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Kindly accept my apologies for not writing a post yesterday. I am traveling the Great Lakes and Canada and will try to update when I am able. Today I am in Chicago. As I was looking out at Lake Michigan, I wondered whether there were any catfish native to the vast body of water– which is so large it might as well be considered a freshwater sea.
As it turns out the lake is home to channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatu), the quintessential North American siluriform. The channel catfish is a hardy omnivore which dwells in rivers, lakes, and ponds from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They eat smaller fish, arthropods, worms, seeds, and just about any other edible thing which will fit into their mouths. Channel catfish are nest breeders. If the female catfish is unable to find a promising crevasse in which to lay her eggs, the male will arrange logs and rocks into a nesting bed for her. He then guards the eggs until they hatch and even stays with the fry while they are very small (although if he is unduly disturbed he might eat the eggs and start all over again!).
While the channel catfish are hardly as flashy as some of the exotic catfish we have covered here, they are vastly successful organisms. They can also grow to be fairly large and specimens measuring up to 23 kg (50 pounds) have been caught (although such giants are quite old and rare). Although the catfish live naturally in Lake Michigan, they are also raised on farms throughout the American south (indeed they are the “Delecata” mentioned in this post about international catfish trade wars). Channel catfish have been introduced in parts of Europe, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where they are now causing havoc among native species.
But Channel catfish here in the Great lakes are facing their own invasive threats. Lake Michigan has been colonized by wave after wave of invasive animals. Some, like the omnipresent zebra mussels, are harmless to catfish (albeit infuriating to humans). Others like the sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) are not so benign for catfish. The jawless lampreys are vampires which attach to the bodies of catfish (and a wide variety of other native Great Lakes fish) and then rasp a hole in the hosts’ sides by means of sharpened tongue. Even more alarmingly, the leaping thriving all-devouring Asian carp has been making its way up Illinois’ rivers towards Lake Michigan. The state has been trying to prevent these dangerous fish from getting to the Lake by means of increasingly horrifying devices and stratagems such as underwater electric fences and mass poisonings. So far it has been working but there is still an underwater war raging for Lake Michigan.
Bilbies are blue-gray in color and they grow to about 29–55 centimetres (11–22 in) in length and 3.5 kgs (8 pounds) in weight. They use their sharp claws to unearth a wide diet of insects, arthropods, larvae, small animals, seeds, fungi, bulbs, and fruit. Bilbies rarely drink—they get all the moisture they need from their food.
But wait a minute! Fossorial Marsupials? Arid scrubland? Short gestation? What does any of this have to do with Easter? Well, due to a century of continent-wide ecological disaster caused by a plague of invasive bunnies, Australians hate rabbits with a burning passion (although of course this was not actually the fault of rabbits but was yet another mistake made by nature’s most problematic children). The Easter bunny is not as popular in Australia as elsewhere—giving an Australian child a candy Easter bunny would be like giving a New Yorker a chocolate Easter rat.
Fortunately Bilbies have boldly stepped in to the Easter bunny’s role. In a land where rabbits are regarded as an abomination, the long eared bilby has become the mascot of Easter. Throughout Australia, bilby-shaped confections and related merchandise are sold as an alternative to Easter bunnies. Additionally a number of children’s books have popularized the Easter bilby who seems to have a touch of animist aboriginal magic. For example a passage from Burra Nimu, the Easter Bilby, describes the dyeing of Easter eggs like a dreamtime myth of the desert:
“[The bilby] knew that eggs meant the start of new life and new hope, so he made his especially beautiful. He painted rich red eggs, the colour of the hot desert earth, and splashed them with bright sparkles, because the desert is full of life…Next, he painted soft green eggs and sprinkled them with the colours of the wild flowers he had once seen, soon after the water fell from the sky.
I always liked the Easter bunny (and don’t get me wrong, I’m still thankful for the baskets of candy and toys he left) but it seems appropriate that his role has been usurped in Australia. By taking over the function of a minor holiday deity, bilbies have gained new prominence as one of the symbols of Australian conservation. Enjoy Easter (or Passover or Mawlid-al-Nabi) and enjoy this little bilbie gallery I have put together!
The world’s smallest fox lives in the world’s largest desert, the Sahara. The adorable fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) is actually the world’s smallest canid of any sort: they are the tiniest members of the dog family weighing in at only 1.5–3.5 lb. Nocturnal omnivores, fennec foxes use their huge ears to listen for prey–and for predators such as the fearsome eagle owl. Additionally, since the foxes’ ears are filled with blood vessels, they provide a convenient way of cooling off in the oppressive daytime heat. Tiny pads on the foxes’ feet protect their delicate paws from hot sand and sharp rocks while muffling the noise of their movement. They dig substantial burrows and are renowned among people of the Sahara for their cunning and cleverness.
The fennec fox is the one of two species of fox which can live with people as a domestic pet (the other pet fox is the domesticated silver fox, which is the end product of 60 years of crazy Soviet experimentation). Hopefully their adorable little countenances will help you get through this extremely l…o…n…g week after the holidays.