Pygmy Hippopotamus


Hippopotamuses… tough is not the word… everyone knows them for their man-squishing temper tantrums… though few know that their hide is so thick they are bullet proof and what’s more they can bimble around on any terrain… put quite simply they have evolved into the biological equivalent of a tank. Then there is Choeropsis liberiensis, the pygmy hippo… the anti-hippo.

The common hippo is renowned for its ferocity, often cited as the most dangerous animal in Africa. Of course the mosquito is a far more dangerous animal than the hippo, though I know which one I’d rather tackle with a newspaper. While the hippo will think nothing at having a go at eating a boat or causing a ruckus through farms and villages… the pygmy hippo thinks all this rampaging quite tiresome… not least because he’s knee high and would be frankly abominable at the chore. It would probably be safer to say the common hippo is the most ferocious animal in Africa. It is aggressive and invasive. The mosquito is more of a silent assassin, but enough of him he’s such a whiner.

The pygmy hippo on the other hand is a rather rare hippo from western Africa. The other living species of hippo, the common hippo is much bigger… ah quite, yes and more common. Hippopotamus means “river horse” in Greek, the locals call the pygmy hippo the “river pig” but the actual family tree of the hippos is a tad more smashing than that. Their closest living relatives are in fact the cetaceans; the whales and dolphins. Which makes sense when you think about it really… a water living fatso and all that.

Africa's most fearsome creature...

Interestingly hippos, despite spending 90% of their time in the water, can’t swim. To get around in the water they simply sink to the bottom of the river and skedaddle along the bottom. The pygmy hippo spends a lot more time on dry land. To stop getting sunburn both types of hippo actually secrete sunscreen, or “blood sweat” as it has rather gruesomely become known. It is neither blood nor sweat but is a highly alkaline substance that turns pink in sunlight, it’s also a rather effective antibacterial agent.

Pygmy hippos are smaller and spend more time on land. They have a sloped back allowing them to pass through the bush more effectively, they merrily mark their path by pooing while using their tiny wee tail to scatter the stuff all over… again like their bigger cousin. For this reason that they are one of the few retromingent animals… they urinate backwards.

the pygmy hippo... not far away

Of course the point I’m very slowly getting round to is that the pygmy hippo is not a chubby sociopath with a head swimming in blood lust, in fact they are quite the opposite of the aggressive common hippo. They are adorable tubby lumps who are just begging for a scratch under the chin, unfortunately you’d be lucky to give the wee chap a tickle in the wild, not just because they are very rare, they are very shy… and though no doubt they’d appreciate the scratch they are quite frankly avoiding that big dangerous cousin of theirs.

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 2:13 pm  Comments (5)  


The caecilian is the yummiest mummy you will ever meet, she’s rather attractive, has a great pair of lungs on her, and she likes a good root…

… sorry just pouring out a Scotch… where were we… ah yes she likes a good root around underground… spending much of her time deep in soil.

Though caecilians look like a liquorice whip had a rather racy night with an earthworm they are in fact amphibians, yes quite… like frogs and salamanders. You’d be forgiven in thinking that you haven’t seen this filly around either as they are rather elusive, as we mentioned they spend the best part of their life underground. Not surprisingly they are rather short-sighted and can only just make out the difference between light and dark.

The caecilians grow up to one and a half metres long and all but one species have a pair of lungs… one lung is bigger than the other so it fits better in that lithe yummy mummy body… indeed the snakes have similar odd shaped lungs. The single caecilian species that doesn’t have lungs is rather a small chap, he doesn’t need lungs as he can get enough oxygen deep enough into his weeny system through his amphibious skin.

Oooh right… yes marvellous… this is the perfect time to discuss an honorary member of The Proceedings; J.B.S Haldane. Professor Haldane is perhaps most famous for his principle, put simply; body size defines what body bits an animal needs. Take for example air-breathing systems; tiny insects can take in oxygen in through their skin from their surrounds, but large mammals have had to develop incredibly complex lung and circulatory systems to get oxygen to their nether regions. So as Haldane’s principle predicts; a big caecilian has had to evolve lungs and a little one has in fact done away with them.

J.B.S. Haldane: Legend

While we’re on the subject the second thing that J.B.S. Haldane was known for is being a bon vivant… he really was a smasher and is dearly missed by us all. Once asked what he felt God must be like he quipped he must have ”An inordinate fondness for beetles” referring to the fact that about 25% of all known living things on the planet are beetles. Later, in a series of rather dangerous experiments on himself, he perforated an eardrum and afterwards stated quite matter of factly “the drum generally heals up; and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question… which is a social accomplishment.” Marvellous fellow!

Right where were we… aaah yes the rather wonderful caecilia… aaah on to nuptials… we usually get around to this sooner or later. The caecilians are the only amphibian that have a penis-like organ… apart from a rather happy looking frog that lives in fast flowing streams. After all the rumpy pumpy the caecilians give birth to live young, and this is where the yummy mummy part comes in… as the wee ones like nothing less than eating their mother. Yes these little wrigglers begin in the womb, chomping away at the womb lining, some species even continue to eat their mother after they are born… tearing chunks from her skin and greedily gobbling them down… as we were saying the caecilian… a really really yummy mummy.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 11:40 am  Comments (4)  


Meet one of the most dapper chaps on the planet, granted he doesn’t get his shirts from Jermyn St… nor does he know that a fine Harris tweed is of course unsurpassed as poor weather attire… but he does know a thing or two about grooming… say good day to the Sifaka.

We could learn something from this clean-cut primate… one can feel drunk on power from the crispness of the crease of a pair of trousers, actually to be fair mostly from this gin, but at least some giddiness from sartorial elegance.

Sifakas are a type of lemur, a smashing bunch of animals from Madagascar, yes like the Aye Aye. Madagascar said toodlepip to Africa ninety million years ago, while dinosaurs were still skedaddling around the planet. The lemurs separated from the rest of the primates (you, me, chimpanzees, creationists etc) about 55 million years ago. They diversified and filled all the ecological niches that the lovely tropical paradise of Madagascar had to offer them… until man turned up and thought them quite tasty.

Their name is onomatopoeic, that is to say their name is the name of the noise they make; like a cuckoo, a splosh, a quack or indeed a zip. The sifaka, who despite being a dapper primate hasn’t cottoned on to onomatopoeic universal fasteners, lives on the western side of the island and makes a noise that sounds like ‘Shee-fak’, and so the tribes their call them sifaka. On the eastern side the sifaka make a noise much like a sneeze, and so the tribes their have given them a name that sounds much like a sneeze, of course this is mightily confusing for both the local tribes and the sifaka when it comes to cold season.

While most lemurs like to belt all over the place on all fours, the sifakas thought it much more refined to be a bit more… well upright… and are incredibly well adapted to bounding through the trees, in fact some hoof along at up to twenty odd miles an hour amidst the twigs and branches. Of course being mostly upright, and hoofing it through trees takes some skill. The sifaka manage this feat by leaping out from the trees, spinning 180degrees, and landing back face-first on the next tree up to 10 metres away. Being so well adapted to hoofing through branches means that they are rather ill adapted to crossing land, though they do their best… unfortunately doing their best looks like a cowboy, fresh from crossing the entire western plains heading towards a bar after a nut-kicking competition.

But why is he so dapper I hear you cry?

Well it turns out that he has a number of remarkable implements at his disposal to keep himself presentable. He has a toothcomb, highly adapted teeth that comb through his thick fur, to keep himself clean. What’s more he has a toilet claw which is used for… what it’s not for… aaaah! for gads sake… does that mean… I’m so sorry for wasting everyone’s time… I thought it was used for… ah never mind.

Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 10:19 pm  Comments (4)  

Right Whale

Everyone knows the story of the right whale, the whale the whalers thought was the right whale because… well it was the “right” whale to catch… well I’ll tell you something about this right whale chap… he’s just not right.

He’s certainly an odd looking fellow for starters, his huge mouth starts way above his eye… a gaping maw chock full of baleen to strip the water of tasty shrimp and the like. On that bonce are big bugger off callosities, sometimes appearing white because of the huge lice that congregate on them… though as Mrs Merrick said to her little boy ‘it’s not what is on the outside that counts’ and what shoves this fellow clicking and squeaking into the Proceedings of the Ever so Strange… is what is on the inside.

When you are dealing with whales it’s not exactly a huge leap of the imagination to realise that you are going to be dealing with some big body bits. Though there is one body bit in particular of the right whale that is really rather outsized. You see these chaps have enormous gonads… knackers… family jewels… call them what you will… one thing you can call them is bloody enormous… each one is five hundred kilos… together they weigh the same as a saloon car… though you wouldn’t want to clamber inside one for a family Sunday I’d warrant.

The right whale needs them too as the female right whale is… well something of a strumpet. When it comes to mating season the female right whale will… erm take on multiple partners at the same time. They are tremendously sensuous creatures and it’s said that the pressure of a human finger can give them a knee-trembler… if they hadn’t evolved their knees away. The right whales meet for these watery orgies and the males gather round to nuzzle and stroke the female for hours, then the males will enter her with their eight foot schlongs… it’s true that… how do we put this… she’ll allow them ‘in’ more than one at a time… after which the right whale all agree that they’ve had a merry old time and bimble off in to the big wet to find another orgy to attend.

All salacious gossip, and it’s just one of the reasons that female right whales don’t live in small villages and attend church… but there is also the tricksy laws of evolution here afoot… sexual selection. Postulated by Charlie Darwin… yes you are quite right… it’s the reason that males fight like rutting stags and show off like pompous peacocks. But combat and ornamentation are only two aspects of sexual selection… there are other shadowy goings on… one is sperm competition. Yes one way in which this never-ending tussle for more offspring is to continue the fight on to a microscopic level. As you’d expect nature has come up with a range of strategies to deal with this… the male dunnock bird pecks out his predecessors sperm before mounting the female… whereas dragonfly have evolved a penis that for all intents and purposes looks like a bottle cleaner to scrub out his predecessor’s love goo. Even humans have sperm competition and men will produce more of a type of ‘blocker’ sperm, like a defending footballer, if he suspects his missus is having it away with the milkman. The right whale has a much more simple method… to produce lots of sperm… from enormous testes… put quite simply he’s buying lots and lots of tickets in a lottery. I warned you that these chaps just aren’t right.

There are three species of these not-so-right whales who inhabit the Arctic and Antarctic, their populations spilt by a cold planet warming some millions of years ago. There is a forth… though not currently put in the right whale group… the much larger bowhead whale, a huge leviathan, it uses its great big bonce to smash through thick ice to draw a breath… as I mentioned it’s not usually placed in the right whale group but modern genetic studies have found there is more variation between the three species of right whale than there are betwixt them and the bowhead.

'I like big nuts and I cannot lie...'

Finally as I mentioned the whalers of yore were said to have given the right whale its name after the fact that it didn’t sink, though the truth is a tad more multifaceted than that. Early whalers were based on the land, lookouts would keep a constant vigil, and when whales were spotted they would give the signal for the other whalers to row out to spear the poor sods. The right whale is also a slow swimmer, so it’s not surprising the right whale was considered right by those having to row out and catch one. Finally these ‘right’ whales are indeed more likely to float than other whales once you’ve stuck a harpoon in the poor sod, at the absolute most only 30% would sink.

While it’s easy to point a finger at these whalers that decimated the right whale populations, it’s these ‘right’ characteristics that means it is still being killed today… they are constantly struck by propellers and crashed into by boats… which means that some species of these rather marvellous creatures are down in their hundreds… Sad news indeed and while it’s debatable whether this whale is right or not… we at The Proceedings can certainly tell you when something isn’t right.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm  Comments (2)