Archive for the ‘Language and animals’ Category


October 2, 2015

On September 28th, Ken Callicott posted on Facebook about the appearance of horse lubbers in Tucson AZ — huge, incredibly showy, chemically armed grasshoppers:


Western horse lubber grasshopper, San Luis Obispo County CA


Vicious wombats

September 27, 2015

From Gail Collins’s NYT column yesterday, “Bye, Bye, John Boehner”:

under normal circumstances, [Speaker of the House John Boehner] would have used the Democratic votes to keep the government funded. Then the right wing would have descended on him like a band of vicious wombats.

I was taken aback by the vicious wombats. In my experience, wombats are seen as stupid and ridiculous, rather than dangerous. From Wikipedia:

In general, wombats are seen by many as being fat, slow, lazy animals, and are often mocked.

But wombats have powerful claws and sharp teeth, and they don’t like to be handled. So, from Wikipedia:

Humans can receive puncture wounds from wombat claws, as well as bites. Startled wombats can also charge humans and bowl them over, with the attendant risks of broken bones from the fall.

If you mess with a wombat, you might well see them as vicious, as some people seem to. (But they don’t travel in bands.)


Chaste trees and jumping spiders

September 12, 2015

Yesterday at the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, a plant note and an animal note: chaste trees and jumping spiders.


Flintstone days

September 3, 2015

In the local real estate news (from NBC Bay Area yesterday), “‘Flintstones’ House in Hillsborough Listed for $4.2M” by Tamara Palmer and Ian Cull:

Hillsborough’s most recognizable piece of real estate has hit the market.

The home at 45 Berryessa Way, though relatively small by the town’s standards at 2,730 square feet, is seeking a big price tag of $4.2 million


A story that will take us through several twists and turns of pop culture.


Scientists at play

September 2, 2015

Passed on by Chris Waigl, a piece on the Washington Post‘s blog: “Scientists celebrate the world of animal genitalia with #junkoff” (by Rachel Feltman):

Scentists: They’re just like you! They have good days, they have bad days, they glue themselves to angry crocodiles, and they recognize how utterly ridiculous and funny animal genitalia can be.

#junkoff is the latest hashtag to take off in the scientific corners of Twitter, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Scientists who work with animals contribute their favorite images of penises and vaginas. Including the remarkable 4-headed penis of an echidna (aka spiny anteater, an egg-laying mammal).


Return to the crab feast

August 28, 2015

In a posting on the 15th I recalled an odd experience with tv commercials: back in July a commercial went by for a fast-food or casual-dining restaurant (possibly Red Lobster, though I didn’t catch the name) advertising specials on crab, a feast of snow crab and king crab. The commercial — which was indeed for Red Lobster’s 2015 Crabfest — then mysteriously disappeared from the channels I watch, only to reappear yesterday, just as (it seems) the special offer is about to end.

But the commercial provided an opening for me to talk about kinds of crab (and “crab”). And now I’ll say a bit more.


All things shark

August 24, 2015

Heavy advertisement on cable tv for the summer-end event Shweekend (Shark Weekend — somehow, sharks provoke portmanteaus) on the Discovery Channel.


(The poster plays on the film title Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!)


Kraken! And GEICO!

August 23, 2015

This recent tv ad for GEICO entertained me enormously:

A description, from the site:

At a golf tournament, a golfer prepares to make a shot over the water. Just before he goes to swing, a kraken emerges from the water and grabs the golfer and his caddy, swinging them around with its tentacles. While all this is happening, the golf commentators continue quietly narrating the event. When you’re a golf commentator, you whisper — It’s what you do. If you want to save 15 percent or more on car insurance, you switch to GEICO.


Now, some notes: on the Kraken, and on GEICO and the”It’s What You Do” ads.


Crab feast

August 15, 2015

Some time ago a tv commercial went past me in the middle of the night: a commercial for a fast-food or casual-dining restaurant advertising specials on crab, a feast of snow crab and king crab. So I wondered about the crab in these two names, suspecting that we might be in a world where the referent of one or both of these names is unclear — where there are several distinct creatures called snow crab, say — and maybe also in a world where biologists claim that some things called crabs (or X crabs, for some specific X) are not in fact crabs at all, or aren’t “true crabs”. My suspicious are justified.


Briefly: ‘ware frog!

August 13, 2015

From the annals of biological nasties — drastically invasive plants, poisonous creatures, etc. — a fresh horror reported on in the NYT Science Times on the 11th, in “Frogs With a Venomous Head Butt’ by Sindya N. Bhanoo:

Bruno’s Casque-headed frog, one of two species in Brazil found to deliver venom

(That’s casquea helmetlike structure, such as that on the bill of a hornbill or the head of a cassowary’ (NOAD2).)

There are many poisonous frogs — eat the wrong frog legs at a Paris bistro, and you’re in trouble. Now researchers have discovered two venomous frogs that deliver potent toxins through bony spines on their heads.

“It was thought that frogs were completely passive,” said Edmund Brodie, a biologist at Utah State University. “In this case, the frog is doing some serious injuring.” Dr. Brodie and his colleagues reported their findings in the journal Current Biology.

The two venomous species, Corythomantis greeningi and Aparasphenodon brunoi, are found in Brazil but have not been well studied. Dr. Brodie’s colleague and co-author, Carlos Jared, a biologist at the Instituto Butantan in Brazil, was collecting specimens when one of the frogs jabbed him with its spines.

“He had intense pain radiating up the arm lasting for five hours,” Dr. Brodie said. “That was the eureka moment.”

Luckily, Dr. Jared was jabbed by C. greeningi. A single gram of toxic secretion from A. brunoi is enough to kill 300,000 mice or about 80 people, according to the researchers’ calculations.

It’s unlikely a small frog can deliver a gram of venom in a single jab, but the researchers are planning to err on the side of caution, Dr. Brodie said.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the jungle.


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