Archive for July, 2009


This movie is obviously false– no North American rabbit digs burrows!

But what could be scarier than a swarm of man-eating rabbits that are the size of pick-up trucks?

Best clips:


And the climatic ending:


I’m telling you that shark in Jaws has nothing on these rabbits!

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Arctic fox trivia


Now, I’m going to test your taxonomic skills.

What is the Arctic fox’s closest relative?

If you have been a long-time reader of the blog, you should know the answer.

And if wordpress generates a hint (as it’s been known to do), then you’ll know it!

But I’ll tell you this– it’s not exactly what you’d think their closest relative would be.

Let’s just say, that if you take a good look at its close relative and the Arctic fox in its summer pelt, the similarities are striking.

Update: The answer is the swift fox.

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pai dog

I’ve never understood this one.

But lots of people call dogs their children

I don’t.

Dogs are dogs.

A dog is a special subspecies of wolf that can live safely with people. It has evolved an ability to learn from humans that the other wolf subspecies don’t have. It is also a far better associative learner than virtually any other species or subspeces in the order Carnivora.

That’s the part of dogs I find fascinating. The fact that they are another organism, and yet they bond with us and easily learn from us.

My view on dogs is best summarized in this oft-quoted paragraph from Henry Beston in The Outermost House:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

To patronize a dog with our projections of parenthood does them a great disservice. What they really want is someone to understand them as they are. They don’t want to be babies. They want to be dogs. That means that they need to have an outlet for their drives and instincts, which are often quite different from our own.

I’ll give you a good example. Consider the absolute joy that dogs get in rolling in rotting and stinking things. There are lots of folk ethology reasons for them doing so. It’s camouflage, says one theory. They are covering up their scent so they can better stalk prey animals. Now,  I would think that deer and other ungulates would soon learn to fear the stench of rotting carcasses!

My own theory on why dogs do this behavior is twofold. Dogs are mostly olfactory organisms. They relish smells probably in the same way we relish beautiful land and seascapes.  The best way to enjoy those smells is for the dog to anoint itself with the object that gives off that odor. And we humans take photographs of land and seascapes that we find enjoyable. Dogs don’t have cameras, so in order to take the stench home, they have to get some on their bodies to take home. There must be some evolutionary advantage in wild dog and wolf societies to have a novel smell. Perhaps having that novel smell on your body gives you more political clout than if you just smelled like a dirty old dog.

For us, rolling in rotting redolent refuse is an unsanitary and unconscionable act. Our nose are weak things, and our species has evolved a heightened sensitivity to anything we perceive as dirty or stinking. Such a tendency allowed our ancestors to live in high densities without contracting disease very easily. We simply had a genetic (or perhaps cultural) aversion to the smell of feces and rotting corpse. (It’s got to be genetic. I don’t know of a single culture that likes lying around in feces and rotting corpses.)

But these two species are able to share the same homes, even the same beds and food. That’s really a weird thing. One animal anoints itself with rotting objects that give off pungent odors. The other avoids these objects at all costs. And yet we call each other family.

I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate what a dog is until you try to understand them as the animal that they are.

The more you realize what dogs are, the more you realize how unusual they really are. No other species of large carnivore lives in such an intimate as dogs live with us. Indeed, it’s not safe for us to live with any other large carnivore in such a way. Bears are too emotionally reactive to be safe companions, and big cats have rather deeply ingrained predatory motor patterns which humans can easily trigger.

Imprinted wolves have this same sort of problem, although it’s almost always children that trigger the motor pattern. But they are also more emotionally reactive than most domestic dogs are, and most of them are totally unfit for domestic life, even if a small minority are actually quite dog-like (like “Wags.”)

I find all of these aspects of dogs really interesting.

I don’t find it very interesting that people like to turn them into children.

To me, that does the dog a very great injustice. It narrows the human mind. It prevents us from asking questions– from wondering why dogs are the way they are and why on earth they live with us so well. Those are fascinating questions, and ones that could help us come up with better ways to fulfill our dogs and provide them better lives.

Maybe it’s because I’m very much a rationalist, but I like my dogs because they are dogs, not because they are furry toddlers that eat horse poop.

Maybe dogs need their own slogan:

I am canine. Hear me woof.

(Note: I am no animal rights lunatic or “animal liberationist.” Please train your dogs. Dogs require training– that’s actually an intrinsic part of their nature. They must be trained in order to be fulfilled.)

(Note II: Every dog I’ve known that was treated as a baby was neutrotic or potentially psychotic in some fashion. You cannot tell me that dog as child projection is very healthy for dogs.)

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lirung monitor

Well, we have a new species of monitor lizard: Varanus lirungensis.

This species was just discovered near the village of Lirung on the island of Salibabu, which is part of the Talaud archipelago, which are between Sualwesi and Mindanao, which is part of the Philippines.

German researchers discovered this new monitor species, and after analyzing its DNA and morphology, published their findings in the Australian Journal of Zoology.

This finding is important because “it highlights the high, but poorly known diversity of monitor lizards in Indonesia. Several species of water monitor have been found on Sulawesi and surrounding islands in recent years.”

Just think of the new monitor species that have yet to be discovered in Indonesia!

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Yesterday’s Critter


Yesterday’s critter was a gharial. Not only that, it was a male gharial.

How do I know?

Well, male gharials have bulbous lump on the end of their snouts. It’s called a ghara.

In fact that’s how the animal got its name. In one of the Indian languages, ghara means “pot.” The bulbous lump on the males does look a bit like a pot.

Now, in the comments, virtually everyone got it right.

However, I bet you didn’t realize how big one of these crocodilians can get.

The males have been known to exceed 20 feet in length, and there is even a record of 23 footer killed in the River Kosi in Bihar, which makes them as long as the longest saltwater and Nile crocodiles.

Unlike those creatures, however, the gharial is not a threat humans. Although they can bite and slash with their teeth, their jaws are too weak to really damage a person.  As a result, they don’t consider large mammals to be prey. Indeed, they live almost entirely on fish, which is why they have needle-like teeth. They need them to hold on to slimy fish. Those teeth are poorly designed to grip the leg of a human or any other large mammal.

I first saw a gharial at the Cincinnati Zoo when I was probably 5 or 6 years old.

And then I saw a Nature (with George Page) documentary about them, and they had me totally fascinated. It turns out that gharials are in a lot of trouble. They need clean, clear water in which to fish, and clean and clear water is very hard to find on the Indian subcontinet these days.

Attempts at stocking captive-bred gharials in the wild have not been that succesful.  The animals were found to be unable to handle heavy metals in the water, and that’s a very bad sign for the gharial’s future.

They are strange looking, but they aren’t a threat to man. They may look like river monsters from some horror movie, but they are nothing more than harmless fishermen.

It would be a tragedy if these crocodilians disappeared from the earth forever. However, they probably won’t. They do breed in captivity, and I’ve seen them at more than one zoo. But that would be a sad state of affairs if the only gharials in existence in the world were in zoos.

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If so, then I’m out. I have two rather cumbersome left feet!

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If so, then I’m out. I have two rather cumbersome left feet!

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When I was growing up, I regularly read dog magazines, and I always looked at the classified ads of various breeds.

I remember seeing an unusual advertisement in one of the magazines: “Rare, white dobermans!”

I didn’t think anything of it. After all, people were mass producing deaf white boxers and nasty white German shepherds. How were they any different?

Well, what I didn’t know is that they were doing something quite different.

White boxers are true white dogs– the white masks either fawn or brindle.— and white GSD’s are e/e’s– a variation on the same color as the golden retriever.

White dobermans are albinos. If you look closely, you can see where the tan or rust kiss marks would be on a typical doberman.

And albinism in dogs is a bit more complicated that in other species.

Albinism causes them to have greater photo-sensitivity, which sometimes manifests itself in greater aggression.

The dogs are prone to skin cancer, as one would expect from a think coated dog with pink skin.

The genes that cause albinism are believed to be related to the genes that cause issues with the blood, kidneys, and liver. They also often have skeletal issues and missing teeth. This is very different from albino rats and ferrets. It’s also different from people with albinism.

As far as I know, no one has put a title of any sort on an albino doberman. (Obviously, conformation titles are out!)

There used to be a very good site on albino dobermans, but I can’t seem to find it. It was so good that the albino breeders are now putting up their own propaganda sites. (I’m not posting any photos of them, because they are all either associated with these unscrupulous breeders or their propaganda sites. Just go to Google Images and type in “albino doberman”  too see for yourself.)

And you can still find the breeders offering “rare, white dobermans.” I guess if I wanted a dog to show off, I’d get one, but if I actually wanted a doberman, I’d get one of the more standard colors.

I’ve never known of an albino dog of any breed to be of any use– save St. Hubert’s May, a yellow Russian retriever (golden retriever), who probably wasn’t an albino at all!

This is just a gimmick. It makes money. White golden retriever, white boxers, and white GSD’s are all in the same vein. It’s a fad color. It’s just in this case, the dogs are more likely to be defective than the breeds that are normally sold for their pale pelts.

I bet that one could sell a normal black and rust doberman for a lot more if it carried the albino gene or was suspected of carrying. Wonderful.

This is on the same level as the freak show owner who wanted to buy a five-legged puppy.

No one in their right mind would breed a five-legged dog.

And no one in their right mind would intentionally breed an albino dog.

But if it sells, it sells. Who cares what happens to the dog?

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ID this critter

This shouldn’t be hard. (The answer).

strange critter

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fierce chihuahua

I’m not a toy breed person, so this debate entirely slipped under my radar.

It turns out that concerns over health have led several registries, including the Kennel Club, the Canadian Kennel Club, and the Australian National Kennel Club, to disqualify the merle coloration in Chihuahuas. Not only that, but the KC has new regulations that prevent any Chihuahua that is either merle or from merle parents from being registered. FCI countries are trying to breed out any merle genes in Chihuahua.

Health issues were a major reason for this change in these breed club standards. Merle in Chihuahuas is very closely associated with deafness, so it could be a major victory for breed health.

However, some breeders have always contended that merle Chihuahuas weren’t purebred, so that may have had something to do with the ban on merles. After all, Dachshunds come in long and smooth-haired varieties, and they carry the gene for merle (called “dapple” in Dachshunds). The theory goes that these dogs had falsified pedigree and were derived from crossbreeds.

Dapple in Dachshunds is a dominant gene, and the Chihuahua merle gene is also dominant. In Dachshunds, dapples cannot be bred to dapples, because it will produce “double dapples,” which are known to have several defects.

Now, it could be that the Chihuahua people don’t want these defects, so they banned merle. It also could be that they wanted to ban a coloration in the breed that supposedly came about through crossbreeding.

Now, the AKC and its parent club for the Chihuahua refuse to ban merles. Thus, the AKC and its parent club are out of step with most of the world. That has caused a worldwide civil war among Chihuahua fanciers.

And there are strident merle Chihuahua fanciers. On their sites, they blame the “BBC” and “UK vets” (probably in this documentary) and claim that no merle Chihuahua has ever been found to be deaf.

I have no dog in this fight.

So I really don’t know whether merle in Chihuahuas is really connected to deafness or not.

My guess is part of this movement to ban merle Chihuahuas has less to do with health and whole lot more to do with the possiblity that these merle Chihuahuas are part dachshund.

Blood purity matters a lot to these people.

If this had truly been a health revision, I think they would have gotten rid of the apple head requirement and strictly banned moleras.

So there may be a health victory in the banning of merle Chihuahuas and their progeny. Or it may be more jockying around with eugenics and blood purity– this time using health as the front to ban a color that may have arisen from crossbreeding.

Boy, times have changed. Remember, golden retriever people had to make up a story about their Russian origins to get their breed split off the flat-coat! Now, they are using health. Maybe the health issues are justified, or maybe  it’s just the same old wine in a different bottle.

My guess is we’ll see a lot more of this in the years to come.

For the record, I think merle should be banned in Chihuahuas, just as double dapple is banned in Dachshunds. But the Chihuahua standard needs several revisions.

And color is but one of them. The extreme small size and large,  rather unnatural head are two things that should be reformed. I would think those would take precedence over the extreme minority of Chihuahuas that are merle.

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