Tag Archives: academia

Honey Badger: who you calling honey mister?

Don’t make the mistake, dear reader, of judging a badger by its nomiker: this one’s no honey.  Named for their predilection for eating honeycombs pilfered from beehives, Mellivora capensis is also famous as a snake-killer. The honey badger uses its jaws to grab a snake behind its head and kill it, and can devour a snake measuring up to 5 feet in length  in a mere 15 minutes. 15 minutes. Piggy little honey badger.

The badger’s prey is hardly limited to honey and snakes, however. Consider the following list: earthworms, insects, scorpions,  porcupines, hares, ground squirrels, meerkats, mongooses, tortoises, crocodiles up to one metre in size, young gazelle and snakes (including venomous species),  lizards, frogs, small rodents, birds and fruit.  Goodness. (GAZELLE??? CROCODILES???)

National Geographic documentary,  “Snake killers: Honey badgers of the Kalahari”,  documented a badger snatching a meal out of a puff adder‘s mouth, after which he casually ate the purloined prey, and, insatiable, turned to stalk the deadly snake itself. This bold item managed to kill the snake, and even to begin eating it, but having been bitten, collapsed on the dead snake mid-chew. Cameramen were shocked, however, when the badger awoke 2 hours later,  finished his meal and went on his merry way.

Construction workers, take note: watch who you call honey. It may be the last thing you do.

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“The Cock is a Bird that Can Tell Time”

 

Copyright: Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 36v

You cannot blame the author for the sheer volume of noteworthy cocks in the world. She is perfectly aware that she has already written about the Cock of Dawn, but that was from the Chinese tradition, and the author reserves the right to differentiate between Chinese and Roman cocks. Ahem. In any case, were you to blame anyone for the next double entendre, dear readers, it would have to be Pliny the Elder, who writes that cocks “were designed by nature to announce the dawn; by singing they awaken men.” Indeed.

They are also, he avers, quite the little oracles: omens and auspices can be read in the behavior of cocks. Indeed. The author once knew a man who swore he could predict the weather with his. True story.

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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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Dissertation Owls Asleep on the Job

Folkes, while the dissertation elves, tiny little owls that creep into grad students’ bedrooms to madly type pages whilst the tortured souls sleep, are on furlough,  I have been working furiously on my thesis. The result? A certain lack of Beastliness. And vocabularity.

This will be remedied shortly, just as soon as the Muse goes on strike again, as she (the fickle bitch) is wont to do.

– sj

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You’d be Prickly, too

A rare Prickly shark ( Echinorhinus cookei) was recently “found” and displayed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, quite the coup for the eager grad student type who “found” the shark.

The shark was  “collected” in an area where the Monterey Bay Aquarium Supported research, by the unnamed graduate student (sorry, chum), who was documenting  daily migrations of prickly sharks from the deep waters of the canyon to the shallows of the canyon head where the specimen in question was… “collected” and quickly put on display at the aquarium.  

But as of the writing of this post, the Prickly predator has been returned to the wild, because after a mere 15 hours in captivity, staff scientists at the Monterey Bay aquarium noticed that the shark “appeared too bouyant to swim easily.”

The scientists tagged the prickly (and, apparently, gassy) shark, normally seen only in very deep waters,  before releasing him in waters about 250 ft deep.  They watched him swim off, clearly headed back for the deeper waters of the pacific rim.

Reports have yet to be confirmed, but some witnesses swear that they saw the shark flipping those scientists the bird as he swam out into deeper waters.*  

 

*please note: the author of BV is in favor of any and all humane efforts to learn more about the life in our oceans, and understands that the scientists’ intentions were pure. Nevertheless, she empathizes with the shark, who was kidnapped, stuck in a  tank, made a mini-media spectacle, and sent home all in the span of a day. As the title suggests, after this kind of Wednesday, you’d probably be prickly, too.

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A Blog After My Own Heart

The author of BV deos not often direct her (few) readers to read other blogs, lest you intrepid souls desert me for greener fields. One suspects you may be a bit shifty that way. But today is something of an exception.

You see, a friend recently directed my attention to a blog after my own heart. Fuck you, Penguin  is in some ways BV’s doppelganger. BV’s dark and twisty evil twin. The heads to BV’s tails. The yin to BV’s yang. The… well, you get the point.

This clever monkey’s recent headlines include such stunners as:

 “The Marsupial Rampage Continues”

“Baby Flying Squirrels: a mini 9/11 in your hand”

and

Noone wants to hang out with eels

 

While the author writhes a bit in frustration that she didn’t think of the latter headline first, you, dear readers, should take a look, enjoy… but please… come back.

…it gets so lonely here without you.

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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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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.

 

 

 
 

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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.

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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.

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

img4465

 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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No, It’s not a Typo; It’s the “Cock” of Dawn.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have  Chinese folklore to thank for next entry: the celestial cock, aka the “cock of dawn.”

<< The author respects all cultures and will not resort to infantile murrmerings about the word “cock”. But, dear readers, it’s gonna be difficult.>>

The Cock of Dawn, or so it is said, is a “magnificent golden three-legged cock” <<ahem>>.  According to myth,  he lives in the mile-high Fu-Sang tree in the Land of Sunrise.  It is believed that he is the ancestor of all worldly cocks <<ah-ahem>>, that he crows exactly three times a day (to mark the sunrise, zenith, and sunset) and that his red comb signifies the sunrise.

According to a legend  describing the conjunction of yin and yang, the God of the immortals (Tung-hua Ti-chun) gave this bird to a lucky fellow named Shen-i, who rode the back of the celestial cock <<oh, come now, we are all mature adults here, lets be serious>> to the heat of the midday sun, where, it is said, he attained perfect happiness.  Just him and his golden three-legged cock. (Until he set up regular visits with his wife, who was living over on the moon at the time.)

…In all seriousness,  dear readers, it is a lovely story and we should not be swayed from its import by our puritanical, repressed, juvenile obsession with naughty bits. And yet… one cannot help but wonder whether, on the occasional lonely night on the moon, Shen-i’s wife didn’t long for a little celestial cock of her own.

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Humanatee: A dying breed

seen here without a school, this humanatee may never find a home

The humanatee is an ancient, intelligent beast, most often found in large “schools,” though members of far-flung schools frequently gather together in large, gregarious groups called “conferences.” During these  sporadic expeditions, humanatees may demonstrate dominance by flashing the “TT” position. These strange creatures then show off to potential mates by uttering strange, unintelligible  sounds in rapid succession.

Infighting and promiscuous behavior is not uncommon in conferences.

But dear readers, the humanatee, contrary to appearances, is not its own worst enemy. The humanatee is among our worlds most endangered species, and though abundant, is seriously threatened by the rough economic waters currently plaguing our shores and those the world over. Worse, funding for conservation programs has recently been cut dramatically, leading some experts to wonders whether there is adequate habitat  in today’s academe for the humanatees.*

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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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