Thursday, March 09, 2006

Laonastes & Kiwaida

[Updated: Here are two subsequent "furry lobster" posts of mine: "Give 'em what they want" and Kiwaidagain. Hey, it's a popular topic right now, and I'm milking it. Enjoy! ]

It's a red letter day for weird new animal species. There's a story over at FoxNews about the (re)discovery of the Laotian Rock Rat, Laonastes aenigmamus. Or if you prefer reputable sources, there's a Wikipedia article as well. Or if you're a proper Renaissance person and prefer your scientific literature in Latin, you're in luck. And if you're curious what they taste like, NewScientist has the goods. (discusson here) Some accounts I've seen have referred to the little beastie as a "rat squirrel", not to be confused with the Sumatran rat monkey, of course. I can't quite picture that. I love squirrels, and hate rats, and if the new creature is somewhere in between, I just don't know what to think about it.

Deep beneath the sea, another weird creature has been discovered. Kiwa hirsuta is described as a hairy lobster, representing an entirely new family of crustacean, Kiwaida. It's not real hair, of course, but it certainly looks like something the Jim Henson workshop might have cooked up. Here, a blogger wonders how long it'll be before "some jackass wonders what kind of sauce and wine might go best". And here, that question is answered. There's always someone who wants to know what it tastes like.

Meanwhile, today's Washington Post has one of the saddest stories I've seen in a long, long time. The Richmond, VA zoo was forced to euthanize both of their bears so they could be tested for rabies, all because some stupid parent thought it'd be cute to have her kid feed the bears from up close. Chomp! If they ever institute a test that people have to pass in order to become parents, people ought to be asked whether they'd ever voluntarily place their young offspring within reach of a huge, hungry bear. That would be a very reasonable question to ask, I think.

You used to be able to feed the animals at the zoo. It's true. I remember doing it myself as a child, back in the 70's, but not from up close. We'd make about a loaf's worth of PB&J sandwiches, take them to the local zoo, and hurl them to the bears. I don't know whether the bears had been trained to do this or not, but they'd sit up on their hind legs and beg, and they were pretty good at catching sandwiches out of the air. Decades later, that seems like a really barbaric practice, and I can't believe they ever allowed it. I've heard zoos of that era had persistent problems with pranksters who'd throw the bears sandwiches laced with Ex Lax, for instance. I don't know whether that's true or not, but it wouldn't surprise me. People who enjoy abusing animals couldn't resist an opportunity like that.

A couple of additional zoological tidbits:

In the UK there's a charity dedicated to protecting squishy, spineless little invertebrates. Not congressional Democrats, silly, they're for protecting bugs.

And here's the ultimate answer to every kid's favorite question, "What's grosser than gross?". I'm speaking, of course, about the hagfish, a really nasty piece of work. Want more info? Here's more, but I doubt it'll change your mind much.

The first time I ever heard of these little bastards was actually in a Gunter Grass novel. It was years ago, but I think it was either Dog Years or Cat and Mouse. There's a vivid image in one scene of a horse's head being pulled from the ocean, riddled with hagfishes. It was one of those moments where you just know it isn't entirely fictional. Poor Herr Grass probably experienced this as a child, and has had nightmares about it ever since. I know I would've, if it had happened to me.

Various sources out there argue that despite all appearances, hagfish really are of commercial value. The skins are an excellent cheap leather substitute, we're told. And they're considered a delicacy in Korea. Or was it Japan? And here, a group of intrepid college students explores using hagfish slime as an egg substitute in baked goods. And it wasn't even a reality show, that's the real kicker here. If you'd like to try this yourself, and you have access to a reliable supply of hagfish slime (and if you do, I seriously don't want to know why), there's a recipe for hagfish slime scones over at the Museum of Awful Food. Not to be confused with James Lileks' incredibly funny Gallery of Regrettable Food.

I hate to end this post talking about the most disgusting creature on the planet, so let's switch gears again. It seems that via the magic of DNA analysis, researchers have identified three new species of lemur in Madagascar, including the Lepilemur randrianasoli pictured above. This has gotten less coverage than the other stories, probably because the "new" lemurs aren't especially new. They look and act like other lemurs, and were only identified as separate with some fancy DNA work. But still, you'd think someone would be paying attention. I guess that someone is me. There's one other lemur-related story of note: The zoo in Sacramento has a new baby Coquerel's sifaka, a species of lemur. Enjoy!


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