Jungle Fowl

Red and Grey Junglefowl are rather dashing tropical pheasants that dwell in the jungles of South East Asia. Though you might find them more recognizable when they are naked, sadly they are not a game filly, they are actually the direct ancestors of an altogether more familiar and rather intriguing old bird; the chicken.

I say there's no need for fowl language old boy

I say there's no need for fowl language old boy

The chook is a bundle of tastiness that was borne from the interbreeding of these two jungle birds. These red and grey jungle fowl may very well be the original chicken, but what came first the chicken or the egg? It’s a question that has foxed people with far too much time on their hands for millennia.

Nearly two and a half thousand years ago Aristotle clearly got confused by the question and concluded that both must always have existed. Over four hundred years later Plutarch neatly dodged the question and dribbled on about it being a bigger question… that of the creation of the world… nice try beardy. Stephen Hawking argues that the egg must come first, assuming the egg was either an egg in general or an egg that hatches into a chicken. If we rather illogically thought that the egg had to be laid by a chicken then we would have to ask ‘What came first the chicken or the chicken’s egg?’ Which is a silly question. So it has to be that the egg that came first! Hurrah! Though after all that cerebral straining I fear I’m about to find out what comes first the nosebleed or the large G & T… hopefully it’s the latter.

run that by me again?

run that by me again?

Now, enough philosophizing, what of this omnipresent former jungle fowl; the chicken. We’ve seen plenty of fat birds with the deliciousness gene eaten off the planet, from the dodo to the great auk via the passenger pigeon. Though sometimes it works the other way round, we like the species so much we domesticate it, look after it, and reproduce it in incredible numbers, 24 billion in the case of chickens, making it the most abundant bird on the planet… an incredible triumph in evolutionary terms. These delightful creatures also menstruate in handy little packages, and we find these little eggy periods absolutely delicious too! Sounds like something only a Scot would eat I know, but we manage to get through 69 billion a year… no not just us two… I meant mankind. I like to have mine boiled, with toast cut up into soldiers. Of course I think you, being a devilishly clever bunch, know by now what the difference between a slice of toast and the French is.

Of course the story of this scrumptious bird is woven intrinsically into the human story. The first pictures of chicken in Europe are on Corinthian pottery of the 7th Century, though it’s likely they arrived around 3000bc. Ancient Greeks spoke of their qualities of braveness and thought that even the lion was afraid of cocks.

poultry in motion

poultry in motion

One last thing, I’m sure you know by now that we at the Proceedings like to save the best ‘til last. It seems that the Chicken is the only animal described that managed to live without a head. Yes that’s right a Chicken once lived sans bonce.

Mike never became the head of a major corporation

Mike never became the head of a major corporation

Mike was his name, after a farmer in 1940’s Colorado botched lopping his noggin off, he lived through the usually rather fatal wound. The farmer had somehow chopped off the rather important bit of his anatomy while retaining a little bit of the brain stem. Feeling sorry for headless Mike the farmer’s family kept him alive, feeding him with an eyedropper full of milk. Mike became quite the star over his short 18 month life span, appearing in both Time and Life magazines… though it’s unlikely that even fame could get him a lot of chicks.

One final thing about these amazing ancestors of jungle fowl, and that’s the other age old problem ‘Why did the Chicken cross the road?’ Well it turns out that he was French and was simply retreating.

ever get the feeling you may never hear the end of something?

ever get the feeling you may never hear the end of something?

‘But what of that fabulous bird the jungle fowl! This is an article on chickens!’ I hear you cry, well the fowl are smashing creatures, but sadly they are really nothing to write home about. Though I can tell you they do taste a bit like chicken.

Advertisements
Published in: on July 28, 2009 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Narwhal

Since the dawn of time there has been stories of the magical beast the Unicorn. A single-horned Horse with a Billy Goat’s beard, a Lion’s tail and cloven hooves. Its horn was highly prized, worth more than gold… not surprising as it was said to bestow magical powers on its bearer. A chalice made of the bone was said to protect from poisoning. Only the richest gentries curiosity cabinet contained the Unicorn horn. Prince Elizabeth I was said to be particularly fond of her carved and bejewelled horn, of course this was pre-Freud, and it was said to be worth “the cost of a castle”. Now we know that these magical Unicorn horns are actually the tusks of Narwhals.

narwhal

Aaaaw I hear you cry, I know, but as smashing as it would be, the existence of a Unicorn is about as likely as the existence of a sober Scot, but bear with me dear reader for this Narwhal is a creature every bit as wonderous as the Unicorn.

In the seas above the Arctic circle these Sea Unicorns are found in pods of 10-100. The Narwhal gets its name from the old Norse word for corpse “Nar”, as its mottled skin is said to be reminiscent of a drowned sailor.

narwalswimming

All interesting stuff but it’s pretty obvious that what propels this creature straight into the Proceedings of the Ever so Strange is its magnificent prong. At an incredible two to three metres long, the male Narwhal’s tusk is actually a tooth, like the tusk of an Elephant. The tooth grows out in a spiral form, usually from the left hand side of the jaw, it is the only helix formed tooth known to man, and it is indeed the only straight tusk. In fact it’s the most bizarre teething arrangement on the planet… closely followed by the British upper class.

Though what is really interesting about this rather obvious appendage is that no one is entirely sure what it uses it for. The most widely accepted theory is that put forward by Charles Darwin. That this tooth has evolved as a sexually selected characteristic, similar to the mane of a Lion or the tail of a Peacock. That is to say that there is no real advantage to it, indeed it may put the creature at a disadvantage, but it is an example of healthiness to the female of the species and the more impressive it is the more likely she will allow herself to be ravished by him.

narwhal2

Other theories include that it uses it for jousting other males, which is very likely to be tish tosh. Though Narwhals do exhibit a tusking behaviour, where they rub them together at the surface, which is thought to be to establish who is the boss. They may use them as a probe to look for Crustacea and other bits of grub, it has even been suggested that they use them as a pick to break Arctic Ice.

Though recently some really rather interesting research showed that there was more to these mysterious tusks than meets the eye. Learned types took an electron micrograph of the enormous tootsy peg and found that it contained an incredibly amount of nerve endings, ten million to be precise. To put that into context the most sensitive part of the human body is the female clitoris which has eight thousand, men have half of that number in their tallywhacker, imagine those dipping in and out of the Arctic sea! They’d give you a read out of environmental information… I’d say!

I say... I detect it's that way

I say... I detect it's that way

So the Narwhal tusk is an incredibly sensitive device, one can only imagine what sort of information can be picked up by it, further research will hopefully soon tell us, whatever is discovered it’s bound to be rather special, a sense organ so sensitive it will defy belief, super-natural almost… one could even call it magical.

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 9:20 am  Comments (7)  

Wombat

Meet the Wombat; he’s Australian, slow and rather dim-witted. As if the three were separable! Hurrah!

Huzzah!

Huzzah!

He really is a smasher isn’t he? A lazy smasher at that! This affable chap likes to take things easy, he’ll spend about sixteen hours a day snoozing away. Wombats are grazers and have such an efficient digestive system they only need to eat about a third of the amount a sheep or similar grass-eater would chow down on, incredibly it will take 14 days for one meal to be fully digested. What’s more they need even less water, about 20% of a sheep’s requirement. This unbelievably slow metabolism is an adaptation to the arid, nutrient-low bush in which he lives, he also uses it as an excuse as to why he just can’t seem to fit into those britches anymore.

... and the winner of the ...

... and the winner of the ...

After this epic bit of digestion our dawdling chum will poo out a cube of dung… yes really… a cube. Wombat use their dung as a marker of their territory and it’s thought that he makes these rather angular plops so that they don’t roll away. Exactly how the Wombat does this incredible bit of bottom crafting even I don’t want to know.

Woot! It's a little known fact that it's a physical impossibility to have enough pictures of Wombats in a single essay.

Woot! It's a little known fact that it's a physical impossibility to have enough pictures of Wombats in a single essay.

There are three species of Wombat; the Common, the Southern Hairy Nosed and the incredibly scarce Northern Hairy Nosed… the latter is one of the rarest Mammals on the planet only living in a three square kilometre patch of protected land. Sadly the native grasses on which he barely gets a meal are being out-competed by invading species.

One last thing about this smasher his bum is tough as an old boot. If a Wombat comes across a predator such as a Dingo, he skedaddles to his nearest burrow. Indeed he can be there in a jiffy as he really can motor. Once the Wombat is in his burrow he is really rather fine and dandy. He blocks the end with his cartilaginous derriere as any predator will have difficulty getting a purchase on his rock-hard bot. Of course with his head in the sand and his arse in the air we can draw no parallels with him and the Australian Cricket Team. Hurrah!

Published in: on July 21, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (19)  

Tarantula Hawk

Tarantulas… big ugly bitey buggers… not ideal babysitting material in anyone’s book. Oddly the extraordinary tarantula hawk likes to leave junior with these evil sods… still she does take the precaution of paralyzing him first… a bit like leaving sherry with the nanny.

Tarantula_Hawk

Tarantula hawks are actually a type of wasp. A bally big wasp as you’d expect. They also possess an incredibly powerful sting, second in power only to the bullet ant. The tarantula hawk’s sting is described by our old mate Schmidt as “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.” Which sounds like one to be avoided.

The tarantula hawk sniffs out the tarantula, even going as far to head into their lair. Where it somehow entrances the big bloody spider. No one is really sure how this happens, the research being a tad thin on the ground. Most zoologists, being human, tend to avoid having to handle them and will go to great lengths to avoid publishing papers on ‘How the Stingiest Stinger you couldn’t even imagine interacts with the Spider from Hades’ presumably preferring to write papers on ‘Who prefers snuggles most? Penguins, Otters or Puppies” Though it is probably that this flying assassin is using some sort of pheromone.

and that's the story of the 'owl and the pussycat'... now sleep tight little Jessica

and that's the story of the 'owl and the pussycat'... now sleep tight little Jessica

The wasp then crawls over the tarantula checking he’s exactly the right species, when she’s sure he’s the right one she delivers a potent neurotoxin, drags it to the bottom of its burrow, lays a single egg and seals up the burrow with the spider. Eventually the larva hatches and sticks its mouth into the living tarantula’s abdomen to suck the spider dry. When the squidgy bits are gone, the rapidly growing larvae moves on to the paralysed spiders fresh essential organs. The spider of course dies, as it really could have quite done with those essential organs to live, which is why they were so bloody well essential in the first place. With the buffet slayed the wasp larvae builds a cocoon to metamorphose. To change into another tarantula bothering machine. Smashing stuff!

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 3:44 pm  Comments (11)  

Lyre Bird

This is the superb lyrebird… no that really is his name… they did toy around with calling him the smashing lyrebird and the ‘why isn’t he just delightful’ lyrebird … but superb lyrebird stuck. The only other species of lyrebird, the albert’s lyrebird is said to be really rather jealous of this grand moniker. He’s named of course after Prince Albert and when you think about the other things that are named after him I think we can allow this songbird a sulk.

Ta Daaaa!

Ta Daaaa!

They are pheasant-sized birds that skedaddle around the Australian rainforest floor. Any sign of danger and they will leg it, straight down the nearest wombat hole if they can find one.

Though it’s not his ability to scarper that has propelled these superb (yes I am including you under that heading Albert so do stop sulking) creatures into The Proceedings. In fact what is Ever so Strange about these chaps is their quite frankly incredible mating rituals.

great, so let me get this straight, he's 'superb' and i'm named after some bloke with genital piercings?

great, so let me get this straight, he's 'superb' and i'm named after some bloke with genital piercings?

The male lyrebird will begin his tomfoolery in the winter when he builds and maintains a mound to perform on. The lyrebirds have the most complicated syrinx, the voicebox for want of a better word, of the birds. Which means this incredible fellow can sing the most beautiful songs, what’s more they can mimic just about any sound they hear.

In the 30’s a lyrebird by the name of James formed a bond with another smasher, a certain Mrs Wilkinson. After feeding him over a number of years he returned the favour by performing his courtship dance in the garden, he’d even do it for Mrs Wilkinson’s guests… but only if she was present. The word dance of course is perhaps a misnomer, as it’s really the song that is the virtuoso performance. James was said to include in his song the sounds of…

… the laughing-song of the kookaburra, two kookaburras having a bit of a laugh together, an Australian magpie, and a young magpie begging for a bit of grub, a bellbird, an eastern whipbird… I say I like the sound of her… a yellow-tailed black-cockatoo, a gang-gang cockatoo, an eastern rosella, a pied butcherbird, a wattle-bird, a grey shrike-thrush, a thornbill, a white-browed scrubwren, a striated pardalote, a starling, a yellow robin, a golden whistler, a flock of parrots having a merry old time, the crimson rosella, several other birds who no-one could work out what they were, the faintissimo cheeps of thousands of honey-eaters… a rock pulveriser, a hydraulic ram and the tooting of motor car horns.

Really rather amazing isn’t it. Once a park ranger went bushwhacking to find out why the blazes someone was playing a merry ditty on a flute in the middle of the bush. Turns out that the culprit was a lyrebird who had learned the tunes from a nearby farm where they had a gramophone for shindigs.

One of course would be very happy to have gone on about this marvellous fellow, but I’m really the last person who should lecture on the subject of making good impressions.

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 9:53 am  Comments (3)  

Quahog Clam

You’re going to have to speak up he’s really rather old… no actually you’re really going to have to speak up as he lacks a sense of hearing… say hello, or don’t bally well bother wasting your time saying hello, to the oldest creature on the planet … the Quahog Clam.

Islandmuschel

To be brutally honest hearing isn’t the only faculty this really rather oblivious four hundred and five year old is amiss. He never knew that in his infancy Elizabeth I with her festering black teeth sat atop the throne, and a young William Shakespeare was just putting quill to parchment. He would have seen the pilgrims set sail to New England, if only he had the ability, to whom he would have presumably said a cordial how-do-you-do as they sailed past… if only he had a larynx. He was unaware when Nelson defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar, and at the ascension to the throne for Queen Victoria. He couldn’t give a hoot for a number of historic landmarks that he lived through to be perfectly honest… the invention of the telephone, penicillin, Darwinism, the atom bomb, the First and Second World Wars, even Margaret Thatcher’s dismantling of the welfare state was said to only rile him a tad.

Until, one day researchers from the University of Bangor, Wales… yes Welsh researchers… found him in the waters above Iceland he so fondly called home … there they counted the layers that he had laid down year by year… painstakingly over the centuries he had grown to just 3.4 inches across… and the researchers tallied 405 layers one for every year of his life… of course they killed the poor bugger in the process.

Published in: on July 16, 2009 at 8:29 am  Comments (5)  

Blobfish

Damnnations! My Winston Churchill bust has melted … oh no it’s just blobfish.

I swear I will throw a wobbly if anyone does another trifle joke

I swear I will throw a wobbly if anyone does another trifle joke

This chap can be found being a trifle curmudgeonly deep in the abyss around the coast of Australia. What is more he is made almost entirely of jelly… yes really. Though that doesn’t seem to have cheered him up, and it should be duly noted that he really doesn’t go down that well with ice cream at parties.

One of the problems with living in water is that it’s very hard to stay where you are. If you are a little bit heavier than water you will sink, and if you are bit lighter you will float up towards the surface. Of course having to fight against this all the time can be a bit of a bugger, so fish have evolved bladders full of air to help them retain a neutral-buoyancy. The problem is that gas-filled organs aren’t really the best idea under the immense pressures in the abyss and so the blobfish has evolved into a… well a blob of jelly. A blob of jelly that is in fact around about the same density as water, which means that he doesn’t have to use up any energy if he doesn’t need to. Which is handy as the blobfish doesn’t get to eat much as he relies on infrequent scraps, from the life-rich upper-ocean, that happen to drift past his nose.

A bally grouchy and lazy blob of jelly he may be, he has however evolved rather neatly to fit his ecological niche. Although this chap isn’t going to woo himself into the upper echelons of Parisian society, at least not after last time, he doesn’t look half as dreadful when he’s in his natural surrounds.

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 8:32 am  Comments (5)  

Bushy Tailed Wood Rat

This furry chap is the bushy tailed wood rat… also known as the pack rat, the wood rat, the prairie flounder or Steve to his friends. Let’s not get fooled by our fluffy little friend as it turns out this rat is a rat!…

rat

rat

You see this little fellow is quite the rapscallion spending his days thieving to build a bloody big house. It’s hard to blame the poor soul as small furry things didn’t really get dealt the best hand. They’re more like a furry TV dinner. Every bird of prey, snake, lizard, cat and other carnivorous scoundrels find them to be a rather agreeable amuse-bouche.

i say dear would you mind awfully defrosting a rat... I thought I'd do that nice Italian thingy

i say dear would you mind awfully defrosting a rat... I thought I'd do that nice Italian thingy

So small furry things have hence evolved ways of avoiding being eaten as it is rather tiresome and annoying; they’re quite often fast and generally holed up in a burrow somewhere. Not so the bushy tailed wood rat, he simply builds a big bugger off house or ‘midden’. They wander around their immediate vicinity pinching everything in sight. Of course thousands of years ago that was pinecones, twigs and what not. Now, if you camp a little too close to their midden, it could just as easily include your wristwatch. In fact they are drawn to anything shiny, and will drop whatever they are carrying if something else grabs their attention. For this reason if you are unlucky enough to get a bushy tailed wood rat in your house you may find your family jewels replaced with a pebble… no not those family jewels.

Now for the Ever so Strange bit! You see this chap was rocketed into The Proceedings when we discovered that he holds together these middens with his urine. It sets rock solid like a hard varnish apparently. And we do mean rock solid, some have been found that are 40,000 years old. Which is rather handy as these middens can tell learned types about how the area has changed over millennia.

middens... grim

middens... grim

One final thing on this smashing chap, they don’t hibernate in the winter, but their arch enemy the rattlesnake does. Unfortunately for the bushy tailed wood rat the rattlesnake will often choose a midden to snooze in, while the rat’s still using it. The atmosphere in there is said to be a trifle awkward.

I would write more about this fabulous chap but some buggers had my pen…

Published in: on July 14, 2009 at 12:25 pm  Comments (3)  

Goliath Tigerfish

Don’t worry it’ll only attack you if you’re wet… meet the goliath tigerfish of the River Congo.

... and this is the eating end

... and this is the eating end

He’s a smasher isn’t he! One learned friend of The Proceedings described him as ‘…the fiercest fish that swims. Let others hold forth as advocates for the Mako Shark, the Barracudas or the Blue Fish of the Atlantic. To them I say ‘Pish and Tush’’. Strong words I know, and I can only apologize that such offensive language has been used in front of lady folk, however I felt it prudent to establish just what a vicious brute he is.

A huge bollard of darting fishy muscle, the goliath tigerfish is quite simply an eating machine. Those teeth are set into a hard bony jaw so that when it snaps its unbelievable gob shut they interlock like a set of shears. If you happen to have rolled up your trousers for a paddle in the Congo it would be clever thinking to keep the noise down, as the goliath tigerfish’s sense of hearing is absolutely tip-top, a small bone connects its ear to its swim bladder which acts like an amplifier. The other rather brilliant news about this highly-astute uber-strong swimming set of gnashers is that they shoal… in huge numbers. Attacks on humans have been reported but not verified.

Though there has to be a bit more than ‘bitiness’ to get you into The Proceedings of the Ever So Strange. You see all around the world wildly different creatures look a bit similar. One reason for this is that there are only so many things in the world that make a sufficient supper. What’s more evolution only has what it’s given to work with… much like the Royal families’ portrait artist. The foot of an elephant contain the same bones as the foot of a mouse. The neck of a giraffe has exactly the same amount of vertebrae as that of Winston Churchill. Combine this fact with there are only so many meal tickets in the wild, you get animals that aren’t closely related who look remarkably similar… like the anteaters, the aardvarks and the pangolins for example. Evolution has come up with the same answer to the same question, just in a different place. Convergent evolution as learned types call it. Why all these musings I hear you cry, well put simply the goliath tigerfish is Africa’s version of the River Amazon’s renowned piranha… and indeed it is incredibly similar… just bigger.

Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 1:26 pm  Comments (6)  

Candiru

What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? That’s right finding a fish in your tallywhacker! Or even finding an apple in your worm?! We’ll get round to that one, right where were we? It was only a matter of time until the Proceedings got around to this chap, just prey that this chap never gets to proceed into your chap. Meet the Candiru, the most feared fish in the River Amazon, yes that’s the same River Amazon that’s stuffed to the rafters with meat-eating Piranhas.

I say... I’m new in the neighbourhood... pool party!... sounds delightful!

I say... I’m new in the neighbourhood... pool party!... sounds delightful!

You see the Candiru has a very anti-social habit. He swims into streams of urine and into the urethra, yes the bit that you wee out of, which is said to smart a tad.

An Eel-shaped Catfish, about fifteen centimetres long and about a centimetre thick the translucent little rapscallion lies in wait at the bottom of the river. If it smells urea, the leftovers from when your body has metabolized protein, in the water it will dart towards the source. Thankfully todgers, and indeed ladies front jacksy’s, aren’t its usual prey. In fact the scoundrel is trying to get in to the gills of some hapless fish. There it will spring its spines and go on to gnaw a hole towards a major blood vessel gorging itself on blood for no more than a few minutes. Then it will drop off sink to the river bottom and have a merry old cogitation and deliberation until its next victim wanders past.

european catfish thankfully have better manners

european catfish thankfully have better manners

If they are very very unlucky that victim may be some poor bloody sod who is urinating into the river. It’s really not the little fishy’s fault, he mistakes the urea in the urine for a fishes gill excretions, and makes a dart into the urine stream… right to its source. Of course this isn’t an ideal situation for the fish to be in, though it is very hard to feel sorry for a ghoulish bugger that gores other fish to death… especially if he’s lodged in your mutton sword. They really do go right in, so that all you can see poking out is there still flapping tail, what’s more the fiend sticks out a spike so it can’t come out, even if you ask it really really nicely.

thanks for getting that blasted human off me

thanks for getting that blasted human off me

Surgery is probably the only option, though local tribes say there is a pair of local herbs that can be inserted into the urethra to kill the fish so it will fall out. Just in case you are ever unlucky enough to come face to genitals with this bounder they are the Jagua plant and the Buitach apple, presumably not the whole apple though.

Published in: on July 10, 2009 at 9:53 am  Comments (3)