without her divine protection. She went back out into the ravaged land and resumed her search for Persephone.
When Demeter finally found Persephone and orchestrated her annual return from the underworld she still did not forget the kindness of Ceulis’ family. She saw that the transition from summer’s abundance to winter’s scarcity was difficult for humans and was killing many of them. Demeter taught Ceulis’ younger (still living) son Triptolemus the art of agriculture. She gave him a flying chariot drawn by magical serpents (who, like Demeter, knew the secrets of the land) and sent him forth to teach the crafts of planting and harvesting grain to the rest of humankind. These lessons made Triptolemus sacred to the Greeks. Growing grains allowed them to cease their eternal foraging and pursue the fruits of civilization. Since Triptolemus was so dear to Demeter and Persephone, he became a focus of the Eleusinian Mystery cult, which sought to provide its initiates with an eternal place in the most pleasant fields and gardens of the underworld (which were of course the bailiwick of Persephone).
Triptolemus was portrayed as a beautiful youth with a diadem on his brow. He rode a winged snake-drawn carriage and in his hands were a plate of grain, ears of barley & wheat, and a scepter. Since Triptolemus’ agricultural outlook was entirely based around sowing and reaping grains, he recommended a pro-animal point of view somewhat at odds with the herdsmen and hunters of ancient Greece. According to Porphyry, Triptolemus’ three principles for living a simple godly life were 1) honor one’s parents; 2) honor the gods with grains and malted beverage, and 3) spare the animals.
June 15, 2011 in Gothic, History | Tags: ambitious, apogee, barons, Beauvais, buttresses, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais, Cathedral, choir, church, collapse, fell, flying, Gothic, limits, masonry, Northern, rebellion, support, tower | by Wayne | Leave a comment
By its very nature building involves limits. The great cathedrals of Medieval Europe were the apogee of technology during their time—the peak accomplishment of the architects, masons, and artisans of the day. As the centuries passed, the mighty churches became larger and more ambitious—the buildings soared ever higher on increasingly lofty flying buttresses until finally the builders reached the limits of stone and iron and mortar.
This happened at the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais (hereafter Beauvais Cathedral) an incomplete cathedral which many people regard as the most daring achievement of Gothic architecture. Work was commenced on the cathedral in 1225. From the very beginning the building was designed to be the tallest and most splendid church in the world. This magnificence was probably partially intended as an act of defiance by France’s northern barons, who were allied with the episcopacy in a struggle with the French throne–a struggle for power which culminated when the northern lords revolted against Louis VIII and attempted to kidnap his son Louis IX (who escaped the plot to ascend first to the throne and later to sainthood, and after whom Saint Louis, Missouri is named). Unfortunately the grandiose architectural plans were hampered by funding problems and by structural flaws.
Although Beauvais Cathedral was intended to be taller than other cathedrals, the original planners also designed the flying buttresses to be thinner. This was both to allow them to soar higher (since they weighed less!) and to allow maximum light into the stained glass windows of the building. Unfortunately the design did not work out. The cathedral collapsed in 1284 (well, actually only part of the choir vault collapsed, along with multiple flying buttresses). Contemporary structural engineers believe that the failure was the result of resonant vibrations—an unhappy mixture of spindly buttresses which were just the wrong length to cope with the region’s high winds. The cathedral was built and rebuilt off and on throughout the following centuries, with mixed results. In 1573 the structure suffered another major setback when the 153 meter tall central tower collapsed.
Today only the transept and choir remain, but they are indeed magnificent. Unfortunately, the structure is still in peril. In the sixties, the cathedral’s caretakers removed iron bars which were laterally connecting the buttresses in hopes of making the cathedral look even more graceful. Unsurprisingly, this action caused the transept to separate from the choir. Steel rods were quickly added, but, being more rigid than iron, they seem to have increased the rate of fissure. A wide number of sundry modern braces were added throughout the eighties and nineties, and in 2001 a team of architects from Columbia University scanned the entire edifice. They hope to use their comprehensive imaging resources to design less unwieldy solutions to the cathedral’s many problems, but, at present, the world’s most ambitious gothic edifice remains a masterpiece of beauty but a failure of function.
I’m always surprised by how numerous and varied the cephalopods are. A quick jaunt down the taxonomical branches of their family tree reveals marvelous creatures to delight even the most jaded marine biologist–and, we are still discovering new cephalopods all of the time!
Today’s post, however, is not a larger examination of squids and allied cephalopods (although I have been thinking about adding a “mollusk” category to this blog and embarking, to some small degree, on such a task), instead we are concentrating on a very specific and unusual behavior practiced by certain squid in dire circumstances—namely flying.
Flying fish are well known for their aerial prowess, but flying mollusks (for such is, of course, what squid are) seem almost to strain credibility. To imagine a cousin to the stolid clam whipping through the air propelled by jet propulsion takes temerity…or at least it would, if such behavior were not well documented. Many different species of squid from around the world have been observed leaping out of the water to avoid heavier predators. In fact the common names of several commercially important squid reflect this: Spanish fishermen hunt for voladores “flyers”, Nototodarus gouldi is commonly known as the arrow squid, and Japanese Flying Squid (Todarodes pacificus) is a mainstay in Ika Sushi.
These flying squid are not merely popping out of the water for a moment before returning: some of the creatures form their tentacles into a fan/wing then stretch out a membrane running along their body and actively flap the fins at the front of their mantle. The Journal of Molluscan Studies cites an example of a squid flying 6 meters (20 feet) above the water for a total distance of 55 meters (180 feet) thus outdoing the Wright Brothers’ first flight! I wonder if the ancient belemnites (extinct squid-like cephalopods of the past) were ever able to fly in such a way or if this is a new feature of cephalopod evolution–maybe in a few million more years we will have even more deft flying mollusks zipping around with the sparrows.