Monday, August 31, 2009

Pegea pacifica

The Makassar Salp is the largest species of free-floating Tunicate to inhabit tropical waters. Its gelatinous body is typically 5 cm long and prolate, featuring siphons at either end. These can dilate to a degree sufficient to allow other animals to crawl or swim inside the body. Typically such an intruder is ejected during the propulsive process, but on occasion it may become lodged. In these circumstances, the salp’s usual recourse is to expel all water and contract at both ends, suffocating the creature in a vacuum. The salp may itself die in the process, and then harden — resulting in an attractive, semi-opaque object shaped exactly like a bird’s egg.

“Mermaid grenades,” as these floating trinkets are often called, are commonly gleaned by fishermen and sold as souvenirs. Their shape and intrinsic beauty can cause them to be mistaken for handmade items. A color illustration by Ernst Haeckel from 1904 (of a dead specimen encasing a Mammoth tomopteris) is well known to the public due to its frequent appearance on Easter cards.

Despite their appeal, dried Makassar salps are very brittle and should be placed out of the reach of children. The “shell” consisting of the actual salp can cause nausea or vomiting if ingested, whereas the trapped contents may be more lethal. The corpse of an Hörkbisschen’s devil prawn, for example, will induce blindness, paralysis and asphyxia in very short order if tasted. Frequently found nested in dead salps, these crustaceans
have more than once been mistaken for red licorice “prizes” — with tragic consequences.

From: P. P. Klimpsonel, The Shores of Borneo (New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1969), p. 83.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Coturnix coelobonesis

Malayo-Polynesian Azure Quail is a stout, small bird that nests on the ground like others of its family. Gregarious animals, they typically roam in compact flocks known as coveys, probing grassy spots for ants and seed. When attacked, a lone quail’s defense mechanisms will differ from those of an accompanied bird. Most notably, the solitary quail will eject jets of lymphous blood from its femoral regions. Generated by extreme distress, this pungent secretion is (in contrast with the regular fluid) noxious and harmful to predators such as the ORIENTAL JUNGLE FENNEC. But to humans, it is the foundation of practically any recipe involving the bird, and hunters strive to collect as much of it as possible.

When Philippine traders introduced new culinary practices to Sulepawak, the demand for Azure quail immediately rose. It was the art of curing pig’s flesh in brine that made the difference, for it is now accepted that the bird must be wrapped in a sheet of bacon (which in turn is wrapped in a palm leaf, as per tradition) before cooking in order to truly bring out the tangy flavor. Generous slathers of autohemorrhaged blood enhance the bacon’s smoky zest to make this dish (baburunkasapar) the island nation’s most popular delicacy.

From: H. Viveam Constanelle, Known Wildlife of Sulepawak: A Field Guide, Mandaroeb & Sons, 1955: p. 174.