Archive for September, 2010

A horse with claws

Moropus elatus

The animal in question is Moropus elatus.

It was an odd-toed ungulate (the order Perissodactyla). It was related to horses, rhinos, and tapirs.

But  unlike those animals, Moropus had claws:

Moropus was part of a family of odd-toed ungulates called Chalicotheres (“gravel beasts”).

They could use their claws to grab foliage and bring it closer to their mouths.

Morupus did not have the most extreme feet in its family.

Some members actually walked on their knuckles in a very gorilla-like manner.

They could use these specialized hands to grab branches in a very similar fashion to the way pandas grip bamboo.

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Dogs drag in comatose opossum. It comes to.

Chaos ensues.


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Mark Derr has written a new book on dog domestication.

It looks like it will be a fascinating read.

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It’s from Family Guy.

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The tiger shark is one of the species that does occasionally attack people.

But this footage shows them to have a certain amount of grace and beauty that one might not suspect from a creature known as the “garbage man of the sea.”

They tend to eat just about anything– as you may remember from Jaws. In that film, the amateur bounty fishermen catch a big tiger shark and claim it as the beast that has been terrorizing Amity Island. Hooper, the marine biologist played by Richard Dreyfuss, demands that he cut open the shark to see what it has been eating. He finds a Louisiana license plate inside.

One would expect an animal that eats things like license plates to be very dull and brutish.

But when you look into the eyes of these tiger sharks, you see something one would never expect to see in a fish.

It’s a kind of glimmer of intelligence.  It’s not quite mammalian, but it’s  more of a spark than one would find in a largemouth bass or a bluegill.

Tiger sharks are one of the species targeted by shark finners, and in North American waters, they have been heavily persecuted.

I remember seeing one when I was a small boy. It has been captured by a charter fishing boat that had seen the shark devouring a loggerhead sea turtle. (Tiger sharks are excellent sea turtle predators. Sea turtles are one of their favorite prey items.)

The boat’s captain had seen the shark eating the turtle, but he decided to not to catch it.

They didn’t have a very good day out pursuing billfish, so on their way back, they cast lines for the shark. They snagged it, and after a struggle, they hauled it in.

They had not caught a great blue marlin that day.

The fishermen had been failures.

But now they had tangled with a murderous beast of prey.

They had vanquished the great sea monster, and now they could come back to port as heroes.

Knowing that such a creature could live in the water in which people swam scared me a bit. When I was younger, I used to have dreams about being attacked by a big shark that grabbed me with its jaws in the surf.

Even today, I won’t swim in murky ocean water off the coast. I don’t mind swimming in clear ocean water– one of my favorite days was when I went snorkeling in Hawaii.

But I won’t get in the water if I can’t see to the bottom.

However, as I look at the spark in the eyes of these tiger sharks, they seem less scary, less menacing.  I feel for them in the way I have felt for wolves and other terrestrial carnivores.

Just as the land needs tigers and wolves, the ocean will need tiger sharks.

That tiger sharks sometimes attack people should not given us license to exterminate them.

Look into those eyes, and the being that is a tiger shark is revealed.

A commonality is there.

I just didn’t expect it.

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Take the last line to heart: Do not try this at home!


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The remains of an American crocodile have been found on "Ysabela" (Fortune Island or Long Cay) in the Bahamas that date to Columbus's time. Columbus could have killed a small American crocodile there in 1492.

Check it out.

Long Cay has a large saltwater pond in its center, which is probably where Columbus killed it.

American crocs live in the very salty Lago Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic, and they would have no problem living in a salt pond.

The Atlantic Ocean has no sea snakes.

So an American crocodile makes sense.

They are found in Florida and in other parts of the West Indies.

And they could have easily lived in the Bahamas.

The size of these animals means they were both juveniles.

Perhaps the natives of the Bahamas were keeping them as pets.

Or maybe a female American croc laid eggs on Ysabela and the juveniles wound up thriving there. It was just a one time thing.

But the people hunted them until they disappeared.

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Check it out.

Does anyone notice the parallel between this partnership and the partnership that Schleidt and Shalter suggest existed between ancient hunter-gatherer man and wolves?

Granted, coyotes are not wolves, and people are not American badgers.

However, it does show that members of the genus Canis are capable of working together with other predators– even predators with whom they are in direct competition.

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