Adelie Penguin

In 1807 Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville failed the physical test to get into the Ecole Polytechnique and was soon esconced in that bunch of ne’er do wells… the French Navy. There the legendarily unhygienic sailor rose through the ranks and sailed the Seven Seas. His career was illustrious, most notably his discovery of the famous Venus de Milo statue in the Greek Cyclades. Years later the fragrant Frenchman set foot in the Antarctic. There he set eyes on a rather sweet and diminutive penguin and promptly decided to name it after his wife; Adelie. Sadly for Dumont this rather romantic gesture was about as successful as a French naval campaign… as it turned out that the female adelie penguin was a trollop.

I didn't say that dear, it's just that he's rather ... brown ... a bit like George next door.

I didn't say that dear, it's just that he's rather ... brown ... a bit like George next door.

The adelie penguins live on the Antarctic beaches, where once every couple of years unseasonably warm weather hits. This would of course be good news on most beaches but the icy plains that the penguins call home are subject to floods, the warm spell melts the ice and the whole place is awash with mud and guano. Not the ideal environment for bringing up junior.

brazen strumpetry

brazen strumpetry

So how does this turn a penguin into a harlot I hear you cry? Bear with me good reader, you see the adelie have found a way of keeping their seed in good shape by building stony nests to elevate their egg. These stones are not that plentiful, so there are some mighty squabbles over them. The stronger males eventually take the most pebbles and build the best nests.

When the female adelie return from the better part of the year at sea, they will choose a mate and soon steer towards the strong provider penguin who has proved himself by building up a good tall nest … but that’s not the end of the story. As we have said the female adelie penguin is quite the strumpet. It seems that as soon as hubby’s back is turned she is getting rather game with the neighbours, those males who haven’t had any success at finding a mate.

In return for a frolic with a filly the bachelor penguins are rather happy to pay… the princely sum of one pebble. The adelie penguins are the only example of prostitution in all of the birds. In fact, some of the more amorous female adelies have been observed prostituting themselves over 62 times in a breeding season.

Of course there is no record of Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville’s wife Adelie Dumont being anything like her penguin namesakes, though it has been noted by more than one learned gentleman that she was of French origin.

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 10:52 am  Comments (2)  

Tawny Frogmouth

WE’VE MOVED! COME AND SEE US HERE YOU BIG SMASHER!

No he is not an owl, he’s nothing like those big loveable oafs… say a very warm hallo to the tawny frogmouth!

Hurrah!

Yes we suppose this chap does have a passing resemblance to an owl… an owl with a wide frog-like mouth… an owl crossed with a frog… ooh they should call it something owly-coloured frog featu… oh… hmmm… quite… this chap lives in Australia, including Tasmania and there are a few in Southern New Guinea. Though the frogmouths look like owls they are actually more closely related to the nightjars and oilbirds.

Old frog features sits in the forest at night and, well, just sits there waiting for insects to bob by. If an insect is unlucky enough to tootle past this big feathery frog-mouthed dustbin they quickly wish they hadn’t. He is a ‘sit and wait’ predator, a bit like a kingfisher sitting on a riverbank, though he is not about to get wet. Those wispy whiskery feathers around his gob are thought to detect anything that would rather not be chomped on… and help the tawny frogmouth to quickly go about ruining their day by chomping on them. Yes we know, owls eat things in the night too… but owls go about their night-time dining quite differently, they scour large areas looking for prey to skewer with their rather vicious looking feet, rather than sit on a branch waiting for something to bimble past their enormous gob.

...3 ...2 ...1... coming ready or not!

The tawny frogmouth’s camouflage is tip-top and they exhibit a behaviour known as ‘stumping’. Though to refer to looking like a tree stump as a ‘behaviour’ is possibly a misnomer, more of a doing nothing… an anti-behaviour. Animals tend to avoid being flamboyant; which is why one rarely sees them jauntily bobbing down a street in their college blazer, loudly whistling ‘Rule Brittania’ while twirling a cane. Being all visible tends to get them into the belly of something bigger than them, or if they are big it tends to make little things avoid going anywhere near them and hence ending up in their belly… and so our animal chums have worked out all sorts of clever ways of not being visible… this is what we call crypsis.

Of course camouflage is one method, and the tawny frogmouth is an expert in this field; its feathers look exactly like tree bark. There are many other ways in which an animal may try to remain unseen or in a state of ‘crypsis’ including; only coming out at night, living underground, being see through or even doing nothing.

frogmouths?... haven't seen any, just us stumps here

Doing nothing may seem an odd way to react, especially to something that is going to eat you, however it is a rather good way of not getting seen; predators on the whole are on the look out for things that … well do things. Again it is where owls differ…. they are renowned for doing things… flying about… bothering mice… looking for things that are doing things… hooting and hollering… hollering and hooting.

Owls are often doing all this hollering and hooting, generally because they are renowned imbeciles. Their huge eyes leave very little space for the grey stuff, what’s more a big slice of their tiny owly minds are devoted to processing the huge amounts of information their incredible eyes and ears pick up. Frogmouths as we know take it a bit easier, though these feathered bins have noticed that insects are attracted to those new fangled electric lamps… the problem being these new fangled electric lamps are often attached to the front of these new fangled motor cars… a behaviour which is surely about to become a rather quick lesson in survival of the fittest for these silly chaps. Aaaah finally yes something very owl-like about this character… he is an utter buffoon… and we love him for it!

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm  Comments (8)  

Vampire Finch

Many moons ago a ship set sail around the world, it wasn’t to know it yet but it was going to change the course of history. It didn’t know this not least due to it being a boat it had a rather poorly developed sense of self. This boat was even less capable of clairvoyancy, a skill unproven in even the most sentient beings… it’s fair to say it really didn’t have the foggiest idea. Still it was so, the places it would visit, and the animals of those places would light the tinder for the greatest idea mankind has ever had… one such creature was the Vampire Finch.

vampireclose

Of course it just wouldn’t do for the ship’s Captain to speak to the scoundrels and hoi polloi of the crew and so it was standard practice at the time to bring a gentleman to drink sherry with them and to generally stop them from going stark raving bonkers. One rather affable fellow seemed perfect, all except for his nose thought Captain Fitzroy. The Captain was a keen phrenologist and being a scholarly and erudite chap he knew that there was no way that this fellow would make the gruelling journey around the globe with a nose that was shaped like that. Thankfully he took him anyway, what’s more he even gave him a book for the journey, a journal on how rocks metamorphose over large periods of time.

Fitzroy

Fitzroy

A couple of weeks in their conversation turned to slavery, the Captain a conservative and pious man thought it a splendid idea, whereas the young Charles Darwin quite rightly thought it an abomination, after that they didn’t get along quite as well. Thankfully this gave the young naturalist a bit of time to think. Incidentally Charles wasn’t the actual naturalist of the Beagle, that honour fell to Robert McCormick, who eventually quit after constantly being usurped by the affable country gent.

darwin

what's wrong with my nose?

When the Beagle hit South America young Charley was quite taken by the rhea. This large flightless bird was undoubtedly smashing, but why on earth would God feel the need to create it having already made the ostrich.

Upon reaching some volcanic islands miles out to sea from the Ecuadorian coast he met some really rather marvellous species. Enormous tortoises, hawks, aquatic lizards, blue footed boobies, an array of finches and some mockingbirds. Travelling onwards to Tahiti Darwin began to catalogue his finds from the Galapagos. It was the mockingbird that first grabbed his attention, they were all from the same species, yet from each island they displayed slight, yet noticeable differences. Back in Blighty it was the finches that would really get his cogs whirring.

Darwin’s finches as they became known are of course one of the most incredible examples of how an array of animals can come from one. Years before the Beagle’s arrival a single finch had made the islands its home. From this single finch they had adapted and evolved to fill all the different opportunities that the islands have.

vampirefinch

going anywhere nice this year sir?

The vampire finch is of course one of the more extreme examples, a subspecies of the sharp beaked ground finch it evolved on two of the smaller Galapagos Islands; Darwin and Wolf. These arid islands lacked freshwater and so the finch began to seek out moisture rich foods, it drank the nectar of the cacti it nibbles at, and rather ghoulishly it pecks at the backs of the blue footed boobie population. Strangely the blue footed boobies don’t seem to mind, it’s thought that they think it normal for small birds to come and peck them for parasites. It could of course be that they are insufferable imbeciles, the early Spanish explorers named them boobies after the Spanish for clown: Bobo.

bluefootedboobies

a vampire? pecking you? well show him you're cross... Ok... STOP PECKING ME YOU LITTLE BA...!

So it was born that Charles Darwin, after twelve years deliberating in his house in the garden of England finally published the Origin of the Species, and what’s more come up with the theory of evolution the single greatest idea mankind ever had. What became of Captain Fitzroy? A devout man, though exactly where all that ‘love thy neighbour’ business fitted in with his belief in slavery is anyone’s bloody guess. Fitzroy was deeply perturbed by the cataclysmic blow dealt to his religion by Darwin’s incredible idea. An idea that could only have been dreamt up if Darwin had been ferried around some odd corners of the globe, after reading a book on how rocks change over vast periods of time. Captain Fitzroy got up one morning and took his life.

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm  Comments (3)  

Boobies

Boobies… we at The Proceedings love boobies… big boobies… small boobies… brown boobies… boobies; a genus of seabirds in the Sulidae family.

blue-footed-booby2

Oh you thought… no, sorry… though you might want to ask the Major about his collection of anthropological etchings. Of course we are talking about the rather enchanting sea bird from the Pacific. Their name is of course rather rude… yes as you suspected it is a bastardization of an old Spanish naval slang for a half-wit or clown. Naturally among sailors these affable birds were really rather popular. They would comically drop in to say ‘how do you do’ on ships that were mid-voyage. What sailor couldn’t be taken in by this birds comical looks, bold as brass personality, waddling gate… and of course being a hell of a lot tastier than a biscuit full of weevils and a flask of your own urine can’t have done much to decrease their charisma.

catesby-86-booby

Though it’s not for any of these reasons that this smasher is propelled into The Proceedings. It’s actually because of his poo…. and to be fair the poo of a couple of his chums; the Peruvian cormorant and the Peruvian pelican… a triumvirate of the most important pooers the world has ever seen.

The Incas are of course famous for building cities of gold that are even more difficult to find than a monogamous Frenchman. What is less lauded is their love of bird poo. The Inca revered the islands of fertilizer and anyone who disturbed the holy birds were subject to the death penalty. The Inca, in their native Quechua, referred to this white stinky gold as ‘wanu’. The Spanish of course, not happy with merely oppressing the natives, felt they should also spray them with spittle… so changed the name to ‘guano’.

i say old boy... i think you might have trodden in something there

i say old boy... i think you might have trodden in something there

Of course it wasn’t just the natives that thought the poo rather smashing. Step forward the great poo rush of the 1800’s. Fortunes were born from the bums of seabirds. In 1858 alone Great Britain imported 300,000 tonnes of Peruvian guano, mainly for growing turnips. The British Empire pretty much ran the whole guano empire, rather annoying our American chums, and indeed it became US law that if an American found an island full of bird poo he was allowed to keep the entire island… as long as he sent all that poo back to the US.

Between 1840 and 1880 the Peruvian guano boom was at its highest height. Twenty million tonnes were exported earning the country two billion dollars, indeed the president of Peru was said to be more important than the president of the United States at the time. Sadly, with all the business acumen of Jack on his way to market, he thought a windfall of two billion dollars not enough to bolster his country’s coffers and promptly took out a number of crippling loans. Of course wars soon broke out over the precious poo, resulting in a number of bloody wars culminating in poor blooming Bolivia being the only landlocked country with an active navy… and it wasn’t just Bolivia that was left in a right bloody mess. No, I’m not talking about the ‘islas de la poo’ either. It’s often cited that many of South Americas woes are because of this financial mismanagement of such a precious early resource.

Booby

All of which of course the daft bugger the booby, and indeed his poo, is utterly oblivious to.

Of course we’d like to finish the Proceedings tonight by saying that of course our educational body is based in the heart of the British Empire, and we’d like to add that we, unlike the blasted Spanish, would never do such a wonderful bird the injustice of giving it such a silly name. No… no… no… it would take a right bunch of tits to do that.

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 9:29 am  Comments (2)  

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.

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

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)  

Stork

WE’VE MOVED HERE! COME SAY HELLO!

Storks are marvellous fellows, dignified huge buggers like a Sergeant Major… if a Sergeant Major was covered in feathers had a big bugger off nest, big bloody beak and never made a noise.

"    "

These chaps are famed for their huge nests which they return to each year and build upon every time they return. They lack a Syrinx (Greek for pan pipes) which is the thingumajig that allows a bird to sing and so are one of the few mute birds. What’s more there are a number of these mutes, the largest being the Marabou Stork… also known as the Undertaker Bird. A big sod he is too, in fact he shares the title of biggest wingspan of any bird with the mighty Andean Condor, ten and half foot across… twice the height of an Italian.

The Marabou Stork never could get the hang of lighting its pipe from the fire

The Marabou Stork never could get the hang of lighting its pipe from the fire

Looking at the Marabou Stork it is easy to see the similarities between the Vultures and the Stork, indeed recent DNA sampling has pointed to a common ancestor. Appearances can be misleading though… like that Bangkok filly I was telling you about… non more so than in the case of the Shoebill, who was thought of as a Stork for many years. Sadly he isn’t, he is rather a weird looking fellow though, so I thought it inoffensive to have a quick aside.

Shoebill

Shoebill

Back to the Stork, of course the magnificent fellow is often associated as the bringer of babies. Fear not I’m not about to go on one of my famed rants about debauchery and ravishing. You see, the Stork is thought of in this manner as it appeared in Europe out of nowhere each year. There they would mate, have a young whippersnapper, act like a delightful couple, become quite the talk of town, and love the little one ever so… and promptly bugger off again. So the Stork became synonymous with the arrival of good fortune. Later stuffy Victorians would use the bird as a foil to explain where babies come from when young Timmy asked. Unfortunately Timmy was a rather dull child and would years later become embroiled in a rather embarassing dinner party conversation about how a small bird would often fend off these baby-bearing Stork… something about Swallows.

then she should stop being such a strumpet

then she should stop being such a strumpet

It was this rather remarkable habit of the European Stork disappearing each Winter that flummoxed early naturalists. Until this rather unfortunate chap arrived in Germany in 1822.

he'll feel that in the morning

he'll feel that in the morning

Known as a Pfeilstorch, or Arrow Stork in more a civilised tongue, it had arrived with an arrow in its neck, what is more that arrow was of African origin, and so learned types surmised that birds travel great distances with the seasons… in a word they migrate. Previous ideas about their sudden disappearance over Winter included that they turned into mice, or that they all went for a nap at the bottom of the Sea.

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 11:26 am  Comments (4)  

Kakapo

The World’s fattest and only flightless parrot is an adorable tubby lump whose memoirs read like a pamphlet on how to get eaten. Short of evolving a coating of herb butter and having a nest like a savoy fricassee with a little beetroot-relish quinelle egg, the rather marvellous Kakapo has apparently gone out of its way to become a somewhat easy meal. So easy a meal in fact that there are only a hundred left.

Kakapo

Kakapo live on a couple of tiny islands at the bottom of New Zealand. Of course New Zealand was one of the last countries to be discovered by Man, and consequently it thought itself the luckiest archipelago around. In fact there were hardly any mammals at all, just a couple of bats. Bird life flourished here and evolved to fill all those little niches usually filled by mammals. Unperturbed by big predators they forwent the ability to fly, and waddled around the forest floor happily chomping on the nuts, berries and fruit that would usually be eaten by pigs, mice and deer. Chomping on quite a lot of it in the case of the chubby Kakapo.

... there goes the neighbourhood

... there goes the neighbourhood

Eventually Man arrived, as he always turns up after a while, and he’s not the nicest of guests and almost certainly didn’t bring any chocolates. Instead he brought over horrid things that really weren’t to the Kakapo’s liking. The Kakapo was the third most common bird on New Zealand before the Maori arrived… not for long… being delicious is not the best adaptation that evolution has ever produced. The Maori and their pooches devoured them, not surprising as Kakapo smell worse than a pub carpet on a Sunday morning and so were a tad easy find. What’s more their response to danger is to stand stock still, startled as it were, making them about as useful as the French in a fight. What made matters worse is that those horrible neighbours the Europeans arrived and brought pigs, goats, deer and horses that all loved to eat the same thing as the Kakapo. Though they did bring wine… which was thoughtful. Things just weren’t meant to be for this roly-poly parrot.

Now many birds throughout history have evolved the deliciousness gene, and quite a few have been eaten off the planet: the Dodo, the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk to name but a few. So here down at The Proceedings we only allow an entry if it displays an added soupcon of the strange. Thankfully the Kakapo delivers in droves.

You see this rotund fellow has rather bizarre breeding behaviour. The Kakapo will only breed certain years when a particular type of fruit abounds. If it does happen to be one of these years the Kakapo males will waddle up to ridges where they will begin to fight, sometimes to the death, for the best spots.

Once a spot is secured the male will go and tidy up the saucer-shaped bowls cut from year upon year of rooting around by the males, and quite meticulous they are with them too. One way that researchers find out if a bowl is in use is by popping a few twigs in them, if it’s used overnight they’ll have been removed by the morning. Once in their immaculate bowls the Kakapo make a booming noise to attract any females nearby to mate with, and they will continue to do so for about four months, losing half their body weight in the process. Not only that they are very very rampant, so in need of nuptials in fact that they’ve been observed mating with dead seabirds.

In fact it would probably be safe to say that the Kakapo’s attempts at getting a filly into the sack are actually more efficient at bringing down the population numbers rather than adding to them.

I say... Your Mother has so engorged herself that she could jump in the air and get stuck

I say... Your Mother has so engorged herself that she could jump in the air and get stuck

Thankfully due to some rather brilliant research, and more than a dash of diligence, a group of learned types are helping to claw this fat parrot from the brink of extinction, from forty pairs in the 1980’s, there are now over a hundred in the wild. Bally good show chaps!

To surmise; if you’re a tubby delicious meal, who you can smell a mile off, who’s not really concentrating as you’re so ready for rumpy-pumpy you’d have it away with a rotten seagull, and you are loud, and the new next door neighbours are hungry Polynesians and their pets, and you can’t fly away or actually make any kind of response to being attacked… things aren’t going to pan out too well.

Published in: on June 24, 2009 at 12:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Adelie Penguin

WE’VE MOVED HERE! COME SAY HELLO!

In 1807 Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville failed the physical test to get into the Ecole Polytechnique and was soon esconced in that bunch of ne’er do wells… the French Navy. There the legendarily unhygienic sailor rose through the ranks and sailed the Seven Seas. His career was illustrious, most notably his discovery of the famous Venus de Milo statue in the Greek Cyclades. Years later the fragrant Frenchman set foot in the Antarctic. There he set eyes on a rather sweet and diminutive penguin and promptly decided to name it after his wife; Adelie. Sadly for Dumont this rather romantic gesture was about as successful as a French naval campaign… as it turned out that the female Adelie penguin was a trollop.

I didn't say that dear, it's just that he's rather ... brown ... a bit like George next door.

I didn't say that dear, it's just that he's rather ... brown ... a bit like George next door.

The Adelie Penguins live on the Antarctic beaches, where once every couple of years unseasonably warm weather hits. This would of course be good news on most beaches but the icy plains that the penguins call home are subject to floods, the warm spell melts the ice and the whole place is awash with mud and guano. Not the ideal environment for bringing up junior.

brazen strumpetry

brazen strumpetry

So how does this turn a penguin into a harlot I hear you cry? Bear with me good reader, you see the Adelie have found a way of keeping their seed in good shape by building stony nests to elevate their egg. These stones are not that plentiful, so there are some mighty squabbles over them. The stronger males eventually take the most pebbles and build the best nests.

When the female Adelie return from the better part of the year at sea, they will choose a mate and soon steer towards the strong provider penguin who has proved himself by building up a good tall nest … but that’s not the end of the story. As we have said the female Adelie penguin is quite the strumpet. It seems that as soon as hubby’s back is turned she is getting rather game with the neighbours, those males who haven’t had any success at finding a mate.

In return for a frolic with a filly the bachelor penguins are rather happy to pay… the princely sum of one pebble. The Adelie penguins are the only example of prostitution in all of the Birds. In fact, some of the more amorous female Adelies have been observed prostituting themselves over 62 times in a breeding season.

Of course there is no record of Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville’s wife Adelie Dumont being anything like her penguin namesakes, though it has been noted by more than one learned gentleman that she was of French origin.

Published in: on June 16, 2009 at 11:57 am  Comments (3)  

Bee Hummingbird

WE’VE MOVED HERE! COME SAY HELLO!

Native to Cuba the Zunzuncito, or Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world. Is it small? Is the Archduke Franz Ferdinand gunshy? It is tiny… at 5cm long it is about the size of a large bee and weighs in at just slightly heavier than a paperclip.

bee hummingbirds poor illustrationists

bee hummingbirds poor illustrationists

Its nest is absolutely enormous … not really it’s very small, like a boiled hen’s egg chopped in half, just without the goo. It’s own eggs are not surprisingly titchy, the size of a coffee bean, though not quite as useful for staving off hangovers.

The hummingbird beats its wings a remarkable 80 times per second, though when it’s mating it really goes at it hammer and tongs with 200 strokes a second … yes I am still talking about its wings. This pipsqueak, like other hummingbirds, moves its wings in a figure of eight fashion allowing it fly backwards and hover. The only bird to do so… although geese in an eager attempt at landing have been observed flying upside down.

Geese: Stupid

Geese: Stupid

The Bee Hummingbirds heart beats at up to 1,200 times a minute and it can take as many as 500 breaths in that time. Not surprisingly it has the highest metabolic rate of any animal, and for that reason they need to feed all the time. They visit around 1,500 flowers a day for their nectar which they suck up with their straw-like tongue, though they do also take the odd insect. At night-time they enter a state more like hibernation than sleeping to conserve energy, and as soon as they wake they must find food or starve to death. In fact for this reason the Bee Hummingbird is never more than a couple of hours from death. Being a resident of Cuba it appears it has more than one thing in common with Fidel Castro.

Published in: on June 10, 2009 at 8:38 am  Comments (5)  
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