Poison Mammals

A venomous mammal has been found in fossil beds from 60 million years ago in Alberta. The interesting part is that it had fangs like a snake, or rather a Gila monster: “The fossilized remains of two curved canines, found in the Canadian province of Alberta, shows a groove from which the creature, Bisonalveus browni, probably shot venom into its prey”.

Now I don’t know about “shot”– Gila monsters drip and chew. But specialized venom teeth in a mammal are still news.

It may be that venom was much more common then, though. In addition to the solenodon mentioned in the article, and the platypus’s heel spurs, many shrews have enough venom to give a nasty toxic bite (experience speaking: Blarina brevicauda in Massachusetts, if I remember right). All these are very old families.

Thanks to David at Cronaca, which everyone should read.

Turtles

I am currently doing some research (on parasites of digger bees– whole ‘nother story) in the vast almost roadless Sevilleta Wildlife reservation north of here, where no one is allowed save researchers. And I am seeing the first SMALL box turtles I have ever seen, east or west– often. Seems the exclusion of most cars, signs reminding you to watch for turtles crossing, and maybe all- natural grazing have done them a favor. Here is a rather small– see scale to wallet– individual. But he is already big enough to survive coyotes– look at those tooth scars!

And who thought this was a good idea?

The Alpha Environmentalist, knowing of my interest in China issues, just alerted me to this op- ed piece from the Arizona Daily Star on the Chinese government’s bid to buy the California based oil company Unocal (don’t know how long the link will be up).

Exactly who– other than, say, the Peoples’ Liberation Army– thinks this is a good idea? Assuming the most benign motives possible, it will doubtless divert oil from us in the future. As the Star states:”…..if the point of this purchase is to increase China’s oil sources, it seems only a matter of time before pressures would build to divert U.S. supplies to China’s domestic use”.

But, worse, what will happen if, down the road, China chooses to confront us over Taiwan, or… well, I can hadly begin to list the possibilities. To quote the Star– quite a liberal paper by the way– again: “There is a contradiction between the communist repression we don’t see and the economic surge we do. It is easy for us to forget that the People’s Republic of China is a repressive, totalitarian government.”

We don’t have time today to go into the Chinese record on the environment (air quality, the Yangtze Dam, animals in traditional medicine, and more). But over the next weeks I will be writing a lot more on China– on John Derbyshire’s novel trilogy, on Mark Elvin’s Retreat of the Elephants (China environmental history) and more.

Oh and– China also wants to acquire IBM’s computer division. Makes me glad I drive a Mac.

Didn’t Lenin say that the last capitalist would sell his executioner the rope with which to hang him?

UPDATE 6 July:
Both conservatives (National Review Online) and liberals (The New Yorker) have now defended the Unocal sale, mostly on the grounds of free trade and the nature of the oill market. The New Yorker adds for the record that we should NOT sell off defense companies like Lockheed Martin. They make some rational points, but I keep seeing that rope…

“My name is Steve and I am a bookaholic”.

Check this hilarious post from Dymphna at Gates of Vienna.

She pefectly captures our mutual addiction: “Read-a-holics cannot resist the printed word: It starts with cereal boxes at the breakfast table or newspapers abandoned in the restaurant booth by whomever ate there before you and continues into reading your high school English lit books the day you get them. This is not virtue. A therapist once posed the question: “so when did you discover that books were a neurotic escape?””

“Motto: never leave home without a book. You never know when you might be trapped somewhere with nothing to read. Horrors”.

Read the whole thing, as the man says.

Libby insists I take at least two books to go to the Post Office where she works (two miles away). I take about five on our biweekly two- hour trip to Albuquerque… you never know.

My favorite New Mexico book dealer, Jerry Lane of the Book Stop, once whirled on me as I entered and said to a customer: “THERE is the perfect example of a man who needs a book muzzle!”

“I Am Not Worthy!”

“Michael Blowhard” of 2Blowhwards– see my blogroll– has just written a touching link and description of my site. Michael was the first person to admit me to a blog, with a guest post on the writer’s life, several years ago. I guess that makes him my “blogfather”. I am honored. Please, check out Blowhards– it is one of the most original and diverse sites on the web.

Below is a generous quote on my writing. But understand, there is a LOT more on Blowhards than I have yet dreamed of putting up here, including but not limited to art criticism, movies, architecture, nude modeling, car design, evo- bio, and as my old friend Elaine used to say approvingly. “more and worse”.

“Stephen Bodio is a beyond-excellent nature writer who manages the distinctive — and too-rare — feat of fusing the lyrical and rhapsodic with the harshly down-to-earth. (I especially loved his collection of essays “On the Edge of the Wild: Passions and Pleasures of a Naturalist.”) Based in New Mexico, he’s accessible yet sophisticated, full of curiosity and interests, and has a good sense of rueful humor about the ultimate absurdity (and beauty) Of It All. He also has a special affinity for raptor birds”.

Slow Food?

The moas of New Zealand were the largest true birds that ever lived. They were preyed upon by an eagle that was itself so large it probaby ate the first human settlers, the Maori, as well– they have legends saying so, and pictured it on rocks. As in so many places, humans probably put an end to the big birds and its predator– aboriginal humans are as efficient as any others at that practice. Aussie zoologist Tim Flannery calls it the “Black Hole Theory” of extinction, said hole being the human digestive system…

A new story from Yahoo News Service suggests why moas were so vulnerable (other than being huge and slow):

“….how did a small Maori population, armed only with close-range wooden weapons and traps, wipe out such a plentiful species in such a large country?

The answer, according to the new research, may be found in growth rings in the bones of these extinct giants.

These marks are common in many animal species and are caused by differing growth rates in changing seasons. But bird species do not have these rings as in most cases their growth phase is confined to less than a year.

The moa, though, was the exception.

Examination of rings in stored bones suggest that the two moa species, luxuriating in the safety of New Zealand’s unique eco-system, may have taken several years to reach reproductive maturity and up to a decade to attain skeletal maturity.

That made them “extremely vulnerable” to hunting. If too many adult moa were caught too quickly there would have been no chance of replenishment, and the species, dominated by unreproductive birds, would have been placed under severe pressure.”

This is bigger scientifically than it seems. It makes moas more like mammals– or dinosaurs. Virtually every bird attains full size in a year, and only a few longer- lived groups take longer than that to attain sexual maturity. And they usually do it in that order…

Got Mud?

From England via Cox News Service: fake mud for your four wheel drive vehicle:

” Maybe your rugged SUV never goes anywhere wilder than the mall, but you can look like a wilderness adventurer with Spray-On Mud.
 
For owners who don’t want it to look like they’re driving an unnecessary gas-guzzler, a little splash signals that the vehicle spends time tackling the back country.
 
The product is the brainchild of Colin Dowse, a businessman from Shropshire, England, a village close to the Welsh border.
 
“Spray-On Mud is an urban camouflage designed to give the impression that you are a serious off-roader,” he said.
 
Dowse, a Web designer, came up with the idea about a year ago while sharing a few pints with friends at a local pub.
 
It’s genuine local dirt – strained to remove stones and other debris – mixed with water and a secret ingredient that Dowse says helps it stick to a vehicle’s bodywork.”

Thanks to Bruce douglas. I have a feeling I am going to hear from my hard- core Land Cruiser friends on this….