Monday, February 28, 2011

BodMod Week: Blacklight Tattoos.

We lied. This week is not completely unrelated to "Born This Way." Rick Genest (AKA Zombie Boy) up there is an example of extreme body modification; he is covered in skeletal and muscular tattoos from head to toe. He plans to do more where that came from, by the way.

Say, wouldn't it be cool if someone did a full-skeleton tattoo like that, only with glow in the dark ink? Y'know, so that they could go shopping without getting weird looks, but look like they were underneath an X-ray in the dark?

Well, at least one person did.

How did they do that?

This massive skeletal tattoo was done in blacklight ink. It does not technically glow in the dark. There is no safe "glow in the dark" ink and likely only one blacklight ink that has been certified safe by the FDA. Then again, the FDA lets Mickey D's through; how much you trust their judgment is entirely relative.

Smaller blacklight tatts have been done as well, looking just as impressive as their bigger counterparts. This sort of ink is great for doing hidden images like stars or simple accents on extant designs. The general idea is to have something that looks either invisible or okay under regular lighting, but REALLY stand out under UV light.

For the love of Pandora, why?

Things that glow in the dark, or at least under blacklight, are cool! Not everybody lives in the mesopelagic zone, AKA "that part of the ocean where everything glows in the dark." It's a pretty impressive effect on land. (Go click on the "bioluminescence" tag below to see more on that.)

Simple answer aside, mammals tend not to be very colorful animals. We, as mammals, have been cursed with a horrible, horrible pigment range. Pick your favorite domesticated mammal; chances are, every domesticated mammal out there can potentially have the exact same paint job. (The author cannot look at dogs the same way after clicking around in cow breed pages.) The mammal color range is sepia-tone, largely because mammals that see in full RGB color are few and far between.

This is a normal parakeet. Swear.

This is not true with the rest of nature. Some pigments on flowers and feathers can only be properly seen beneath a UV lamp. Birds see colors into the ultraviolet range, and insects have a different type of vision from humans entirely, allowing them to identify each other and potential food on completely different light wavelengths. Humans are missing out; with our limited vision, we can only see half of nature's acid trip. 

Think this is weird? Just wait. People do far weirder things with ink.

Tomorrow: Think tatts are cool? Imagine getting one in your eye.

BodMod Week.

Oh, how funny it is that the start of what should have been February's Theme Week is on the same day as Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" video. Alas, this particular theme deals with people who were, for whatever reason, not happy with being born the way they were, and go to extreme measures to change their physical appearances.

Why? Because there are some things that the human body just cannot do without excessive surgery, inks, or implants. We, as mammals, are severely inhibited in what pigments our bodies can produce; humans, despite all of our diversity, cannot grow claws, true fur, or any neat stripes. We have the thumbs and brain power to at least simulate some of the weirdest, most majestic things found in nature on our own bodies. It just takes guts and willpower to make them manifest!


This week covers seven of the weirdest things that normal people can do to their bodies. These are not sacred rites in which a boy scars himself in order to become a man; they are modifications done by people independently and of their own free will. If it's a rite of passage handed down from father to son, that's one thing; if someone just wants to look like Satan, that's another.


Let the completely intentional freak show commence! (Before you ask, no, I am not doing genital piercings.) 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Creature Feature: Magellanic Penguin.

Oh, crap. Another cute thing. What are you hiding? You're about to start a week of something horrific, aren't you?

Yes. Yes we are. No, we are not going to tell you what it is until we get there. For now, enjoy the penguins!

Magellanic penguins are native to the Strait of Magellan, an area around the coast of Chile and Argentina. Yes, penguins live in places besides Antarctica and Australia; the Magellanic Penguin is part of a group of penguins that lives in more temperate regions than the icy fields seen in Happy Feet and Coca-Cola commercials. Other members of its genus live towards the southern tip of Africa and on the Galapagos. Hey, that penguin dressed in island attire finally makes sense!

Tourist penguins are still weird. 

 The Magellanic penguin is among one of the penguin species called "Jackass penguins." All four members of the genus Sphensicus are renowned for being very noisy birds for their size. They make a number of calls and can burp just as loudly as a human. A male Magellanic can find the exact same female that he mated with the previous year just by her voice. Screw the swan; these birds should be the posterbirds for monogamy. When a guy's wife shrieking at him is an attraction, you know things are good.

(There are a bunch of other cute things in this video, too!)

Magellenic penguins have just as epic a life as the ever-photogenic Emperor penguins. Like Emperors, they have to make a yearly journey to the coastlines of Chile and Argentina to find their nests. Some even go as far as the Andes to make their nests in relatively undisturbed places; others nest on the Falkland Islands or in private, unprotected areas. Head to Punta Tombo, Chile, at any time from April to September to see the largest colony of penguins in South America; if you're lucky, you might see a penguin chick or two. 

As with the Emperor penguins, the parents take turns watching over and feeding their young. They hunt fish, krill, cuttlefish, squid, sardines and crustaceans. Eating that much fresh seafood would kill a human; the penguins have evolved a special gland to deal with the salt that they swallow along with their food.

Lately, the Magellanic penguins have had to swim 25 extra miles (40 extra kilometers) out to feed their chicks and themselves. Oil spills and overfishing have reduced their food supply enough that CITES considers them a threatened species. Most other penguin species have similar problems. It is suspected that 12 out of the 17 extant penguin species are under threat. Up yours, BP; you're probably killing penguins as we speak. 

Tomorrow: Luckily for you all, the real horror week starts Monday. Tomorrow's thing might still scare some people; how many of you will be scared off by a disco light jellyfish?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Creature Feature: Llamas.

OK, that's two disturbing creatures in a row. Time for a cute!

Yes, yes, we know: Llamas (Llama glama) are not particularly weird. They are domesticated relatives of the camel and have been used for riding, wool, and meat since before the Conquistadors decided to take over South America. Like camels, they spit regularly and have jaws that look very strange to humans.

They are also bigger than frogs. Not that it matters.

Llamas also have a strange mating cycle. Unlike most large animals, they mate lying down. They have no estrus cycle and are induced incubators, meaning that they can and will have babies whenever they please. That every shot is right on target for a male llama is either awesome or terrifying depending on how much of a feminist you are; it is, however, very good for llama breeders and other people who love baby llamas (called "crias").

And awww, why not?

Llamas are very social, but bottle-feeding and other socializing should be done sparingly. Too much cuddling means that humans will be considered part of the herd (and thus spat upon). Otherwise, they are cute, friendly, curious creatures that make awesome guards for livestock. Yes, really. 

Llamas are familiar creatures to anyone who has been to a good petting zoo.  The internet has gone llama-wild, too. What is just so funny about them that deviantART, Disney, and even Monty Python cannot keep their mitts away?


Just...look at them. Llamas resemble camels that have been crossbred with sheep. Camels are already strange-looking artiodactyls. Seeing a fuzzy camel with banana-shaped ears and a poofy tail akin to that of a Pomeranian dog is just silly. Llamas do not just look funny - they look ridiculous. No wonder they have taken over the internet!

Someone needs to make a calendar of llamas. Like puppies and kittens, they brighten every room that they are in.

Tomorrow: Penguins in the Andes?! Wow, we're on a South America roll.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Creature Feature: Candiru.

You thought the brown recluse was cruel? Nature's specialty is playing mean jokes on humanity. Here, let us show you:

Yes, that little fish just went where the sun don't shine. It did not mean to; exactly why it did in this instance has not yet been determined, despite what the video says. The fish in question is called a candiru, and it usually parasitizes catfish.

Candiru can refer, variously, to either one species (Vandellia cirrhosa), a whole genus of parasitic catfish (yes, catfish in catfish), or two of the genera in the family Trichomycteridae. All species called "candiru" are native to the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers in Brazil.

Tiny fish are tiny!

The candiru that people usually talk about is V. cirrhosa. V. cirrhosa is a hematophagous parasite of catfish gills. It has a slender, clear body which also lends it the name "toothpick fish." It normally swims into the gills of a larger catfish and, using special spines, locks itself into the gills until it has sucked enough blood. It only stays in the fish's gills for a few seconds.

Now for the ultimate question: Do these fish really enter human bodies through the junk?

For the record, penes do have bones. None of them look like fish.

 Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but it's rare. The only known recorded attack was in 1997, but there are a few sociocultural records detailing candiru attacks as well. The tribesmen of the Amazon prescribe two plants, Genipa americana and a special kind of apple, in order to kill (actually DISSOLVE) the fish. Westerners typically use surgery. The natives have become OK with that, too.

Nobody is 100% sure on why candiru occasionally swim into the human nether regions. Tests have disproved the 'urea' theory mentioned in the video. According to newer research, the candiru is a more visual hunter than anything. If it goes up one's junk, that might just be a compliment; it thought that person was a big fish, after all.

Tomorrow: Look out, there are llamas!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" SPAM.

Let the clip speak for itself. Watch it, then come back.

This Monty Python sketch alone fueled Spam's amazingly prominent place in pop culture. Notice how the inclusion of Spam in every menu item interfered with the overall appeal of the food; that is how the technical term "spam" came about. You have Monty Python to thank for your spam filter. If it was called the "annoying e-mail filter," it would not have caught on nearly as well. The food is so talked-about that Weird Al even has a song about Spam.

The question is...what is it?

The tab is there to open the can...the can is there to hold in the Spam. Goggles on, everyone!

Spam was invented in 1937 by Hormel ham. It contains "spiced meat and ham" - of pigs, obviously. It should be spelled with all capital letters as per trademark laws. Other backronyms include "Special Product of Austin, Minnesota," "Something Posing As Meat," and "Spare Parts Animal Meat."

Silly nature aside, Spam consists of pig meat preserved with water, potato starch, salt, sodium nitrite, and, of course, the can. The gelatinous glaze on Spam is made from aspic, a sort of gelatin made from various meat sources. Aspic is, in itself, pretty gross; please, somebody tell us how this is supposed to be appetizing:

This is not Spam. This is the stuff that preserves Spam.

Spam is often confused with mystery meat, even though it's pretty obvious that everything came from a pig. It comes in several flavors and tastes "kind of like ham." Its status as a heavily-preserved canned food means that it was both popular in the military and is generally thought of as a "poor man's food" by people in the continental U.S. Just about the only people on the mainland who really get a kick out of Spam are the manufacturers in Austin, Minnesota and a yearly, parody Spam festival in Austin, Texas. It's the Texans' job to make Spam appetizing. Porky Pig help us all.


Despite the preservatives and its "who knows what's in that can?" nature, Spam has slightly fewer rabid fans than Lady Gaga. Korea, China, Okinawa (not technically Japan), Hawaii, the Philippines, and Guam all love Spam.The average person on Guam consumes 16 tins of Spam each year, and this is likely not counting the Spam in every McDonald's and Burger King on Guam. As if fast food could not be any worse for you.

As for Korea, China, and Okinawa...tip of the iceberg. They have done far weirder things with far weirder meats. We're going to let them slide on this one just because dog just so happens to be on the menu in some of those places, and Japan would eat the flesh of Dagon if they could wrap it in rice. Spam looks sane by comparison.

This is actually from Hawaii,  whose cuisine was HEAVILY influenced by Japan.

Next week: Whaddya mean, "I haven't covered calamari yet?" It's actually pretty good!

[Note: Midterms in everything coming up means Kuro something-something. Be glad I got this entry through.]

Creature Feature: Brown Recluse Spider.

After reading all of my blog posts, you are probably thinking that there is no creature that I will not obsessively love for a day. Just like everyone else, however, I have one creature that I simply do not like. That creature is the brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa).

No, I am not an arachnophobe. I have nothing against spiders. My usual instinct is to take whatever spider I find and move it out of harm's way. I just do not like this particular spider, even though it lives in my neighborhood.

Brown recluse spiders are native to the midwestern U.S. down to the Gulf of Mexico. It is identified primarily by the fiddle-shaped mark on its back. It is also a fairly large spider, so it is easy to see this little deathbringer coming. Their favorite hiding places are in the basements and drawers of suburban households.

So, why don't I like it? Put simply, this:

One bite from a brown recluse causes necrosis. Some people feel nothing at first, but the area will become inflamed within a few hours. The pain slowly gets worse until the flesh and other soft tissues are rotted through. If that was not bad enough, the wound is also open to infection. Ouch.

Of course, it's the human's fault if the spider bites. The name says it all: These are shy spiders. Humans just made several perfect environments for these spiders to live in. Many spider bites are also misdiagnosed; Staphylococcus aureus can cause similar symptoms if it infects the bite. As a reminder, those are the same bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. Even if the spider is not initially responsible for necrosis, its bite is nasty.

It's even sadder when a llama gets bitten.

The recluse's bite is just about the only cool thing about it. There are no markings or similar that say, "hey, I'm a dangerous spider that may melt your skin off." I am not about to systematically eradicate these guys, but if one crosses my path, expect it to be hit with a newspaper.

Tomorrow: Oh SHIT that fish attacked my naughty bits!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Creature Feature: Mycoplasma.

So there's this miraculous drug out there called penicillin. It was discovered when Alexander Fleming noticed that a mold in one of his Staphylococcus plates was resistant to the bacteria therein. (Technically, people in the Middle Ages had been using moldy bread for treating wounds, but a lot of them got plague, so never mind.) It has since gone on to become the biggest antibiotic against Gram-positive bacteria ever. More on exactly what makes Gram-positive bacteria Gram-positive later.

You know what happens when bacteria meet human medication? They say "FUCK YOU" in big red letters. We push, and the bacteria have a vat of acid that they have reserved just for the occasion. That Staphylococcus mentioned above has become particularly problematic as of late; antibiotics like penicillin have led to a super-strain of Staph that is especially prevalent in hospitals. Sure, they're super-Staph, but they're still Staph. We can identify them and think up a new, crazy way to attack them. We know how to treat the symptoms if nothing else.

Enter the type of bacteria called Mycoplasma. They're small, notoriously hard to identify, and the only reason I know they exist is because a friend of mine is a RN. Being bacteria, they can spread almost anywhere. Their name comes from being mistaken for a fungus at first. They are nowhere close; their position is somewhere between a bacterium and a virus.

Mycoplasma were first discovered in cows, manifesting as a form of pneumonia that regular antibiotics could not cure. There have been other mycoplasmas found in other animals, such as one that gives chickens respiratory issues and spreads in their eggs (OUCH). The two most well-known types in humans are M.pneumoniae and M. genitalium. They have the shortest genomes next to nanobacteria and are less than half the size of an E.coli cell. Unlike most bacteria, which usually have Gram stains, mycoplasmas can only be 100% identified through complex methods like DNA testing.

This is because some of the common antibiotics and identification methods depend on the cell wall. Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria get their names from a certain type of staining method. Gram-positive bacteria show up purple under this stain. Gram-negative bacteria show up bright pink. What stain works where is determined by the bacteria's cell walls. This test also determines what antibiotics will and will not work against a given organism; some, like penicillin, attack the cell walls of Gram-positive bacteria.

Wow, our bacteria sure are gay.

Mycoplasma do not have cell walls. (They have nonetheless been grouped with G+ bacteria due to genetic relations.) They are parasites in respiratory tubes and genitalia and use their host's cholesterol to make their membranes. Wow, they must be having a blast in America; plenty of cholesterol, for sure.

Pictured: Mycoplasma heaven. Y'know, if hamburgers were alive.

Since these bacteria are parasites, it is almost impossible to develop antibiotics for them in a lab. Being a parasite means that the host has to be present as well, which is a little bit hard given the choice environments of these bacteria. Zithromax works only because it does not attack the cell wall. Antiviral herbs such as hyssop might also be effective. Until we learn how to synthesize genitalia, mycoplasmas will be at large.

If we push nature, nature shoves back. Tough cookies.

Tomorrow: SPAM! And a deadly spider NATIVE TO SUBURBIA!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Creature Feature: Przewalski's Horse.

What? The hell is a horse doing on this blog? We thought this was supposed to be weird, and horses aren't weird! A horse is a horse, of course, of course...or is it?

Ladies and gents, the Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) is the last remaining ancestor of the domestic horse and the only extant wild horse. It lives on the Mongolian steppes and in a Chernobyl radiation field in Russia. Another species, the tarpan, is said to be even closer than Przewalski's horse to the domesticated horse, but it's extinct; people have tried to bring back the tarpan via backbreeding, but this was about as successful as breeding back to aurochs. Talk about beating a dead horse.

To clarify, North American mustangs and Australia Brumbies are not technically wild horses. They are feral horses - that is, domesticated horse populations that escaped and bred. Przewalski's horse is the only known extant wild horse. Another would have been the tarpan, but the last individual of that species died in 1909.

Just for reference.

Many times, when a species has become truly domesticated, there is a sudden dip in the population of its wild counterpart(s). The ancient relative of the modern cow, the aurochs, is currently extinct; wolves are either treated as OMG SPESHUL creatures by fans on the internet or hunted by crazy politicians that look like the Baroness from G.I. Joe; nobody really knows where the ferret or chicken came from. Goldfish are the exception rather than the rule; as in Pokemon, carp spawn very well regardless of their domestic midget cousins. Tarpans and Przewalski's horse are both either extinct or highly endangered.

How endangered is it? Due to various factors, such as German occupation during World War II, its population was reduced from "all over Mongolia and China" to "just a few sparse locations and zoos." It was considered extinct in the wild for 30 years. The Asian wild horses around today are from captive-bred projects; see, keeping strange animals isn't all bad!

In Soviet Russia...decide for yourself.

Tomorrow: Speaking of keeping strange animals...there's a chance that I have a strange bacteria-virus. Strange, but awesome!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Creature Feature: Surinam Toad.

Raise your hand if you know what "lotus boob" is. Keep it up if that simple, Photoshopped image of a lotus seed pod over a lady's teats gives you shivers. If you do not know what the hell I am talking about, there was a lotus pod + boob image combined with a gross story about how parasites laid eggs in a woman's rack a while back. It was quickly found to be fake, but still scarring.

Silly internet. Nature has something much creepier than that.

That's not from a horror flick. It's from an exotic pet convention. People raise Surinam toads (Pipa pipa) at least in part for the strange-as-all-get-out way that the females give birth. Seriously, those guys up there are acting like it's Christmas. They aren't freaked at all; after all, mammalian birth is at least as gross.

Surinam toads are native to South America (hence the name). Even without eggs in their backs, they look strange. They are to frogs and toads what the matamata is to other turtles.

The main reason people are interested in Surinam toads is their weird reproductive habits. While making out (called "amplexus" for frogs), the male and female rise from the floor and begin to loop around while locked. As they turn, the female releases eggs; because of how they loop, the eggs wind up on her back, like this:

Now, hold your Przelawski horses: Don't frogs usually hatch into tadpoles? The ones in the video emerged as...well, not fully-grown frogs, but frogs far more froglike than tadpoles. Those eggs are not just on the mother's back; they're embedded into her skin. So, too, are her babies for most of their lives. When they are fully-developed, they swim through their mother's hollowed skin and are independent from then on.

Hey, be glad that Nintendo did not go all-out with this one. The giant frog from Gen V (dub name not yet confirmed) is covered with giant blue eg- I mean boom box speakers. Well, that's one way to remove how insane this amphibian is; besides having eggs in its back, the male uses clicks to call his mate underwater. The eggs are still freakier.

Tomorrow: What is a Przelawski's horse, anyway?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Creature Feature: Archerfish.

There is a certain attack in Pokemon called "Water Gun." It's one of those attacks that makes one wonder exactly why it does damage. It's not like a stream of water can hurt anything, right?

String Shot will be used another day.

OK. Maybe a pressurized stream of water can knock wild bugs into a pond, where the marksman can then snap it up. That was one of several fish called archerfish; they are a from the genus Toxotes and are related to perch. Archerfish can be found in the mangrove ecosystems and other freshwater areas in India, Australia, and the Philippines.

This does not look nearly as good as a still image.

Archerfish make human snipers look lame for using weapons. They have a hollow groove in their mouths that they use like the barrel of a gun. Closing their gills pushes pressurized water through this groove; archerfish are usually able to hit prey on the first shot. It takes practice, but the fish figures it out pretty fast. Even if the first shot fails, the fish tries again.

The precision of this water shot is even more amazing when one considers how hard it is to shoot from beneath the water. Ever try to catch a fish swimming beneath the surface of a moving body of water? It's pretty darn hard. Now try catching a tiny little insect from beneath the water with a squirt gun. There are some seriously impressive visual capabilities and physics involved with every shot the archerfish makes.

The archerfish as a textbook physics example.

Archerfish will shoot at anything that glows and/or moves. That may seem a little stupid, but it's still pretty impressive for a fish. They will also leap out of the water and eat bugs that just so happen to be nearby, but that is not nearly as awesome as their built-in squirt guns.

Water Gun: It's super-effective!

Tomorrow: A frog with...WHAT THE HELL? What did this frog do to its back?!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Creature Feature: Lammergeier.

Wow. The title of today's entry sounds like it should be on a Rammstein album. If I told you that this bird fed primarily on the bones (not the meat - the bones) of other animals, it would probably sound like some gothic wet dream (or Greek mythology...but more on that later). It is very real, and just as hardcore as it sounds.

The Lammergeier (AKA "bearded vulture" or Gypaetus barbatus), surprise, surprise, has a decent range in Europe. It also lives in Asia and Africa. Its closest (and only) living relative is the Egyptian vulture, who will get an entry for its very own one day. Both members of this particular order of raptors are sufficiently unique to warrant their own entries, so enough about taxonomy. The main distinguishing trait these two birds share is a strange, elliptical tail visible when the bird is in-flight.

Lammergeiers, like many vultures, circle above dead prey before eating them. They live primarily off of carcasses, but will also eat live tortoises. In both cases, it has a rather bizarre way of getting to the sweet, stem cell-breeding bone marrow that comprises 90% of the bird's diet. Besides swallowing the bones whole, that is.

Both the Egyptian vulture and the bearded vulture like getting into tough prey; the Egyptian vulture uses rocks to crack open hard ostrich eggshells, an impressive instance of avian tool use, and the Lammergeier, when it encounters bones too large to swallow, flies up and drops the bones from above to crack them. It will also do this with live tortoises. Smart bird; compare crows using electric trains to crack open hard-shelled nuts and shellfish.

The Lammergeier's habit of dropping tortoises from the sky may have caused the death of Aeschylus, a Greek playwright. Aeschylus was a tragedian; among his most notable works are the Oresteia (a trilogy containing the Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides), The Persians, and Seven Against Thebes. His death is notorious; although it is usually said that an eagle dropped the infamous tortoise upon his head, the Lammergeier does this on a regular basis. There just so happened to be a human in the way at the time. Either that, or the Lammergeier preferred comedies.


Tomorrow: A squirt-gun sniper.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Creature Feature: Saola.

In the looks department, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is nothing special. It's a fairly bland antelope. Sure, it has some interesting features - short horns, huge scent glands, and an odd skull that make scientists think it a primitive bovid - but not weird enough to make the average Joe go "WOW!" The people in Laos and Vietnam, however, go so far as to consider it a unicorn because of one simple feature: It is that rare.

The last time we heard about something like this was the okapi, an animal so bizarre that it may as well be mythical. There are good records of the okapi in local lore; the Egyptians thought it was strange, and they were the ones obsessed with the afterlife. The okapi was also rare enough to elude scientists until the 1900's. That's rare, but the saola has beaten its record.

 The saola is just plain rare. In 15 years of searching, science has discovered zero saolas in the wild. Its mythical status is well-warranted, seeing as it has been spotted by villagers while avoiding the eye of science for so long. It was not even officially acknowledged as an animal until 1992. Either we fail as humans, or the saola really knows how to hide.

There have been very few instances of a saola ever being in captivity. In August 2010, people in Laos found a wild saola and tried to raise it in captivity, but, like any unicorn, it promptly died. No unicorn would ever tolerate being gawked at and prodded with weird poles. They would commit suicide before that.

Not a happy unicorn. Twonicorn? 
Tomorrow: OK, enough mammals. Time for a bird.

Creature Feature: Entelodonts.

Wild pigs are badass. Look at ancient epics and there will likely be something with a boar. Norse gods frequently use boars as steeds; Odysseus got gored by a boar as a child; hell, ancient Greek warriors wore helmets made of boar tusks, and one of the reasons that the Jews avoid pork might be because the Romans loved using the boar as their mascot.

The kickass wild pig came from an even more kickass relative: the entelodonts. To put its awesomeness into perspective, entelodonts are also called "Hell Pigs" or "Terminator Pigs." Those sound like good names for motorcycle gangs.

Entelodonts have similar dentition to modern pigs, thus suggesting an omnivorous diet. They were primarily carnivorous, eating either fresh or long-dead meat, as well as plant matter if the need arose. (I'm not sure where They were the biggest, baddest creatures on North America, Eurasia, and Asia during the Miocene Period, a little-known era sandwiched between the dinosaurs and the advent of man.

If you think that modern swine are big, think again. The largest entelodont,  Daeodon shoshonensis, was 6.9 ft (2.1 meters) at the shoulder. D.shoshonensis was also 12 feet (3.6 meters) long, i.e. likely bigger than one's car. It had tusks and facial bumps like a warthog, and its jaws could easily crush bone. We do not know whether an entelodont would actually eat you or not, but staring into the mouth of one, we doubt you would care.


The larger entelodonts died out, in short, because they ran out of large prey. As time went on, other predators simply became more efficient hunters. The smaller, more scavenge-ready entelodonts lived. The result was the animal that goes into making bacon.


Exactly how close entelodonts were to pigs is still up in the air. Although the obvious evolutionary route judging by the hooves and skull is to swine, some scientists suggest whales and hippos as well. If it walks like a pig and eats like a pig...nah, we won't go there.

Tomorrow:  Chaaarrrlliieee...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Sausage and Pork Rinds.

Every so often, you will find someone (possibly an Avatar fan) who wishes that we all were living off the land like Native Americans. Prod them enough and you will no doubt receive a speech about how the natives used every part of the buffalo to the point of using the eyes as lollipops. They will also chew you out for eating livestock simply because modern Americans do not do that.

Lies and taffy. We make use of every part of the pig. Not as majestic as the buffalo, but hey, it's still making the most of the animal.

First off, most of the pigs we eat are coming from horrible conditions. They are not happy pigs on a farm like Wilbur in Charlotte's Web. We wish that were the case - really, we do - but the food industry is called an industry for a reason.

In the U.S., there is a practice called factory farming which forces pigs into tiny metal cages. If the Simpsons Movie has taught us anything, it is that pigs, though cute, are also very unsanitary animals. Imagine what it must be like to be in a room with hundreds of sick, pooping pigs with no way out. Worse, imagine what it must be like to give birth in such an environment.

Before I hear "oh, they're just dumb animals that are lower on the food chain," pigs are smarter than dogs. True, they are still ungulates, but they should not be portrayed as "dumb." If you avoid dog meat because dogs are "intelligent," pig meat should be taboo as well. This is a very strange, disturbing double standard in the American mindset.

Enough about how the piggies are caged. They're going to become meat, anyways - and how!

Sausage is our first stop when talking about exactly how well we use pigs. Ham is a fairly common meat wherever there are pigs, but most people do not eat the innards (except for the ancient Greeks, who apparently relished the intestines and livers of their meals). The intestines and other miscellaneous organs that most of us recoil at wind up in sausages of all flavors and varieties.

There are millions of different sorts of sausage, and not all of them are from pigs, but they all boil down to this: Animal organs and other spare, but edible parts wrapped in either genuine intestine or a waxy synthetic casing. Some sausages have blood in them; others have "mystery meat," which is exactly what it sounds like ("we don't know WHAT'S in there, but it came from something"). They usually have a lot of spices and herbs in there to conceal that you are, in fact, eating exactly what most people would not want to eat.

Do you know what's in that? It almost looks like there's a claw on that bun...

This came about as a good way of preserving animal bits that were left on the butcher's floor. Practicality came first; then people decided to try and make sausages tasty. That they could be containing anything is still a little creepy.

So we have a good use for most of the innards of the pig, but what about the outside? Pig skin is no longer good for wearing (it was when they had fur), so people do the next best thing: Eat it.


Pork rinds are, well, pork rinds. They are strips of pig skin fried and puffed like potato chips. They practically are potato chips; they have very little nutritional value and a lot of fat and salt. Pork rinds, also called "cracklings" in the U.S. or "scratchings" in Britain, are often eaten as a snack food. Many varieties of pork rinds have a little bit of flesh and fat still in there after being puffed and deep-fried; therein lies the charm.

This bag is not even trying to conceal the horror.

It's probably a good thing that most people buy the pre-packaged puffed pigskins. The more one thinks about pork rinds, the weirder they sound.


The hooves, snouts, and ears do not go to waste, either. Okinawan, Chinese, and Korean cuisine sport dishes of pig hooves; look at one's local pet store and one will find dried pigs' ears sold as dog toys. See? We use every part of the animal for something; it's just kinda gross, so we do not talk about it much. 

Next week: SPAM deserves an article all to itself.