Monday, March 27, 2006

Animal of the Week March 27, 2006 -- Margays

Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls

This week's animal of the week is Leopardus wiedii (margay, tree ocelot). Early last week, Todd Dalton of Peckham (or Camberwell if you are professional lay-about Guardian columnist Zoe Williams—who is his neighbour and obviously doesn't want to be accused of living in Peckham) in south London was told by Southwark council that he could not house two clouded leopards, two fossas, and two margays in his garden. Now, clouded leopards, you can probably have a guess at (they're beautifully marked, medium sized cats about the size of a small labrador), fossas we visited briefly in AOTW 12/12/05 on the new small carnivore found in Borneo. But margays, what the devil are they?

Like the leopards but not like the fossas, they are cats, small Central and South American felines about the same size as domestic moggies. According to one website, their marbled colouration and large eyes make them, in the opinion of many cat fanciers, the prettiest of all the cats. Certainly these two chaps in the picture are rather endearing. Margays are the only cats to have ankle joints that can rotate through 180 degrees enabling them to climb down trees headfirst like squirrels!

Now, not only have the two margays, two fossas, and two leopards been saved from the ignominy of an SE15 (or SE5, like it matters! [north-London has changed me]) postcode, but given that Todd Dalton seems to be the same man who runs Edible ( the company that sells cobra sausages, civet-poo coffee (I kid thee not), and crocodile curry, perhaps they have been saved from a fate more spicy than death?!

The two margays in this week's picture:
Laurence: I like that Zoe Williams, she doesn’t live in Peckham, and we certainly wouldn't live in Peckham!
Jonty: No way will we live in Peckham, let's get one of those penthouses in the new development in Vauxhall.
Laurence: Ooh, Vauxhall, fabulous! And Zoe, Let's all meet up for eggs Florentine in Funky Munky just as soon as we've got a new pad.(For the former and current residents of Camberwell and Peckham, Brixton and Chiswick, and everyone who ever drowned)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Animal of the Week March 20, 2006 -- Caned oats

Hello Ani-freaks!

If you've been in the Northern Territory of Australia over the past week you may have found yourself instructed to take up a stout stick and whack this week's animal Bufo marinus (cane toad). These toads are rapidly spreading across Australia to the detriment of much of the continent's wildlife, and state sponsored efforts to raise awareness of the problem culminated in "Not in my backyard day" on March 14, for which residents were encouraged to report sightings of these amphibians. The Federal MP Dave "Practical" Tollner suggested that residents should hit any cane toads they found with "golf clubs, cricket bats, you know, lumps of wood", Australians interviewed seemed keen on this idea. The RSPCA on the other hand recommended the toads should be killed by covering them in haemorrhoid cream (induces a coma apparently) and putting them in the freezer—yeah right, because the concerned citizens really want freezers filled with anusol covered toads!

101 cane toads were introduced to Queensland in 1935 as a biological control of a beetle pest of sugarcane plantations. However, the toads quickly realised that Australia was full of more appealing foods than beetles and they set off, spreading throughout Queensland, Northern Territory, and New South Wales. They are now nearing the outskirts of Darwin and of Sydney. A recent study showed that the toads that had travelled furthest from the 1935 site of introduction had the longest legs. The researchers proposed that this was a sign of evolution in action (a long legged form colonising new lands and a short legged stay at home form), French gourmands proposed a picnic.

Voracious in their feeding habits, cane toads not only pose a threat to the animals small enough for them to eat, sometimes exceeding 2 kg in weight they make an appealing snack for monitor lizards, snakes, and dingoes, but the toxin they secrete through their skin and from two large glands on their shoulders can kill most predators, including crocodiles.

Cane toad males have inactive ovaries, if their testes are injured the ovaries come into action and they become female; moreover, the males can be used as a pregnancy test kit, if you inject them with the urine of a pregnant woman they will produce sperm in their own urine.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Animal of the Week March 13, 2006 -- Hairy lobster

Many thanks to everyone who responded to my appeal last week to find out what I had done the previous weekend, I managed to cobble together an erratic journey across London of complicated loops and impossible arcs. When described on a map of this fair city, my drunken ramblings presciently formed a rudimentary sketch of this week's animal, the blind and furry Kiwa hirsuta (hairy lobster [not official]).

As I was looking up this week's animal of the week, I saw the headline "The hairy lobster furmidor" and I thought to myself, that must be The Sun, and lo it was—you may well beat up your husband Rebekah, but, Ms Wade, you and your staff know how to pun. Yes, this week's animal is one of the most bizarre discoveries; not only is Kiwa hirsuta a new species, but it is so distinct from other known crustaceans that a new family within the group has been created for it.

Discovered 1500 kilometres or so south of Easter island, hanging around a hydrothermal vent at 2300 metres below sea level, Kiwa hirsuita is named after the Polynesian god of shellfish—now that's my kind of religion. (I have been trying to find out what the goddess of shellfish did in Polynesian mythology, but the internet is rather taciturn on the matter, if any of you know more I would love to find out.) Scientists remain unsure what the furry cuffs are for, perhaps they are sensory organs to make up for the lack of sight, maybe they help the animal move about. The clusters of setae are riddled with bacteria that may help to detoxify the poisons gushing from the hydrothermal vents or that may even provide food; although, the creature was observed scrapping with crabs for a piece of shrimp, which suggests a rather more refined diet than bacteria, maybe they are where these lobsters keeps the wasabi.

New species are discovered quite frequently (at least four reported in AOTW so far), but a new family, that's something special. I'm sure you all remember the mnemonic King Philip Can Only Find Green Socks, used to help school children remember the major divisions of the Linnaean classification of living organisms (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species), but to get a better idea of what the discovery of a new family means, it's like knowing that horses exist and then discovering rhinoceroses! In the words of Frank Black: That's educational.

While I don't report all new species, I couldn't resist this one simply because I find the phrase "hairy lobster" so funny, it sounds dirty and is almost as good as "Mums' night off bucket" from the new KFC add... someone surely is having a laugh.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Animal of the Week March 06, 2006 -- Bedbug Mountain

First off, an appeal:
Lost: Weekend March 3-5 ALSO Dignity

We are looking for information to help locate these items, or at least make reparations for any damages caused in the course of their being lost. The man in the hat and glasses would like to apologise for any emotional hurt, physical injuries, or consternation he may have caused this weekend. Really, he is very very sorry but can't remember what for. We would appreciate your help in uncovering the (we suspect) painful and embarrassing truth. If you had contact with or saw this man over the weekend, please email information, claims for damages, or abuse to

And the Addermy award (tm) doesn't go to:

Bedbug Mountain -- "I wish I knew how to quilt you" -- Rated R

Terence and Willis, two male Xylocaris maculipennis (bed bugs) find themselves isolated in the bedding of a two young stockherders tending a flock of sheep in early sixties Wyoming. Throughout the course of the summer, starved of the company of female X maculipennis, the insects begin find themselves looking for other diversions. Several species of bedbug use a sperm plug to prevent other males mating with a female after they have; to bypass the plug, this species has developed a needle like member with which to inject their genetic contribution directly into the female's ovaries.

As the tension increases and the flock of sheep diminished, Terence has an idea, creeping up on Willis he uses his syringe-like appendage to inject sperm directly into Willis. Afterwards, he insists "I aint no queer". The summer comes to an end and the two young insects return to their former lives. Eventually, Willis settles down with a female bedbug in a 16 tog duvet in Texas, but he is never quite able to forget that summer on the high midwest pastures and his friend Terence, not least, because the children he fathers all bear a striking resemblance to his former companion, for yes, he has been passing on Terence's sperm all that time.

It really does happen.

Coming soon to a picture house near you:

The career of a country legend in the making is cut short when his offer to exercise one of Tippi Hedren's pets backfires in "Walk the Lion"

The tale of a American wild dog and author researching novel In Cold Blood, the motion picture triumph "Coyote"

The entomologists among you will note that the picture is not of X maculopennis, I couldn't find a picture of this species, instead this picture relates to the appeal at the top of this message. And responds to another reader's suggestion.