Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interesting Animals: Devil's Hole Pupfish

Devil's hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis)
These little fish are found in only one small, water-filled cave in Death Valley: Devil's Hole. They forage exclusively on a small rock ledge in the pool, and their population is only 36 individuals. Since the pool is found in such an arid region, there is great concern that the pool could dry up, either naturally, or due to nearby agriculture depleting the water that feeds the pool. These little fish were even involved in a 1976 supreme court case (Cappaert vs. U.S.) that ruled to prevent removal of too much water from Devil's Hole. The IUCN Red List currently has them listed as Vulnerable, though they are in need of being assessed again. 

Devil's Hole
The pupfish are under constant watch (see the camera on the ledge at right), and there is an attempt to create a stable captive population in the event that something happens to Devil's Hole. Some would say "Why save these little fish? It wouldn't make any difference if they weren't there anymore." However, in many ways the conservation of these pupfish is a small-scale exercise in trying to increase the numbers of an endangered species. Indeed, in 1988 these fish were listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List and their numbers did manage to rebound and stayed fairly steady for many years. Since then, though, they have dropped again and the US still classifies them as Endangered.

There is concern as to how many times the population can shrink and then rebound. Each time this occurs, genes are lost through the bottleneck effect, and can lead to a spiral downward to extinction if the loss of genes no longer allows for the fish to be able to stand environmental changes.

Images used are either copyright-free or under a Creative Commons license at Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Invasive Species: Zebra Mussel

Out of curiosity, I Google'd "invasive species" and looked under images to see what would be the first thing to come up. It was the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), a species that has become infamous. The polymorpha species epithet describes the fact that these bivalves can vary in their appearance, as shown below.

Zebra mussels with various phenotypes
Mussels fowling equipment
These little mussels have been devastating the Great Lakes as well as many other parts of the world. One of the serious problems they cause is the clogging of pipes and fowling of ships and other equipment found in the water (including the device at right, which is used to measure current). This is caused by the fact that they will cluster tightly together, one on top of the other using byssal threads. Pipes, ship hulls, and other equipment must be constantly cleaned both to remove the offending mussels, and in the case of small boats, attempt to prevent the spread of the mussels to other bodies of water.

Dense populations of zebra mussels also filter water incredibly quickly, and in doing so limit food available to other species and change the makeup of the plankton community in a body of water. By greatly reducing the plankton, the water becomes more clear, completely changing the living conditions for the resident species. They also will coat the bottom, benefiting some species but limiting space available to others. They have also been known to cover other species, including other bivalves and crustaceans. They often out-compete other bivalve species, and are stressing populations of the various species of endangered freshwater mussels.

A clump of zebra mussels
They are native to Eurasia (namely the Black, Caspian, Aral and Azov drainage basins), and were believed to have arrived at the Great Lakes in a larval form through ballast water. The zebra mussel has also been found invading waters of Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland, western and central Europe, and north-west Russia, along with other areas of North America. It appeared in California in 2008. It is currently listed at #31 on the list of 100 World's Worst Invasives.

Images are copyright free from Wikimedia commons.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guess the Genotype #4

 This one is tricky! 

Image is from under a Creative Commons license 

Click "read more" for my answer!

Unusual Breed: Ca de Bestiar

Also known as the Ca de Bestiar Mallorca, Perro de Pastor Mallorquin, Mallorquin Shepherd, and Majorca Shepherd Dog. This breed first caught my attention after I purchased a copy of Dr. Bruce Fogle's The New Encyclopedia of the Dog. They look rather remarkably like black field-bred Labrador Retrievers, but they are indeed exceptionally different when it comes to behavior.

The breed is Spanish in origin, coming from the Balearic Islands. It is a herding and guardian breed, and was bred for function rather than looks. The ancestry is of unknown dogs from the European mainland. They are black in color, but do quite well in hot climates. They are bold, tenacious, independent dogs and are described as "uncomplicated, unsophisticated, and utilitarian." Their popularity has been spreading to other parts of the world, including South America where it is used as a guardian dog. There is also some effort to used it to protect sheep ranches from coyotes in North America.

It is accepted by the FCI and UKC, though the FCI standard is currently unavailable in English. According to the UKC, the breed is characterized as follows:

Height: 22-24 inches
Weight: 77-88 pounds
Coat: short
Color: black
Overall, the standard appears to be a very loose.

Here's a video of one of these dogs herding. I can't get over how much they look like my Ebon.

Image is copyright free from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, June 27, 2011

All of This for Cheese Crackers

Three attentive little creatures: Ebon, Albus, and Ginny
I mentioned a little bit ago about Albus' love of cheese crackers. Well, he's not alone. At one time or another, all of the pets (the mammals at least) have managed to get their paws on one and they've gone crazy for them. I decided to have a little snack of Goldfish crackers today, and within a minute this happened. That's my foot, and they are all in fact staring directly at me. Well, Ginny was, but she glanced down right before the flash went off. Isn't that always how it happens?

Albus is the worst offender. He knows what the packages sound like when you open them and he will come running, meowing and purring and pawing at the counter in the hope that he will get one. He's always done this, but he's been spoiled a bit lately because he lost weight during his hospital stay and he's become especially bratty. It's funny because Albus goes gaga over cheese crackers, but he won't touch real meat. They get some occasionally as a treat, and though the others chow down he'll just sniff it and walk away. He's a very odd cat.

Ebon, being a dog, is nearly always at hand in case someone drops something. He especially likes crunchy things because they have nearly the same texture as the treats I use when training him, and he always gets excited about the prospect of training. I suspect he associates anything crunchy with this, and thus crackers = crunchy = treats = fun times. With a simple word he'll stop begging, but this was just too funny.

Ginny was a bit of a surprise. She's not very fond of Ebon because he's so much larger than her and his playfulness doesn't mesh well with her skittish nature (due to the fact that she's rather feral). However, they're on fairly good terms and she does love cheese crackers nearly as much as the other two. I think she's also learning what the package sounds like.

And yes, I gave in and they each got one. Except Ginny. She managed to put on weight while Albus lost it, so I'm being hard-hearted and abstaining from giving her any treats.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Interesting Animals: Hartebeest

Most of the herd I studied. Nearly all females, with only one juvenile male
Mack, one of the males
I had the privilege of studying these animals in captivity as part of my degree. I worked with the Jackson's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus jacksoni), whose taxonimic status is currently uncertain. Though once thought to be a separate subspecies, it is now thought they are actually hyrbids between the Coke's (A.b. cokei) and lelwel (A.b. lelwel) subspecies. There are eight subspecies in all, and according to the IUCN Red List one is extinct, one is critically endangered, two are endangered (including the lelwel), one near threatened, and the rest are of least concern (including the Coke's). The subspecies are mainly distinguishable by color: ranging from a dark mahogany color to sandy red, with varying amounts of black.

Cecelia, center, was born during my research
The hartebeest is found through much of Saharan Africa, and they are rarely kept in captivity. Luckily for me, I had a chance to go to St. Catherines Island off the coast of Georgia and work with the animals they had there. 

Hartebeest share a Subfamily with the much better known wildebeest, and in fact they do share some territory in the wild. Both species have curving horns, but the hartebeest's are quite distinctive, forming a sort of S-shape. Their faces are also quite long and thin. In appearance, they are like no other antelope.

Their behavior is quite interesting, but I don't want to spend too much time on that, even though that is what I was researching. They are in fact ruminants like cows and goats, and they do in fact spend a lot of time "chewing their cud". They are members of the Order Artiodactyla or even-toed ungulates (a term for hoofed animals) and in fact have two toes on each foot.

I will never forget my time with these beautiful animals. It will be memorable in many ways, including the death of an animal not in the herd I studied, the birth of a calf, the amusing sight of the young male being reprimanded by his mother, the lemurs, and the remarkable behavior of native wildlife on a private island. Yes, I did say lemurs. St Catherines is famous for their population of free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). If you ever see a lemur photographed next to Spanish moss of other iconic southern plants, it's from there. There were also the startling bellows of the Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi) in the neighboring pen and the equally startling, hollow rat-ta-ta-ta of a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) on the old pine tree behind my observation post.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Invasive Species: Red Imported Fire Ant

The red imported fire ant or RIFA: Solenopsis invicta
Welts caused by fire ant "bites"
If you live in the southern United States, I can guarantee you already know of these little insects. They produce prominent, large, sandy mounds and if you step in one or disturb one in any way, they attack (very violently at that), stinging in mass numbers within seconds. Their stings cause a burning sensation and intense itching, which is where their common name comes from. Red, angry welts follow, each marking a different sting, and they will continue to burn for a week or more. For those who are allergic, it is far worse. They are native to South America, and their non-native range spans two continents and includes Australia, the United States, New Zealand, and the Caribbean Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Colonies can be as large as 400,000 ants.

The sting is one of the things that allows them to be such an aggressive invasive. With it, they can bring down much larger prey than other ant species, and also ward off predators. Most horrifyingly of all, if an area floods most ants will have little chance, but the fire ants will build their own raft. Yes, the video is of a raft made out of nothing but ants. Imagine if your home is devastated by a flood and you're wading through the water to safety and come across that.

The red imported fire ant is one of the 100 World's Worst Invasives, listed currently at number 86. This is mainly due to their estimated 500 million to several billion dollar impact on agriculture annually. They damage crops, mess with equipment, and sting workers. They also can infest common equipment, like swimming pool pumps, cars, computers, and washing machines. They are also a major nuisance, as nearly everyone in their non-native range has been stung at least once, and they are dangerous to those allergic to them.

Images are copyright free from Wikimedia Commons 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Guess the Genotype #3

Here's another guess the genotype, but can you also guess the breed?

 Image is copyright free from Wikimedia Commons 

Click "read more" to see my opinion! Even though my answer is below, feel free to post your guesses.

Unusual Breed: Barbet

A black Barbet. I believe this dog is in France
The Barbet is a French water dog that is the ancestor of the poodle, or at least one of the ancestors. According to some sources, the two breeds were refered to as the same dog for a number of years. It is a very old breed, its first written mention being in 1387. The name "Barbet" comes from the French word for beard, which is clearly appropriate! It is a rarely heard of breed, and at last count there were only around 60 in the United States. The breed comes in multiple colors, but is most often seen in black or liver.

Black and liver Barbet pair in Poland
The breed is fairly versatile: able to hunt, retrieve, point (though possibly not so well), and even work in aiding sailors (something which made the Portugese water dog famous). It is an ancestor to numerous other breeds, including the aforementioned poodle, Newfoundland, and the griffons. It nearly became extinct after World War I, but since then its numbers have grown. However, its popularity pales in comparison to its historical numbers.

The breed is accepted by the FCI, CKC, UKC, and the AKC FSS. According to the FCI, the breed is characterized as follows:

Height: 53-65 cm, the females being smaller than males
Color: black, brown, fawn, or grey with or without white markings up to and including piebald. All shades of fawn are allowed. Also, solid white. 
Behaviour: even-tempered, social, water-loving, and attached to its master
Faults: numerous. I'll let you read them for yourself if you are curious. 

For fun, here's a Barbet lure coursing: 
First Image is copyright-free, second is under a Creative Commons license and is property of Pleple2000, both are from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, June 23, 2011

He Drowned the Mouse

I did it. What's it to ya?
The toy mouse, that is! I went to the dentist earlier today, and when I came back I found this.

This is Albus. He's a mix of who knows what with the most beautiful coloring. He's also cross-eyed. He does things like this on occasion. He's very vocal, and when he "kills" the mouse, he'll wander around the house with it in his mouth meowing at the top of his lungs. I wonder if this happened when he was doing just that and got thirsty, dropping it in the bowl in the process. This is not the first time he's done it, so who knows?

Albus is a very quirky cat. He's the sort of animal that will rub against your leg, and then turn around and bite your ankle. He is quite large, and when he decides to beg for food, it's not unusual for him to rear up on his hind legs and put his paws on the counter to get closer to whatever you have. He never jumps onto the counter, though. He has a jump height maximum which is just over the height of our bar stools, and just under counter height. He's about fourteen pounds and that's with him a bit skinny (he's gaining it back quickly). He had to be hospitalized recently for a urinary tract infection, which is why his front leg is shaved and also why he's a bit skinny right now.

His favorite things are dog food, cheese crackers, meowing at nothing, and annoying Ebon.

Fun in the Sun

Who's a happy dog?
I took Ebon out to play this morning and I though I would do a sort of diary entry about it.

For those who haven't read the first post on this blog,  Ebon is a Labrador Retriever from field stock, also sometimes called an "American" lab (I don't like that terminology because dogs from America come in both the "English" show type and the "American" field type). He is nearly 27 inches at the withers and weighs about 85 pounds.

Ebon will do anything for a tennis ball. It's absolutely his favorite toy by far, and we have a ball chucker to help fling them further. He loves it, and if you have a dog that is a lover of tennis balls like Ebon, I highly recommend it. The special balls you can get for them are pretty nifty. Ebon seems to really like The Whistler, but a regular tennis ball does just fine.

We have a long expanse of yard next to the house, and that is the perfect place to play fetch with him. It's just long enough for me to miss the treeline with the chucker, and there's a handy shade tree that he can rest under. We used to have a kiddy pool for him, but it cracked over the winter and we haven't had a chance to replace it yet.

Throw it, throw it!
And he's off!
We don't have a fence, but Ebon's recall is great. The only times that he won't come when called are when he has to potty, to say hello if a person actually enters our yard, or he runs off to chase a small mammal (usually rabbits). He's never caught one, but it seems that he just can't stop himself. If someone walks or drives by, he doesn't really seem to care, especially if I have a ball in my hand!

Glug, glug, slurp, splash...
Unfortunately, it was exceptionally hot today, so we only played for about five or ten minutes before he was panting awfully hard and I took him inside to cool of. He went through his usual cooling down sequence: drink water, dribble it onto the floor, lay in own drool on cool tile floor, pant for a minute. Repeat until cool. I'll be taking him out again later when it's not so hot.

By the way, if you're curious, Ebon's collar is a nylon no-slip collar modeled after the martingale collars used on sighthounds.  It's, frankly, the best collar I've ever used on a dog and is necessary because he has a small head for a Labrador, a common sight in field lines. It is not a choker collar and in fact when fully closed has the recommended two-finger gap, but when loose it fits him more comfortably than any other collar I have tried on him (which were either too snug or would basically fall off him).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

For the Love of Odd Pets

The hissers. Males are to the far left and right
I have five Madagascar hissing cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa), and yes, they do have names. The boys are Frankie and Walter, and the girls are Louise, Brigite, and Lola.I can tell them apart, but the female are much more difficult than the males. I have to examine them closely (Louise is missing part of one of her legs and Brigite is missing most of an antennae).

They are the easiest pets. They really are. They need water every few days (in the form of a damp sponge), and food just as often. They don't need any special food, and get whatever scraps we have (fruit, vegetables, bread, and dog food). They especially love apple and stale bread. Their terrarium needs cleaning only every week or two. They don't need a heat lamp or anything like that (you can provide one for them, but it will shorten their lives considerably).

Frankie eating bread. Today they got stale bread and spinach
My roaches do in fact have body mites, but it's not exactly a bad thing. The professor who gave me the roaches did an experiment where she took swabs from a colony with mites and one without, and as it turns out the colony with mites had far less bacteria on their carapaces. So, as long as the number are kept in check, the mites aren't hurting them at all and are actually benefiting them. I have had to de-mite my roackes before, and next time I do I'll be sure to post about it. It's nearly impossible to get rid of all of them since you can't use a pesticide or anything, but you can reduce the numbers considerably.

I've had them for some time now, and I suspect most of them are heading toward the ends of their lives. I got the girls as adults, and Frankie is not much younger. Walter is the youngest and I expect him to molt once more, if that. They don't molt again after they reach maturity. I had the males and females separated at one point, but I decided to house them together because I doubt the oldest will live more that six more months or so. At least two of them are around two to three years old already, and that's fairly old for them (they can live to five, but that's not super common). At least one of the females is pregnant, so I'm expecting little baby roaches any time now.

Two of the girls in their "house" hiding under the egg crate. The one on the right is the one I believe to be pregnant.
They give live birth after a gestation of about two months, and it takes the nymphs about seven months to mature. A pregnant female's body will expand to accommodate the developing you and they look "fat" when they're expecting. Males are distinguishable from females due to prominent "horns" in the carapace over their heads and thicker antennae. They are also wingless.

Today was terrarium cleaning day, and I took the pictures while I was doing that. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guess the Genotype #2

That's right! Here's an interesting sort of dog. Anybody care to guess his genotype? This one should be pretty easy.

Image is copyright free from Wikimedia Commons 

Click "read more" to see the answer...

My Backyard

 One thing I love about living in a rural area is the amount of wildlife I can find in my own backyard. Yes, that means that sometimes there is need to be a bit more cautious that in more urban areas, but that doesn't matter to me. It's like a Biologist's heaven. I'm very familiar with some of the recurring animals. For example, we have one fox that is seen on occasion. There used to be a red one which has since been replaced by a cross fox. I suspect the other one died. I call it our "friendly neighborhood fox" even though it will not approach people and will just be seen occasionally dashing across the street from wood to wood or occasionally trotting across a yard. I think it hunts rabbits in the yards, because you see them grazing on the grass all of the time.

Here's some of the animals I've seen around my house:
An absolutely gorgeous web

- Red foxes (in both the red and cross fox phases)
- Whitetail deer
- Owls (exact species unknown)
- Red-shoulder hawk
- Various songbirds (includes cardinals)
- Hummingbirds
- Great egret
- American white ibis
- Crows
- Bats (species unknown)
- Green treefrogs (see below)
- Toads (exact species unknown)
- Green anoles
- Spiders (including wolf spiders and other large spiders)
- Racoons
- Opossums
- Armadillos
- Squirrels
- Moles
- Rabbits
- Lots and lots of insects, including:
  • Viceroy butterflies (among others)
  • Moths
  • Dragonflies of various species
  • Click-beetles and other beetles
  • Lightning bugs
  • Lots of crickets and grasshoppers
  • Tons of mosquitoes and sand gnats (it is the south!)
  • Ants, including the ever-irritating invasive fire ant
  • In the woods nearby I've also seen termites
- Box turtles
- Snakes
  • Black racer
  • Copperhead
  • Eastern ringneck
- Turkey vultures (lots! They nest in the forest behind the house)
- And my dad swears he saw an alligator in a ditch nearby

The pictures in this post were taken last night on my back porch, where I saw at least ten different species (mind you, most were flying insects) and I could hear several more.

The green treefrogs are always sticking to the windows. The cats like to try and play with them through the glass.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Invasive Species: Red Lionfish

 Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Believe it or not, this highly prized aquarium fish has become an aggressive invasive along the Eastern coast of the United States. Since they are such a popular aquarium fish, it is believed that they have been released by private owners. Also, during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, an aquarium was destroyed and six of these fish were released into the ocean. Since then, their numbers have skyrocketed and they have been spotted as far north as New York. The adults have no natural predators and the larvae can swim great distances, which probably accounts for them spreading so quickly. They eat virtually any other fish, and often will eat larvae, which makes them a major threat to native wildlife.

These fish were first seen at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the Georgia coast in 2007, putting all of the animals protected there at risk. After hearing a lecture from a staff member at Gray's Reef, I must say it sounds like things look rather grim.

The species is venomous, with the spines along their back being the point of delivery. This makes them a danger to recreational swimmers, especially in areas like coastal Georgia where the water is usually quite murky. There is a push to try and get people to fish for them to help control the population. Supposedly they are rather tasty, but if not handled carefully the spines can be dangerous.

Images used are copyright-free from Wikimedia Commons 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Guess The Genotype #1

This is something that I find rather fun. Take a dog (or cat) with an interesting color and guess the genotype. This is especially fun when looking at mixed breeds because it can often lead to guesses as to what the dog's ancestry may be. To begin this, I will be looking at Charlie. He was my family's loving companion for fifteen years. We had to put him down in March of 2010 after it was discovered that he had a very aggressive form of cancer. I played guess the genotype and guess the breeds many times over the years, and this is what I concluded: he was a recessive red piebald with liver pigmentation and ticking. What breeds? I'm still a bit unsure, but from his appearance, plus where we adopted him (rural Mississippi where nearly all of the dogs are hunting/sporting types or pit bulls) my best guess is Labrador, Brittany, and beagle with possibly a little bit of something else thrown in. Here's the breakdown:

Charlie's nose, eye rims, lips, and paw pads were definitely not black, instead being distinctly brown in color. This led me to conclude that he was recessive bb liver. Liver (also called "brown"/chocolate/red depending on the breed is found on the "B" locus) will dilute all black on a dog's body to brown.

Charlie had only red and white hairs with no hint of brown hairs, this led me to conclude he was ee recessive red. Recessive red (also called "extension" is found on the "E" locus) prevents black or the dilutions there of from being expressed in the coat, turning it a solid red color, though the red can vary greatly in shade from deep mahogany red to nearly white in color. Charlie is on the dark end of red, but since there is a lot of question as to what genes affect the intensity of red, I won't go into that. Sable red, though it can often be nearly all red in color, usually has at least some hint of black or its dilutes in the coat.

Charlie had a significant amount on white on his coat. It did break his topline and covered over 50% of his body, making it clear he was recessive spsp piebald spotting. Piebald (found on the "S" or "spotting" locus) affects all other colors on a coat, leaving patches of white. Piebald is recessive to the solid (S) gene, as well as the Irish white gene (si) and is dominant to the extreme white piebald gene (sw). Though it is possible he carried a gene for extreme white piebald, I doubt it. Usually the recessives a dog carries on the S locus will in fact effect the overall amount of white. The most famous example of this is in Boxers, which have two genes on this locus: S and sw, yet show three distinct phenotypes: SS solid, swsw white, and Ssw which appears Irish white. Since Charlie showed such classic mid-grade piebald spotting, he was most likely spsp.

Charlie also had small spots of color randomly distributed throughout his coat. This made me conclude he was homozygous Tt ticked. Ticking (found on the "T" locus) is a dominant gene, with the recessive being no ticking. Since his ticking was not very dense, I suspected that he only had one copy of the dominant gene. When a dog has heavy ticking, I would suspect it to be TT, and thus Charlie probably was not.

So, Charlie was most likely bb ee spsp Tt or recessive red piebald with liver pigmentation and ticking.

It is interesting to note that a mixed breed showed so many recessive genes, but, depending on ancestry, this is very possible. I suspect that he was Labrador/Brittany/beagle partly because of his color and also partly because of his looks. He had a mostly Labrador head, size, and coat, though less oily and maybe a bit longer. Labradors also come in both liver (chocolate) and recessive red (yellow). His tail set, which was nearly always held perfectly upright, is very beagle, and beagles come in recessive red, piebald, ticked, and liver (though ticking and liver are most often seen in working lines, but because of where he came from this is not unlikely). He also had roughly the body type of a Brittany, and Brittanys come in recessive red, liver, piebald, and ticked.

No matter what, we loved him and miss him.

For the next Guess the Genotype, I'll be posting a picture and have you guys guess, then I'll post my opinions.

Unusual Breed: Carolina Dog

 Two Carolina dogs

The Carolina dog is red feral-looking breed with upright ears, and long straight or slightly curved tails. They were discovered roaming free in the area of South Carolina and Georgia some time ago, and in subsequent years were captured so that they could be studied. They are classified as a pariah dog (a group that includes the dingo, New Guinea Singing Dog, Canaan dog, Basenji, and many more), due to their "primitive" behavior, and are believed to have become what they are today after decades or possibly centuries of roaming free through the swamps and forests of the South. In appearance, they do rather strikingly resemble the more famous Australian dingo. This is why the breed has the nicknames that it does: American dingo, Dixie dingo, Southern aboriginal dog, and so on. A captive breeding program has been in effect for the last thirty years. Now, these dogs make good pets.

The Carolina dog is considered a rare breed. They are not accepted by the AKC, and not even the AKC Foundation Stock Service.  It is not one that very many people know of, though their popularity is quickly expanding. One rather intriguing aspect to this is the growing number of pet Carolina dogs in the area of South Carolina and Georgia, where I live. I have a neighbor that owns one. They are not an uncommon sight, and in fact it is not that unusual to find one or two of them in local shelters.  Dogs believed to be Carolina dog mixes are also rather common. Due to this fact, a very large portion of residents are familiar with the breed's appearance if not their name. Even though it is a rare breed, it's likely locals would say otherwise.

The breed in accepted by the ARBA and UKC, among others, and there is an effort being made to get them into the AKC FSS. According to the UKC, the breed is characterized as follows: 

Height: 17¾ to 19 5/8 inches (45 to 50 cm)
Weight: 30 to 44 pounds (15 to 20 kg)
Color: deep red is preferred, but all shades of red are acceptable. Black and tan, piebald, and saddle markings are allowed but not preferred. 
Faults: long, wavy, broken, or curly coats; liver, Dudley, or butterfly noses are minor faults; undershot or overshot bite, short or throaty neck, a twisting or curling tail or one held over the back are serious faults
Disqualifications: Unilateral or bilateral cryptorchid (the nice way of saying missing testes). Viciousness or extreme shyness. Solid white coat color. Albinism.

Images used are copyright-free from Wikimedia Commons 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Training A Cat

If you wanted to start training your cat to do tricks, most people would probably tell you that you are crazy. Cats are too independent, too aloof, that sort of thing, and that it will never work. In fact, training a cat can actually be rather easy. You just need to know how to work with them. Cats are very intelligent, and they're unlikely to start doing things for you unless there is some sort of incentive. It's a "what's in it for me?" sort of mentality. So, if your cat really likes food it will make training them much easier. They're aren't like dogs, who will often do absolutely anything just to get a simple pat on the head.

My cat, Albus (a fluffy flame point mix with white on both his legs and face), knows several commands. I haven't spent a lot of time training him, but he knows Sit, Up, Stand, and Jump Up and will do all of them happily. He's especially good at sitting on command, and will do so instantly without the lure of food. I really must get a video. If I can teach him, an often grumpy curmudgeon, I'm sure that anyone else can train their kitty too. Here's someone who has taught their cat even more:

If you want to start training your cat, here are some things to remember:
  1. Find some sort of treat that your kitty adores. Something small, so that you can give a good amount without over-stuffing him or her. 
  2. Figure out how to shape the trick you want to teach them. Techniques that work on dogs usually work equally well on cats.
  3. Work in small sessions, since cats have small stomachs and also can lose interest quickly.
  4. Consider implementing a clicker, as clicker training will help him or her pick up the behavior more quickly.
  5. Most importantly: make it fun! 
With some patience, your kitty should be able to do tricks too. 

Of course, I must mention my other cat, Ginny (a semi-feral dilute tortoiseshell). I dad make an attempt to train her as well, but it did not go very will. However, I chalk that up to her somewhat feral nature. When I tried to lure the sit she would give me a wary look and walk away. Usually, luring sit works the first time, if not soon after, and several attempts have all ended in failure. Since I don't want to stress her, I will be leaving my training to Albus.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Invasive Species: Brown Anole

A male brown anole (Anolis sagreia) with dewlap extended

I first found out about the brown anole (small lizard native to the Caribbean) when I was in my Zoology class in 2008. At that point, none of the professors at my college, located in Southeastern Georgia had never seen one. They were something only seen in Florida, which has an ever-growing issue with invasives. Since then, they have become ever-more common, and earlier this year I did, in fact, see one on my college campus.

Invasive species are always dangerous because the true extent of their effect on a habitat will not reveal itself until the animal, or plant or whatever it may be, has been in the area for a significant period of time. Since these lizards have only been in Georgia for a short time, it is unclear what their presence will do to the native wild life.

Potential cause for alarm comes from the brown anole's relative, the green or Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis, seen left). Since the brown anole's territory is expanding, more and more pressure will be placed on the greens, as their diets are quite similar. Also, and I have seen this first-hand during a trip to Florida, brown anoles will eat green anoles. In that same location, brown anoles clearly outnumbered green anoles. Even though this seems to imply that the browns are taking over, it is difficult to tell. It could just be that the greens are better able to blend in with their surroundings and thus were less easily observed. They are able to change from green to brown (the origin of their nickname "American chameleon") and are thus able to blend in very well. Or, it could in fact mean their numbers are dropping.

What does the future hold for these lizards? Will green anoles become extinct? Will the two species be able to coexist? Who knows. Unfortunately, we can only wait and see.

Images used are copyright-free from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

About a Dog

Ebon specifically. Ebon is a black Labrador Retriever from field stock who had his sixth birthday earlier this year. I knew him nearly from birth, and I am glad I was able to go through such an experience. His breeder was the mother of a good friend of mine. Ebon's mother, Hellon, was a sixty pound chocolate working duck retriever and was getting older. She was good at what she did, and the breeder hoped they could get a puppy just as good. I never met the father, but Rebel was also a duck dog, yellow this time and nearly one hundred pounds. Unfortunately, when Hellon was pregnant their home was robbed and the dogs were drugged and thrown into the bathroom. They were concerned about the puppies, and had reason to be. 

The litter was born in mid January 2005: five boys, all black. It came as quite a surprise to the breeder. With a chocolate mother and yellow father, they were expecting a colorful litter. I met the pups for the first time when they were two weeks old. They were five perfect little creatures, active and vocal as can be. Their puppy names came quickly: partly from their behavior and partly from the ribbons placed around their necks. Red was Reddy, yellow Sunshine, dark blue Grunt, light blue Little Boy Blue, and green was Crapper. They grew so quickly into active little things, and their mother would hop the baby gate to be away from them when they got especially rowdy.

Before long, they were two months old and it was time for them to go to their new homes. One by one, they left, and eventually little Grunt, then called Calvin was the only one left. The person who was supposed to take him had changed their mind. The breeder didn't want to keep him, as she had wanted to keep a female, so she went on the hunt to find him a new home. Time passed, and he got older, and now few people wanted to adopt a puppy that old. After he turned five months old, the breeder approached me. If I fixed him he would be mine free of charge. I was a junior in high school, and after some coaxing my parents let it happen.

Ebon became my dog, joining a household that already included a ten-year-old Lab mutt (Charlie) and two cats (four-year-old Albus and three-year-old Ginny). He has been my pride and joy ever since. He matured to be a handsome, eighty-five pounds of lean muscle. He's no duck dog, but he probably could have been if that was the path I had wanted to go down. Instead, he's a much-loved pet and will be mine until the day he dies. He's been quite a lesson to me, and we grew up together in a lot of ways. I teach him tricks for fun, and hope to one day certify him as a therapy dog. I might also get him into dock jumping, flyball, or agility. Right now we do aspects of each in play. I plan to post the list of commands he knows. It's fairly extensive.

Last year we discovered Ebon has epilepsy. It's mild, and he only has a seizure every four to six months or so. Each episode had been brief and minor, though it clearly frightens him. He does not require medication. I wonder if the incident while his mother was pregnant could have caused it, because there isn't a family history and all the puppies in the litter have it. No matter what, I still love him to bits and I always will.