Monday, May 01, 2006

Silky Anteater

I was watching a dumb nature show about anteaters today, and it happened to have a brief segment about a little creature I'd never heard of before, the Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus). It's tiny, lives in trees, has a prehensile tail, eats ants, and is adorable in a weird Jim Henson sort of way. Or in a Kiwa hirsuta sort of way, come to think of it. Since they're arboreal, nocturnal, small, and shy, it appears that they haven't been studied all that much, even though the scientific name comes from Linnaeus himself, way back in 1758. I did come across a page where researchers describe capturing one and attaching a radio transmitter to it. A very, very large transmitter, with a long whiplike antenna. You can't help but feel sorry for the little beastie.

More pics and links at TheWebsiteOfEverything and the USDA's Integrated Taxonomic Information System. And here's a study suggesting that Cyclopes diverged from the other anteaters as long as 40 million years ago, and is quite genetically distinct from the others. Which should be obvious; these little guys are super-cute, while all other anteaters are just plain weird.

But wait, there's more: Here are a couple of absolutely adorable video clips of silkies in action. If you're going to follow just one link on this page, go see the video clips. Awwwwww.....

Seems that silkies are indigenous to the Carribbean island of Trinidad as well as South America, and on Trinidad their common name is the "poor-me-one". From an 1894 article in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, On the Birds of the Island of Trinidad, by Frank M. Chapman.

There is an animal in the Trinidad forests whose call is so inexpressibly
sad that it affects even the negroes, and they have given to its author the name of "Poor-me-one," meaning, "poor me, all alone." These words express in a measure the hopeless sorrow of a voice which is so sweet and human in quality that it might easily be considered a woman's rich contralto. This impressive call is heard only at night. At the rest-house I heard it only on moonlight nights, and then at infrequent intervals. It is generally supposed to be uttered by the little Ant-eater (Cyclothurus didactylus), which, for this reason, is commonly known as Poor-me-one. I am told, however, by Mr. Albert B. Carr of Trinidad, a gentleman who is very familiar with the animals of the forests, that the Poor-me-one is in reality a Goatsucker, and that he has shot the bird in the act of calling. Unfortunately the bird was not preserved, so for the present its specific identity must remain in doubt. I have placed these remarks under NVyctibius for the reason that Waterton's description of the " largest Goatsucker in Demerara " with little doubt refers to what in Trinidad is known as Poor-me-one. Gosse, however (Birds of Jainaica), does not describe this call, and as it does not seem possible that so close an observer could have overlooked it, it is probable Waterton may have erred in his identification.

So it seems that the name "poor-me-one" is shared with a native bird, Nyctibius jamaicensis, or Northern Potoo, which is the creature that in fact makes the sound associated with the name. The name "poor-me-one" has also entered the local lexicon, for instance this example:

Burly Surujdeen Dass was lying on his bed like a poor-me-one, watching Greece battle the Czech Republic for a treasured place in the Euro 2004 Final against Portugal, naked except for brief white shorts, one leg encrusted in an off-white cast, and the other, the right, showing signs of having recently being under the surgeon’s scalpel...

I've noticed I have a real affinity for small insectivores (echidnas, hedgehogs, anteaters, etc.). I'm not really sure why. In part, I'm sure, it's because I'm not really a big fan of ants, so it's sort of like we're all on the same team or something. It looks like there are at least a few other fans out there. Here's the MySpace page of someone who goes by "Cyclopes didactylus". And here's an appeal by someone who wants one as a pet but can't find one. I tend to be extremely dubious about exotic pets in general, and in this case, I can't imagine where you'd get enough ants to keep it fed and healthy. You'd probably need your own ant colony, and you'd need to keep them fed and healthy too. That sounds like a lot of work. But if the local zoo wanted to start a petting zoo full of these little guys, I'd be first in line to donate and volunteer.


1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Very interesting information. I am from Trinidad where there are silky anteaters.I always thought the poor-me-one was a furry little creature that made the sound "poor me one". I never knew the history behind the name and i have never seen one myself but I've heard many stories from hunters who could never describe to my satisfaction the appearance of the poor-me-one or the sound that it makes.I am now satisfied that i know exactly what it is and can now enlighten others.