Monday, February 27, 2006

Animal of the Week February 27, 2006 -- Riddle me newts

Riddle me this, riddle me that (answer at the end of the email):
What connects scumbags, bendy buses, and this week's animal of the week Triturus cristatus (great crested newt)?

Great crested newts are the largest amphibian in the UK and can grow up to 17 cm (7 inches) long. Those of you in the UK will be delighted to know that from early March these warty critters will be re-emerging from their hibernation.

There are three newt species found in the UK, although males of all three may have crests, the great crested newt is the greatest. Males develop a wavy crest along the length of their body and tail in time for breeding from March to May; the females, suitably impressed, mate with the crested males and deposit individual eggs on aquatic plants in the breeding ponds (they do not lay clumps of spawn like frogs).
Great crested newts are endangered and touching or capturing them is prohibited and disturbing their habitat is illegal. So, if you are lucky enough to encounter this magnificent beast, look but do not touch. One reader who once built a road was entrusted with securing the future of newts on The Isle of Grain by monitoring the newt fence that stopped great crested newts entering the building site.

The word newt is derived from the middle English "eft", "eft" became "ewt" and "an ewt" became "a newt". The reverse happened to the word "apron", which used to be "napron" but "a napron" (meaning small tablecloth and etymologically related to "napkin") became "an apron".

Newts secrete noxious chemicals to deter predators. In the attached pictures you will note the cold reptillian gaze and slimy countenance.

Answer to the riddle:
Ken Livingstone
London's mayor referred to the staff of the Evening Standard as "scumbags and bigots" in the volley of insults levelled at Oliver Finegold last February which has led to his imminent suspension, mayor Ken introduced bendy buses to the capitol's roads and he breeds newts.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Animal of the Week February 13, 2006 -- Freddy, Julia, and the Manatees

Yeah! Spring break! Me and Julia Stiles and Freddie Prinze Jr are heading off to Florida to drink sugary cocktails and spew on old people. Then we're going to find an ugly girl-boffin, take off her glasses, and cut her hair so that she is suddenly beautiful, and the school jock (Freddie) is going to fall in love with her while Julia is going to wave her hands in the air in her trademark way. Well, that's not going to happen, but if any film producers are reading this, you've got my email. But I am going to Florida, and by this time next week (when because I am on spring break there won't be an AOTW) I hope to have seen this week's animal Trichechus manatus (West Indian manatee).

Manatees are ace -- there are three species, the Amazonian, the West African, and the West Indian. Along with their relatives dugongs, manatees are the only living mammals in the group sirenia, their next closest living relatives are, perhaps rather surprisingly, elephants! West Indian manatees live in marine and fresh water around the Caribbean and gulf of Mexico. Growing upto 4.5 m in length and weighing up to 1500 kg, manatees are impressive animals. Lounging around in shallow waters they graze on water grasses and other plants. Their coarse diet wears their teeth down, and, like elephants, teeth are replaced throughout their life.

Desipte belonging to the order sirenia, a name that suggests some form of tantalising maidenlike appearence, manatees are not generally considered to be the most handsome of animals. However, there is a theory that manatees and dugongs hanging around harbours were the origins of mermaid myths; again like elephants, they suckle their young at teats near their forelimbs rather than on their bellies, so perhaps this human-like trait helped.

I'll be back with you in a couple of weeks, until then, play safe.

Thanks for continued feedback, the innovation of what I like to call paragraphs resulted from the constructive comment of one reader. If you'd like to see any changes let me know.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Animal of the Week Feb 06, 2006 -- Man's best friend

This week's animal of the week is man's best friend Canis familiaris (dog, chien, hund, and so on). Why dogs? I hear you ask. Why dogs and why now? Well, I'll to tell you why. Last night, in conversation with one of my sisters and her fiancé, talk turned to Russia and the story of a boy raised by dogs! Apparently, a four-year-old boy was found in the Russian district of Stavropol running around with feral dogs. I say running around, but according to the report in The Sun, Arthur Zverev crawled on all fours and barked. Dressed in nothing but a sweater, the boy had been living with the band of strays for two years since being abandoned by his alcoholic mother -- according to premiere russian news source, Pravda, these "Mowgli" cases are commonly the children of alcoholic parents. There are stories stretching back into antiquity of children being raised by dogs and wolves (Canis lupus). Romulus (founder of Rome) and Remus (founder of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) were famously suckled by a she wolf and fed by a woodpecker after their uncle ordered them killed by exposure; however, lupa was a Latin term not just for wolf but also for a lady of the night, so there is the theory that they were not raised by wolves at all, but by a lady of ill repute who hung out with woodpeckers. Wolves were likely domesticated by humans about 15 000 years ago, whether there was only one domestication is uncertain, it seems most likely that it happened several times and from distinct populations or subspecies of wolves. The similar structures of wolf and human groups with extended families living with a social hierarchy probably helped smooth the domestication process. Perhaps this story from Russia and other examples of fostering by wolves and dogs is simply an attempt to return the favour. Romulus was obviously very successful, the outlook for other people raised by animals may not be so rosy; for example, a child fostered by the dogs in this week's picture would likely have a whole heap of issues. For information about people raised by animals, monkeys, wolves, sheep, gazelles, even ostriches this site is a must Although it does have the rather doubtful boast "There is a complete list of all the children".