Monthly Archives: May 2009

G.I. Joe: Proud Patriot Pigeon

 

It is not a frequent occurence, in the part of the country in which the author of BV was raised (and where the  spirit of the American nineteen-sixties still rules) for the US military to recieve much fanfare, or even much respect.  This is particularly true when you talk to the many animal rights supporters and activists that gravitate here, and who have much to say about the military’s animal welfare policies. The author herself is not always in concord with military policy.

Yet I will go out on a limb, here, in a blog dedicated on at least some level to cherishing and protecting the animals that populate our world, to say that whatever your politics, whatever your feelings about this or previous administrations, the men and women of the military deserve your respect and support, and yes, the dead deserve to be honored today, on memorial day.  Today, we mourn the fallen–without qualification or sneering, if you please.  

First enacted to honor Union soldiers felled in Civil War, Memorial Day was expanded  to include American casualties of any war or military action after WWI.  Anybody who has visited the American cemetary at Normandy can attest to the power of that memorial. And every country seems to have its own version of the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Indeed, there are many more unknown soldiers than you might even realize, because yes, there are animals among them. Take the Homing pigeon: many of these birds have flown and died in America’s history, including those that did so in WWII, after the holiday was expanded.  

The most famous of all American homing pigeons might just be G.I. Joe,  who flew for the United States Army Pigeon Service. Joe was one of 54,000+ pigeons in the Service, and in his official capcity he saved the lives of the inhabitants of the village of Calvi Vecchia, Italy, and those of the British troops who were occupying it it the time. 

The village, believed by Allied forces to be under enemy control,  had been scheduled for bombardedment no later than 18 October 1943. But in the nick of time Joe arrived at Army headquarters with the message that the British had triumphed there. Over a thousand people were saved by that freaking bird, if you’ll beg the author’s pardon.

G.I. Joe’s bravery was recognized by the Mayor of London in 1946, when he awarded Joe the prized Dickin Medal for gallantry.  Again, folkes, this is some freaking great pigeon. Makes you look  differently at the obnoxious objects swarming the trashcans downtown.

G.I. Joe was lucky; his story has a happy ending. He made it through the war, as so many young men and women did not, and lived out his retirement at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, alongside twenty-four of his brothers and sisters in arms. Ultimetely, Joe died at the Detroit Zoological Gardens  at the age of eighteen.  

The Cemetary at Normandy is filled with 18year old boys.  The author suspects that Joe would have liked to have saved them, too.

To Joe, and all of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Services who haven’t made it home to roost: R.I.P.  

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under backyard fauna, common household pets, human behavior, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized

Dog Wedding

Since, dear readers, I will be at a wedding in SoCal today, you to something SoCal-and-wedding-themed. Take this video, about a dog wedding,  by a SoCal band. And enjoy it. Or do with it what you will.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Banana Slug: “hard” life.

 

To paraphrase Brittney Spears, this banana slug is not that innocent

To paraphrase Brittney Spears, this banana slug is "not that innocent"

Beloved by alumni of UC Santa Cruz, banana slugs seem to have a pretty good thing going. Sure, they’re slow and eat detritus on the forest floor. But they’re beloved.

 …Just, you know, not by each other. In fact, as one intrepid UCSC PhD candidate put it, slugs

are constantly in an evolutionary arms race where males try to manipulate females into doing what they want them to do (for example, NOT mate with a new male) and females are constantly trying to prevent males from manipulating them.

 This is all a very messy—and uncomfortably familiar—business.  But if, dear readers, you are thinking you have caught the author in a gaffe, and that that banana slugs have developed an interesting solution to the battle of the sexes by evolving into hermaphrodites, problem solved, no muss no fuss… well then you are sadly mistaken. Because as you are by now perfectly aware, the end of the story is almost never the end of the story.

 And Banana slugs are not the nice, neat, nonexistent Barbie-genitalia sporting spontaneous generators we might like to imagine in our PG science textbooks. No, indeed. In fact, slugs are Simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means that they have both male and female primary sex characteristics. And boy, do they ever: an eight-inch slug can have an eight-inch long penis.  

Some of the male readers in the audience are doing some fast math and a little creative visualization in their mirrors, but don’t get overly excited, boys. Because even if the idea that the slugs mutually penetrate souds like a pretty good deal to you, you might be less excited to learn that sometimes a slug will also chew it’s mates member off after the deed is done.

 Chew it right on off. It’s called apophallation. And no, it doesn’t grow back.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, backyard fauna, gender bending, Phobia-inducing, rated NC17, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized

Echeneis: stubborn little bastard of a fish.

img5125

Isidore of Seville, who is, let’s face it, quite the hero for BV, named it the “delay,” for obvious reasons In the 1st century CE, Lucan wrote of it as  “…the sucking fish / Which holds the vessel back though eastern winds.” 

This little sucker was the echeneis, a small fish no more than six inches in length, which made its home in the Indian Ocean, and is said to have clung to ships and delayed their passage. When this fish latches on to a seagoing vessel, the most Shakespearean of gusts or invocations thereof would not move the ship, which would seemed to have become rooted to a fixed point in the roiling sea.

This fish, dear readers, reminds me of someone… another stubborn little bastard. Who could it be? ah, well. It’ll come to me…

In any case, Pliny the Elder elaborated, noting that it is used for making love-charms, and spells to slow litigation, and that it can be used to hold back the birth of a pre-term fetus until term. “This fish” says Pliny,  “is not eaten.”  “Some say,” says Pliny,” that “this fish has feet.” Pliny is loathe to believe this last tidbit. It’s not particularly that the presence of feet is more far fetched than the efficacy of its presence in charms and spells, but simply that “Aristotle says it does not.” And it’s simply quite gauche to argue with Aristotle—at least, it was in the 1st century.

AHA! I remember now: who could resemble an impedance to progress impervious to either reason or pathos?

Why, it’s the author’s writer’s block, of course- her worst enemy while adrift in the rough seas of dissertation.

 

yes, it’s one of those days folks. Send the life rafts… And mind the echeneis.

 

 

 
 

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, extinct species, folklore, marine life, medieval, Phobia-inducing, Uncategorized

The missing link: Darwinius masillae, Sweet as Apple cider

090519-missing-link-found_big

 

 

The sound of the name “Ida” has suddenly become  sweet sweet music to paleontololical ears.

This is because “Ida,” a 47 million year old fossil hidden in a closet for 20+ years has recently been unveiled. Apparently, a team of amateur fossil hunters discovered the fossil, which was astonishingly intact (even down to stomach contents) in Germany  in 1983, but had no earthly idea—the dummies—what  they had on their hands.

Skip ahead 24 years, and the University of Oslo buys the fossil at auction for around a million dollars. There, Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, names his prize “Ida” after his daughter, and  studies it in secret for two years. Until this month, when he revealed it to the world.  

Hurum believes that little “Ida,” barely the size of an average housecat, may prove to be the bridge between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans. Oh yes, and lemurs.

The author of BV doesn’t know about you, dear readers, but she gets an odd sort of kick out of the notion that she’s distantly but directly descended from a lemur. In fact, several of her cousins have distinctly lemur-like characteristics, so it does not seem all that far fetched.    

According to National Geographic Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, “has a unique anatomy. The lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs. But there’s a big gap in the fossil record from this time period….”

Sadly, the author’s dreams of lemus ancestry were shattered a bit when she learned that researchers “are unsure when and where the primate group that includes monkeys, apes, and humans split from the other group of primates that includes lemurs.” And that according to one American  expert, Ida may not be “our grand, grand, grandmother, but perhaps with our grand, grand, grand aunt.”  Sigh. But that’s still pretty darned grand, isn’t it?

Ida’s European origins are intriguing to experts, because her extreme age and advanced evolutionary characteristics prove that “contrary to common assumptions…  the continent was an important area for primate evolution.” In fact, “This specimen is like finding the Lost Ark for archeologists,” Hurum said: “it is the scientific equivalent of the Holy Grail. This fossil will probably be the one that will be pictured in all textbooks for the next 100 years.”

And what does all this science mean for us laypeople? Well, dear readers, it’s really quite simple: you may now commence with Germanic-monkey jokes. At your leisure.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, extinct species, Uncategorized

Banker Invests in Duckling Futures.

Joel Armstrong , a 43-year-old banker in Washington state, had been been watching a mother duck  nest on a ledge outside his office window for  35 days, so he was not surprised to see them when he got to town on saturday for the city’s annual Lilac festival. 

He was, however, surprised to see two of the little yellow bundles launch themselves from their preciptous perch.  The mother duck, who stood watching at ground level, might have anticipated the worst– had Armstrong not stepped up to the plate.  

Because Armstrong  channeled his inner A-Rod by rushing to the scene, fielding each fuzzy yellow pop-fly handily as they launched themselves into the air and hurtled towards the ground.

Emboldened by their fellows’ good fortune, four more hatchlings followed suit. Armstrong’s catching arm was strong: he lowered each one safely to the impatient mother duck, who seemed to approve of Armstrong’s technique. (Armstrong ultimately had to use a ladder to retrieve the final two ducklings, who were more risk-averse, or less enthsiastic baseball fans, than were their brothers and sisters.)   

 Finally the mother duck and Armstrong, task completed, led the ducklings, side by side, down two blocks of the parade route to the Spokane river, hearkening to the resounding cheers of the approving parade-goers who lined both sides of the street, providing witness to Armstrong’s infield skills- neglected since grade school, but the best investment this banker ever made.  

(the link below is to video of the event)

http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=7618021

Leave a comment

Filed under baby animals, exceedingly cute, human behavior, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized

Bovine rampage in Norway: Revenge of the Beef

250px-CH_cow_2

 

In 2002, a series of bizzare bovine incidents in the Norweigian countryside alarmed residents, and alerted us to the  possibility that cows are beginning to strain at the agricultural tether.

The first victim, 23-year old Stian Skoglund, was “bashed and trampled by a furious cud-chewer” according to one publication.  

The incident occurred when Skoglond noticed that one of the cows he was attempting to gather for milking appeared “uneasy.” Apparently under the delusion that he had psychic animal powers, Skoglond “made eye contact with the animal” and “tried to calm it.” Unsurprisingly, the cow “became provoked:”

 “The cow butted me and I fell,” Skoglund reported. Frightened, our failed animal mesmerist scrambled to his feet and tried to make a dash for it, but the cow, undettered, knocked him to the ground. Pleased with her work, she then began—according to the same  Norwegian  English- language publication—to  “hop and trample him,” ceasing only when her victim gave up the fight and played dead.

Skoglund suffered a shattered leg, several broken ribs, numerous lacerations, and multiple contusions. He later wondered whether the attack was done in retaliation for his part in hauling away the body of a calf that had died days earlier.

“Maybe,” quoth our budding animal psychologist, “it was her motherly instincts being aroused. I’ve also heard that I shouldn’t have made eye contact with her, that only provokes them.”  

No shit, Stian.

Other incidents include a 45-year-old farmer who was hospitalized after a cow charged his wife (The farmer found himself in this unfortunate position after he attempted to wave his arms and distract the cow from its attack on his wife), and a nearby farmer who was trampled to death by rampaging bulls.

But by far the most shocking occurrence, dear readers, was the incident of the cow who fell  from the sky and died, nearly taking a car full of Norwegian travellers with her.

The story begins like a joke, with four men traveling in a car and debating the source of “a large shadow in the sky.” Was it a bird? No. a plane? No. nor was it a caped adventurer. It fell to earth with a mighty thump, mere feet in front of the moving vehicle.

Driver Olav Kjeldstad reported that, having barely managed to avoid hitting the mysterious object, he stopped the car and he and his three passengers looked behind them to where a cow lay in the road; according to one passenger, the fallen bovidae bovinae “only managed a few moos before dying.”

Kjelstad admitted that he “was pretty shaken afterwards” but also admitted– with typical Norse pragmatism and an inborn appreciation for dramatic subgenre–  that “we had a laugh as well;” the entire situation, he said, “was tragicomic.”

Perhaps  Kjelstad should have loaned his well-thumbed Companion to Norse Drama to poor Stian Skoglund,  upon whom the subtleties of tragicomedy were clearly lost.

Leave a comment

Filed under human behavior, Phobia-inducing, the strange and the beautiful, Uncategorized