Thursday, September 27, 2007

One Last Meme, For the Road...

What? No paleo posts? No, dear reader, Brian Switek has again tagged to for a meme. This one is interesting, though (aren't they all?). It's animal-related, and it gives me an excuse to post pictures of all my pets! We'll start with Sable, our Heinz-57 mutt of a dog. Everybody has an opinion on what breed(s) she is, and German Shepard is always one of the possibilities. Gina (my wife) is convinced that she has some Alaskan Malamute in her, but who knows. She never barks or whines, but she loves getting into the trash and taking walks. She's very submissive, though, and likes ear scratches. We've had Sable for three years, I think.

What is the most interesting animal you've had?

My cute little leopard geckos! Despite being a tad blurry, this picture is better than the "top-down" view of the alternative, because it shows their bulk better. Solid is trying crawl out, Liquid is heading in his direction, and Mr. Fat still hasn't figured out that I put him in a tubberware. Mr. Fat is ten years old, and his original companion, Little Gecko, died at the tender age of five (he had backwards elbows). After I graduated from college and my wife and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment, Mr. Fat left my parent's house, and I got him a colleague, Baby. Baby turned out to be defective, as he grew scale over his eyes and never grew. Also, Catsby (see below) got ahold of him, so he didn't last long.

Luckily, leopard geckos went on sale a few weeks later at PetCo, and I hand-picked Solid and Liquid, who are just a year old and have already gotten as large as Mr. Fat. The two youngsters haven't become fat enough to become as lethargic as Mr. Fat, so they're a bit more difficult to handle. Still, all three of them are endlessly entertaining, and they all have very distinct personalities. Leopards can live 20+ years, too, so they'll be with me for awhile!

An interesting animal I ate:

Well, like Julia, I've eaten frog legs. That's about as adventurous I get, though. She's right--they taste like chicken legs. I guess I ate crawfish one time, by accident, because they were in a very yummy batch of gumbo. Crawfish taste like shrimp, really, but they're bigger. Generally, if something doesn't look mouth-wateringly delicious to me, I don't remember it later. The picture above, however, is my pet Jackson Chameleon, Eldridge. It's difficult to get a clear photo of such a small beastie, but don't let his miniscule looks fool you--the little bugger's strong! He will grab onto my finger with such determination that even being upside-down will not intimidate him. While charming, this can also be frustrating, especially when trying to put Eldridge back in his terrarium. He's very picky about his footholds, and it takes him several minutes to determine whether his new landing spot is sufficient or not. He is apparently a small breed of Jackson, so he'll double in size in the next year and that'll be it.

I had another Jackson, a full-size big old adult named Darwin (see now where "Eldridge" comes from?) who was irritable and fussy. I got him when he was an adult, and he lived with me for two or so years. I like chameleons--they are endlessly fascinating!

An interesting animal in a museum:

Haven't been to Tyrrell in several years--otherwise I'd name something off that list. I guess I'll go with the Herrerasaurus mount at the Chicago Field Museum. I like it more than Sue, because I've seen Sue three times and, frankly, I don't like the mount. But the Herrerasaurus mount is great because it meets you at the front of the dinosaur hall. There's the skeleton, and then a life model behind it. I didn't realize until I saw the skeleton first-hand how large Herrerasaurus was, so that was neat. I also like their new Buitreraptor skeleton, although it's quite fragmentary. It's standing under a big Deinonychus mount which looks a lot different, now that I think about it, from the picture Brian posted awhile back. It's an older cast, with a more sloped forehead. Old-school Deinonychus. Okay, there was also an awesome Majungatholus skull, and I didn't realize how small that abelisaur is. So that's my overly-long answer.

Above, we have Catsby, our first cat. Her name stems not immediately from The Great Gatsby, but instead from Penny Arcade where, once a year, Gabe draws a Twisp & Catsby cartoon which is devilishly abstract and funny. Catsby in Penny Arcade is named after Gatsby, so it works itself out. Catsby is the most laid-back cat I've ever known. Whereas most cats try to claw at you when you pet their bellies, Catsby could care less. She likes pets anywhere, and she also likes licking you to death. She's obnoxiously vocal, especially when she knows it's dinnertime, and she has this wierd tail twitch when she's anxious about something.

We've had Catsby for probably two years, and she's the perfect cat for us. She and Sable have an understanding--if Catsby must, for some reason, pass in front of Sable, Sable will look away or else get hissed at. It is wonderfully funny how submissive Sable is to little Catsby, especially considering that our big 80-pound dog could eat Catsby if she so chose. Catsby now has an arch-enemy, however.

An interesting thing you did with or to an animal:

Alright, this is easy: I dissected a magpie with dental tools. Magpies are of the corvid family and are very pretty birds. They are mostly a blackish blue with a white underbelly. They're real squackers, and they get their name from their distinctive three-beat call: "Mag-mag-mag." Magpies are also quite intelligent and make food caches and torture my parent's golden retriever (oooh, so close, you dumb dog! Ha-ha-ha!). Anyway, one time my mom found a dead magpie in the backyard, and asked if I wanted it. HELL YES! I planned on gutting it, cleaning the bones, and mounting the tiny little skeleton for a bird exhibit at the Alaska Museum of Natural History. I took the corpse back to my first apartment along with some dental tools from my dad's workshop and began a-pluckin'.

Dissecting a magpie is not easy. The bones are very thin and brittle, and if you pull a piece of meat away too hard or at the wrong angle, you'll snap the bone. After I've succeeded in getting the majority of the meat and feathers off of one side of the bird, and all the internal organs out, I noticed the next day that grubs were writhing in the creature's ribcage. I washed the thing out with a dental pick and elected to take the dead magpie to my parent's backyard, where carnivorous insects would surely pick the bones clean for me.

Well, they did, but the midday sun ruined the experience. The next day, the sunny-side up half of the magpie was cracked and dried. It was like magpie beef jerky. The grass-down side, though, was goopy and rotting. So much for that plan--the magpie went in the trash can that day. However, before this project, I had successfully taken a meaty timber wolf head and baked pig cranium and make them both into museum-quality skulls. It took some work (water picks work great for getting rid of brains!), but I'm very proud of those two skulls.

Catsby's nemesis is Gizmo, above. We've had Gizmo for a week now, and the two simply don't get along. This is funny, because Gizmo could care less about Sable, but Catsby makes her back stand straight up. Both cats are very aggressive toward one another, and you can always tell when they're in the same room because Gizmo will start growling and Catsby will be whipping her tail around, ready to strike. Today, while at work, Gizmo somehow managed to knock down the child-proof (but not cat-proof) gate which was quarentining her in the office, but somehow she and Catsby hadn't killed each other. I suppose this is a good thing. I love Gizmo, and she's a very different cat--she doesn't meow (or even mew), she doesn't like belly rubs, and she headbutts things. Like, seriously, she comes toward you head-first like some kind of pachycephalocat.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat:

I could sit and watch moose all day. We have giant, McLarge-Huge moose up here, and in fact an enormous bull with a huge rack of antlers was wandering our streets two nights ago. Moose who frequent neighborhoods are generally used to people and dogs, but you don't want to provoke them, so I find it best to take a different route when faced with a moose near the road. I also love watching bears, but seeing a bear is incredibly rare in Anchorage. You have to go to Kodiak for that. But my favorite? I guess I like watching waterbirds the best. We get lots of ducks and geese up here, and grebes. The way they all interact is very funny, and they're just so pretty. I'll say waterbirds.

I'll, Sarda, Matt, and Ann-Marie from here.


Brian said...

Nice work, Zach. As for Deinonychus, there definitely seemed to be a change within the last 10 years or so. The older reconstructions I'd often see looked, for lack of a better word, clunky, and while the foot claw was scary they looked something like an emaciated and miniaturized Allosaurus. The AMNH skull, mind you, is entirely fake, but I assume that it was taken from or molded after a real skull. The older reconstructions definitely seemed to have a deeper head (dorsoventrally speaking, that is), so I'm wondering why the change occurred and whether it was entirely artistic or a result of new material.

Zach Miller said...

It was probably due to changing attitudes toward dromaeosaurs, honestly. Back when Deinonychus and Dromaeosaurus were first found (in the mid and early 1900's, respectively), the Theropoda was still divided into "Carnosauria" and "Coelurosauria," so the raptors were thought of as either big coelurosaurs or little carnosaurs.
But after Ostrom and Bakker started the Renaissance, and a lot of Velociraptor material started being published, I think the reconstructions changed to reflect new specimens of OTHER dinosaurs. We STILL don't know what Deinonychus' skull looks like, by the way, other than the maxilla.

(if anyone knows of other material, let me know--I love Deinonychus!)

Amanda said...

My brother has a cat that head-butts! He will run across the room and smash right into your fist...and he lets out a little meow each time he does it. He also gets REALLY angry if, after accepting his head-butt, you touch him anywhere else on his body...such a brat.

Julia said...

Sable is really really sweet! She has that "Are you going to give me a head scratch now?" look on her face.

And I would LOVE to have a leopard gecko - even my husband thinks they're cute, and he's strictly a rabbit guy.

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