Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sarda helisaltator

Dervish Bonitos
(Sarda helisaltator), the most colorful of all mackerels, are found as far north as Panama on the Pacific. They are easily identified by their enlarged, fan-like pectoral and pelvic fins and long, square-tipped tails. Their oily flesh is not prized as food, and a captured specimen is more likely headed for a public aquarium than a dinner table. Traveling in schools, their feeding excursions often take them to the water’s surface, where they will leap out and execute the “dance” they are named for.

Although they cannot cover long distances like Beloniformes, Dervish Bonitos are able to keep themselves out of the water by their own impetus for roughly 30 seconds at a time. Their dance involves a combination of caudal propulsion (“tail-walking”) with the lift granted by rotating with fins splayed. The sight of dancing Bonitos is always impressive — especially on a clear day, when the sun’s rays glance off their brilliant green and violet scales. The spectacle can become grisly, however, should a low-flying gannet enter the picture.

While a Dervish Bonito’s bony meat is a possible meal for a seabird, gannets prefer its tastier, water-bound relatives. If a gannet scouting prey happens to glide over a Bonito whirling at full tilt, the fish — especially when driven by hunger — is likely to dart straight at the bird’s underside in a burst of hitherto-unseen energy. Using its small but powerful jaws (which are ringed about the lip by miniature bone “pikes”), a Dervish Bonito can tear into a gannet’s torso, remove the liver (likely its favorite collation), and be back underwater in seconds. Hence the nickname “gannetsucker” (although the Dervish Bonito is not a member of the completely-freshwater suckerfish family).

Dervish Bonitos are born with long barbels but lose them before maturity. The high forehead is characteristic of the male.

From: Hurbest S. Gomarding (Ph.D), The Hazel Marine Guide. New York: Brownish Press, 1956: p. 89.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mandrillus caledoniae

Mandrill-snatched Scots’ bones to be returned to descendants

By Mirley Rellecco
Science reporter, BBC News

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A deputation on behalf of the Clan Macdunliffie will receive a collection of human remains at Edinburgh and transport them to ancestral burial grounds for proper interment.

The assortment of thighbones, ribs, a shin and several skulls are currently housed at Edinburgh City College.

“We’ve completed the necessary research with these articles,” said Dr. Fergus Podgreath, director of Anthropological Research at the school, “so we’re happy to ensure that they end up where they belong.

“What matters now is to continue study of the mandrill fossils and related artifacts found with the bones,” he added.

The Carrick mandrill (Mandrillus caledoniae), now believed extinct, once made the hills of southwestern Scotland its home.

It was often called “Crankie Auld Four-Hands” and “Marten’s Bane” for its startling habit of tearing a Pine Marten limb from limb to establish territory.

Most remarkable was its role in the funerary customs of the Groithelunic peoples (later almost exclusively absorbed into the Macdunliffie Clan).

The Groithelunes did not bury their dead straightaway, but first left the bodies exposed on a nearby heath.

Carrick mandrills would tear the corpses apart, selecting certain body parts for use during mating.

Male Carrick mandrills would communicate with potential mates by waving about fresh extremities of aggressor species.

Apparently, females were more likely to respond to suitors who could flag them down with pieces of human.

“The Groithelunes didn’t see it as desecration at all, since the mandrills were so selective in what they took,” explains Dr. Podgreath.

“They would record the state of the body for augural purposes before burial.”

The singular behavior of the Groithelunes was noted by early British historians, including Sir Thomas Browne in his Hydriotaphia (1658).

Speculative reconstructions of Carrick mandrills vary in appearance, but most experts suspect that its colourful rear end influenced the vibrant Kynnkleandonquodon tartan.

Published: 2008/07/07 14:38:44 GMT

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Petaurus pseudoparalichthyida

The juvenile
fluke glider (Petaurus pseudoparalichthyida) is purely arboreal, and darts from branch to branch like many neighboring creatures of its build. But with maturity will come changes in habit as it acquires the standard characteristics of the flatpossum order.

The adult fluke glider spends all of its idle time either belly-down against the earth — hidden under leaves, twigs and loose topsoil near the roots of its favorite tree — or flush against the trunk of that tree, waiting to execute a perfect back-flip and claim an unsuspecting cricket from the forest floor. When it does sail to another tree, it does so with the assurance that whatever adversary it may encounter in midair will almost certainly target it from above.

All of these factors inform its metamorphosis: The body widens but does not increase in thickness, resulting in what has been mistaken for the mere pelt of a meatier animal. The skull becomes wedge-shaped, like a hatchet blade but rounded at the snout — and the eyes migrate to the top of the head and settle so close together that they appear to touch.

The Korombatku peoples use the fluke glider’s hide exclusively to fashion a small drum reputed for its fine timbre. Its ceremonial purpose — to imbue a departing spirit with stealth and speed, the better to avoid soul-eating demons in the flight to the hereafter — means that it is only played at funerals. To use it otherwise is a gross obscenity. Moreover, to tap out the ritual dirge on a common pigskin drum is considered inadequate metaphysical protection.

From: E. W. Lurgent, Fullcraw’s Nature Atlas of New Guinea. Maplewood: Fullcraw & Fullcraw, 1952: p. 163.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ardea pseudocypraea

When they were close to the precipitous banks of the Sarine, the Professor halted and leaned on his alpenstock while the party gathered beside him. “And now,” he announced, “I invite you to join me in scrutinizing the long-necked birds that do not perch on, but adhere to, the steep rock-faces of this gorge. See how they slither up and down the vast surfaces without fear of falling, yet without the need, nor the gift, of flight. Though their markings vary, they all belong to one species: the Cowry egret (Ardea pseudocypraea), which travels where it pleases by means of its ventral ‘foot,’ which operates like that of a snail, but in much larger dimensions than any gastropod.”

“It it a close relation of the Moaning slug-bird?” inquired Dick.

“No, as that is a gastropod with bird-like attributes, while this is just the opposite. You will observe that it appears to lack claws or legs at all — but look closer: where one expects spindly, prehensile limbs are a pair of sinewy stumps that provide essential aid in the bird’s locomotion. There is even a featherless, ridged area, with horny tissue like that found on a talon: this is the vestigial, proper foot, which grinds against rock and gravel without bringing harm to the leg or the animal.”

“Could it be said to possess five limbs, then, instead of the usual four?” asked Beatrice.

“No. For that fifth part, which we casually refer to as a ‘foot,’ is a muscular organ, extending from the stomach, which is ambulatory in function but not classified as a limb when possessed by avians. It will hold our interest however we label it, for the slime it secretes is unlike any snail’s, and an industry unto itself.

“The basic duty of a Cowry egret farmer — of which there are countless in this area — is to keep a well-fed male of the species positioned over a circular band which forms the topmost ring of a tiered structure that to us resembles a certain kind of cake-stand, or perhaps a bottle-rack, but is actually a unique and highly specialized device. For each tier holds a different sieve or filter, designed to strain the mucus in stages, so that the pan at the base collects a purified substance, suitable to be combined with pulverized grapefruit seeds and quicklime, then baked…”

“To make rohumbabisque!” exclaimed Dick, delighted at his quick deduction.

“Exactly. And it is only here, in this canton of the Swiss Confederation, that rohumbabisque is produced.”

“Because only here the Cowry egret flourishes,” said Beatrice, reflecting. “The people must be prosperous; I hope they are thankful. I never wondered where rohumbabisque came from.”

“Many never do. Like ambergris, or glue, or khneblunk — or even candle-wax, rohumbabisque is a substance we take for granted, though it is in fact a joint product of Nature and Man’s ingenuity. It is easy to ignore these things, yet we are wiser when we consider how our lives are enriched.”

“And to think,” said Dick, “without rohumbabisque, I should not be able to enjoy a single round of 'blonts and priggoads'. How dull life would be were it not for this humble Swiss bird.”

From: T. Altidrean Jingross, A Zoological Jaunt through Central Europe. New York: Whispitt & Co., 1891: p. 188.