Saturday, February 28, 2009

Corydalus maximiliana

…of his window. Glöcknürner describes the iridescent waxy finish of the Emperor Maximilian dobsonfly’s epicuticle as metallic in appearance: "wie Metallplatten… gebildet um den Körper." [See Appendix 3.] Pontolomucci (apparently working from a translation) takes Glöcknürner’s descriptive flourishes literally, rendering the insect as clad in then-contemporary armour in place of exoskeletal segments. The head’s encasement, for example, appears as a double-visored war helmet, with hinges, horizontal slits and decorative fluting. The tibiae also sport moulded greaves; the prothorax is a breastplate, and so on.

The resulting woodcut appears at first glance an exercise in anthropomorphic whimsy, perhaps meant as satire. But Pontolomucci (by all accounts) was completely earnest in his attempt to construct a precise visual correlation with the text. What impresses us today is his undeniable success at detailing the proportions of the bug and all its parts with near-perfect naturalism.

The Emperor Maximilian dobsonfly was strictly an inhabitant of the New World until 1573. Its main…

From: Jeldra Prambello, Insects in Art. Sydney: Digenitori Press, 1978: p. 224.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Anodorhynchus maximus

Moments after we let loose the bloodhounds into the woods, one of them yelped and dove beneath a dense thicket, then emerged with the very fresh carcass of a half-eaten wild cat. As the predator was likely nearby, we heeded the old huntsman when he distinguished the carnage as the work not of paws and fangs, but of talons and a very sharp beak. We wondered aloud to each other what sort of bird had done this. As it happened, we were not puzzled long.

A sharp and unfamiliar cry of “Over here! Over here!” sounded from a place not far ahead. The repeated phrase was not in English, but Tlajamut, the local Indian tongue — an interesting fact, as our Redskin companions (the reader will recall) were both Cherokee.

At the ensuing sound of dead branches snapping and what might have been very heavy footfalls, the old man blanched. “’Tis a death-dealin’ parrot! Ready yer arms!” he croaked, fumbling with his rifle’s breech.

We had little time to prepare. A clump of foliage rustled vigorously, then flew apart, rent by a violent force that scattered leaves and green twigs like buckshot. Then out it pounced: a Davenedict’s apex macaw, announcing its rage with a piercing squawk — which resembled a scream, and removed any doubt as to the source of the previous cries. The bird seized one of the dogs, crushing its midsection. Harper fired and claimed later to have nicked the brute, but to no end. Clutching the dying hound, it bounded into an impenetrable mess of bush and was gone.

Our failure that day was typical among encounters with this most ferocious of macaws. A forest-dwelling raptor, taller than most men and wholly incapable of flight, the Davenedict’s apex macaw is equipped with the most powerful legs and claws of any known bird. It uses them not to sprint (like the equally huge ostrich of Africa), but to tear apart any manner of creature that opposes it. The bird’s talent for mimicking the voice and words of men makes it an insidious threat, and explains why Redskins who frequent these forests are loathe to separate when hunting in groups.

My later success in capturing one of these feathered monsters alive is the subject of the next chapter.

From: Peter-Klaus Swannet, Dangerous Game-Trackers of North America. Edinburgh: Gluorputtney Ltd., 1875: p. 153.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alstonia toreumatis

The fan-like leaves of the Coelobonese devil pine (known locally as the Pokot kudupanatar) are ubiquitous in the carved relief panels of Sulepawak’s cave temples. They are always depicted in the same dimensions as life, and are tinted green even when surrounding motifs are uncolored. Both attributes derive from the use of the actual leaves in the carving process: The sculptor presses a fresh pine leaf against its stone counterpart, fixing it with an alcoholic solution. Once dry, the leaf will have induced a reaction in the volcanic rock, staining it green as deep as an inch.

To the Coelobonese, the passage of the leaf’s essence into its chiseled image is a manifest link between the visible everyday world (the pine tree) and the veiled regions (exemplified by the terminal creature-heads often pictured vomiting streams of ornament, including the leaves). Though the pine’s bark is exploited medicinally, the sacred status of the leaf renders it taboo for any other application. One cannot help but notice, however, that a pile of them gives off a pleasant aroma when burnt.

From: H. Viveam Constanelle, Known Wildlife of Sulepawak: A Field Guide. Mandaroeb & Sons, 1955: p. 126.

Monday, February 9, 2009

V. zerda celebesus

The Oriental jungle fennec shares with its Saharan cousin a proportionally enormous pair of ears (each the size of its face) and a relish for fruit that places it with the omnivores. It is as likely to pluck a ripe MONK RAMBUTAN as it is to filch the eggs from a COPPER FIEND DRONGO’S nest. Both treats are common in the thickets that reach into Sulepawak’s untraversable northern region, where drongo nests are regularly sighted in rambutan trees. It happens that this bird’s egg closely matches the fruit in form and density, although the rambutan (the only known spineless variety) is a glossy dark violet, while the drongo’s eggshell is matte beige. By touch alone, however, they are nearly twins.

Cracking open a newly laid egg is a difficult proposition for this slightest-built of vulpines, who anyway favors the flesh of a formed chick over yolk. Thus a stolen egg stands a good chance of coming to term while in the fox’s possession, and it is not unusual for a den to harbor a pile of unmolested eggs mixed together with their analogous fruits. Should a burgled Copper fiend drongo hen know where her eggs have been taken, she may resort to a tactic that suggests, if not proves, great intelligence on her part: At mid-day, when fennecs are most torpid, the drongo will squawk loudly outside of their den and drop a small cargo of rambutan fruits onto the ground. Collecting these familiarly shaped gifts will engross the mammals, leaving the bird a chance to retrieve her property. This escapade occurs often enough to have been a subject of Coelobonese folktales before it was ever caught on film.

From: H. Viveam Constanelle, Known Wildlife of Sulepawak: A Field Guide. Mandaroeb & Sons, 1955: p. 203.