Posts Tagged ‘manticulture’

When Animal Memes Attack!

29 September 2007

The last time I got tagged with a meme…well Decimating Birds: Episode V is coming any day now. I swear.

Now Brian has tagged me with the “Cool Animal Meme” that’s been racing around the interwebs like a Chinchilla on crystal meth. So…here it goes (I’ve broken things down by vert and invert so I could squeeze a bit more in):

An Interesting Animal I Had


Interesting is certainly one way to describe Clyde. He has acres of personality and makes some of the strangest noises I’ve ever heard come from a dog. Here are three videos of Clyde interacting with a log in Tomales Bay (which he liked), a hawk feather, and a snake skin shed (both of which he did not like).


A couple of springs ago I brought in a mantis egg case from the garden and put in on our window sill. I watched it carefully for a couple of weeks then promptly forgot about it. A couple of months later, while enjoying a cup of coffee, I glanced over at the sill and saw this:

I set most of the hatchlings free, but kept one which survived until about Christmas. My manticulture experiments this year didn’t fare so well, I accidentally left the container open and the mantis fled. Oh, well there’s always next year…

An Interesting Animal I Ate

Okay, this is going to sound weird. Bobcat.  Let me explain (not that it will help)…

When I was a kid my dad hit a bobcat on the way home. Always one to seize an opportunity, my father threw the cat in in the back of the pickup with the idea of salvaging the pelt (which is still around some place). We also got a fair amount of venison this way. My dad also cooked up some of the bobcat meat because, you know, why not?

I don’t remember what it tasted like, but my dad sent me to my mom’s house with a little tupperware of cooked bobcat meat. This of course, totally freaked out my mother (which was surely my father’s intention) but my mom’s pot dealing/gourmet chef landlord raved “It tastes like filet mignon!”


I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’ve never intentionally eaten a terrestrial arthropod. We did have an “invertabrate dinner” at the end of my invertebrate biology course but all of the goodies were of the marine and/or molluscan persuasion. I can’t say I’m terribly fond of land snail, but fried conch is delicious.

Probably the tastiest invertebrate eats I’ve had was in El Rocío, Andalucía. After rolling into the dusty Spanish town we parked next to a hitching post and walked down the dirt roads till we found a little tapas bar, complete with horses hitched outside. We ordered up a round chipirones: whole baby squid with garlic and lemon. You had to pick the tiny beaks out of your teeth. Washed down with a cold bottle of Alhambra..yum!

With the prospect of doing field work in Southern China, I imagine my interesting animals I have eaten list is set to grow considerably.

An Interesting Animal In The Museum


Photo by Sam and/or Sophie from here.

This one’s easy. This juvenile blue whale from the Göteburg Naturhistoriska Museum is surely the most pimped out whale mount on the planet. I tweaked the photo a bit to try to expose the interior a little better, here is how the museum website describes it:

The great blue whale which was preparated in 1865, is exhibited beside its own skeleton and other whales and seals in “Valsalen”. This 15 meter long baby whale is the only stuffed blue whale in the world! Its jaws can be opened, and once a year you can inspect its inside with its wooden floor, flowered tapestry and mahogany benches.

I guess we had good timing because when we visited the whale was open and we climbed on inside, Jonah-style. Being inside a large animal is rather surreal, but I have to say, with the handsome wooden benches and the upholstered walls, the inside of a whale is far cozier than either the Bible or Pinocchio would have you believe.


Explorit’s giant cave cockroaches (Blaberus giganteus) are pretty fun to share with kids and especially parents. They are much more lively than the hissing cockroaches (though I like them too). They secrete a mild vinegary chemical predator deterrent and are freaking huge.

An Interesting Thing I Did With Or To An Animal

My first ever field biology project at eight or nine, was to tie colored thread to the wrists of toads to try and track their movement and figure out how many individuals were living in our yard. I have no recollection of the results although I do remember recapturing several.


I’ve done some interesting things to the cave roaches. They have wings but they can’t really fly. However, they can flutter their wings to glide to the ground when tossed in the air. They can also use them to flip back over when they are put on their back. I know, it seems mean, but think about what most people do to cockroaches.

An Interesting Animal In Its Natural Habitat

Well, I don’t really remember this, but when my parents were first bringing me home from the hospital it was a rainy, bleak day. On the way home they spotted a sodden Golden Eagle walking alongside the road. In true hippie fashion they promptly gave me an ‘indian name’: ‘Walking Eagle.’ Here’s the tattoo I have that commemorates that moment:




A few years ago, when I was working as an intern at Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming I had my most memorable Eagle encounter. I was prospecting for Eocene mammal fossils in the Wasatch Formation. As I came over the crest of Cundick Ridge I came face to beak with an Eagle roosting on a rock. I was probably several meters away but it felt like I could have reached out and touched it.

My heart skipped a beat as I stood there awestruck and paralyzed in the presence of this gigantic bird.  After what felt like minutes, but must have been a split second, the eagle casually leapt off the rock into empty space, unfurled its wings, beat them twice and sailed off. It was out of sight in a few moments, replaced by a few stray fluffs of down slowly tumbling down the cliff.


Again, it’s tough to pick just one.  Finding adult ant lions with kids this spring was pretty awesome.  And lately I’ve become obsessed with scorpion hunting.  Most recently I got a big kick out of seeing an octopus while exploring tidepools in Cambria.  None of the photos turned out really well but this was the best of the lot (its the brownish thing center left).

In that eerie way that often happens with exciting animal encounters, I somehow anticipated the whole thing.  As I watched hermit crabs and bat stars I had this ‘octopodial’ feeling. But I certainly didn’t expect to see one of these cryptic masters of disguise, even though I knew that they were probably around.

I was leaning over to examine a chunk of blueschist or something, when I heard a  sudden squirt and turned to see a fist-sized cephalopod inching away.  It morphed from a deep red, to brown, to almost black then back to brown.  I got a short video, you can hear the excitement in my annoying nasal drone:

I still wish I had picked it up, damn it.

Okay, I spent waay too much time on this.  It seems like everyone and their mom has already picked up this meme.  But I’d be nice to see what Carel has to say after he gets back from his blogging vacation.

Oh yeah and Jessica of the brand new blog Inorganics should give it a shot, although I’m predicting some overlap!

What are you looking at?

14 August 2007

If you were

a fly,

you’d be dead

by now.

Bridging a Gap pt. 2

20 March 2007


Yanoconodon sips from the pool of 10,000 spirits.

Yanoconodon was a modest Mesozoic mammal, shunning the flashy lifestyles of the late Jurassic(?) glider Volaticotherium or the paramammalian faux beaver Castorocauda. She stuck to a more respectable station, scurrying among the underbrush, shearing up earthworms with her utilitarian triconodont teeth.




But just adjacent to those worm-slicer teeth, her transitional jaw cheekily foreshadows the whole great microossicle revolution. Then, deep in her abdomen she brashly blurs the line between reptile thorax and mammal lumbar, sporting ribs where they don’t belong. Snap. Mosaic evolution rides again.


Pharyngula’s account is blogothoritative.


Original abstract: Luo et al. 2006

There Goes Concorde Again

27 December 2006

A recent article by Rota and Wagner, at the ‘kick-ass‘ new online journal PloS One, demonstrates that metalmark moths mimic jumping spiders. This ruse apparently helps to protect them from jumping spider predation and may shield the metalmarks from moth-hungry predators too timid or jaded to attack a jumping spider. Rad.

This would seem excuse enough for a salticid (jumping spider) pictorial. Jumping spiders are the most animated, inquisitive, and endearing of arachnids. Some would call them cute. (massive loading ahead..) Read the rest of this entry »

Oh-oh here she comes: she’s a man(tid) eater

6 September 2006

Daring Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) dines on a Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) hatchling. Trans-class paedophilic cannibalism or just a hungry spider? Photo by the author.

Yesterday the Times ran an article by Carl Zimmer on sexual cannibalism, accompanied by some fantastic Catherine Chalmers photos.

Sexual cannibalism is the actual term used by biologists to describe the consumption of a male conspecific by a female during or just after mating. This behavior is most infamously associated with mantids, although field studies suggest it may be rather uncommon in most wild mantids.

Cartoon by self-described “round, purple lynx”, Rahball

Sexual cannibalism is also infamous in spiders, think “black widow”, and is probably rather more common in many types of spiders (including some species of Phiddipus) than in mantids. Elsewhere in the animal kingdom sexual cannibalism is quite rare, reported only in amphipods, nudibranchs and copepods. Oh yeah, and humans of course.

Few things fascinate people more than violence or sex (pace MPAA) and when you combine the two you’ve got blockbuster potential. This no doubt accounts for the sensationalized treatment of the subject from the very first accounts.

Placing them in the same jar, the male, in alarm, endeavoured to escape. In a few minutes the female succeeded in grasping him. She first bit off his front tarsus, and consumed the tibia and femur. Next she gnawed out his left eye…it seems to be only by accident that a male ever escapes alive from the embraces of his partner (Howard 1886).

American entomologist Leland Ossian Howard

Sexual cannibalism isn’t just sensational, it’s also scientifically contentious. Zimmer’s article reviews the history of the scientific debate in light of a recent paper by Lelito and Brown in the August issue of American Naturalist. In a follow up blog post, Zimmer examines sexual cannibalism within the broader “Adaptationist/Exaptationist” divide.

The central argument around sexual cannibalism is to what extent sexual cannibalism might actually be adaptive for males. In the “extreme paternal investment” model it’s supposed that offspring may get a big enough boost from a dad-fed mom that males are actually complicit partners in their own death. In the twenty years since this was postulated very little scientific evidence has been found to support willing paternal sacrifice.

Others (most famously Steve Gould in an essay entitled “Only His Wings Remained” 1984) have argued that sexual cannibalism is simply a byproduct of the general voracity of the female, one not particularly troubled by the ethical implications of mariticide.

Will tomorrow’s people be sexual cannibals? Image © Freemantle Media

The fact that sexual cannibalism appears almost exclusively among aggressive generalist predators, often in species with moderate to strong sexual dimorphism, suggests that sexual cannibalism is primarily, exaptive. Furthermore, both spiders and mantids are known to be cannibalistic in other circumstances, eating siblings, un-related juveniles etc. Lelito and Brown report that in the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis), up to 63% of the diet of adult females is made up of male conspecifics.

An inherent tendency for females to make lunch out of anything smaller than themselves also sheds light on the complicated courtship practices of spiders and mantids. Males use complicated sensory cues to signal “MATE NOT FOOD” and nimble feet or novel positioning to allow the male to avoid or restrain the pointy parts of the female. The Lelito and Brown study finds that the caution-level and mating behaviors of males are strongly affected by the hunger level of their potential mates.

Safe sex, spider style. Evarcha falcata (left) and the bondage-inclined Xysticus cristatus (right). Originally published in the marvellous The Book of Spiders and Scorpions by Rod Preston-Mafham. Excerpted from PZ Myers’ classic post Spider Kama Sutra.

A few species, notably red-backed spider males who famously “somersault” into the jaws of the female at the climax of the nuptial act, do seem to display a degree of male complicity. However the selective benefit in this case (and others like it) seems to come in the form of extended matings and/or exclusion of rivals, not well nourished mates or offspring.

Zimmer draws the conclusion that sexual cannibalism is a selectively important phenomenon,

But the paper is more Dawkins than Gould. The male mantises have some way of telling how hungry the females are, and take lots of precautions–jumping on from further away, taking longer to dismount, and so on..

I see things rather differently. Evidence for the paternal investment model (the subject of Gould’s original criticism) remains slim. In light of Lelito and Brown and the last 20 years of work on the subject it seems clear that Gould’s skepticism was vindicated. Sexual cannibalism is molded by a suite of complex adaptive and exaptive factors far more intricate than the simple “just-so story” of extreme paternal investment.

In keeping with our new motto (see previous post), this post owes a debt of gratitude to Coturnix, Michele Doughty and Kenwyn Blake Suttle.


1 June 2006

I suppose the mood here at microecos has been rather bleak, what with all the dying memes, processed food, exiled roosters and disappearing Condors. I’m afraid the next episode of D.B. is unlikely to lift spirts much.

So here is a much needed injection of cuteness, courtesy of the Praying Mantis hatch which graced my window last Friday morning (just try to ignore the dying cycad):

The tragic bits have been edited out, and saved for later.