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Turkey (Johann Wenzel Peter)

Turkey (Johann Wenzel Peter)

Here is a magnificent turkey painted by naturalistic German master Johann Wenzel Peter  (1745-1829) sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.  Peter was acutely fond of painting images depicting biblical paradise filled with beautiful animals living in harmony (but with ominous thunder clouds blowing in).  This magnificent Narragansett Turkey boldly strutting along in a wilderness beneath a lowering sky looks as though he could almost have come from one of the artist’s religious compositions about the world before the Fall. Peter is almost forgotten now (to such an extent that I can find his art online but can not find a biography) yet the work online reveals that he was the greatest turkey painter of the Enlightenment…and perhaps ever.

Crazy Ant (Nylanderia fulva)

Crazy Ant (Nylanderia fulva)

Our nation is being invaded!  The intruders number in the millions.  They are wiping out entire ecosystems, destroying electronics, and setting fires.  Fortunately the invading species, Nylanderia fulva, is rather small:  each individual measures only 3.2 mm (.12 inches).  In 2002 the ants arrived on America’s Gulf Coast from Argentina or Brazil where they live naturally. These ants are called Nylanderia fulva because of their brownish yellow fulvous color, but in America they are more commonly known as crazy ants (thanks to their erratic and non-linear walking patterns) or Rasberry ants—in honor of Tom Rasberry a Texas exterminator who discovered them in Texas.

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The crazy ants have spread extensively in Texas and Florida and they have footholds in Mississippi and Louisiana.  They are highly successful foragers and hunters of small arthropods and, like some other ants, they farm aphids (!).  Nylanderia fulva is capable of forming extremely large hives with multiple queens—which gives them surprising immunity from many common American insecticides and ant-killing chemicals.  They are out-competing native fire ants and changing the micro-fauna of the areas where they are flourishing.

Crazy-ants

For whatever reason, crazy ants are attracted to electronics.  Because of their small size, they climb inside all sorts of switches, circuit boxes, and electric gizmos.  If an ant stumbles into a transistor and dies, its corpse emits a chemical which causes fellow hive members to rush to the scene (this is an evolutionary strategy for fending off attackers).  Unfortunately, the reinforcement ants are themselves electrocuted which causes a grim feedback scenario.  These ant death spirals can cause electronics to become disabled, or switch permanently on/off, or just catch fire (since they are jam packed with electrified ant corpses).

Roman Liburnian

Roman Liburnian

The early days of the Roman Empire were marked by huge naval battles.  The First Punic war saw great fleets of polyremes battling for the Mediterranean and that tradition continued as Rome grew and conquered the Mediterranean and fought civil wars right up until the battle of Actium left one man in control of the entire sea.  Thereafter, in the days of Empire, giant ships were no longer needed for dealing with pirates or policing sea lanes.  The navy of the later Roman Empire consisted principally of liburnians (also known as liburna), small light galleys which were not so swift and giant as the monstrous oared ships of the Republic.

Liburnians of the Danube fleet during Trajan's Dacian Wars (BAs Relief from Trajan's column, 118 AD)

Liburnians of the Danube fleet during Trajan’s Dacian Wars (Bas Relief from Trajan’s column, 118 AD)

Liburnians were named for, um, the Liburnians an Illyrian tribe inhabiting the Adriatic coast of Greece (what is today Croatia).  The Liburnians were pirates and sea raiders.  When the Macedonians conquered Liburnia, the military men were impressed by the lightness, maneuverability, and deadliness of the Liburnian vessels, so they made them part of the navy. Later, in the second half of the first century BC, Rome conquered the Hellenic world and took up this naval design (as well as a huge host of other Greek concepts).

Roman Liburna

Roman Liburna

The original liburnian boat had a single bench of 25 oars on each side.  The Romans refined altered this design to feature dual rows of oarsmen pulling 18 oars per side.  A liburnian was probably about 31 meters (100 ft long) and 5 meters (16 feet wide) wide with a draft of a meter (3 feet).  The Romans also added a prow for ramming other boats.

The liburnian served with distinction for centuries in the navies of the golden age empire and afterwards.  The boats were not used only for military missions but also for cargo and passenger transport. They saw use on the great rivers as well as on the sea. For many more centuries it liburnians were the backbone of the Byzantine navy as well, until the changing ideas of warfare caused the craft to evolve into the Byzantine dromons and the war galleys of the middle ages.

St. Edward's Crown

St. Edward’s Crown, the coronation crown of British royalty

St. Edward’s Crown is the official crown used for the coronation of English/British/Commonwealth monarchs.  The cross was crafted in 1661 for the coronation of Charles II (the ancient and original crown, worn by Edward the Confessor in 1065 was either lost by King John or destroyed by Oliver Cromwell).  Made of gold, the crown is composed of four crosses pattée alternating with four fleurs-de-lis.  Many famous expensive gemstones (like the Black Prince’s ruby, and the Second Star of Africa) can be found on the Imperial State Crown (the ritzy crown which symbolizes the golden age of British power), however St. Edward’s Crown has numerous sapphires, tourmalines, amethysts, topazes and citrines which make it quite lovely.  The crown is also noteworthy for the purple velvet and ermine cap which is now practically a Hollywood cliché of royal headwear (although I personally find the long-vanished Tudor crown more attractive).

The crown visits Westminster Abbey yesterday

The crown visits Westminster Abbey yesterday

After being stolen and flattened in 1671 by Thomas Blood, St. Edward’s crown today spends the majority of its time sitting in the Tower of London under heavy guard.  However even silly jeweled hats have very special days, and yesterday (June 4th, 2013) was such a day, the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.  Saint Edward’s crown was removed from the tower and sent to the altar of Westminster Abbey for the special occasion.  Although some (comparatively) recent monarchs like Victoria and King Edward VII found the 2.31 kg crown to be too heavy for coronation purposes, Elizabeth is a traditionalist and was crowned with the massive headdress.

Elizabeth II wears the crown at her coronation in 1953

Elizabeth II wears the crown at her coronation in 1953

The Elk (Cervus Canadensis)

The Elk (Cervus Canadensis)

The Elk (Cervus Canadensis) is one of the world’s largest deer: adult male elk can weigh up to 331 kg (730 lb) and stands 1.5 m (4.9 ft) at the shoulder.  The magnificent antlered beasts are believed to have originated in Beringia, a now vanished steppeland which connected North America and Asia during the Pleistocene.  The poor Elk suffers substantial name confusion.  In Europe, moose (Alces alces) are known as elk.  When Europeans arrived in North America, they thought the animals were similar so they christened Cervus Canadensis as “elk”.  Native Americans called the creatures wapiti.  Now elk are known by the European name “Elk” in America and the American name “wapiti” in Eurasia (so that they are not confused with moose which are still called elk).  Ugh!

The current range of elki/wapiti (dark green) versus the original range (pale green)

The current range of elki/wapiti (dark green) versus the original range (pale green)

Elk currently live in the great grasslands of northern China/Siberia and in the unpopulated western reaches of the United States and Canada (where they tend to be found in places like Wyoming and Colorado), however their range was once much more extensive.  Before development and farming became universal, elk could be found in South China and in the Eastern United States.  Kentucky has been experimenting with returning the great Elk herds to lands where they once last roamed wild before the Civil War.  Obviously nobody wants to abandon farmlands or private forests to the ungentle hooves of a giant deer-monster, but Kentucky was extensively and abusively strip mined.  The mountains were blasted down and great tracts of worthless wasteland was left.  Far-sighted conservationists imported elk from out west, and the animals flourished tremendously.  In less than two decades the Kentucky herds have become the largest in the nation outside of the world’s largest herd in Wyoming!

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The elk have brought tourism and national interest to their new (old?) home but there have been problems too as elk refuse to jump out of the way of cars and angry drivers, refusing to yield the right-of-way, drive blithely into the immense creatures (to the benefit of neither party).  The elk also damage cultivated trees and gardens.  Yet issuing hunting permits in order to manage the herd has brought waves of hunters.

A votress of Artemis poses with a trophy elk.  Have I mentioned how BIG elk are?

A votress of Artemis poses with a trophy elk. Have I mentioned how BIG elk are?

Additionally, the elk are beautiful–and were here before we were (well, probably… it’s a little hard to tell when humans came across Beringia, but we had to get there from Africa, whereas the elk started out there).  Nearby states are also excited by the programs so Virginia, Ohio, and West Virginia may soon also have beautiful deer monsters of their own for the first time in centuries!

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A Cake Shaped like a Catfish!

A Cake Shaped like a Catfish!

America is living in a golden era of cake decoration: shows about amazing cakes like Cake Boss flood the airwaves and the internet is in love with websites featuring “cakewrecks” hilariously ill –conceived &/or botched pastries.  Even so, I am still surprised at the lengths some people will go to in order to celebrate their favorite activities in cake form.  Today’s post features a list of photos of astonishing catfish cakes.   Check out these amazing sugar fins and icing whiskers!

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I am guessing that these cakes are for anglers and are not designed for ichthyologists studying the amazing diversity and complexity of siluriforms around the world, but who knows?  At the very least these amazing desserts demonstrate how obsessed people still are with catfishes.

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