Category Archives: Fauna

Zip me into your skin my love.

So I am one of those rare people who doesn’t like to be alone. I know, l know, most folks-even happily coupled ones, find this creepy. I totally understand. I freely admit that this is not a propensity that everyone has.  Also understand that I am not a co-dependent; in fact anyone that knows me well knows that I am not the type to rely upon my significant other to provide my identity or social circle. On the

Squirrel

From the annals of Sarah: “My friend’s mom hit a squirrel while we were out doing errands, she was beside herself with grief. She pulled over and began chanting ‘squirrels mate for life, squirrels mate for life’ while weeping. All we could do was look on.”  Authors note: Squirrels most definitely DO NOT mate for life.

contrary I am a fairly unique human who brings her own eccentricities and hobbies to the mix. It’s simply that I am also one of those creatures that was not intended to be solitary, I am hyper-social. I only thrive when there are other humans around. The idea of the colony of the bee or naked mole rat is a veritable utopia for me.

mole rats

Oh sweet mole rat! How heavenly to live in proximity to hundreds of other velvety, cushiony bodies.

It is just this impulse that led me to identify not only with such creatures as Eagles and Beavers (creatures that mate for life) but with an animal who takes things even further: the Anglerfish.

While there are several different species of anglerfish the ones that I find most fascinating are those belonging to the suborder Ceratioidei. These anglers live in the

Anglerfish

Who could believe any of these alluring anglerfish would have a hard time finding a date?

deep sea, an environment so inhospitable that there are very few creatures who live there. This can be problematic not only when trying for a mate but also when attempting to locate prey. When it comes to hunting the anglerfish has evolved an enticing lure in the form of a fleshy growth which dangles from a filament attached to it’s head, hanging right in front of it’s giant jaws. In our deep sea dwelling friends this lure is also bioluminescent; the angler wiggles it’s glowing head blob about to attract prey in the black of the ocean deep.

Head Dingle

The anglerfish maintains a thriving community of bioluminescent bacteria inside of it’s head dingle.

The anglerfish is nothing if not resourceful, so how does it find a mate while loafing around in the briny deep? This question befuddled scientists until relatively recently. In fact when they first started hauling anglerfish up from the ocean they were confused because every single specimen they found was female. Even more mystifying was that many of these females appeared to be infested with the same kind of parasite. Turns out that those “parasites” were actually the male anglerfish who had fused to the females. In fact the male anglerfish, who is significantly smaller than the female, is only able to survive to maturity if he is able to find, and chomp onto, a female. He finds his mate solely by scent; swimming about blindly, he sniffs the water for the presence of female pheromones, a smell that not only represents a chance at love but also a reprieve from certain death. In the unlikely event that the male does find a lady, he must act quickly-biting onto her he releases an enzyme that “digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level”. They will stay like this for the rest of their lives. The female “host” supplying nutrients and blood to their now joint circulatory system and the male, for his part, supplying his genetic material in the form of sperm. It is not unusual to find more than one male attached to a single female.  In one case scientists reported finding a female with eight males living

Fused

Edna never forgave Jerry for accidentally fusing to her head.

on (off?) her. Practicing sexual parasitism and polyamory while paradoxically committing to the most permanent coupling biologically possible?! This species has much to teach us about unorthodox relationships; it may just have discovered the best of all possible worlds.

So you may be reading this thinking uncomfortably: “does this mean she want to be surgically attached to Tommy? Is that where she is going with all this?” No, rest assured, I do not (although that would be the best “Go Fund Me” ever). Sure, I struggle sometimes when all alone in the house (I tried to alleviate this by acquiring numerous pets but it’s just not the same) but I have grown to recognize the importance of having space and time alone in maintaining a healthy relationship-I have read the research and have seen it borne out in my own relationship.  Luckily I am not faced with a life lived in a dark, vast, and desolate world; one where an individual may go days or even weeks without glimpsing another living creature. In this context I can understand the anglerfish’s choice,  remarkably it seems that there are some circumstances where the company of a shriveled, sad-sack, parasite is better than being alone.

 

Advertisements

To aestivate a dear friend.

Keeping pet frogs is unusual, I am the first to admit. Even within the weirdo laden niche world of “herp enthusiasts” frog people are like the peculiar bachelor uncle that everyone struggles to relate to.  In a way I understand; frog husbandry is certainly not for everyone.  It requires a passion for a creature who seemingly has very little personality, may go unmoving for 12+ hours, eats its own skin on a regular basis and unabashedly poops in it’s water dish. On the other hand when it comes to the phenomenon known as kinderschema or more colloquially as the “cute factor”, the humble frog is the apotheosis. As renowned ethnographer and foremost cuteness-studier-guy Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfedlt reported, humans are hardwired to be attracted to creatures with: “(a) large head relative to body size, rounded head; (b) large, protruding forehead; (c) large eyes relative to face, eyes below midline of head; (d) rounded, protruding cheeks; (e) rounded body shape; and (f) soft, elastic body surfaces.”  So you see where I am going here? Yeah that’s right check this guy out! Human babies ain’t got nothin’ on him.

Whites treefrog

A White’s tree frog doing what it does best: look freaking adorable.

Horned frog 2

This handsome, cheery Argentine horned frog lays in wait for its next victim.

This being said, having your home full of rare and exotic frogs isn’t always the magical Shangri-la so many assume it to be. Sometimes you may find yourself in the position of making some pretty hard decisions. The latest conundrum to have surfaced has to do with my Budgett’s frog, Blob Dylan (Blobby to his friends) and the fateful day date we  noticed the black tubercles that had begun to emerge on his back feet (more on this shortly). For the 99.9% of you who don’t know, Budgett’s frogs are aquatic frogs native to South America, also called Paraguay Horned Frogs. Horned frogs are a subcategory of frogs that are ambush predators,

Blobby

Blobby the Budgett’s frog at his home in Leyden, Massachusetts.

meaning they are basically blobs with giant mouths that sit around on their stumpy limbs waiting for food to fall into their mouths. In addition to a lethargic life style, Blobby’s particular genus has also evolved a very amazing trick to help them survive in their native environment; a little ability called aestivation. Aestivation is like bizarro world hibernation.  Instead of responding to cold temperatures that trigger other animals to go into dens and sleep until the world is less depressing and desolate, animals that aestivate go into dormancy to protect themselves from hot, arid conditions. As temperatures rise and water levels begin to lower, Budgett’s frogs use  tubercles (hard spade like appendages on their back feet) to dig themselves into the mud. Deeper and deeper they go and as they descend

Tubercle

The tubercle of a Couch’s spadefoot toad.

they begin to build up layer upon layer of skin, until finally they are entirely encased in a cocoon of their own mucas. Then they go dormant; their metabolism and heart rate slowing to a state of almost suspended animation. Here they will remain for up to 4 months until the rainy season comes and they are awoken. They then proceed to eat their way out of their skin sack and return to the surface to eat invertebrates and mate.

Although there is some debate in the frog community, it is generally believed that if you do not recreate this yearly cycle you shorten your frog’s life span significantly. However, there is much risk in trying to recreate this natural process at home-one wrong move and you risk being greeted by a desiccated frog husk come spring. Not to mention the fact that you have to accept the prospect of having a beloved friend existing in a

4-water-holding-frog-in-coc

Australian water holding frog during aestivation. These frogs were used for drinking water (think dig up and wring out) by Aborigines during times when water was scarce.

state of suspended animation in a bucket of dirt in the guest room. It’s a lot to handle. This frog Sophie’s Choice weighs heavily on me as Blobby continues to mature into an adult frog and his biological clock (in this case spiky foot appendages) continues ticking. Blobby’s situation serves as a reminder to us of the complexity of keeping animals that have not co-evolved with humans and become domesticated over thousands of years. These considerations will become increasingly common as habitat loss means that more and more species’ survival will depend upon being kept and bred in captivity (Budgett’s Frogs themselves are considered a threatened species due to habitat destruction, but don’t worry Blobby was responsibly attained through a captive breeding program). I haven’t decided what to do yet, taking on the literal role of Mother Nature is a tricky business and not to be entered into lightly. Regardless of what we decide I am honored to get to watch a Budgett’s frog live his life; eating worms with reckless abandon and enjoying the flow of water across his jiggling frog jacket.  Aestivation or not I will enjoy whatever time we have together.

Budgetts Frog

 

Where it all begins

So as seems only appropriate as the first post on my blog, Husband, get me a goat, I am going to discuss some feelings about goats that I have been having lately. Specifically my need to have one.  I mean, I really, really want one. Ever since I sniffed a baby goat at the Hopkinton Fair early this September, I have been infected with some kind of crazy goat craving. Two nights ago I even had a dream I was swimming, well more wading, in a giant tub of baby goats.  Tommy and I had joked  innocently this summer about employing a pack (herd?) of goats for easy lawn maintenance, but what happened after the fair has turned  into something much, much deeper.  Lest you think I am crazy let me give you a brief, but hopefully convincing, rundown on why goats are awesome. Firstly, the are frisky and frolic often, like bonafide frolicking. When any animal is given to frolic, even the iciest of  human hearts must warm, but a goat, a goat was made to frolic. With their springy, mountain climbers muscle’s they fling their rotund middles and strange cloven hooves so high above the grass and wild flowers that they seem to almost alight to heaven as they bound through the fields.

Baby goat demonstrating frolicking. Note hoof placement.

If this wasn’t enough for you, many types of goats have wattles. A mammal with wattles! So absurd, so pleasing! Also called a fleshy dewlap or caruncle, these amazing little flaps hang right under the chin; soft, squishy, neck udders perfect to caress and nuzzle. I cannot recommend any more emphatically that you, as soon as you possibly can, go out there and nuzzle a wattle. I mean it really changed me.

This handsome fellow is modeling his proud set of wattles.

Lastly, as I close this piece about goats, I want you to also consider this: goats have rectangular pupils. And while this phenomenon is not exclusive to goats (consider deer, horses and a few other hooved mammals), their irises are generally paler giving them a deeply, deeply creepy stare. Fantastic. Through this, and several other personal goat experiences ( I almost forgot to mention they also produce milk!) I have come to believe that goats are the next creature for me. “So”, you may say, “you are clearly a goat enthusiast, go forth and procure goats, let them grow fruitful and multiply.”  Alas, there is one problem.  Tommy is terrified of them. Damn.