Monday, October 31, 2011

Guess the Genotype #30

Can you guess this dog's genotype? What about her breed?

These images were provided to me by a reader, Susie, and are copyright to her.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ebon had a Seizure

For those who are not already aware, Ebon has epilepsy. Today he had another seizure. As I begin to write this it's been less than ten minutes since it ended. As usual, it was quite minor, as a seizure goes.

I had just come home from grocery shopping and took him out to potty, and then when we came back in. He was sniffing around when he started to walk oddly. He was unsteady, gripping at the floor with his toes as if he thought he would slide off of it. In the past, this scrabbling sort of walk has been the first sign of the seizure starting. His back was hunched, and his muscles quivered. I went to him as he swayed there and gently touched his side, trying to keep him from moving around too much. I worry so that he will bump into something and hurt himself. Since I wasn't really restraining him (as that's one of the last things you are supposed to do when someone is seizing), he managed to make his way to the water bowl and took a drink. I nudged him away, worried he might choke. However, he seemed far less worried about the situation than I was and he swallowed the water fine. I pet him gently, telling him he was a good boy. After a few minutes, his muscles stopped shaking and his posture returned to normal. The whole ordeal lasted less than ten minutes, and it's quite possibly the mildest seizure he's had so far. This is also the first seizure that he has had immediately after a walk.

When Ebon had his first seizure over a year ago on May 3, 2010 at around 5:30 in the afternoon, we took him into the veterinarian immediately and had him checked out. He was in their waiting room less than twenty minutes after the seizure, blood being drawn almost as soon as we arrived. They did a full blood panel checking for toxins, and gave us phenobarbital just in case he seized again within the week. And then we waited. His blood work was normal, and he did not seize again. The discussion with the vet was rather interesting. She spoke of how sometimes it's a one-time event, and other times it isn't, and how epilepsy rarely has an obvious event that sets it off. She also said that the phenolbarbital was only going to be necessary if the seizures were severe and/or frequent. After he had his second seizure, she repeated this. It's been decided that he doesn't need medication since any  benefit he would get out of it would be outweighed by the side effects. The seizures are just too infrequent and too minor, and the risk to his liver too great. I still have the medication, though.

Right now he's taking a nap. I've never had a seizure, but I bet that it's a tiring experience. The last seizure that I witnessed was actually on October 25, 2010 and it happened in the early morning. He was terrified during the whole experience, laying down on the floor for ten minutes after he stopped shaking, clearly thinking something bad would happen. It took me several moments to coax him to get up and walk it off. I suspect that he probably had a seizure sometime in the past year when he was kenneled while I was away at class. It's difficult to say, though. Since they are so minor, there is really no sign that would be left. No puddles of drool or other bodily fluids, no injuries, or anything like that.

Here he is, about five minutes after he was back to normal. I'm glad he came out of this one so well.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Drawing Animals: Roseate Spoonbill

Today's animal is the roseate spoonbill.
The roseate spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), is an unusual wading bird that breeds from the Gulf states all the way down to Chile and Argentina. There is nothing quite like a spoonbill, with their flat, spatula-like bill and, in this species, its bright pink color. Their feathers were once highly prized for use in lady's fans. It's such a common and easily recognized animal along the Gulf that they were included in the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog, which is set in Louisiana, during the "Dig a Little Deeper" sequence. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.
My interpretation, which scanned a little oddly

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guess the Genotype #29

Today's dog was suggested to me by M.C. of The House of Two Bows. Can you guess his genotype? What about his breed?

Images are copyright to BRAT

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Unusual Breed: Appenzeller Sennenhund

An Appenzeller Sennenhund in Poland. It is also known as the Appenzeller mountain dog and Appenzell cattle dog.
A "Havannah brown" Appenzeller
This breed is one of the four Swiss breeds known as Sennenhunde. The other three are the greater Swiss mountain dog (Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund), Bernese mountain dog (Berner Sennenhund), and Entlebuch cattle dog (Entlebucher Sennenhund). All four of the breeds are characterized by a distinctive tricolor appearance with fairly moderate white markings. However, occasionally other colorings are seen. The Appenzeller, for instance, also comes in a "Havannah brown" tricolor, with a liver base instead of black. It is the only one of the four breeds with a curled tail, and it is also medium in size, with a desired height of 50-56 cm.

The Appenzeller Sennenhund originally comes from what is believed to be either a cross of local herding dogs and Roman mastiff-types or from native stock that predated more modern dog breeds. It was not bred for type, but instead for their abilities to herd, act as livestock guardians, and also as watchdogs. The dogs were meant to be very utilitarian, and had to be fast and alert, and able to do their work well on small portions of food. Selective breeding using the herding dogs in the region of Appenzell really began after 1914, when the first breed standard was written. This is when the dogs that would become the Appenzeller Sennenhund were isolated from the other Swiss dogs, and the many-colored, high-pitched barker began to become what the breed is today.

An Appenzeller puppy
Overall, the breed is fairly health, with hip dysplasia being the biggest issue in the breed. They can also have epilepsy, thyroid or eye issues, and are prone to bloat. A more commonly quoted problem with the breed is personality problems coming from a lack of exercise or training. They can become obsessive barkers, probably partly due to the fact that barking was a trait selected for in the past.

Sources are the Appenzeller Sennenhund Club, American Kennel Club, Fédération Cynologique Internationale, and the Appenzeller Sennenhund: Home of the Swiss Alps dog breed. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two, three.

Crazy Plants: Ginkgo

Today's crazy plant is a living fossil.

A close up of the leaves of Ginkgo biloba.
Fossil Ginkgo leaf from the Eocene
I'm not kidding when I say that the gingko tree is a living fossil. 50 million years ago, the trees in this genus were really quite common in the temperate areas of the world. Now, G. biloba is the only species in the genus Gingko that is still living, and this is only due to the fact that a few individual trees survived in remote gardens in Asia. The fact still remains that this tree can only be found in cultivation, and if it weren't for us, it would have died out quite some time ago. Due to the unique shape of the leaves of the "maidenhair tree," it is a commonly used tree in landscaping. If you want one of these trees for your home, however, you better hope it isn't a female tree because the seeds of the ginkgo smell rather like vomit (or, as my source describes it, "rancid butter and gym socks"). By the way: yes, I have experience this smell first hand.

A ginkgo in autumn
The leaves of the ginkgo are fan-shaped and are often split into two lobes (thus the specific epithet biloba). The leaves grow in clusters on short branches. They are green in summer and become a beautiful shade of gold in the autumn. The leaf venation is unique for the overall shape of the leaf, what is termed dichotomous venation. Generally, fan-shaped leaves will be veined in one of three ways: palmate, parallel, or pinnate.

The closest living relatives of the ginkgo are the conifers and as such the ginkgo is classified as a gymnosperm (or non-flowering plant). This species is unusual among the gymnosperms due to the fact that it is dioecious (i.e. have separate sexes), with the male and female cones on separate plants. Seeds resemble cherries when fully mature. Though some would say the ginkgo has fruit, the fleshy outer coating that is seen is actually the seed coat.

Ginkgo seeds are actually eaten in parts of Asia, being sold with the odoriferous outer flesh removed.

Source is Bellevue College. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two, three.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guess the Genotype: Breakdown of Alleles

Since I haven't done this in full yet, I thought I should explain exactly what I am using for my Guess the Genotype posts. Here is the full list of known or theoretical genes that affect canine coat color and where the name of the locus originated from, at least it is as complete as I can make it. Where applicable, alleles are listed in order of dominance, i.e. most dominant to least dominant. They are in alphabetical order. As a rule, I try to not deal with genes that are theoretical, but I will mention them as I see necessary. For clarity, I have provided links to examples of dogs who express each phenotype.

You should also known that though I am using superscripts on this post, I do not use them on my GtG posts because it's difficult to get them to work in the posting box. However, the superscript is the more proper way to express the genes.

Dogs show remarkable amounts of variation when it comes to size, shape, color, and other aspects, as can be seen above. In this group of dogs the least number of loci necessary to produce the colors seen is five with at least eleven different alleles.  Image is from under a creative commons license
A locus: Agouti
This locus includes several alleles involving increasing amounts of black on a red base:
Ay - sable, which has hairs with black at the tip, the amount of black can vary greatly
aw - "wild type" agouti, involving hairs banded with black
as - saddle marked, genetically the same as tan point, it is likely caused by as of yet unknown modifiers*. Often called "hound tricolor" when seen with white
at - tan point, black with tan at the cheeks, legs, above the eyes, on the chest, and under the tail
a - recessive black, the more unusual form of solid black, it is rarely seen in dogs
*Rather than combining them, I am retaining the old theorized genes for saddle mark and tan point until there is more information on what causes the difference in phenotype. I find it likely that what is called "capped tricolor" or "creeping tan" is an intermediate between saddle marked and tan point as controlled by the unknown modifiers.

B locus: Brown
What I usually refer to as liver, this gene turns any black on the dog to brown. It will also cause the eyes to become an amber color. There are two alleles:
B - non-brown, black will stay black
b - brown, black is diluted to brown, including the skin pigment

C locus: Colored (theorized from breeding data)
This is the theorized location of such genes as albino and chinchilla. It is believed to cause variation in the lightness of red in a dog's coat. Though this locus is known in other animals, it is quite possible that it is completely absent from dogs as no genetic testing has found evidence for the existence of the gene. If it is present, some sources think that the expression is only visible in recessive red dogs, which would explain such things as white German shepherds (which are always quite pale, even when born from fairly dark red parents). Regardless, numerous alleles are thought to possibly exist in dogs:
C - normal pigment, red stays red
cch - chinchilla, causing red in the coat to lighten in color
ce - extreme chinchilla, further lightening of color, the existence of this is unclear
cp - platinum, red will turn nearly or completely white
c - albino, either extreme rare or nonexistent in dogs

D locus: Dilution
The dilution gene turns any black in a coat to blue and any liver in a coat coat to fawn/Isabella. Blue dogs will have eyes that are a hazel-gray color and Isabella dogs will have eyes that are amber-gray and can often be quite pale. The nose will match the coat. There are two alleles:
D - non-dilute, normal color is maintained (i.e. black or liver)
d - dilute, color is diluted (i.e. black becomes blue and liver become Isabella)

E locus: Extension
This locus is an interesting one with several alleles, causing various changes to the coat:

EM or Em - masked, where a dog has black on its muzzle and around its eyes, amount of black varies
Eg - grizzle or domino, only visible when a dog has "at/at and no KB or EM", it appears to be exclusive to Salukis and Afghan hounds and is similar to sable or agouti in appearance
E - normal color, the dog is able to produce black pigment and is mask-less
e - recessive red, which makes the dog unable to produce any black pigment in its coat

G locus: Graying (theorized from breeding data)
Though this is another theoretical allele, the inheritance is pretty clear. There are two alleles:
G - gray, born dark and will lighten toward white with age
g - non-gray, normal color with no fading

H locus: Harlequin
This is one of the most recently confirmed genes. When combined with the merle gene, it causes the lighter patches caused by merle to be turned to white. It is lethal in the homozygous (HH) form and is probably exclusive to the great Dane. There are two alleles:
H - harlequin, light patches turn white
h - non-harlequin, light patches stay their normal color

I locus: Intensity (theorized from breeding data)
This is a theorized gene that is believed to affect the red in a dog's coat, making it lighter or darker depending on the genotype. Heterozygous dogs will be an intermediate between the two homozygous forms. It appears most sources are moving away from this theorized locus to the C locus for red intensity. There are two alleles:
I - intense, red will be dark
i - diluted, red will be light in color

K locus: blacK
The K locus determines the amount of black that covers up the A locus. Brindle can occur with any A allele, producing such phenotypes as saddled brindle and brindle pointed black (sometimes called trindle when it occurs with white). There are three alleles:
K (or KB) - dominant black, turns the dog solid black in color and hides and A alleles
kbr - brindle, a pattern of black stripes over a red background
k - non-black or brindle, allows the agouti locus to show through in full

M locus: Merle
Merle usually only affects the black in a dog's coat (including black hairs that have been diluted by the B or D genes), causing pale patches to form on an otherwise darker coat. It will also effect skin pigment and eye color, resulting in pink patches on the skin and blue eyes. It usually will not effect red hairs and as such can cause "cryptic merles," which are usually red dogs that don't show that they have a merle gene. In the homozygous (MM) form, merle can be extremely detrimental, causing high incidence of deafness, blindness, and even the loss of eyes. There are two alleles:
M - merle, coat will be patchy
m - non-merle, coat will not be patchy

R locus: Roan (theorized from breeding data)
Roan is believed to be a modifying gene that is associated with the ticking gene, causing a fairly even distribution of colored hairs in white areas rather than spots. It is only visible if one of the white spotting genes is in effect. Puppies will have white areas at birth that will fill with colored hairs as they age. There are two alleles:
R - roan, dog will have a more even distribution of colored hairs
r - non-roan, dog will have spots or ticking

S locus: Spotting
This is what causes white areas to appear on a dog's coat, from bits of white on the toes and chest to a dog that may have no evidence of color at all. Though it seems very simple, it is more complicated than you would think as different combinations of genes can cause somewhat unexpected phenotypes. For example, a dog with one solid gene and one extreme white gene will appear Irish white. If a dog has white that either touches or completely covers an eye, it is quite possible for that eye to be blue in color. White will cover any color or pattern except for ticking and roaning (which add colored hairs back into a white area). There are numerous alleles: 
S - solid, dog will have no white or will have some "residual white" on the toes and chest
si - Irish, white occurs on the legs, chest, and tail tip*
 * collared Irish is caused by the same gene but adds a white collar to the above
sp - piebald, can be similar to collared Irish, but white will cross the dog's "topline" or back
sw - extreme piebald, a dog that is nearly all white with few small spots of color or none at all

T locus: Ticking (theorized from breeding data)
Ticking is spotting on a coat in areas that would otherwise be solid white. It is only visible if one of the spotting genes is in effect. The white will be clear at birth, and spots will appear with age. There are two alleles:
T - ticked, dog will have spots in the white areas of their coat
t - non-ticked, the white will be devoid of spots

V locus: silVer (theorized from breeding data)
This is a theorized gene that might be exclusive to poodles. Its effect is similar to the Graying locus, but it is recessive rather than dominant. It is also incomplete dominant, meaning that a dog that carries one copy of the recessive would be lighter in color than a dog who is homozygous dominant. There are two alleles:
V - non-silver, dog will remain dark throughout its life
v - silver, dog is born dark and lightens with age

W locus: tWeed (theorized from breeding data)
Tweed is another modifier to the merle gene, which causes extra shades of color to appear in a dog's coat. Tweed is rather unusual, and may be exclusive to the Australian shepherd. I have also seen this gene represented as Tw, but I prefer W to avoid confusion with the ticking gene. There are two alleles:
W - tweed, merle will include extra shades of color
w - non-tweed, merle will have only the normal two shades (excluding tan point or white)

X locus: urajiro (?) (theorized from breeding data)
Urajiro is a term used to refer to the pale areas seen in the red of Japanese dogs such as the Shiba Inu, and this same pattern is sometimes called "ghosting". The location is similar in placement to the tan markings seen in tan pointed dogs. Some theorize that this gene is associated with the C locus, while others believe it is a separate gene. It is believed to be a recessive, though other sources refer to it as polygenic. Similar pale areas are sometimes seen in other breeds, and this may or may not be controlled by the same gene. I suspect that it is. I have seen at least one source refer to urajiro as the X locus, and that is what I use for this theorized simple inheritance:
X - normal coloring, no pale points, and pale areas are those commonly seen in the red on dogs
x - urajiro, pale points will be present

Miscellaneous other factors
There are numerous other as of yet unknown factors that affect coat color. What determines the intensity of a mask? Or the degree of Irish white? Or the difference between saddle marked and tan point? Or what causes "bad black" or "seal" to occur in dogs that are genetically dominant black? Why are only some breeds prone to such problems as blue dilution alopecia while others are clear? Why are some double merles completely fine while others are deaf and were born without eyes?

There are also other alleles that are associated to such things as coat type (wire, long, short, curled, hairless, etc.), eye color (mainly just blue eyes that are not associated with genes such as merle and white spotting), ear type and set (drop, prick, semi-prick, rose, button, etc.), leg length, muzzle length, and tail type (curled, straight, bobtail, gay, sabre, etc.). The inheritance of some of these alleles are well known or at least mostly understood (like bobtail, hairlessness, and wire hair), but others are so polygenic that it is difficult to tell the exact nature of how the inheritance works. This is why I talk about coat color and will only occasionally mention other genes when I feel that it is a necessary addition.

An example
Now, let's guess at a genotype with a full representation of genes for this dog. Note that common notation for an unknown gene is to use a dash, as you can see below:

Ay- BB C- DD E- gg hh I? kk Mm si- Tt V? Ww XX or Irish white tweed sable merle with ticking

Sources for this post are: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Wonders of Tea

In line with my last post, here is my favorite treatment for the common cold.

Four of the numerous types of tea: green, yellow, oolong, and black

Tea is incredibly soothing when you have a sore throat, and it is always great to have as a hot drink when it's cold outside. The steam can also help relieve congestion, just like taking a hot shower can.

Unfortunately, the majority of tea that is drunk in the United States is iced and is often made from powdered tea. Like most lovers of tea, I find powdered tea to be a downright travesty. I've tried it, and it's very flat and bitter. Tea bags are okay, and are especially nice for their ease of use. However, you have never really had tea until you have had a well-made cup of loose leaf tea. The decrease in processing of the leaves, as well as giving the leaves more room to move produces a much better depth of flavor. It is true that the quality of bagged teas has improved greatly over the years, but there are some brands that I flat-out avoid due to the fact that their tea tends to taste wrong. For example, Lipton packages their bags in paper wrappings, which makes the already sub-par flavor degrade incredibly quickly. There is nothing as bad as skunky tea.

A small tea bush.
True tea come from the plant Camellia sinensis. Like many of the plants I have mentioned on this blog, there are tea plants growing on my college campus.  In not trimmed, they can grow to a remarkable size. To make tea, the leaves of the plant are removed and processed, with the processing depending on the type of tea. This can include the following: wilting, oxidizing, bruising, crushing, and even fermenting. Some types involve the addition of other chemicals to the tea, such as oil of bergamot in Earl Grey. There are also many forms of "tea" that come from other sources, and as such they are not a true tea. These include Red Tea (rooibos), and various and sundry other herbal teas, which often come from flowers (such as chamomile, hibiscus) or leaves of other plants (such as mint, raspberry). As a general rule of thumb, true teas have caffeine, while herbal teas have no caffeine.

Green tea is an excellent source of antioxidants, and can help stave off numerous health issues. The benefits include reducing the recurrence of cancer, decreasing the incidence of clogged arteries, decreasing bad cholesterol, even preventing obesity. However, the benefits only appear to work when it is consumed on a regular basis. Attempts at creating a tablet form of the good chemicals in green tea have decreased the benefits that come from actually drinking the tea. On average, Americans drink it far too infrequently to get any benefits.

There are numerous different ways to prepare and serve tea. For some teas, steeping time can be flexible, while for others it you leave the leaves in too long you will regret it (Orange Pekoe tastes like rubber when over-steeped). Some people prefer their tea straight, while others like sugar, sugar in the raw, honey, milk, cream, lemon, non-dairy creamer, or artificial sweetener. One lesson: never mix lemon with milk or cream in your tea. The acid can easily curdle the dairy, and produce a very nasty drink indeed.

Some of my current favorite teas include Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Oolong, Green, Orange Pekoe, and virtually any form of herbal tea. My long-standing favorite herbal tea is mint, but I also enjoy chamomile, and numerous blended herbals, as well as herbal blends that include green or black tea. I prefer my tea with sugar in the raw, but generally my second favorite is Splenda because it isn't sticky. When I was younger I liked milk in my tea, but it lost its appeal when I was around thirteen. Honey is okay, and my favorite honey for tea is tupelo honey due to its mild flavor. Unfortunately, tupelo honey is quite expensive. I have never liked lemon in my tea.

I will admit that I do enjoy iced tea, and prefer it to sodas if I am at a restaurant. Sweet tea is a very popular beverage here in the South, and it's quite an adventure ordering it at a restaurant because you can never know quite how they make their tea. Sometimes it's barely sweet at all, and other times it's almost like syrup. Sometimes it's steeped well, and other times it's really bad.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license or are copyright free: one, two.

The Common Cold

I've managed to get sick, so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the common cold.

A model of the rhinovirus, one of the viruses that can cause the common cold
The common cold is an incredibly common ailment, causing more than one billion cases in the United States alone each year. It is the number one reason that people miss work or school. Though you can get a cold at any time, they are more common in the winter, thus "cold and flu season." The common cold is easily transmissible, through miniscule droplets released when someone who has a cold coughs, blows their nose, or sneezes. Generally, someone will only be contagious for a few days, and symptoms will appear within three days of contact.

An uncovered sneeze can spread disease
Symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, a scratchy throat, and a runny nose, but can also include a sore throat, cough, muscle aches, decreased appetite, postnasal drip, and headaches. Treatment is basically riding the virus out and treating symptoms. Over the counter medication can do wonders to make a person feel better, including cough suppressants. Antivirals have so far proven to be completely useless in treating the common cold.  Antibiotics are only suggested if a secondary infection occurs. Complications of the common cold can include bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia, and ear infections.

Chicken soup is good for the cold
Taking vitamin C regularly can prevent your cold from being very long, and taking zinc when you first show symptoms can also shorten the length. Echinacea is sometimes suggested to help prevent you from contracting the virus and also for easing symptoms, but studies have shown that it really doesn't make any difference. Chicken soup is also a common home remedy, and it is believed that the combination of heat, fluids, and salt may be fairly effective. It is unusual for someone to not make a full recovery. If symptoms last more than a week a visit to the doctor is suggested.

Preventive measures are pretty straightforward, including regular hand washing, disinfection, and use of hand sanitizer. A decreased immune symptom can put you at risk for this virus, and ways to improve your immune system include avoiding cigarette smoke, using antibiotics only when necessary, drinking plenty of fluids, eating yogurt, getting enough sleep, and breastfeeding your children. Kids who are not breastfed are, on average, far more sickly than those who are breastfed.

Source is PubMed Health from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under a creative common license or are copyright free: one, two. three

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Drawing Animals: Somali Wild Ass

The Somali wild ass (Equus africanus somaliensis), a subspecies of African wild ass, is a very small wild equid and is actually rather delicate in structure, with the narrowest hooves in the equid world. They are about four feet tall and weight about six hundred pounds, feed on mostly grass, and are known for their unique leg striping. The species is , unfortunately, critically endangered. Image is from Wikimedia Commons and is copyright free.
My interpretation

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Invasive Species: Gambian Pouch Rat

I decided to break away from the list of 100 World's Worst Invasives for a little while, as the database seems to have malfunctioned and is displaying well over 100 listings currently.

The Gambian pouch rat (Cricetomys gambianus)
The Gambian pouch rat is native to much of Africa and it is invasive in the Florida Keys. It's one of the largest Murid rodents (i.e. rats, mice, and related species) and have a maximum weight close to three kilograms. One distinctive characteristic is the last third of their tail, which is a pale cream color. They are a burrowing species and can live for up to eight years.

These large rats were introduced to the area through the pet trade, and it is likely that several of the animals either escaped or were purposefully released. One potentially negative impact is associated with this species' abilities to carry a large number of diseases referred to as "zoonoses." These sorts of diseases are easily transmissible between humans and other animals. The Gambian pouch rat is a carrier for such zoonoses as monkeypox and leptospirosis. In fact, a monkeypox outbreak in the United States led to a ban on the import of this species for five years. Other negative impacts of this rat includes threatening several endangered or threatened local species. They are also a known eater of food crops. 

One of the APOPO HeroRATs
Positive uses of the Gambian pouch rat includes its use as food in Nigeria and as pets. My favorite use of the species, however, is a group called the APOPO has been training these animals to detect landmines! Some advantages to using rats as opposed to other forms of finding the mines are: they are too light to set the mines off, they are food motivated, they are cheap to care for, are a low-tech option for areas with few resources, and they have great senses of smell. They are also resistant to many of the local diseases that could otherwise be problematic. Apparently they are really quite effective, and they can also be trained to detect tuberculosis in human sputum. Tough an invasive species, these rats can also help save numerous lives though their work with such organizations as APOPO.

Sources are the Global Invasive Species Database and APOPO. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are either under a creative commons license or are copyright free: one, two

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Big Black Dog and Some Trees

Since I haven't mentioned him in some time, here's a little Ebon:

At the dog walking area by the condo. He's actually pointing in this picture. A storm knocked down a lot of debris from the trees and he spent a lot of time sniffing it curiously.
Ebon deciding a futon mattress is preferable to his own bed. I later caught him using the pillow as a pillow.
Here's also some interesting-looking trees from the primitive garden on my campus. Both of these will eventually be featured in a Crazy Plant post.

Ginkgo biloba, or ginkgo, an odd sort of tree with uniquely shaped leaves that does not produce flowers. Its fruits are rather unsavory, as they give off an odor not unlike vomit.
The monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, an evergreen with very sharp "leaves." The common name comes from a thought experiment involving how a monkey would go about climbing the tree.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guess the Genotype #28

Can you guess this dog's genotype? What about her breed?

Image provided to me by J. Burns of Ghostfire Photography, and is copyright to him

Monday, October 17, 2011

Crazy Plants: Horsetail

This actually encompasses a group of plants in the genus Equisetum, which includes approximately 18 species. The genus is an ancient one, and is a distant relative to nearly all other plants. Interestingly enough, they are classified as fairly close relatives of the ferns, though still in a distinct grouping. For this post, I will be referring specifically to the scouring rush.

Equisetum hyemale, the scouring rush horsetail, one of the many species of horsetail. It has several other common names
Horsetails are actually considered a weed, and may possibly be to the point of being classified as invasive in certain areas of the United States. They used to be found in the "primitive garden" on my campus, but they were removed after they started to grow wild. It is a very aggressive grower, which makes it very hard to eliminate once it starts to take hold. Even a single bit of rhizome that is left can easily sprout into a whole new infestation. It is native to Canada and parts of the US, as well as Eurasia.
A horsetail fruiting body

Though this plant is happiest in moist to wet soil, it can also grow in standing water several inches deep. This species can grow to as tall as five feet, and is in the form of a hollow reed-like body with tiny leaves forming grew sheaths at the plant's joints. Since the leaves are so small, photosynthesis mostly occurs in the stem. Fruiting bodies are similar to pine cones, and these plants are seedless and do not produce flowers.

The body of the plant is high in silica, and was used by settlers to scour cookware, which explains the origin of the common name "scouring rush."

Sources are the United States Department of Agriculture and the Kemper Center for Home Gardening from the Missouri Botanical Garden. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Giraffe

Even though giraffes are very quiet animals, they are quite capable of vocalizing. However, it's rare for the adults to vocalize. Here's footage of a baby vocalizing during a vet exam (begins at 1:44). Watch the full video if you want to hear more about the myth that giraffes are mute:

Here's another sort of noise that giraffes make. When competing for females, males will participate in a form of combat known as "necking." They will shove each other and hit each other with their "horns"--known as ossicones, they are not like true horns and are unique in the animal world. The ossicones are bony projections of the skull covered in a layer of skin. It's actually pretty brutal, with each hit producing a very loud thud. A competitor can be injured, knocked unconcious, or even killed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Interesting Animals: Mola Mola

Mola mola is more commonly known as the ocean sunfish. This unusual looking fish is found in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean in waters that are in the tropical to temperate range. Though usually found in open water, they will go into more shallow waters to make use of cleaner fishes. They are actually the largest of the bony fish, coming in at up to nearly 5000 pounds and over ten feet in length. Another unusual trait, this fish is scaleless and has rubbery, thick skin. Its body is flattened laterally.

The sunfish is also odd in its method of propulsion. While most fish use their caudal (tail) fin as their main means of propulsion, this species doesn't even have a caudal fin. It instead has what is called a "clavus" which it uses as more of a rudder. The dorsal and anal fins are enlarged,and are used to propel them using a sort of flapping motion. They will sometimes be seen swimming on their sides, and this form of propulsion makes this feat easier. They are known to undergo vertical migration, likely to follow their planktonic prey. The mola mola can sometimes be found basking at the surface of the water, which is believed to be a way for them to warm up after diving to deeper, colder water.

A mola mola caught in 1910
They feed mainly on soft, gelatinous plankton such as jellyfish, comb jellies, and salps, but will also eat other things. They are believed to have a great effect on the population of the various jellyfish. Predators of the mola mola include sharks and sea lions, and they are sometimes hunted by people. They are also often caught as bycatch  (i.e. all of the unwanted things caught in a fishing net) by commercial fishers. They are considered a delicacy in certain parts of Asia.

A lot is still unknown about this species.

Here is a video of this fascinating creature:

Source is Animal Diversity Web. Images are from Wikimedia commons and are copyright free: one, two.

Drawing Animals: Common Octopus

This time around, I doodled an octopus in blue crayon on the table at the local Macaroni Grill. I love going to that restaurant due to the fact that they almost expect you to doodle on the table. They cover the table with butcher paper and provide crayons. The food's good too.

The common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), which is found worldwide. Image is under a creative commons license on Wikimedia Commons

My interpretation

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guess the Genotype #27

Can you guess this dog's genotype? What about his breed?

Images are copyright to Danial Webb and are used with permission

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Unusual Breed: Austrian Pinscher

This breed is also known as the Österreichischer Pinscher, and formerly the Österreichischer kurzhaariger Pinscher .
This breed is one that is rarely heard about in the United States, and is indeed not often seen outside of Austria. It is derived from what was used as a farmer's dog in Austria and has only been bred as a "purebred" since 1921. They were used for such purposes as livestock drivers and as guardians, which they are quite adept at. Since it was breed to be a working dog, companionship was not a priority in selection, and as such they are known to be biters. They are usually very good with people that they are familiar with, however.

The Austrian Pinscher is more heavily built than the better-known German Pinscher, which is of a similar height, and it is described as being lively, bright, and devoted. In size, the breed is approximately 16 to 20 inches and 26 to 40 pounds. They are most often seen in some form of red, but also come in black and tan, with or without white markings.

There is little information I could find on the breed's health, but they appear to sometimes have hip dysplasia and can be prone to a hereditary heart condition.

Sources are the United Kennel Club, Fédération Cynologique Internationale, and Dr. Bruce Fogle's The New Encyclopedia of the Dog. Image is from Wikimedia Commons and is under a creative commons license.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Crazy Plants: Welwitschia

A very unusual plant: Welwitschia mirabilis
There is no other plant in the world quite like Welwitchia. The entire plants consists of only two permanent leaves, a stem, and roots. The leaves are never shed and grow throughout the plant's life, getting torn with age, such as seen in the plant above. The stem's growth is different from any other plant, and produces an "obconical" shape. Lifespan is believed to be up to 1500 years. The sexes are separate, with the salmon-colored cones of each gender producing nectar to attract insects. It isn't known what insect pollinates this unusual plant. Seeds are wind-distributed and can only sprout after heavy rain. There is much disagreement as to what exactly this plant is, due to its strange characteristics, and as such it is difficult to classify.

Welwitschia is only found in the Namib desert, where they plants are protected by law. It relies on regular fog that washes the area, providing the plants enough moisture to survive in the otherwise very arid environment. It also has a very large taproot, which can provide underground water to the plant. During drought, animals such as rhino and antelope will chew on the leaves for moisture. This plant was once eaten, and is said to be rather tasty, earning one of its names: "onyanga," meaning "onion of the desert."

These odd plants are believe to be relics of the Jurassic. Though somewhat difficult, Welwitschia can be cultivated.

Source is PlantZAfrica. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.

Drawing Animals: Basking Shark

I hope to make this a new weekly post, probably every Friday after this initial post or something like that. I like to draw in my spare time, and one fun thing I love to do is draw animals that are not often seen in artwork. I have difficulties finding time to draw during the semester and attending classes, so it often helps if I make myself draw.

For this regular item, I will be sketching some animal either with my tablet or using my other favorite tool: ballpoint pen on sketch paper. In all likelihood, I will more often be sketching in ballpoint and the digital sketches will not often involve color. For the future, feel free to give me suggestions as to which animal you would like to see me draw. I hope you enjoy my first animal: the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus).

The basking shark, a large species which uses its gaping mouth and specialized gills to filter tiny organisms from the water. Image is copyright free from Wikimedia Commons

My interpretation

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Kookaburra

The kookaburra is one of my favorite noisy birds. Their call is soo distinctive, that it's one of the most easily recognizable calls out there. They're actually a species of kingfisher, but they don't eat fish. Instead, they prefer to eat such things as snakes and lizards. In fact, many Australians are fond of the birds for that reason. It does make sense, since so many of the reptiles in Australia are quite dangerous.

Oh, course there is always the classic children's song about there "laughing" birds:

Source is the Honolulu Zoo.