Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Eulipotyphla Spotlight: Common Shrew

Some of these scientific animal names can be real tough to pronounce. Before I begin the blog for real, here is a pronunciation guide for eulipotyphla: [yoo - li - poe - tif - la].

I am sure that most everyone has heard of a the shrew. They are commonly mistaken for rodents, and I am not at all surprised. They look like rodents. I remember back when I was working on my Rodent Spotlights. I was all set up to write one up for shrews, and then I found out that they did not belong there. That actually upset me. The reason it really got to me was because I was working on a rodent novel at the time called "Tooth and Tail," and I was planning on adding shrews to the cast. Couldn't do it! Twice, my plans failed because of a scientific conflict of interest. Don't ever let it be said that I don't suffer for my art.

The shrews are actually related to moles, and moles are most certainly not rodents. But if I might be a little impertinent, I think that shrews should have been rodents. They certainly seem close enough, but I guess I don't have much say in such things.

The common shrew can be as big as 3.2 inches from head to tail and weigh as much as 0.4 ounces. They nearly always have velvety dark brown fur with a paler underside. The eyes of the common shrew are very small, but that's okay because it doesn't use them very much. Like moles, they have pointed snouts. Additionally, the common shrew does not live very long. They kick the bucket in only 14 months, but they stay pretty busy in that time.

On that latter note, the common shrew is known for being remarkably active. They never hibernate and stay busy looking for food day and night. So... do they sleep? Not really. I mean... they kind of do. Shrews are capable of entering into a state called torpor. This is a short period where the shrew simply shuts down many of its body's functions so that it can get a short burst of rest. It's a lot like meditation. After the torpor ends, the shrew will dash back into a state of high activity. It will go back and forth like this throughout the day and night. This is a very good thing since it will be dead in 14 months.

The common shrew is carnivorous--pretty viciously too. They love eating many insects, but they will most certainly go after rodents like small mice or other large creatures like frogs. They go into it quite violently too. They have no choice. The shrew needs to consume 300% of its body weight every single day!

The common shrew is super territorial. They pick a spot and will defend it with whatever violence is necessary. During breeding season--from April to September--the shrew will expand its territory until a mate is found. If you are a little mouse in the area during this period, you will die. When shrews do territory expansion, it is always a violent affair because they do not have time to be nice. They are not voles; they will kill you! (If you're a mouse, of course.) Anyways, the babies will be born in 25 days with a litter of 5 to 7, and it will be another 25 days before the little ones are allowed to be independent. A female will usually raise 2 to 4 litters every year, and what is cute is that the children will follow their mother in a single file line while holding onto each other's tail.

Shrews pop up in fiction all the time, but I'm going to keep it down to just a few. In one of the best animated films ever made, "The Secret of NIMH," there was a rather grumpy shrew character known only as Auntie Shrew. You know, I really loved her. It was obvious that she cared deeply for Miss Brisby and her family, but she refused to admit to it. She was grumpy and preferred to be seen that way. Simply, a fun character.

There was an army of shrews shown briefly in the 1977 movie "The Mouse and his Child." However, let's talk more about the book by Russell Hoban since the movie did not really go as deep. The army of shrews were currently expanding their territory, and the plan was everything or nothing. They were serious, these shrews! What really felt like a more docile story up to that point turned into a bloodbath. One amusing aspect of their armies were that they forced a group of mice into their ranks of which they called their "Ration Patrol." They would fight for their lives, and if the shrews ran out of food, they would eat the mice! Very grizzly, but also very effective.

In a book series I mention a lot in these blogs--that being the "Welkin Weasel" books by Gary Kilworth--Shrews were depicted as ne'er-do-wells that selfishly caused trouble to anyone they could. The fun thing about them happened when they were caught. They would always run away while making a long line of goofy threats. They were very vengeful and hated anyone who tried to mess up their fun. I loved how shameless they were.

I'm a little conflicted on my own feelings for shrews. I loved all three of the above examples. When I was going to incorporate them into my book, the plan was going to be a bit more like the war-making type seen in "The Mouse and his Child." I like them militant! I want them to go out and make a bloody mess! Violence, violence, and more violence! I think they would make a very difficult force to fight off. The shrew is just so hardwired to keep moving. They don't take many breaks! Can you imagine fighting a force who never sleeps? Just be glad that you don't have to.

That's why I love shrews. I love how they hit the ground running in life. Nothing stands in their way. It's do or die! I love them as a villainous force, and I would enjoy seeing how a battle would go with them. Bring it on!

Thank you for reading my blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment bellow, or you can email me at tkwadeauthor@gmail.com. Where there's a whip... (WH-TCH!) there's a way...

Auntie Shrew

Shrew Army from "The Mouse and his Child"

Orgibucket the Shrew from "Welkin Weasels: Gaslight Geezers"

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. Many 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




Rainbow Dash