Sunday, July 31, 2011

Can you love animals and still eat meat?

This is a question I have heard numerous times over the years, and it was something that brought me great strife through part of my high school years. I have been an animal lover for as long as I can remember, and have eaten meat just as long. However, as I became more knowledgeable I grew concerned about the ethics of eating meat. Is it right? Can you love animals and still eat them? Frankly, there is no reason at all why you can't be an animal lover and eat meat.

First of all, in the debate about ethics I see several errors. When you are studying to become a Biologist one of the first things you learn when studying animals is do not humanize them. This is a major mistake that can be made by a scientist, and can skew the results of studies, especially those concerning animal behavior. Animals are not people and we cannot forget that. That is not to say that they should not have rights. Indeed, they should have rights such as the right to live a life without suffering and, when killed for consumption, the right to a humane death. However, I also must say that in many ways animal rights organizations take the idea of the humane treatment and slaughter of animals for consumption a bit far. Except for a few exceptions, the animals that we normally eat in developed countries are pure herbivores that have an evolutionary history of being prey species. As such, they act like prey and know that they can be eaten at any moment. Though they don't think the same way that we do, it is a fact that is ingrained in their brains. Thus, in my opinion, eating a prey species should not bother people as much as it does. As for humane slaughter, far more ways of killing animals are legally humane than many people know about (you may be interested in looking into the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act), including electrocution when done in a proper manner. All of the slaughter methods that have been deemed humane are, indeed, very quick forms of death that involve very little to no suffering.

I have a predisposition to iron deficiency anemia, and as such meat is an important part of my diet. If I try to go meatless (and I have while trying to eat better) my iron drops and I become lethargic. Many people say that "becoming a vegetarian is a healthier way to be." In my opinion, this is just not always true. It is true that any diet is better than the stereotypical American diet that is heavy in fatty food, excessive amounts of meat and refined sugar. Also, not only are there many people out there like me who need meat or other animal products for nutritional purposes, but it is also important for obtaining basic building blocks that we all need, like the ten essential amino acids. All of them are available in meat, but not all plants are able to provide us with all of them, and as such vegetarians must be especially careful of what foods they eat so that they can get all ten. Not only that, but vegetarians are prone to many nutritional deficiencies because it is difficult to have a completely balanced diet without meat and certain other animal products.

Veganism is, frankly, even worse than vegetarianism. By eliminating all animal products from their diets, vegans put themselves at even greater risk of nutritional deficiencies and can put themselves in great danger if they do not constantly watch the amounts of essential vitamins and minerals they are taking in. Also, vegetarian and vegan diets can be especially dangerous to children and expectant mothers with many recorded accounts of children falling deathly ill or even dieing when fed strict or improper vegetarian and vegan diets. I also believe that veganism is, frankly, a silly idea. Let me explain: by definition, vegans eliminate not only meat, eggs, and dairy, but also all other animal-derived products up to and including honey. However, they seem to be forgetting that nearly all food crops that require the simple act of pollination to provide food for us are pollinated by bees or other animals and as such can be classified as animal products. If vegans swear off honey, then technically by their own definition they should be swearing off of nearly all food. See? Silly.

We are omnivores, and our bodies like meat, at least in small amounts. In my opinion, the healthiest diets for adults are those that include lots of vegetables and fruit, moderate to small amounts of lean meat (including fish for its omega-3 fatty acids), and fairly small portions of grains and dairy. I am not a nutritionist, but I daresay nearly all of them would agree with me. There is an article from the American Council on Science and Health that says much the same and I highly recommend reading it, especially if you are interested in this subject.

Below is a video that includes Douglas Adams reading a section of his book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (begins at 1:25 if you're not a fan of Richard Dawkins):

It makes you think, doesn't it? I have the utmost respect for Adams and his work, and he spoke of many subjects that have been points of societal conflict through his humor. It's unfortunate that he died as young as he did. So, if an animal happily offered itself up to you to be eaten, would you eat it?

Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are either copyright free or under creative commons licenses: one, two, three

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Grevy's Zebra

I wasn't able to find a YouTube video, so there's a link for this one: Grevy's zebra courtship vocalizations on ARKive.

A Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi) stallion in Kenya
Many small children learn about these more unusual zebra as the zebra with the thin stripes, and indeed their stripes are much thinner than the plains zebra. However, that is not all that differentiates these two species. They have a completely white belly, which other zebra species do not have. Unlike the plains zebra, the Grevy's zebra does not whinny like a horse but instead sounds much more like a donkey or mule. They also resemble one as well, being stockier than the plains zebra. Males are known for being quite territorial. The Grevy's zebra are Endangered, with numbers estimated to be at about 2,000 individuals.

I had the privilege of hearing the exact same sound in that video while doing my research on the hartebeest. It was quite startling the first time I heard it because the zebra are extremely loud and the herd I was observing was very quiet!

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license. Source is Animal Diversity Web.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Guess the Genotype #11

Can you guess the genotype of this dog?

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license

Read more for the answer...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unusual Breed: Fila Brasileiro

It's been longer than I thought since my last Unusual Breed post.

A female Fila Brasileiro

The Fila Brasileiro or Brazilian mastiff is an unusual dog in the fact that it is bred for extreme distrust and aggression toward strangers. So much so, that a Brazilian proverb is "Faithful as a Fila dog." It is a guardian breed and is prized for its ferocity. Videos are very easy to find of these dogs showing their aggression toward people, which is encouraged. In fact, for a dog to receive its championship the Fila Brasileiro Association requires the dog to pass a temperament test that includes the following, which is a direct excerpt from the standard:
  • Attack with a stick. The dog is supposed to attack in front of the handler, without being coached, and the exhibitor or handler will remain in his position. It is forbidden to touch or to beat the animal.
  • Shooting test. There will be blanks fired at a distance of five meters from the dog. The dog should express attention, show self-confidence and self-assurance.
  • During all performances in the ring, the judge will analyze the behavior and temperament of the entrant, paying attention to his expression. During the temperament test the following should be observed:
    • The dislike of the animal to strangers.
    • The self-assurance, courage, determination, and braveness of each dog. 

Needless to say, this is not the dog for everyone. Because of selection for this sort of behavior, these dogs are illegal in several countries, including the United Kingdom. I am against Breed Specific Legislation, but in the wrong hands a Fila could be extremely dangerous. Even though they are loving to their family, it is probably not the best idea to take a Fila for an unmuzzled walk around town or to let them run free because they could be a danger to people, especially those not familiar with the distrusting nature of the breed. They are brilliant at what they were bred for, so if someone is in need of protection for whatever reason the Fila would be a good choice.

The Fila is accepted by the FCI and NZKC. They are prone to some serious health problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas, bloat, osteochondritis (a cartilage issue), and panosteitis (a bone issue in young, large breed dogs) and often have very short lifespans.

Image is copyright free from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Interesting Animals: Muskrat

A muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

In honor of Big Wet Rodent Day (recognized mainly in Canada), I'm featuring the muskrat as an interesting animal! Most people think that muskrats and those other large semi-aquatic rodents are mundane creatures, but they are, in fact, quite interesting animals.

Like all rodents, these creatures have sharp, overlapping incisors that are very effective chewing devices. Muskrats build lodges that look not unlike beaver lodges, though smaller. Muskrats also look not unlike small beavers, though they have a more cylindrical tail. Marshes are ideal habitat for these rodents. They are commonly hunted for their fur, which is very dense and will trap air so that cold water will not touch their skin and also to make them more buoyant. They also have altered blood flow going to their tail and feet, which helps keep their core body temperature stable.

Muskrats live in family groups, and when it becomes too crowded, mothers will kick their offspring out; fighting an cannibalism are not unknown. The term "muskrat" refers to the fact that they communicate via musk though they also squeak and squeal. They have poor senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Though mainly vegetarians, they will also consume animals. They are excellent swimmers.

Here's the Big Wet Rodent Day Song! Happy July 26th, everyone.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license. Sources are Animal Diversity Web and the National Trappers Association

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Capybara

For those of you who don't already know, capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) are the world's largest species of rodent. They also make some very interesting noises! They sound a bit like guinea pigs in my opinion. They are eaten in their native range, and were once declared a "fish" by the pope, meaning that Catholics could eat them on Fridays.

These guys apparently make okay pets, but it takes a special sort of person to have a pet capybara. They are not the easiest pet to have. They are chewers, so they have to be kept away from electrical cords, and absolutely love the water, so a pool is a requirement. Interestingly enough, they can be "water pan trained" like a cat with a litter box. One owner keeps a blog about their unique pet, a capybara named Caplin.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Guess The Genotype #10

 Can you guess this dog's genotype? Can you also guess his breed?

Image is from under a Creative Commons license

Read more for my answer:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Invasive Species: Cattle Plague

These animals died from cattle plague in 1896

Also known as the Rinderpest virus, this is one of the few micro-organisms on the 100 World's Worst Invasives list and was declared eradicated only last month after a world-wide campaign to be rid of the disease. It is now the second disease to ever be successfully eradicated, after smallpox.

A highly infectious virus, it affects numerous other animals like sheep, pigs, and many species of wildlife, though it is only truly devastating in cattle, buffalo, and yaks. It could easily wipe out a herd in an amazingly short period of time as the mortality rate in cattle is incredibly high, approaching 100% in some cases. Luckily, this is now one less thing to worry about for cattle herders that depends so heavily on their animals.

Rinderpest virus micrograph
The last known case of cattle plague was in 2001, but because it can be carried by wildlife it took several years before they were sure the virus was truly gone.  Like smallpox, Rinderpest now only exists in a small number of laboratory samples.

Rinderpest was listed on the 100 World's Worst Invasives as #81, though it is likely that it will be soon removed from the list. 

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Friday, July 22, 2011

Interesting Animals: Tardigrade

One of the Phylum Tardigrada, specifically Hypsibius dujardini

This is another case of being more than just one species. Instead, tardigrades (meaning "slow walker") are an entire phylum: Tardigrada. Also known as the water bear, these microscopic invertebrates are the most resilient animals to be found on this planet. By going into a resting stage called cryptobiosis, they can withstand extremes that would easily kill other animals, including us humans. Here's some things that won't kill a water bear:
  • temperatures up to 150 degrees Celsius
  • absurd amounts of radiation (570,00 roentgens killed only half of them)
  • temperatures up to minus 200 Celsius
  • extended periods of dessication (being dried out)
  • the vacuum of space
Crazy, right? Tardigrades are the only animal to ever survive the process of being sent through a scanning electron microscope. This is a process that involves being placed in a vacuum and then bombarded with electrons for over an hour. Amazingly, the animal pictured above in just such a SEM micrograph probably survived the process. They are also a numerous animal, to be found fairly easily in places like patches of moss.

The genome of these tiny creatures is currently being sequenced.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Marsh or Swamp?

This is actually a question that came up when I was investigating my backyard. Around thirty to forty feet from the back door is the beginning of a wooded area which is very often inundated with water due to the heavy rain we will sometimes get. Where I live we do have both very nearby. So, what is what?

What is a swamp?
swamp  (swŏmp)
An area of low-lying wet or seasonally flooded land, often having trees and dense shrubs or thickets.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
This would be what I have in my backyard (though it's seasonally flooded). The major point here is the presence of trees where the trees are sometimes inundated with water. Also, swamps are always purely fresh water and will never be inundated with salt water. This would be where you would find creatures like alligators.

A swamp with iconic "cypress knees"
What is a marsh?
marsh  (märsh)
An area of low-lying wetland in which the level of water is generally shallow and often fluctuating. The water may be either standing or slow-moving. The water in a marsh is also more or less neutral or alkaline, in contrast to the water in a bog, which is acidic. The environment of a marsh is in general well-oxygenated and nutrient-rich and allows a great variety of organisms to flourish. In contrast to a swamp, in which there is an abundance of woody plants, the plants in a marsh are mostly herbaceous. Reeds and rushes dominate the vegetation of marshes. See also salt marsh.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Due to where I live, when I hear the work "marsh" I usually think of a salt marsh. However, marshes are not necessarily salty. The major point is the lack of trees. In a salt marsh trees are occasionally seen, but they grow on areas of higher ground on small islands. The salt marsh is an iconic part of the Georgia coastline and it fills the spaces between our barrier islands and the mainland. Marsh grass (Spartina) is a very prominent plant, covering vast areas that are interspersed with tidal rivers and streams. Prominent animals include crabs, sea birds, and oysters.

Salt marsh at high tide, with healthy Spartina

Definitions are from Images used are from under creative commons licenses: one, two

Heat vs. Humidity

Via WeatherBug for Android

That was what the weather was like where I am as of about an hour ago. Note the heat index,  humidity, and time of day. It's been a bit miserable to say the least. The thermometer at my house says 111, but I don't quite believe that.

The problem is the humidity. If I lived in the desert it would be hot, yes, but at 97 degrees you would not be feeling too bad (unless you were doing something very physically demanding), even at 105 or more. I know this from experience. You feel dehydrated and a bit tired, but it's nothing like how it is when the humidity is high. If you drink plenty of water and stay in the shade when the heat gets to be a bit much it's pretty bearable when it's dry.

Where I am, humidity over 75% is far from uncommon, and when you combine that with 95+ degree weather it gets bad. First of all, your sweat does not dry. No kidding. Sweating is an attempt for your body to cool itself, and if it won't evaporate it does nothing. It just sits on your skin and makes you feel warmer. This makes the heat very oppressive. There is nothing like those days where it seems as though you can feel the air. Even shade or drinking lots of water won't really help that much and most people just want to retreat into somewhere with air conditioning. Temperatures exceeding 90 degrees have also been known to continue even following sunset on some days.

Three minute potty break and he's already panting.
Heat advisories have been rampant this summer, with weeks of this sort of thing. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious concerns, especially in the very young and very old. I also worry about Ebon. He absorbs heat very easily because of his coloring and I am very careful to keep him cool. It's amazing how in conditions like this a dog will often begin panting almost immediately. I feel very sorry for the spitzes and other heavily coated dogs where I live. I would never own a dog like that here because it's really not fair to them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guess the Genotype #9

This one has two parts. Can you guess the genotype of the mother and the father of this litter? Take a careful look at the puppies.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license

As usual, click "read more" to see my answer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lizards and Shenanigans

I've been seeing a lot of green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) around here lately (which I mentioned in one of my first posts on this blog). They have always been rather numerous, along with dragonflies (mostly green darners) and green tree frogs they are the creatures I see the most often this time of year. They love to sun themselves on our bricks and hide under anything and everything that may be on the porch.

A green anole in the brown form. They can change color depending on conditions
I was surprised, however, when a hatchling tried to become the newest inhabitant of the house. It lept inside when I opened the door to take Ebon out. I managed to catch it and put it back outside before the cats tried to eat it. We had a snake in the house once, and Albus and Ginny both tried to bite its head off, so I wouldn't put it past them. The anole was a squirmy little thing and kept slipping out between my fingers. I didn't want to harm it because it was so small, though, so I wasn't holding it very tightly. I try to be gentle with them because they will drop their tails if you grab them even momentarily. I've only made that mistake once.

It was smaller than my pinkie finger and panted vigorously after I let it go
On a different note, I swear the mammals only get more insistent in their obsession with cheese crackers. Last time they were only begging a little bit. Today? Well, see for yourself. I mean, really now:

Albus, Ebon, and Ginny in their continued obsession with cheese crackers
I gave Ginny one for being brave today. She isn't always okay with being this close to Ebon and she let him sniff her nose. Ebon was being very polite, so he got one too. He's usually very good about not being too pushy with her and I give him constant praise for good behavior. If he gets too excited I'll call him off (either "Out," "Back," or "Here" depending on the situation and an "Uh-uh!" if he doesn't listen first time). I haven't had to take him by the collar and lead him from the room in years.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cool Animal Sounds: Platypus

Do you know what a platypus sounds like? Well, now you do:

Many residents in North America, where the beaver is a common inhabitant, often mistakenly believe these small, egg-laying animals are larger than they actually are. In fact, they are usually less than half the size of the average beaver! The males have venomous spurs and thus researchers have to be careful when handling them. They share many skeletal characteristics with reptiles, along with the whole laying eggs thing, and as such they show a clear relationship to the reptile-like ancestors and the modern placental mammals that we all know and love. Their hunting techniques are really quite fascinating. I much return to these little critters some time for an Interesting Animal profile.

The sort of cooing noise they make is now a staple on a Disney Channel cartoon called Phineas and Ferb, where the title characters have a pet platypus who doubles as a secret agent (and is, for some reason, teal in color). This, unfortunately, makes it even more difficult to find real platypus noises since everyone seems to want to try to mimic the character.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Name That Disease #3

Well, technically this is not necessarily a disease. Can you guess it?

Read more for the answer:

Guess the Genotype #8

I forgot to post yesterday. Oops! Two posts today, then...

Can you guess the genotype of this dog? This is an easy one.

Image is copyright-free from Wikimedia Commons.

Read more to see my answer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Interesting Animals: Amazon River Dolphin

The amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis)

The Amazon river dolphin is also known as the boto, bufeo, bouto. Of all of the cetaceans (whales), these are some of the most unique. They are the largest of the freshwater dolphins, reaching up to nine feet (2.7 m) in length. Gray as juveniles, they fade with age to become distinctly pink in color and then white. The pink can be surprisingly bright. These dolphins have a very distinctive head with a prominent domed forehead, long beak, and small eyes. Despite this, they have good vision and also a good sense of hearing. They feed on fish and crustaceans and are quite curious in nature. Hairs found on the beak are thought to aide the dolphins when sifting through mud for food.
Boto showing their curiousity

The boto is found throughout north and central South America and may possibly be several distinct subspecies as populations can vary in appearance (as seen in the two images I've used). Natives have a taboo against killing these animals, but other cultures that have come to the area have no such qualms. Because of this, the numbers of these unique dolphins have fallen from what they once were. The IUCN red list currently lists them as Data Deficient but they have previously been listed as Vulnerable. Hopefully, the populations are doing well.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Albus + Harry Potter

Going to the midnight premiere tonight. And no, the cat was not technically named after the character. It's a long story.

Invasive Species: Cane Toad

Cane toad (Rhinella marina)

History of cane toad range in Australia
I'm sure most of you are already familiar with this one. It is wreaking havoc across Australia and has also been introduced to numerous other parts of the world. They were initially introduced to these areas in an attempt to control pests that were damaging important cash crops such as sugarcane. Needless to say, things didn't exactly go as planned. They are native to Mexico (extending into parts of Texas) and Central and South America.

Cane toads eat practically anything they can get their mouth around and excrete a toxin from the gland behind their eyes (parotoid gland) that causes illness or even death in those that touch it. Because of this, these toads pose a serious danger to all native wildlife as well as humans and domestic animals. Human deaths are known to happen after ingesting the toads or their eggs. There is still research being done into the best way to reduce the population numbers, with hopes for a successful biological control.

Cane toads are listed on the 100 World's Worst Invasives as #16.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guess the Genotype #7

Can you guess this dog's genotype?

 Image is under a Creative Commons license at Wikimedia Commons.

Click "read more" to see my answer!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Interesting Animals: Upside-Down Jellyfish

Cassiopeia in its usual upside-down position

Cassiopeia, better known as the "upside-down jellyfish" is a fascinating species of jellyfish commonly found in waters off the coast of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is actually a genus that includes several different species, but their behavior is always the same. The position they are found in is laying on the bottom with bell to the sand and tentacles facing upward. This is because they are providing the tiny algae (zooxanthellae) in their tentacles with sunlight so that they can photosynthesize. This is not the only food source for the jellyfish, however it does provide a significant portion of the jelly's nutritional needs. They also capture plankton using their stinging cells (nematocysts) as is usually expected of a jellyfish. 

This jelly has a healthy crop of algae


These jellyfish are also one of the few jellyfish to have more than one mouth. They have a primary mouth, as well as several lesser ones. Crabs are known for enlisting other species to aide them  and will sometimes carry upside-down jellys around for protection.


If disturbed, they will swim away in the same position. As far as I know, they never voluntarily turn over to the more usually seen orientation of the Medusa stage of Cnidarians (bell up, tentacles down). They are only found in shallow water so that they can provide enough sunlight to their algae and are a common sight in Mangrove swamps. I observed these creatures in the wild during a trip to Florida.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license: one, two

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Guess the Genotype #6

How about this little dog from Greece?

 Image is under a Creative Commons license on Wikimedia Commons.
As always, click "read more" to see my answer.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How to De-mite Cockroaches

As I mentioned in my introductory post about my pet Madagascar hissing cockroaches, I was going to do an information post on how to reduce mite loads. My roaches have mites, most of which will tuck themselves under the legs. The mites are at least somewhat beneficial, reducing the amount of bacteria on the carapace. If you see more than one or two on the cockroaches' head or back there are too many. In a case like that, if you check their undersides there will be an astonishing amount to be found there.

I was made aware of this technique from the professor who gave the cockroaches to me after I discovered the mite load on my hissers had skyrocketed. So, here we go.

What you will need: 
Flour, Plastic bag, Cockroaches
Step 1: Remove lid from terrarium and place flour in bag.

Step 2: Add cockroaches to bag, seal and shake. Remember to shake gently! Also, seal the bag for as short of a time as possible. You are dealing with live critters!

My hissers, just after their flour-ing
Step 3: Remove cockroaches immediately, brushing off as much excess flour as possible.

Step 4: Check out how many mites you've removed! It's unlikely you've gotten rid of them all, but numbers should have decreased by about 60-70%. Dispose of the bag.

And that, boys and girls, is how to help your pet cockroaches with their mite problem without compromising their health. I do this as needed. Remember that keeping the terrarium clean and refreshing bedding more often will also help with mites.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Name That Disease #1

 I saw a man with this same condition today. Can you guess what it is?

Read more to see the answer!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Unusual Breed: Pražský Krysařík

A typical black and tan Pražský Krysařík
Also known as the Prague ratter, it is said that it could be the smallest breed in the world. Though the record smallest dog is a Chihuahua, as a breed the Chihuahua can be fairly large. So, as Irish wolfhounds are the largest breed but the record is held by a great Dane, it is possible this claim could be true. The breed was developed in the Czech Republic and is currently not accepted by any major breed registry.

This tiny breed was bred to be non-utilitarian. Due to this, the name "Prague ratter" is probably not in reference to the dog's abilities in killing rats. It is usually seen in a smooth coated black and tan, but red or other differently colored dogs and dogs with longer fur are sometimes seen. It is rarely seen outside of Prague. They are very delicate with thin leg bones that are prone to being broken. I am unsure of other health problems in the breed, but patellar luxation is mention on the Pražský Krysařík Club of Czech Republic website.

Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain much information on this breed in English. Because of this, my main source for material was Dr. Bruce Fogle's The New Encyclopedia of the Dog. According to this book, the Prague ratter is characterized as follows:

Height: 6-9 inches (16-22 cm)
Weight: 2-6 pounds (1-3 kg)

Here is the standard from the Pražský Krysařík Club of Czech Republic.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a creative commons license.

Some Notes on Terminology

I realized recently that when I post the Guess the Genotype posts not everyone may understand what the terms I use mean. For GtG I try to only use the scientifically proven genes. My favorite reference for this is a page kept by the University of Saskatchewan, which has an ongoing project on canine color.

What this boils down to is that what a breed standard calls a color may not be what I will call the color. I am trying to refer to both terms, but these can often be quite different. The reason why terms vary so greatly between dog breeds is because the standards were written by completely different people at completely different times. Also, sometimes the layperson will misinterpret what a color actually is. Here are some examples.

A "red" Doberman is actually liver and tan
Red can refer to a wide variety of genotypes. In one breed it will be sable, another recessive red (also called clear red). These are usually what will be refereed to when you hear the term "red." Shade of red can vary from a deep mahogany like that of Irish Setters to the lighter yellow seen in Labradors. However, red can also refer to liver dogs. This is seen in breeds like the Doberman pinscher and the Australian shepherd. This can include dogs with or without tan markings (the phrase "red and tan" just sounds wrong to me) and/or merling. It can even be dogs with roaning or ticking, up to and including the extreme white piebald sable roan seen in Australian cattle dogs.

This "brown" mixed breed is actually a lightly masked sable
Brown is a very similar conundrum to red. Though brown usually refers to the liver coloration (with or without tan markings) and that is what it should refer to in my opinion, it is sometimes also used to refer to sable or recessive red dogs. This can include sable with various skin pigment (usually black or liver) and dogs with or without black or the dilutes thereof in their coats (either as a mask or light sable overlay ).

"Blue" Aussies are extreme piebald black and tan with roaning
In my opinion, the term "blue" is one of the worst offenders when it comes to what it can include. The term blue really should refer to the blue/dilution gene, which turns black in a coat to a slate gray color.  However, it can also refer to dogs with the graying gene (born black and pale with age), black dogs with the merle gene, or black dogs with ticking or roaning (which are born black and white and darken with age). All of these various forms may also have tan points. The dog seen at right will have been born mostly white in color.

This "gray" Schnauzer is very pale red or "platinum" agouti
 This presents a similar problem to "blue." True gray is a dog with the graying gene (as I said, born black and lighten with age) that may occasionally have tan points. However, it is also used to refer to dogs that are blue or Isabella/fawn (which is the blue dilution + the liver dilution) and even sable or agouti dogs with very pale red (as in the "salt and pepper" dog at right).

This "white" Dane is a double merle harlequin
White is also a term which can refer to numerous genotypes. It can be a dog that is a near white recessive red (which often have a cream tint and/or reddish ears),  extreme white piebald (with or without small spots of color), or homozygous "double" merle (also with or without small spots of color). Double merle can have significant amounts of color, but can also be nearly all white. In Great Danes, the harlequin modifier (which removes the lighter gray color in merles) can create a dog very near solid white if the merle is distributed in such a way as to have very little black. Depending on genotype, dogs may or may not have pigment in their nose, lips, paw pads, and eye rims. Double merles are often deaf and/or blind. Extreme piebalds can occasionally be deaf. The dog at right may simply be a double merle or a minimally marked harlequin, but because of the complete absent of pigment to all parts of the dog's body, it is most likely a double merle harlequin.

This "fawn" Boxer is masked sable carrying extreme piebald
This term more properly refers to the Isabella coloration (which is blue + liver), but is also often used to refer to sable or recessive red dogs in the middle to light end of the shade range. This can include dogs with or without a mask or sable overlay.

This list is also not all-inclusive. There are numerous ways in which color terminology can be confusing. To avoid this, I am trying my best to be consistent so that the various GtG's can be more easily compared to one another. 

All images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two, three, four, five, six

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Interesting Animals: Fungus Growing Ants

A leaf-cutter ant

Leaf cutters have large colonies
Most of you probably are familiar with the leaf-cutter ants, but you may not know that they are fungus gardeners. That's right. These little insects take those leaves back to their colonies where they carefully cultivate fungus using the leaves as fertilizer. The fungus is what the ants eat rather than the leaves. Also, "leaf cutter ant" is a very general term and actually encompass two different genera: Acromyrmex and Atta which contain numerous species. They have a very complex colony set up which even includes a dump where bad leaves and dead ants are taken.

The leaf-cutters are not the only fungus gardeners, however. There are thirteen genera total, which grow their fungus on everything from fresh leaves to flowers, beetle wings to herbivorous insect feces (known as frass). Colony size varies greatly from the ants of the genus Cyphomyrmex that only have around fifty to one hundred ants to the massive leaf cutter colonies. Fungus type varies as well. It is usually in a filamentous form, but the Cyphomyrmex genus uses a globular "yeast" form (which isn't a true yeast).
C. rimosus ant under magnification

I was lucky enough to have the chance to work with the little-known Cyphomyrmex ants, specifically C. rimosus which has been introduced locally. They are very odd-looking with large heads and dark bodies that look like they've been dusted with ash. I went on several hunts to find colonies, turning over numerous logs and excavating them. Then, there were months getting the ants settled into artificial colony setups. It was a fascinating process. There has been very little research done on these ants and they are so little known that they don't even have a common name. They are one of the fungus gardeners that use frass as fertilizer.

Here are all of the fungus gardening ant genera: Acromyrmex, Apterostigma, Atta, Cyphomyrmex, Mycetagroicus, Mycetarotes, Mycetophylax, Mycetosoritis, Mycocepurus, Myrmicocrypta, Pseudoatta, Sericomyrmex, Trachymyrmex

First two images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two. The last one is mine.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Invasive Species: Kudzu

I know I've been doing these on animals, but I just have to include other invasive species too. If you would rather not read about a plant, I understand. Anyway:

Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) in South Carolina

Kudzu is a very aggressively growing vine. It was introduced to the United States in 1876 when it was advertised as a shade vine people could have grow on their porches to help with the heat of the south. It was available through mail-order catalogs and became popular. Though nobody knew it, the plant would soon take over. The vine is a very common sight throughout the area. It doesn't grow well where I am, possibly because it's very wet and close to sea level (twenty feet is high). However, it is an extremely common sight in north Georgia and also the higher elevations areas of the surrounding states.

Kudzu in Mississippi
Kudzu covers everything. It spreads rapidly over open ground and, though it is slowed by trees and other obstacles, it isn't by much. The sight at left is not unusual in areas where the plant occurs. Due to this, native plants are very often smothered by the vine and few can survive the attack. It has been encroaching on National Parks where it threatens the plant life there. It is difficult to control, with the best method being burning or grazing by animals which may not always be a viable options.
A kudzu flower

The plant is native to Asia, including China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Indo-China, and Oceania. Though it has been introduced to numerous countries, it is only really considered a pest in the eastern US. It is used as an ingredient in cooking and also for many other purposes in its native range including as forage for animals. In the United States, it has been used to help prevent erosion, but other plants are available and are much better options. Believe it or not, the flowers are actually quite pretty.

Kudzu is listed on the 100 World's Worst Invasives as #77.

Images are from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license or are copyright free: one, two, three