Category Archives: Animals

Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Colorado USA

If you are interested in paleontology, a trip to Denver isn’t complete without a visit to the excellent Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I went through the dinosaur enthrallment stage that many kids go through when they are between 7 and 10 years old and I still find fossils very interesting. I find evolution fascinating and was elated to see so many fossil exhibits in one place. The variety and depth of the fossil collection at Denver’s museum is vast and it helps one see the variations on a theme that nature has experimented with. Two exhibits in particular caught my attention. One was a diorama of a dinohyus (Dinohyus hollandi ) and the other was the fossil remains of a gomphotherium. 

The dinohyus (meaning “terrible pig”) was about 3m (10ft) long and 2.15m (7ft) at the shoulders and lived in North America between 29 million to 16 million years ago. It was basically a bison sized omnivorous super pig that looks like it was crossed with a wolf. I wouldn’t want to come across a live one in real life.

dinohyus.jpg

The 3m (10ft) gomphotherium is an early relative of the elephant and it’s thought that they lived in swamps. What struck me about the gomphotherium was the specialized shovel shape of its lower jaw.

gomphotherium.jpg

Also of couse, there are enough dinosaur fossils to keep the little kid in us all, happy for hours.

steg.jpg

Callistemon sawfly (Lophyrotoma sp). Australia

Now is the time to have a look at your callistemons (bottlebrush) for sawfly infestation. 

While not a serious threat to larger more established trees these larvae can totally defoliate seedlings over a few days. The recommended way to deal with them is to hand (wearing sturdy gloves of course) pick  them off.  They can also be sprayed off with a hose but in these times of drought that would be unthinkable. The two photos below show two callistemons (one without infestation and one with) that were planted at the same time showing how sawflies can damage young shrubs.

Elephants know right from wrong. Pak Lay, Laos. 1974

Not very many foreigners were visiting Pay Lay back in 1974 and why would they? The nearby Plain of Jars was inaccessible due to the civil war, so there was almost nothing worth seeing; it was and probably still is a sleepy postcolonial backwater. Pak Lay is the sort of place travellers sometimes find themselves in, that provokes one of the great questions that one faces at some stage in their lives; that of “what the f#%k am I doing here?” Also the Pathet Lao had been taking turns with various rag-tag elements of the government’s forces, holding at gunpoint, robbing or kidnapping likely targets that’d come down the Mekong from Luang Prabang on the local riverboats.

So there I was walking down the street of dusty old and forgotten Pak Lay when I saw a guy on an elephant coming towards me.

elephant2.jpg

The mahout steered his behemoth the side of the road and parked it in front of a shop. He then dismounted and went inside to do some shopping. On the sidewalk in front of the shop were woven palm frond mats with what looked like some kind of root similar in shape to ginger that had been laid out in the sun to dry. I watched as the elephant waited for the mahout to go out of eyesight and then with a quick look around the elephant started to move it’s truck slowly sideways, left and right near the drying roots in a very nonchalant way. The body language seemed to be saying, I’m just swinging my truck; I’m not doing anything bad; I’m not touching anything. After about a minute or so it quickly snatched up a root and ate it, then it returned to the; I’m not doing anything-wrong ruse.

The elephant went through the fake and snatch routine about five times until the storeowner noticed what was going on and started yelling at the elephant, which brought out the mahout with his stick. The elephant instantly flinched at the hullabaloo and stopped moving, bracing itself for a confrontation with the mahout. The mahout walked straight up to the elephant and gave it one sharp rap with his goad, right between the eyes and then barked some words at it. The elephant just took its reprimand meekly and stood quietly in mute compliance. The mahout and storeowner went back into the store to finish their business. After a few minutes the elephant did a quick look around and went through the same the fake and snatch routine again.

The Elephant knew that it shouldn’t be taking the roots but it did, when it knew it could, without getting into trouble. The pilfering stopped when the mahout came back out with the storeowner in tow, carrying his purchases in a rough basket. The mahout mounted the automatically keeling elephant, the elephant then stood up and reached for the basket of goods that the storeowner had in his arms, gently picked them up, raised them over its head and passed them to the mahout who then put the goods in the large basket behind him. The elephant knew the drill.

elephant.jpg

I can remember thinking to myself at the time how cool it was to go shopping with an elephant.

Black Iguana (Ctenosaura similis). Kabah, Yucatan, Mexico

These metre (about 3ft) long monsters can be seen basking in the sun, amongst the rubble, at many of the old Mayan ruins of the Yucatan.

iguana.jpg

You can approach quite close to them and they will keep very still. Get too close and they burst into life with surprising speed as they make their escape. When they panic the iguanas will crash through anything in their way and you can hear them as they smash through the undergrowth long after you’ve lost sight of them.

Hey! Little girl! Wanna pat my snake? Castle Hill, Sydney, Australia

On the way home from flying our kite today, my wife and I saw a frog and reptile show being advertised from the roadside at the Castle Hill Showground so we thought we’d have a look. Basically it was a sort of trade fair for frogs and reptiles. There were plenty of cold blooded animals on display and for sale. Both my wife and I iound the experience quite odd. It had never occured to me that there was a whole industry built around frogs and reptiles. There were snake handling displays and places where you could handle snakes if you wanted to.

sg.jpg

The little girl is patting a “Centralian Carpet Python” Morelia bredli. The amazing thing, besides the girl’s total lack of fear, was how docile the snake was considering how warm the temperature was. I got within about 10cm (approximately 4″) of the snake to take the picture below, with flash, and it didn’t move a muscle.

ccs.jpg

The snake was so exquisite that I found it easy to understand why people wanted to be near them. It was like a living jewel.

There was a teen aged guy minding the snake and I asked him about feeding the snake and if it was difficult to buy live food for them. I was told one could train most snakes to eat dead mice or rats that could be bought frozen from select pet suppliers. Sure enough there was even a stand that had bags of frozen mice and rats for sale.

rodents.jpg

Who would’ve thought? Goes to show what a diverse world we live in.