Archive for February, 2010


27 February 2010


Originally uploaded by Anauxite

NALMA Virtual Roadtrip

25 February 2010

I let slip on the vanity ticker a project that I’ve mulling over for some time: to visit the namesake localities for each of the 19 (or so) North American Land Mammal Ages.

The NALMA system carves up the last 65 million years (or so) of geologic history based on characteristic mammals that roamed the continent during discrete intervals.  Just as a classic car buff can pick out a ’57 model from a’58 based on the shape of the headlights, or an art historian can determine when a landscape was painted from the collars on the figures in the background, a paleontologist can stumble across a fossil Bison tooth and know that she’s walking in Rancholabrean sediments.  Bison, those icons of the American West didn’t wander into North America from their ancestral Asian homeland until about 300,000 years ago (or so).  Likewise, various extinct rhinos, horses and weirder beasts yet serve as indices for particular intervals, intervals that usually take their name from a nearby town or river.

The map at top shows a rough itinerary scattered across 12 states.  If I tried to do the trip in chronological order, which would be stupid, and nonstop (even more stupid) the trip would take about 6 days and 6 hours and cover 7,755 miles (12,480 km).  The path would retrace substantial portions of the Oregon Trail, the Transcontinental Railroad and Route 66.  I would visit Native American reservations, derelict garrisons, an enormous metropolis and several places so small they aren’t even recognized as Census Designated Places.  I would pass through towns featured in Steven King novels and the site of a major uranium spill.

As shown in the photos above, the magic of Creative Commons search and Google Maps makes actually making the trip almost a superfluous gesture.

Would be fun though.

Nice Cervix

23 February 2010

Gerenuk are pretty goofy looking.  Which is, it seems, about the most interesting thing there is to say about them, without going into the finer details of the art of  antelope artificial insemination.

This particular display is part of the California Academy of Sciences recently revamped African Hall.

Here’s the AP story that ran shortly after the hall first opened in 1934.  And by “shortly” I mean the story ran three years later in 1937–the good days of print journalism huh?

One man’s gun has filled an entire museum here with African game. The hunter is Leslie Simson of Oakland, born the heir to a vast Spanish land grant in California.  Later he bacame a successful mining engineer in South Africa. In 1910 Simson retired from business and for more than two decades roamed the lonely places of Africa.  His trophies constitute possibly the finest personal collection of African fauna in the world. To house part of them he gave $150,000 toward erecting the Simson African hall for the California Academy of Sciences here, now open to the public.  Enough game to fill two similar halls awaits sutiable housing. The group entitled African Water Hole executed by Frank Tose, curator of the academy, is one of the largest museum displays ever created. Surrounded by mementoes of years in the jungle, Bachelor Simson lives with a lone Japanese servant on a hill overlooking San Francisco bay. (from here)

It was that same Japanese servant it seems that together with Simson’s doctor found the mighty hunter dead by his own gun in 1939 at the age of 74.

Before he got around to shooting himself, Simson gunned down untold numbers animals.  Legend has it that he learned taxidermy from his father who himslef was taught the art by John Woodhouse Audubon.  Simson made his fortune as a geologist in the South African diamond mines, where, presumably he developed his, er, fondness for the native fauna of Africa.

Around 1919, Simson and fellow Oaklander Henry Snow led a hunting expedition to Africa in order to obtain specimens for a planned natural history museum in Oakland.  Meanwhile, East Coast rival Carl Akeley was up to much the same thing, collecting African animals for what would become the Akelely Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History.  This race to fill the museums of North America with the corpses of African animals arranged in lifelike positions before finely painted landscapes was fueled, in part, by concern that the great herds would soon become extinct.  Let that one sink in for a second.

When the City of Oakland did not come up with Simson’s requisite “fire-proof building” in time, Simson sent part of his collection to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  Apparently there were enough left over for the California Academy of Sciences, and then some if you believe the AP article.

I’m not sure if these Gerenuk were once Simson’s quarry.  A WPA survey from 1940 lists Gerenuk among the African Hall collections, so they might well be.

The African Hall is probably the only portion of the radically redesigned California Academy of Sciences that still “feels” like a classic 20th century natural history museum a departure from the interactive multi-media Museum 2.0 vibe that permeates the rest of the public exhibits.  Even this is artifice: toxic paint in the murals and seismic retrofitting required that the entire hall be dismantled and reconstructed nearly from scratch, but for two walls and the animals which were cleaned and restored.  The dioramas were redesigned a bit but the murals were painstakingly recreated, though one was enhanced with “virtual elephants” video projected from the ceiling.

For all that hard work, when I’ve been there at least, visitors largely breeze past the dioramas and make a beeline for the live African Penguins at the far end of the hall.

Dead animals are no match for live ones it seems.

Which reminds me, what ever happened to FU Penguin?

Almost Sacred (but mostly profane)

18 February 2010

A new edition of I and The Bird (#119!) is up at Somewhere in NJ.  Very subtle, it rewards a careful read through.

Also, the first ever blog carnival devoted to the most diverse group of animals on the planet is up at An Inordinate Fondness.  Kicking myself for not getting a submission in, but there’s always next time.

Go check them out!

Recursive loop

17 February 2010


16 February 2010

A warm-spell here in California (see? Global Warming is REAL!) finds me home-bound nursing a cold, trying to ignore a mild case of urushiol poisoning and swatting at mosquitoes.

With the latter comes some silver linings tho.  We saw a monster bat winging around the arboretum on Sunday.  That same day I heard a familiar sound overhead, the unmistakable descending cries of White-throated Swifts.

Swifts are year-round residents across much of the state — but here in the Sacramento Valley they seem to be seasonal visitors, at least I can’t recall having seen or heard them since November or so.

So, suck it Punxsatawny Phil – spring is here, bitches.

*This counts as Decimating Birds X by the way, 7 – 9 to come, some day.

**microecos just passed 100k views – crazy.

11 February 2010