Monday, September 26, 2005

Animal of the Week September 26, 2005 -- An anteater

Hello Ani-pals!
The exact number of insects one swallows in a lifetime is a common matter of debate (sorry vegans). Some, no doubt less than well-informed, web sources put the figure at 14 in your sleep in your lifetime, others reckon on that figure being about ten a year; this doesn't factor in the number of small flies one always seemed to be choking on when learning to ride a bike or taking part in sports days as a child. Whatever the case, it's probably fewer than the number swallowed by this week's Animal -- Myrmecophaga tridactyla (giant anteater) -- which can swallow up to 30 000 insects in a day! With hooters the envy of supermodels the world over, anteaters have a range of other talents, not least the ability to flick their tongues in and out of their mouths around 150 times a minute -- although should that fact give anyone ideas, you should be aware that the 61 cm long muscle is covered in little spines. Longer-term recipients of AOTW will recall this supposed battle between a hybrid cat and a giant anteater (; although the provenance of this is, IMHO, doubtful, pumas and jaguars tackle anteaters with caution for fear of their mighty claws. Able swimmers and climbers, giant anteaters have few natural enemies, but they do frequently fall victim to collisions with cars. So next time you're on a road trip through the pampas, drive safely gringo. As you know, I like all the animals, but I do find these chaps particularly handsome. The hunagrian for anteater is hangyász; egyptian hieroglyphics here:

Here is a poem about anteaters written by someone called Shel Silverstein:

"A genuine anteater,"

The pet man told me dad.

Turned out, it was an aunt eater,

And now my uncle's mad!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Animal of the Week September 19, 2005

Ah-ha me hearties.
OK, that's as far as I go with Talk Like a Pirate day. I can't believe that people humour such ridiculous frivolity... here's Animal of the Week. This week's animal of the week is the Ara tricolor (Cuban macaw)—or should I say was, because like a few other AOTWs before (Haast's eagle, Gigantopithecus, Megalodon, Homo floresiensis off the top of my head), this multicoloured parrot is an ex-species. Last recorded in 1874, Cuban parrots were, I like to think, one species adopted by pirates (there's no evidence that pirates kept parrots but they very likely did trade them when returning to Europe so may well have kept them as pets themselves). The golden age of piracy was between the 1670s and 1730s when presumably these birds were still relatively—to extinct—common, as were a few other of the seven macaw species, the five of eight parakeet species, and the three of twelve parrot species of the Caribbean that are now extinct. So who knows what species were favoured by Blackbeard, Emanuel Wynne, Jack Rackham, et al; but maybe Cap'n Flint should be imagined as one of these. Cuban macaws were much smaller than the large Amazonian Red and Green or Blue and Gold macaws used in parrot displays at zoos today; unfortunately, their ability to ride penny farthings along tightropes is not documented.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Animal of the Week September 12, 2005 -- Fetch me a wedge of lemon

Manic Monday!
The grolsch-swilling UK liberals among the readers of AOTW (surely that's everyone) will have been wowed by a picture in the Guardian's Weekend magazine. The picture was of a large, hideous, wobbly-looking pink creature with massive bulbous eyes, handily placed next to a Declan Donelly for perspective (boom boom). No really, in the feature on a new book, Extreme Nature by Mark Carwardine, about interesting animals (where do these ideas come from?!) there was a picture (attached) of a colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). Over the weekend I was asked on several occasions whether this was real. My initial reaction sparked by it's bright pink colour, it's huge huge eyes, and the rigid nature of it's body was: Jesus no! But then, I began to doubt my conviction (has anyone done a study on the effects of cheap-vodka hangovers on gullibility thresholds? I think there may be something in that). The remarkable nature of this picture has encouraged me to feature colossal squids as animals of the week. The largest of these monstrous molluscs found so far was nearly 18 m long (attached), although people speculate they may grow up to 40 m long -- of course a lot of that length is tentacle, but when the tentacles are covered in suckers and hooks, yes hooks, that doesn't really make one feel any more confident about dancing a tango with one. Sperm whales, big fans of calamari, like to eat these squid, but injuries found on the skins of the whales suggest they don't have it all their own way; there is even a report of a sperm whale being drowned by one. The squids are featured in the book because they have the largest eye of any known animal, which is about 30 cm in diameter (the size of a volleyball, apparently). Anyway, the creature pictured in the Weekend was a fake, out of the water colossal squids do not have enough support to appear so fabulous (think about the squid you see at a fishmongers -- if you weren't doing so already), but the animal is real; can you spot the real picture?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Animal of the Week September 05, 2005 -- one be deadly they both are armless

Apologies one and all, a press day and wave of sickness prevented yesterday's regular service. But you know I'll deliver in the end, like a genial local milkman with a crate full of bunnies. Although, if I put bunnies in my crates with this animal of the week, they'd likely be a bit upset. This week's animal is actually two species (a first for AOTW) Micrurus fulvius and Lampropeltis triangulum (eastern coral snake and scarlet king snake, respectively), but I can't discuss one without the other, and sending a picture of only one would be like having a poster of just Sonny Bono (please don't scrutinise that simile, it doesn't work). Coral snakes are poisonous, really quite so, and their bite can be fatal to humans let alone smaller predators that might like to eat a snake (for example, a fox). King snakes are not poisonous, but because they look like coral snakes, predators (for example, a fox) avoid them in preference for less threatening species (for example, bunnies). If only foxes could speak or at least write, they'd be able to remember the simple rhyme "Red on yellow, kill a fellow, red on black won't hurt Jack" (see the red bands abut the yellow stripes on the coral snake but touch the black on king snake) and merrily they would dine on king snakes. This form of mimicry is called Batesian mimicry after someone whose surname was Bates, possibly Cathy and/or Simon (another example of Batesian mimicry). Interestingly, coral snakes sometimes eat king snakes. Anyway, that's me nearly done for another week, but before I go, does anyone know what WC Fields is on about?
"I always keep a supply of stimulant handy in case I see a snake, which I also keep handy."W. C. Fields