Sunday, May 25, 2008

M. c. conviciator

Nutria prank sadism outrages community despite nuisance

Sun May 18, 2008 12:47pm EDT

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) – The Police Department has joined the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in investigating a series of incidents involving nutria in Hampton Roads this past week.

Several of the rodents, a species considered a nuisance animal by authorities, have been found in public places bleeding to death, their genital areas crudely mutilated.

In each case, the wounded nutria was also dressed like a clown in a miniature satin costume tailored to fit its body.

“Everyone agrees there’s a nutria problem and that culls are in order,” says Drale Jacksett, spokesman for Game and Inland Fisheries.

“But there’s absolutely no justification for this type of cruelty. This is someone’s very bad idea of a joke, but no one’s laughing.”

Nutria (Myocastor coypus) are large rodents resembling beavers. They are voracious, prolific and reproduce virtually unchecked by predators or disease, thus posing a threat to natural areas such as local marshlands.

“It’s essentially open season on nutria in these parts,” says Virginia Beach Police Sergeant Mark Buthawn. “But that doesn’t entail drawing out their suffering in this vile and inhumane way, or dressing them as clowns, which is simply not funny.”

The incidents have all been called in from fairly populous areas. “There are several charges that I can and will detain the perpetrators for,” says Sgt. Buthawn.

“Often kids or senior citizens are finding these animals, and it’s not until they get much closer that they see what’s been done to them… The fact that it’s always hecklers receiving this treatment makes the crimes more revolting.”

The “hecklepest” or heckler nutria (M. c. conviciator) is the least common of the five recognized subspecies of nutria. It is known for emitting a high-pitched chatter — similar to taunting or teasing made by a very young child — when it is in danger or injured.

“We do need a humane and large-scale program to handle the nutria threat,” says Jae Vincoff, 63, owner of V&F Wildlife & Farm Pest Control in Suffolk. “But we don’t need nasty stunts like this. Who the heck thinks it’s funny doing that? It’s not funny.”

Most of the pranks have been reported as occurring within Virginia Beach city limits. On Saturday, acting Chief Assistant Deputy Sheriff Jacques Underberry issued a public statement, warning: “to mangle a nutria, genitally or otherwise, and dress it up as a clown is sick, illegal and no laughing matter,” and that responsible parties will be subject to the full extent of the law.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Astacopsis madagascarensis secundus

The Madagascan spindly crawfish (Astacopsis madagascarensis secundus) must be kept aligned by the tongs (thwarting the hind-parts’ natural tendency to curl), and held vertically over the pot’s mouth. Amateurs commonly sever only the tail-fan: a mistake that leads to agony and inevitable death. Instead one must shear — cleanly and with the utmost haste — the entire sixth pleon, including the telson, and plunge the reduced creature directly into the ready soil. After binding it to the post, the gardener must resist any urge to molest it further, other than replenish the soil with the special solution every four hours for the next fortnight. The aforementioned dampness and temperature must also, of course, remain consistent.

Properly tended, the potted Madagascan exhibits notable changes in the first month of its second life: it shoots up like a bamboo cane, increasing little in girth but near-quadrupling in height. Its carapace loses color and attains the ashen complexion of unpolished pearl. Its eyes fade to an amber cast, grow large on their stalks like ripening fruit, become egg-shaped and develop heavy lids. The six hindmost walking-legs atrophy into stubs, while the fourth pair locks into a single attitude: each limb outstretched, the initial joint perpendicular to the torso, with the propodus bent upward at another right angle and the dactylus bent yet again: a gesture of rejoicing often assumed by ancient statuary.

As for the chelipeds, or forelimbs, their pincers, though grown larger, appear proportionally diminished — but it is their movement that has altered the most. They prod and grasp with the facility of a creature that lives wholly out of water, as our specimen has become. Replacing the brute flailing of the aqueous incarnation are precise signals to its minders (pincer to mouth) that it desires to eat. When we attempt to provide it with the usual vegetal scraps, it surprises us again by receiving them manually, making clear that it wants not to be fed from one’s hand, but handed its feed. We hear from a prosperous tobacco merchant in Nueva Gerona who claims to have taught his crawfish-plant the joys of a good cigar — which, as a matter of course, he now shares with it after supper.

From: V. M. Burmile, “Proper Cultivation of Hothouse Crustacea,” Salisburg’s Magazine, vol. XV, no. 3 (Spring 1894): pp. 200-202.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Acipenser interglacies

Crafty tunneling fish stymie anglers

Thu May 8, 2008 12:46pm EDT

NUUK (Reuters) - As an ominously warm late spring begins to thaw the northern Greenlandic fjords of Thule—breaking up the ice, reducing the permafrost and exposing a multitude of hardy life forms—stoic fishermen, mostly Danish and Inuit, arrive in small boatloads in search of that most elusive of sturgeons: the Acipenser interglacies, in high demand for its flesh, bones, swim bladder and eggs.

But while the money is good, it isn’t easy. Catching the Arctic tunneling sturgeon is a notoriously toilsome business, since this fish—basically a freshwater animal with a versatile physiology—is not generally found in the water surrounding the icebergs. Instead, the Arctic tunneling sturgeon spends most of its time inside the iceberg, crawling on its powerfully developed, jointed pectoral fins through the network of passages that make up its home. It bores these tunnels with an extremely durable and bony snout—which, with its “bayonet tip” of perpendicular ridges, differs greatly from the blunt, shovel-like bills of other sturgeons. For centuries, Inuits in the region have utilized the Arctic tunneler’s skull as a harpoon head, a hook for catching Greenland sharks (after whittling the snout and stuffing the cranium with cod or smelt guts), and an ice pick.

This sturgeon’s body is equipped and streamlined for tunneling. The scutes, or protective horny plates, are not arranged in straight rows but spiral along the carapace. This facilitates the hollowing-out of icy corridors, complimenting the snout’s rough chiseling. The Arctic tunneler moves in a constant winding fashion through the passages, thus maintaining their tidiness. The trunk of the body is more elongated than others of its family, with minimal tapering. An adult can reach lengths of 10 feet and a 12 foot-long specimen has been reported.

For its size, the Arctic tunneling sturgeon’s gills are rather small and underdeveloped, but this reflects their limited role in the fish’s breathing process. Like mudskippers, Arctic tunnelers spend large periods of time out of water, where they breathe by drawing oxygen from fresh water (stored in a chamber between the mouth and gills) until it is deoxygenated, at which time the sturgeon obtains a new supply of water—which is usually accomplished by wriggling against the icy walls and lapping up the resultant loose shavings.

Many connoisseurs consider the Arctic tunneler’s meat the most succulent of all, and it’s the choice of several top chefs in Copenhagen and Nuuk. The caviar from the fish’s roes, while just as exclusive, is a more acquired taste, being by far the saltiest of all caviars. Even served fresh (malossal), a mature tunneler’s eggs deliver a burst of briny gusto too hardy for some novices. “It sells steadily, but not big,” says Geoffrey Washburn of FinnDansk Import/Export. “We have the same small demand for it every year. It’s more of a cult thing than, say, osetrova.”

Fishing for Arctic tunneling sturgeon usually consists of a tedious lull broken by a rousing standoff with a burly full-grown specimen (younger sturgeon invariably stay deep inside the iceberg). A sturgeon-infested iceberg is often betrayed by a groove running along its outside at water level: this is where the adult tunneler occasionally ventures out of its home to glide against the ice wall to feed on invertebrates and other living flotsam found on the water’s surface. The presence of a groove means that nearby are above-water exit holes, which the fishers can place a baited hook inside or net beneath—and then hide quietly lest the fish detect their presence.

On very rare and much-celebrated occasions, an iceberg may collapse from too much tunneling, providing a mother lode of suddenly vulnerable Arctic tunnelers to anyone nearby. This is called a “piñata party” and it’s an Arctic fisherman’s wet dream.

(Reporting by Hans Mingford; Editing by Biff Eltrex)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Hemisalamandras Ululata

Striped Nile Newt (Hemisalamandras Ululata)—or Newt of Hermes, as it is sometimes called—matures more rapidly and breeds more bountifully than most of its order, facilitating its curious role in the annual farmer’s celebrations on the very northern stretch of the Egyptian Nile. In spring, in an action almost synonymous with the harvest, the fertile newts emerge in great numbers and are easily caught. For reasons still unclear, they are driven instinctually to climb and leap upward before procreating, despite their natural aversion to sunlight. Consequently, these randy creatures are found in great numbers at the tops of the papyrus reeds growing along the marshy riverbanks, where they are traditionally captured by children and collected in baskets.

The children take the baskets into town and huddle by an appropriately shady wall—where they affix little wings, made the day before from colored paper, to the backs of all the newts (an exhaustive task, but apparently one much enjoyed). The wall is smeared with thick gobs of honey, and then the animals are freed. Invariably, they will choose to leap onto the wall, where they will stick fast. After some struggling, they will open their mouths wide.

The scream of the Striped Nile Newt is silent to human ears. But oxen cease parading on the threshing floor and raise their heads as if to listen, momentarily oblivious of their masters. Cranes and ibises become calm and twist their necks into odd positions. Even the beetles and winged insects stop rustling for a short spell. It is believed that the newts are securing the attention of the other creatures by lamenting the temporary death of the crops (hence that of Osiris). Pliny the Elder states that as it is mourning and in heat at the same time, the newt’s cries assume special properties which ensure the success of a harvest that would otherwise fail. This is, of course, apocryphal.

The ritual leaves behind an unpleasant mess. Many of the newts die while stuck to the wall—more if they are left too long and the sun gets to them. They will often try to crawl towards each other out of the urge to copulate, and in so doing may tear off their limbs or pieces of their tails.

Striped Nile Newts can make interesting and attractive pets. Keep newly-hatched young in terraria with plenty of water. Provide large rocks for them to hide under. Feed them mealworms and other insect larvae. They can reach several times their original size when fully grown: do not overstock. Adults generally adopt a duller color and develop a broad swimming tail, in which case their diet should change to small bits of liver or other organ meats. Avoid excessive handling and keep away from direct sunlight.

From: Purgell Runtlidge, Rare Amphibious Pets: Their Appeal and Proper Care. Crown Publishers, 1926: p. 41-2.