The aye-aye is a fascinating beast. In fact there’s so much that’s interesting about it that I’m finding it hard to contain myself to just one post. It’s a nocturnal primate that fills the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. That is, it can break the tree bark to get at the juicy insects inside. It has one stick thin finger that it uses to get at the insects. In its home in Madagascar it is considered alternately a sign of good fortune and a demon. To point the stick thin finger at a person is considered a death curse. It is most often killed on sight. This has led to its current state of near extinction.
But even more interesting than the mythology and the human interaction with aye aye – for me at least – is its phylogenetic classification. It’s a remarkable example of convergent evolution in that it has protruding, ever growing front teeth like rodents. Its head shape, eyes, ears and nostrils are liie those on cats. Its classification within primates has changed a couple of times in and around the family of lemurs. Current molecular evidence suggests that it might be an extant basil form to all lemurs. That means it might be one of the species all lemurs have evolved from, a living fossil. Which is pretty freaking cool!
Rooks are a species in the corvidae family, that is the same family as crows, ravens and magpies. As such they’re intelligent birds that eat insects, grains and carrion. They can use tools and even make them when necessary. They’re also highly social with a language distinct enough for even humans to tell between different types of calls.
The coolest thing about rooks though is the group. A group of rooks can have many names such as building, parliament and a storytelling (you can bet your pretty little ass that last one struck my fancy). They live in societies and besides the Sandman story that inspired the headline there are multiple legends of rooks gathering in a group where one or two isolated birds will “talk” for a while and after they’re done they all either leave together or the ones in the center will get pecked to death. Some have termed it a trial, and that’s certainly what it seems to be in the case of community transgressors. Neil Gaiman’s story deems it a bird telling a story and getting some swift feedback.
At first glance fairywrens seem like your typical insectivorous bird. But they are so not. While these birds have monogamous relationships in the sense that a couple will mate for life they are also at the same time sexually promiscuous in that the paired female will still mate with other males too. And the practically unheard of thing is that once the female has laid eggs and those eggs hatch, the other males will help take care of the young right along with the couple. Talk about taking a village.
But the really interesting thing about fairywrens is that they love to talk smack. Yes, when a predator rolls around and any sane bird will try to keep its head as far down as possible, the male fairy wren will start chirping its head off. Why, you may ask (although I suspect you may already have a clue). Why else? To impress the ladies. To be perfectly honest it’s a little surprising there are any left the way the males practically throw themselves in front of any and all predators, all in the name of love. I suppose they should have had a talk with Meatloaf first.
Since we’re coming up on that time of the year when Santa and his reindeers take to the air it’s high-time to talk about reindeer. And while there’s this myth that people think in Finland polar bears and reindeers just walk around in the streets that’s actually true about reindeers in northern Finland. Now I’m a Southern Finland type of girl and while I half grew up on a farm I gotta tell you, it was a surreal experience, being out to walk the dog on the outskirts of Rovaniemi and coming across a small herd of reindeer just hanging around on a playground. But I’m digressing. So, reindeer. While there are completely wild populations all over the North (the North American reindeer is simply called Caribou), the reindeer is also semi-domesticated in that they usually graze in herds of varying sizes in the wild but they are herded and tended by various human populations too.
Of all the currently living deer species, female reindeers are the only ones to sport antlers and relative to body size the male reindeer have the largest antlers (insert mandatory giggling). And really, if you don’t count moose, they have the largest antlers of any species of deer. You can also tell the gender of any given reindeer from afar at different times of year by their antlers. See, young males drop their antlers in the spring, while females do it in the summer, whereas older males drop theirs in December. Which means that Santa’s reindeer are most likely female.
Speaking of which; while Santa no doubt appreciates his cookies and the reindeer will most likely eat them (they are known to eat things as varied as lemmings, grass, bird eggs, mushrooms and leaves), the reindeer’s food of choice is lichen. So if you want to keep the reindeer happy while Santa does his all important work, scour the trees in your neighborhood to find them a snack.
This week is anti puppy mill week in Finland and for that reason I thought I might share some reasons to avoid puppy mills and some tips on how to do that.
It seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that puppy mills are bad. The dogs are kept badly, bred way too often, mostly not medicated when sick (and things like worms and kennel cough simply rage through puppy mill locations) and simply tossed into trash when their health is too spent to continue breeding. And yet somehow puppy mills keep on keeping on and one reason is that animal lovers feel the need to rescue a puppy from a mill. The thing is though that the oeners of puppy mills don’t care why you buy the dog as long as you buy it from them. You want to rescue a dog, go to a shelter. And it’s worth it to note that most often the cheap price at the moment you’re buying may seem like a good thing but it’s more likely to end up costing you later in medical bills.
So how do you avoid puppy mills? Well the first thing is, you don’t buy a puppy without seeing its mother (not counting shelter puppies here btw). If the mother is sick or looks bad or is aggressive or very fearful, you put the puppy down and back away. Now I’m not talking unkempt, some individuals simply drop their fur after pregnancy, I’m talking unhealthy looking. I know there’s a trend in America of buying puppies at pet stores but I would really avoid doing that. The mother’s character can have a tremendous effect on what the puppy will grow up to be like and at worst you may end up with a dog that bites people when nervous. The second, if at all possible, meet the dog in the environment he’s staying at until she goes home with you. If it’s unclean or someplace you wouldn’t like staying then go somewhere else (again, not talking about shelters). And finally – if you’re buying a pure bred dog – buy him from an accredited breeder, find out as much as you can about the breed beforehand, including stuff about hereditary diseases if there are any. Talk to the breeder, make sure they’re not just selling you a rosy picture.
To find out more go to ASPCA (in English) or SEY (in Finnish).