Monday, October 31, 2005

Animal of the Week October 31, 2005 -- Hallowe'en special

Crank up the dry ice, buy some laxative chocolates for the trick-or-treaters, and arm yourself with a tacky plastic skull on a stick, it's Halloween -- and in a rare, themed edition, this week's animal of the week is Desmodus rotundus (common vampire bat) **lightening flashes, torrential rain begins**.

These most ghoulish of all creatures sicken me with their devilry, which I shall herein describe. On dark, still, tropical nights in Central and South America, vampire bats are abroad (as in out and about, not on holiday). Flitting along close to the ground, by use of echolocation and smell the bats locate sleeping farm animals, such as innocent lambs. Once they have selected their hapless victim, they land on the ground and using their unholy heat sensors locate blood vessels close to the skin. Vampire bats then use razor sharp fangs to slash a throbbing vein; chemicals in their saliva anaesthetise the wound and stop the blood from clotting while they gorge themselves.

Having had their fill, with blood-smattered chops and fangs scintillating in the moonlight, the bats return to their roosts where they cower from the just light of dawn. At about the size of a human thumb with a 30 cm wingspan, these evil beasts are the scourge of godly (as in holy not as in Kevin Godley and Lol Creme) pastoralists of Latin America. They live in rank clusters of up to 40 individuals in hollow trees, if a vampire bat is unsuccessful in its attempts to find a blood feast one evening it will rapidly starve to death, fortunately one of its contemptible neighbours will regurgitate some of its sickening supper to sustain the other to the next evening. The altruism* shown by these filthy winged demons of the tropical night is clearly a mockery of all that is good.
Felicitous Samhain!
*Not completely selfless, this is an example of reciprocal altruism: bats that feed another one night can expect to receive the same service should they fail to find food one night, and bats that get fed but never feed, will eventually be ignored by their roostmates.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Animal of the Week October 24, 2005 -- Shhh, daddy's got a headache

The sun seemed reluctant to rise on the cold grey October morning. Peter, feeling the effects of excess in every tissue, sinew, and ventricle of his body, sought the one thing that might help him to regain some sense of wellbeing, a smoked salmon (Salmo salar) bagel. Normally shunning such corporate ventures (preferring to patronise more independent sandwich makers) in his weakened and needy state, Peter turned into the Pret A Manger by The Oxford Arms. At the early hour, many of the shelves were empty, not yet stocked for the day, instead signs in the spaces happily declared that if customers couldn't see what they wanted they could ask the staff at the counter who would be pleased to make a sandwich if the ingredients were available.
"Er, hi", Peter slurred.
"Good morning", responded the girl behind the counter, trying her best to sound happy about being in Pret at 8.30 on a dark Monday morning in October.
"Could you do me a smoked salmon bagel?"
"Sorry, we haven't got any smoked salmon, we haven't had the main delivery yet."

Disappointed, Peter turned around and walked from the shop. Standing on the street a short walk from his office, Peter contemplated going into work to see if the canteen could sort him out, but on previous occasions when he had wanted a smoked salmon bagel, the office canteen had been unable to provide, and he really wanted that bagel, so he decided to see if Boots, Marks and Spencer, B2, Somerfield, the other Pret, or Sainsbury's could provide. Walking from let down to frustration via serious disgruntlement, Peter lurched around the streets of Camden. For twenty minutes or so he sought his sandwich, and for twenty minutes his hunger grew without a glimmer of satisfaction.

Venturing up Parkway in the hope that some unknown cafe would appear before his eyes, Peter was giving up hope, resigning himself to toast and marmite from the Canteen. The miracle Parkway cafe did not materialise, and with slumped shoulders, slumped attitude, and slumped expectations for the day the crestfallen young man turned onto Gloucester Avenue. Six men in burgundy boiler suits and high-visibility tunics were involved in the vital public service of scraping moss from between the paving stones outside Alan Bennett's house; what a waste, Peter thought.

A man with a well-coiffed lion-mane of hair walked a few steps in front down Inverness Street; Peter regarded him jealously as he pondered his own itchy manky scalp sparsely covered in fine hair. Peter's stomach growled. With leaden legs and leaden heart our subject trudged up the steps to his office and entered the realm of his ritual demoralisation, or work, as it was sometimes called.

After dropping off his bag and coat and picking up his mug, Peter headed down to the canteen to get some toast. Opening the door he inspected sandwich shelves, a last ditch display of optimism. Golden brown, oozing cream cheese, divided by a pale pink line of cured fish flesh, packed in plastic, there it was. With mixed feelings of elation, anger, and nausea, Peter allowed himself to be ripped off by the thieving shets at the canteen. Having consumed the bagel, Peter felt sick. It was one of those days.

There are many species of salmon. I am guessing that in the bagel was Atlantic salmon. This assumption is rash.

Back in January (oh my god I have been doing this for nearly a year) I nominated tigers as animal of the week after seeing one kill a crocodile on the tv, I sent a picture of a statue of a generic big cat (probably more lion-like) killing a crocodile. Here, finally, is a website with the video Thank you very much for this Mr Graham-Brown. Although, typically of today, it's not working. Shet!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Animal of the Week October 17, 2005 -- Um Bongo, Um Bongo, They drink it in the Congo

Good day one and all.

This week's animal of the week is the marmoset that works for Libby's, manufacturer of popular 1980s soft drink Um Bongo. Apologies to those of you who are unfamiliar with the classic advert, but the anotated song lyrics below describe how the drink is made.

Way down deep in the middle of the Congo*, a hippo (AOTW: is this a full size hippo [Hippopotamus amphibius] or pygmy [Hexaprotodon liberiensis]? My guess is full sized, pygmy hippos live in west Africa, possibly getting as far east as Nigeria, but not known in the Congo) took an apricot, a guava and a mango. He stuck it with the others, and he danced a dainty tango. The rhino (AOTW: black [Diceros bicornis] or white [Ceratotherium simum]? Two species live in Africa, none are known from the Congo, prefering savanah/scrub habitat, although because over the past million years the forests have receded and expanded it is possible that some have in recent times lived in areas now covered by forest; there is a legend of the elephant killer, Mokele Mbembe, among natives of the Congo, sometimes reported to be a living dinosaur, when some inhabitants were asked to describe Mokele Mbembe by a National Geographic reporter, it was very reminiscent of a Rhino) said, "I know, we'll call it Um Bongo", Um Bongo, Um Bongo, They drink it in the Congo. The python (AOTW: possibly African rock python [Python sebae]) picked the passion fruit, the marmoset (AOTW: What the flip is a marmoset doing in the Congo? Marmosets are new world monkeys native to South and Central America**) the mandarin. The parrot (AOTW: many parrots live in the Congo, Poicephalus spp, for example) painted packets, that the whole caboodle landed in. So when it comes to sun and fun and goodness in the jungle, They all prefer the sunny funny one they call Um Bongo!

*used in a general sense to mean the forested river basin of the Congo river, not specifically Congo or the DRC.

**So, I don't know what type of marmoset it would be, but I'm going with Cebuella pygmaea (pygmy marmoset), because it is so little it could have more easily stowed away on a flight to get to the Congo from Peru. Like other Callitrichids (marmosets and tamarins), pygmy marmosets are polyandrous, living in groups with one breeding female and several males.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Animal of the Week October 10, 2005 -- Crack squirrels of Lambeth

This week's animal of the week is Sciurus carolinensis (eastern gre/ay squirrel). Reports over the weekend suggested that grey squirrels in south London, specifically Brixton, had become addicted to crack cocaine.

The bushy-tailed rodents are apparently digging up stashes that dealers and users have buried in their gardens for safekeeping and wolfing them down. There are tales of crack-addict squirrels in New York and in Washington DC, but it seems that, like the squirrels themselves a couple of hundred years before, the habit has crossed the Atlantic.

I recall a news story from several years ago, in which smoking was banned in some London park, and shortly afterwards squirrels began to attack people, it turned out the squirrels had been chewing on cigarette butts and become addicted to nicotine. So maybe stories of the crack-addict squirrels of SW9 are not so far fetched. I can't imagine the problem escalating beyond the relative safety of the urban environment, it will be difficult for squirrels to avoid their natural predators if they are wearing a hooded top and exaggeratedly dragging a leg as though someone has "popped a cap in their ass".

One squirrel that certainly doesn't have a crack problem -- but has enough to contend with besides -- is Sugarbush, a neocon squirrel.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Animal of the Week October 3, 2005 -- Ants ants everywhere!

Hello Chaps,

Last week's animal of the week, the giant anteater was a voracious devourer of ants and termites, so in the interest of balance and for all lovers of hymenoptera out there, this week's animal of the week is Solenopsis invicta (red imported fire ant). These ants are some of the most widespread invasive alien species -- not from space sillies, but rather appropriately like Sting in New York. Originating in Argentina, these little red and brown ants have hitched with people to many Pacific islands, Australia, India, and North America. Wreaking havoc wherever they go, fire ants trounce native ant species; they prey on hatchling turtles and birds (they can swarm into the chipped egg of a hatching quail and devour the chick before it gets out); they can even kill people should anaphylactic shock result after a sting. Fire ants farm crop pests such as aphids and mealy bugs, they do this because, in return for their protection, the pests secrete honeydew which the ants drink; these alien ants' farms can be very damaging to agriculture. A little etymology for this entomological issue, the word ant is from the old English "emmet" apparently; hymenoptera (the group containing ants, bees, and wasps) are so named for their membrane "hymen" like wings "ptera".

Last week I introduced a poem about an anteater written by Shel Silverstein... I only realised this weekend, while alphabetising my CDs (not really! I was just having a country-music festival in my bedroom), that Silverstein was a prolific folk and country songwriter. Two of his most notable contributions were One's on the Way by Loretta Lynn (see below) and A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash. Props to Shel (25/09/1930–10/05/99).

They say to have her hair done, Liz flies all the way to France
And Jackie's seen in a discotheque doin' a brand new dance
And the White House social season should be glittering and gay
But here in Topeka, the rain is a fallin',
The faucet is a drippin', and the kids are a bawlin'
One of them a toddlin' and one is a crawlin', and one's on the way
I'm glad that Raquel Welch just signed a million dollar pact
And Debbie's out in Vegas workin' up a brand new act
While the TV's showin' Newlyweds, a real fun game to play
But here in Topeka, the screen door's a bangin'
The coffee's boilin' over, and the wash needs a hangin'
One wants a cookie and one wants a changin', and one's on the way
Now what was I doin'? Jimmy get away from there, darn there goes the phone
Hello honey, what's that you say? You're bringin' a few ole buddies home?
You're callin' from a bar? Get away from there!
No not you honey, I was talkin' to the baby, wait a minute honey the door bell
Honey could you stop at the market and... hello, hello, well I'll be
The girls in New York City, they all march for women's lib
And Better Homes and Gardens shows the modern way to live
And the pill may change the world tomorrow, but meanwhile today
Here in Topeka, the flies are a buzzin'
The dog is a barkin' and the floor needs a scrubbin'
One needs a spankin' and one needs a huggin' Lord, one's on the way
Oh gee I hope it ain't twins again