Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Anser hamadryas

Now we arrive at the most risible display so far: an adult Wood-nymph goose, discovered in a typical place of rest (here the hollow trunk of a rotting juniper stump) by a young stoat, who, though still a good foot away from the jagged breach that exposes the bird, has already startled his potential prey. Her beak frozen in a silent honk of alarm, the goose’s wings have burst through the decayed walls of the trunk on either side, leaving the bark surrounding them intact — so that when viewed from the back, the display becomes simply a tree-stump with pinions, like some figure of folklore or primitive worship.

Questions goad the informed spectator: Does Mr. Urbilne [then director of the Natural History Museum at Tarpeath] feel that nature, accurately reproduced, cannot suffice for the average museumgoer? Does he prefer theatre to science? Do the absurdities fashioned under his watch form an immense rebus, yet to be finished or deciphered?

For contradicting the very premise of this exhibit are basic facts about the species of goose depicted. It is true that after feeding, this most torpid (or rather torpor-dependent) of all waterfowl will lodge itself in an enclosed space to slumber, preferably the hollow of a dead tree. But it ensconces its body deeply in this refuge, and would never be visible from the outside. Nor would rousing its cold, metabolically decelerated corpus be an easy task. Indeed, the entire display might begin to convince were the goose identified as a barnyard-variety Greylag, making a poor attempt to doze in the manner of its sylvan cousin.

From: O. O. Prutchitton, “Taxidermal gaffes and follies at the Natural History Museum.” Tarpeath Gazette, 17 June 1910.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Osmia vapularis

The aromatic adhesive paste made from the pulped flowers (but not the fruit) of the Ribbonleaf bramble (R. lemniscatus) is a surefire means of trapping, through olfactory deception, the Occidental umber-belted mason bee (O. vapularis). When stuck fast by this goo to a bundle of the plant’s thorny twigs, such insects can add a distinct flavor to corporal punishment. As Occidental umber-belteds possess reusable stingers, a flagellant may enjoy their fury (if properly administered) for a good number of lashes at a time.

Records of this practice date from the mid-18th Century in England, where Sir Hilary Trudicombe — amateur beekeeper, botanist and founder of the Garden Rakes’ Club — introduced it to his infamous “greenhouse of vices.” Further accounts, spanning into this century, reveal its continued popularity among libertines — that is, whenever both plant and bee were available. Its final mention of note as a contemporary pursuit was surely funk legend Rick James’s hit 1981 single “Super Freak,” which contains the lines: “Three's not a crowd to her, she says / ‘Room 714, I'll be waiting’ / When I get there she's got insects, slime and brambles / And vents her weekly spleen.” This prominent reference was already dated when the record hit the shelves on July 25th — two weeks after the passage of the Groydille Act, which ensured not only the illegality of Mason bee-birching, but also the near-impossibility of acquiring its paraphernalia in sufficient amounts.

From: Flann Brüthargalong, Hive Culture. Dublin: Clarennington Press, 1993: p. 144.

Monday, December 15, 2008

E. asinus cuniculi

ATSJ: But would not all of these factors, including your observation on loam density in lower Syria, point to the likelihood of an undetected subspecies of wild ass — a burrowing animal, with elongated, spade-shaped hooves and poor eyesight, that surfaces only after dark, sits upright on its haunches, and communicates with its peers by means of echolocative brays audible beneath the soil — and would not the presence of such an Equid explain the reports of “bull larvae” as well as the more recent “wailing ghoul” (ghūl), both reputed to haunt the outskirts of Damascus?

KW: Yes.

From: “Terse words with a busy man: an exclusive interview with Professor Kumburt Wielorther.” Animal Traction Studies Journal, vol. XXXVII, no. 4 (1987): pp.178-189.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rhamnus nilotica

The smallest plant to be mummified during the Twelfth Dynasty was the Nile buckthorn, a minuscule shrub with fruits of up to 5mm in length. Due to their curative benefits, a thousand of the tiny berries accompanied Senusret II on his descent to the underworld to ensure that his Ka would be free of catarrh and dropsy throughout the journey.

The embalming process began with removal of the mesocarp partitions, funiculus, and superior ovary. (The ovule, believed to house the soul of the fruit, was left unmolested.) This was all accomplished with a hooked pick as wide as a hair. The priests swabbed these entrails with half a droplet of palm wine, then placed them in canopic jars the size of capers. The eviscerated berry was gently stuffed with a few grains of natron salt and left to dry for a period of several days. Once dehydrated, the fruit (now so diminished it was often difficult to see) was perfumed, coated in resin and then in gilt. After that came the doubtless excruciating task of wrapping it in linen strips of usually two threads in diameter. The finished mummies each found homes within a series of nested sarcophagi, the innermost of which are surely the smallest fruit coffins ever made. Mention of the Nile buckthorn berry is bound to come up during any debate over the presence of magnifying devices in the time of the Middle Kingdom.

From: Brammuel Thauzich, The Lighter Side of Egyptology. Stratford: Muttnamp & co., 1933: p. 127.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dasypus crotalus

Vaspaïme Paris joins forces with The Arkadelphia Free Range Armadillo Ranch to present


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Friday, November 28, 2008

A. fragilis fremoris

The serpent known as LAQUEUS FREMORIS is called this because it makes a loud noise when handled roughly, and because despite its ability to break off a section of its back end, it is so long and sturdy that, even when so broken, it can be tied into a noose suitable for hanging a man. The animals were used for this purpose during the reign of Gallienus, when the Appian Way was beset with bandit attacks led by the dissolute philosopher Pidepibus (known earlier for his translations of Zeno), who demanded a blood oath from his men not to exhibit any signs of remorse, sorrow or pain once in custody. In response, the wily Praetor Titurva chose to eschew crucifixion and execute the captured bandits by hanging them at a certain distance from public spectators — so that the type of noose employed was less evident, and so that the serpents’ cries could more effectively displace the stubborn silence of the condemned. It is said that a bandit and his rope would often expire at the same moment.

From: M. M. Trevevemme, Trans. & Ed., Selections from Three 13th Century Bestiaries. London: Bungrove Press, 1973: p. 166.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


…that when shattered, a sheet of this brittle alloy will cleave into equilateral truligons, hence the name. Despite its delicacy, truligonium’s remarkable heat-retention property has made it a staple material for builders in Estonia’s colder regions. Its presence is often announced (especially in public buildings) by a wallpaper
pattern incorporating prominent truligons. This décor warns of the fragile component within the walls, but also assures that the room can maintain a safe level of warmth if heated by a government standard-issue stove unit. It is with this common knowledge that Lt. Mandrõkin locates, inside a wall, the corpse of the missing youth (chapter 32): Using a thermometer, he deduces that despite the wallpaper design, there is no truligonium insulation in one room of the engineer Närviarst’s bungalow — and so the details unravel of Närviarst’s murder and concealment of his crippled son.

Despite a decent premise, the thrills are few and the characters fairly flat, making A Cold Reception one of the weakest entries in Ulfsak’s Lt. Mandrõkin series.

From: Veronibeth Jenkins-Uusberg, “100 Years of Estonian Crime Fiction.” Yellow Spines Quarterly Review, vol. XLIV, no. 7 (Winter 1993): pp. 76.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Magnolia Rognolfiana

Q: Are there any flowers more dynamic in behavior than the insects that pollinate them?

A: Yes, at least one. The self-fertile Rognolfi’s magnolia (M. Rognolfiana) flourishes only in climates subject to intermittent rainfall. The bloated, lethargic female of the Sloth cricket species prefers the low-hanging blossoms of this plant as her permanent shelter. In fact, the most vigorous act of her life occurs when instinct drives her to heave herself beneath the frond-like tepals. Soon the blossoms will dust her rotund husk with pollen specially adapted to cling fast to the chitin. When the rain comes, the drop-pelted flower gently batters the insect, connecting the pistil to the pollen grains, and mating is completed. Thus, in this case, a pollinator is required merely to be present, while all the necessary movement is the plant’s duty.

From: Nylo Jamesolver, Answers to 444 Routine Questions about Pollen, New York: Loarme, Drean & co., 1957: p. 85.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Capra aegagrus pseudohircus

[…] But currently, the most serious case of pastoral imposture afflicting UK farms is that of the False domestic ibex (Capra aegagrus pseudohircus).

They arrive on the scene in packs of about five, and insinuate themselves into a proper herd of goats with little initial violence.

The males work together to remove the native alpha bucks, either driving them away or killing them. They will often trample newborns.

This alien threat can dominate and even completely replace a herd of domestic goats in a space of six months. Very frequently, the minder detects nothing of the invasion until it is too late.

Rather than face economic ruin, farmers are likely not to report an infestation, and instead attempt to pass off their herd as genuine. Consumers of the resulting wool, meat and milk often fail to notice a difference, exacerbating the problem.

False domestics are thought to originate from the South Caucasus. They most closely resemble the common British Alpine breed. Telltale differences include a beard several millimetres shorter than average, particularly dense horns and (reportedly) ranker odour than usual.

From: Khabilla Simmic, “Key players in the growing invasive livestock problem”, BBC News (30 October 2008). Retrieved on 2008-10-30.

Pica proditor

Wake up, kids! It’s time for another

Tonight’s story is called

A shy princess was once married off to a king far from her own country. The young queen felt lonely in her new home, and wished for children to come into her life. But alas, none came, and the king soon complained that his wife was barren. One day, as she walked past a wastebasket, the queen noticed a peach-pit shaped like an unborn infant. She snatched up the pit and planted it in a pot on her windowsill. Soon it blossomed into a little tree, with three luscious peaches dangling from its branches. The queen ate all three fruits greedily, and within a week, she could feel three little heartbeats inside her newly swollen womb.

Unfortunately, on catching a glimpse of a rare and supremely revolting Moaning slug-bird as it flapped past her window, the queen was severely frightened, and as a result, her three daughters all turned out half-witted, deformed and gnome-like. This caused the young queen no end of anguish. “If only my children were normal and pretty!” she would lament over and over.

One day, an old woman overheard these words while passing through the palace grounds. “There’s no need to cry, your majesty,” she said to the queen. “Your daughters will become as splendid as they ought to be if you follow my advice: In the palace churchyard, amid the crypts of the royals, stands a solitary oak. On one of its higher branches is a nest built by a Copper-billed magpie, that notorious breed that steals only from other birds. Go to this nest now and you’ll find a group of eggs, with one colored differently from the rest. Inside this egg will be three silk ribbons — stolen from the heads of beautiful princesses who died too young, and swallowed by a bird who was in turn robbed by our greedy magpie. Tie these ribbons around the necks of your daughters, and they will become the children you wished for. Go do this now, and tell no one about it!” The queen thanked the old woman from the bottom of her heart, making her take a sack of gold with her before she went away.

Without delay, the queen rushed to the churchyard, climbed the oak, found the egg with the ribbons inside and returned to the palace. But once she had tied the ribbons around each of her daughters’ necks, they immediately lost all of their hair — and nothing else happened to them. Seeing that his offspring were not only deformed idiots but now also hairless, the king promptly annulled his marriage. The former queen was sent to a convent, where she hung herself to end her misery.

“Haw haw! Stupid bitch!” said the old woman, once her friend the magpie had told her the news. She then cackled to herself and touched her privates — and continued at it for nearly a fortnight, so ecstatic was she to have caused such grief.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Phocoena cetus

The Angolan monk porpoise, a truly one-of-a-kind species, is now critically endangered. With its unmistakable lantern-like eyes and patterned, glowing underside, the Angolan monk porpoise is the only known marine mammal with bioluminescent features. Its rostral filament, equipped with a photophoric lure, has yet to be properly researched and is unique in all deep-sea cetaceans. Until recently, the species has thrived by using this growth to attract its foremost prey: the famously nearsighted Lesser neonback shortfin squid. But in the past five years, the sub-photic regions of the Atlantic nearest to the African coast have been subject to explosive releases of giant air bubbles from hydrothermal vents — a phenomenon nicknamed “the uncola effect” by geologists who admit to not fully understanding its cause. The resulting sonic disturbances reach amplitudes unendurable for a porpoise’s ears. This has driven the animals away from their principal habitat and main food source. As a result, the Angolan monk porpoise population is declining rapidly, and
a calf's chances of reaching reproductive age is roughly one in five.

But the Angolan monk porpoises can be saved. A successful method has been documented in trial CCIS treatment-and-release programs. It involves recycled silicone, specially molded plugs, and you. To find out what you can do to help, please click on the yellow krill.

From: CCIS (Cetacean Conservation International Society) website. Retrieved on 2008-09-13.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Zerynthia temernika

Wake up, kids! It’s time for another

Tonight’s story is called

Andrei and Lilya were cousins, and much in love. They spent most of every summer at her father’s dacha near Rostov-na-Donu, playing together in the forest. One June afternoon, when Andrei was eleven and Lilya eight, nineteen strange aircraft flew overhead, issuing colorful clouds that steeped all the trees in a new pesticide. While this pesticide scarcely accomplished its purpose, it did manage (in a matter of days) to make the local bats as small as bees and the butterflies larger than seagulls. This was especially true of the vibrant Ciscaucasian festoon butterfly (Zerynthia temernika), a species common to that part of the woods. These insects had in fact become so enormous that they could no longer fly in the usual manner, but were obliged to scramble up a tree trunk and glide off a suitably elevated branch. This made them easy to catch, even for a pair of children with fishing nets.

Upon apprehending one of the creatures, Lilya would hold it still while Andrei gently sliced off its wings—which they would store away with the intent of using later for binding books. Then they would epoxy the butterfly by its legs to a long, sturdy stick. This they would suspend over a large jar of honey, chutney or a similar preserve, granting the lepidopteran full access to the sweet substance.

Without fail, the long probosces would uncoil willingly and slurp ounce after ounce of the stuff. The insects’ bodies grew visibly plump, and their multiple corneas would twinkle with possible merriment. Perhaps they ate to forget their recent mutilation—or perhaps they’d forgotten already. One the jar was emptied, the children would twist off the creature’s head and hold the body over an open fire, roasting it to golden brown.

Ah! The pastries of Copenhagen and Provence could never compare with these succulent layers of melting flakes interspersed with wells of true ambrosia! Lilya’s father couldn’t understand why they were never hungry for dinner. Were there ever a snack one could never tire of, this was it.

Sometime in early September, while the adults were out mushroom hunting, both Andrei and Lilya quite suddenly became ill with pronounced gastric pains. Their conditions swiftly worsened and they were rushed to a hospital that very night. There they lingered for weeks, incontinent, heaving violently whenever fed, staining the sheets a bilious green. The doctors had no idea of how to proceed with these mysterious cases, and by the month’s end both children were found dead in puddles of their own filth, their faces frozen in painful grimaces usually not seen on patients so young.

THE MORAL: It’s always fun until someone gets hurt.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Citrus juglandis

PHOLILOTUMNUS, son of Hermes (Mercury) and the Naiad Astophaxibia (ibid.). Variously described as the tutelary spirit of false prophecy, of prevarication, or merely of fibbing. He appears in most accounts as a gaunt, stooped figure who claims to be advanced in age but responds to threats with surprising vigor. The dingy hue of his long robe makes it impossible to determine if it is clean. He always bears in his fist a small garland of Sicilian burr shaddocks, also known as walnut limes (Citrus juglandis), which he will offer as a remedy for whatever ails those he befriends.

But he is not to be trusted. Depending on the obscure walnut lime's stage in life, its effects on man vary sharply: As a bud, it is a powerful emetic, effective on contact with the skin; when blossoming, its ripe fruit (legend has it) can rid one’s blood of any harmful poison. But once dead, its dried zest is said to corrupt the flesh and eventually kill those who touch it. The hard outer casing does not change throughout the growing season, making the state of the fruit difficult to confirm.

The better-known tales have Pholilotumnus outwitted by clever intended victims, such as Pratinoxos (ibid.), who, aware that Pholilotumnus was, by character, lying about the fruit’s property, ruled out his initial claim, leaving two possible conditions for the plant — which, through further deduction, he narrowed to one: the dried and lethal stage. Pratinoxos then used the limes to vanquish the giant serpent poisoning his well (rather than attempt to purify its waters).

Fragments of early Satyr plays depict Pholilotumnus using his garland to threaten groups of paunchy Sileni, who, also aware that he is lying about its danger, snatch the fruits away, and either eat them (if they are ripe), or, if they are in bud-form, overpower Pholilotumnus and force him to vomit.

From: Clema Meskine Vermelt, Mythological Glosses for To-day’s Readers, Cambridge: Rohaurght & Druffton, 1871: p. 327.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Calidris bellicosus

Our stance on this matter is reaffirmed by none other than Herodotus, who cites a Sinopian traveler as having seen, outside a Scythian encampment on the banks of the Gerrhus, a pair of Maeotian bull sandpipers (Calidris bellicosus) incited to combat for the benefit of a crowd. He noted that the birds sparred with great fierceness, though conical muzzles of stiff hide hindered their beaks from dealing grave wounds. A spectator explained how a rousing fight could boost the virility of these ornery waders, producing not only larger broods, but more robust chicks that grew into meatier birds. It was to the breeders’ advantage, then, to set the sandpipers against each other, though not to the death; thus the sport flourished with these checks in place.

It emerged that within this site, the municipal chieftain staged similar battles, but his craftsmen would rig out the birds in more elaborate restraints, binding their already-clipped wings and weighing down their legs to impede both movement and equilibrium. This filled them with a wild vexation that departed only when they were allowed to mate — with gainful results for their keeper.

And further east (the historian concludes), in the heart of the Scythian territories, those alleged descendants of Skythes known as the Royal Tribes imposed yet grander curbs, enclosing their downy pugilists in bronze-girded spheroids of cured pelt. Preceding a match, the keeper would open a tiny exterior flap to introduce a ration of air and a caress from an opponent’s feather — an action sufficient to fill a bull sandpiper with the spirit of Ares. What ensued resembled nothing so much as a skirmish between strangely motile eggs. In fact, to stifle and goad the species in this manner could supposedly conjure the conditions of an actual egg within the casing, making the adult bird a renewed embryo, but in magnified terms, so that it emerged from its second hatching a superior creature, doubled in size. Herodotus was dubious of this claim and we may dismiss it entirely.

From: Burncourtin Raldice, Littoral Avians Delineated from Known Specimens, London: Ficknor & Velsonport, 1829: p. 248.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nymphaea persica

The SOLIFUGID POND-LILY (Nymphaea persica) was, until late in 1872, the subject of a zoological comedy of errors, for it was initially misconceived as an arachnid of the order Solifugae, hence its name. Its narrow, sparse and flimsy white petals do resemble the limbs and chelicerae of a camel-spider — even in their tendency to buckle slightly at certain junctions, as the joints of such an animal might if seen floating belly-up on the surface of a pond. In addition, the impressive length of the roots let it drift like an apparent free agent with no anchor to the mud below.

However, the Solifugid Pond-lily, having next to nothing in the way of leaves (they resemble small coins and are usually hidden beneath the petals), is far and away the most fragile of its family. Moderate rainfall is enough to collapse and drown one of the flowers (though they eventually resurface), and if any animal larger than a common fly should land on the corolla, the frail blossom will implode, causing plant and animal to sink together as quickly as a stone.

From: P. Hambunck Constanelle, Constanelle’s Global Flora, 4rd Ed. Mandaroeb & Sons, 1873: p. 481.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ammotrecha nymphaeae

No specimen of the POND-LILY SOLIFUGID (Ammotrecha nymphaeae), living or dead, has yet been obtained, but Dr. Blymphinson (ibid.) did manage to produce a spectacular daguerréotype from his survey of Persian oases during the early months of 1871. The singular habits of this animal will explain how it can be elusive to the extreme, yet still enough, when sighted, for a photographic plate to retain its image.

It is the only arachnid of its order to make its home around water; the only, in fact, not to flourish in severe aridity. Its name results from its colorless husk and propensity to float on its back — legs heavenward, drifting but otherwise motionless, suspended (we must conclude) by the minute air-pockets that cluster along the bristles of all such arthropods. But should a foreign element (such as a frog, or even a large fly) disturb its peace, the passing resemblance to a water-lily will go the way of a mirage in the deserts nearby. The limbs, like grasping talons, will close sharply around the unwitting guest, and both parties will plummet instantly into the pond’s depths, where, we may presume, the victory feast ensues. The remarkable speed it displays in such maneuvers, coupled with the large and painful bites Solifugae are known to inflict, have hindered efforts to trap the animal up to now.

From: P. Hambunck Constanelle, Constanelle’s Global Fauna, 3rd Ed. Mandaroeb & Sons, 1872: p. 618.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gerobatrachus matercula

The last pure remnants of Uruguay's indigenous Charrua Indians—who were almost completely exterminated by the Spanish and Portuguese prior to the country’s independence—reside, no longer nomadic, on the southeast base of Mount Catedral, the highest of the rather minuscule but lovely Sierra de Carapé range. Of note, aside from their preserved culture, is the remarkable role
the Charrua play in the local ecosystem.

A few knobby green hills lie between their settlement and the small lake called Embalse des Espejos, which is home to El Ébuacató (Gerobatrachus matercula), a species of amphibian unique in all the world. The dominant female (the male being a tiny parasite) is an unsightly creature of up to two feet in length with bubble-shaped eyes at the top of its head, a loose and unwieldy womb-sac on its belly (which can be stretched out to several times its original size), and an abnormally large vulva just above its tail.

The rite of manhood among the Charrua dictates that a boy who has reached his seventeenth year must journey by himself to the edge of the lake and spill his semen, along with a sample of his blood, into the water. The youth is then compelled to live alone in a hut at the edge of the settlement for six months. At the end of this period, he is likely to be visited by a replica of himself—identical in general appearance and fairly accurate even at a closer glance. This doppelganger will by instinct feel a murderous hostility towards the youth, and the two will fight each other to the death. Usually the original boy, being well-trained as a warrior, will prevail, in which case he will eat the brain and heart of his double—an action now thought to be a kind of osmotic process linked to the prodigious lifespans of Charruan males—and its carcass is then tossed back into the lake to be devoured. Should the replica win, as does happen from time to time, it will still die within the space of a week.

But Camilo did not die. A week after he had strangled and partially eaten his father-twin, his screams of bewilderment and incomprehension, coming from the tent where he was bound, had not lost their vigor. The others in the settlement had no idea what to do, for this had never been known to happen. Had they made a mistake? No—this victor was not the boy they had sent off to the lake months before. He had no grasp of any language, did not recognize the woman who claimed him, at first, as her son, and possessed all the telltale signs of one from the lake: the clammy but supple flesh, the segmented bronze eyes, the broad skull, the flat, wide lips, the underdeveloped thumb, and the fondness for water.

A year went by, and he only grew stronger. Being as sharp-witted as the original boy, he caught up quickly in his learning, mastering the local tongue as well as Spanish. He took up carving, and made ingenious masks that he would slip on when he passed by the children who found him frightening. The months passed... and still he did not die.

They never truly accepted him. Some believed he should be slaughtered and thrown back to those who bore him. Word quickly spread to the people at the institute in Montevideo who studied the tribe, and they wasted no time in luring him away to be examined. They kept their findings secret. Camilo, comforted by the mere indifference of those he met in the city, decided to stay there, and study.

Adopting a Spanish name, he gained admission to the Universidad de la República and immersed himself in his education. In this new and stimulating domain, no one feared him: he was Camilo, an Indian with strange eyes, and nothing more. His future, he realized, was his own, and he enjoyed the luxury of indecision that these cloistered years provided.

But by 1992, Camilo des Espejos knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to take over the weekday overnight slot at Montevideo’s leading adult contemporary FM station and sweeten the airwaves with continuous soft hits. For over a decade, Camilo has remained the lite favorites champion of the greater Montevideo area, spinning laid back classics and smooth chart toppers on Radio DeLaLuna (99.44 FM; streaming online at He’s on Monday thru Thursday 11:30 PM – 4:00 AM. Wednesday is Urban AC Groove night, and check out his special one-hour Friday Magic Countdown at 7:00 PM, where valuable prizes go to anyone who takes the Magic Challenge and correctly names the Hot Tune Half Second song clip. (Just last Friday, Graciela Parrado identified Christina Aguilera's latest and won an iPhone and 140,000 pesos cash!)

Camilo’s known for sustaining the mood with soft rock and less talk. And though he keeps the chatter to a minimum, listeners agree that his charisma shines through. He promises to make your listening experience as smooth as the surface of the lake he was born in all those years ago. Whether you’re working the evening shift, chilling out or drifting off, listen to Camilo and he'll keep you relaxed all night!

— From a Radio FM DeLaLuna press release dated 7/19/07. Translated from the Spanish by Sabiunne Treabill.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sepia madrasi

“Sea-Ghost” scare now comedy hit

CHENNAI, Aug. 7 (Xinhuanet) – It is hard to comprehend how the creature spreading fear across the Bay of Bengal only a year ago could now be a subject of jokes and light-hearted laughter.

But the summer of 2007 was awash with sightings of a pallid face — bloated like a drowned corpse, with holes for eyes and a lipless mouth that uttered silent curses — pressing itself against the windows of vessels and seafront structures (often where no human could possibly be), then vanishing.

The stories generated hysteria, culminating in the near-fatal public thrashing of an albino child by a mob convinced he was the “Sea-Ghost” in mortal disguise.

In mid-October, however, Dr. Maharajapuram K. Nayagam quelled the phenomenon. The local marine biologist outed the spectre as a certain species of cephalopod: the Leper’s hand cuttlefish (Sepia madrasi), named for its stubby tentacles.

Taking note that the sightings always occurred during choppy weather at windows near the waterline, Dr. Nayagam rounded up several specimens using a baited cage, then presented them on a Sun News television broadcast, demonstrating how their livid muzzles could resemble phantom faces.

“There’s a broad, fleshy area around the beak — unusual for cuttlefish,” explains Dr. Nayagam. “Above the beak we find a dual valve for the funnel: two openings, which form the ‘eyes’ of the face.

“This pseudo-face only appears when the tentacles are spread out and apart — but that will happen when a Leper’s hand cuttlefish clings to a window. They enjoy flat, smooth surfaces when they can find them, although they will typically stay for a just few seconds before ‘taking off’ via jet propulsion.”

Leper’s hand cuttlefish once preferred deeper waters but have closed in on the bay in recent years.

The saga came full circle this month with the release of The Sea-Ghost Among Friends, a VCD by Ravi Akbar Khan, one of the most popular Tamil comedians.

Structured like a talk show, the feature eschews modern special effects for puppetry using actual marine life: freshly killed fishes (and cephalopods) are given electric shocks via hidden wires, causing their features to move as though speaking. Three Leper’s hand cuttlefish were needed to actualize the Sea-Ghost.

Khan, who provides all of the voices for his characters, claims sales of The Sea-Ghost Among Friends far exceed those of any other comedy VCD produced in “Kollywood,” and that a Hindi-dubbed version will debut next week.

“People find this one even funnier than usual,” he says. “I think it’s because many of them were frightened a year ago, and now they’re just relieved.”

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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Drosera singultantem

(ibid.) make the not-uncommon error of nibbling on a poisonous TRICK HELMET MOREL (ibid.), mistaking it for a harmless and succulent GALAHAD’S MOREL (ibid.), it will at first feel deprived of oxygen and gasp ineffectually — then, as though struck by lightning, it will suffer the second blow: an all-encompassing paralysis, which without fail will leave it with motionless jaws wide-open. The soft flesh of the inside of a moribund Jade Dwarf Monitor’s mouth is the favorite repast of the CARRION SYLPH CHAFER (ibid.), an insect that might easily, in another circumstance, become a healthy Monitor’s supper.

But in its haste to conquer the much larger adversary, a Carrion Sylph Chafer risks a similar blunder. For among the morels grows the THROATWHEEL GARNET (Drosera singultantem animam), which boasts a rosette of bright leaves (often confused with its blossom) that simulates the fixed yawn of a dying Dwarf Monitor, right down to the sickly magenta hue that the reptile’s mouth will assume once poisoned. A Sylph Chafer that pounces hungrily on this rosette will find itself snared by mucus-laced fibers, smothered by closing leaves — and soundly digested.

From: P. Hambunck Constanelle, Constanelle’s Global Flora, 4rd Ed. Mandaroeb & Sons, 1873: p. 517.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dynastes fibula

Beetle brooches battle bug bots for hearts of Mexicans

Fri June 13, 2008 6:41pm EDT

By Raquela Villarreal

TÉJUXPAN (Reuters) – Juan Medrillo, 27, lounges with a flavored coffee in the city square. On the lapel of his silk Gaultier dinner jacket crawls a large beetle with a jeweled carapace, secured to the garment by a small gold chain and pin. Since his late teens, Medrillo has always accessorized himself with a beetle brooch, or maquech.

He will replace his maquech once it dies, as he has before (a beetle can live up to a year). He claims the next one will be “more splendid even than this, meaning the most fabulous in all of Mexico.” He has not yet worked out the design for the successor’s decor, but he is already certain of one thing: “It will be a living bug. I’m never going to wear some imported gadget. That’s not a maquech.”

Medrillo has taken his side in a growing cultural schism. Over the past few years, some Mexicans have chosen miniature Japanese robots (or functional Taiwanese knockoffs) to become their maqueches. The conversion process is simple and the result is seen as less squashable than the classic variety.

The tradition of living insect jewelry is rich along the Yucatán Peninsula, and never more so than the town of Téjuxpan, where the Buffalo clasp beetle (Dynastes fibula) is prevalent. The buffalo clasp is the ideal bug for a brooch, due to its size, extremely resilient elytra (casing), long life span and overall hardiness.

The imported Isukiraba or ASBU (Autonomous Scarab BUddy) devices both look like beetles and are close in size to buffalo clasps. They utilize similar software platforms that run on tiny detachable memory sticks, which allow them to respond to speech, play simple games and other functions. In other words, they can do things as brooches that real beetles can’t.

But the mecha-maqueches may not be quite as durable as reputed. Unverified rumors abound of them consistently losing to buffalo clasps in illicit beetle blood sports (apparently neither model has fight programming). More evident is their allure to unyoked male beetles, who mistake the luminescent robot eyes for those of a female of their species in heat — and attempt to mate with them, with destructive results.

“A beetle mounted my ASBU maquech yesterday,” weeps a visibly upset Lupita Jambrina, 12. “It got blattapappazonza [local slang for insect semen] all over her and now she won’t work. She had an audio diary function and I used to tell her everything.”

But if Lupita’s robot friend can’t be fixed, she might consider taking it to the toy sales and repair shop El Balero, run by Pablo Navarrete, 62. Business has surged for Navarrete since he began offering to convert broken electronic pets into traditional (and rugged) wind-up toys. The addition of classic clockwork innards, with their distinct whirring and retro-appeal, might for some owners alleviate the loss of cutting-edge AI interface.

“Why would you want to talk to your maquech anyway, or ask it the time?” ponders Navarrete. “Better to just wind it up and let it crawl around a little. That’s all a piece of jewelry should do.”


Monday, June 9, 2008

L. lanzarotensis

The most spectacular subspecies of the Lepus is the celebrated SEASIDE HARE (L. lanzarotensis) of the Canary Archipelago.

By far the most seaworthy of the extended family, the diminutive female of this breed might not wait for a low tide to plunder the reef for shells. She hunts expressly for marine casings large enough to accommodate her body the way a snail wears its home-made housing — this almost always means specimens of RIBBED TRITON or JUMBO TURRITELLA (ibid.), which interlock well with her curiously developed spine. She dons her shell when she becomes gravid, and thenceforth is never seen without it. That she bolts about in this state with the same rigid posture she exhibited unshelled makes her seem to us proud or ostentatious, like a lady of fashion sporting a peaked headdress.

However, it is not vanity but Nature’s wisdom that guides the mother-to-be. For when parturition is imminent, off comes the shell — but not before the hare has located a suitable place for her family. There, she rolls onto her back and turns (always clockwise) into the soil, until only the mouth of the shell is above ground. She then upends herself, leaving the husk embedded in the earth: into this fortified depression she will deposit her young. The consequent safety afforded to a drove of Seaside leverets leads at times to an overabundance of the animal — a problem counteracted during tourist season by the increase in seashell demand.

From: P. Hambunck Constanelle, Constanelle’s Global Fauna, 3rd Ed. Mandaroeb & Sons, 1872: p. 406.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Fraudator tripartitus

The “life-long imposter” I mentioned earlier now wriggles onto center stage — ready, in its very infancy, to carry out its first swindle. The triple-ruse hawk moth worm (Fraudator tripartitus) possesses all the qualities it needs to deposit itself unnoticed among strangers: a trick essential to its survival. Truly it is the changeling of the animal world, as worthy of the title as the fairy babies who pass for mortals in the old folktales. For once this larva has invaded a litter of infant shrews, it comports itself like a regular member of that copious household. Its pudgy but tiny shape, pink flesh and downy fur (actually tubercles) mimic the attributes of the suckling mammal well enough that the shrew mother, more often than not, will accept the counterfeit, and allow it to feed with the others.

The milk of the shrew will sustain the worm (it is the only victual that can) until it senses the approach of metamorphosis. Before that hour comes, the larva must escape the brood, then find a cranny among the stones and fallen leaves where it may pupate. This brings us to its second ruse, for our chrysalid should become dull in texture and assume an earthen colour. If all has gone well, it should now be scarcely distinguishable from a pebble — a tiny hard morsel of stone, a source of neither meat nor interest to hungry parties that pass it by.

But our subject is thrice-deceptive, hence its name. The third subterfuge is plain to anyone who sees our triple-ruse hawk moth, now full-grown, land on its favorite resting place — the trunk of an elm — and immediately vanish, its cryptic brown wings a perfect forgery of the bark.

From: A. Burnleath Harthawick, Arthropods and Vermes of the Upper Plundtra. Cassell & Co., Limited, 1821: p. 117.

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.

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.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Miniopterus brouvaughndrii

English Site > Germany > Wildlife Europe


3/27/2008 03:30 PM


Choosy Berlin Bats Pilfer Mustard, no Relish

By Parker Wildring in Berlin, Germany

As spring approaches, Berlin’s open-air food vendors can expect to repeat an ordeal from last year’s warmer months: the return (from hibernation) of the bat known as the Senffledermaus, or, in English, Brouvaughndre's lesser bent-winged mustard gleaner (Miniopterus brouvaughndrii).

Though recently its numbers in the city have seen a mysterious increase, the species remains protected by a UNEP (UN Environment Programme) conservation agreement. Sellers of wurst and other snacks must therefore resort to non-lethal measures when safeguarding a certain condiment—the only substance that these stealthy, swooping bandits ever care to filch.

The core diet of a Brouvaughndre's gleaner is primarily moths and houseflies, but some evolutionary quirk drives its craving for the added piquancy of human-prepared mustard. What actual nutrition this provides is unclear. Using its flat, spade-shaped tongue, the gleaner skims a teaspoon-sized blob from an available source, then stores it in a sublingual cavity until the meal is caught. The source in question is often not an open container, but a large plastic bottle with a pump nozzle: no obstacle for these plucky creatures, who have learned to pounce on the spout with just enough impact to extract a jet of tangy taste into their strategically positioned maws, then shoot back out of harm’s reach. This wingflap-quick process usually transpires as efficiently as if the bottle were a feeder designed for the bat. “When people see this, they like to watch it and take photos, but at the same time are discouraged from buying my sausages,” complains Helmut Fürnst, who vends from his stall on Schönhauser Allee. “This is very upsetting, especially because I also have mustard packets on hand and keep all of my equipment scrupulously clean.”

Plans are underway to curtail chiropteran mustard parasitism this summer. Trade groups have mentioned protective netting and specialists have been rigging custom-made dispensers high up in selected trees. “They must be placed in spots that are substantially easier to access than the food stands,” says Rudolf Spotzner, an expert on bats at a local arm of UNEP. “Otherwise [the bats] won’t understand where they should go to for their seasoning.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stloppus crapula

Certain German-speaking areas of Hungary esteemed the consumption of one unsafe but reportedly luscious dish for centuries (until the tradition was phased out after the Second World War): Following a bath in buttery paprika sauce, an ockerfreundliche Kröte or brown Hungarian toad (Stloppus crapula) was steamed alive, pinioned, and slit down the belly, but not gutted. The diner wore a steel tiara with twin prongs (perpendicular to the forehead), from which hung the toad, lashed by the ankles. The waiter would use a special fork to nestle the amphibian’s kidneys securely in the diner’s nostrils so that he could savor the aroma while consuming its intestine—the only part of the animal that was not deadly poisonous. An enthusiast generally shunned regular utensils in favor of a pair of silver picks, or Zücholsstangen (from tűzőszigonypár), to navigate the tasty innards onto his tongue. Several field recordings exist of drinking songs (all intoned in basso-profundo) that celebrate this hazardous delicacy and the joys of attendant tippling.

From: Phalprin W. Bosnett, “An Ödenburgish Cellar-Book,” Horizon, vol. VI, no. 4 (Autumn 1965): pp. 35-57.