Dead Stuff

Says Darren, blogging about his mummified fox : “I think everyone seriously interested in animals collects dead animals, or bits of dead animals.”

Certainly this is true of me, and of most other naturalists I know. The comments turned into reports on collections. Mine, responding to and quoting an earlier one, was:

” “Those of us just here in the US just twiddle our thumbs wishing we could, as it’s illegal to own so much as a contour feather without a permit.”

“What kind of naturalist would be stopped by that? (;-))

“Seriously, only non- game protected birds are illegal. Anyone can keep any part of game birds, any parts of mammals & reptiles (unless there are local ordinances against it or they are endangered) and insects. I have all of the above, bones, skins, skulls, feathers, skins… also, a licensed falconer (which I am) can have parts of the birds they keep (except eagles after death, which go to the Federal repository). I stop for roadkill.

“I have a wife who is as fascinated as I am by all this, tolerates my many dogs and my falcon in the alcove between kitchen and dining room, and creatures in the freezer.
(I just lent a ten- years frozen falcon to a sculptor friend for her to cast. I knew I kept it around for a reason!)

“What else? I have guns too. Just don’t ask about the penguins…”

I added as a PS: “I used to keep a “dermie” colony that John McLoughlin and I stocked by beating dry cow and horse carcasses at the town dump with our walking sticks. Alas, I gave them up when I feared for my insects, and the dump no longer has a section labeled “Dead Animals”. Change comes even to rural New Mexico.”

There were at least two better, though:

“I regret pitching this really cool scat many years ago. It was a big furry black bear poop with part of the striped pelt of a chipmunk in it. I can’t believe I threw away the pride of my scat collection.”


“What’s really disturbing about the mummified fox is the way that Darren holds it in his lap and absentmindedly scratches its nape while sipping absinthe and chanting under his breath. Also, he insists that all visitors refer to the mummified fox as Colonel Humphrey, avoid eye-socket-contact, and “try not to piss him off.””

Links & More– (Mostly Bio Stuff)

Glad to know Matt weathered this storm– let’s hope they do as well in the coming one(s).

Reid is up to his ass in metaphorical alligators but is well and we hope for his return soon.I am now writing three more (long) chapters for my at- some- time- to- be- revealed project that has been consuming my time since April. I am being neurotically perfectionist about it. I must. The hawk was briefly in the air but the truck has been broken down all week which gets in the way of that. Fall and first frost feel imminent.

Stingray has new tattoos of deep- sea life. (There are also internal links to LabRat’s Neotropical wildlife.) On their main page is Stingray’s eloquent INFORMED dismantling of the Large Hadron Collector’s doomsayers.

Wildlife: Carel Brest van Kempen does a takedown of the WSJ piece I linked to earlier on Komodo dragons. Carel knows more about them than most– has been there and done the science, and some of the things they said are just flat untrue. I expect better of the WSJ. Nice pic of Carel with a dragon too!

More cheetahs.

And other cats. I thought this was satirical and would end in carnage, but it is actually rather heart- warming, though as they say don’t try this at home. The white- bearded guy is George Adamson so it is old. Remember, lions ATE his famous wife.

How to give cats (and dogs) their pills.

At the NYT, my favorite bio- journalist, Carl Zimmer, tells us how invaders may actually increase biodiversity. John Haskell— if you are out there, check in on this!

From IndigoGlyph at Chalk on Water comes this BBC radio program on New Guinea singing dogs. As I told him, this is more than relevant to my current project.

Walter Hingley gave this link to a YouTube of a robot “dog”. It is fascinating but it creeps me out too– the giant housefly sound effects and its headlessness make it more resemble an enormous alien insect. I sort of wanted a huge flyswatter.

More soon…

Fun Stuff plus

From Annie H: the new duck stamp, because of a mistake (?) by the contractor tells you to call a phone sex line.

Camera trap codger finds himself attacked as a threat to wildlife. No, really!

Mrs Peculiar links to the trailer for new Chthulhu movie (though the gay romantic subplot probably has the omni- phobic Lovecraft spinning in his grave!)

Not really funny if it spreads– but in their continuing efforts to be the most Animal Rights- ist place on earth, the Swiss have banned catch and release fishing, flushing goldfish down toilets (they have to be hit on the head first) and live bait. You also have to take a class to own a dog. Some of these even may be sensible, but to make them LAWS? HT Annie H again.

Biology: LabRat at Atomic Nerds unpacks the whole Komodo dragon post first published here. Excellent comments too. Carel says the original article had many faults. As he is the only naturalist I know with Southeast Asia field experience I hope he finds time to blog on it soon.

At Slate, Heather Smith argues that the disappearance of the honeybee may be a good thing, leading to more use of natives. I still see honeybees down here– wild, that is– but I suspect they are Africanized and therefore somewhat immune to the diseases killing the commercial bees.

Are Doom and Gloom, Decline and Fall, “fun” things? To certain minds they are. Here the ever cheerful and always gloomy (yes, you can be) John Derbyshire, who I sometimes think is the last true conservative in the US, tells us why, although he likes Sarah Palin, he doesn’t think much will happen either way.
Derb is so funny I can’t resist quoting at some length:

“Blimey, you go take a few days off (and “off,” to a true reactionary, includes off the TV and computer, and squinting carefully at the display on the phone to see if the caller is someone I want to be bothered with, answers breaking no/yes about 99/1) and the GOP goes and puts a human being on the ticket. Whatever next? Heck, the gal hasn’t even been to law school!

“Calm down, everybody, please. It’s only politics, for goodness sake.“[emphasis mine– SB]


“As for Rick’s noise about being at war: Which nations are we at war with? When shall we exclude nationals of those nations from our territory? Or, if we are at war with some ideology, why are we not excluding adherents of that ideology from our shores, as we excluded communists (correctly, in my opinion)? War, fiddlesticks. Who feels himself to be at war? Where can I buy my gas mask and my War Bonds?

“All right, all right, the Palin pick. At random:

Good choice? Terrific choice. Adds youth, beauty, executive experience (slight by universal standards, but enormous by the standards of these campaign tickets …), and un-DC-ness.

Annie Oakley or Calamity Jane? Who knows? We’ll find out. I’m betting on Annie.

Creationist? Couldn’t care less. [Derb is a well- known agnostic evolutionist BTW–SB]

Knowingly bore a Down Syndrome child? Same answer. Nobody’s business but their own. (And same answer if she’d aborted the fetus, as I and my wife would have — sorry, Rich — though acknowledging of course that she would not then be on the GOP ticket!)

Foreign policy experience? Would someone please define the phrase “foreign policy experience” for me? Thank you.

Daughter named Bristol? Prolly best not to send her for a study year in England.”

(If you don’t know Cockney rhyming slang the last won’t make sense.)

Science Links

Darren has been posting a series of utterly weird and alien cetacean skulls. Try here and here and especially here for my favorites, but they are all wonderful. He also weighs in on the “Montauk Monster”. Despite the hysteria I though it was a canid; he convinces me that it is likely another small carnivore.

John Farrell links to an ominous essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how, through feel- good curricula and “self esteem”, we are rapidly becoming a nation of scientific illiterates. Bill Gates wants more immigrant visas.

“Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of “Science as a Vocation,” and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.

“At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as “whole persons” — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren’t among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who “feel good” about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.

“The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences. Modesty? Yes, for while talented scientists are often proud of their talent and accomplishments, they universally subscribe to the humbling need to prove themselves against the most-unyielding standards of inquiry. That willingness to play by nature’s rules runs in contrast to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along insouciance that characterizes so many variants of postmodernism and that flatters itself as being a higher form of pragmatism.


“The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with “identity.”


“The science “problems” we now ask students to think about aren’t really science problems at all. Instead we have the National Science Foundation vexed about the need for more women and minorities in the sciences. President Lawrence H. Summers was pushed out of Harvard University for speculating (in league with a great deal of neurological evidence) that innate difference might have something to do with the disparity in numbers of men and women at the highest levels of those fields. In 2006 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.” Officials of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education are looking to use Title IX to force science graduate programs to admit more women. The big problem? As of 2001, 80 percent of engineering degrees and 72 percent of computer-science degrees have gone to men.

“A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn’t a society that takes science education seriously.”

A serious RTWT piece.

Less seriously, Annie D had sent me a weird litle YouTube of the Pilobolus Ballet company which I have lost. But following the cyber back trails she came upon the lfe history of this fungal organism and its parasitic congeners. Parasite evolution is among the most fascinating things in nature.

This is the website of a wonderful new book showcasing the meeting point of art and science through the subject of birds. Artists include Vadim Gorbatov, Carel Brest van Kempen, Tom Quinn, Tony Angell, Lars Jonsson, and others who have been mentioned here. There are also iconic images of birds from the French caves to the 16th century portrait of Robert Cheseman with a (?) Gyr– I am not convinced by the authors’ argument that it is a Lanner unless Cheseman was four feet tall.


Polymath scientist- archaeologist- artist- writer- rancher Joe Hutto blew through the other day after running down to Catron County, on his way to home in Wyoming via the Carolinas. He brought us a beautiful dark Late Pleistocene mammoth tooth he had retrieved from the black waters of the Auscilla River on the border of Florida and Georgia.

I am holding a cast of a mastodon tooth given me by Laura Niven, and I really have to get out more this spring– even given my puffy down vest I look like I outweigh Joe by fifty pounds– yikes!

Joe’s amazing turkey book can be found here. He has one forthcoming on bighorn sheep that may be even better.

Bill Buford did a good piece on Joe in the New Yorker last year but I can’t find it online.

New Links

Blogging will continue to be a bit light as I am busy, am trying to get outside, and have Chas and Miss M coming tomorrow. But the world keeps producing the fascinating and the maddening…

Science fiction giant Arthur Clarke died this week. John Derbyshire has a good quirky remembrance of him here. I think he has Clarke down, as a writer and as a certain English “type” as well. I was a hopeless SF geek in my teens and can still read it– Derb gets that too. He is too modest to mention here that Clark once wrote him a fan letter (he showed me a copy) but it may well be here or here somewhere…

SF to science. I have mentioned all- female species like Cnemidiphorus lizards before. Their reproduction is relatively straightforward, with all females giving birth to parthenogenetic clones, whether or not this puts them at an evolutionary disadvantage. But all male species? Believe it or not, there is at least one. The pure males mate with hybrid females: “These males “essentially represent a stable all-male lineage nested within an almost all-female lineage” ” Bio geeks should RTWT. This blog, The World we Don’t Live In, is excellent– read it all. Thanks, Darren, for linking.

Darren has a new post up that combines science, speculation, raving lunacy (not his) and a 1984, tongue- in- cheek essay by John McLoughlin, who has appeared here in person so to speak. Did dinosaurs invent the atomic bomb? Who lies sleeping? Was H. P. Lovecraft a lizard? Says Darren: “John’s 1984 article describes his contemplation of a new psychiatric disorder he recognises in himself: evolutionary bioparanoia. It is ‘an acute, often immobilizing sense of dread generated by fatigue in persons interested in both the current state of world affairs and the evolutionary history of life on Earth'”. Read and laugh- or shudder.

Doom. This gun control story can make any lover of freedom shudder: in Washington DC, as the Second Amendment’s meaning is being debated before the Supreme Court, the police are going door to door through the city, asking if they may “voluntarily” search for guns . Voluntarily, right– and I suppose that anybody who doesn’t comply would NEVER go on any list. Seems like more than the Second Amendment is being violated here…

More animal related offenses and misunderstandings next post.


More and longer and prettier soon, but here is the usual presentation of friends, foes, follies, and gallimaufry, not to mention science..

Which first: a very old bat.

(Zimmer has also devoted a new site to his collection of “Science tattoos”. Love that Archaeopteryx!)

The long- distant migrant known as the red knot is in deep trouble because of the human harvest of horseshoe crabs. I didn’t even know there was one. HT Luisa.

Doom, doom, decline and fall. You couldn’t make this up: as Scottish blogger Alex Massie reports, “A commuter was arrested at gunpoint and had his DNA and fingerprints taken simply for listening to his MP3 player while waiting for a bus.”

It actually gets worse.

“Darren Nixon was surrounded by armed police after his music player was mistaken for a gun.”


“Police tracked Mr Nixon using CCTV. As he got off the bus home from work he was surrounded by a firearms unit, who bundled him into a van.

“He was then put in a cell and his fingerprints, DNA and mugshot were taken before he was released.

“Although police realised it was a false alarm, Mr Nixon, from Stoke-on-Trent, now has to live with his DNA stored on a national database.

“The force will also keep on record that he was arrested on suspicion of a firearms offence.”

Words fail.

They don’t make them like that anymore. (See above.)

Not the Onion, but you might think so from the title:“Parent Shock: Children are not Decor”. Apparently some are annoyed at the clash. More vapidity from the former Paper of Record. Sigh. At least their science remains first- rate.

More Times: an aricle in praise of anti- hunt activists. What concerns me is this statement:

“Monitors have been beaten, kicked, whipped with riding crops, and driven into hedges by angry riders. Mr. Tillsley has been verbally abused, threatened and harassed. His tires have been slashed, his car followed and boxed in, and the windows of his house broken.”

Oh, really? In modern England? And no charges brought? I just don’t believe it.

On to cheerier things, Blogfamily stuff to be exact.

Moro Rogers has a wonderful U- Tube animation video out.

Mike at Sometimes Far Afield has some original things to say about the Second Amendment.

Darren discusses Axolotls and their relatives. Scroll down to a discussion between me and an expert as to what variety we have here– I think “Lollia” nails it.

More & Worse soon…

Links, Apologia…

If I can ever finish the saga of my completed but yet…unfulfilled?.. book, it will be a good one, or at least a lesson in the vagaries of contemporary publishing that would fulfill every cynical belief of Michael Blowhard. It has been that kind of month.

Meanwhile, links and various photos.

Science and nature: Paleoblog has a new model for the evolution of flight in birds, with pictures. HT Walter Hingley.

Julie Zickefoose sends this Flikr photo set of coyotes in Mt.Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., where we both have birded. This is a park in the heart of a city; I might guess they came down the Charles river corridor?

Annie D sends this amazing link to a U- Tube video of scientists sing a song about the PCR test! She also has the lyrics, below– but you really need to see and hear it:

“There was a time when to amplify DNA,
You had to grow tons and tons of tiny cells.
Then along came a guy named Dr. Kary Mullis,
Said you can amplify in vitro just as well.

“Just mix your template with a buffer and some primers,
Nucleotides and polymerases, too.
Denaturing, annealing, and extending.
Well it’s amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do.

“PCR, when you need to detect mutations.
PCR, when you need to recombine.
PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is.
PCR, when you need to solve a crime.”
(repeat chorus)

Cave bears were not the gentle vegetarians they were thought to be. The old Russian idea that they occupied a similar niche to Neanderthals looks more likely…

Culture, lack thereof, Doom, general weirdness… the first is all of the above: Hello Kitty bondage rooms in a Japanese hotel. HT Bruce Douglas– uuhh, thanks, I guess.

Doom: amateur drama groups must lock up fake weapons, including “guns” that produce flags that say “BANG!” Money quote: “Even the climactic fight has not escaped. A university academic joined a rehearsal to ensure that it was safe.” HT Patrick.

The inventor of the Hula Hoop was a falconer, and got his idea for his first invention playing with his hawks. HT Derb.

Plagiarism: a romance novelist inserts passages about the habits of the black- footed ferret (including the theory that their ancestors came over the Bering land bridge!) into a scene of passion between a white woman and her Indian lover in the 1870’s. She takes it wholesale from a journalist’s essay. I don’t know what’s funnier– the sheer wretched awfulness of her prose or the fact the she didn’t realize stealing material was wrong. “According to an interview she did with the Associated Press, she did not know she was supposed to quote source materials.”

I believe it. This poor creature is dumber than a plant. HT the always productive Annie D and Marilyn Taylor. Great minds…

Finally: THE most redneck song ever, with lyrics. BRILLIANT, hilarious, more vivid than most of his father’s novels, and certainly more concise. He even get the guns right! (A few lines decidedly NSFW.)

What is this?

Annie D. sent a pic of this little critter titled “baby chupacabra”. She was kidding but we don’t know what it might be. I think the ears look rather “batty”, but as Annie says it has an apparent tail. Marsupial?

Anyone have an idea? Darren? Carel?

Update: “Batwrangler” Sheila comes up with an ID: it’s a newly discovered eastern pygmy possum.

More pix here.

New Links Plus

Sorry– my latest excuse is back problems. Sitting down for the better part of a year writing a difficult book is bad for your back– duh! But I have been accumulating links and going out with the hounds and taming the Gos (he is actually very nice) so….

“I tell you, Watson, the Giant Rat of Sumatra actually exists!”

Private nuclear power plants?! (From Toshiba). HT Clayton Cramer, who says “I do cringe a little bit at nuclear power reactors aimed at a market that hasn’t quite mastered the art of setting their VCRs to record programs at a particular time.”

Eric at Classical Values has kept abreast of the San Francisco tiger controversy. For what it’s worth, everybody I know who has worked in zoos suspects provocation. As I wrote to a friend:

“Everyone who has ever worked for a zoo comes to see the public as cruel and/ or stupid. Examples: people telling their kids that the dingos are “female deer” (more common and sensible, I’ll grant: “Why do you have those dogs in there?”) People trying to put their kids in the leopard cage for a photo op. People waiting for a tapir escape to get the opportunity to hold their kid up to the chimp cage, an opportunity previously denied; then, the kid having been bitten, trying to sue the zoo because a “vet” sewed the kid up, only to find the vet that treated the chimps was among Boston’s finest pediatricians.”

Also, you might Google up lawyer Geragos to see what fine citizens make up the bulk of his clients….

More sad tiger news: Brian at Laelaps reports on the death of three more tigers due to the insatiable desire for “medicine” in the Han Empire.

More from Laelaps: bad behavior by wolves in Alaska. I am more sympathetic to wolf control (not eradication) than Brian, but his is an honest report. Still, when a wolf is bold enough to attack a leashed dog, it is too late to control your dog! Nor do I recommend Farley Mowat’s utterly fictional Never Cry Wolf, with its muscivorous lupines. HT reader Nightmare.

Some reading? Reid sent me this NYT book review of a new release of Wilfrid Thesiger’s most popular books. I’m glad Thesiger is getting a revival, but I also think Reid sent it because he knew this sentence would make me furious: “They don’t make Englishmen like Wilfred Thesiger anymore, and perhaps that’s for the best.” Harrumph! Ignore that and buy his good books.

Biology? The Guardian reports on a creature close to the ancestral root of whales. Some creationists or at least anti- evolutionists are apparently railing at it because they can’t get their mind around a small creature with hooves eventually becoming a whale. Who is it that called this “argument from personal disbelief”? The indispensable Carl Zimmer has more on the beast, with nice pix, here and here.

More biology (or in this case paleontology): Paleoblog covers this year’s Mongolian expedition. All pix of Mongolia make me weirdly homesick, even if they are of places I haven’t been.

Anne Marie at Pondering Pikaia has a rueful poem by the late field biologist George Folkerts. A sample:

Clear birch-edged stream with fauna rank,
With iris blue upon your bank,
Your poisoned pools I now scan,
My seine haul yields one Falstaff can.
Everything I love is gone,
Whatever will become of me

The fields are being, with great precision
Transformed into a subdivision,
The eagle falls, the lily dies,
And on the road a ‘possum lies.
No doubt what will become of me,
Molecular Biology

RTWT, of course.

And Darren is educating us about caecilians, surely the oddest “podless” tetrapods, here and here. Think I am exaggerating? Here is his description of the critters in part one: “If I told you that there was a group of living tetrapods that have sensory tentacles, sometimes sport protrusible eyes, sometimes lack eyes entirely, often exhibit sophisticated parental care and may even feed their babies on a specially grown layer of nutritious epidermal skin, are incredibly long-bodied yet often lack tails, and sometimes possess large, anatomically complex, eversible male sexual organs, you might wonder which recreational drugs I was taking.”

Now please, Darren: monster pigeons and raptors from islands!

I’m saving two more sets of links, dogs and food, for later. Can’t resist one more bit of snark: though this blog is resolutely un- political, and I’m not sure I’d necessarily want either for president, my unruly soul is gladdened by the defeat by Huck- O- Bama of the Hillarudy machine and those who assume that New York (which I love, but..) has the right to govern us all….

Update: Patrick (and a New Yorker!) have noted the same thing.