Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Squamata Spotlight: Skink

Two weeks ago, I was coming home from work. As I opened the storm door to my house, something large and black jumped off of the door and stuck itself to the brickwork around the door frame. Of course, I was startled. It had moved so fast that I was not sure what it was. After looking at it for a little bit, I realized that this was a very large lizard. It had to be, at least, a foot long and almost an inch wide. I asked my dad about it, and he said it as probably a skink--which is basically a very large lizard species that can be found all over the world.

I stayed outside and watched it for a while. As heavy looking as it was, it managed to walk along the outer wall of my house without falling. I noticed that it moved in a zigzag pattern, and I first thought that he was having trouble keeping himself stuck to the wall. A little research I did later explained the movements better.

Skinks are not to be confused with what we commonly know as "true lizards." True lizards are known to be much smaller with some exceptions such as the iguana. Heck, there are some skinks that don't even have legs. Some skinks can be quite large too; although, the largest of them have since gone extinct. True lizards are not as diverse as skinks, and that is really the main difference; however, the term lizard still applies because both types still fall under the order of Squamata.

Skinks are burrowers. in fact, it could be said that they are burrowing enthusiasts. They love digging and do it sometimes for no reason. They love being underground far more than above, and this is likely why they aren't spotted very often. Imagine my surprise finding one on top of my door. He must have been the weirdo of the bunch.

Like most reptiles, the skink is a carnivore. Depending on their size, they will hunt down insects as small as a fly with the bigger ones going after mice. They detect scent by flicking out their tongue and will chase down their prey until it gets cornered. They will then get close enough to bite it once before swallowing the prey whole.

As I have said already, the skink can come in many sizes. I thought the one on my door was pretty big; however, the biggest skink in the world is known as the Solomon Islands skink. It is 32 inches long from head to tail-tip. There have been bigger ones in the past, but the next size up went extinct in 2013.

Remember how I commented on the odd way the skink was walking along the side of my house? The zigzag motion comes from the fact that skinks are closely related to snakes. The order of Squamata covers a wide range of reptile species which include some of the most dangerous snakes on Earth. I think skinks take more from their snake cousins than the true lizards do, and that, happily, makes them more creepy. It is not wrong to think of them as snakes with legs.

I have only encountered the skink once in fiction. In "Welkin Weasels: Heastward Ho!" by Gary Kilworth, the heroes of the story were captured by a middle eastern tribe of skink bandits for the crime of stealing water from their well. They threatened their jerboa guide with death and even forced him to go through a funny trial where the little rodent would have to walk along a tightrope over a bed of sharp knives. If that was not enough, they all tossed loofahs at him to make him fall. The skinks were actually not as bad as they looked and they really just wanted to scare the adventurers a little before they let them go on their way. Pretty mean of them, I have to admit.

I like the idea of a snake-like personality without actually being a snake. Snakes are difficult to make characters with because they are missing limbs. We often have to fudge it with creatures like nagas to make it work. Here we have a walking snake all set up with all his limbs intact. I see them as quiet but not brooding. They probably are very good at concealing what they are feeling or thinking. They are very likely predators through and through.

So, after going through my research, I guess I know what the skink was doing up on my door. He had probably followed his prey up there in an attempt to corner it, and I ruined the hunt when I had to get into my house. Still, I loved looking at it. It was a fascinating creatures who did not mind going to extremes to get the food it wanted. Either way, I am sure it was happy to get back underground where giant doors would never be a problem.

Thank you for reading my blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tkwadeauthor@gmail.com. Hiss!

Similar to the one on my door.



Solomon Islands Skink

Solomon Islands Skink

Illustration from "Heastward Ho!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Primate Spotlight: Aye-aye

I am not really a fan of primate species such as chimps, gorillas, and so forth. I see people look at them and call them beautiful, and I'm sorry, but I just don't see it. Knowing this, you may find it super weird that I decided to write a spotlight on a supremely ugly primate called an aye-aye (pronounced like saying the long "I" sound twice). My reasons have origins within my imagination, and I will try to explain as I go.

The aye-aye--when young--is a silver colored primate with large ears and a stripe down its back. When they grow up, their fur will fill out better, the stripe will mostly disappear, and some yellow and brown will mix itself into the scheme. The adults grow up to be about 3 feet long with a tail as long as its body. Its large ears work similarly to bats--a process called echolocation; however, it does not actually cry out like bats to. It makes taps with its fingers and uses the sound to measure distance. It can also use this ability to figure out where predators are.

Aye-ayes live in trees like most small primates do; however, these creatures can only be found up and down the coasts of Madagascar. They make little nests and sometimes share them with other aye-ayes--although, never at the same time. I found it interesting that males will often cohabitate with others males in quite a friendly way. This relationship remains quite friendly until mating season, and then there is war. Yes, the males who have been great friends up until that point will suddenly be enemies--all in the name of getting the female.

The diet of the aye-aye is mostly fruit and berries; however, they are also fond of bug larvae. This officially makes them omnivores. They spend the three hours after sunset looking for food. They usually do this in groups--helping each other out.

The thing that really blows me away about these creatures is how they look. They are rather frightening--especially at a young age; they don't look quite as bad as adults. Their face remind me something of the gremlins of the movie with the same name. It is kind of uncanny to see them, and it sort of feels like you are seeing some sort of tiny monster. The other aspect of them that weirds me out are their fingers. They have these incredibly long bony fingers that they use for a number of actions. It reminds me a lot of pictures of aliens which are usually shown having similarly long fingers. It's very creepy, in my opinion.

There are a lot of theories of where the aye-aye's name came from. Manly believe that it came from someone's first encounter with the creature. They say he shouted, "Aye aye!" as an expression of surprise. The most interesting origin comes from the Malagasy people who claim that the term aye-aye translates into something like "heh heh" which doesn't actually mean anything. They would make that noise in place of naming the creature in case the aye-aye was of magical origin. Having seen it, I don't really blame them.

The fiction of the aye-aye is tied up in folk tales. It is unsurprising that many believe that the aye-aye is a harbinger of evil. It is said that if the creature points its longest bony finger directly at a person, that person is marked for death. The Sakalava people fear that the aye-aye will use that same creepy finger to punch in a person's aorta while they sleep at night. None of this is true, but the human imagination has regularly turned these primates into monsters.

I am personally fine with the monster angle for the aye-aye. If I were to use them in a story, they would be something like creepy goblins going about looking for victims. There have been a few times I have ignored reality for the far more interesting fiction; however, I will say that it is not a good thing for these creatures to be killed for this superstition. They really are harmless.

In closing, I want to point out that the aye-aye are marked as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They are really being killed based on the local beliefs that there are evil. That is not fair, and I wish it would stop. There is a captive breeding program set up to restore their population taking place at the Duke Lemur Center located in Durham, North Carolina. I wish them much success in their endeavor. It is a shame that a creature that has inspired the imagination so much is being killed for that very same reason. I love the aye-aye because they look like monsters. They are the perfect inspiration for a good, solid Halloween story. Let's keep them around just for that.

Thank you for reading this blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tkwadeauthor@gmail.com. Thank you!







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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Equine Spotlight: Clydesdale

Although, I like ponies a lot because of their hit cartoon, they are not my favorite of the equines. In fact, the pony is my least favorite equine. Donkeys are far more interesting to me, and the main reason for this is because they are amusing without the need of a cartoon show to prove it. Today, we will have a look at my all-time favorite equine, the clydesdale.

The clydesdale is a beautiful horse that presently stands at 6 feet tall and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. The reason I dropped the word "presently" in there is because, the clydesdale used to be one of the smaller breed of horse. In the 1940s, breeders attempted to make a much taller breed of the clydesdale, and that is what we have had to this day.

This horse is commonly a reddish-brown color; however, they can also be black and grey. Their mane is often very long and impressive. They are a broad species--especially about their head and muzzle. Oddly, one of my favorite aspects of the clydesdale are their legs. They tend to have an excess of white, fluffy, and long fur around their hooves that is commonly refereed to as "feathering." I love watching these horses walk.

Now, I am not going to enjoy just any ol' clydesdale. When it comes to this horse, I am unforgivably shallow. They must be perfectly groomed, trimmed, and gussied up to a perfect sheen. Clydesdales are usually known to be show horses, but they also work. When they work, they are also being shown off. That's what is so interesting. Here, we have a horse that is strong enough to work, and it is also very wonderful to look at too. They usually have them pull important people in parades. A king or queen is not above their pay-grade.

If I had to choose one thing that the clydesdale represents, it's manliness. Although there are other big horse breeds out there, I consider the clydesdale to be the studliest of all studs in the world of equines. I know it sounds very silly, but that is precisely why I like them, and I am entirely unashamed to say so. I like them for being so manly.

There are no notable clydesdales in fiction; although, I have seen them here and there. Probably the most popular clydesdales in history were the Budweiser Clydesdales. The tradition began in 1933, but these horses only got more and more beautiful throughout the years. They were a team of 8 clydesdales that would pull special Studebaker wagons which were modified to carry beer. These were old-fashioned wagons that were originally manufactured in 1900.

This iconic wagon-pull was very popular in parades, but they were more commonly remembered in many, many Superbowl ads that ran religiously until 2010, when they were unfortunately discontinued. The tradition has slowly been disrupted by Budweiser's recent new management, and I honestly think it is a very sad thing. I see a beautiful tradition being pushed away, and for all I have seen, it has its origins in penny-pinching.

Nevertheless, the Budweiser Clydesdales are alive and well on a farm located in St. Louis. They were the reason I wanted to write this spotlight--and I don't even drink beer! Have a look at the pictures below and see if you don't notice how beautiful these horses really are. Enjoy!

Thank you for reading this blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tkwadeauthor@gmail.com. Manly!








Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Equine Spotlight: Pony (Part Two)

Although, I did well to summarize the "My Little Pony" phenomenon in my last spotlight, I did not have time to focus on any of the characters of the show. The thing is, I kind of wanted to. So, this blog will be an extension of last week's fiction section for the pony.

My first encounter with "My Little Pony" actually happened with the 1986 film "My Little Pony: The Movie." I watched it because I lived in a house with my sister, and it was just one of the things that was on my TV set in those days. I did not hate the film, but I also never really forgot it. Looking back, I chuckle at the fact that the ponies from that movie were friends with humans. Lately, that has not been the case at all, but I am fine with the way they do it now.

With the advent of "Friendship is Magic," we were presented with a self-contained universe without any disruptive humans to get in the way. They had a very solid lore based heavily around the show's subtitle. There were also 6 very diverse "mane" characters that I shall discuss a little bit.

When the show began, it seemed like the ultimate main character was represented by one Twilight Sparkle--a book-loving unicorn from the royal city of Canterlot. She has since become what is known as an Alicorn--which not only gives her a set of wings along with her magical unicorn horn, but it also assigns her the status of princess. Originally, she--with her dragon companion, Spike--was the one who came to Ponyville to learn from the common ponies about friendship; however, she ended up bringing everyone together in many ways. Her only faults are that she tends to be a busybody and a perfectionist, but she is always evolving and trying to push back these issues.

Pinky Pie--an earth pony--is a fan favorite with many. She loves parties and is almost always happy and excited about everything. She is sugary and sweet, and part of that has to do with the fact that she works at a bakery. Many of her gags and jokes break the forth wall and sometimes the laws of physics. Ironically, her family are a bunch of Amish rock farmers. I'll say that again: her family is a bunch of Amish rock farmers. They are, in contrast, rather boring compared to her, but they seem to accept her for who she is. As an additional note, Pinky Pie has a pet alligator named Gummy who has no teeth.

The pegasus pony known as Fluttershy is actually my personal favorite. Her name is remarkably accurate. She has difficulty interacting with other ponies and tends to get weak in the hooves when under pressure. She blushes a lot and speaks in a whisper at all times. Fluttershy's one joy in life is taking care of cute, little animals... and sometimes big, scary ones. There is a certain kindness and gentleness to her that she adds to the team, and she is still able to step up and be brave when pushed. I really love her.

Applejack is an earth pony that knows all about working for a living. She owns an apple farm with her family and has one of the best work ethics of the group. Like Twilight Sparkle, she tends to overthink sometime, but she also adapts and learns from her mistakes. This character is extremely family-oriented. What I mean is that the show made a big effort for you to meet her entire family, and they have all had their own episodes. Applejack makes a lot of yummy things with the farm's apples, but her most famous is the cider.

Two left to go. Rarity is a unicorn who really picks up on the girly fashion side of things for the show, but she is not to be dismissed. She is a professional dress maker in the show. On the surface, one might see her as vain, and maybe she is; however, when she sees someone in trouble, she will do everything she can to help them. Rarity's generosity is her greatest attribute, and this has been accounted for many, many times. Her greatest flaw is that she does get caught up with frivolous trends when she really needs to focus on the things that she loves. When she goes with her own passions, her products tend to be far more popular.

Lastly, we have the pegasus pony known as Rainbow Dash. I have never disliked this pony. She is the tomboy of the group. She can fly amazingly fast, and she loves to show off. Indeed, she has a vanity problem, and it can get the best of her at times. Rainbow Dash likes to see herself as a hero, and she does whatever she can to live up to that. There have been many times where she had to save lives. When the situation gets dangerous, she puts herself on the back-burner and does what needs to be done.

Now, there are many, many other characters, and I could go on for many more parts if I wanted to, but I am satisfied with what I have done here. Next week, I will go on to a different animal, and we will put this behind us, but just keep in mind that it was the pony that got the two-parter. Something strange and marvelous happened with this show, and it has done nothing but make me smile since it premiered. It needs a special mention because of that. I know there are people who will never even glance at it, but, as you probably know, the world will always have its neigh-sayers.

Thank you for reading this blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Whinny.

Twilight Sparkle (As an Alicorn)

Pinkie Pie

Fluttershy

Applejack

Rarity

Rainbow Dash

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Equine Spotlight: Pony

So, what is a pony? Is it a special breed of horse or just some fancy name for a tiny horse? Maybe, it is what you call a young horse. As I always try to do with my spotlights, I shall try and make things a bit clearer. It's all apart of the experience. I mean... I can't just come on here and rave about a children's show before I get the detail work done. I'm sure you understand.

Pony's are, in fact, horses that have been bred so that they are smaller than standard ones. Originally the name referred to a baby horse, but the modern word for this is actually foal. If you happen upon a tiny horse that looks decently old enough to be considered an adult, you may call it a pony with a clear conscience.

Size-wise, a pony MUST be less than 58 inches high at it's withers. I know you probably have no idea what their withers are. An equine's withers refers to a ridge between its shoulder blades. The height of the equine's head never counts for anything officially. In contrast to horses, ponies tend to have thicker necks and fur, and they also have a heavier bone structure. If you ever heard someone talking about a "fat pony," there may actually be a precedent to that. They do tend to come out a bit chunkier than normal horses, and that can sometimes be part of the appeal.

Ponies have many uses. They can be used for riding, driving, and pulling small carts. They can also be bread for showing. There are some ponies that are made up to be excessively fluffy and flowery so that they catch the eye. There are also miniature breeds of ponies that are usually groomed for show. These tiny things are usually no taller than 38 inches. Children usually enjoy riding them, but they can often be seen groomed up in especially frilly ways to delight the hearts of little girls.

Speaking of girls, did you know that girls like ponies? It's true! I am so glad that I can finally reveal this little bit of top secret information. Yes, indeed, I can clearly say now that girls love ponies. I'm sure it will be all over the news tomorrow. Hopefully obvious sarcasm aside, ponies have been the big animal fantasy of little girls since people first brought them into the spotlight--not this spotlight, mind you.

In 1981, Hasbro brought out a new set of pony dolls under the name "My Pretty Pony." They were incredibly popular with girls... and perhaps... maybe, 3 weird boys that had to share their sister's toys. Either way, it was a hit, and it was followed up in 1982 with a new series called "My Little Pony," and they have been called that unto this very day. The actual TV show did not occur until 1986, and it only lasted one year; however, the toy line never ceased in its sales.

Over time, the My Little Pony franchise had been reproduced in no less than 4 very different generations. Each generation had its own television and/or movie adaptation. Up until 2010, My Little Pony had been exclusively for little girls, but then... something... weird happened. A new TV show developed by "Powerpuff Girls" animator Lauren Faust was brought forth into our humble world. It was entitled "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." The show was still intended for little girls and their love for everything pony, but somehow, a lot of boys... and even grown men... fell in love with the show. It became such a phenomenon that it seemed that Hasbro did not really know what to do about it for a while.

To give you an idea how popular this show was, there has been a number of annual conventions held in honor of this show. Conventions like this are more known to happen for comic book and scifi fans, but there have been many My Little Pony conventions around the world since that show has come out. The developers of the show have since come to understand their unexpected demographic and have done wonderful things to promote it. They have even gone so far as to allow them to create their own My Little Pony merchandise and make a profit off of it. Such a thing is more or less unheard of in this world.

I personally love the show. I have always been amazed at how much the show respects their viewership. While the main characters are quite well-developed, there are a number of background characters and extras that have been developed with much love by the fans, and the developers have embraced their vision. I know this may sound ridiculous on the surface, but I actually consider "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" to be one of the greatest creations brought into our world, and it all happened because the people in charge actually decided to relax and let the people who love it express themselves. Indeed, the whole reason I even wanted to write this spotlight was to tell you this story, and I hope you see past the goofiness of it and understand the truly great thing that has happened here.

When it comes down to it, ponies are just small horses, but the animal was made into something wonderful by a crew of people who cared enough to support their fans. You would be surprised by how many companies cannot grasp this very simple and productive way of thinking. Because of what they did, they not only inspired masses of people to create and even sometimes make a meager living off of it, but their own franchise has the potential to last for a very long time--if not forever.

Thank you for reading this blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Neigh.






Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Equine Spotlight: Donkey

Here we have an animal that gets a lot of bad press, but I really hope I can help dissuade some of those feelings in this fun, little spotlight. The donkey or ass is an animal we all should be familiar with if you have been on this planet sometime within the last 5000 years. As a member of the family known as Equidae, they are related to horses; however, there are distinct differences that I will try and address.

Donkeys can be from 2.5 to 5 feet in height and can weigh from 180 to 1,060 pounds. The size and weight vary so much because not all donkeys are well-cared for. This factor affects a number of its attributes such as their lifespan. Donkeys found in poor countries that do nothing but work for their living generally tend to not last much longer than 15 years; however, a well-pampered donkey of one of the more prosperous nations can live as long as 50 years! So, we certainly cannot blame them for dying too fast.

Donkeys are also known for having very large ears. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first and most obvious reason would be for adept hearing. Donkeys like to keep in contact with their friends, and since many of them are usually too busy working, they make a loud call--called a bray--to contact other donkeys in the area. Their ears can pick up distant sounds which helps with the communication. Whether or not they are saying anything meaningful leaves me with a lot of doubts; however, it is still fun to think of them catching up on how heavy today's cart pull may have been.

The second reason their ears are so big is to keep them cool. Remember that donkeys are commonly used in desert lands where it is very hot. Having big receptacles to catch wind in is a great idea. It's not really so much an air conditioning thing as much as it is to cool their blood. Who wants hot donkey blood anyhow? I sure don't.

There is misconception that donkeys are stubborn, lazy, and stupid animals. A lot of this comes from people not understanding the difference between horses and donkeys. Horses are strong loyal animals who have formed a trust between themselves and man. Donkeys have more of a prey mentality. They do not trust anyone--including a man--unless there is a very good reason for it. When someone treats them poorly, their reaction is to freeze up in cowardice.

Donkey's do not deal with negative reinforcement well. Some people think that hitting a donkey is a good way to teach it to do what they want. In truth, it kills any interest they have in helping at all. This reaction is ironically based on self-preservation. "To help the man giving me beatings will only invite more beatings," is a good way to look at it. In truth, a well-treated donkey is very giving and eager to learn. They tend to want to please a man who gives them treats and provides them with a comfortable living. Positive reinforcement is the way to go. In this environment, we learn that donkeys are not only intelligent but also very playful and loyal companions.

Fiction has so many donkeys that I cannot be expected to list every one of them, but I am going to give you a bunch. Likely the most famous donkey ever has to be Eeyore from the 1926 book "Winnie the Pooh" and following series by A. A. Milne. You may have also seen him in the Disney cartoons. Here is one heck of a depressed donkey that pretty much mopes about everything. I sometimes get the impression that Eeyore is a sleeper favorite among fans. People might say they are Tigger fans, but in secret, they are cheering on their favorite donkey. My personal favorite moment with him was when Pooh and Piglet gave him the world's crappiest birthday present--an empty jar and a popped balloon--and because he was accustomed to being ignored, the tokens pleased him more than anything else could have.

Way back in 1605, a Spanish fellow named Migel de Cervantes wrote a book called "Don Quixote" about a crazy fellow who acted like he was a knight of old in a modern era. Lucky for him, he still got to ride a horse, but his sidekick Sancho had to make do with a donkey named Dapple. I think the name is cute. There was a very good children's movie called "Donkey Xote" (2007) which tells the donkey's story; although, in this film, the donkey was named Rucio. The film really did not follow the book at all, but it was surprisingly relevant in narrative.

Who could forget the character simply called Donkey from the 2001 movie Shrek? Eddie Murphy really brought a lot to this character. I mean really... this is exactly what it would be like if Eddie was a donkey. Donkeys are usually known for being something like horses with no class. If you put a donkey in a situation where they are mere vagabonds in need of a home and food, you have accomplished this trope, and I see no problem with this. Donkey was a lot of fun, and I always looked forward to seeing what he would do and say in the sequels.

My favorite donkey film is "A Small One," a 1978 Disney short film. The donkey in the film was actually called The Small One, and he had grown very old and had become a burden to his owners. The main unnamed boy of the movie was tasked with selling him to a tanner, but the boy loved the donkey and could not send The Small One to his death. I will stop hear as to not spoil the ending, but it is one of the most moving films I have seen.

The comment about no class horses from the previous paragraph is probably one of the reasons I love the donkey. They are stuck in lower class, and life becomes more and more ironic to them as they pass the days by. Where it is true that I could make a more realistic depiction of donkeys as characters based on their intelligence and loyalty, I am fonder of the established bias. I like a stubborn donkey. I like donkeys to be jealous of their horsey betters. Donkeys have been used in old fables to show the difference between the workers and the beggars. I think this lesson should remain at the forefront of donkey lore.

What can I say?! I think donkeys are cute! I like the big ears and funny personalities. I am inspired by characters made of them in fiction. I even like the false tropes created in fables of old. However, I do hope next time you see a donkey, you will look upon him a little better. He's only doing the best he can. All he wants is a carrot to eat once in a while.

Thank you for reading my blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Eeehaaawww!




Eeyore

Dapple and Sancho

Rucio on far right (Donkey Xote)

Donkey (Shrek)

The Small One