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Come up and taxiderm me some time

December 5, 2011

I took a taxidermy class.

You’d think I might have been able to find one closer to home, being hunting & fishing country up here in the wooly wilds. Where the general store doubles as deer weigh-station, and moose permits are doled out like winning lotto tickets, dear & coveted.

Though, like the legend about more Jews living in New York City than in Israel, there was at least one more taxidermy class in Brooklyn than in my entire ungulate-culling state. Last week, anyway. Probably due to all the local instructors being out hunting.

So I hauled tire down the interstate to the home of Morbid Anatomy and snagged a coveted spot in their semi-regular Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy class.

I wish I could have documented more, but for much of the time my hands were not fit for photography, as you can imagine. Still, I wanted to have a record of the process, not just what ended up glued to a stand, so I did what I could.

First, you remove most of the fleshy bits.

Mouse skinned

Mouse skinned, front

Mouse skinned

Skinned, from the side

Next, the immersive bath of borax and salt.

Borax bath

Bath of borax

And finally, the mouse emerges from the spa, gathers props, poses on a wooden stand, and declares…

Mouse in repose

I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr. DeMille.

The binary fallacy of evolutionary sexual preference

March 23, 2011


To make an obvious, self-evident, and specious observation: If homophobia has an adaptive evolutionary benefit, then it certainly hasn’t been successful. I mean, teh gays, they’re still everywhere!

Jesse Bering, evolutionary psychologist & often entertaining explorer of salacious human behavioral marginalia, has found some actual science in the form of a 1993 study by research psychologist Gordon Gallup that Bering feels passes the smell test in placing the cultural norm of homophobia within the explanatory framework of evolutionary psychology.

So far, so good, in theory. Human behavioral norms are certainly deeply embedded in our genetic coding. Evolutionary psychology is an attempt to tease out these threads and account for their fitness as benefits the survival of the species. Yay for science!

But science has its own norms, and as Jeremy Yoder, Jon Wilkins, and P. Z. Meyers (all of whom, as opposed to me, are actually real live scientists) have written, there are many legitimate questions to raise about the scientific veracity of the Gallup study that Bering has championed.

I’m gonna defer to their tingling spidey-science sense, but I’ve got some serious tingling of my own going on about what appears to be foundational assumptions in Gallup’s whole approach to gay/anti-gay social studies — the notion of sex preference as dual-state.

This passage from Bering’s recent interview with Gordon Gallup reveals a decidedly un-nuanced view of sexual desire:

GALLUP: Now, what about homosexuality? For most of human evolutionary history, exclusive homosexuality would have been tantamount to a ticket to reproductive oblivion. Even today, adult male homosexuals who also engage in heterosexual intercourse are the exception rather than the rule. If homosexuality were only heritable, it would have disappeared long ago. In the context of our discussion of homophobia, what would have been the fate in future generations of genes being carried by parents who went out of their way to encourage and engineer homosexual lifestyles among their children? Enough said? Not quite. What causes homosexuality? Heterosexuality does, both literally and figuratively. Unless you’ve been conceived through artificial means, everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, owes their very existence to the heterosexual activity of their parents.

Homosexuals who also engage in heterosexual intercourse,” huh? This must be kin to the “one drop rule” of race. At the risk of shrinking reader boners with economic terms, human sexuality is fungible, not zero-sum; like, well, just about any other damn interest humans feel compelled to pursue.

The distinct cast molds imposed by a culture can obscure this diversity with the result that more marginal behavioral norms get suppressed, hidden, or glossed over among those who can adjust to the constraints. Among those who can’t, or won’t, the expression of the non-normative behavior is that much more of an outlier. And so we are left with a false binary impression of a common behavioral norm on one side, an smaller opposite ab-norm on the other, and little lunch meat in the middle. This allows us to use (or read) phrases like “homosexuals who engage in heterosexual sex” without blink or challenge.

When we talk about the cultural conditioning of sexual preference, that’s where the beef of the beast is. Just as those conservative cultural crusaders love to warn, so-called “gay culture” does indeed influence an individual choice about how comfortable one feels expressing non-heteronormative sexual preference. This is the way cultural identity works. Just as exposure to vibrant alternatives to politics, fashion, music, can deeply influence profound decisions about what square or hipster tribes we join up with.

Talking about being gay or straight as regards sexual behavior is about as valuable as talking about being Dem or GOP as regards political behavior. Which is to say, extremely valuable in certain contexts, and absolutely douchenozzle in others.

All too human...

So let’s get real about what gets us off, shall we? Humans are undeniably sexually motivated, and within cultures that are permissive a wide and surprisingly variagated feast of off-getting gets on. & yes, Furries are most definitely included among my definition of humans.

So I’m thinking I can see another plausible adaptive benefit to homophobia not investigated by Bering, Gallup, et. al. The benefit being that a homophobic or otherwise sexually conservative culture pushes all those devious pervs who’d like to get it on with similarly-sexed-up folks into constrained but reproductively fertile situations. Yep, they get married & have kids. And all those perverted genes can live to see another generation.

Take that bigots!

What about Porn Star?

October 24, 2010

I recently received an email notice about a new cephalopodtastic children’s book.

Perhaps I’d like to view a preview pdf? I was coyly asked. Most certainly! I vigorously replied.

Here you go, I was told as the pdf arrived. And we look forward to your review!

Uh, oh. Someone in PR is not carefully vetting their blog-recuits.

I like kids ok. I even have one who calls me pop. But you may be surprised to learn that I don’t let her read this blog. I may be a intromittent organ, but I’m not a monster, for fuck’s sake!

So let me be perfectly clear on where I stand with regard to minor readership: Hey you kids! Get offa my damn smutty lawn!

But that sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m not gonna review this book!*

Poor “Syd” (not his real name) is a squid saddled with eyebrows, a work ethic, and an unselfish nature. But times are tight — even, it seems, undersea; and so, like Tiktaalik before him, Syd seeks his fortune above the waves.

Under the tutelage of a heavily-networked young girl named “Alyce” (ditto), Syd meets one employer after another who are besuckered by his 10-armed potential. In response, he embraces each supplied opportunity with gusto. It does not go well.

Some choice examples:

  • Crossing guard: ends with inadvertent Tokyo-destroyed-ish carnage.
  • Sous chef: They serve seafood? Syd goes ALF, busts the menu-items out, and sets them free in the bay.
  • Hi-rise window washer: sucker prints all over the glass.
  • Dog walker: predictable entaglements.

Despondent, reduced by the free-market to sleeping on a ocean-park bench, Syd and Alyce spy drama on the open water: a sperm whale entangled in fishing net! Syd, subverting the cliché, does battle with the ropey captor and rescues the Moby from certain beaching and youtube-captured detonation.

Has he found his vocation? Um, not precisely. With no steady demand for whale disentanglers, Syd ends up at the aquarium, brushing the teeth of walruses and holding rings for leaping dolphins. But he appears fulfilled. And blissfully unaware of his co-option by the oppressive regime of animal enslavement.

It’s a pathos almost too much to bear. Poor Syd. Stockholmed. He should have quit while he was a ceph.

In all, an enjoyable lap-time read with a laudable choice for hero species. Not terribly scientifically accurate. The character of Alyce is woefully under-developed. But the mad-cap work-a-day hi-jinx are sure to entertain!

Note to unnamed publisher: I’d be happy to contribute a positive flap quote. But I’m afraid I’d have to use the term “bukkake”. Is that ok?

*Out of respect for SEO and sympathy for small kid lit publishers who don’t want their work covered in unsavory safe-search-off search-result ejaculate, I shall refrain from typing the title or author or publisher into the machine-readable content of this post.

Peripatus: nature’s walking money shot.

September 8, 2010

My latest crush, er, squish.

I blame the Davids. Winter, for first opening my world to the wonder of the walking worm. And Attenborough, for narrating the video I can not stop watching.

Peripatus, the invertebrate stumpy-legged Andy Samberg, takes a quick trigger and harnesses it for the ultimate of pick-up moves. That cricket won’t ever dance with another.

But an ejaculate hunting strategy is just the beginning of delight with these maverick arthropods. Some onychophorans have taken up live placental birth. And a 2005 study of Australia’s Euperipatoides rowelli revealed a complex and lively social life.

And, obviously, they are really fucking adorable.

mmm, cuddly. Hopefully for sale again someday.

Who knew I could fall so hard for a hydraulically mobile, pudgy-podded, fetid-earth dwelling worm? No. Please don’t answer that.

A final, cautionary note for the bottom, adventurously perverted half of my readership: I don’t care what it says in their Adult FriendFinder profile, save the money-shot dinner date until after you get home from the restaurant.

Carny of the Spineless rolls in (on a trail of slime)

September 2, 2010

Like the best of deviant affairs, it pulls in to town in the deep of night, not to mention behind schedule. Buzz on the midway is that the circus manager’s son was busted for running a meth lab and they blew through the caravan gas money to bail him out. A day late, and more than a few dollars short.

So no elephantine parade through Main Street, this. Rather a disheveled caravan of rust-stained trailers towed behind emphysemic flat-beds. Strange, misassembled metal beasts ringed in colored incandescence that promise who-knows-what pulse-quickenings when unfolded.

This is the Circus of the Spineless, rubes! Where the only vertebrae are the steel girders of the vomit rides, and who knows when those bolts were last tightened! Tickets are free, but the post traumatic stress lasts a lifetime!

So bring a full pack of smokes and wear your cleanest heavy metal tshirt. It’s a midway of stomach-clenching treats, sucker-games to challenge physics, and side show freaks. Slime right up. Let the show begin!

Bad rides. Worse music. But wikkid awesome flyers, hey!

Just look at that nudibranch!

From the ink-stained hand of Phineas X. Jones comes the promo poster for the Chicago dates of Lollapalooza 2010: Tradition. Honor. Mollusks. Finally a festival with its vertebrate priorities straight! But what do you expect from the cryptonaturalist documenter of the Octophant and Octolope. Even cryptonatural illustrators gotta eat, so by all means buy some of his prints!

Did someone mention food?

Just look at that jaunty gait! He *owns* the midway.

What’ll it be, funnel cake or corn dog? Hey, at least you’re not a myrmecophage, whose arthropodic feeding preferences are based partly on just how hard the deep-fried twinkie — I mean ant or termite — fights back. Jason Goldman over at The Thoughtful Animal has the analysis of food preference behavior in giant anteaters. Come to think of it, you could make a case for a deep-fried twinkie chemical defense…

Ant eating takes us on a different direction at Roberta Gibson’s Wild About Ants where we get ring-side seats to the Praying Mantid vs. Rover Ants match-up. Ants don’t have a chance.

If there’s anywhere to be a culinary adventurer it’s at the carny, amiright? And if it doesn’t work out, at least you won’t be only one looking green. Bacon too boring? Try some Sea Pork over at David Ingram’s Schooner Cove snack shack. So greasy you’ll need to clean up with a Purple Intertidal Sponge.

Oh, sorry, I must have mistaken you for feces.

“Spit that out, Timmy! It’s bird shit!” Hahaha, rube! The wood nymph moth, captured in photos by Kind of Curious, disguises itself as bird feces to avoid predation. Doesn’t work so well with toddlers.

Heavy petting in the funhouse.

If you’re a male earwig there’s three ways to get some action on the midway: Win her that 4ft plush rainbow pony at ski-ball; Ring the bell at the hammer slam (don’t pull yer groin muscle!); Or, of course, cultivate an “extremely exaggerated sperm-transfer appendage”. Carin Bondar has all the salacious details.

Female earwigs like their boys big. Zen Faulkes at NeuroDojo explain how male A. bruennichi spiders just plain like their girls, period. Even though they lose their penis. And then get et. Talk about getting laid at any cost.

Wouldja look at the spin of that spermatophore?

And if you’re a deviant snail looking for extra kink, Kevin Zelnio‘ll give you the down-low lowdown on the anti-chiral position you saw enacted in the latest brown-paper-wrapped issue of Mollusk Mambo.

Rebecca Deatsman of Rebecca in the Woods documents in near-pornographic detail the bath-house-like orgy of walking sticks taking place among the fronds of a palm. Get a room, er, suite!

But if it’s romance you’re after, you big sap, put some Neil Diamond on the mp3 and share an earbud with your sweetie octopus, because Mike Lisieski of Cephalove explains how nothing makes a ceph’s heart go pitter-pat-times-three than a little loooove.

Epic journey through the house of hallucinogenic horrors.

Ted MacRae of Beetles in the Bush follows his own Congo river into the heart of darkest Oklahoma, confronting rattlesnakes and storm fronts, determined to capture the near-mythic Kurtz of tiger beetles: the Great Plains Giant. No spoilers! This one’s too good to give away, you’re gonna have to read the page-scroller of a post yerselves.

But Ted is an adventurer of Ahabish drive and he has further metaphoric explorations to take, this time through the parks and preserves of Missouri. There he confronts the notion that fire on the fragmented landscape may harm more than a entomologists weekend collection hopes.

Kazimierz Lebowski takes a swing through the funhouse of Costa Rica at Science & Soul. Mud on his boots, machete in hand, he sees many bugs.

Wet jungle gives way to high & dry Tucson, where Doug Taron of Gossamer Tapestry meets a fat lizard, many desert butterflies, and one scarab beetle.

“I am not an elephant! I…am…a…really freaking cool invertebrate!”

Pensive on his rotting log sits Giant, the most poetic of springtails.

The incomparable David Winter of The Atavism educates us on New Zealand’s freakishly large giant springtail and freakishly adorable peripatus, or walking worm. Peripatus will ejaculate glue quite far to immobilize a meal in sticky spooge. Giant springtail looks like a sex toy. They both live on rotten logs. Draw your own smutty conclusions.

If you lose your larvae somewhere between the bouncy castle and beer emporium, the designated orphan retrieval spot is out at the Bedegaur-covered rose bush. Just get to the pincushion gall before Wanderin’ Weeta who may happily slice open that fuzzy, safe-haven just to see your little tots squirm. Sicko.

Just one head...FOR NOW!

The Museum of Curiosities takes on the hybrid Doctor role of Doolittle and Frankenstein as he husbands an assortment of wild-caught flatworms and contemplates whether to make them regenerate two heads. Photos are provided, sex and violence ensues.

Cory surprises himself at 10,000 Birds by doing a remarkable job of identifying the butterflies in his gorgeous photos from a trip upstate. Then he further flexes his invert ID muscles on some delightful damselflies.

The Walnut Sphinx Moth caterpillar squeaks when imperiled. That makes two of us. But it’s a good thing, because otherwise it might never have lived to metamorph into the lovely adult photographed porchside by Stephanie Suesan Smith.

It’s a comb-footed spider and her diabolical nest found in Mike’s backyard and documented with detail at Slugyard. But he wants to know: what’s for lunch, hmm?

Two from CarlyB at The Featured Creature: the optical radiance of a Madagascan Sunset Moth, and — oh, what’s this? Another scarab beetle? Blinged out T. perakensis. And hang on, we haven’t heard the last of ol’ Scarabaeidae…

Like the midway at midnight: sensory overload.

Don't hate me because I'm beautifully filtered for circularly polarized light.

Move over mantis shrimp, there’s a new circularly polarized light-sensitive sheriff in town. Scarab beetle (back) in the funhouse, yo! Mike Bok of Arthropoda illuminates the circumstances of the vision elite. I’d like to see C. gloriosa just try to take down an octopus, mantis style, though.

Back at NeuroDojo, it’s the grasshopper version of out-of-sight-out-of-auditory-neurons. Dr. Zen describes how flightless grasshoppers shrink their ears now that they don’t need to be so sensitive to the ultrasonic echolocation cries of hungry bats. It seems, though, that even when they’ve returned the ears, the neurons are theirs to keep.

Enter the Dragon(fly).

A lone Halloween Pennant vogues for the camera of JSK at Anybody Seen My Focus?

But don’t get too complacent when it comes to lone dragonflies. Like teens to the Iron Maiden cover-band stage, these winged monsters of rock will pack up and swarm! A rare and undoubtably awesome spectacle to behold for the lucky researcher. Christine Goforth aka The Dragonfly Woman spills the dirty on the spectacle and describes the latest in dragonfly swarm migration tech: the thorax-mounted radio transmitter. Cutting edge entomological research!

Is that a radio transmitter on your thorax, or are you just happy to swarm me?

After-hours carny civilians invited to run the rides themselves!

Still spinning your head over the swarming migratory dragonflies? Yeah, me too. Well, if you catch wing-buzzing army in the exo-flesh, Dragonfly Woman wants to know! She outlines her desired data points in the above post’s epilogue.

And your work ends there not! Kerstin of More Than Honey is trying to fact-check the truth of how many bee-kilometers get flown to produce a kilogram of honey. The fate of a documentary film may hang in the data-driven balance! Apiarists with calculators, help this auteur!

Many huge and appreciative thanks to all the invertophiles who contributed to this month’s Circus of the Spineless. I had a blast curating. See you all next month when the carny sets down in the vacant field of Wild About Ants!

I’m so horny the Kraken Rum better be careful around me.*

August 22, 2010

Succumbed, for obvious reasons.

Inky dark.

But I never drink rum. Like, NEVER. Not out of any distaste, but instead because of a slavish devotion to gin that sucks the oxygen out of any other drink consideration.

Luckily, and with uncanny timing, DSN’s Miriam just posted what sounds like a promising entry-level Kraken-based recipe.

More, give me more, dear lush readers.

*with apologies to Tom Waits.

You make Bunny cry!

August 22, 2010

Sheril Kirshenbaum at the Intersection Blog alerts us to an article that appeared in Spiegel Online last October about the mad synergy in Sweden of urban pest control and peak oil: Bunnies for BTU.

The Spiegel article quotes a professional Swedish rodent hunter who is hired by the city of Stockholm to gun down stray rabbits and hand over the carcasses for deep-freezing and incineration in a central Swedish heat plant.

Well, not quite.

Oh, the bunnies get killt, for sure. But, to shatter morbid images of stiff lop ears stacked like cordwood before the roaring furnace, the truth of their end is less up-the-chimney and more poured-out-the-rendering-tank. Belying the spirit, if not the letter, of the Spiegel’s lede “Shot, Frozen and Burnt“, the rabbits are processed, along with dead farm animals and slaughterhouse trailings, for their fat content, which is then refined for biofuel oil.

Animal-source biodiesel is hardly fringe. It is, however, delightfully charming. Or so you’ll think after having the process described in French & scored to a walking piano jazz soundtrack.

Biodiesel notwithstanding, you know what they say about bunnies. They warm you twice: once when you cuddle them, and once when toss them in the furnace.

Two owlets, one iphone

August 16, 2010

[mp3 here if the player above doesn’t play]

Recorded the night of August 12th, as I stepped out back to catch what I could of the Perseids. Yes, six-and-one-half minutes of plaintive, hungry wails from two baby barred owls, though certainly fledged as one flew in from a more distant tree to be closer to it’s sibling while I was recording.

And yes, though these critters were cloaked in night’s inky fold, I am absolutely sure that they are as cute as all flipping heck.

Representative cuteness via flickr user Minette Layne

Circus of the Spineless

August 2, 2010

That monthly feast of invertebration known as Circus of the Spineless has been served Augustly over at Birder’s Lounge. And what a meal it is, if you like picking exoskeleton out from between your teeth. I’ve even contributed the After-Hours Night-Cap to the menu, though IDs, apparently, will be checked.

Delicious meal, Chez Amber!

Next month, September, will have the circus rolling into town at . . . hold on, lemme check the schedule . . . omg! Right here! Yep, I’m hosting!

I’ve got a distinct feeling the hectocotyli CotS’ll be less a 3-ring-big-top, and more carny-trailer-funhouse. But you never know what to expect with those itinerant invertebrates.

So please, if you’re writing about some animal on your blog during the month of August, and that animal doesn’t have a backbone, I wanna know! Send contibutions my way to hectocotyli>gmail or DM on twitter.

Catch you on the midway!

A deep sea squid’s parting money shot to the world

July 18, 2010

Let me preface this story with a brief, humble note to the hard-working field researchers, front-line colonialists of knowledge, impaling the flag of how-the-fuck-does-that-work in the warm, beating heart of an alien world and claiming it for science. You are heroes, all of you. But is it too much to humbly ask for a video? kthxbai!

Deep sea squid is the Greta Garbo of the aphotic, sighted far more in our fevered imaginings than out in society. And though the marine paparazzi have made some high-dollar, front-page encroachments of late, deep sea squid’s day-to-day is still cloaked tight in sunglassed, wide-brimmed, furtive dashes of mystery.

Consider this, then, squid’s Rob Lowe sex-tape moment.

Deep sea boy squid lack (mostly) the subtle and articulate hectocotyli that are used by their shallower-water cousins to deftly deliver spermatophores. Instead (with the exception of Architeuthis dux) they have only the blunt penis, just like us (mostly). Sharing this sex-organ lackiness, deep sea girl squid do not have a special place to receive the spermy gift. Instead the males stick the seed where they can get away with it, in what must be a painful, corrosive process of fertilization.

No cephalopod voyeur has yet witnessed deep sea squid mate. Dead squid have shown deposits of spermatophores injected in myriad of locations on the body, including areas on the female that would seem far from the reach of the male’s mantle-tucked penis. Speculation ran hydraulic, with some researchers wondering whether the squid packed a bit of the cannon-boom to fire sperm packs out at great pressure for the long shots.

Then came a boat of biologists from the Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department on a deep sea research cruise along the Patagonia slope. Finding they had caught a mature male squid Onykia ingens, they quickly placed his alive, though moribund, form on the stainless steel examination table. I’ll let one of the researcher’s describe what followed:

When the mantle of the squid was opened for maturity assessment during processing of the catch onboard, the penis of the squid, which previously had extended only slightly beyond the mantle margin, suddenly started to erect. It became rigid and quickly elongated to 67 cm total length, almost the same length as the whole body of the animal… Immediately after elongation, several spermatophores were ejaculated from the penis tip…

This copulatory adaptation has placed deep-water squid as the record holders in penis length among all mobile animals (more than total body length). Only the impressive trunk-like penises of sessile barnacles described by Darwin (1854) are relatively longer.

Did you catch that? O. ingens‘ diminutive willy burst out with a boner the length of his entire body & came all over the exam table. And, then, presumably, he died smiling.

If other deep sea squid follow this morphology (and, really, why on earth wouldn’t they want to) it may at last answer the question about how those spermatophores end up stuck way over in the far end of the females: a colossal squid cock performing the champ of all reach-arounds.

Mature males of deep-water squid Onykia ingens with cut-open mantles showing non-erect (A) and fully erect (B) penes.

Alexander I. Arkhipkin , and Vladimir V. Laptikhovsky. Observation of penis elongation in Onykia ingens: implications for spermatophore transfer in deep-water squid. Journal Molluscan Studies Advance Access published on June 30, 2010, DOI 10.1093/mollus/eyq019.

Reported in BBC Earth News Super squid sex organ discovered.