Friday, September 30, 2011

Interesting Animals: Pangolin

A member of one of the several species of pangolin
The pangolin, also called the scaly anteater, is a quite unusual creature: appearing part armadillo, part anteater, and part sloth. The seven pangolin species are found in Africa (four species) and Asia (three species). Unfortunately, four of these species are endangered, including all of the Asiatic species. Like anteaters, the pangolin exclusively eats insects such as ants and termites, using their sturdy forelegs and heads to dig for them and their long tongues to collect them. Like most species that specialize in such tiny animals, the pangolin has no teeth. When threatened, these unusual animals will curl up into a ball for protection. Habitat varies by species, with some living in trees while others prefer the ground. They are normally nocturnal and solitary. The pangolin has poor eyesight, but good hearing and sense of smell. The plates on their body, which are used for defense and are actually fairly sharp, make up a significant portion of the animal's body weight.

The pangolin was once classified with the armadillos and anteaters, but they are actually rather distantly related and the similarities in appearance and behavior are most likely convergent. Now, pangolins are classified in Order Pholidota while armadillos, anteaters, and sloths have been grouped into Order Xenarthra.

Sources are the African Wildlife Foundation and the University of California Museum of Paleontology. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Koala

Specifically, this is the mating call of a male koala.

A recent study found that what allows these fairly small animals to make such a remarkable noise is the length of their vocal anatomy and peculiar shape of their larynx. It's actually more similar to a humans than any other marsupial and is what allows the males to sound far larger than they really are. In fact the larynx morphology (called a "descended larynx") was once thought to be only found in humans and vital to our ability to speak. Now, however, it has been discovered in both koalas and also red deer. I would suspect that eventually other animals will be found to have the same unique feature. Sounding big is probably an important part of the mating rituals of these interesting marsupials, likely scaring away other males.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guess the Genotype #25

Can you guess this dog's genotype? Can you also guess his breed?

Image is from under a creative commons license

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fairy Rings

A fairy ring growing on a lawn in Queensland
An illustration from 1880 of the dancing fairy myth
Have you ever heard of a fairy ring? Those mysterious rings of mushrooms that seem to appear out of nowhere were once thought to be caused by a ring of dancing fairies. Other stories say that lightning is the cause, or that they are where the devil churns his butter.

In fact, the truth is that they are a naturally occurring phenomenon that is caused by the natural growth process of certain Basidiomycetes (the class of fungi that produce mushrooms). Fungal colonies can be quite large, and mushrooms will only sprout from the edges of colonies. The older the colony, the larger the fairy ring that is formed will be. It is not unheard of for a ring to be as large as two hundred feet in diameter. Large fairy ring may be quite old, with growth rates ranging from about three to nineteen inches per year. If the average growth rate is three inches a year, a two hundred foot ring would be eight hundred years old!

I do find it interesting that fairy rings are considered a "turf disease." I actually find them quite attractive, and they usually won't kill the grass. In fact, one common characteristic of the rings is taller grass produced by the extra nutrients that the fungus releases as it feeds on the soil. This means that a common first sign for a fairy ring is not the mushrooms themselves, but actually a ring of taller than average grass. There are several near where I live, but the mushrooms are dieing or falling over and are thus not very photogenic.

Source is Colorado State University. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free: one, two

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unusual Breed: Azawakh

A female Azawakh

One of my top five favorite breeds, the Azawakh is one of the few breeds that originates in Africa, specifically from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The breed's name comes from the Azawakh valley, and it was first exported in the 1970s. Its first appearance in the United States was in the 1980's. It is a sighthound that can be fiercely loyal to its people. They can also be quite independent, which has made many remark at how unusual this combination of characters is. They can be hesitant or possibly even aggressive toward strangers. In contrast, they can be very loving and affectionate to those they accept. They have very strong hunting instincts, and anybody who wishes to own one of these dogs must be aware of that. They may do fine with children, but interactions should be approached with caution. It is also questionable whether an Azawakh will be able to live with such things as cats and small dogs. As so often is the case, it depends on the dog and on socialization.

The Azawakh is very leanly built, appearing "rangy." They are usually taller than they are long, and as such often appear to be all legs. They are intolerant of the cold, but handle the heat quite well. They require exercise and without it, like most sighthounds, can become destructive as they will look for ways to entertain themselves. Unlike most sighthounds, this breed can actually be rather reliable off-lead as long as they are trained properly.

The FCI says this dog is the "wrong" color
There is currently much controversy surrounding the acceptance of color in this breed in the Western registries. Some standards, most notably the FCI, accepts only a quite narrow range of color, whereas in Africa these dogs actually come in numerous colors and patterns. Despite this, the FCI only accepts shades of red with certain amounts of white, with or without black brindling or a black mask. I take the view of many Azawakh fanciers, and indeed many breed standards: the breed should be preserved as it appears in its area of origin.

Overall, though fairly healthy, the Azawakh is prone to sensitivity to certain anesthesia and their blood-work may appear odd to the uninitiated veterinarian. Bloat is a concern, as in all deep-chested breeds. Seizures, Wobbler's syndrome, and cystinuria (a kidney issue) sometimes occur. Hip dysplasia is not a problem.

Sources are the AAA, the AKC,, Vet Street, and the FCI. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under a creative commons license or are copyright free: one, two

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Crazy Plants: Bristlecone Pine

A Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in the White Mountains of California
Though there are several species of bristlecone pine, I am specifically referring to the Great Basin species. This is a fascinating tree which is able to live for remarkably long periods of time, growing only minute amounts at a time. In fact the oldest known living tree, dubbed "Methuselah," is not that far from five thousand years old (about 4600). Arguably, there are older plants whose visible parts will die off and then new bits will sprout from the old root system. However, in keeping with what would be most people's definition, Methuselah is the oldest continuously growing, continuously standing living thing.

New growth in a bristlecone
These bristlecones grow in very harsh environments, with cold weather, little moisture, high winds, and high elevations. This is what causes their twisted shape and slow growth, which produces dense wood that resists many of the things that ravage trees, such as fungus and insects. Fire also rarely occurs in the area, and when it does the vegetation is so sparse that they don't get very far. All of these things combined have allowed threes such as Methuselah to live for such remarkably long times. The trees do grow in less harsh environments, but never reach nearly as old of an age.

Another very old bristlecone, by the name of Prometheus, which was cut down in 1964, was 4900 years old. The study of this tree led to great advances in the understanding of such things as carbon dating. If it had been left standing, it would surely be the oldest known bristlecone. Still, it is quite possible that there are older P. longaeva out there that have not yet been identified.

Source is the National Park Service. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are either under a creative commons license or are copyright free: one, two

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Little Adventures

Tired, happy dog. He's actually facing a fence that separates the path from a nearby road

I took Ebon down to my college campus today to check out the new bike path that was added over the summer. It's really quite beautiful, as you can see above. Numerous live oaks are growing by the path, dripping with Spanish moss and at regular intervals sit lamps to light the way at night. I really thought the live oak that's arching over the path was particularly striking. It's rather peaceful, despite the noise of the road.

Ebon had a blast and came home tired. I'm trying to find good places to take him for a nice walk or run now that we're living in the city, and I think I'll be coming back to this little bike path. There are plans to extend it, so maybe by this time next year it will be twice as long. I'm also getting him used to his reflective vest for safety reasons. Since he's so dark, I want cars to be able to see him if we're going out at night. He really seems to like it since it resembles his backpack in shape and that always means we're going on an adventure. He got very excited when I pulled it out. It was really humid today, over ninety degrees. I think neither of us can really wait for Autumn weather to come. Walking is far more pleasant when you're not swatting mosquitoes every few moments.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Invasive Species: Red Fox

A European red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
The red fox is an invasive that has likely caused or has a great part in the decline of numerous animals in both Australia and North America, including more than a few extinctions. However, the true impact of the species is complicated to determine as there are likely other factors that have led to the loss of those prey species. Though there isn't much competition seen between the red fox and other species, it is believed that qoulls in Australia are being negatively effected. The red fox is also known to take livestock (as in chickens and young sheep and goats) and is a potential carrier for rabies. Fox pelts are a large part of the fur industry, for which they are raised on farms. I would imagine that the several color varieties make the species especially attractive to the industry.

This species is native to a very large area: Europe and virtually all of Asia, plus parts of North Africa and North America. They have been introduced to Mexico, Canada, the United States, and Australia. Due to the addition of this introduced range, the red fox is easily called "the most widely distributed carnivore in the world."

Numerous methods have been and continue to be used in attempts to control the red fox population, especially in Australia. Poisoning, shooting,  fencing, and trapping have all been used, but recently there has been more concentration on trying to limit the foxes' abilities through baiting. These baits may include poison, vaccines, or something that effects fertility, which reduces the number of young born. In Australia, the poison used is derived from a native plant that native species can tolerate so as to only kill the invasive. Exclusion fencing can also quite useful if constructed in the right manner.

The red fox is on the list of the 100 World's Worst Invasives at #99.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Google-ing Evolution

And evolutionary tree based on fully sequenced genomes. Bacteria are in blue, archaea in green, and eukaryotes in red
I did a little experiment today and Google'd the words cases for evolution. I was actually rather shocked to find a link to the Institute for Creation Research coming up at number four. I suspect that the results would have been much different if I put the words in quotation marks, but that's not the point.

Of the developed countries, the United States has one of the lowest acceptance rates for the theory of evolution. Numerous studies have found these numbers stay true. Despite this, the scientific world still overwhelmingly accepts the theory to be true. Despite this, supporters of creationism and intelligent design continue to make lists of scientists that oppose the theory and claim that this is proof that there is debate going on among the scientific community. These lists generally have few, if any people who have a very good understanding of the theory. Also, lists such as Project Steve are a humorous counterpoint to the creationists.

I feel that this low acceptance of the theory comes from a combination of sub-par education and too many people spreading misinformation. It still amazes me how people still listen to such characters as Kent Hovind and actually believe that he's telling the truth when he's actually lying through his teeth.

It makes me wonder what Charles would think. He would be amazed by what has been accomplished since his death, and also probably more than a bit upset at all of the continued dissent against his life's work. We have many advantages that he did not, like a good understanding of genetics, access to highly accurate dating methods, and decades of work trying to discover any real evidence that goes against the theory. That's what scientists do. They check and re-check to see if they've done anything wrong. It's why the theory of evolution has changed slightly since the publication of On the Origin of Species.

Yet creationists continue to ignore all of that work and sneer in the faces of thousands of scientists and the countless hours of work that has been put into the theory.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free: one, two

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Guess the Genotype #23

Chris over at Border Wars directed me to this dog, named Dottie, some time ago and I've been contemplating what its genotype could possibly be ever since. Can you guess this dog's genotype? Can you also guess its breed?

Image is from a chicken rearing forum, and is copyright its poster, user stephanie1992

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On the Subject of Dog Food

I know that dog food has been a hot topic lately, and I thought that I would weigh in. Here's what Ebon's dinner looked like today, including a special canned food treat:

One cup and a bit of Blue Buffalo Lamb & Brown Rice and one 10 oz can Simply Nourish Chicken & Pasta Stew
I feed my dog the best food that I can on a college student's budget. His diet on most days consists of about three and seven-eighths cups of kibble split into two meals. That comes out to about one thirty pound bag of food every month. It's a lot of food, but I love my dog and I want to do the best for him that I can. I currently feed Blue Buffalo Life Protection, whichever formula happens to be on sale when we visit the store. He's almost out of Lamb & Brown Rice, after which I have a bag of Fish & Sweet Potato and another of Chicken & Brown Rice. He's had basically every food from the Life Protection line except for those made for small dogs or puppies. I prefer the non-large breed kibbles because the smaller size prevents him from eating too fast. I chose Blue because it is on the higher end of quality in the dog food world, and in its price range it is one of the best values. I'm seriously considering switching to Simply Nourish dry food because it is comparable to Blue quality-wise, but is a few dollars cheaper for the same amount of food.

Someone likes the smell
I don't give Ebon canned food often because of the cost, but he gets it as a treat about once every month or two. This was the first time that I've given him Simply Nourish and I was very happy with it. I switched him completely over to Blue Buffalo some time ago, and his canned treat used to come from their line of food, but most of their canned food looks, frankly, like most dog food: a bit like brown, processed who knows what. I know what the label says and the food is pretty good, but I can't keep my brain from saying "ew." Though it smells better than the cheap stuff, it still had that unpleasant canned food smell to it. Simply Nourish, on the other hand, is bright and colorful. You can see every ingredient that is listed on the label except for the added vitamins and minerals. It looks like something I would eat. It also actually smelled not unlike canned chicken soup...but with pumpkin in it.

So, what is my opinion on what people should feed their pets? I do not think that you necessarily have to feed grain-free food or top-quality food. I don't think that you necessarily have to feed raw or home-cooked or canned, even though many vets promote that and I would probably choose to feed a raw diet if I was able to afford it. Less processed foods are the healthiest, which is true for people and for animals too. I do suggest buying the best that you are able. I don't think variety is very important. If you don't spoil your dog by giving them tidbits of everything in the house, they'll eat any food you give them. It's their nature. Our old dog Charlie got table scraps on about a weekly basis and was pretty picky, preferring people food to dog food (which got to be a serious problem when he became ill). Ebon didn't get table scraps until he was two because I didn't want him to be spoiled, and he'll eat anything you give him. Variety can also actually be quite bad if your dog has certain allergies.

I will note that there are many benefits to feeding a dog higher-quality food. I have noticed many changes in Ebon since he was switched off of Iams: less poop, firmer poop, less stinky poop, a shinier coat, less shedding, more energy, cleaner teeth, and he just generally smells better. I am not a veterinarian, but here is what I do think everyone should consider if they care about their pet:
  1. Know what is in your food! If you don't make it yourself, read that label!
  2. Make sure the diet is balanced. Foods such as "95% Meat" canned are not balanced and should not be fed exclusively, but in combination with other foods. Again, read the label!
  3. Look past the bright, colorful packaging. Some of foods in the prettiest packaging are actually full of unsavory ingredients.
  4. Beware of labeling such as "premium" as there is no regulation on such terms and may hide a lower quality product.
  5. Only buy food that lists the source of its ingredients. If the label says "meat"or "animal protein" or anything like that, don't buy it. Would you want to eat mystery meat?
  6. Look for food that lists some form of meat as the first ingredient. Though dogs are omnivores, they do have a noticeable preference for meat and as such unless your dog has a specific issue with animal protein, animal protein is good.  
  7. Avoid things like artificial colors. They're to make the food look pretty to you and are really a pointless adition. Your pet won't care what their food looks like.
  8. Talk to your vet. They will generally be able to help, especially if your pet is having some sort of medical issue.

In conclusion, be smart and know what you're feeding your pet. There are a lot of dog food review websites out there, and they can help you make an informed decision (my personal favorite being the Dog Food Advisor) but be cautious and check their analysis. If you do decide to change, always transition foods gradually to avoid stomach upsets. Feed to a good weight, and beware that better quality food generally has more calories and thus you'll probably need to feed less.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interesting Animals: Antlion

An antlion larvae. There are numerous species, all in the Family Myrmeleontidae which literally means "ant lion"
Have you ever wondered what those little pits in the ground ringed by mounds of soil are? Well, wonder no more. They are made by what is known as an antlion; the larvae to be specific. They are also sometimes called "doodlebugs" because of the patterns they can leave in the sand. The patterns are actually created when the insect is searching for the ideal place to build it's tiny ant deathtrap.

Adult antlion
They're very odd looking as larvae, with those large jaws and fat bodies, but as adults they look a bit like a dragonfly. They adults aren't very good at flying. There are about 2,000 different species in the antlion family, and they are found all over the world.

The reason they are called "antlions" is because of the fact that as larvae, they specialize in eating ants. Those mounds are used to trap the ants and the shape of that mound and the antlion's behavior is such that once an ant falls in, it's almost impossible for the ant to get out. Once captured, the antlion paralyzes and then sucks the juices out of its prey. It will then discard the dried out husk with a flick of its head.  Also, apparently, the larger the mound, the hungrier the antlion. There are some very interesting videos of the entire process to be found on the internet.

An antlion mound I found today
Many list antlions as quite benificial insects mostly because of the fact that they prey on ants, a commonly cited pest. The relation to ants has always been recognized. They were even once classified as species of ants, but that classification was long ago disproved.

The Biology department at the college where I earned my Bachelors degree did some interesting experiments on antlions, including such things as if they have a preferred species of ant prey and how large does a stone have to be before the antlion can no longer fling it out of the way. During the experiment, the professors found Cyphomyrmex rimosus ants, which proved to have interesting behavior that helped prevent the antlions from eating them. One of the researcher's interest in the little fungus-growers eventually led to me working with them.

Here's a video about these odd insects from National Geographic:

Source is the Antlion Pit: A Doodlebug Anthology. First two images are from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license or the copyright holder allows any use: one, two

Friday, September 16, 2011

Crazy Plants: Titan Arum

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in its reproductive stage

Inside: anthers above, stigmas below
The titan arum is one of the sort of plants that use a putrid odor to attract insects that feed on carrion. These insects are tricked into pollinating the plant. Because of its horrible smell, which has been described as "rotting-fish-with-burnt-sugar," this plant is also known as the corpse flower. It actually heats up its tissue to allow the smell to spread further. The inflorescence, or the body of the plant that holds the reproductive structures (pictured above), is up to ten feet tall, can weigh over two hundred pounds, and hides thousands of both male and female flowers. It can be called the largest flower in the world, though technically it is many flowers. The titan arum only blooms for a few days before it collapses.

After pollination, the plant produces cherry-like fruits that are eaten by birds. The birds pass the seeds and distribute them throughout the forest.When not in its reproductive form, the plant looks just like a plain old tree but has some interesting features in and of itself, like producing only a single, compound leaf. This plant is native to Indonesia and Sumatra.

Here's BBC footage of David Attenborough with this fascinating plant: 


Source is University of Wisconsin. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are either under a creative commons license or are copyright free: one, two

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Lion

Lions make many interesting sounds, but one of the most amazing to me is a male lion's roar. I have found them amazing ever since I heard Leo roaring from the MGM logo.

Even a recording of a male's roar sounds amazingly powerful, and it's not hard to believe that the roar can carry five miles. That takes a lot of energy. Roars are used for such things as defending territory and attracting mates and can even act to identify an individual. Males are highly territorial, and will often roar to try and keep rival males away. The roars are so deep and loud that they will vibrate the metal in the vehicles used to transport visitors to wildlife refuges.

Source is Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Unusual Breed: Xoloitzcuintle

Two Xolos, one hairless and one coated.
The Xolo, or Mexican hairless, is one of several hairless dog breeds. So, how do you pronounce the only breed name that begins with an "X?" It's pronounced "show-low-eets-queen-tlee" and the name is derived from the ancient Aztec language. Like all hairless breeds, there is a coated variety. Because of the nature of the hairless gene, coated Xolos can be born in any litter born from two hairless dogs. It comes in three sizes: Toy, Miniature, and Standard. It is a rather healthy breed, but is prone to issues that are very unusual in dogs, such as acne.

The three sizes
The FCI recognizes the Xolo as a pariah or primitive breed, a group which also includes the basenji, Canaan dog, pharaoh hound, and Thai ridgeback dog. As such, they have a particular temperament that can make them a bit difficult to train. It is likely that the Xolo was the first American breed, with evidence pointing toward them crossing the Bering Straight land bridge along with humans.

In Mexico, these dogs were used to treat numerous ailments, acting as living hot water bottles because of their warm skin. In certain areas, the dogs still serve this exact purpose. They were also used as guardians, and sometimes sacrificed on the death of their owner in the belief that they would guide the soul to the afterlife. They were also eaten, considered a delicacy before the arrival of the Spanish.

The Xoloitzcuintle was featured in a rather amusing spot on Animal Plant's Dog's 101.

Sources are the AKC and FCI breed standards and Vet Street. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative common licenses: one, two

Name That Disease #10

Can you figure out what disease this man has?
Image is from Wikimedia Commons and is copyright free

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Crazy Plants: Coco de Mer

A Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica) at a botanical garden in Sri Lanka
A single seed of this palm
 The Coco de Mer is the producer of the world's largest seed that can weigh as much as thirty kilograms. The name "coco de mer" means "coconut of the sea" and comes from the fact that sailors would find them and thought they had come from a sea plant. On top of that, they also have the world's longest leaves (ten meters maximum) and can grow to be thirty-four meters in height. It is a rainforest plant, and is found on islands such as the Seychelles. It takes twenty-five years before one of these plants can produce fruit, and each fruit takes seven years to reach its full size.

Histornally, the seeds of the Coco de Mer have been used to make such things as bowls. Unfortunately, the seeds are often collected by those who are fascinated by them in such high numbers that few to no new plants have been sprouting. Fires have also been an issue. The Coco de Mer is a Vulnerable species. Efforts are being made to protect this unusual palm.

Source is ARKive. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free: one, two

Guess the Genotype #21

Can you figure out this dog's genotype? What about its breed?

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Interesting Animals: Lammergeier

On my brother's suggestion, here is a fascinating species that is also called the bearded vulture.

An adult lammergeier or bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

The lammergeier is unusual among the vultures for having a diet that consists primarily of bone. They usually arrive at a carcass when there is little left, and then they go for the rich marrow that can still be had, ingesting large amounts of bone in the process. The majority of their diet comes from moderately sized ungulates, a term referring to hoofed mammals. Their stomachs are exceptionally acidic to allow them to digest all of that bone. Interestingly enough, they in fact don't regurgitate food for their young as in most vulture species, but instead take back food outside of their stomach.

A juvenile
They are quite large birds with wingspans of around nine feet, and unlike nearly all vultures their heads are feathered. This may be due to their diet being so different from most vultures. As with so many birds, young individuals are rather drab while adults are strikingly colored. Though their bellies are a cream sort of color, they like to bath in iron-laden water, causing their bellies to become stained a rust color. The amount of this staining varies between individual birds.

Their conservation status is currently of Least Concern.

Lammergeiers were featured on the Birds episode of BBC's beautiful documentary series Life, which aired on Animal Planet. Below is a clip from another documentary, also by the BBC.

Sources are ARKive, Animal Planet, Punctuated Equilibrium from the Guradian, and Animal Diversity Web. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Invasive Species: Giant Reed

This species actually goes by numerous names, including bamboo reed, giant cane, reed grass, and numerous others.
Giant cane (Arundo donax), which can be nearly two and a half meters tall

This is another organism from the 100 World's Worst Invasives list, where it sits at #10.

Bamboo (left) and giant reed (right)
Giant reed is a species of grass and its native range runs all the way from the Eastern Mediterranean, up to much of the former Soviet Union, and East to the Pacific. It has been introduced practically everywhere. It's major impacts are mostly caused by its rapid growth and spread. It can easily out-compete most native species, and recovers from fires significantly faster that other plants. It is also a cause of fire because of it is actually highly flammable! It is a massively tall grass, with the only taller grasses being bamboo.

It is an attractive plant, and as such it is often grown as an ornamental and its flowers (which are somewhat purple) are used for decoration. It has been used to make musical instruments, including pipe organs. It is also used to reduce erosion in wet areas. Giant cane has also found use in folk medicine, where it is believe to cure or help ease numerous illnesses.

Close up of the leaves
Control and management methods vary greatly. Australia does not allow the plant to be imported. Some pesticides work, though its effectiveness largely depends on the method used when applying, as does physically pulling the plants out of the ground if done properly. Burning does not work, as it can actually help the reed spread. Biological controls have been rather ineffective, but it seems goats may be an effective way to control this aggressive grower.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two, three

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Name That Disease #9

Can you guess what this disease is? If it helps, that is brain coral.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons and is copyright free.

Guess the Genotype #20

Can you guess what the dog on the right's genotype is? Can you also guess its breed? What about the dog to the left?

Image is from Wikimeida Commons and is copyright free.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Maned Wolf

Maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus) are usually very quiet animals, but on occasion they will make a noise called a "roar-bark." It begins at 0:50.

That is quite an interesting sound, isn't it! The roar-bark is one of only three vocalizations they make, the other two being a grown and high-pitched whine. Maned wolves, also sometimes called "stilted foxes," are fascinating animals. The "wolf" and "fox" descriptors are misnomers because the maned wolf is actually an more distant offshoot of the Canidae family and not closely related to either wolves or foxes. Nearly a meter in height, they are omnivores and their diet consists mainly of a fruit called "wolf apples" (Solanum lycocarpum). They also feed on small animals and are known to occasionally take free-range chickens. They are native to Brazil, though their territory once reached into several neighboring countries. In captivity, they do best in opposite-sex pairings. Young are born very dark and will lighten with age. They are Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

Source is Animal Diversity Web.

Crazy Plants: Century Plant

The American aloe (Agave americana), also known as the century plant
Several century plants in bloom
Technically the entirety of the Agave genus can be called "century plants," however I am referring specifically to the American aloe (Agave americana). Legend says these plants bloom once every hundred years, however in the right conditions it can take much less time, as little as fifteen years. The plant will begin to grow a long stalk from its center, putting all of its energy into the growth. When the stalk reaches its full length (which can be more than thirty feet), it flowers and then the entire plant dies. When flowering, six hundred flowers on a single plant is not uncommon.

In Mexico, the plant is a very useful source of material. If the stalk is cut off before it has grown very long, a pool of sap will appear. This can then be used for such things such as making a popular drink which can then be fermented and distilled. The pith can even be used for insulation.

Close up of the flowers
This is a common plant used in landscaping, gardens, and greenhouses. In the south, the plants thrive, but in the north the plants require the extra warmth a greenhouse prodives. It is quite large: up to seven feet high and twelve feet in diameter, not including the stalk. I believe there may be two century plants on my college campus, which has several gardens that include a wide variety of plants, some of which are very unusual.

Here is a photo diary of a century plant that bloomed in 2007 at Longwood Gardens after being there for ten years. A window pane of the greenhouse it was being kept in had to be removed to accommodate the stalk. Another plant at the Bronx Park Botanical Gardens bloomed after being there for fifty years.

Sources are Time Magazine, University of Arizona, and Longwood Gardens. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses or are copyright free: one, two, three.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Places, New Faces

One blister (bottom) today
Sorry for disappearing for a bit like I did, everyone. I have moved to the city and have been unpacking. That's right, Ebon is now a city dog. He's adjusting pretty well, though unfortunately on Saturday my dad was along to help and he took Ebon out to exercise and the dog injured both of his front feet. The largest pads on both of his forepaws blistered on the hot pavement and the blisters then sloughed off. I had to put socks on his feet for two days to help him out and keep him from licking the blisters (which would bleed when he licked). I'm a bit angry, honestly, because this is the fourth time this has happened while the dog was under my father's care. The first time was when he was only seven months old and I yelled at my dad over it. He took him on a four mile run. Who takes a puppy on a four mile run? This has never happened when the dog was under the care of anyone else. It seems that no matter how many times I warn him he just won't listen to me. Luckily, Ebon's soreness is gone and he's not stumping around anymore and the tissue is firming up. His pads are still far from normal, though.

I have a roommate, who also happens to be my brother, and the cats Albus and Ginny were left with my mother. Instead I am now living with my brother's two cats: Jen and Ash, who are half-brothers. There are a few negatives, like no private yard and the dog having to be on-lead all of the time. However, there are several parks nearby, including a dog park, and the city is very dog friendly. I will not miss having to deal with aggressive dogs whose owners have decided it was a good idea to let them run free.
Beginning tomorrow, I will be posting double posts to make up for my time away. 

I leave you with Ebon sacked out at the new place.

He's a very tired puppy

Friday, September 2, 2011

Unusual Breed: Thai Ridgeback

A Thai ridgeback in red
A "violin" ridge
This is one of a small number of dog breeds that have ridges of hair growing in the opposite direction along their backs. It comes in several colors and the ridge can vary greatly in size and shape. Unlike the Rhodesian ridgeback, which has only one accepted ridge shape, the Thai has eight, including "needle," "arrow," and "lute" among others.As the name suggests, they are native to Thailand and they are considered to be one of the primitive breeds, often called pariahs.

The breed has been used for such things as hunting and as watch dogs and even as carting dogs. They are known for being capable of killing cobras. Their temperament is typical of the pariah breeds, and reminds me very much of the basenji in the descriptions of its character.

A blue Thai
Thai ridgebacks are very active dogs with strong hunting instincts. They are very intelligent, independent thinkers and can be very challenging to train. Often destructive when young, they need exercise and are best behaved when kept active. They generally hate being bathed but they are also quite clean dogs, so baths are probably not often needed. They are sensitive to the cold and do very well in the heat. Though they are generally very quiet, but make good guard dogs. They can be very territorial around strangers. Tenacious in character, they will hunt anything small and are most likely not the sort of dog to have around cats.

As mentioned on Dogs 101 on Animal Planet, there are few outside of their native Thailand and, though mostly a very healthy breed, they are prone to dermoid sinus.  

Main source is the Association of Thai Ridgeback Owners & Fanciers. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons incenses: one, two, three.

Thursday, September 1, 2011