Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Viverridae Spotlight: African Civet

Wow, I just found a new love! Have you ever heard of a civet? Civets are these delightful creatures found mainly in Africa and Asia, and they are really just wonderful. I might just bounce around this one for a while.

In this blog, we shall have a look at one of my favorites--the African civet. From head to tail-base, the African civet measures as much as 33 inches with a tail that can be as long as 19 inches. They also have a shoulder height of 16 inches. The African civet is a stocky animal with short legs. They have a pointed snout, round ears, and their tail is very bushy

The African civet is what is called a general omnivore. They are not too picky on what they eat. They pretty much just see the outside world as a happy buffet. These creatures are primarily nocturnal, which means they spend most of their hunting hours at night. As far as behavior, they act something like a cross between a cat and raccoon, and the only reason I know this is because of a bunch of videos I had to find. You would be surprised as how little textual information there is about how they behave.

Speaking of those videos, one of the most charming things I saw was a group of domesticated African civets drinking from a bowl of milk. The video first showed a cat daintily lapping up the milk, and then came a number of the civets which began to messily dunk their heads in and chomp about as if they were eating solid food. Milk was going everywhere, and the flabbergasted feline was forced to walk away with indignation. After watching the group attack that bowl of milk, I found myself chuckling at their unabashed enjoyment of getting a little messy together.

Despite the video--which depicted domesticated civets--they are usually known for being solitary. This is an attribute learned very early in life. After an African civet is born, they are free to go out into the world on their own after only 18 days. This sort of behavior is encouraged by the parents; however, the offspring has to return for their mother's milk. This sort of free roaming weening goes on for 2 months, and then the child is set free.

The African civet is not anywhere near endangered, and there is a reason why. Remember how many mustelids--such as the skunk--had a scent defense gland located near the anus? The African civet has one too, but here things get a little peculiar. This excretion--which is just simply known as civet--is harvested on a regular basis. On its own, it smells just awful; however, once deluded in water, it becomes like sweet perfume! In fact, it is often used as a base in perfumes. There is no need to kill the animal to get this stuff, and because of its value to the perfume industry, the creatures are highly prized and protected from all harm. What makes me laugh here is when I think about them sniffing each other's butts, they will probably be thinking, "Hey, that isn't so bad!" But I digress.

There is no fiction that I know of concerning this particular species of civet. My own imagination focuses mainly on the perfume angle and their hilarious drinking methods more than anything. I had this hilarious idea of a group of African civets going around trying to pitch their perfume line to people; however, nobody wants it, because they know where it came from. Upset from their lack of success, they go to the local tavern and messily drink milk to cure their sorrows. The bartender is upset, because there are all these messy milk-drinking civets filling up his bar, and he asks them what he can do to make them leave. In the end, the civets go on their way, and the bartender ends up with a lot of perfume bottles. For the African civets, it was a good day after all!

I never heard about the civets at all until just a few days ago. Now, I am a little obsessed. Expect to hear about a few more of these in the upcoming spotlights. Sit down, grab a bowl of milk, and dunk right in.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pholidota Spotlight: Chinese Pangolin

Okay, I got a great one for you this week! Check out the Chinese pangolin. The best way to describe this critter is something like a cross between an armadillo, a sloth, and an aardvark. As the name suggests, they can be found in China--mostly in Taiwan and southern China which includes the islands of Hainan. Right off the bat, I have to say that they are one of the coolest looking animals that I have spotlighted.

From head to tail-base, the Chinese pangolin is as much as 22 inches long with a tail that can be as long as 15 inches. Thy can weigh as much as 15 pounds. Their body is covered in layered scales that are very, VERY hard. These scales provide so much protection that they can actually be used in suits of armor. Their front claws are very long and curved much like a sloth's. Similar to an aardvark, they have long, sticky tongues.

The Chinese pangolin is a low activity creature. They tend to slowly walk around looking for food. They usually do this overnight and don't like being watched while they are busy in this way. Their armor does well to protect them from predators. When they are under attack, they will curl up into a little armored ball and wait until the predator either gives up or breaks all of its teeth. You may find it interesting that the name pangolin actually comes from a Malay word which means "something that rolls up."

As might be expected, the Chinese pangolin eats insects. They prefer either ants or termites. Now, termite mounds are very hard, but the Chinese pangolin will use its strong claws to break into them. Their long, sticky tongue is then shot out to grab the little insects. Yum!

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has given the Chinese pangolin a rating of CR (Critically Endangered.) The Chinese pangolin is exceptional at avoiding predators because of their armor, and they really pose no trouble to humans. The reason they are dying out is because they are being hunted for their scales. Some Chinese believe that these scales can help cure some diseases, which is not really true and based mostly on superstition. The scales are often sold in stores as good luck charms as well. The fact of the matter is that they are being unnecessarily hunted to the brink of extinction, and I would prefer that it be stopped.

Have Chinese pangolins been represented in fiction? The answer is yes! In the Welkin Weasels book "Heastward Ho!" by Gary Kilworth, there was a realm the characters travel too called Far Kathay which was just a goofy name used to describe China. Here, the Chinese pangolins were the most common citizens as well as its leaders. Since the bulk of the characters of the series are mustelids, seeing creatures like the Chinese pangolin really made it feel like they had entered into an alien country far from their own.

My own view of the Chinese pangolin combines their quiet demeanor with their natural armor. They would make wonderful lone warriors going out to perform good deeds. They would fight off enemies and save towns who have fallen under such tyranny. After the mission is complete, they would quietly disappear leaving the people wondering where their hero had gone to. I think the Chinese pangolin is too much of an introvert to accept any sort of thanks. He simply moves on.

Have a look at this little guy. He has a very interesting body. I can't get enough of it. I think it would be so much fun to have one as a pet and watch him roll up whenever he gets startled. The Chinese pangolin is a cute creature and is well deserving to have a spotlight of his own.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Feliformia Spotlight: Spotted Hyena

The spotted hyena is a lot of things, but what he is certainly not is a canine. I always thought they were, but they are not even close. All hyenas are part of the suborder known as feliformia. Sound familiar? If you were thinking "cats," then you are correct! So... does that mean hyenas are cats? Not really. Cats fall under the family called felidae, but the two creatures are very closely related. What hyenas are entirely not... is related to are dogs. I just wanted to get this out there since I think there might be an overwhelming misconception about them.

The reason I picked the spotted hyena was because that is the species most commonly nicknamed the "laughing hyena." I'll get into that a little later. There is a whole rant attached to it. Size-wise, the spotted hyena has a body length of as much as 5.41 feet with a shoulder height of 3 feet. The females are heavier at up to 141 pounds with the males at a lesser 121 pounds. They have long necks that extends forward as they walk and run.

The spotted hyena are carnivores. In fact, they are the most common carnivore in Africa. And really, there is not a lot that is off of the menu. They really don't care. If it moves, they will likely give it a taste. This includes you, so you should be careful if you happen to be up their way.

The thing I really want to get into here is the social aspects of this creature. It ties into their eating habits as well. The spotted hyena is not only a social animal; they can't get enough of each other. They form into groups--called clans--of sometimes up to 80 hyenas and spend their days yapping away at each other. Clearly, the spotted hyena is female dominated. They call the shots, and the males don't seem to mind it at all.

There is a ranking system within a clan. A female is always on top, and she will choose her officers. This helps with organization when they go out hunting. It is all very orderly. Although not unheard of, there are almost never problems in the ranks. Spotted hyenas are very comfortable with how things are set up. They don't like challenging authority, and they respect each other almost religiously.

They are likely referred to as "laughing hyenas" because of the wide range of sounds they can make to communicate with each other. Researchers have been able to identify many of these sounds. It is almost a complete language. Needless to say, the hyena is one of the most intelligent animals in the animal kingdom. Not anywhere near what it takes to be human, but they are very intelligent regardless.

I have seen hyenas in much fiction. Where the spotted hyenas really shined was in the 1994 Disney film "The Lion King." In this film the hyenas were portrayed as stupid and vicious creatures that were the minions of an evil lion. Let me make this perfectly clear: I liked that! I will always like it when hyenas or portrayed as violent idiots. It rather fits in with the whole laughing stereotype, and I have never denied myself a good animal stereotype. Biologists at the time protested the movie's depiction of hyenas. One hyena researcher actually sued Disney for "deformation of character." There are not enough words in the English language to project how stupid that was. I guarantee you that no extant hyena went to see the film, and if they had, they would not have cared.

Gnolls are a fictional anthropomorphic hyena creature originally found in Dungeons and Dragons. Since then, you can find them all over the place. They are known for being big, brutish, and not all that intelligent. I love gnolls, and I am currently writing a book about them called "Fly Me Away."

I also depicted hyenas as creatures who make a lot of puns and tell bad jokes in my published story "Ava in Fairyland." I had two hyenas in that one: a jokester named Hyjinx and a very sleepy, unemotional hyena named Duldree. They were later voiced in an audio drama for the book which is on You Tube.

So... where did we end up? We started off talking about how smart these creatures were, and then somehow, it ended up being about how they are shown as stupid beasts. Which is better? The answer: all of it! The idea of it is to let your imagination soar! You cannot limit yourself--especially because somebody says you should. Hyenas are probably seen as stupid because of the goofy sounds they make, but there is nothing wrong with that interpretation when fiction is involved. The spotted hyena is very, very interesting. They are a cold and calculating military force in the take down of a wide number of African animals. And as cool as that is, I like them even more as stupid and violent. When you are inspired, let your heart take you where it wants to go. The real hyena will not care either way. At the end of the day, they just want to eat.

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

From Disney's "The Lion King"

D&D Gnoll

Duldree the Hyena

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Eulipotyphla Spotlight: Northern Short-Tailed Shrew

Remember the Platypus? What made the platypus weird was the fact that it was a mammal that laid eggs--which is more of a bird thing. Every now and then you will find an animal class that has a quality that seems more appropriate for a different class. In the case of the northern short-tailed shrew, they are mammals that have a reptilian ability--namely the ability to administer venom to its prey. That's right, it is a venomous mammal.

Size-wise, the northern short-tailed shrew can be as big as 5.5 inches from head to tail, and yes, that tail is short--sometimes only three quarters of an inch long. It weighs as much as 1.06 ounces. It can be found throughout central and eastern North America, but the bulk of them are found in the Great Lakes region of North America. They are not too picky about their habitat; although, they do prefer grassy, pleasant areas. They will ignore the presence of humans unless they are particularly targeted by them.

The northern short-tailed shrew is an omnivore insomuch as they enjoy a little subterranean fungi, but they are by and large carnivorous--feeding on earthworms, snails, and voles. You may be getting a strong underground vibe from the previous sentence. That is because this particular shrew spends much of its time underground. Of all the many types of shrews in the world, this one spends more time underground than any other one.

Similar to the common shrew, the northern short-tailed shrew goes into states of torpor as a means of rest. Throughout the day and night, they spend much of their time in torpor with these extremely active 5 minute intervals where it looks for and eats all the food it can. It has to consume three times it's weight in food every single day.

And then there is the venom. This shrew has a nasty toxin released when it bites. It causes so much pain that it produces a stunned effect in large animals. It will also outright kill smaller animals shortly after the toxin is administered. What does it do to humans? Sometimes when people handle this shrew, they might get bitten. The toxin will cause the wound to be severely painful; however, it will work itself out without harming the person. This same venom can be found in a reptile called the Mexican beaded lizard. Venomous mammals are very few in the world, but it is believed that there were more of them that have since gone extinct.

There is no specific fiction for the northern short-tailed shrew, but I imagine the venom thing would likely make great villains out of them. It is not so much because they can poison others, but rather because the poison causes so much pain. I can see them as being torture experts for some greater villain. They might also work for an army of common shrews as a means to gather intel from their prisoners. It is a nasty vision, but from what I know of shrews, they are a nasty, nasty group of killers.

I like it when villains pop up in nature just as much as when heroes do. A good story needs both sides to be interesting. I still sees the shrews as a force to be reckoned with, and now that they are deploying a venomous character, that makes them all the more scary. Beware the shrews!

Thank you for reading my blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tkwadeauthor@gmail.com. It won't hurt a bit.