Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sneezing Monkey et al

Sneezing Monkey
Rhinopithecus strykeri

Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist responsible for the modern system of naming and classifying plants and animals, is often called the Father of Taxonomy. In his lifetime, Linnaeus, who would be 315 years old, named some 10,000 organisms. Modern scientists believe a good estimate of the number of living species on the planet to 12 million--give or take. We have identified about 2 million, and discover only about 18,000 new species every year. At that rate is will take another 500 years to find them all.   

One of this year's discoveries was the Sneezing Monkey in northeast Myanmar . . "(It) has a nose so upturned that the animals sneeze audibly when it rains. To avoid inhaling water, the monkeys supposedly sit with their heads tucked between their knees on drizzly days."

Another of this year's discoveries was a fungus that looks like a sponge. You can't say scientists don't have a sense of humor. They named it Spongbob Square Pants Fungus.  "It belongs to the family of Boli fungi that have pores instead of gills under the caps of the mushrooms. But this one looks very much like a sponge, both macroscopically and microscopically." (From an interview with Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist at Arizona State University and directs the Species Exploration Institute.)

Spongebob Squarepants Fungus
Spongiforma squarepantsii
(Photo: Thomas Bruns)

 The Bonaire Banded Box Jelly
Tamoya ohboya.
(Photo: Ned Deloach)

Then there is this gorgeous box jelly which is unfortunately as toxic and venomous as it is beautiful. Apparently they found out the hard way and gave it the name Tamoya ohboya. O Boy Ya!

Thursday, May 24, 2012


 A friend sent this to me, and since I've been out of town for the last few days and have over 130 e-mails to deal with, I'm stealing the story.

Sergei Bobkov, 53, has patented a unique technique for creating sculptures out of Siberian cedar wood chips.    
“It’s not very interesting to do what others can. To create something out of nothing in a completely new way is far more inspiring.” This is how Sergei Bobkov explains the unique form of art that he created. He says many people compare his artworks to taxidermy, because they both look so much like the animals they replicate, but Sergei believes they are as different as light and darkness. Whereas taxidermy is all about death, his wood-chip art symbolizes life.

     This resident of Kozhany , Russia , has developed his very own technique that prevents wood-chips from falling apart in time. After creating about 100-150 chips, from 2-3 inch long cedar stick, he puts them in water for several days. Then, making use of his surgical precision, he carves the chips into any shape he needs.

     Sergey has been doing this for some time now, but he has only created 11 wood-chip sculptures. That’s because just one of these incredible artworks takes around six months to complete, at a work rate of 10 to 12 hours a day, with no days off.  Sergei Bobkov focuses on wildlife creatures, and he studies their anatomy for months before starting work on a sculpture.

     Even though he was offered $17,000 for his wood-chip eagle, Sergei’s Bobkov declined, saying his art is not for sale.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Guest Blogger: Nona Smith


Point, Counterpoint

Karma, kismet, destiny, they say there’s no escaping it. I believe that’s true. My name is Missy Cat and here is my story.
 My brother and I were born in a shelter in Ft. Bragg, California.  Our mother, the slut, abandoned us at a tender age to start a new life of her own, leaving us to fend for ourselves.  Some experts believe that birth order is everything, and I’m the older sister. Which turned out to be a good thing for my brother because I’m the responsible, affectionate and patient one. And lord knows, he required patience.
But I was also a kitten in my own right, all girly- girl feminine with long fur, pale blue eyes, and the loudest purr you’d ever want to hear. And smart.  I’m very smart. Always have been. Especially in comparison to (nod of the head) you-know-who.  


I guess she’s talking about me. My name is Buster (middle name The) Cat. It wasn’t always so.  I started life as Oscar. That’s what they named me at the shelter where I was born.  They don’t often name kittens there, but I was special.  I was the runt of the litter. My Elizabeth-Taylor-blue eyes were crusted with muck, my sinuses filled with snot when I was born.  I was a mess.  But I was also really cute. I had latte-colored fur and chocolate brown ears and muzzle.  The staff made a Big Deal over me, even took turns taking me home so they could medicate me during the night and keep an eye on me when the shelter was closed.
He’s a Big Deal, all right.  Full of himself.  Entitled. Not overly bright.  He thinks he can get by on looks alone. I, on the other hand, figure stuff out. I know just where to patiently wait to catch the mice that come into my garage. I’ve trained my people to give me treats when they want me to come inside. But, wait! I’m getting ahead of my story. Let’s just say, I wanted to be more than a big sister.  I wanted a home of my own, far away from Oscar.
(Lick, lick, groom, groom, snuffle, snort.)  Whatever.
One day, the shelter was abuzz with talk of a “mobile adoption,” the staff all excited about finding some of us homes. My ears, always finely tuned, pricked up. This was my chance! When they loaded the van, along with some others of my species and a few noisy dogs, I was on it.  Oscar was not.  He was deemed too small and sickly to be ready for adoption.  Much to my delight, he was left behind.
They took us on a car-sickening ride to an empty lot in Mendocino where they unloaded us and stacked our cages three high. Tiny me, only eight weeks old, was on the top tier. It was a cold, windy day so I huddled in the blanket at the back of my cage, shivering.  People came by and poked their faces in at me. This was a new experience, and I was alarmed by it. One couple asked if they could hold me, so I was taken out of my cage and put into the woman’s arms.  She was nice enough, gentle, and she held me securely, but I trembled.  Perhaps I didn’t make the best first impression.
“She’s a cutie, but she’s too timid,” I heard the woman say. They put me back in the cage and walked away.
 Back at the shelter, (snort, sneeze) things were quiet.  Most of the staff went to that mobile adoption thingy, leaving me behind.  I was considered too sick to go along. Perhaps I’d overdone the sneezing, snorting bit. But, I was sure my sister would come back and tell me all about it.
Actually, that wasn’t my plan at all.  My plan was to never go back to that shelter.  Oscar and his sick kitten act were beginning to get on my last nerve. My idea involved getting myself adopted that day. So when oh boy! the couple that held me earlier came back for a second look, I knew what I had to do: I had to channel Oscar.  Be out there.  Demand attention.
 I gathered my courage together, loped to the front of my cage and, stuck my dainty paw through the metal bars, snagging the woman’s sweater. Maybe not the best execution of the plan, but I needed to get her attention.  I wanted to prove I was more than her first impression of me.
“Awww,” she cooed.  I made loud, purry-chirpy sounds. “She seems to have gotten used to being here.  She’s not as timid as she was earlier. Can I hold her again? “  My plan was working.
It was okay that I didn’t go to the mobile adoption that day. My staff at the shelter had little else to do so they played with me. Of course I had to sneeze a time or two to get their attention. They picked me up and cuddled me.  And I so deserved to be cuddled. I was adorable.  You can still see that, can’t you? Look at these blue eyes.  Look at my handsome nose. (Sneeze.)
I got adopted! I rode home (such a nice word) snuggled deeply into the woman’s arms, my purring motor going full throttle.  But once we arrived there, I got scared again.  I’d never been in so much space.  No cages to confine me, just freedom.  Whoa.  I decided the safest place was under some poofy cushions piled high in a window seat where I could look out but still feel hidden and secure.  I stayed there until I heard the pinging of something familiar: crunchy food nuggets hitting the bottom of a dish.  That was worth coming out to investigate
At the end of the day, when the van came back, the yappy dogs were put into their cages and the disinterested-acting older cats were put into theirs.  I waited for my sis, the know-it-all, sure she would tell me what I’d missed. But she didn’t return.  Wow. (Sneeze. Snort.)
“Poor Oscar,” said a staff person. “You’re going to be lonely now,” But she took me home with her and I wasn’t.
One dish of food led to another and not one of them had Oscar’s snot in it.  I had my own litter box, my own toys, my own people and my own name. They called me Missy, a name befitting the dainty thing I was. This was the home I’d dreamed about. I was petted, fed and played with during the day.  At night, the three of us sat companionably on the couch and watched TV.  When we went to bed, I slept in the middle.
My sister didn’t come back all night. Or the next. Or the one after that. It looked like she was gone for good and I was gonna be on my own from now on.
That was cool.  I could handle it. (Groom, groom. Sneeze, snort.)  Oh look!  My staff is coming to see what I need.  Maybe a little salve in my eyes, a little fresh food to keep my strength up.
My people were so proud of me they invited their friends over to meet me.  I was beginning to understand Oscar’s addiction to attention.
One day, they invited a neighbor over, Ronda. Ronda was known to be an animal collector.  She shared her house with five cats, three dogs---one with a severe over-bite—ten chickens, a mean rooster and a beta fish.  I was glad not to be living at Ronda’s house.
Holding me in the crook of her arm, she gushed, “Isn’t she adorable? I wish she had a twin.”
“Actually,” my people told her, “she has a brother.”
I had a bad feeling about this conversation.
Two weeks after my sister left, a lady showed up at the shelter asking for me. I had no idea my reputation had spread throughout the community. But there she was. She held me and petted me and made a big fuss over me. Frankly, everyone does. (Sneeze.) And then she asked to adopt me!
“He needs to finish this course of antibiotics and put on a few more ounces before he can be adopted,” my staff person told the woman. “But you can come back for him next week, Ronda.”
Whopee!  I was gonna have a permanent home. No more sleeping around night after night. I’d have one person looking after just me!
Pleasant days passed into pleasant nights.  I was living the dream I’d imagined when I was back in the cage with Oscar. I strolled from lap to lap, collecting caresses, purring, and feeling very fortunate in my new home.
It was sad to leave my staff at the shelter. They’d taken good care of me all my life. But…it was time for me to move on.  After a while, they’d miss me less.
Ronda came to pick me up in a car smelling of…something I couldn’t exactly place. But then, with my sinus issues, I still don’t pick up scents very well. She cuddled and cooed at me just like she’d done before, and I was thrilled to be going to a home of my own.  Or so I thought it would be.
When we arrived at her house, she scooped me up and carried me to the front door, bypassing three dogs (one with a severe over-bite,) ten scratching chickens, and a mean-looking rooster who chased us briefly.  Inside, there was the all-too-familiar scent of cat pee.  This was not what I’d expected.  And it got worse.
Life was good for me, what can I say?
Three days and two nights passed, nights during which I had to share the bed and Ronda’s attention with six or seven other creatures.  (Snort.  Sniffle. Sneeze.) On the third morning, Ronda didn’t get out of bed.  She didn’t feed me…or any of us…and had forgotten to give me my medication. (Sneeze, sneeze.)  I was worried. 
My family and I spent another agreeable day and now we were cuddled together on the couch watching Masterpiece Theater. Outside the night grew dark and the wind whistled. But inside we were warm and cozy. I was lap napping when a shadow passed the windows and the light from the motion detector flashed.  I woke to a tapping at our front door. One of my people rose to answer it. 
“I’m so sorry to bother you at this late hour,” said our neighbor, Eleanor. She carried a squirming, dirty towel in her arms.  “Ronda’s been taken to the hospital by ambulance.  I went over to make sure her house was locked up, and I found this, shivering in her backyard.” 
She pulled back the towel to reveal a pair of Elizabeth-Taylor-blue eyes and the chocolate-colored muzzle and ears of a kitten.  “I heard you have his sister.”
And so it was.  It’s true what they say: you can never escape your destiny.  Once again, I’m the big sister.
Snort. Sneeze. Groom, groom. 
Missy (left) Buster (right)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Al B. Tross

Laysan albatross
by Ron LeValley 

I've lived here for 20 years, and for as long as I can remember, starting in mid-November, we on the Mendocino coast of California wait for news of Al B. Tross' return to Point Arena. 

"Al B. Tross is a different sort of critter," said David Jensen, President of the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society. "He's unique among vagrants. To the best of my knowledge, he's the only Laysan Albatross anyone can see while still standing on the shore of this continent.

To read more, here is the Paul McHugh story about Al B. Tross

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In the early 1980s, I did an Earthwatch project on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The project used albatross decoys in an attempt to encourage the Laysan albatross to establish a breeding colony at the Kilauea Light Station. I see on Wikipedia that the project was a success, and it is now the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. 

The Laysan Albatross is best known for its gliding flight, awkward landings, and elaborate courtship rituals. These birds spend nearly half the year at sea, not touching land until breeding season. Though large for a seabird, the Laysan is small for an albatross. They may live more than 40 years. These birds are named for Laysan, one of their Hawaiian island breeding colonies.

Japanese feather hunters decimated many Laysan colonies at the turn of the century. Colonies at Volcano, Wake, and Marcus Islands have never recovered. Between 1958 and 1964, thousands of albatross were killed by collisions with antenna towers and aircraft strikes during landings and take-offs at Midway. Tens of thousands of albatross were intentionally killed in order to reduce such collisions. Today, eggs and birds continue to be removed at Hawaiian island airfields, in order to discourage nesting and ensure aircraft safety. On land, introduced predators, and lead poisoning from abandoned military buildings on Midway kills thousands of Laysans annually. At sea, the species is vulnerable to oil pollution, and the ingestion of floating plastics; tens of thousands also die in gill-nets, drift nets, and long-line fishhooks annually. Alternative long-line fishing techniques now being developed include weighing lines down, setting them at night, and using "screamer lines" to scare birds away.
Another beneficial human activity—the importing of topsoil and grass to Midway's Sand Island—has stabilized the sand dunes and increased albatross habitat. This coupled with the diminished human presence on Midway have led to increased Laysan populations there. At Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai, protection by fencing and wildlife personnel has helped establish a breeding Laysan colony.

Ron LeValley 

Ron LeValley
Albatross landing 

Ron LeValley
Midway Island
Albatross Colony 

Laysan Albatross & Plastics

The Problem

In the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, on a tiny island 1,000 miles from the nearest big city, many Laysan albatross chicks die each year because their bellies are full of bottle caps, toothbrushes and other plastic. One study found that 97.5% of chicks had plastic in their stomachs. Many people think that the biggest source of pollution in the oceans is oil spilled from ships, but most marine pollution is litter that starts out on land. By making changes now, we can reduce the amount of plastic that gets into our oceans in the months and years to come.

A Deadly Diet

Albatrosses fly hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles in search of food for their chicks. They look for squid and fish eggs floating on the surface of the water. Unfortunately, plastic floats, and Laysan albatross are particularly attracted to it. They eat it, mistaking if for food, then they fly back to the nest and feed bottle caps, lighters, fishing lures and other pieces of plastic to their young. The chicks starve to death, with stomachs full of plastic.

Trash Travels

Trash that's dropped on the ground doesn't stay put. Even hundreds of miles from the ocean, trash is washed by rain into city storm drains and out into streams and rivers that lead to the ocean. From there, wind and currents carry our trash far out to sea. Scientists estimate that around the world, up to one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating plastic. We can help keep trash from traveling by recycling and putting trash in trash cans.
A Laysan Albatross Chick full of plastic debris
Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung."
`Is it he?' quoth one, `Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.
Laysan Albatross Chick

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Sloth and I

A friend sent this wonderful video of sloths at a sanctuary in Costa Rica. You know how I hate being hot, but this (almost) made me want to go, especially since the older I get the more I think I might be related to this species.
If the link doesn't work, copy and paste it into Google or one of the other search engines.

Range and Habitat
This three-toed sloth species is found from southern Honduras through Panama and western Colombia through the Amazon to northern Argentina. It prefers tropical evergreen forests at low elevations that have continuous canopy cover.

Physical Description
The three-toed sloth has long coarse hair over dense underfur, a white face with a brown stripe on each side, a brown throat, and a body that is pale brown to yellowish. Each adult male has a unique pattern of yellow hair on its back with a black stripe through the center. As the name suggests, the three-toed has three toes on each of its front and hind feet. (Its relative, the two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) also has three toes on the hind feet, but two on the front feet.)

Interesting Biology

The three-toed sloth is active during the day, unlike the nocturnal two-toed sloth, and so is seen more often. This sloth only eats leaves from trees and lianas (a type of climbing vine found throughout tropical rainforests. They have thick, woody stems and come in various lengths up to 3000 ft) ( but may feed on fifty individual trees of up to thirty species, eating leaves of different ages. Sloths live, feed, mate, and reproduce near the upper levels of the forest canopy. They move to a new tree often enough to balance their diet, or about once every 1.5 days. Home ranges of different individuals may overlap considerably and females tend to be more social than males, but usually one adult (or female with young) will occupy a tree at any given time. Sloths may use different food sources depending upon what their mothers taught them to eat.

Though large for an arboreal mammal, the three-toed sloth must also be light for its size to live in the treetops, so it has reduced muscle mass. They also have an enormous gut capacity-nearly 30% of their body weight! The sloth's diet of leaves is digested very slowly, so they need a large capacity. Sloths consume a significant amount of leaf material in a forest (about 2% of total annual leaf production in Panama). They have a slow metabolism, though, so they have thick fur to insulate them when their body temperature drops at night; their temperature peaks during the day when they bask in the sunlight.

About once a week, the sloth descends from its lofty living space, digs a small hole with its stubby tail, defecates and urinates in the hole, then covers it with leaves using its hind legs and return to its preferred heights. This ordeal lasts less than 30 minutes, but during this time the sloth is vulnerable to predators. While mortality of young sloths is high, individuals that survive to adulthood suffer low mortality rates; they are recorded to live as long as 9 to 11 years, and are thought to live as many as 20 to 30 in the wild.

Several kinds of arthropods live as adults on these sloths. These arthropods leave the sloth to deposit their eggs on the sloth's dung; the hatched larvae feed on the dung, pupate, and after they emerge as adults, fly in search for a sloth to live on. A single sloth may carry nine hundred or more beetles and three species of mites.

An adult female spends half the year pregnant and the other half rearing her single offspring. Young sloths can begin eating leaves when they are two weeks old. As the mother carries the young with her, she shows it which trees and lianas are fit to eat within their home range. When the baby is 6 months old, the mother suddenly leaves the young to her home-range and moves to a nearby range. The young and mother maintain contact through vocalizations, and the young continues to use this portion of her range for a while and then departs.

A three-toed sloth consumes large amounts of leaves from up to thirty species of trees and lianas; the particular species chosen by an individual sloth vary, and are largely affected by what its mother taught it to eat.


Range of the Three-ted sloth
Wikipedia map

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I'll never complain about Squirrels again

I've left my last post up longer than usual because it's so important to get the message out to women (of a certain age) and the number of hits hasn't diminished. If you haven't read it, or have read it, but haven't forwarded it, please do. In the meantime, a little amusement.

A friend sent this series of pictures to me years ago.
I think it begs the question...


Friday, May 4, 2012

Post-menopausal hell for horses

Mare with urine collection bag

For a while, after the warnings about increased rates of breast and other cancers in women who took hormone replacement therapy, the use of Premarin and/or Prempro dropped. Enough that a few of the Premarin mare rescue facilities closed down. Not so anymore. Baby-boomer women by the thousands are entering the hormone-replacement therapy market. I was once one of them, but the minute I discovered that, Premarin, the brand I took, was made from horse urine, I switched to a plant-based synthetic.

Horse urine? Seriously?
PRE (pregnant) MAR (mare) IN (urine)

As you might guess, if you've seen this blog more than once, I didn't stop taking Premarin just because it was made from horse urine. I stopped because the production of it had to be torture for the horses. It turned out to be worse than I imagined.

Premarin mare on the "pee line" is confined to a narrow stall that restricts all movement. She is fitted with a urine collection bag, and stays that way nearly full-time for six months of each and every year for as long as she is productive. She is provided plenty of food, but water intake is limited in order to concentrate her urine.

Mares in a pee-line

For those six months, she can't lie down, roll as horses love to do, or get any exercise. They are not groomed, which leaves them susceptible to sores and infections. The normal lifespan of a horse is 20 to 30 or more years. On average a Premarin mare lives 8 or 9 years.
If the mare produces urine well and can be impregnated again, she will return to the pee line. Once she is no longer productive, the mares are sent to slaughter, destine for dinner tables in Europe and Asia, often with her last foal at her side--especially if it is a colt. Only a lucky few are purchased at auction to be rescued and adopted.  

What happens to the foals of mares that return to the pee lines? A Premarin mare's foal is a 'waste product' of urine farms. "We are talking around 40,000 to 50,000 foals a year from the US and Canada. (The number would be higher, but there is a higher than normal mortality rate among these foals, usually due to exposure or starvation.) Those that survive are sent to feed lots and then to Canadian auctions that cater almost exclusively to the horse meat trade to be sent mostly to Europe and Japan."

The drug and You
by Kym Lambert

"Premarin is marketed as an "organic" or "natural" estrogen...well, yeah it's natural, if you're a pregnant mare! But mares have a multitude of estrogens that humans do not have, do not need, and can potentially be harmed by.  

The risks involved include but are not limited to increase in breast and uterine cancer, stroke and abnormal blood clotting which can lead to death, gall bladder disease, rising in blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, (and) memory loss. Personally, as a soon-to-be menopausal (possibly perimenopausal as of recently) woman those risks seem too high for me...if it were the only replacement therapy you couldn't pay me to take the stuff.  

But it isn't the only option, there are alternatives! Safer for you, for the horses, and for the environment (you think that processing all that urine is without waste?). These alternatives are "synthetic" although many are made from plant estrogens and most more closely replicate the human hormones you are replacing than Premarin can.

If you are menopausal, post-hysterectomy, or transsexual and you are on Premarin please consider contacting your doctor immediately to change your therapy. If you aren't convinced that you are swallowing horse urine (and you are not alone, a woman told me a nurse who was on Premarin had no idea how it was made, your doctor might not even know!) then crush one of your pills and sniff it. Yup, that's what it is all right! You'll smell it. Talk to your doctor, make sure s/he knows that you do not approve of the torture and death involved."

What is the most important information you should know about
(an estrogen mixture)
WARNINGS TAKEN FROM THE PREMARIN WEBSITE|223603789|0&skwid=43700003252793214
  • Estrogens increase the chance of getting cancer of the uterus.
  • Report any unusual vaginal bleeding right away while you are using these products. Vaginal bleeding after menopause may be a warning sign of cancer of the uterus (womb). Your healthcare provider should check any unusual vaginal bleeding to find out the cause.
  • Do not use estrogens with or without progestins to prevent heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, or dementia.
  • Using estrogens, with or without progestins, may increase your chance of getting heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, and blood clots. Using estrogens, with or without progestins, may increase your chance of getting dementia, based on a study of women age 65 years or older. You and your health care provider should talk regularly about whether you still need treatment with estrogens
  • Stop taking Premarin /or Prempro. There are synthetic alternatives. "In 1990, Wyeth had gone before the FDA requesting the label to their hormone replacement drugs be changed to include it to say their product protects against heart disease. Hormone replacement therapy skeptic, Cynthia Pearson, found not only did their claims appear to be too good to be true, but also "each time there was anything negative about the drug, a new claim arose to keep it alive." In every instance, Pearson continued to be unconvinced wondering how a drug was ever approved for women lacking a randomized clinical trial. It was not until 1991, after lobbying women's groups and criticism by congresswomen about the lack of attention paid to women's health that money was found, leading to the recently halted study."
  • There are numerous horse rescue sites, specifically for Premarin mares and Premarin foals. Simply Google Premarin Mare Rescue to find one near you.
  • Forward this to friends who are on hormone replacement therapy.

Premarin mare and foal

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I'm all smiles, too.


Lost in the River of Grass,

which is based almost entirely on the true story of an ill-fated day-trip of my husband's into the Everglades, has been nominated for Florida's 2012 / 2013

Sunshine State Young Readers Award!