Saturday, December 31, 2011

Frog Week: Hairy Frog.

So many amphibians, so little time. As frog week winds down and the new year comes to a close, I find myself wondering what to end the year on. Something subtly freaky would not cut it, no sir! Saving a more subtle frog for tomorrow meant that I HAD to do this one...

The hairy frog (Trichobatrachus robustus) is native to Central Africa. It eats any small, squirmy thing that will fit in its mouth. It is mostly a terrestrial frog, but lays its eggs in the water. If you see a "monster frog" or "horror frog" list, there is absolutely no doubt you will see this frog on there. Cameroon seems to have horror frogs besides this guy, too. Be afraid.

The species is, obviously, named for the 'hair' on the body and thighs of the male specimens. Yes, only the males have the species's namesake 'hair,' and even then, only in breeding season. The females are much smaller and lack the growths entirely. It's sorta like in humans where the ladies are nude, but the men can have hair anywhere.

The 'hair' on this frog is, as one probably guessed, not really hair. They are technically called "dermal papillae." In mammals, these would be a part of regular hair growth. In frogs, they're extended into what scientists think are 'gills' of sorts. They have arteries running through them and a lot of surface area, just like the gills of larval salamanders. Since the male spends quite a lot of time guarding the water-bound eggs before they hatch, it makes sense for him to have this bizarre beard.

Source: Blackburn, NewScientist.

As if hair wasn't weird enough, this frog is one of the rare frogs sporting retractable claws. These weapons come with a sinister kick: much like Wolverine's signature blades, the hairy frog's claws can only be unleashed if they poke through the frog's skin. They are not true claws, being all bone, but they still hurt predators quite a bit. This is officially a frog who thinks he is a cat. Or Wolverine, take your pick.

Oh, and people in Cameroon roast and eat this froggie. It's not endangered except by habitat loss, either. Hoppy New Year! *Shot for horrible pun.*

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Frog Week: Pearly Tree Frog.

You know how every frog entry I make keeps bringing up the point about how frogs, of all animals, are the most prone to being endangered? This has to be among the most endangered frog species in much so that one of the few pieces of evidence that it exists is a children's trading card:
(I actually have this card, but the uploader was being screwy.)

Yes, that's a thing. It's called a Pearly Tree Frog, but most sources, even Wikipedia and reptile-keepers, use its scientific name Nyctixalus margaritifer (disclaimer: this frog will not bring you drinks). It is native only to the island of Java in Indonesia. Although there are more photos of this guy than I originally thought (searching "pearly tree frog" will get you almost nowhere), it is still a very rare, very beautiful frog.

Although only listed on the IUCN website as "Vulnerable," just going by the description on that site, this frog should be at least endangered. They cite their reasoning as "Listed as Vulnerable because its Extent of Occurrence is less than 20,000 km2, its distribution is severely fragmented, and there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of its forest habitat in Java." The only reason it isn't outright endangered is because so very little is known about it. Fewer than ten specimens are known. Why is that not enough to put something on the Endangered list?

Furthermore, for a LONG time, this frog was thought extinct. Records of its existence miraculously resurfaced in 1997. The reasons behind this re-emergence are even more obscure than the storm that brought crested geckos back into existence. (Note to nature- thanks for that one.) If it can vanish and reappear once, it can do so again. Reminder: This is a bling-bling frog we're talking about, not a camouflaged gecko.

And THIS is how you propose to a herpetologist. No exceptions.

Apparently, some people DO have Pearly Tree Frogs in captivity. Many of them are probably smuggled in under the name Nyctixalus pictus - a frog close enough to mistake for this rare beauty.  Judging from the responses to the posts, the frogs were wild caught, and the care tips given for them looked basic to N. pictus. With any luck, N. margaritifer will at least get a strong captive base like the Scimitar-Horned Oryx. Otherwise, we may have another vanishing act with no encore.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

They Actually Eat That: Psychoactive Toads.

...Well, crap. I've already done frogs on "They Actually Eat That." That means I can't fit this column into this theme week. Boo. Nothing to see here, folks. Go on home.


HAHAHAHA! Did you really think I couldn't find another way to slip frogs into here again? There's one aspect of frog-eating that, if memory serves, was not adequately covered the last time we looked at people eating frogs. That is, of course, the infamous idea of licking toads. Yes, They Actually Lick That.

I don't speak German, but I can if you like! ((C) Fox, Groening, etc.)

The popular concept of toad-licking originated in the 1970's. Supposedly, hippie teens were using toads as yet another way to get high. This has very little basis in fact, but there is a whole church for licking toads (called the Church of the Toad of Light). If getting high off of toads is just an urban legend, it's a very popular one.

Some toads do have psychoactive toxins in their skin. The main trip-frog is Bufo alvaris, the Colorado River/Sonoran Desert Toad. The skin and poison of this toad contains the substances bufotenin and 5-MeO-DMT - both powerful hallucinogens. The toads can be safely milked for these toxins once a month. If licking the froggies isn't your thing, smoking the powdered toxin works, too. Just beware; it has rules just like any other drug and is illegal to possess in several states.

Push there to be sent to a world of rainbows and froggies.

This does not mean that you should, by any means, go around picking up random toads just to lick them.  The mucous of many amphibians is toxic. As in, "kill you in a few hours, if not quicker" toxic. At the very least, many of them will make you sick. Also, there's NO five-second rule with don't use that as an excuse to lick wild animals. They really hate that.

Does licking toads work? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but be VERY careful.

As an interesting side note, man's best friend has also taken up man's liking for acid amphibians. In Australia, dogs have been found getting plastered on the non-native cane toads. In this case, the toads are also invasive species, which Australia does NASTY things with. Getting licked now and again is not a bad spot to be in.

Close enough.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Frog Week: Turtle Frog.

Hello, hello! If you look above you, you will see a brand, shiny-new banner! Yes, I know it's still a little misaligned, but we have gerbils working on that. Welcome to Frog Week, one and all!  

Wait. Those are frogs? They look oddly reptilian for frogs. Holy carp, are they rejects for experiments to create real Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? That would be awesome.

Haha, rest assured, the pink, fleshy creatures up there are indeed frogs. They're turtle frogs (Myobatrachus gouldii) - burrowing frogs native only to one arid region in Western Australia. That these frogs are Australian should explain a lot to many of you. They are approximately 2 inches long, which only adds to their strange cuteness. They are the only members in the genus Myobatrachus, meaning that they're unique, even for Aussie creatures.

Turtle, turtle! :D

Turtle frogs do indeed look a lot like turtles. They have small heads, round bodies, and stumpy limbs. Even though there are other burrowing froggies out there, turtle frogs even dig like turtles.We really are not fit to judge if these little guys are turtle-y enough for the Turtle Club, but they sure do come close.

Turtle frogs are uniquely adapted to a hot, dry environment. They hatch underground, developing entirely within the eggshell. Most of their time is spent underground or digging for termites. Even when calling, the males only have their strange, alien heads above the ground. They only emerge after it rains, probably freaking out several bystanders.

These frogs eat termites. Only termites. (If you read the entry on numbats, another Australian termite eater, this should sound familiar.) We suppose this is a good thing if you ever find the buggers eating your furniture. Otherwise, termites may be a little bit difficult to find should you desire one of these weird frogs as a pet. I'm not even sure if they can be kept as pets due to this strange food source.

This frog, unlike many others this week, is under absolutely no threat. Phew! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bio-Art: Malamp.

So, I said I was going to do the flying silkworms this week. However, seeing as this week's theme will be frogs, change of plans. Frogs are one of science's most common organisms; of course somebody has done scientific art with them. Creepy, cool scientific art.

Malamp features specially-stained frog skeletons...gone horribly, horribly wrong. Some are missing legs. Others have far too many legs. The culprits are usually parasites like Ribeiroia or dragonfly nymphs, which, much like French and Vietnamese, find frog legs delicious. The result is either frogs with limbs missing or frogs with too many legs. Way too many legs.

The third leg is nothing...

Ecological artist Brandon Ballengée specializes in amphibian deformities. Freaky frogs are on every continent with frogs; Ballengée has been tracking them extensively in Europe and the U.S., where they are particularly abundant. Amphibians with crazy limbs can be found almost everywhere in the U.S.  and are only getting more plentiful. We get frogs with multiple limbs while frogs lose limbs in the rest of the world.

Ballengée, in cooperation with Arts Catalyst, was commissioned to turn his passion for deformed amphibians into art in 1996. The stain he uses on the skeletons for the project coats cartilage in blue and bone in red. The images are then printed and put on display for all to see. The actual skeletons are backlit below them.  Few things are crazier than a frog with twenty legs and a cool paintjob.

The video lied: I only count 6 legs! Art (c) Ballengee, but it's very cool.

This is, however, only half the project. The other part is actually going out with people and collecting the little froggies. This gives the general public a look at tadpoles as they've never seen them before: as freaky, swimming indicators of environmental health. You will be hearing a lot about how fragile amphibians can be this week, so I will only mention it once here. The art speaks for itself.

Malamp was installed in Turin, Italy in 2010, but has also been in Cincinnati. There will probably be an announcement if the multi-limbed, glowing frogs ever make their way to you. You'd think something like that would wind up on the news.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Little Shop of Horrors: Poinsettia.

MERRY CHRISTMAS! I'm not going to go "it's the most wonderful time of the year," but if Christmas makes you happy, I hope you had a good one. Today's entry is just as festive as yesterday's, so hold onto your Santa hats!


Around this time of the year, poinsettia pop up all over grocery stores, flower shops, and advanced nurseries.The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a classic Christmas plant owing to its red and green coloration. It is a shrub-slash-very small tree native to Mexico. It is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico. Since ancient times, its red leaves have been used as a dye and to soothe fevers.

The poinsettia has a number of legends concerning its origin in its native Mexico. One legend has it that an angel told a child to pick some weeds from the road and bring them to the altar of a church; the poinsettia resulted. The poinsettia's starlike shape supposedly represents the Star of Bethlehem. The red could also be from Christ's dripping blood. No matter how you slice it, some religious significance can be attached to this plant.

The "flowers" of a poinsettia are actually specialized leaves called bracts. The actual flowers of a poinsettia are in the center of these bracts. The bracts reach their brightest when left in the dark for half of the day. The ideal brightness occurs after 12 hours of darkness for a few days- don't expect an instant change. 

The first poinsettia plants were introduced to the U.S. in 1825 by, go figure, Joel Poinsett. However, much of the cultivation was done almost exclusively by the Ecke family. Using grafting to make the plants become more tidy than their weedy counterparts, they became the sole cultivators of the popular, bushy poinsettias we know today. Others eventually figured out the grafting trick, but the Ecke family still owns a large amount of the poinsettias on the market - roughly 70% in the U.S. and 50% worldwide. In short, we owe them.

In case red and green was not festive enough, have some "ice crystal" poinsettias.

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettia are not deadly to humans. They are only slightly poisonous. The most eating poinsettia will do is make one vomit. To put things in perspective, a 50-pound child would have to eat 500 poinsettia leaves to feel any ill effects beyond that. We would still advise keeping pets away from the plants, however; plants have poison for a reason. Look, don't eat.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Creature Feature: Reindeer!

'Twas the night before Christmas...and Kuro was making a blog entry. Yeah, this blogger doesn't even take a day off for Christmas. That's what made today's entry to hard to pick. But hey, I figure some of us will be seeing these guys on our roofs tonight:


...wha? Wait a minute, that looks nothing like the reindeer we've grown up with. Sure, it has antlers, but it's nowhere near the flighty, slender deer we're all used to seeing. What's going on?

You were born that way, Rudolph.

The marketing people have corrupted us again: real reindeer, or caribou (Rangifer tarandus), do not look like they could fly at all. The "reindeer" we know and love have plenty of traits taken from regular deer and antelope. Just about the only thing holiday marketers get right is that reindeer are native to northern Europe, Russia, and northern North America. There are several subspecies of reindeer, and it is almost impossible to pick exactly one to focus on. They all have some very interesting adaptations to the tundra environment, so please forgive me if I switch subspecies every now and again.

Reindeer are perfectly adapted for the icy cold and scarce resources of the tundra. Their nostrils have more surface area than the noses of most mammals, so any frigid air is heated by the creature's body before it reaches the lungs. Their hooves becomes spongy in the summer and tighten up in the winter, allowing for a great grip at both extreme temperatures. They will eat virtually any plants they come across, including lichen in winter and acid trip mushrooms. Of course, their fur also changes seasonally...but that certainly is not unique to reindeer.

That nose helps keeps reindeer from inhaling cold air. No, it isn't red.

Unlike most deer, both sexes of reindeer grow antlers. This is why the sexes of Santa's reindeer can be so hard to pin down; if you've ever wondered why a reindeer named "Vixen" (a female name) had antlers, wonder no more - it's totally possible! The exact type of antlers often vary by subspecies, but the rule of thumb is that the farther north you go, the spindlier the antlers get.

There are a few other differences between northern and southern reindeer.  Northern reindeer tend to have whiter coats and smaller size overall. One type from Svalbard Island does not get over 200 pounds - that's small for something usually considered a giant ungulate! Domesticated reindeer are shorter and heavier than wild reindeer on the whole, which makes one wonder how Santa's tame deer can fly. Oh, magic.

Strangest of all, reindeer are thought to be the only mammals capable of seeing ultraviolet light.  Although an arctic landscape may look super plain to us, things on said landscape stand out in ultraviolet light. Urine, for example, is easily visible in UV. Combine this with the relatively low light for a good chunk of the year, and BAM! Suddenly you get a mammal that can see trippy colors.Nobody knows how the reindeer are not blinded by the ultraviolet light, but we're always looking for clever gene splicing potential. Here's to looking at the sun without being blinded!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Creature Feature: Tawny Frogmouth.


I know, I know, you guys are getting REALLY sick of me posting random animals hidden in scenery. I -promise- this will be the last one for a while. Next week is frog week. Froggies are at least colorful. I will not make you strain your eyes for a whole week.

That said, the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) really does have amazing camouflage. In zoos, one must reaaallly squint to find these guys. Go figure; they're from Australia, which means they -must- be ninjas of camouflage. If they were not ninjas, they would not be able to live there. Believe it. 

That video above shows the frogmouth's camouflage at its finest. The bird lies perfectly straight and still, just like a piece of wood. Its eyes are closed. Its head is flat. It has the best morphing capabilities of any bird after that African owl. Woe to the unfortunate bugs who get caught in this bird's big mouth; no way they saw that coming.

Tawny frogmouths look a lot like owls, but they are just barely related. They're both nocturnal, both eat other animals, and that's pretty much the extent of it. Nightjars and oilbirds, their real closest relatives, are just as fascinating and ought to have their own entries. These birds eat mostly insects and hunt with their beaks, not their feet. They eat smaller animals if the opportunity comes along. Since they are the unholy ninjas of the bird world, we can only imagine that they also use shurikens...not that we would know.

Strangely enough, tawny frogmouths are among the few monogamous birds. Both sexes incubate the eggs and mate 'til death do they part. If one mate dies, however, they will gladly mate again. Black swans still beat them when it comes to mating for life. Should I make a "harem no jutsu" joke? No? All right, then. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Reindeer.

This is one "They Actually Eat That" that should not be. Nobody should be surprised that people can and do eat reindeer. They're just a different sort of artiodactyl herbivore, and we eat plenty of those. Absolutely nobody should be shocked that some people living up north have found ways to eat reindeer.

Reindeer have been hunted by humans for a long time.  We are talking since the Neolithic (i.e. New Stone Age) at least. Scandanavian, North American, and Russian hunters have been the main predators of reindeer since humans moved up into the cold climates from Africa (why, I still don't know). There are certain sites in Norway being designated as national monuments for their ancient reindeer traps. Hell, people in Quebec even used to drink reindeer blood with liquor!

Then a can of reindeer meat makes it into a London store, and all hell breaks loose with animal rights activists. This farmed reindeer pate is marketed as a Christmas delicacy and a "Farm-raised relative of Rudolph." British PETA argues that reindeer get very, very stressed on farms, and thus should not be made into pate. Reindeer herders are usually nomadic, true, but one would think that ages of handling reindeer would have taught us a thing or two.

So let me ask these activists something: Do you object to regular venison on the same counts? Sure, meat is still meat, but something tells me that the positive connotation of reindeer has gotten to you. Reindeer have been bred by certain tribes for so long that they have words for "a male castrated reindeer" and other such concepts that could only come from a lot of exoperience handling these animals. We would not have words like "heifer" or "steer" if we had not domesticated cattle. Do we distinguish between neutered male deer and deer with full endowments? No. If your objection is anywhere, it should be with regular, normal venison. (And, out of curiosity, I broke my pescatarianism to try some genuine hunted venison. Good stuff.) Reindeer pulling sleighs is not just for Santa.

The people selling the reindeer steaks in London have the right idea: Reindeer is indeed a native dish of people in northern climates. Are we really so narrow-minded that we will prevent them from eating their traditional food while the British somehow manage to enjoy jellied eels? Different strokes for different folks. Santa probably makes reindeer sausage every time one of his magical flying deer dies because, umm, there's not much else to eat up there. Herbivores like reindeer are usually good eatin's.

If I didn't tell you this was reindeer, you probably wouldn't know.

Mind, actually eating reindeer is one thing. Alaskan shamans have, for a while now, noticed reindeer getting high off of Amanita mushrooms - a 'shroom toxic to humans. The shamans, however, figured out that reindeer are subject to the same rules as drug testing in humans - i.e. whatever was in those shrooms was probably in their urine as well. Sometimes, reindeer get the same idea and drink human urine for the exact same reason. This trip is where the idea of flying reindeer came from. Thank poisonous mushrooms for Santa's sleigh-deer!

Quick, catch him for drug dealing!

P.S. There will be more reindeer on Christmas. They're actually fascinating animals.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Creature Feature: Glass Frogs.

There are some areas in which being a frog must suck. Besides the sensitivity to pollutants in the environment,  a very interesting puberty, and having many things want to eat them, frogs also have the misfortune of being what science calls "model organisms." Basically, if a scientist wants to test something on a lesser vertebrate, it will probably be either a frog or a mouse. (Rabbits and pigs are common favorites, too.) Frogs are also extremely common in college biology labs, with nearly everybody cutting open at least one frog in their academic career.

Please do not touch my innards -  Kermit.

The frogs have protested: They have evolved skin that is as clear as crystal so that, if you want to see how their bodies work, all you have to do is turn them over. No knife required. You can see the systems in action without performing crazy vivisections! Seriously, this critter is a living biology model.

Pay attention. This'll be on the quiz.

There are a number of glass frogs native to Mexico and Central and South America. They form the family Centrolenidae, which consists entirely of small (5-7 cm) treefrogs with translucent bodies. In short, there are a lot of these guys, and therefore plenty of biology models if you should ever want to venture into the rainforest.

The translucent skin on these frogs serves as the best camouflage ever. There are few better ways to blend in with something than to have skin colored just enough that it does not show bones. That is, unless the frog gets turned over - then it's like showing a predator one of those revolving dessert tables. Fair enough.


Glass frogs also have some interesting egg-laying habits. Instead of laying their eggs in water, some species lay their eggs on leaves that are near water. Since there are a million things that eat frog eggs, the eggs on leaves have a slightly better chance of survival. (Hey, at least they aren't supermoms like the pipa toads.) They are also among the few frogs that give parental care to their eggs before they hatch. Males have been found protectively sprawled over their eggs...which looks a little odd.

As with all frogs, glass frogs are indicators of environmental toxins.  Some species are endangered; others are of least concern.  There are some people captive breeding glass frogs, so, if you really want to see one up close, go for a specimen that won't hurt the natural ecology. Here are some handy tips for keeping and identifying your very own glass frogs- sweet. Regardless of which glass frog you find, enjoy looking at it while it's still around!

(Y'know what? I've been doing too many frogs. Next week will be frog and toad week. Period. Any suggestions can go down below.)

Bio-Art: The Island of Doctor Moreau (novel).

Last week, I covered the 1977 film adaptation of H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau. Having not read the book yet, I could not comment on the differences. If you want to see an island with beast people descend into chaos, this is the movie to watch.

Now I have read the book. I want my own copy of it for Christmas. It makes the movie look like crap by comparison, and I am not saying that simply because I have a vivid imagination. It is just that powerful. Anyone wanna donate? No? Oh well, onto the review.

First off, I was totally right to pick the 1977 version of Dr. Moreau when it came to film adaptations. If the afterword at the end of my edition of the novel was any indication, it is the only remotely watchable adaptation out there. Even then, there were some important differences from the book. In the book, the protagonist does not become a manimal, there was no sexy panther-woman, and the implications for society are clear as day. The added romance and the protagonist's regression were clearly there to make it more audience-friendly. So, too, was the blanket statement about human beings descending into bestiality (not in THAT way, but still). In short, a lot of what Wells was trying to get at was either distorted or lost entirely.

The basic story is still the same: Shipwrecked man finds himself on an island with beast-people, a mad scientist named Moreau, and his ambiguously gay associate Montgomery. The protagonist learns that Moreau has been creating human-animal hybrids and tries to talk Moreau into seeing some semblance of ethics. The manimal kingdom descends into anarchy once Moreau dies, and the protagonist leaves the island on a makeshift raft.

Moreau is the first mad scientist to operate entirely without remorse. He sees nothing wrong with what he is doing. He makes the rules for the monsters. In his own mind, he is GOD. The protagonist tries to reinforce his rules by the end of the story by, in the novel, saying that Moreau is not just an ex-person - he's still watching the manimals from above. (This was changed slightly in the 1977 movie.) Deep stuff like that rarely comes around nowadays.

The freaks on Moreau's island are not meant to be attractive, period. The book describes them as having several digits missing, distinct slouches,  being stupider than regular humans, and overall not being very good dates at all. Although Prendick, the protagonist in the novel, does affectionately mention that the female manimals are more modest than their male counterparts, it's not like he makes out with one or anything. These freaks are more akin to Frankenstein's monster than anything remotely beautiful. As the novel goes on, they become more and more feral thanks to their "stubborn beast flesh."

The movies all seem to miss the more personal perceptions of the strange island. At one point in the novel, Prendick and Montgomery comment about how normal or strange the manimals seem to them. To Montgomery, who has been on the island for years, humans are the weird ones. It really throws one's perception of 'normal' into perspective.

When the protagonist journeys back to London, he cannot help but see the humans there as manimals. He notes the similarity of most people going about their daily lives to herbivorous beasts (specifically cattle; compare 'sheeple.') During his brief time as king, he taught a monkey hybrid to repeat whatever he said with small distortions; this he compares to a priest spouting "Big Thinks," just like the monkey-man. The ending reads almost like something out of Nietzsche: much in us is still worm.

The Island of Dr, Moreau is to furries what Lolita is to pedophiles: HORRIBLY misinterpreted by the very fetishists it was trying to prevent to the point that it has its own cult within the subculture. (Note: I am NOT saying that all furries are pedophiles. I am just showing how far a fanbase can skew the author's intent.) I love blurring the lines between humans and animals as much as the next person, but after reading Dr. Moreau, any furry should thoroughly reconsider his/her position on the story. There's nothing good about letting one's inner beast loose according to H.G. matter how inevitable the descent may be. 

I want to teach a class with this book. It is one seriously powerful piece of bioethics and horror. "Science gone horribly wrong" should be its own genre. Can we call it "biohorror," maybe?  I'll make a poll about it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Creature Feature: (Egyptian) Jerboa.

And now for something completely different:

Cute, isn't it? Coming from roughly the same region as several adorable geckos, jerboas are among the many cute animals adapted to the deserts of the Middle East and Africa. The family containing jerboas, Dipodidae, contains six subfamilies and several genera of cute, hopping rodents. They eat tubers and  The jerboa in the video looks like an Egyptian jerboa, so we shall settle on those for tonight. Just bear in mind that there are plenty of other varieties.

Jerboas are, in a nutshell, bipedal mice that live in desert areas. They are nocturnal and spend the sweltering days and months in burrows. During the hottest months, they aestivate (i.e. hibernate), not leaving their more complex burrow systems at all. These burrows can get up to 2.5 meters underground and usually have food storage and a nesting chamber.

When these little mice are active, however, they are VERY active. Jerboas spring about like bipedal mice on coffee. These little rodents can leap up to 3 meters to get away from predators or zig-zag to confuse them. Their tails allow for a very good sense of, who can resist a rodent with a lion-like tuft on its tail? Everything about jerboas is not only functional, but adorable.

Oh, and by the way, being truly bipedal is rare in mammals. Even humans are not fully adapted to walking on two legs. Jerboas, however, are. Just look at the proportions on this jerboa skeleton; those legs are even longer, proportionately, than a kangaroo's! They can jump and walk, too! (Am I the only one thinking that giant rodent mounts could possibly dethrone the ratite mounts we're used to? You're DONE, chocobos!)

Although both the Lesser and Greater Egyptian Jerboas are probably pretty similar, the Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus) is the king of desert survival. I keep saying, over and over, that desert animals need very little water. The Lesser Egyptian jerboa does not drink. Period. Every drop of water it needs comes from its food. It laughs at us for not only being not-quite-bipeds, but also needing that weird thing called water many times a day. Yeah, rodents will rule the world along with cockroaches and snakes.

But would you love it if it ruled the world, world, world?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Creature Feature: Microgecko.

As much as I love doing impersonal blog posts, sometimes, something cool comes up from real life and bitchslaps me. Then, because I love sharing such experiences, I write a blog post about that weird, obscure thing.

This was one of those things.


No, that is not a dish containing three baby geckos. Those are all adult microgeckos. They were only about half the length of my middle finger. Although beautiful, I could not take them home because they cost 350 dollars. That, and if one got out, there would be NO DOUBT AT ALL that it would either die in a vent or get eaten by a cat.

Alas, it was really, really hard to find another pic of that same exact gecko. There are several species of gecko called "microgecko." The name can be a little misleading. The microgeckos I met were particularly tiny 'microgeckos.' Some geckos commonly called microgeckos can get up to four inches long. They aren't quite what I saw, but still pretty small.

So, for now, let's focus on the geckos in the genus Tropiocolotes.  These geckos are all native to Northern Africa and get less than 2 inches in length. Again, that's the adult size.

These little geckos like it hot (80-95 degrees Farenheit). As with rosy boas, they are desert animals, so no humidity required. A small gecko like this eats small prey, so feed them crickets, which are widely available, or very small larval insects. The eggs are also tiny-tiny, able to fit many on a single cent. (Side-note: You know a lizard like this is not commonly kept when the care sheets for it are scattered about.)

I'm out of words to say about this lizard. There's not that much to say, despite them having a fair following. For now, just gawk at the sheer tiny cuteness that they possess.

Forgive my fangirling: かわいいですね〜!

P.S.- I love exotic pet stores. There was no way I could have known about these without the Chicago Reptile House.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Creature Feature: Silkworms.

After all the bashing I do at China's expense, one would think that there was nothing good about the place. It's poor, communist, censors its interwebs, and eats anything that moves. A lot of our stuff comes from China, so maybe we have no right to complain. Tofu is awesome, too.

Also, China invented silk. Since some of us are allergic to wool and nylon took a few centuries to invent, we should be eternally grateful that cute little caterpillars make soft nests for themselves while they metamorphose. Then we're rude enough to interrupt them while they're changing.

(By the way, the worms can also be food.)

Silk is created by a fully captive-bred moth called Bombyx mori, or the domesticated silkmoth. About 5,000 years ago, people in China figured out that the cocoons of certain moths (specifiaclly Bombyx mandarina) could be woven into thread just like sheep wool. After presumably figuring out how moths reproduced, the little bugs were domesticated to hell and back.

Silk has been around in China since at least the 27th century B.C. Legend has it that silk was discovered when a silkworm cocoon dropped into the teacup of Lei Zu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor. After figuring out that the thread could be woven and a larva was making it, the Chinese began cultivating the little worms to be extra-fertile and have soft, plushy cocoons. The Chinese guarded the little maggots well until the 500's A.D. when a Byzantine missionary smuggled a few out. Whoops.

The silkworm is the most genetically altered domesticated animal. Domesticated silkworms make cows look competent. A cow, if turned loose, can still become feral if it is not executed for being a still-living hamburger. These silkworms are so bred down that the adult moths cannot fly. (A certain artist has succeeded in bringing back their wings, but her spot will be after the (book) Dr. Moreau.) The most they can do is breed with their extant relatives into strange hybrid moths. Otherwise, they are entirely dependent on humans for survival.

Besides China, silkworm breeding has also taken wing (ha ha) in South Africa. The silkworms there are hardier than the Chinese silkworms because they are treated as pets. The exposure to different conditions make them welcome additions to the silkworm gene pool, which can be decimated by disease at any given time. There are over 400 strains of silkworms, however, and science is always creating more. There will always be plenty of cocoons for everybody...except the worms, of course.

"They Actually Eat That:" Seahorse.

"Seahorses rule the world now. Surprised nobody saw it coming."

Seahorses are among the hardest fish to dislike. They're probably the cutest fishes in the sea, what with looking like legless ponies and all. The good connotation of horses carries over to their seaborne counterparts. In China, they're even considered baby dragons. They're also pretty cool in that the male carries babies for a while, making feminists everywhere happy.

Oh, and China eats them.  Seahorses with sticks up their guts can be found all the time in Asian night markets. These night markets are hotbeds of weird food. If it is a thing and was once alive, China has skewered it on a stick. Seahorses are no exception. So much for ruling the world.

Of all things, seahorses are described as tasting like spiced pork rinds. Somebody needs to tell us how this works; yes, that seahorse is probably mostly air, but pork? We were expecting, umm, another fish.  It just goes to show that, with the right seasonings, anything can taste good. Anything. 


By the way, seahorses are also used in traditional medicine. In the seadragon entry, we mentioned that seadragons, close relatives of seahorses, were under threat because they could be used as medicine, of all things. Given what China does with almost every other animal on the planet, seahorses probably have some magical properties, too. I'm not sure whether the seahorse-kebabs are captive-bred or not. Beware of buying anything seahorse-related. There's a good chance you may be picking up something endangered.

This blog needs a tally board. Every time China eats something weird, I will add another mark to the board. After a few months, I am quite sure that the board will be full. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Creature Feature: Vietnamese Mossy Frog.

If there is one thing that I can definitely thank the exotic pet trade for, it is the amazing potential it has to open people up to other species. Even if you personally do not have, say, a Baron's Racer, with exotic pets around we at least know they exist. One could even make the case that breeding for nifty colors in things like ball pythons is more sane than the crazy gene splicing scientists do. Most importantly, however, I would NOT have known that today's creature existed if I had not seen it in Reptiles magazine.

 The Vietnamese Mossy Frog (Theloderma corticale) is native to the wetter climates of Vietnam and China. Its habitat ranges from tropical-subtropical to the Hanoi mountain range. Much of its time is spent in shallow water with only its bug-eyes poking above the surface. It has been described as looking "alien" or like Godzilla. Neither of these descriptions do this frog's amazing mossy camouflage justice.

The camouflage of the mossy tree frog is said to be the best in the whole animal kingdom. (I personally think it has competition in the matamata, the three-toed sloth, and the tawny frogmouth.) It makes seadragon camouflage look like neon lighting. The tubercules on its skin and its coloration both contribute to the image of a lump of moss - nothing to see here! If the frog is sitting perfectly still, it is near-impossible to pick out.

Herpers (people who keep reptiles and amphibians) have several reasons to love this little frog. It can endure a wide range of temperatures and humidity. It eats crickets voraciously. If you make your terrarium right, you can observe this frog's whole life cycle in one cage. Of course, it's also fun to get one of these frogs, name him Waldo, and invite guests over to try and pick him out from his fancy foliage. These frogs like hiding, so they should be a challenge to find.

Like almost all cool frogs, the Vietnamese Mossy Frog is threatened by habitat loss. This makes captive breeding programs not only awesome, but critical to the survival of the species. They are currently protected by the Vietnamese government, so, should you invest in these frogs, be sure that they were captive-bred. In the worst case scenario, we will have another scimitar-horned oryx on our hands.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bio-Art: The Island of Doctor Moreau (1977)

You knew this day would come. After doing bio-art sections for a few weeks and referencing furries in several entries, reviewing this series was inevitable. All adaptations are based off of an 1896 sci-fi novel by H.G. Wells, the same author who did The Time Machine. Apparently his work has never really been taken seriously, so no matter how profound The Island of Doctor Moreau was, almost everything got lost in the freaky science aspect.

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a legend among the furry fandom. It centers around a castaway (whose name varies from adaptation to adaptation) who winds up on the island of a mad scientist named Dr. Moreau. The good doctor was kicked out of England for his insane vivisection experiments, which have borne fruit on the island. The doctor has created human-animal hybrids thanks to his vivisection research. After severely drugging and repressing their animal instincts, he believes that he can create something closer to the divine than man. This does not work; the manimals break the laws that Moreau gave them, and the island quickly degenerates into chaos. One can see why fans of anthropomorphic animals would have some interest in this story.

So how do you like being a walrus, Homer?

There is, however, one big, black sploch on the furries' interpretation of this work: The original hybrids on Moreau's island were going from animal to human and back again, not human to animal like so many tweak. The change was the result of science gone horribly wrong. The book and films get into a lot of the deep, dark issues of scientific progress and general ethics. It's even philosophical at points. The part in the book where the protagonist is worried about humans becoming animals again is cut out in the film versions. The emphasis on furry sex in the 1933 film Island of Lost Souls, however, speaks for itself. We've already degenerated that far, people!

However, as I have not yet read the book version of this behemoth, I was forced to look into the film adaptations instead. After clicking around a bit, it looked like the 1977 version had the fewest deviations from the book.  It was that, a film about hawt panther chick sex, or the 1996 version, which was so bad it got riffed. I hope you all see why I chose the version I did.

The film starts with one Andrew Braddock being shipwrecked. He lands on Moreau's island, which the doctor calls "paradise." Accompanying this doctor is a headhunter named Montgomery and strange-looking servant named M'Ling. Oh, and there's also a hot lady named Maria, who is probably part cat if her pet serval is any indication.

The stranded Braddock realizes very quickly that strange things are going on on the island. Soon enough, Braddock finds the doctor's lab.  While there, he learns of the doctor's vivisection experiments. Not only has Moreau been effectively gene splicing things (in this case a bear) and giving them organs from human beings, but whenever they try to reconnect with their animal selves, the doctor reminds them that they're supposed to be human with a whip. It's a hard scene to watch for anyone who has had any pet ever.

Interestingly enough, the doctor uses the exact same logic that goes into creating scientific chimeras and hybrids today: Think of the benefits for medicine! That's just about the most generic reason in the book for why science does anything. Growing human ears on mice? Glowing bunnies? Just admit it: Humans love playing with nature. It's in our nature to tweak things, even if we shouldn't. The medicine excuse is getting old.

I've seen worse.

Soon, we meet what the furries came to see: Manimals, or, rather, humans with half-decent makeup. Sayer, an ape-man, keeps repeating Moreau's credo as the manimals show more and more bestial traits, killing and walking on all fours. Until he dies at the end of some REALLY intense chaos, his words are along these lines:

"This is human. This is man. This is LAW."

The law includes "no shedding blood," "man shall not kill man," and "no eating flesh." All of these are utopian ideals that man has been striving for for decades. (In regards to "no eating flesh," however, humans need meat, too. Way to go, doctor.) The manimals fail horribly in keeping the laws up. Eventually, they AND Braddock rebel against the doctor. Braddock's punishment is, of course, being turned into an animal.

When Dr. Moreau does try to turn a human into an animal, by the way, his partner Montgomery strongly objects. He objects so vehemently that Moreau shoots him. Also, the transformation is excruciatingly painful for Braddock; I find transformation fascinating, but seeing how much he regressed without showing many major changes was depressing. If this film is the closest to the book, please to be reconsidering your stance on science doing this, furries. I know a good portion of you want to be wolves, but trust me, it's not nearly as fun as you think.

Braddock does manage to escape the island. It's hinted that he and Maria are both returning to their true natures on the way back to civilization. Again, there's no mention of the worry that mankind in London will turn back into animals...

...but I'll save that for next week. ;)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Creature Feature: Rosy Boa.

Today, I had a little Twitter chat with Brian of I was wondering why, of all snakes, he had never really covered the Rosy Boa (Lichanura trivirgata) on his show. Things like sand boas, boa constrictors, and Amazon tree boas got the spotlight one week. Yet the rosy boa, one of the most mellow, sweet snakes that I have ever met, has gone all but untouched by one of the most popular snake shows on the internet.


His answer was simple: He never really works with them. That's a damn shame, seeing as rosies are among the easiest snakes in the world to take care of. You don't even need to give them water every day. Don't give them water every day.

Let's back up a little. The Rosy Boa is native to the dry, hot parts of California and Mexico. It is one of two boa species native to the Unites States. It eats rodents and, like most desert boas, is a fairly shy snake. But before I get into how awesome it is to have a Rosy Boa like Eclair, let me make something clear:


One, you're getting mixed up with pythons. There are no less than three species in the genus Python that grow huge. Not all of them do, but I'll admit that, anacondas not withstanding, boas are a lot smaller in general. Again, aside from anacondas, the red-tail boa is the most common and largest boa  that you will meet.  They get fourteen feet, max. While that may seem pretty long to you, it is not big compared to massive pythons like the twenty-thirty feet of reticulated and Burmese pythons. Boas are also fascinating by default because they bear live young - something that pythons cannot do.

And we boa people LOVE showing it off. Not my pic, BTW.

Two, rosies are really, really docile. They do not resist being handled at all. They are also the slowest snakes in the world, which means that escapees will not get far. They get four feet max and only about as big around as a golf ball. They can swallow mice. That's it.

Albino Rosy Boa II 5-1-08 by ~oOBrieOo on deviantART

They also come in a variety of very appetizing patterns. Seriously. I named my Mexican female Eclair because she looks so strikingly like a dessert. Others have described albino rosies looking like creamsicles. Even the 'mutts,' i.e. rosies of mixed locality, are called "root beers" within the trade.  Just about the only ones that don't look straight out of a frosting tube are the ones that are almost unicolor. All the rest have three stripes that, if bred to look right, can look amazing.

Rosies are awesome beginner snakes. They eat a mouse a week, if that. I was terrified when Eclair did not eat anything for months, but as soon as she got over the normal winter blues, she was fine. They are also easy to breed and come with the bonus of live babies, so they never get egg-bound. The only thing keeping them from being recommended as an ideal starter snake is that they aren't corn snakes or ball pythons.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Creature Feature: Leafy Seadragon.

Hah. You thought we were out of weird creatures, didn't you? Nope. Nature never runs out of weirdness. That goes double for the ocean, where, in his city at R'yleh, dread Cthulhu waits dreaming. This creature is not that traumatizing, but it will make you scratch your head a little...if you can find it. MWAHAHA!

This was the best pic I could find that did NOT point the dragon out for you.

The leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) is, as looks would suggest, related to seahorses and pipefish. It eats small crustaceans and plankton, usually while staying perfectly still. It is native only to the waters of Southern Australia, where it has a cult following. They have a leafy festival and the seadragon is their official mascot. The whole state loves leafies!

The leafy seadragon is, of course, best known for its insane camouflage. Those fleshy protrusions make it look a lot like seaweed. The photos online do not do this creature's camouflage justice; much of the time, it is a lot harder to pick one out in a bundle of sea plants than one would think. Mind, the camouflage comes with a hefty price: the 'leaves' serve absolutely no other purpose, making the leafy a slow-moving target when it's not in the plants.

From Animalpicturesarchive.

Everything in nature is out to get leafy seadragons. Collectors and practicioners of traditional medicine covet the leafies. They are very slow swimmers, making the babies easy game. Since the leafy's tail is not flexible in the least, they cannot grab onto anything, and many get washed ashore in storms. Pollution is killing off a lot of the sea plants sea dragons use to hide. In other words, this creature has an existence only slightly more credible than that of the panda.

For those of you wanting a pet dragon, good luck. It's possible to get leafy seadragons, but they are often quite expensive. There have been regulations on capturing leafies for ages. Captive stock must be confirmed before purchasing a leafy. Even then, specimens are fragile; only the Tennessee Aquarium has been able to breed them regularly. Better stick with Pokemon's Kingdra unless you have a good amount of cash to blow and a degree in marine biology. (Yes, I know, Kingdra is more like a seahorse in several aspects.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Patented Humans?

To make up for my general sloth this week, I found a rather interesting article concerning the patenting of life. Long story very short, somebody wanted to patent (i.e. claim exclusive rights to) a human-animal hybrid. If this patent had slid, he would have been able to produce said hybrids for his own profit, and would be the only one legally allowed to do so for the next 20 years. Ouch to everyone else.

In the end, the scientist applying for the patent lost the case. The court ruled that the hybrid was "too human to be patentable." However, winning an exclusive patent was not his goal. Instead, his goal was to create a precedent for future human hybrids, which would become inevitable as science progressed.

We already have human chimeras. The government has already allowed a patent on a mouse with a human immune system for medicinal research. "Humanized" animals like this are usually given the OK, but what about non-human things with human brains? How far can we go until something becomes so human that it becomes unpatentable? Hell, human parents might start patenting their kids, just in case they start becoming valuable. They're technically made by people and under the sun.

The article in question brings up some really good points. Science has no ethic; it can and will make human hybrids. If we can patent anything made by man under the sun, including life forms, who's to say that humans will not be patented next? Hell, conspiracy theories are loaded with humans being barcoded. That's actually a very real possibility, what with RFID chips becoming more and more common. Real furries are also slowly becoming more and more plausible. With new advances in science come new meanings of being human.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Arsenic.

As a close runner-up to cyanide, arsenic is one of the most popular poisons in mystery novels. It also has the weird case, like lead, of being makeup at one point. What the hell were those Victorian women thinking? 

We are NOT amused.

Even today, however, this little monster of an element has not left our shelves. 88 samples of juices from various brands had worrisome levels of arsenic in them, maxing at 13.9 ppb for apple juice and 24.7 for grape. 10 ppb is the federal limit. Hey, we already eat cyanide. This is just another drop in the poison bucket.

Just this week, Consumer Reports published a detailed report on how much, how, and why arsenic winds up on grocery shelves. (I am, however, not VC, so I refuse to copy-paste articles.) This is not counting the natural (and surprisingly harmless) arsenic found in ground water found in fish. If you're curious about natural arsenic in your area of the country, check out this map. (Illinois finally beat Wisconsin at something!) This still does not explain how inorganic arsenic has wound up in our juice.

Modern agricultural products use inorganic arsenic. Certain chicken feeds have organic arsenic in them, as do many pesticides. It does not sound like it hurts the birds, but the digestive process turns the organic arsenic in that feed into inorganic arsenic, i.e. the deadly kind. Even if the chickens aren't harmed, we probably will be. The additive was stopped in 2011, but no doubt someone, somewhere, has found a way around FDA regulations. No wonder chicken's been very in lately.

The cows also endorse bad spelling.

Another source of inorganic arsenic is an old preservative used for lumber. Wood treated thus was used in decks and playground equipment until 2003. If that does not sound bad enough, consider that the arsenic from that coating seeped into the ground when the wood was recycled as mulch. This inorganic arsenic has been known to cause at least 3 different kinds of cancer and diabetes, so it should definitely not be in our food.


Any more gaps? Ask China. Yes, even our juice and fruit is made in China. They use arsenical pesticides and have high arsenic content in their water. Arsenic's everywhere unless you grow your own apples, really. Look up a few images of arsenic poisoning for the possible consequences. THAT one I will not do for you.

Besides demanding overdue regulations for arsenic, Consumer Reports also wanted regulations on the lead amounts in juice. Wow, America IS like ancient Rome in so many ways.