Monday, June 27, 2005

Animal of the Week June 27, 2005 -- In memory of Richard Whitely

Dear All, this week's animal has nine letters in its name, a top score of 18 points in Countdown, or a possible conundrum: bring unto; on but ring; rung on bit; bout n ring; etc. Richard Whiteley, the host of popular tea time quiz Countdown for 23 years who died yesterday, would have, I hope, liked this animal.

Door opens on darkened indoor animal enclosure. The exibit is empty but for a keeper in a uniform sat in a chair eating a cheese sandwich.
Child: Peeeee-eugh, mum it smells
Mum: It does rather, doesn't it? What is it?
C: (pointing) Oh, look mum, up there, at the top of the tree, a bear
M: Oh yes, a small, shaggy, grey bear
Keeper: Actually, it's Arctictis binturong (binturong). Also called a bearcat
C: Oh, mum, it's a cat, not a bear
K: It's a civet, not a bear or a cat
C: But you said it was a bear cat, and a sausage dog is a dog and a fish eagle is an eagle, and a wood worm is a worm...
K: Beetle larva
C: What?
K: (agitated, the keeper might have had this conversation before) Wood worms aren't worms, and binturongs aren't cats, or bears. They are civets, small to medium sized carnivores. Binturongs are large civets that live in south east Asia. They are predominantly arboreal and they have prehensile tails. Like other civets, they have a powerful scent. Musk civets are exploited for perfume.
M: But who would want to smell like a mouldy dishcloth?
K: (almost snapping) That's musk civets, not binturongs. People don't exploit binturongs.
M: I can smell why. Come on, lets get out of here.
The mother and child leave, stepping outside to where the Oryxes are paddocked. As the door closes the keeper hears:
C: What a stinky cat, mum. Oh look, a pony with horns.
They keeper sighs and rubs his temple. THE END

Monday, June 13, 2005

Animal of the Week June 13, 2005 -- Dreamtime fish

Hallo Freund der Tiere,

This week's Animal of the Week is Lates calcarifer (barramundi, Asian sea bass). Two fish are called barramundi; to avoid confusion, the other (Cromileptes altivelis) has been rebranded as the barramundi cod by the Fish Names Committee (I kid you not, it's a big thing in Australia). Dreamtime is the period in Australian myth when the world and the creatures on it were formed, and the barramundi features prominently among the legends about this period. Barramundi is an Australian name meaning "river fish with large scales". One story has it that the Giant Dreaming Barramundi Fish, in escaping the hunter Nagongbid, created the East Alligator River (you will, like me, be perplexed as to why there is an "Alligator River" in a country famed for its crocodiles and distinct lack of alligators). In another story, two young lovers called Yungi and Meyalk run away from the tribe so that they can be together as Meyalk is promised to an older man who she doesn't love. This disobedience is an offence punishable by death. Pursued by their tribesmen, the pair escaped into the sea where they transformed into barramundi; the spines on barramundis' backs were created from the spears thrown at Yungi and Meyalk. Barramundi are popular food fish and are farmed across southeast Asia and Australia; earlier this year the Australian Fish Names Committee launched a campaign to ban other nations from using the name barramundi, claiming people were cashing in on an Australian image of the Bush Tucker Man—an image more Paul Hogan than Nagongbid.

After 6 months of weekly updates the animals and I are puffed, so over the next few weeks we're all going to take a couple of breaks. Service will be fortnightly for the next 4 weeks. I apologise for the temporarily misleading nature of the name. Next week, as there will be no animal, you might like to choose your favourite from the past and revisit it.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Animal of the Week June 06, 2005 -- Oi va voi, what's this?

Hello Chums,

This week's animal of the week is Deinacrida heteracantha (giant weta, wetapunga, Little Barrier Isalnd weta, demon grasshopper). Our recipient in the land of the long white cloud will likely be more than familiar with wetas by now, but others among you (those who never watched Shortland Street) may not be. Weta's are ancient flightless crickets, although widespread in the southern hemisphere they have reached astounding diversity and size on New Zealand. Until the maoris delivered the polynesian rat a thousand or so years ago and Europeans took ferrets to the islands a couple of hundred years ago, wetas filled the ecological niches filled by small mammals. Giant wetas, known to Maoris as "god of small ugly things", are the heaviest insects in all the world. The heaviest recorded weighed 71 g, not huge granted, but still, three times the size of a house mouse. Despite their less than cuddly appearence, weta's are quite docile, this is what comes from evolving where your most feared predator is a kiwi. In hit ninetess soap opera, Shortland Street, plucky female nurse Carmen was afraid of wetas, with hilarious consequences.

I give you the following song: a man named Johnny eats things that bite him. He also eats a weta which does not, according to the available history, appear to have bitten Johnny. This seems unfair to the weta. I believe it should be sung to the tune of Alouetta

[Chorus]Ate a wetaJohnny ate a weta, Ate a weta Johnny ate one too!
Johnny ate a katipo, 'cos it bit him on the toe. Katipo, on the toe, and then a weta . . . . Chorus.
Johnny ate a Buller eel, cos it bit him on the heel. Buller eel, on the heel Katipo, on the toe and then a weta . . . . Chorus.
Johnny ate a bumble bee, cos it bit him on the knee. ETC Johnny ate a big sandfly, cos it bit him on the thigh.
Johnny ate a possum, cos it bit him on the bottom. Johnny ate a mountain goat, cos it bit him on the throat. Johnny ate a wild deer, cos it bit him on the ear.