Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Creature Feature: Indian Giant Squirrel.

Welp, college time has rolled around again. My own courses seem to be panning out well; even computer science and Chinese should not be killer. It's one thing if you like your courses, but no academic thrill can parallel having a baby squirrel perch on your hand and munch a Dorito.

This happened.

OK, so that's one of the many mundane, but fun pleasures of college life. There are two types of squirrels at Loyola, but none come close to the awesome purple squirrel from India.

If you laughed, well, joke's on you.

Remember when I said that purple was a veeeerrrryyy rare color in mammals? It comes closest to occurring on the Indian Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica), of all creatures. Not only does it come in a bunch of sweet color patterns, but this squirrel can get over a foot long - not counting a two-foot-long tail.

Plotting your demise from the treetops.

This squirrel is native to India if it was not obvious from the name. It spends its time in forest canopies and can jump up to 6 meters from tree to tree. Scientists are currently unsure of the squirrels' thoughts on outsourcing, but Foamy should be proud that one of his relatives can annoy tech support and look good doing it.

Buddhism a la squirrels.

Like all squirrels, the Indian Giant Squirrel is an herbivore. What, did you think it ate people or something?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Creature Feature: Pangolin.

Yesterday, a friend sent me this little article detailing the gendered nature of the Western dragon. I was delighted because it would FINALLY put an end to the "do/can dragons have tits" controversy that comes up in scaly/furry circles every so often.

If you know nothing about the debates that go on in furry communities, good for you. It means that you have yet to sink that low. Nonetheless, it is a fine place to see what people think about whether centaurs might have two dicks (according to one sculpture in Lefkandi, they had at LEAST one at the human torso) or whether reptiles, specifically dragons, should have breasts or not.

The picture of St. George slaying a truly feminine dragon speaks volumes. Even the Enuma Elish's Tiamat was described with a rack (or, well, jiggling udders). Many Greek dragons (drakaina in feminine) were either stated as female or had feminine upper parts.

How does that work? Aren't dragons, you know...scaly? Mammals don't have scales!


Pangolins (genus Manis) are found in the tropical regions of Africa and Asia. They are all armored and eat nothing but eusocial insects. Like many anteaters (to whom they are not really related), pangolins are toothless and have very, very long tongues.

...Yeah, you TOTALLY saw this one coming.

They are, throughout their ranges on both continents, considered good meat. Chinese medicine being as crazy as it is also harvests pangolin scales for meds and armor. They believe that the scales of a pangolin will decrease swelling and make breast milk more nutritious. (That sounds like something out of Seikon no Qwaser.)

HOW does this help breast milk, again?

The numbers concerning exactly how many pangolins are served in restaurants in various oriental nations are staggering. Just in July 2010, more than 7.8 tonnes of frozen pangolin and 1,800 kg of pangolin scales were caught at a customs post. Over two thousand pangolins had died to fill that order.

China would be more awesome if it cared about its fauna.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Creature Feature: Crested Serpent Eagle.

China has a plethora of unique mythological creatures. Unlike Western monsters, which are made almost solely to be destroyed, the Chinese have taken detailed notes on their fantastic fauna. They write about everything from habitat to sexual dimorphism to how toxic the creatures are to eat. They may as well be real animals over there.

Oh, wait. At least one of them is.

There is a bird called a zhen in Chinese mythology. It is a dark shade of green, purple, or black, and eats almost nothing but poisonous reptiles. The females are as different from the males as night from day. The birds are as big as geese or eagles, but resemble owls.

In all accounts, the zhen bird is highly poisonous thanks to its diet. Its feathers are said to produce one of the most powerful toxins known in China. Some sources elaborate further, saying that this bird is so poisonous that its droppings corrode all the rocks it craps on. Merely drinking from the same watering holes as it does is potentially lethal. Only the rhinoceros is safe from the zhen's toxicity.

If one of the zhen's feathers is mixed with rice wine, the mixture becomes a deadly poison that can only be detected and cured by placing something made out of rhinoceros horn in it. Cups were made out of rhino horn so that drinkers would be less affected by poisons. Compare the detoxifying effects of the unicorn's horn, alicorn, to this idea; Europe probably stole the notion from Chinese tales about the rhinoceros horn's powers.

Ooohhhh, yeah. Work the feathers, baby, work the feathers...

Yes, the zhen is a real bird. The detailed accounts of Chinese writers have pointed scientists and mythology buffs alike to the Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela), a bird that, you guessed it, eats snakes all the time. It also has a crest that makes it look like an owl when fluffed. The bird is not only found in China, but also covers much of Asia.


Now that we have identified the real-life basis of the bird, here's step 2: Given that some caterpillars eat toxic plants to give themselves a nasty taste, would eating vipers be enough to make the zhen one of the rare poisonous birds?

Nobody knows. Seriously. Although there are a few preserved Crested Serpent Eagle specimens in various museums, the chemicals used to preserve them would make any and all venom tests invalid. Why somebody has not captured one (supposedly they are fairly tame as-is), taken feather samples, put them in rice wine, and given it to some mice is beyond me. This could be a dealbreaker for saving rhinoceroses; one of the main things threatening them is the demand for their horns as Chinese medicine.

C'mon, China. You're gonna rule the world, soon. Get on this potentially lethal weapon.

(More on the zhen and the Chinese rhinoceros horn trade here.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Creature Feature: Reef triggerfish...

...AKA Humuhumunukunukuāpuaa. That's one of the longest words in the Hawaiian language, right there. I'll stick with "reef triggerfish," (or Rhinecanthus rectangulus) thanks. It is also called the rectangular or wedge-tail triggerfish for obvious reasons.

OK, maybe not as rectangular as the name implies.

The Hawaiian name of the reef triggerfish means "triggerfish with a snout like a pig." That is exactly what it is. The reef trigger is, first of all, a triggerfish - that is, it belongs to a group of fish related to sunfish and pufferfish. (The pufferfish has been adequately covered in the entry on fugu; the ocean sunfish deserves a bit more love.) All of these fish, true to the title 'tetradontiformes,' have four teeth ready to deliver a nasty bite at any time.

Pictured: PAIN.

Triggerfish in particular are known for a 'lock in' defensive tactic. All triggerfish, including humminahummina up there, can wedge themselves into tight spaces and stay there thanks to an erect second spine. Many of them are also aggressive little fuckers and can change color depending on their moods. Their toxicity ranges from "nasty" to "delicious."

So, for this fish, what's in a name? According to Hawaiian lore, every land animal has a counterpart in the ocean. This is not an uncommon way of thinking; check out sea lions and sea cows, for example. Given that the hakunamatata actually grunts like a pig when predators approach and has a porky physique, we really cannot blame the Hawaiians for calling it such. They can also shoot water from their mouths in order to rummage up more edibles, but bar the fixation on food, that is not very porcine.

What a wonderful phrase...

Seriously, though? I think Hawaii picked this fish as their State Fish just to screw with our heads. Humuhumunukunukuapuaaa~

Friday, August 27, 2010

Creature Feature: Cheetahs.

Wait, cheetahs? Those are not weird. Those are felids. Cheetahs are well-known predators on the African savannah. They're notorious for being the fastest land animals and selling cheese puffs to kids. Why the eff are they here?

The spots are right, but the HEAD, it burns!

Well, there are several subspecies of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). They are not just native to Africa. Their range extends all the way to Iran, Pakistan, and perhaps India. The cheetah's name comes from the Hindi cita, so even if they are not still living in that area, they were there at one point.

The cheetah is meant for one thing: Speed. It lives up to its title of the fastest land animal alive, sprinting at speeds of up to 75 mph (120km/h). It has a slender body, long legs, a long tail, and fixed (as opposed to retractable) claws, a trait shared with only two other types of cat. (Its generic name, "Acinonyx," literally means "immobile claw.")

Do not let nature programs about superpredators fool you. There were tradeoffs when the cheetah became so specialized. Unlike other big cats, cheetahs cannot climb or roar; instead, they chirp. They may be one of the most successful hunters on the savannah, but because they run so fast, they often wind up exhausted after the kill. This gives other predators ample time to steal what they can of the cheetah's meal.

Essentially, cheetahs are feline greyhounds; they were used as such by aristocrats for hunting parties. How they domesticated the cats, I have no idea; cheetahs captured from the wild were preferable for hunting. This is the rough equivalent of catching a wolf and expecting it to listen to you.

Cheetah domestication goes as far back as ancient Egypt. The Mongols also had cheetahs at their disposal.

They are also in danger of dying out, and this time it is not mankind's fault. Sure, poaching does not help the issue, but for once, humans get away with a slap on the wrist.

For some reason -seriously, nobody knows why- cheetahs went through an evolutionary bottleneck. That means that there were so few individuals left that they had to resort to inbreeding to survive. This led to considerably reduced fertility and a genetic relationship so close that skin grafts from an unrelated cheetah will not be rejected by another.

So, uh...you two cousins or something?

Perhaps because of this genetic proximity, there is a 'tabby' mutation in cheetah species. These 'king cheetahs' were originally thought to be another subspecies. Then they found that the odd coat pattern was caused by the same gene that caused tabby stripes in normal house cats, removing much of the king cheetah's majesty. (The power of a morph at work, folks.)

A 'tabby' cheetah.

Given how closely related cheetahs are as a species, a mutation like the king cheetah is certainly welcome. As pointed out in my 'breed' segment, many traits tend to be linked together, such as hairlessness and dentition issues in dogs. For the cheetah, any mutation is a good mutation.

National Geographic dubbed the tigerfish "evolution on steroids." The cheetah is probably worthy of that title as well.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Creature Feature: Hoatzin.

Raise your hand if you know what an Archaeopteryx is.

If you have no clue, an Archaeopteryx is a small feathered dinosaur. The fossil was found in Germany. It had the body of a theropod (raptor-like, bipedal) dinosaur and distinct feathery imprints around its forelimbs and tail. It is thought of as the main piece of evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds, even though several other feathered dinosaurs were found after Archie's discovery.

Now, tell me that this creature does not look like a slightly more evolved version of Archaeopteryx:

Meet the hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin). It is native to the Amazon rainforest and the surrounding swamps. Some might live in your nightmares, too.

This animal looks weird all around. The last time we saw red eyes surrounded by blue skin was on the cassowary, AKA 'that herbivorous avian death machine from Australia.' Unlike on most birds, you can easily see the hoatzin's external ears. It also has a crazy, non-sexually dimorphic crest.

All things considered, a pretty bird.

Though the hoatzin bears a strong resemblance to some sort of pheasant, the two birds are unrelated. Nobody knows what other birds are related to the hoatzin. Centuries have gone by and it is STILL up for debate. Genetic testing has actually made this problem worse. Thus far, science's best guess is that hoatzin are related to doves.

Not seeing much of a resemblance...

Chances are that, like a few other animals that this blog has covered, the hoatzin is a living fossil with very few extant relatives. To support this, its chicks sport clawed wings like Archaeopteryx.

Lucky birds.

Weirdness is skin deep in the hoatzin. The bird has a gut like a cow and smells like one, too, earning it the name 'Stinkbird.' Despite being native to the Amazon, it is hardly threatened; even the natives hesitate to eat it because it smells and tastes so bad. Yet another reason to be thankful that we do not yet have Smell-O-Vision!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Creature Feature: Crown-of-Thorns Starfish.

OK, what the hell is that? Whatever it is, it fell off of Lady Gaga's head, didn't it?

That is a crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). Though treated as a single species, there are many varieties that are not as psychedelic as the one above; these might be considered subspecies by location (Red Sea, Pacific or Indian Ocean). They are all many-armed, carnivorous echinoderms with nasty spines. Those spines are venomous, not just intimidating.

These starfish, unlike many other weird-looking animals, actually are a threat. Their population has been blossoming recently, most noticeably in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. A single crown-of-thorns can eat up to 6 square meters of reef per year. Whenever they feed, they call their friends to come join them at the buffet. These starfish mean business.

Om nom nom.

If their population is left unchecked -yes, this nasty sea star does have some predators, especially as little larvae - the whole reef could be gone before we know it. Then it's only a matter of time before they move onto land...

On second thought, the reef disappearing is bad enough.

(Lady Gaga, please make a hat out of this. Do us all a favor and kill the overpopulated, reef-eating starfish. Even Greenpeace won't bitch.)

"They Actually Eat That:" Human Placenta.

Admit it: You knew I would cover some form of anthropophagy eventually. I am fascinated by anything that eats people. Even when people do it, there is a bit of an edge; it is something considered so taboo in so many cultures that its forbidden nature is a large part of its appeal. It's a shame that this particular type of cannibalism is rather mundane.

After all, it's just eating a placenta.

This thing got its own Egyptian glyph. I cannot fathom why.

For those of you who have no clue how humans reproduce, the placenta, a key organ for most mammals, is what keeps the fetus fed while it is in the womb. It comes out of the womb after the baby is born.

They actually eat that?!

Yes. Despite the women doing it a large amount of the time as a cure for postpartum depression, men have been known to consume placenta as well. This is not uncommon in nature; after all, many placental mammals eat their afterbirth to make their young less noticeable to predators. This even holds for the herbivores. Marsupials and monotremes are exempt.

Joke's on YOU, evolved dorks.

But that's animals, right? Or savages? Nope. Australia and the U.S. both cook placentas upon a mother's request. Recipes to make this bloody organ more appetizing may mention 'baby-side up' or 'womb-side up,' depending on how you like your meat.

The placenta tastes like liver and can be cooked like beef. It supposedly has the texture of heart, but I wouldn't know.

With our powers combined, we...Wait, what the hell kind of power is HEART, anyways?

There are, of course, reasons that cannibalism (or, hell, eating monkeys) is prohibited in many cultures. Cook it wrong and, unless it is your placenta, you could end up getting some nasty diseases. Y'know, as if this was not disgusting enough already.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Creature Feature: Rheas.

How silly of me. All this talk of giant flightless birds and I forgot the one that most people do not even know about.

No, that is not an ostrich. It is a ratite, yes, but rheas (genus Rhea) are birds of a different color. They are much smaller than the ostrich and range over most, if not all, of South America. Despite the presence of mammalian predators, rheas are very common birds throughout most of their range.

The rhea is one of the smaller ratites, second only to the kiwi. This is, of course, relative to the other ratites -ostriches, emus, and cassowaries are bigger, but the males of the Greater Rhea can still get around 5 feet in height. The American/Greater Rhea (Rhea americana) is still the heaviest bird in America.


As one would expect, the people of South America use the rhea for meat. Insofar as I know, they do not ride them...yet.

Give it time.
(I swear this is the last chocobo joke.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Creature Feature: Goliath Tigerfish.

Sharks and piranhas are scary animals. (Of course, this means I love them on a weird level.) They have sharp teeth, can come out of nowhere and are embodiments of the awesome, deadly powers of various bodies of water (oceans and the Amazon River, respectively). Nature knows no mercy when it comes to your unarmored, fleshy body.

Imagine what it would be like if a shark and a piranha had a baby. Ditch the pack action, stick it in a river instead of an ocean, and instead of the piranha's not at all intimidating 'dinner plate' build, give it a sleek body like a torpedo. If just reading this made you wet yourself in fear, stop here and look at the cute bunny:

You may want to come back to this pic once I'm done.

Done? O.K.

Meet the offspring of the shark and piranha: The Goliath Tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath).

The Goliath Tigerfish is the biggest fish in the genus Hydrocynus - literally, "water dog." As the name implies, these fish have killer jaws. That goes double for Goliath's - that double-hinged jaw is nasty! (Even sharks and piranhas only have one hinge to their jaws.) They are solitary predators, so there is some comfort in knowing that only one nightmare fish will come after you if you fall into the Congo.

I cannot, however, guarantee that your flesh will come out in tact.

If you are nowhere near the Congo River, you can safely avoid this fish. African humans and crocodiles are not so lucky. Goliaths have been known to tear 60-pound catfish in half, tear up young crocs on a regular basis and have a few human kills to their name - usually mistaking a finger for a fish. The Goliaths themselves can weigh upwards of 100 pounds, so young crocodiles and giant catfish are no big deal.

Yeah. Go back and look at the bunny. You will probably have a hard time not seeing it getting torn apart by those scissor-teeth.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Creature Feature: Kakapo.

While searching for elephant bird information, I came across some comments along the lines of this: "The natives kept the population up just fine;" "It wasn't until Europeans came along that the elephant birds started to go extinct;" "it's a cultural issue, not a problem with humanity." Basically, there was a whole lot of white guilt concerning the elephant bird.

Guys, no. Stop treating natives like they are/were some sort of holy people that can do no wrong. Yes, white people have backhanded everyone at some point in history. We're douchebags. Most of us feel some level of 'sorry' for the crimes that came along with our skin color. There, happy?

That does not in any way absolve the natives from their own crimes. They make/made war just like white people do/did. They kill animals and make awesome clothes out of them, just like rich white people. Ever wonder why the mammoths died out LONG before Europeans got to the U.S.? 'Natives' got them all.

They are humans. Therefore, they will kill flightless birds that are basically really large chickens, messing up the ecology just as much as any other race out there.

New Zealand used to have a bird that could give the elephant bird a run for its money called the moa. Moas were wingless ratites that, before the advent of man, had no natural predators besides a giant eagle. It was like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds meets Jurassic Park.

They revived a couple of Haast's Eagles just for Gandalf.

Then the Maori - considered native people by the Europeans - came with dogs and wreaked havoc on the bird-dominated ecosystem. When they talked about moas and the Europeans wanted to see some, an awkward "uuuhhh..." probably followed.

This is not about the moa. This is about a rare parrot so desperate for some lovin' that it humped a photographer's head:

The Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) is a huge, flightless parrot native to New Zealand. It is nocturnal, herbivorous, and can live for up to 120 years. For a bird, it has an exceptional sense of smell and gives off an odor itself. The Kakapo is the only parrot that engages in lek mating, which you can see more about in the hammerhead bat and prairie chicken entries for if you so desire.

As with the elephant bird and cassowary, these guys are excellent seed dispersers. Whole 'kakapo gardens' have been made where the birds reside.

When humans first came to the island, the kakapo was considered the third most common bird on all three islands of New Zealand. As of right now, there are only 122 kakapo parrots remaining.

Not 10,000. Not 9,001. One hundred and twenty-two birds. Each and every one has a name.

That is a really small number. To put things in perspective, the current amount of giant pandas in the wild is 1,590, with the possibility of a thousand more unchecked individuals. You could fit every single Kakapo out there in a room. The birds are currently on two predator-free islands.

You have probably guessed by now that humans were the cause of this bird's sudden decrease in numbers. As previously stated, there were no mammalian predators at all before humans came to New Zealand.

(We won't even get into what the hobbits did.)

The Kakapo, despite looking dorky, cute and helpless to us, was remarkably well-adapted to avoiding the native predators on New Zealand. For starters, it evolved nocturnal behavior; the only nocturnal predatory birds are owls. Its feathers camouflage it well against the forest floor, and if it senses that it has been spotted, the Kakapo will promptly freeze like a deer caught in headlights. This works wonders when your main enemies are visual predators looking for movement.

For those of you who know absolutely nothing about how mammals hunt, dogs rely more on their senses of smell and hearing than vision. Also, they can hunt at night. Shit. (Later, cats and weasels were thrown into the mix, too. See, the Europeans didn't help the issue, but they were not the first people to screw New Zealand up.)

Wait a minute, these dogs belong to the natives, right? Surely they must be doing something for the Great Spirit above by hunting flightless parrots.

Too cute to die.

Uh...no. Not really.

To be fair, there is not much food on an island like New Zealand. The Kakapos were one of the few sources of good meat. They were also apparently a good source of decorative feathers for capes and, disturbingly enough, had their heads used as earrings.

No luck with the earrings.

So Kakapos were made into capes, earrings, and food. Lovely. How innocent are 'native' humans looking, now?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Creature Feature: Elephant Bird.

Birds are always the first species to die if humans come on to a crazy island. It happened to the moa, it happened to the dodo, and it happened to two whole genera of giant bird.

The elephant birds - genera Aepyornis and Mullerornis - were ratites (i.e. ostrich-like birds) native to Madagascar. The biggest and most-known elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus, stood about ten feet tall and weighed over 800 pounds. The eggs of this bird were huge - a little more than a yard in circumference (1 meter...stupid U.S. measurements, making no sense) with a length of up to 13 inches.

Pictured: Two eggs and one egghead.

If the name rings a bell, the term 'elephant bird' is also used to describe the rukh (AKA 'roc') from the story of Sinbad. The bird was supposedly large enough to carry elephants into its nest. (In all likelihood, Marco Polo saw a different giant bird, or perhaps assumed that the elephant birds were chicks of a larger, more airworthy bird. The guy mistook a rhinoceros for a unicorn, but was he really dense enough to think that elephant birds could fly?)

HOLY CARP that is an awesome roc! THANK YOU KOREA!

This bird, like the Komodo dragon, was a known case of insular gigantism. It is not at all uncommon for there to be either unusually large or unusually small animals on islands when compared to their mainland counterparts. (For an example of insular dwarfism, look up Jampea reticulated pythons.) Insular gigantism in particular results from a lack of mammalian predators - including humans.

This did not end well.

The presence of humans usually causes a sharp decline in megafauna. Sometimes, this is brought on by over-hunting. Other times, the fauna that humans bring with them kill off the indigenous life. Still other times, humans just speed up a situation that could have brought the animals under threat.

All three factors are thought to have caused the elephant birds to die out. Elephant bird eggshells are often found near old fires; chickens and guinea fowl may have spread diseases to the giant birds; given the widespread nature of these birds, climate change probably put extra pressure on them. This was not a case of stupid cavemen wiping out their giant prey animals, either; the elephant bird lived at least into the 17th century.

Why couldn't the natives have bred them into chocobos? Nobody would make those extinct. Nobody.

It turns out that at least one species of tree may have needed the elephant birds to help disperse their seeds, similar to how some trees in Australia need death machines cassowaries to bring about the next generation. Our bad, Madagascar.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Creature Feature: Dumeril's Ground Boa.

You can tell that I was trying to avoid this one. After all, unless the week dictates otherwise, you all are usually subjected to a dosage of at least one weird snake per every seven days. This often involves me going on some rant that only makes sense to herpetologists.

Unfortunately for you, Madagascar has no such limits. If I ever do an Australia Week (or two), there will be even more snakes. You're lucky getting off with only one when Madagascar is concerned.

Dumeril's Boa on Display by =KuroKarasu on deviantART

Photographs do not do the Dumeril's boa (Boa dumerili) justice. I have seen these snakes up close. They are amazing to behold; even my mom liked them! They have a floral pattern on their backs and real kanji tattoos decorating their sides.

I'm not even kidding. The pattern on the sides of a Dumeril's boa looks uncannily like the Chinese symbol (and Japanese kanji for) old.

Kinda creepy.

Dumeril's boas live in the semi-arid regions of Madagascar. They eat birds, lizards, small mammals and occasionally other snakes. As with all boids, females are larger than males. These snakes, like almost everything else on Madagascar, is threatened by habitat loss. Most captive specimens are at least somewhat inbred due to trade restrictions.

Besides being beautiful, Dumeril's boas are one of few Old World boa species. As a rule of thumb, boas are the only constrictors in the New World, and pythons are the only constrictors in the Old World. Africa is smack dab between the two areas; it should come as no surprise that it is home to both constrictor families. Exception to the rule is still exceptional.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Creature Feature: Fossa.

As the Madagascar movie adequately highlighted, the island does indeed have a few familiar-looking carnivores. Nah, just kidding; they are just as weird as the lemurs, geckos, chameleons, and ground boas.

Fossas (Cryptoprocta ferox) are neither cats nor dogs. Like hyenas, they are more closely related to cats; boy does it show in that face! Again, they are fairly closely related to civets and mongooses. Even that is under scrutiny; nobody can seem to give the fossa a solid scientific classification.

I know what this is: DARN CUTE.

The video up top demonstrates the fossas' agility in the treetops. They are the only predator that can take down any species of adult lemur, even if the size and weight difference is huge. Half of the fossa's diet consists of lemur meat. There has been one detailed observation of fossas hunting in packs, but such reports are few and far between.

The fossa's species name, Cryptoprocta, addresses the creature's hidden anus. That's lovely, science; seriously, though, fossas have insane junk. Fossas have awesome enough balance to mate in the trees, a feat made easier with the male's spiked penis. Females get a similar development, albeit not as noticeably as in female hyenas. The mating lock is almost impossible to break once created. (I got a healthy dose of this in ZooBot class; now it's your turn!)

(If mating fossa noises aren't your thing, play "The Bad Touch" instead.)

Unlike lemurs, which are seen as ancestral souls, the fossa is treated a lot like the sneaky, greedy fox. People tend to avoid fossa meat because they do not wish to acquire its undesirable characteristics. Nonetheless, it is still hunted for bushmeat. Is this mortifying enough to merit a "They Actually Eat That?" Eh, well, it's not nearly as weird as the Chinese eating tiger dick.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Creature Feature: Ringtail Lemur.

Madagascar Week would not be complete without a look at the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta). Common though they are as the poster-children of Madagascar, they are still weird in their own right.

These lemurs are particularly eccentric.

At first glance, these primates look similar to raccoons with very, very long tails. These long tails have a number of uses, from group communication to scenting. Scenting is more important for these lemurs than it is for predominantly-visual humans; these creatures even get involved in stink fights.

Ring-tailed lemurs are some of the most vocal primates around. They purr like cats mixed with a starting lawnmower when content; they make crazy clicks before shrieking when ganging up on a predator; they moan in a way that would make one classify them as ghosts, albeit comical ones.

Imagine this in one of those 'moo' toys. That's what the lemur sounds like.

Interestingly (and men, you can probably blame this on insular isolation), most lemurs, these guys included, have dominant females. Ladies get the first picks of food and therefore almost everything else. Somehow, they still wind up polygynous during mating time; humans have a loooong way to go when it comes to that level of understanding in relationships.

Despite not flaunting the tool-using skills key to the identification of primate intelligence in the wild, lemurs have proven surprisingly capable on other levels. They can select tools based on their functions, predict sequences and do simple mathematics. Hey, that's more than some humans can do.

They have also hacked the Matrix.

(Again, this was one of the harder ones for me to write about...)