Sunday, April 27, 2008

Iciligorgia subgondolus

Always in search of new methods, [anatomical sculptor Clemente] Susini was encouraged by the nobleman Giuseppe Foncelli (an amateur biologist) to investigate the plastic applications of
“vene del doge” or Venetian vein coral (Iciligorgia subgondolus), a species named for its striking resemblance to the human vascular system. The coral also proved easy to induce into desired general shapes, and its deep red, naturally smooth surface required no polishing.

But to be groomed and set to properly mimic an arterial network, a coral tree had to be rooted in soil and its polyps teased and fed underwater — alongside the waxen components they were meant to interlock with. The ductile masticcimo wax, preferred by Susini, flaked and corrupted easily when submerged. Furthermore, the vein coral reportedly could not, for all its malleability, meet the scrupulous standard of exact duplication required for the cadaveri sezionati. Susini, having meanwhile improved his “warm wire” method, soon ended the experiment.

Three coral sculptures — of the carotid arteries and their main ramifications — remained as souvenirs. The eccentric Count Ottavio Reguinelli, known as one of Bologna’s most prominent Rosicrucians, purchased them in 1804. He had one installed inside a made-to-scale glass bust, with a complementary brain coral
(Diploria extracerebroformus) in the cranial region. This he placed in his “hermetic grotto” (since destroyed), where it would rise, by mechanical means, from a watery basin, then interact with other automata. Reguinelli titled the whole piece “Trimegister Reconstituted in the Lunar Cove.” One guest who observed the contraption dismissed it in his diary as “in the most abysmal taste and not even terrific in its discord.”

From: Nelma Blightoon, Italian Ceroplastic Craft in Science and Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972: p. 257.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Calopteryx caducii

Of these, deserving further mention is the
Conjoined Demoiselle, which, though duller in colour than most Zygoptera, is remarkable to view in its element, for throughout adulthood it keeps close, and relies upon, the carcass of a sibling. They hatch as yoke-fellows, fused at the tail, and develop so united. But at the very instant the final juvenile carapace falls away, a fierce urge drives the pair to part, with great ensuing strain. As with a wish-bone, the inevitable break is uneven, and the twin with the shorter end perishes, deprived of an essential mass of nerves. This corpse becomes the survivor’s instrument in securing its meat, much as a carved waterfowl aids a hunter of living birds. The Demoiselle lurks hidden in tall grass with its dead relation nearby but in plainer view (Plate F, fig. 8b shows this scene with male subjects), until the corpse is molested by the desired visitor — who then suffers a surprise attack. This singular method perhaps does not seem so curious in the eyes of an insect whose quarry is exclusively the Ridged Micrathena, which could easily make a meal of its hunter.

From: W.J. Good (Rev.), Common Objects of the Country. Routledge & Co., 1858: p. 126.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ancistrodon cochlearis mortifera

Beaked Snake Species Hope for Plague Rodent Cull

Marthel Ivgrin at Eldorado Springs, Colorado
for National Geographic News
April 8, 2008

This is the fourth story in a continuing series on the Limbless Predators Project.

“The Platypus of the Prairies” is the joking moniker given by US Fish and Wildlife officials to this pitviper, one of the planet’s few beaked Ophidians. The joke is that the spoonbilled copperhead (Ancistrodon cochlearis mortifera) is naturally a desert dweller—although many desire its presence in the grassier parts of America’s heartland.

With its appetite limited to rodents, the spoonbilled copperhead has an advantage over other snakes when raiding the burrows and warrens of its prey: its seven to nine inch-long, tong-like bill, impervious to claws and teeth, can grasp the fiercest quarry with little or no hazard to the assailant. Once the victim is adequately clamped in the broad front sections of the mandibles (the “spoons”) so that it can no longer struggle, the snake’s thick, strong tongue lashes out, snaring the rodent like a lasso and dragging it toward the mouth. Only then do the waiting fangs envenom the prey.

The venom is the weakest of any copperhead’s, but it can still cause hemorrhaging, swelling, nausea, gangrene, and possibly, if untreated, death.

Many experts see the spoonbilled copperhead as the ultimate solution to the recurring problem of bubonic plague-infected prairie dogs in Colorado, Kansas and other Midwestern states. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has already approved a plan to relocate several spoonbilled copperhead families to the next confirmed prairie dog plague zone. “They’re so specialized in their feeding habits,” says Shelly Ditmars, an environmental specialist for the Boulder County Health Department. “That’s what’s so great about them. If we put a batch of spoonbilled copperhead in the direct vicinity of the prairie dog burrows, they’ll go right to work.” What’s more, these snakes are immune to the bubonic plague and will not spread it to other animals. Nor will their presence cause a perilous drop in the prairie dog population, which renews itself quickly.

Needless to say, residents, hikers and tourists visiting these designated areas will be cautioned not to allow their pets to run free, and very small pets will be prohibited altogether.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Malaclemys inelegans

Asleep at the Shell
: At one point in the exhaustive Ramakavaca (an Indonesian Ramayana variant), the monkey-god Hanuman, while on an important journey to the city of Longka, is briefly separated from his simian retinue at night. Wishing to sleep rather than locate his troop, he hitches a ride on the back of a river-borne Siamese basking terrapin (Malaclemys inelegans) and breathes into its nostrils a dream instructing the turtle to swim on until it finds the missing monkey soldiers. Once populous throughout Southeast Asia, basking terrapins were indeed indolent enough to ferry monkeys down rivers, as mid-19th century photographs bear witness. But such passivity also made them easy prey to hunters and led to their extinction. The Penyu Kecak dance, well-known in Balinese musical theater, dramatizes Hanuman’s memorable aquatic doze.

From: Michelin NEOS Guide Indonesia, 2001: English edition, p.26.