Category Archives: extinct species

Chickcharnie

When sightseeing on the Island of Andros, dear readers, keep your eyes peeled for a creature that Bahamian folk tales describe as a three-toed elf, a red-eyed man-beast or a birdlike creature with a lizard’s tail and a fluffy mane, that likes to hang upside down from trees. Quite monstrous really. And carry flowers or bright bits of cloth, with which you will, if rumors are to be believed, be able to charm the creatures– so long as you treat them respectfully. This is something you will surely want to do.

Why, you might ask? Well, it’s quite simple really. If you piss these touchy lil’ buggers off they’ll make your head spin right around. Right on around. Dastardly.

… Of course, should you treat the elf with respect, you may be blessed with good luck for the rest of your natural life—a boon not to be sneered at, in the author’s humble opinion.

Of course, some doubting souls claim that Tyto pollens, an extinct species that is distantly related to the Common Barn-owl ( Tyto alba), is the origin of the chickcharnie myth. Tyto pollens was a large, flightless burrowing owl rumored to have been territorially aggressive, though it coexisted with humans. Rapid deforestation by white explorers in the 16th century led, sadly, to this creature’s extinction… or just to the chickcharnie’s retreat from common view…

Whichever version of the story is true,  the author is ready to chance it, as some good luck– and a beach vacation– would be greatly appreciated.

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Filed under academia, extinct species, folklore, human behavior, Phobia-inducing, Uncategorized

BV-worthy new exhibit

 

The California Academy of Sciences has long been beloved by the author of BV, figuring in her elementary school field trips, and, more recently, looming large in her consciousness as an example of stunning sustainable architecture. And a friend is employed there, I am proud to say, as a plant taxonomist– though, traitorous wench that she is, she will soon be abandoning us all to pursue a PhD in Chemistry on the east coast.

Pah. stupid PhD in chemistry. Stupid east coast.

In any case, If you would like to see an exact cast of Ida, the  Darwinius masillae that is a distant cousin of all of us today, you can do it at this exhibit. You can also learn about extreme adaptations (neat!) , reproduction (wink wink, nudge nudge) , and extinction (boo!).

Personally, the author of BV is excited to learn that the state fossil of California, Smilodon Fatalis, will be on display. She is also not a little bemused to discover that california *has* a state fossil.

which led the author on a rather amusing little digression into internet research-land, where she discovered the following:

California has the expected emblems, that is, a  state…

BIRD: California Valley Quail
ANIMAL: California Grizzly Bear
TREE: California Redwood

as well as a

 song
 seal
 motto
colors
nickname
flower
and flag (social studies history reports come flooding back to some of us) 

But is also has a state…

FOSSIL: Smilodon Fatalis (sabertooth tiger, see above)
INSECT: California dog-face Butterfly (well, it’s mother thinks it’s beautiful)
FISH: California Golden Trout
MARINE FISH: Garibaldi
MARINE MAMMAL: California Grey whale
REPTILE: the Desert Tortoise

not to mention:

 gemstone
Gold Rush ghost town
 Silver rush ghost town
grass
military museum
mineral
Fife and drum band (very cool)
Prehistoric artifact
rock
soil (SOIL!?!?! we have an official  SOIL. inconceivable)
tall ship
tartan
and theater.

And a poet laureate to write about all of ’em. (Which she doesn’t, at present. She seems to write a lot about love and death and architecture. But that’s a snap judgement)   

Seriously. Don’t believe me about the soil? look here. And expect a California series on BV in the near future.

sick of my rambling and want to read more about the exhibit? Read the articles from SFGATE and/or SFAppeal.

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Giant Shark: P. mortoni Discovered in Kansas

Scientists recently discovered a gigantic jawbone, teeth and scales, which, along with being a breakthough for the scientific community in general, also has personal significance for one of the author of BV’s ex boyfriends, if the lead scientest’s descriptions are to be trusted. This predator (ahem), a “sluggish bottom-dwelling shark” (ah, ahem) has long been recognized by the scientific community, but it’s size, in an ironic change of pace for most men, was actually underestimated. Ahem. Dr Kenshu Shimada of DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, discovered the fossilized remains of P. mortoni in the Fort Hays Limestone in Kansas. According to Shimada, “Kansas back then was smack in the middle of an inland sea known as the Western Interior Seaway that extended in a north-south direction across North America.” Representatives from Kansas have had the following response to the news: “Damn, you mean if I’d lived here a million years ago, I could have had an oceanfront property?” Shimada and his team attribute the extinction of this massive creature to the same environmental factors that killed the dinosaurs- including the shrinking of this giant inland sea. But the author of BV knows better, dear readers. If it wasn’t a disgruntled ex girlfriend, it was the diminishing real estate prices that killed ‘em.

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Echeneis: stubborn little bastard of a fish.

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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.

 

 

 
 

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The missing link: Darwinius masillae, Sweet as Apple cider

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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.

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Money Might Not, But Barnacle Geese Do (grow on trees)

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 Source: British Library Images Online Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 36r

What medieval-inspired bestiary would be complete without the Barnacle Goose?  According to Sir John Mandeville, who wrote in the 14th century CE, this fantastic creature is–or was– a species of goose that grows on trees. Not in trees, mind you. On trees.

In his Travels, Sir John writes that

 I told them of as great a marvel to them, that is amongst us, and that was of the Bernakes. For I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fell in the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon, and they be right good to man’s meat. And hereof had they as great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.

We moderns might be inclined to trow it impossible, too. Yet is it possible that the barnacle goose finds its equivalent in recent college graduates, who find themselves suddenly adrift of the parental money tree, and must function on their own or perish?  Indeed, the author sees many subtle similarities. Barnacle goslings grow on trees that overhang bodies of water; the young birds hang from their sprouting-points by their beaks.  When the birds are “ripe,” they fall. The fortuitous ones, which fall into the water, float and find themselves well on their way to healthy, productive adult lives. But those that fall on land– or go to graduate school– face a harder fate. Some die. The 14th century besties apparently all died, as there simply aren’t many tree-growing geese running about these days.

Yet today’s hapless little geese, who unerringly choose graduate studies in something “esoteric” like “Medieval English” or “Philosphy,” may in fact return to the life-giving tree well into adulthood, until the tree at long last shouts:

“Enough already! how long does a dissertation TAKE, anyway?

sigh.

take it from the author of BV, dear readers. major in something useful, like billiards, or graft.

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Catobelpas: Head of an Ox, Tail of a snake, Bad dinner date.

To all of the singletons reading this entry: the author of BV would like to caution you about the Catobelpas, for according to Pliny the Elder, this next member of our medieval bestiary series, which is  “of moderate size and inactive with the rest of its limbs, only with a very heavy head which it carries with difficulty and it always hanging down to the ground” is also “deadly to humans, as all who see its eyes expire immediately.”

Others, like Edward Topsell, the 14th century author of The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes, rejected notions that the beastie’s breath was the actual culprit, writing that despte its diet of poisonous herbs, “it is more plausible, that like the cockatrice, he killeth by seeing, than by the breath of his mouth, which is not competible to any other beasts in the world.”

Charming.

It is perhaps not terribly unfortunate that the Catobelpas has gone the way of the DoDo.

…And yet… if the author of BV’s  experience in the dating world is any indication,  there may be a significant subgroup of human descendants of the Catobelpas: individuals who slouch, hang their heads, and eat poisonouos herbs (read: garlic) at the dinner table are in no short supply in today’s dangerous dating tundra.

So,  readers: be forewarned! Should you suspect your dinner companion of being just such a shaggy-haired specimen, then when s/he at long last raises his heavy head and gaze at you with his bloodshot eyes, and ask if you want to split the bill, Do. Not. Make. Eye contact.   

Pay for your food and run.

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