Category Archives: backyard fauna

Bejeweled Insects

Every so often, dear readers, the author of BV is struck positively speechless (shocking, I know) by an image from the animal world. In this case, these  include the  images of Miroslaw Swietek , Martin Amm, and Jens Kolk (see a sample of Swietek’s work, above, and photographs by Amm and Kolk, respectively, below)  and they are so exceedingly beautiful that for once, the author has nothing snarky or otherwise sideways to say about them. These photographers used a macro lens and flash in the wee hours of morning to catch “sleeping” insects wet with dew.  Follow the links above, and at the bottom of this page, and enjoy.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1260946/The-stunning-pictures-sleeping-insects-covered-early-morning-dew.html

http://seawayblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/insects-in-morning-dew.html

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Petaluma Bird Sanctuary Threatened

There is a new asphalt plant planned for a site along the Petaluma River.

GOOD NEWS, right!? Industry, new jobs in a  ravaged marketplace… But, in this case, the costs may be too high.  Because in this case, the proposed development is slated for a site right across from Schollenberger Park, which just happens, dear readers, to be one of the premier bird sanctuaries in North America.  And, you know, sits within spitting distance of a dozen or so parks and schools.   

So when a group of mothers heard that the council was all set to vote on the building permits and zoning changes, and learned about the toxic brew of noxious chemicals for which Asphalt companies are famous, they got a good whiff of something rotten in Denmark and promptly formed themselves into an advocacy group that they dubbed “Moms for Clean Air.”

In a typical gynocolocially inaccurate rhetorical ploy deigned to minimize the credibility of  unruly females, certain critics have called  the Moms “hysterical.” … You tell me, dear readers: Someone has threatened your kids– and your BIRDS, for goodness sake– and you don’t have good cause to be just a wee bit hysterical? Just a wee bit? Or might the emotion these critics are searching for be something closer to “righteous indignation?”

Hysterical, indeed.

In any case, the city and county apparently turned deaf ears on ths Moms’ complaints, so the mothers did what every parent who has been through PTA basic training knows to do. They went over the county’s head. 
At long last, these mobilized mothers  found an advocate in California Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a Democrat from Southern Sonoma who, according to a Chanel 5 report,  “organized the first comprehensive hearing on the issue, bringing together regulators from the EPA, Fish and Game, The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and other agencies, most of which are just beginning to look at the project.”

The company that wants to the build the plant, The Dutra Group, says that “This is the right plan, and this is the right location.” Shockingly, the spokeswoman who delivered this little pearl of persuasive wisdom is named Dutra. What a coincidence.  

Isn’t it also the funniest coincidence that Dutra’s other asphalt plant has already been cited–multiple times– for environmental violations?

Need more?

In 2001, Marin County Grand Jury accused the company of illegally expanding operations.

In 2006, Dutra was fined $735,000 for dumping sludge near the Farallon Islands.

The Dutra family denies these incidents ever happened. Apparently, they have never heard of a little thing called “public record.”

So far,  only one council member (Zane) has been willing  to publicly announce  opposition  to the asphalt plant. The other four, stalwart souls all, are refusing comment.    But, s hould you have a comment, dear reader, and should you be of the same mind as the author of BV, you may follow the links to the Moms’ site, and tell them that they have your support. You may also follow this link to a PDF of their mission statement.

Go, Moms!

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I dig on Swine… Hackers?

pig_1

The author woudl like to draw your attention, dear readers, to these porcine smartypants. Smartypanteses? In any case.  Also note the swingin’ soundtrack.

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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.  

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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.

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A Welshman, 200 sheep, and 1000 LEDs walk into a bar…

What do you get when you combine welsh shepherds, sheep, herding dogs, electricians, lighting techs, and copius light emitting diodes? Genius. Dear Readers, we don’t CARE if this is a thinly veiled  advertisement. This is, very simply put, the best. video. ever.

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Parasitic Wasps, part deux

A friend to BV has alerted the author to the following video, as a follow-up to a recent posting on parasitic wasps. His advice? Not to watch this while eating lunch.

Dear readers, heed this wise man’s advice. But *do* watch. The effects of the “wasp virus” may be among the more bizarre phenomena of the animal world. (And far more innteresting than the swine flu, anyway).

cheers, Isk, for the tip.

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Undead Spiders Survive Mass Drowning.

The author of BV, dear readers, is not happy. She is, in fact, deeply, deeply troubled. And all because what she is about to report confirms her deepest suspicions about order Araneae; spiders are, in fact, evil minions of  the undead sent to take over the world.  And let’s face it, with all due respect to the arachnophiles in the author’s aquaintence, they’re  just pretty damn creepy.

 

 

A reporter for National Geographic News  reported yesterday that spiders “drowned” in a lab “twitched back to life hours after ‘drowning.'” Yes indeed, dear readers (both of you), you read right.  The wolf spiders involved in the study “twitched back to life after drowning.”

 The researchers had only intended to see how long it would take spiders whose nests were subject to frequent seasonal flooding to drown, then leave the eight icky- little- legged corpses out to dry, so as to weigh them post-mortem. And so they did… but that, according to Nat Geo, “is when things began to get weird.”

Because once they had dried out, the spiders began twitching where they lay, eventually struggling effortfully back onto their eight icky little feet.

Researchers believe that these spiders instinctually enter comas in order to survive. The author of BV believes that they actually enter an alternate dimension in which they commune with the spirits of evil dead spiders, particularly those who have been variously flushed, washed, and hosed down drains in the human world, leading them to hold a grudge against the entire human species.

…But the spiders are not the only ghouls in this story: we should remember the University of Rennes (France) scientists (who from a certain angle resemble nothing so much as textbook sociopathic schoolboys)  immersed 120 spiders in water, “jostling the spiders with brushes every two hours to see if they responded.” All with the express purpose of seeing how long it took these spiders to die.  Just, you know, because they were curious.

Perhaps-just perhaps, and excluding the author of BV-some of us deserve to be bitten by evil undead spiders.

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Cane toads just can’t catch a break

cane-toad-2

Once upon a time, 101 Cane toads were  deliberately introduced to Australia, under the premise that they would eat the beetles ruining the sugar cane crops, ridding the farmers and population of a costly pest. Yet as we have learned time and again, the road to hell is paved with non-native species.  The population of poisonous cane toads exploded in Australia, the toxic toads started causing deaths of native species, and a variety of measures were sought to mitigate the new-and more obtrusive- problem, including:

1) Golf clubs (the author of BV cannot reccomend this, though she does understand the sentiment)

2)freezing 

3) gassing

 

But now, scientists believe that they may have found “a more natural way” to kill these killers: Meat ants.

…Yes folkes, this is another one of *those* posts.

Meat ants, a carnivorous species native to Australia,  have been observed eating cane toadlets, leaping upon them and devouring them alive. Or dead, however they find them.  Unlike the native toad species, moreover, the cane toads have not evolved defences to meat ants as have their Aussie counterparts. Simply put, “they do not hop away.”

Not one to hook his wagon to just any star, the mayor of Darwin and Frogwatch coordinator, Graeme Sawyer doubts that these ants can come to the rescue, as they “just don’t eat enough toads.”

Who knows whether sending the toads to swallow the beetles, and sending the ants to swallow the toads will end in tragedy… But the author of BV is put in mind of a childhood song …

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The life of the leaf-cutter ant: miss lonelyhearts OR sapphic smithii?

 

Leaf-cutter ants, or so they say, are all female. According to a National Geographic article, these ladies “thrive without sex of any kind—ever.”  As evidence of this essential sexlessness, scientists cite the fact that leafcutters have evolved to the point that they reproduce only when queens clone themselves.

Indeed,  one author of the study explains  that the (typically muscular) reproductive organ of the female leafcutter ant (M. smithii)  “has evolved into a ‘sort of a ghost of an organ at this point,'” and that no male of the species has ever been found. Were a male “theoretically to appear somewhere, we’re not sure they could mate any more,” she said.

The author of BV would like to offer a few observations:

1) Some among us would probably chuckle, quipping  that it will be a fine world when human females develop the same ability.

2) But others- the more sexually driven, certainly- would retort that a life “without sex of any kind– ever”   was not nearly worth the benefit of a life without fighting for the remote or the correct arrangement of the toilet seat.

3) And there the debate might end, with the simple conclusion of “I’m glad I’m not an ant” or “I wish I were an ant,”  but for the third group- the more flexible thinkers and those who swing that way- who might question the scientists’ assumption that the lack of males (and even of internal reproductive organs)  neccesarily means a “lack of any kind of sex-ever.”  

Rather denotes a lack of creativity, from a certain standpoint…

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Blatant Animal Exploitation.

These animalian commercials were produced by Capitalist Pigs. Get it? Pigs?

 

… the author of BV apologizes. That joke was not funny. Hopefully, these will be…

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Exploding frogs (as per request)

it's not easy, being green

it's not easy, being green

 

Well, dear readers, I have recieved my first command performance, and am more than happy to oblige. Here they are, the amazing, exploding frogs.

FUNNY, dark, and clearly not American-made…

 

VERSUS …  just plain sick. You can complain about the following video and it’s juvenile delinquent perpetrators by following the youtube link. Or you can hug your children more. Your choice.

  

Of course, there are actual exploding frogs out and about in the world–or, more precisely, toads. Wikipedia, everybody’s go-to source for questionable information, says the following :

“An exploding toad occurs when a crow, hunting for toad liver, attacks a toad which then puffs up as a natural defense. The phenomenon was first noticed in April 2005 in districts of Hamburg, Germany and near a lake at Låsby, Denmark, dubbed “The Pond of Death.” No other animals in the area were exploding.

What differentiates the exploding toads in these incidents from most other exploding animals is that they explode while alive. Exploding whales, for example, are a result of the buildup of gases during the process of decomposition.”

 

The  BBC’s article on this topic is less certain of the causation, but the two sources agree on one important point: the name of the site where this phenomenon has been observed, i.e., the pond of death.

Pond. Of. Death. 

 The author of B.V. regrets to inform you that there are simply so, so many ways to go with this, that her head has well nigh exploded… exploded like a frog. Like a frog at the pond of death.  

send help.

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Ichneumon wasps: evidence against religion or just mean sons of Bi*%*!s ?

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Darwin once offered  the ichneumon wasp as proof against the central tenets of natural theology, which believed in the creation of all living things by a benevolent god. Expressing his opinion  in a letter to American botanist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote:  “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae.” 

What form of animal behavior could be so abhorrent that its existence alone could stand as proof against divinity? Dear readers, the author of BV would like to warn you that what follows should not be repeated to small children, nor the highly suggestible, lest they– like the author herself– suffer recurring nightmares because of it. Even those strong of stomach, beware:  no zombie movie could prepare you for this one.

Ichneuman wasps are what is called “parasitoids:”  the wasp selects a nice, juicy looking victim, lands, and with a flick of her stilleto-sharp  ovipositor,  injects her eggs forcibly into the host’s vulnerable body. Not leaving anything to chance, she will then inject a paralytic, a poison that paralyzes the victim without killing it.

Then, keeping the living incubator alive as long as possible, the newly-hatched young first eat their host’s fatty deposits and digestive organs, before moving on to the choicest- and most fatal- morsels: the heart and central nervous system. 

I believe, dear reader, that the proper response to this is:

 evolutionary-disgust

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every dog has its day… off

and so does B.V. Come back tomorrow for something worth looking at. For today,  consider this: If you were a bee, you could get your legs chewed off for drinking your evening beer.

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Hercules Beetle: natural prey of the Stymphalian birds?*

behold the strongest insect on earth

behold the strongest insect on earth (and in the background, the much smaller flower beetle).

 The Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules) is perhaps the most immediately recognizable of the rhinoceros beetles; it’s propensity for epic battles and family tragedies in the Grecian vein, though less well known, is among the beetle’s most prominent characteristics. 

Male beetles, for instance,  often use their prominent horns to fight for the right to mate with a comely female. The outcomes of these battles are determined by the whims of the gods, and may inflict devastating psychosocial effects which can fatally disrupt the entire Dynastes  family.

The winner and his prize may then engage in extended bouts of celebratory lovemaking; amorous sessions between Hercules beetles can last for 50 minutes-considerably longer than the average human encounter, which clocks in at a whopping… two minutes.

Epic, indeed.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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