Archive for July, 2011

In Iceland:

I think the more accurate name for this dog is Deutsch Drahthaar than German wire-haired pointer.

They have the same root stock and could be considered the same breed, but the DD is bred according to a strict performance standard that the German wire-hair (at least in the English-speaking countries) is not.

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Who is Alex Trebek?


It’s not confirmed, but how else do you read this statement?

“And I realized immediately someone had been in the room. I put on my underwear and ran down the hall to see if I could find her.”

At least he wasn’t dressed like a tiger.



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(The Steve Irwin reference is to the program that is being watched on the television in the background.)

This is a small Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus), which were introduced from Jamaica to control cane rats. The mongooses are not native to Jamaica either.

The mongooses on the Hawaiian islands are larger than those in Asia.  That’s probably because they are the only wild terrestrial predator in Hawaii, unless one wants to count feral cats.

They have been very bad for ground nesting native birds in Hawaii. The nēnē goose has suffered greatly from mongoose depredations, and controlling mongoose numbers has been key in protecting this species.

I first encountered a mongoose on Maui. I was sitting on the deck at the hotel where we were staying, when I noticed a squirrel-sized animal with bushy tail running between one copse of palm trees into the undergrowth. My mind registered it as a squirrel, but then I began to question that assumption. What was a squirrel doing in Hawaii?

As I watched the undergrowth for a little bit longer, the creature emerged, and there was no doubt that I was looking at a mongoose.



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This pacu was caught in the Hudson River near Albany, New York.

From the Albany Times-Union:

A South American fish sometimes called the “vegetarian piranha” got hooked by an angler in the Hudson River over the weekend, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The fish, called a pacu, is a cousin to the infamous flesh-eating predator, but instead eats plants and is not a threat to humans or other animals. It likely got into the river when someone dumped out the fish from a home aquarium.

Albany resident Steve Oathout said he was fishing off the Watervliet bike path Saturday evening when he caught the unusual flat fish, which was gray with a red underbelly. He took a picture and released the fish, which was about 16 inches long and weighed three pounds.

Reports to the DEC of pacus, which are widely available in aquarium shops, being caught in Hudson and Mohawk rivers average about one a year, DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said.

The pacu looks similar to the piranha, but is larger and can grow to about the size of a turkey in its native habitat of Brazil. The pacu does not share the razor sharp teeth of its cousin.

But the piranha and the pacu have something in common — neither fish can survive the colder waters of upstate New York in the winter.

From my own forays into pet shops, I can tell you that pacus are much more commonly available than one might assume.

They are usually not regulated in the same way that the piranhas are, so a shop can sell them with little government oversight.

Of course, they get much larger than any species of piranha, and they quickly can outgrow their tanks.

I remember seeing a huge pacu in a 200 gallon tank at a pet shop in Parkersburg, West Virginia. I marveled at its size, but I was even more impressed with the 18-inch plecostmus that was resting along the side of the tank. I had two 4-inch plecos, and I had no idea they could reach such sizes. (I was but an ignorant child in those days, and the big pleco and my small ones may have been different species.)

But I see why it is not unusual for fishermen to catch pacus in North American rivers during the summer.

They outgrow their tanks, or in this bad economy, their owners are forced to get rid of their pets. There aren’t many fish rescues out there, so they pull an Joy Adamson. The dump their fish in the nearest large body of water.

Many fish have been introduced in this fashion, but with tropical species like the pacu, they aren’t going to do well in temperate climates during the winter.

But when they are released in tropical and subtropical rivers– which we have in this country– well, the results could be quite different.

Florida is full of bizarre introduced species. Hawaii is, too, but to a somewhat lesser degree. That’s because Hawaii has very strict import laws, and it’s a series of islands.

I’m not saying that Hawaii has no introduce species problems. It has plenty, but these are nothing compared to those of Florida.

Florida is connected to the rest of the states, where laws vary and different species are readily available. It is very hard to control which species are being brought into the state.

Because Florida is a much nicer place to be a pacu than upstate New York, it currently has a population of introduced pacus.

Winter keeps the pacus from taking the Hudson, but I think they are lucky that wels catfish aren’t widely available on the pet market in the United States.

This giant predatory catfish could easily colonize North American rivers– and they have been known to attack people!





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Adolph Murie bottle-reared a wolf pup as part of his field studies that would be developed into his most famous work, The Wolves of Mt. McKinley (1944).

Murie took a very young bitch pup from a pack’s den. Her eyes weren’t even open when he took her from the den, so when she matured she knew only the world of man and his dogs. She matured into a very friendly creature, who loved to play with both children and dogs.

Wags playing with a malamute puppy.

Wags playing with a little girl.

Wags was such a friendly, playful animal that Murie would describe her as “the most friendly ‘dog’ I have ever known.”

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The nutria or coypu is a big wet (introduced) rodent!

I used to look forward to watching John Acorn’s The Nature Nut every day.

It used to be on Animal Planet at 6:30 AM, so I would make certain that I was ready to go by 6:30 every morning– just so I could watch it.

John Acorn is a Canadian entomologist centered in Edmonton, Alberta, but he covered a wide range of natural history topics on his show.  There was even a wonderful episode about how to think skeptically. That episode centered around the existence of bigfoot, and he gave a wonderful presentation on the principle of parsimony. He also did a show on how to care for various pet reptiles, which he said were the only pets he could have because of his allergies.

The show always featured a great comedic music video, which were in a class of their own!

One episode was about beavers. However, the take on beavers was quite different from anything else I remember seeing on the show. John Acorn created a holiday– Big Wet Rodent Day.  Big Wet Rodent Day was set up for July 26th, and during this day, we are to celebrate beavers and their role in Canada’s history.

The music video for that episode had a great Canadian patriotic song about the history of man and beaver in the northern part of North America. I wish I could find a copy of the song somewhere so you could hear it, but I have it stuck in my head.

However, I think that Big Wet Rodent Day should be international, and we should celebrate more big wet rodents than beavers.

Dave at the Little Heelers blog decided to feature the mountain beaver or Aplodontia on his Big Wet Rodent Day post. Mountain beavers are big and wet not because they are aquatic but because they live in temperate rainforests.

In that same spirit, I think I’m going to celebrate another big wet rodent, but mine is an aquatic rodent. However, mine is not native to North America or Europe, but it has been introduced there.  They have even been introduced to parts of Africa.

The creature I’m talking about is most accurately called a coypu, and it is a large aquatic rodent native to southern South America. It has a long, rat-like tail, and it might be confused with a large muskrat. However, unlike the muskrat, which actually is closely related to rats and mice, the coypu is a Caviomorph rodent. Its closest relatives are the capybara and the various cavies (guinea pigs).

The coypu was introduced to North America as a fur-bearer.  The fur industry sold the fur as “nutria,” which is Spanish for otter, and the name has stuck with it. The market for its fur collapsed rather quickly, and these animals were released into the wild. They are now found in many states in the United States and in parts of Canada, but they are perhaps most numerous in the state of Louisiana. In Louisiana, the “tabasco rat” has worked  its way into Cajun table fare. From my sources in Louisiana, this animal is heavily hunted, but hunting has done very little to control its numbers.

So on this Big Wet Rodent Day, remember the nutria or coypu. It may be an invasive species, but it’s got some very wicked orange teeth.



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Teddy Roosevelt hunted jaguars in Brazil with dogs that were said to be part maned wolf.

From TR’s Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914):

The dogs were a wild-looking set. Some were of distinctly wolfish appearance. These, we were assured, were descended in part from the big red wolf [maned wolf] of the neighborhood, a tall, lank animal, with much smaller teeth than a big northern wolf. The domestic dog is undoubtedly descended from at least a dozen different species of wild dogs, wolves, and jackals, some of them probably belonging to what we style different genera. The degree of fecundity or lack of fecundity between different species varies in extraordinary and inexplicable fashion in different families of mammals. In the horse family, for instance, the species are not fertile inter se; whereas among the oxen, species seemingly at least as widely separated as the horse, ass, and zebra—species such as the domestic ox, bison, yak, and gaur—breed freely together and their offspring are fertile; the lion and tiger also breed together, and produce offspring which will breed with either parent stock; and tame dogs in different quarters of the world, although all of them fertile inter se, are in many cases obviously blood kin to the neighboring wild, wolf-like or jackal-like creatures which are specifically, and possibly even generically, distinct from one another. The big red wolf of the South American plains is not closely related to the northern wolves; and it was to me unexpected to find it interbreeding with ordinary domestic dogs (pg. 74).

Roosevelt was wrong about the origins of the domestic dog.  We know that domestic dogs are just a form of wolf (Canis lupus). However, at the time, virtually everyone believed that various types of jackal, even the ones that have never been known to inbreed with dogs, were in the mix. African wild dog  (Lycaon pictus) and dholes (Cuon alpinus) have also been claimed as possible ancestors of the domestic dog, but no one has produced a hybrid from a domestic dog and these animals. We now know that dogs, including New Guinea singing dogs and dingoes, fit within the wolf species and can interbreed with coyotes, golden jackals, and Ethiopian wolves.

There have always been persistent rumors of other wild dogs interbreeding with dogs. The most common unsubstantiated dog/wild dog hybrid is a hybrid between a black-backed jackal or a side-striped jackal, which both belong to the genus Canis, but no confirmed hybrids between these species and domestic dogs have ever been documented. However, in the nineteenth century, there were many claims that red foxes had crossed with dogs. Such crosses, if they ever existed, would have likely been sterile, because foxes and dogs have vastly different chromosome numbers.

Both of hybrids between dogs and  the endemic African jackals of foxes are probably urban legends.

However, I have also come across supposed crosses between domestic dogs crab-eating foxes, which are a South American wild dog species. South American wild dogs, some of which are called foxes, are actually much more closely related to the true dogs in the genus Canis than they are to the red fox and its closest relatives.

I don’t know if the existence of these animals has ever been verified, so I am very skeptical.

But there is another possibility:  the Brazilians could have had a domesticated maned wolf that could be used as a hunting dog.

The natives of Tierra del Fuego had domesticated the culpeo, another South American wild dog that is sometimes called a fox or zorro, and may have used them to hunt otters.

However, if look at the context of Roosevelt’s description of the dogs, they were being used to hunt jaguars.

I know of no single account of a maned wolf approaching a jaguar for any reason. Maned wolves are not really equipped to hunt large game and are not competitors with the jaguar in any way. Further, they don’t hunt in packs, which they would have had to do if they were going to cause a jaguar any trouble. Domestic dogs are better equipped to chase jaguars because they do have a pack hunting heritage that they receive from the wolf, but it is unlikely that any supposed domesticated maned wolf would be a pack hunter that would readily pursue a jaguar.

My guess is that Roosevelt saw some particularly rangy domestic dogs with reddish-colored fur that the Brazilian claimed came from the maned wolf. They likely never saw the dog mate with the maned wolf. It may have been nothing more than a claim that was used to sell the puppies.

I would love for this story to be true, but in light of what is already known about hybridization within the dog family, I am very skeptical.


It might be useful to have a look at the phylogenetic tree of the dog family that was drawn after the domestic dog’s genome was sequenced.



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Rare leopard eats dog


Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) are perhaps the most endangered carnivorans in existence today.

Only around 30 individuals still remain in a range that includes temperate forest and taiga in the Russian Far East,  northeastern China, and North Korea.  Their range partly overlaps that of the Amur (“Siberian”) tiger, which is also critically endangered.

As I’ve mentioned before, leopards like to eat dogs. The description on this video implies that preying upon dogs is a last resort for these leopards, but that is not really the case with leopards in other parts of Asia or in Africa. Dogs are actually a choice food item.

I don’t see why this rare subspecies of leopard would view dogs differently.

See related posts:


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A cane toad. Look into those eyes. What do you see? Pure evil.


Those of you who know me are fully aware that I have always loved Mark Lewis’s Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. The film details the introduction of cane toads to northern Australia to control the cane beetle, which was destroying the country’s sugar industry in the 1930’s, and the subsequent ecological catastrophe that resulted from having vast swarms of poisonous giant toads with rapid reproductive rates and ravenous appetites sweep across the countryside.

I have a copy of this documentary. It is not on DVD or any other newfangled technology. It is on a VHS cassette that was used to tape the film from the Discovery Channel.  In those days, my family taped a lot of television shows in VHS, and in those days, you could buy several blank cassettes that had their own adhesive  labels that could be used to identify the film. With this particular VHS cassette, I could not find the labels, so I was forced to resort to using a band-aid– on which I scribbled the words “Cain Toad.”

Even though I spelled the word incorrectly, I think that this name fits this animal a little better.  Cain was Abel’s murderer, and this toad has been a destructive force where ever it has been introduced.  Not only does it possess a particular toxic venom that is released from two large glands on the back of its head, they are big enough to eat animals that are the size of mouse–which includes many different rare animals that are endemic to various tropical islands and Australia. It kills those who attack it, but it also kills to eat.

I first encountered this species for myself in Hawaii. My family was on vacation on Maui, and we were staying at resort that had extensive landscaping on its grounds.  Because this resort was in the rain shadow of Haleakala, it required some irrigation canals to maintain the veneer of natural lushness. It was dark, and we had just come back from a long day of sight-seeing. As anyone would expect from Americans from the Eastern US in Hawaii, we were jet-lagged and a bit tired.  I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but as we crossed the foot bridge over the little irrigation canal, something moved.  The beams from the faux tiki torch landscape lights illuminated the dark water, and as I looked over the edge of the foot bridge, I noticed a tannish yellow blob floating in the black water. My eyes made out the profile of a toad. It was not dissimilar from the American and Fowler’s toads with which I was much more intimately familiar, but it was massive.  To my eye, it was a large as a chihuahua, though this may have been an exaggeration that my imagination has added to it over the years. It took me a few seconds for me to register what this creature was, but it soon hit me:  I was looking at the infamous cane toad, destroyer of ecosystems and invasive species extraordinaire.

I was reminded of this experience when I came across Mark Derr’s piece in today’s New York Times.  Mark Derr lives in southern Florida, where cane toads were also introduced to control pests in the fields of sugar cane. The toads have liked Florida almost as well as they have enjoyed Australia, and they have definitely cause their share of ecological problems.

However, the real issue with cane toads in Florida is the danger the pose to the dogs, which is why he killed a cane toad that had decided to set up residence in his pond.

Derr is not an anti-exotic purist, maintaining non-native plants on his own property and establishing a relationship with an introduced African lungfush, but this toad was a clear and present danger to his dog and other dogs in the neighborhood.

Dogs die from cane toad venom when they put toads in their mouths. Most dogs in my part of the country won’t touch a toad.  That’s because they have been trained by the local Fowler’s and American toads that toads will make your mouth burn. It usually takes just one attempt of a local dog putting a toad in its mouth before it learns very quickly to leave them alone. Of course, the bufotoxin released by an American or Fowler’s toad is not as severe as that released by the cane toad, but in some situations, it is possible for a small dog to die if it ingests toad poison. Larger dogs are usually fine once they have their mouths flushed, and they learn a valuable lesson– leave the toads alone!

Of course, if a dog ingests cane toad venom, it may not get a chance to learn.  Dogs have been known to drop dead within minutes of putting the toad in their mouths.

So it makes sense that one would want to protect “toad naive” dogs from cane toads.

Derr managed to spear the toad with a home-made gig, and the neighborhood dogs were finally safe.

However, removing the toad had several ancillary benefits:

I acted to protect our dog without a thought toward other consequences. But within a week of the Bufo’s death, I began to notice changes in and around the pond. Young and old gambusia [mosquito fish] appeared in significant numbers, swimming freely and openly. I am no expert on Bufo behavior, but this one had an ability to knock down plants growing around its chosen resting spots. Once this Bufo was removed, the pond plants grew lush. Anole lizards, whose absence I had silently noted for some time, became everywhere apparent, and I have begun to hear tree frogs again, as well. Even better, the mosquito population collapsed, leading me to conclude that although the Bufo did not appear to eat the mosquito-loving gambusia, its physical presence had somehow intimidated them and forced them into hiding.

Of course, much of Florida– indeed much of the country– is hardly a balanced ecosystem. The unbalancing of the ecosystems began when Columbus showed up, and we simply cannot go back to the forest primeval of legend, which itself was intensely and artfully managed by various indigenous peoples before the European colonizers came. Humans have been altering the ecosystems for our own benefit in this hemisphere for millennia, and the only thing we can do is preserve what we can.

But cane toads are not nice things to have around.

Even if there were no potential ecological benefits to removing them, it would still be just to kill them– even if killing them really didn’t do much to control their numbers.

I just hope another cane toad doesn’t show up at this pond. However, it is very likely that another one will soon be in residence.

It reminds me of what my grandpa said about people shooting rabbits out of their gardens. Yes, it killed the rabbit, but somehow two or three would come to its funeral.


NB:  Here is a good site on first aid if you dog bites any cane toads or any other toads in North America.


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