Thursday, March 31, 2011

Freak Week II: Mongolian Horse.

Of all the mammals in the world, the horse gets the least amount of love on this blog. It's not that I don't like horses; like all females, I went through a horse/pony phase, got a lot of horse books, and even took riding lessons.

This blog has nothing against horses. They just aren't very weird.

Sure, they're beautiful, graceful, powerful, and whatever else have you, but horses are only really weird if you have never seen a domesticated horse before in your life. A real horse person may talk on and on about the differences between an Arabian and a Palomino, but that's still not particularly weird. Cool, but not strange unless you want to get into subtleties.

Racehorses have a lot of inbreeding going on, though.

To make horses weird, one has to go way back. The horse was probably first domesticated in Mongolia. Let's try there.


The Mongolians love their horses. The horse population in Mongolia is around three million - more than the entire human population. The national drink, airag, is made of mare's milk. Each family member has his or her own horse. Young men are traditionally given a horse upon their third birthday. Even the nomadic tribes have horses. An old Mongolian proverb says that "a Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings." Horse lovers, start packing; Mongolia is horse country.

The Mongolian breed of horse is a right bitch to find pictures of, if only because Mongolia also has wild horses. The two are hard to tell apart; not very much has changed in Mongolia since the horse became domesticated. This similarity plus genetic diversity makes them a strong candidate for the first horse breed ever.

Mongolian horses are sturdy. Very few of them need to wear shoes. Even so, they tread cautiously. Once they get used to having a rider, they are calm horses and can run up to 35km/h. Racing horses is the second most popular sport in Mongolia; given the creature's popularity, it is very easy to see why.


The horse was the primary weapon of the Mongolian Empire. Fighters with horses had a substantial advantage over people without: horsemen were faster, could trample opposition, and could shoot arrows on horseback. It was thanks to the horse that Genghis Khan was able to take over much of the known world. As the great Khan himself said, "It is easy to conquer the world from the back of a horse."


Tomorrow: These are some VERY horny cattle.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Freak Week II: Scottish Folds and American Curls.

Notice something a little that adorable little kitten?


Actually, no kittens were harmed in making catgirls. The cat above is of a special 'breed' called a Scottish Fold. As the name implies, the ears on Scottish Fold kittens have the cartilage folded downward. This gives them a round-headed look that has been described as "owlish."

O rly?

The Scottish Fold breed started with one cat, Suzie, who lived on a farm near Perthshire, Scotland. When she had kittens, two of them were born with folded ears like their mother. One of the kittens was taken in by a nearby cat-fancier, and the breed developed from there. Ear-folding is dominant, so the trait was easy to pass on to many varieties of cat. Thus the breed was born.

Before you ask: Yes, all Scottish Folds are directly related to Suzie. They are not necessarily inbred (responsible breeders encourage outcrossing), but have an amazing amount of issues from the one trait of folded ears. Even well-bred kittens develop osteochondrodysplasia - or, in English, bone problems. This can include anything from malformed bones at birth to severe arthritis in later years. These issues are so common with Scottish Folds that one vet discouraged breeding them entirely; they are also not recognized by European fanciers as a breed.

Of course, a breed needs more than one trait to be considered a breed. As in canids, cats with folded ears tend to have amicable personalities. Folds are very communicative cats; they also sleep on their backs and sit in "Buddha Position." Aww, they think they're people!

A DS is not included with Scottish Fold cats. Sorry.

If folded ears are not your thing, the American Curl has the exact opposite mutation of the Scottish Fold: A Curl's ears curl upward for an expression of eternal surprise. Pet Curls can have the ears curling almost straight upward; show-quality curls demand a definite curl, but not so much that the ears touch the skull. Both longhair and shorthair Curls have very silky coats. If you like your cats a little bit odd but still with hair, the ears have it.

Not to be confused with the American Girl franchise.

Tomorrow: We swear, this was the weirdest horse we could find...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Freak Week II: Bully Whippets.

Pop quiz: What is wrong with this dog?
B) It's an experiment by the EVUL COMMUNIST RUSSIANS! We're SCREWED!
C) One gene.

Sorry, this picture has been sent around the interwebs so frequently as a "real or fake?" or Russian conspiracy fodder that it merited a short quiz. Beneath all this internet BS is a normal whippet with only one gene awry. As you can see, Wendy is a perfectly content Boston family pet underneath all that muscle:

Not all whippets are as muscular as Wendy. Whippets are a sort of mini greyhound bred for one thing: speed. They can run up to 36 mph and have a winning demeanor. As dog breeds go, whippets are relatively problem-free; at most, they have some "athletic" heart diseases, but otherwise lead average dog lives.

Normal whippet.

Super-muscular whippets like Wendy are called "bully whippets." This says nothing about their personalities, just their bizarre build. The gene for extra-fast whippets is the heterozygous form of the gene that omits myostatin in dogs. Having two of the same omission allele together leads to double-muscling, creating the same beefy look found in Belgian Blue cattle (from last Freak Week). Seriously - it's the exact same mutation, just in a dog instead of a cow.

Hey, Korea...

Imagine crossing a bully whippet with a Chinese Crested, Xoloitzquintle, or Peruvian Inca Orchid. If the resulting image made you wet your pants in a combination of fear, WTF, and awesome, our work here is done.

Tomorrow: Hello kitty...with straaange ears.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Freak Week II: Great Danes.

First of all...


Seriously, Monster Monster, you have inspired me SO much, especially recently. Without you, my life would not even have direction. Freak Week is for you. A whole fantasy universe is for you. The one thing I will not do for you is get a Facebook. If you see this, let me know. Happy birthday!

That said, it seems like not many people have noticed the two Harlequin Great Danes appearing in several of Lady Gaga's videos. Prior to "Born This Way," almost all of Gaga's videos (with the exceptions of "Alejandro," "Just Dance," and "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich") had at least one Great Dane somewhere. Their names were Lava and Rumpus; Rumpus died in October of 2009. They are not technically Gaga's dogs and truly belong to this California breeder. Lava and Rumpus were most obvious in the videos for "Poker Face" and "Telephone" (in which Lava unfortunately gets poisoned along with the rest of the diner).

Fame: It lets one kill puppies and still be A-OK.

Lady Gaga has since changed her mascot to a unicorn. Nothing wrong with that; it's just harder to write an entry on (although the okapi and narwhal entries have some things to say about unicorns). Animals in show business are so underrated, especially when they're odd like Danes. 

Great Danes are an excellent example of exactly how versatile the canine genome is. At first glance, one would never expect that a Great Dane and a Chihuahua could be the same species; it was just luck of the draw that dogs were so versatile. There are an endless amount of mutations to play with in Canis lupus familiaris that took millennia of breeding to flesh out. One of those was, of course, for size.

Great Danes are big. The longest on record is 7.2 feet from head to tail and 3.5 feet (slightly over a meter) at the withers (shoulder height). These dimensions do not really convey how big Great Danes are. We could swap numbers all day, but there is nothing like being in the same room with a dog as big as a pony. Figures do not properly convey how big that is.

Danes are large working dogs, but have also been bred for a regal, elegant appearance and a docile temperament. They are excellent with people and other pets alike. Attacks from this breed are very rare. This has loaned them the nickname "the Apollo of all breeds"- in short, a dog so magnificent that it can be compared to the divine.

Even the divine need flaws, and the Great Dane has them in spades. They have been bred so extensively for size that, like many large dog breeds, they have a tendency towards a nasty stomach disease called gastric dilatation vulvosis (GDV). In GDV, the stomach twists upon itself; this warrants immediate surgery. The usual prescription for preventing this in Danes is to tack the stomach onto the right side of the abdominal wall. No wonder the little puppy above looks so sad.

GDV is just the tip of the iceberg. Danes also have a history of heart conditions which have no reliable prevention method. This barrage of problems leads to a shorter lifespan in Danes than other dogs - approx 6.5-7 years. The name "Heartbreak breed" is more than apt. Poor Rumpus probably got killed off by one of the many breed disorders associated with being a Dane.

By the way, Danes have naturally floppy ears...and usually aren't this white.

Gaga's Harlequin Danes have one more problem to add to the list: Every white dog breed in existence is prone to deafness and poor eyesight. Melanin (black pigment) does a lot in mammals. Parts without black pigment, specifically the ears and eyes, are prone to burning and generally not functioning well. Mammalian ears need melanin to hear properly. If a dog is white around the ears or eyes, it may be deaf, blind, or both. It is strange to hear a deaf dog bark.

Despite all their heritable issues, Danes have left their pawprint on popular culture. Comic dog Marmaduke is a Great Dane. So is the ever-lovable Scooby-Doo. The Hound of the Baskervilles has always been a Great Dane in films. Gaga's dogs are in very good company; it's such a shame that her unicorn invokes images of My Little Pony, Lisa Frank, and CHAARRRLLIIIEEEE.

Tomorrow: Is this dog on steroids? Part of a Russian army experiment to make the world's strongest dog? The answer to both is "no."

Freak Week II HO!

Today is Lady Gaga's birthday. No, we are not trying to deliberately synchronize every theme week with Lady Gaga - just this one. It just so happened that both of these recent themes fit with "Born This Way," too.

This dog is not anorexic. She may or may not have self-esteem issues.

For those of you who missed last Freak Week, it was devoted to things not made by nature, but by man. Specifically, we were looking at different breeds of animal. Chances are, if left to their own devices, Darwin would hit them all with his cane and we would never speak of them again.Breeds can be just as freaky as wild animals; just because it's domesticated doesn't mean it isn't cool!

Freak Week focuses on breeds. That means hybrids like mules do not count. Neither do white tigers; that is just one morph, although they are slowly becoming a breed in and of themselves. Gene-spliced organisms, such as those GFP rats we love so much, also do not qualify as breeds. So, recap: What makes a breed a breed, again?

1. The animal/plant in question has to be considered domesticated.
2. It has to look and behave differently from others of its species.
3. It has to breed true, i.e. pass those different traits on to its offspring. 

So, let the curtains rise on creatures (and plants) that we SWEAR were born that way...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Frogs.

"Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails..." That's what little boys are made of. We've done dog. We've done snails. Real-life Hypnotoad up there is not happy that frogs are, unfortunately, also fairly common food items around the world. No, we are not talking about a stupid dare in college to eat the frog on the bio dissection table. Frogs are haut cuisine in many, many places.

Frogs are often described as "tasting like chicken" (just like everything else) simply because they are closer to chickens than mammals on the evolutionary playing field. The meat of cold-blooded animals is also such that frog legs sometimes death-twitch while in the pan (or just with a little salt).

Eating frogs, particularly frog legs, has a link with French culture. If the French have touched a place, it has frog legs on the menu. Vietnam? Yep. Louisiana? Sure. France? Mais oui!

Several other places have frogs as food without French influence. China (surprised?) and Indonesia are also large consumers of frog meat. In China, frog legs are stir-fried; in Indonesia, frog legs are used in a soup called Swikee. Hell, most of the frogs eaten in France today were farmed in Indonesia.

Eating frogs has also been recorded in India, Spain, Greece, and a few places in California. In short, frogs are eaten just about everywhere in some way, shape or form. Maybe Kermit was right: It's not easy being a green frog.

Only Gaga wears them as clothing. We're pretty sure about that.

Next week: Just to prove that NOTHING is off the menu...dragons. And fortune-telling.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Creature Feature: Sea Pig.

At one point, it was thought that everything on land had a direct counterpart under the sea. That is why certain creatures have names like seahorse, sea cow, sea lion, and so forth, even if they do not really look anything like horses, cows, or lions. Ancient naturalists thought, "eh, close enough." Hell, the same could be said of sea cucumbers, even though they are not even plants. They just look like it.


Sea cucumbers in general are pretty weird creatures. (Wow, echindoderms really do not get enough love on this blog, do they?) They resemble, umm, cucumbers that have already been partially digested, sometimes with acid paint jobs for good measure, and just stay on the ocean floor, chillin' and eating whatever floats down. If a predator comes along, they pull the ultimate nasty prank and let out some of their internal organs into the ocean. Don't worry; they grow back. 

One of the members of the sea cucumber family ups the weirdness ante by a few more dollars. Ladies and gents, meet the sea pig (genus Scotoplanes):


 Part Babe and part eldritch horror, the sea pig is the cutest of the sea cucumber bunch. It lives in large herds with 300-600 members, scrounging the deepsea abyss for anything tasty that floats down from the surface. They prefer rich, organic tissue such as fresh whale meat.

Sea pigs are the only holothurians with tube feet large enough to be called legs. The sea pig uses special water cavities inside its body to inflate and deflate sections around its 'limbs,' allowing it to walk like a little piggy in the darkness of the abyss.


Sea pigs (as well as sea cucumbers in general) have another fascinating defense mechanism: They can liquefy their inner parts to slip into the tiniest crack. Again, they come out perfectly fine afterward; sea cucumbers have barely any skeletons to speak of. We should all be ashamed for having such rigid spinal cords.

Looks like one of those splatter-pig toys...

The sea pig is currently under threat from deep-ocean trawling. Whole herds have been pulled up in fishing nets, which is unfortunately one of the few reasons we know sea pigs even exist. They are, like land pigs, a valuable source of food for deepsea predators. Better stop, guys; Cthulhu might get mad if we eat all of his ham.

Sea Pig by =TheEclecticEccentric on deviantART
(Plus, they're kinda adorable.)

Tomorrow: Speaking of weird echinoderms, this next one's a real basketcase!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Creature Feature: Meerkats.

Mongooses are already pretty cool creatures as far as their relationships with humans go. Even though they do not necessarily make good pets, they kill snakes, which humans generally consider a good thing.  Anything that gets rid of snakes, the rough antithesis of humanity in many cultures, is A-OK.

So how is it possible that a mongoose could be even more human-friendly? By making them act like people.

Meerkats (Suricatta suricatta) are close relatives of the mongoose. They are native to the Kalahari Desert (covering Botswana and South Africa). Like mongooses (mongeese?), meerkats are carnivorous, chowing down on insects, snakes, small mammals, and scorpions.  They are partially-immune to the venom of some species and 100% immune to the venom of scorpions.

Meerkat Manor is a slight stretch, but unlike many mongoose species, meerkats are social animals. They normally live in colonies of 20-30 meerkats all sired by the same male and female pair. Some colonies contain around 50 members, still all inbred cousins. As in wolves, only the alpha male and female are allowed to mate; the other meerkats show signs of submission such as licking their alpha's faces. This should sound like another social animal that we all know.

Can I be a mongoose-dog?

Meerkats have amazingly complex burrow networks throughout their territories. These allow a meerkat colony to escape whenever danger is around using nearby "bolt holes." Meerkats will also rotates burrows so as to let an insect population flourish in one section for a while. Call us crazy, but that sounds almost like farming. Almost.


Meerkats also have several different types of call. There are distinct warning cries uttered by a sentry, i.e. one of the meerkats standing on its hind legs all the time. These cries can be very, very specific, telling the exact location and type of predator. Meerkats also make several other noises that boggle human minds. Some say that only humans have language; social animals like meerkats come darn close.

Do not, however, attempt to make a meerkat a pet. They are adorable and act a lot like dogs, but they get hysterical if only one meerkat is around, scent mark like crazy, and will tear up things in an attempt to make a burrow. Hell, even owning regular mongooses is illegal...except in Hawaii.

STILL not like this. 

There are, however, some people who have gotten sick to the teeth of meerkats. An extremely popular ad campaign in Britain for "Compare the Market" has led to a slew of meerkat-related merchandise. The Russian meerkat from that commercial, Aleksandr Orlov, even has his own autobiography. No matter how much you love meerkats, this is like the Geico gecko suddenly getting his own book. Simples? 

In Soviet Russia, meerkat compares you!

Tomorrow: A pig under the sea. Kinda.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Little Shop of Horrors: Solanum mammosum.

Forgive us for changing the title for plant entries from a rather awkward modification of "Creature Feature" to something more fitting. Plants really are weird enough to warrant their own header, even when done sporadically.

Like this one. Plants are full of wonderful "what the hell?" fodder that surfaces by accident in one's daily searching. What the hell is that? Why does it look like a cow's udder? What does it taste like?

In order: That is a Solanum mammosum fruit, we have no idea why it looks like a cow's udder, and nobody who has tried it has lived. The name Solanum should have been a hint; it's related to nightshade and datura. Were you really expecting it to be innocent (y'know, aside from looking like something out of a Japanese porno)?

Innocent this fruit is not, and hooo boy does it show. The scientific name, Solanum mammosum, suggests tits; the fruit itself resembles a human breast on one end and a cow's udder on the other.  Common names for it include nipple fruit, tittyfruit, cow's udder, or "Apple of Sodom." The Japanese call it "fox face" (wow, REALLY?) and the Chinese simply refer to it as a five-fingered eggplant. Talk about seeing the same fruit from different perspectives.

The, umm...tittyfruit is native to South America, but has been cultivated as an ornamental plant almost everywhere. The Chinese are particularly fond of it due to its bright gold color. It can also be used as a treatment for certain ailments or for washing clothing. Nobody mentions using it for...pleasure. Probably a good thing.

No matter how tempting it is, do not eat this fruit. Unlike eggplants, tomatoes, and other 'innocent' Solanaceae, tittyfruit is toxic. The plant will kill you for molesting its naughty bits.

Tomorrow: MEERKATS! 

(Why, yes, my brain is, in fact, baked thanks to recent tests and a Sappho paper.) 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Creature Feature: Egyptian Cobra.


Speaking of Cleopatra, legend and Shakespeare have it that she committed suicide in an interesting fashion: After concealing a poisonous snake in a basket of figs, she induced it to bite her on the breast (a motion that paralleled a witch's familiar suckling at its mistress's teat). She died a quick, painless death thanks to this snake's bite. The Romans thought this was awesome; so did Shakespeare, who added even more gothic details.

Herpetologists and classicists alike have been trying to identify exactly what snake bit Cleopatra on the rack. "Asp" was a generic term for any venomous snake way back when, making this a tricky task. It could have been any poisonous snake, and hooooo boy, does Egypt have a lot of those!


Thus far, the best candidate for this mysterious snake is the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje). This same snake or the Egyptian spitting cobra may have been the basis for Udjat, one of the most primal goddesses in Egyptian lore. The cobra can be seen on the headdresses of many deities and pharaohs; even though the serpent had a negative representation in Apophis, Udjat's cobra was something special.

Cobras get all the love.

The Egyptian cobra is one of the most intimidating snakes in all of Egypt. Cerastes has nothing on the large (6-7 inch wide) hood of the Egyptian cobra. This elapid can grow up to 8 feet long, but will usually flee before flaring its hood. It eats rodents and, like foxes, has been known to sneak into chicken coops. Every Egyptian healer was intimately familiar with this snake and, as with horned vipers, had a spell or two on hand at all times in case of a bite.


There has been a ton of debate over what, exactly, caused Cleopatra's death. Although several people love the idea of Cleopatra slipping away painlessly at the bite of one of her own deities, there are several things wrong with that theory. Egyptian cobras are huge, thus making them difficult to conceal. Unfortunately, the "painless death" bite is fictional as well.

Egyptian cobra bites are not as wonderfully painless as history would have us believe. Along with general malaise, a bad case of diarrhea, and severe swelling at the bite site, the Egyptian cobra's neurotoxin can cause necrosis (remember the brown recluse?) and convulsions. It's a painful way to go out. If Cleo went out by snakebite, it probably was not a nip from an Egyptian cobra - at least, not by itself.

The current theory is that Cleopatra used opium and hemlock in a drug cocktail to induce her painless death, but she may have included cobra venom for a little extra bite. She was very fond of playing with poisons, and, according to Plutarch, would test them on her prisoners. Until we either get a time machine or find a way to molecularly analyze Cleo's corpse for toxins, the world will never solve this mystery.

(Tomorrow: A plant with a cow's udder?! What a world!)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Creature Feature: Remora.

Watch enough ocean footage and you will eventually notice something very strange: There are slender fish attached to sharks and rays every so often. Whales and other marine mammals may also have these bizarre fish attached to their undersides.  At first, one may wonder if the whales and sharks have taken up body piercing, but these fish are perfectly natural.

Remoras (family Echeneidae) are slender fish often seen attached to larger marine animals. They live in tropical waters and grow anywhere from 1-3 feet in length. Although they can swim perfectly fine by themselves, they are adapted to be the hitchhikers of the ocean.

How does the remora do that? It hitches a ride with a special suction disc on its head. What used to be a dorsal fin has now evolved into a fleshy, ribbed suction cup that creates a small vacuum. This arrangement, combined with the remora's underbite, makes it look like the fish is swimming upside-down. Using this disc, the remora can hitch a ride on larger fish, turtles, humans, and even boats.


Remoras attach to things because they have a different gill structure from most fish. They cannot move water over their gills to get oxygen, so they must be in constant movement. The remora does not harm its host, but gets a free ride, free food, and free protection out of the deal. The host animal gets a non-invasive hitchhiker, and, depending on the remora, maybe a trash can or toilet.

Humans have used remoras to fish for other sea life, particularly turtles. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the appearance of a remora on a boat's side kept a boat from sailing, thus the name "remora" - "delay." A remora was blamed for Marc Antony's defeat at the Battle of Actium, but there's a good chance Cleopatra had something to do with that, too.

Tomorrow: Speaking of, Egypt has a few interesting cobras.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creature Feature: Scolopendra gigantea.

Centipedes are one of those bugs that freak non-entomologists right the fuck out. Most people kill them on sight, knowing full well that they are poisonous or just because they're centipedes. They are not overgrown pillbugs like millipedes (at first glance); one look and you know that a centipede is nasty. Out of all the designs in Pokemon Gen V, NOBODY would expect a giant centipede to be popular.


For whatever reason, Scolipede, a deer-centipede hybrid, has stolen the hearts of people who do not ordinarily like bugs. It has a design reminding us that Poison can actually be a pretty cool type, has awesome stats, and goshdarnit, myriapods deserved something better-looking than Drapion. If only more Pokemon players knew that real Scolopendra gigantea were just as popular with arthropod fans.

Scolopendra gigantea is exactly what it sounds like: A giant centipede. It can grow up to 12 inches (30 cms) long.  S. gigantea is native to South America (specifically Peru and other northwestern countries) and Jamaica, Trinidad, and Hispaniola. If the next Pirates movie features giant centipedes, you know why.

All centipedes are carnivorous, but S. gigantea exists to remind us that centipedes were once giant land terrors. It is one of the rare centipedes that eats vertebrates at every meal. Frogs, lizards, birds, rodents, and even three distinct species of bat are all on the menu.


S. gigantea does, of course, have a potent venom cocktail designed to work on things with spinal cords. Those pincer-like claws, officially called forcipules, deliver a mix of numbing chemicals (including serotonin, histamine, and acetycholine), proteases, and a cardiodepressant. Victims feel chills, fever, and weakness after being bitten. Not fatal, but still sucks.

People who keep giant centipedes as pets have got some serious balls. Feedings can be pretty darn intense; as with falcons and snakes, one likely needs to handle dead rodent carcasses. Even a single drop of venom on one's skin can cause a reaction, so wear protection when handling one. A giant centipede is still of the better venomous animals to keep as a pet.

Now, if you will excuse us, we have a killer Scolipede to train.

Tomorrow: By the way, what's Remoraid based off of?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Creature Feature: Black Swan.

Ah, swans. Is there anything more romantic, pure, and graceful than a swan? Sure, it's a lot like a large goose with white feathers and is really aggressive as hell, but swans have been a symbol of love ever since the ancient Greeks.

A black swan was thought to be impossible to find for millennia. All European swans were white; it was considered an avis rara, a rare bird, by the ancient Romans. Since nature had selected swans to be white for whatever reason, there was no way a black one could exist, right?


Oh, wait. The laws of nature fall flat on their face in Australia. Not only do black swans exist down under, they are plentiful.

Black swans (Cygnus atrata) are native to New Zealand and Australia.  They have black feathered bodies with some white on the wings. Their beaks and eyes are both bright red. They have a wingspan around 6 feet (2 meters) and have a longer neck than most swans. They are also strictly monogamous; like emus, both parents take turns raising the young.

When the Europeans brought back a few black swans, the reception was less than stellar. Like many black animals, the black swan was deemed a possible familiar and thus messenger of Satan. Gee, I wonder why? Could the red beak have something to do with that, too?

But does it breathe hellfire? HRM.

Most of us know of the black swan from Tchaikovsky's famous ballet, Swan Lake. In Swan Lake, the princess Odette is turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer Rothbart. The spell can only be broken by eternal love. Naturally, it's love at first sight when Prince Siegfried's swan hunt is interrupted by the sudden transformation of Odette. Rothbart thought that the curse would be enough to keep Odette from ever loving, but after dancing in the dark with Odette, he invites her to a royal ball.

Rothbart turns to plan B: He makes his daughter Odile look exactly like Odette. They go to the ball together. The prince thinks nothing of Odile's black clothing and falls in love with her instead of Odette. Odette warns him in swan form, or, depending on the version, Rothbart himself shows Siegfried where the real Odette is. After realizing his mistake (because, hey, a swan pecking at the window is bound to get someone's attention), Siegfried and Odette commit suicide together, saving Odette's harem friends from their own swan curse. (Nice plot hole, Tchaikovsky: why were they all cursed to begin with, again?)


If anything plays off of Swan Lake, the black swan usually shows up as well. Since Odette the Swan Queen and Odile are played by the same dancer, Odile is often dubbed the "black swan."This is a step above being Satan's (!truly monogamous) wife, but nonetheless appealing to goths.


Australia has its own use for the black swan. It features prominently in several Aboriginal legends, including one explaining the red on its beak as a battle wound. In Western Australia, the black swan is on everything - coat of arms, flag, you name it. They use it as a symbol of Australian individuality. Why not? The black swan is, after all, a European bird that proved distinctly and uniquely Australian.

Tomorrow: Ever wonder what Scolipede is based off of? The answer will do more than stun you.