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!


Dapple and Sancho

Rucio on far right (Donkey Xote)

Donkey (Shrek)

The Small One

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Procyonid Spotlight: Kinkajou

Goodbye Australia, and welcome back to South America! So, you may be asking, "What in the world is a procyonid?" That is family name for all the relatives of the raccoon. But we are not here to talk about the raccoon. I want to introduce you to one of its cousins--the kinkajou. [Pronounced kink-ah-joo.]

The kinkajou really does not look anything like a raccoon. It looks something like a monkey crossed with a ferret. They have these big eyes, protruding ears, and a tail that can curl up, yet they are long and slinky like a mustelid. I think they are rather cute.

Their body length can be as long as 24 inches with a tail length that can be just as long as its body. They are very limber and are extremely adapted to living in trees. They have specialized little fingers and toes that can manipulate things which is similar to primates. I also found it interesting that they are able to rotate their ankles by a half-turn. The latter quality makes it easier to run backwards or climb down trees head first. Additionally, the curly tail also assists in the climb as might have been expected.

Kinkajous are omnivorous, but they prefer fruit--mainly figs. Their specialized claws come in handy in this case. They hold the fruit at any angle they need and just push their tongue into it--scooping out all the pulp into their mouths. It is believed that the kinkajou serves a vital role in the distribution of seeds for these fruits--as they are quite the messy eaters.

Kinkajous are very socially oriented. They will section out their territory and help one another with little tasks such as personal grooming. Generally, they prefer to forage for food on their own; however, they can sometimes go out in groups. It really depends on the situation. They find a way to work things out either way.

I do not know of any kinkajous in fiction; however, I do have something of a weird mention of them in the Oz universe. In the Ruth Plumy Thomson book "The Royal Book of Oz," the kinkajou was mentioned in a very peculiar way. This was actually the first Oz book after L. Frank Baum's death, so he really had nothing to do with this. As it turns out, the Scarecrow had taken up swearing in this new book, but since it was a children's book, he had to replace the naughty word with something ridiculous. An example of this new bad habit of his was when he said, "I don't care a Kinkajou for being Emperor,..." It is quite strange that he chose this animal to be his swear word and I really have no idea the reason why Ruth chose it, but there it is. He used the word in a similar manner a few times throughout the book.

Personally, I see the kinkajou as playful within their independent communities. They really seem to get along with one another well. They would be wise in things of nature and agile enough to take care of their own in the wild world. He may be a good guide to have when traversing the forest. That is my take on the animal.

The truth is that I would not have known about this animal unless the Scarecrow had not picked up a bad habit. As soon as I looked them up, I knew that I would one day write about them. I am happy to bring this obscure creature into the spotlight. Enjoy!

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Monotreme Spotlight: Echidna

In parts of Australia and New Guinea, there is a another monotreme of some interest called an echidna. (Pronounced eh-kid-nah.) Although they are related to the platypus, they are extremely different in appearance. For one thing, they look something like a cross between a porcupine and an anteater. They are even often referred to as spiny anteaters.

The snout is actually for rummaging around anthills. They even have a long, sticky tongue for picking up their tiny food. Oddly, they have no teeth. Whatever food they get into their mouths are grinded down between the bottom of their mouths and their tongues.

The echidna has very sharp claws and is an excellent and efficient digger. Digging is important because they do not do well in extremely hot environments. They often need a place to retreat to, but if there is a nearby cave, they will likely take that instead. There is another reason why their digging comes in handy, but I will get into that a bit later.

Echidnas are mammals, and like the platypus, they do lay eggs. The main difference here is that they do not lay eggs in a nest. The echidna has a rear-facing pouch on its body where the eggs remain until they hatch. The hatching process generally takes about 10 days, and the children remain in there for up to 55 days suckling milk from patches of skin where it seeps through. To explain it in another way, the children are giving their mother "hickies" to get at the milk. Once the children ate too old for the pouch, they are deposited into a burrowed nursery and taken care of for seven months.

So, about their personality: Echidnas are remarkably timid. They really do not like to be near any creature bigger than they are. The spines of this animal are it's main defense, but just having them is not good enough. As it turns out, they are quite easy to flip over. Because of this, when the echidna feels threatened, they will do one of two things. In a pinch, they can curl up into a ball and hope that whatever is assailing them will have a hard time trying to pry them open. Otherwise, they will quickly use their claws to dig a depression into the ground and bury themselves so that only the spines stick out. I watched a video of one doing this, and I thought it was super cute.

There are a few echidnas in fiction, but there is only really one that stands out on top. In the "Sonic the Hedgehog" franchise of video games, TV shows, and comic books, there is a rather notable echidna known as Knuckles. Knuckles is known for being very strong but also very naive. He is not really allied with anybody--not really. He tends to change sides purely only to suite his interests, but he is not--I repeat, not--a bad guy. He has a solemn duty to protect his homeland, and he will do anything and everything to make that happen. The problem is that he often falls in with bad crowds because of his gullibility.

I do have a beef with this character. He does not really in any way represent the original animal. Naivete and timidity are not one in the same. Knuckles prefers to fight with his fists and he is not afraid of anybody. Real echidnas are not strong and prefer to hunker down when trouble comes their way. They are passive creatures. Although I like the character, I don't think it was a good interpretation of the creature he was based on.

Personally, I see echidnas living in super closed-in communities. They want to feel safe and live normal lives without having to deal with the threats of the world around them. They are very polite and courteous to one another. I cannot see any of them ever quarreling.

The echidna is another strange creature to come out of Australia. The land is filled with weird and wonderful animals like this. I hope you have enjoyed our romp through the country, but as always, it has to come to an end sooner or later. I wonder what we will be dealing with next week.

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

Knuckles the Echidna

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Monotreme Spotlight: Platypus

Welcome back to Australia! Yep! I just couldn't get away from this place. There are so many nifty creatures here, and I just love to hang around them. Today, we will look at one of the weirdest animals in the entire world: the platypus.

Also known as the duck-billed platypus, this animal seems to have many aspects that resemble other animals that have nothing in common. I think this is mainly what makes them so fascinating. But first, a look at their size. The platypus generally averages about 20 inches from head to tail and can weigh a bit more than 5 pounds.

Physically, the platypus has many odd traits. The body itself is very broad and flat. It has fur that is very slick and waterproof--similar to an otter. The tail is very flat like that of a beaver; however, the tail of the platypus is used mainly as fat storage. They have webbed feet which is common for aquatic mammals, and like a duck, they have a bill on their face which is absolutely unheard of in mammals.

The bill itself is not entirely like a bird's beak. Only the bottom part of the bill actually moves; the top part is stationary and also contains holes for the nostrils. It is a really strange arrangement for a very strange animal. It is no wonder that when naturalist Johann Blumenbach studied them in 1800, he gave them the name ornithorhynchus paradoxus--the latter word suggesting that the creature made no real sense.

It gets weirder. I'll just come out and say it: They lay eggs. Yes, it's a mammal that lays eggs. What is the world coming to?! The eggs are laid in little ground burrows. The female takes care of the eggs and subsequent children entirely. The males don't want to have anything to do with the process other than the breeding. But wait, it gets weirder.

When the children hatch, like most mammals, they need mother's milk! But would you believe that the mother has no teats? Where does the milk come from? Check it out: The mother will roll over onto her back, and the milk will seep through pores on the skin. Her abdomen has a depression on it--like a bowl--where the milk will pool. Here the children will gather around and lap the milk up. I swear I am not making this up.

Their diet at least makes sense. As most aquatic animals do, they prefer seafood. They spend much of their time swimming around looking for worms, freshwater shrimp, and an odd crustacean called a yabby which we know locally as a crayfish. Platypuses--not platypi by the way--are carnivores. They need to eat up to 20% of their body weight in food every day, so that is really what they spend most of the day doing.

I have come across two notable platypuses in fiction. The first was in the 1899 book by Ethel C. Pedley called "Dot and the Kangaroo." I have mentioned this book before. In the story, Dot runs into a very grumpy platypus who is extremely picky about everything. He prefers to be called by his original scientific name of Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus--which is now obsolete. Whenever Dot said anything to him that he did not like--and there were many--he would stand up on his back legs in a pompous way and call her out on her lunacy! It was really one of two of my favorite parts of that book.

In the 1984 children's cartoon "Adventures of the Little Koala," there was a very charming platypus character named Duckbill Playtypus; although, the children had simply nicknamed him Bill for short. Bill was a very friendly character who lived by his own wits. He would gather up trash that the other animals threw away and use it to build new parts of his home--which by the way floated on top of a freshwater pond. Whenever the children could not figure out how to make or build something, they often went to him to see if he had any ideas. I absolutely love the character.

I don't personally think that a platypus would think himself weird at all. As characters, I think they would think normal people weird. Consider that they have so many qualities of so many other animals. It might be possible for them to think themselves quite capable in any situation while everyone else being at a loss. This may or may not be true, but it might likely end up that they would live together in their own place and shun the rest of the world. In the aforementioned two versions of the platypus in fiction, they were indeed outcasts, and I think that is actually plausible. As always, whether or not they are good or evil is up to them.

So there you have it. We begin the new Spotlight series with an amazing and weird animal. Platypuses are a calcavade of different animals rolled into one, yet we still classify them as mammals. Their weirdness is exactly why they are loved around the world. I would not have it any other way.

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

Illustration from "Dot and the Kangaroo"

Duckbill "Bill" Platypus from "Adventures of the Little Koala"

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Love of Animals

On Friday, June 28, 2013, I wrote a blog called "My Love of Rodents." This was to be an introductory blog that would lead into a series called "Rodent Spotlight." I began the series with "Rodent Spotlight: Mouse" on Saturday, July 13, 2013. It was a short blog with very little research attached. It contained more of what I personally liked about them, and that was all. It was followed up with one about rats, and then I just about forgot about the whole thing. Yes, I forgot about it.

On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, I decided to reboot the blog. It returned with "Rodent Spotlight: Jerboa," and it was a far more educational as far as the fictional aspect. I still did not provide much information about the animal, but I had--in a way--set a standard for future Spotlight blogs. The idea was to tell you about the rodent, talk about their influence on fiction, and then give you an idea of how I felt about them personally. It simply became the way I did things from then on. I have been doing one Spotlight a week unto this very day.

Along the way, there had been a few weird ones. Occasionally, I wanted to present an animal from their perspective. The best of these was likely "Rodent Spotlight: Vole." This blog was presented as a vole couple who did not have long to live and was rapidly progressing through life trying to make their mark in the world. It was a joy to write. Even though I did a few others later on, I don't think I ever topped this one.

After 36 Rodent Spotlight Blogs, I called it quits and decided to move on. On Tuesday, June 30, 2015, I wrote a blog called "My Love of Mustelidae." Likewise, this was the beginning of a new Spotlight series. The very next Tuesday, I wrote, "Mustelidae Spotlight: Weasel." This began a long journey into the world of weasels, ferrets, and otters. Here we got to know a far more predatory set of creatures who were often known for being sneaky and cruel. The series ran for only 28 spotlights but was full of fun and interesting information.

On Tuesday, January 19, 2016, I began a new series with the blog "My Love of Marsupials" followed by "Marsupial Spotlight: Kangaroo." This would be the beginning of the end of my three favorite animal classes in the world. It dealt with a fascinating and diversified group of animals that came in all sizes. The Spotlight series only lasted 21 blogs mainly because of difficulties with research; however, I was totally satisfied with what I had. At the close of this Spotlight series, I had written no less than 85 Spotlight blogs along with the three introductory blogs.

 Now that you are up to speed, I would like you welcome to Tuesday, July 21, 2016 where I will be beginning my next Spotlight series! So, who will it be? Well, the truth is, I'm going to wing it. Rodents, Mustelids, and Marsupials were really my favorite animals, but there is an animal here and there from other classes that I like as well. I am going to skip gaily around the animal kingdom looking for all those particular animals that I love. This could take a while.

The name of each Spotlight will be in constant flux. I will be naming it based on their class. The reason for this is because I may touch upon more than one animal in each class. But to be clear: I will ONLY do Spotlights for animals that fascinate me. They have to be animals that I love. I will write them until I cannot think of anymore, and then I will bring the series to another close.

Thanks to everyone who stayed with me for so long. I enjoyed the comments along the way. Talking about animals is not simply for the viewer; it also helps me relate to them more. I am a writer, and learning about these animals gives me new ideas. It is an intense, inspirational, and creative journey. I really don't want it to ever end. So, be sure to return next week for the new Spotlight. Who knows what it will be about? It's a mystery!

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Marsupial Spotlight: Diprotodon

I would like to welcome you to the very last Marsupial Spotlight. It is hard to believe that I have made as many of these as I really did. Indeed, there were not quite as many as there were rodents, but that's a tall order, and I don't fault them for coming short. But now, I wish to introduce you to one last prehistoric marsupial called the diprotodon.

Right off, I must point out that the diprotodon is officially the largest marsupial to have ever lived. They were almost 10 feet long from head to tail and 6 and a half feet tall. They were also quite fat and looked a lot like a hippo with a very large nose. They were believed to weigh a whopping 3 tons! Hey, marsupials are known for being big and powerful, and the diprotodon did not disappoint.

The diprotodons are believed to be distant cousins to modern day wombats and koalas. I don't know about the latter, but wombats make sense. Remember how the wombat was known for bowling over people and through fences? Imagine the 3-ton diprotodon running towards your house. No more house!

A close relation to the wombat is rather scary, but it also means they were herbivores. I have noticed that a lot of very large creatures tends to be more docile. I'm sure the diprotodon was also a prey as well, and why not? That's a lot of food! But still, it is very clear they could defend themselves with a good old-fashioned charge.

Although, I know very little of their sexual habits, I do know that the females had pouches--very large ones. The pouches actually went in the opposite direction than most other marsupial pouches, and I found this odd. This is commonly a trait of a burrower, but I really don't think they did that sort of thing. I am sure there was a good reason for it, but I could not figure it out.

That's really what I know, but you should look at those pictures. They really are quite beastly for a prey. The aboriginal tribes of Australia may have thought this creature to be some sort of monster. There is a creature they commonly told stories about called a bunyip that was very dangerous to human beings. They were monsters known to live in swamps and would kill anyone who got near them with big, sharp teeth. It is widely believed that the bunyip was inspired by bones found of the diprotodon. I still consider tales like this to be fiction, and that is why I bring it up.

Personally, I see these large creature as an immensely strong people who don't want trouble. They want to live a peaceful life and just left alone. However, if you think you can step on them, they would come at you like wild giants and stomp you into dust. Just don't mess with them, and you'll be okay.

So that's all! There will be no more Marsupial Spotlights after today. Yes, there are more marsupials out there, but you will not believe the trouble I had researching them. It seems to me that all marsupials are apart of a popularity contest. If one did not really get a lot of votes, the encyclopedia would get only an honorable mention; however, if it was a super cool animal that everyone loved to look at, you'd get a three-pager. I didn't have to deal with this problem with rodents and mustelids. Either way, I think I covered all the main groups, and I am satisfied with what I have here. I hope you enjoyed it.

Marsupials are the third of three of my most favorite animal types in the world. I really wanted to cover them for you, and I am very satisfied that I have made the time to do it. This brings the end of not only the marsupials, but also the end of my favorite animal classes in the world. Don't worry though! There will be more! I have many more spotlights to write! I hope you look forward to them all!

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

The Bunyip

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Marsupial Spotlight: The Marsupial Lion

As I come close to the end of my Marsupial Spotlights, I would like to showcase two prehistoric examples of the infraclass. Today, we will look at the extinct marsupial lions. I will tell you all that I know about them. It is not much, but that comes with the territory of prehistoric creatures.

The marsupial lion was the largest meat-eating mammal to have ever lived in Australia. They stood 30 inches high and were 59 inches from head to tail. They looked a lot like big cats; however, they were not cats at all. I suppose you may remember the thylacine from my previous blog. The thylacine has more of a canine style face, but the marsupial lion was believed to have more of a cat-like face.

Unlike cats, the marsupial lion had an opposable thumb on each paw. These were perhaps used for climbing as they are similarly made to the possums; however, they also seem to be extremely useful for grappling with prey. Similar to the thylacine, the marsupial lion was likely not a very fast runner. Instead, they would use sneaking tactics and pounce upon their prey.

Their jaw was not very marsupial-like. The teeth were made up more like that of a cat or a dog. The only unusual thing about them were these long sets of blade-like teeth on the sides that likely acted like powerful shears. This animal had very little trouble tearing a body apart. It could snap skin, muscles, and perhaps, bones in two while it ate. It brings a lot of grizzly imagery to the imagination, doesn't it?

I couldn't find much more on its behavior other than how it hunted. That is unfortunately what I have to work with--being that they are long gone from our world. It is even hard to say what their pelt would look like. One of the drawings I have shows them with fun stripes on their back. That is more plausible than you may think. They were likely looking on to the thylacine as a potential example. Why not? Personally, I think they look good on them.

The marsupial lion is not as popular as the thylacine, and that is likely because we were able to spend a little time with the latter before he died away. I have found no examples of the marsupial lion in fiction. Personally, I think they would be a strong hunter class. I see them using spears and relying heavily on stealth. The cat-like aspect would likely show them to be independent creatures who do not mix well with other hunters. Eat what you kill; survive on your own wits. That is what they seem to be all about.

So, there is one last Marsupial Spotlight on the way. Please, look forward to it. It's a big one!

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