Monday, November 20, 2006

Animal of the Week November 20, 2006 -- Don't step on my blue suede flippers

Hello Ani-freaks

Sometimes, I'd just like to leave you with a picture. And ideally this would be one of those weeks. But then regular readers know that I don't know when to leave well-enough alone.

This week's animal is Eudyptula minor (fairy penguin, little penguin, little blue penguin, or Kororā). The smallest species of penguin is a resident of New Zealand and southern Australia. Rescued fairy penguins in the Antarctic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand, have been spending too much time hanging out on the shingle flexing their wings, rather than swimming in their pool. Their idle posing has led to calluses on their feet, and these natty little daps have been developed along with a regimen of saltwater footbaths to cure their foot injuries in preparation for their return to the wild.

Unendangered, widespread, and a popular tourist attraction, the fairy penguin is one of the luckier animals featured in animal of the week. However, one threat to the fairy penguin is that of rebranding. In April this year, staff at Sea World, Queensland, Australia, were planning to rename fairy penguins as they felt the name might offend gay men... or fairies as they are clearly more popularly known.

Anyway, wouldn't bother this one, look how chuffed it is with its new shoes. Definitely a female.

Cheers all,

Monday, November 13, 2006

Animal of the Week November 13, 2006 -- The witchetty grub eats the witchetty shrub

Take the phone off the hook, put down your copy of War and Peace, cancel all appointments you may have for the next few weeks. For, thank the lord, I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here is back! Sorry non-UKers, you won’t be able to watch this marvel of televisual entertainment in which ten of our top media figures battle with the elements and the insects with the aim of being crowned king or queen of the jungle. If they succeed they will join such cultural behemoths as Kerry Katona and Joe Pasquale (do you know how hard I find it not to use Pesci instead of Pasquale – now that would be worth watching) on the fast train to Iceland! If they fail, well, it’s a short trip back to obscurity (unfortunately they do come back).

No doubt, at some point over the next few weeks, a squealing nobody will bravely chow down on one of this week’s animals in a bushtuckertrial. For this week’s animal is Xyleutes leucomochla, (cossid moth, witchetty grub). These native Australian delicacies are actually the larvae of any one of several beetle or moth species, but most commonly they’re cossid moth larvae.

Witchetty grubs rather poetically feed on the roots of witchetty shrubs. They grow fat on the sap, storing up energy for a fleeting life as an adult. The moths are the size of sparrows, and the grubs may be 7 cm long and as fat as your finger (if you’ve got fat fingers like me).

Eaten raw they provide tasty snacks with leathery skin, sweet flesh, and a liquid centre (like liqueur chocolates in a sausage skin). If you prefer, you can, in true Australian style, throw them on the barbie—after such treatment they will taste like chicken (of course – what doesn’t?) or prawns with peanut butter. To people survivining in the outback, these larvae can be a lifeline, for TV producers, they're another titilating, humiliating stunt!

So who will end up eating the witchetty grubs? Will it be 1980s newsreader Jan Leaming, Tony Blair’s sister in law Lauren Booth, ex-Joseph Jason Donovan, ex-Footballer’s wife Phina Oruche, or ex-Mr Minelli and current Mr Potato Head David Guest? You’ll just have to watch to find out.

At least we know it won’t be flamboyant designer, Scott Henshall (no me neither), who has said that he will not eat any creepy crawlies; so no doubt the producers will be feeding him the testicles this time – which was probably, after having seen a snippet of him on the show, his thinking all along.

Oh, and this week's picture, there is a witchetty grub in his hand, and well, it's only a matter of time before one of them is on IACGMOOH, right?

I thank you,

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Animal of the Week November 6, 2006 -- Roll up, roll up, see the freakshow dolphin

In honour of the forefinned and hindfinned, four-finned specimen caught off the coast of Japan this week, animal of the week is somewhat predictably Tursiops truncatus (bottlenose dolphin).

Bottlenoses are some of the largest dolphins and have a worldwide distribution in tropical and temperate waters. They are the typical dolphinarium dolphin, splashing spectators and firing their keepers out of the water for our entertainment in many a water park. But, as you may well have seen for yourself, they generally have only the paired pectoral fins and a dorsal fin.

So, why the bejesus does this Japanese one have four paired fins? Is it part of this highly intelligent species' plan for world domination? Will they be freeing up their forelimbs for the use of weapons of the modern age such as guns, knitting needles, or paparazzo cameras? Can we expect to see a beaky crusader creeping up the street with its sights on our pints any time soon?

Unlikely.* Fortunately for the future of the human race, this aberration is probably caused by the accidental switching on of an ancient gene that did once lead to the development of hind limbs. Believe it or not, dolphins, whales, and porpoises belong to the same group of animals as cows, giraffes, and camels -- the artiodactyls or even-toed ungulates. The closest living relatives of whales and dolphins are hippos; and rather surprisingly, cows, sheep, deer, and giraffes are more closely related to whales and hippos than they are to camels. Some innovative hippo-ish creature took the extra four-legged steps into the ocean about 50 million years ago. The whales and dolphins never looked back, becoming supreme marine mammals and streamlining by losing their hind limbs.

Atavistic features, such as this dolphin's hindfins, are not common, but nor are they unheard of: dolphins and whales with pelvic fins have been found before; and Alexander the Great's horse, Bucephalus, was said to have had additional toes with hooves resembling those of the ancestral horse merychippus. Do human's show atavistic traits, I hear you ask? Well, anyone unfortunate enough to have seen my back in my recent and advancing years will have witnessed, firsthand, evidence of our furry origins.

I thank you,

Peter Hayward
Head Keeper
Animal of the Week

*Just in case any of you sly bastards are reading this, you can keep your fins off my beer, alright.