Wednesday

Chinchillas

This post is mainly meant to cheer people up, but if you learn something along the way then yay for science. If you have not seen a chinchilla before be prepared for an overload of cuteness.
Chinchillas are rodents native to the Andes of South America. They function in the same niche as a ground squirrel would, but at much higher elevations. Their name comes from the Chincha people of the Andes who used chinchilla fur to make warm soft clothes.
Chinchillas live in colonies which is why it is advised to have more than one at a time as pets. Their diet in the wild consists of desert grasses. This means that as pets they cannot be given high fat foods or too many green plants. Their native habitat also means that they do not do well in warm weather and cannot sweat. In captivity they need to have something to chew on such as pieces of wood. This is because their incisors grow for most of their life, just like those of other rodents and members of the squirrel family.
Their most noticeable trait is their ultra soft fur. Chinchillas are currently farmed for their fur and in the past they were hunted almost to extinction. This fur needs to be kept clean, but its thickness prevents it from air drying after a bath. As such, wild and pet chinchillas need to take dust baths in volcanic ash a few times a week. As pets they can be bathed in water, but caution should be taken to make sure their fur and skin are thoroughly dried with a no-heat dryer as any trapped moisture can lead to fungal infections.
Chinchillas are also used in medical research because their range of hearing and cochlear size are virtually identical to those in humans.
Chinchillas come in a range of colors from white to nearly black. They can make a very good companion as long as they are socialized early. Like any small animal care should be taken around small children to avoid harm to the animal and child. Due to their dense fur their dander is contained and removed by the dust baths this makes them hypoallergenic. The last consideration for chinchillas kept in captivity is their exercise needs. These animals live in the mountains where they spend the dawn and dusk hours running around. As such they need large enclosures with multiple levels to play and run on.

Central Coast

I recently took a trip to the central coast of California including Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Avila, and Cayucos. Morro Bay is known for it's wildlife, especially around its most prominent landmark, Morro Rock. Some frequently seen residents include Western, Ring-bill, California, and Heermann's Gulls; Pelagic and Double Crested Cormorants; and the famously cute sea otters. I was lucky enough to see these guys while there and to see them through a spotting scope with a magnification of 20x. This photo is of a mother and an almost fully grown baby. I also got to see the Elephant Seals and watch some of the young males fighting. The pictures have a black edge because they were taken looking down the spotting scope.
I also saw four birds which I've added to my life list. They included the Pigeon Guillemot which is simply adorable. There were a couple of them swimming and diving in the bay near Morro Rock.

Monday

Silicon and Heart Cells

This is just a quick note on something I came across on the internet. Scientists at Harvard and Caltech have created an artificial sea jelly (incorrectly called jellyfish). This might not seem all that exciting as sea jellies are more than 95% water with a few neurons, but this is way cooler. This jelly, named Medusoid and pictured at left, was created by placing heart cells from a rat onto a computer-generated 3D model of an ephyra- an early stage in sea jelly development and pictured at right- then coated in a thin layer of silicon. Once the silicon dried it was peeled off taking the heart cells with it. When placed in a liquid the heart cells contract causing the silicon matrix to move with the same motion as a real ephyra stage jelly. The really exciting part is that this research could lead to the creation of other muscle types built on similar silicon matrices such as heart valves made from the heart cells of the patient.

Thursday

Oology Cards set #5

I entered more Heermann's Gulls along with three other gulls. I'll start with what I think of as the prettiest of the group, the Sooty Gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii). They are found along the upper eastern coast of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan and Turkey. Due to their large range the IUCN lists them as Least Concern. Like many other gulls they are scavengers often eating the offal fisherman remove from their catches; they also eat the eggs and chicks of terns. The main threats to these birds come from egg collection and oil drilling, prospecting and spills.
The next two gulls look very similar. The Band-tailed Gull (Larus belcheri) is found long the western coast of South America. They find food in the intertidal zone in tide pools as well as eating the eggs and chicks of other gull species. They are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.
The Black-tailed Gull (Larus cassirostris) is found in eastern Asia in Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea. They feed on crustaceans, fish, molluscs and the scraps from fishing boats. In Japan there is a Shinto shrine erected for the Black-tailed Gull which is seen as a messenger for the goddess of the fishery. Due to this religious significance the gulls have experienced little strain on their numbers and are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

Tuesday

Dogs Hit by a Shrink Ray

No, none of the dog breeds you are about to see are large dogs that have been hit with a shrink ray. These breeds are not solely meant to be miniatures of their larger look-a-likes, they were bred for their own specific purposes and fit those purposes well.

We begin with a breed not commonly seen outside of show rings, the Alaskan Klee Kai. The breed was developed in the 1970's by a woman who accidentally bred her husky with an unknown small dog. She then refined the breed by adding in Schipperke, American Eskimo Dog and Siberian Husky. She carefully bred the dogs, introducing small breeds, to avoid the possibility of introducing dwarfism. These dogs are great companions, but can be a little standoffish around strangers, as a result they make excellent guard dogs. They excel at activities like agility and other obedience courses.

The next dog is the Miniature Pinscher. This breed seems to be a tiny version of a Dobermann, but don't be fooled. These dogs have a long history, appearing in portraits of the wealthy dating back to the 1600's. They were probably bred from a combination of Italian Greyhounds, small German Pinschers and Dachshunds, but their exact origins are unknown. They were bred to be companion dogs, which they can be, but they are also highly energetic. Some say they are the most energetic breed of dog.

The Italian Greyhound is the oldest breed we will talk about. Its origins date back 2,000 years to Greece and Turkey. Due to its ancient origins its breed history is unknown, but as we have seen, it has been the base of other breeds. The dogs, like their larger cousin, are sight hounds that love to run, but they were mainly bred to be companion animals. They make wonderful family pets; they are gentle with children and other pets and have enough energy to play all day.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels originates in Tudor England, but was fully recognizable by the time of King Charles I reign in the early 1600's. The breed originated from working spaniels and imported small dogs from Asia. The breed's resemblance to the Brittany Spaniel came about in the 1800's. The breed is well suited for its original purpose of being a lap dog to keep court ladies warm (and collect their fleas). It is one of the most popular breeds in England which almost led to its downfall there. As stated in a prior post brachycephalic animals, this condition can cause damage to the animal. In the case of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels the selective breeding for a reduced snout led to brachycephaly that was so severe their brains were being compressed causing massive neural damage, excruciating pain, and seizures.

Please remember that as adorable as these dogs may be, their breeding can lead to health problems. To avoid this either buy a dog from a reputable breeder or ADOPT a mixed breed dog at a shelter- hybrid vigor and all that jazz.

Adorable Plovers


I was poking around the skins collections the other day and pulled out the drawer containing Snowy Plovers (Charadrius nivosus). Upon doing so I came across skins of these other two species, the Malaysian Plover and Red-Capped Plover. I have a bit of a thing for plovers because they are just so cute. As adults they run back and forth being chased by the waves making peeping noises the whole time and as chicks look like cotton balls on toothpicks.
The Malaysian Plover (Charadrius peronii) nests on the salt flats of Southeast Asia. The mating pairs, like many plover species, make little divots in the sand in which they lay their eggs, usually 3 at a time. The pairs can next more than once in a season. The male can be differentiated from the female by a black band around its neck, the female has a brown band. The Malaysian Plover is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN due to habitat destruction for building and by increased beach use by humans. The IUCN has found that by roping off parts of the beach to allow the short scrub to regrow the plovers increase in number due to increased habitat.
The Red-Capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus) is endemic to Australia and New Zealand. The male and female care for the chicks, but only the female tends the eggs which she will defend by doing a "broken wing" display to lure predators away from the nest. The nest, like that of many plovers, is a light dent in the ground.

Megalethoscope

This is a gadget I saw on TV the other day. It's similar to a stereoscopic viewer in that it makes flat images appear to have depth and perspective. The megalethoscope, invented by Carlo Ponti around 1860, works by placing an image with strategically pieced tiny holes in it into the non-viewing end of the box. The viewer then looks down the box which contains a large lens and a light source. These give the image- a transparent picture that was hand colored- depth and the light shines through the tiny holes making the photo appear to glow in strategic places such as lighs or shop windows.

Oology Cards set #4

On Monday I only entered data for Heermann's Gulls (Larus heermanni). These birds are found through out the continental U.S. and Mexico as well as southern most Canada. 90% of the roughly 150,000 birds breed on a small island in the Sea of Cortez called Isla Rasa. This island was declared a sanctuary in 1962 but not before egg collectors had taken hundreds of eggs. I was entering data from 1925 to 1930 and during this time one man, Griffing Bancroft collected 441 eggs. This may not seem like a lot compared to the total number of breeding pairs on the island which he estimates at as many as 200,000. But, if one considers that he recorded "most pairs [as having] only 1 or 2 eggs" and that he took only clutches of 3 he effectively removed the genetics for large numbers of offspring. Add onto this that each time collectors went to the island they disturbed all the nesting pairs which caused many to abandon their eggs. This cycle of removal of eggs and disturbance of nesting pairs led to a drop in population. The species is currently increasing in number and listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.
The breeding adults of the species are unlike most other gulls in that their main body color is a sooty grey rather than white. The juveniles and non-breeding adults are solid sooty grey and all ages possess their distinctive bright red-orange beak with a black spot. These birds often pirate the catch of Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis).

Sunday

I Can't, I have Jump Rope

I was on a competitive jump rope team for 7 years. We often did this sort of rope turning at shows because it looks cool. It's not easy to do as all the turners have to be sync and the jumper has to jump higher for each additional rope they are jumping over. This makes this little video amazing.

Tuesday

Oology Cards set #3

This set is gulls. Gulls and Jaegers are in the same order which also includes Terns, Snipes, Puffins, and other shore birds. The Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea) is a small bird that breeds in the high arctic in places like Greenland. They eat small crustaceans, fish, and will scavenge carcases from kills made by polar bears and other large predators. They lay clutches of 3 olive-colored eggs on high cliffs. The Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) is a large gull native to the coast of Australia. They often nest on the islands between Australia and Tasmania. They are commonly observed to take molluscs or sea urchins high in the air and dropping them onto rocks to break open the shells. The last Gull of the day is the Dolphin Gull (Leucophaeus scoresbii) is native to the Tierra del Fuego region of Chile, Argentina, and the Faulkland Islands. It is often seen scavenging the less appetizing parts of carcases such as placenta and feces.

Oology Cards set #2

This set is only Jaegers. I input about 50 cards for Parasitic Jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus) from Norway, Scotland, Finland, and Iceland. These birds get their name from their ability to rob other birds of their catches. Parasitic Jaegers are often confused with Long-Tailed Jaegers (Stercorarius longicaudus), the other species of Jaeger I entered today. These are also found at high latitudes. They are the smallest of the Jaegers and Skuas. Due to their comparatively smaller size they are unlikely to steal the catches of other sea birds.

Your Mother was a Hamster and Your Father Smelt of Elderberries

I picked a whole bunch of native elderberries (Sambucus mexicana) outside work today and decided I'd start the summer off with some canning.
I took the berries off their stems,
rinsed them, boiled them with pectin, added the sugar then canned them. The pictures below show the rinsed and cooked berries. As of four hours after canning the jam has not set, so I'm calling it Elderberry syrup.
Elderberries are a sorrily forgotten fruit in America. The fruit has
been eaten by animals, both human and non-human, for thousands of years. The fruit is ripe when it becomes covered in "dust", similar to that on a ripe blueberry. In Europe the fruit is made into wine, syrup, jam, fried nuggets, and marshmallows. The wood, though toxic, can be used to make flutes, slingshots, and spiles to tap the sap out of maple trees for making maple syrup. It should be noted that red elderberries should never be eaten as they are highly toxic.