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Posts Tagged ‘wtf’

One thing you certainly don’t expect to see in a North American city known for its cold winters is a thriving population of parrots. Nonetheless, noisy flocks of them can be seen all over my neighbourhood. Monk parakeets, also called quaker parrots, have been breeding in parts of Chicago for at least 40 years.

How did they get here? Urban legends abound (one persistent story has them escaping from a crate at the airport, though their nests were first reported far from there), but all that’s known for sure is that they arrived via the pet trade. The long-tailed, greenish, pigeon-sized birds are native to southern South America, where they are agricultural pests, especially in fruit orchards.

Shockingly, these birds manage to stay through the Chicago winter. Though they’re native to the subtropics, and thus more tolerant of cold than the average parrot, they never encounter freezing temperatures in their original range. However, monk parakeets use their nests* year-round, and the massive structures (they breed communally, with several pairs building many-chambered nests that are often used for years) are well-insulated against the Windy City’s worst weather. But they rely on help from humans, too: they’re almost entirely dependent on backyard bird feeders in the winter.

Locals seem to have mixed feelings about the birds. Initially, the US Department of Agriculture was concerned that the parakeets would damage crops, as they do in their native range, and tried to remove them. They met with opposition from residents who liked the splash of tropical colour the birds provided. Though some birds were destroyed, the population rebounded, and so far the threat to crops hasn’t materialized.

However, other problems have: the parakeets began nesting on utility poles, posing a fire risk and causing occasional blackouts. The nests are removed, but the birds rebuild them in the same place. They also crowd out other birds at feeders, potentially threatening native birds**. On the other hand, some admire the parakeets’ adaptability and all-around pluck: they’re immigrants who help each other through tough times and start over in the face of setbacks. They’re not (yet?) a serious bioinvader, not like house sparrows or starlings. Perhaps we should learn to coexist.

But are they so benign? For now, maybe, but there are feral monk parakeet populations in New York City***, Spain, southern England, Japan, and many other places. A similar conflict between the perceived agricultural threats these birds pose and the feelings of local residents who welcome the birds simmers in many of these places. Like starlings, parrots are gregarious and extremely noisy—potentially another nuisance. And, dare I say it, perhaps climate change will allow further expansion of these populations. Just as we favour cute and fuzzy endangered species for our fundraising, are we also favouring the more ornamental invasives?

*In fact they’re the only species of parrot to build nests rather than use tree cavities.

**Granted, they’re mostly crowding out house sparrows, another, less-pretty, exotic species. In fact, in Brooklyn, New York, home to another feral population,  the parakeets are encouraged at Greenwood Cemetery because they drive out pigeons, whose guano damages historic buildings (apparently the parakeets’ guano is less caustic!).

***Fascinatingly, there’s also a probably-spurious escape-from-the-airport tale about the origin of the New York population.

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Unusual heirlooms

lidepran1My grandfather was a family doctor, and back in the day, it was totally cool for pharmaceutical companies to adverties their products willy-nilly. Perhaps the most interesting promotional material he received were these ads for the diet pill Lidepran (levophacetoperane) sent out in 1964. Each advertisement featured a pressed butterfly—the wings were real, with a cardboard cutout for the body—on a coloured background card. I presume the butterfly was meant to convey lightness/thinness and hence weight loss.

Oddly, although all the envelopes—there are 12 of them, each with a different butterfly and background—are stamped with “Lidepran”, about half of the cards actually advertise another drug, Largactil (chlorpromazine). Largactil is an antipsychotic made by the same company as Lidepran.

lidepran2

I’ve been able to find very little about this advertising campaign online. The only other source I’ve seen is this, which shows the envelope and inside of one of the cards (which I haven’t bothered to scan), and doesn’t indicate that any of them actually advertised Lidepran.

Interestingly, the scientific name of each butterfly was on each card, and they appear to be correctly identified at least to genus. They’re also from outside of North America. I wonder how they sourced these specimens, and whose idea the whole campaign was.

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I love spam comments. Every week my spam filter has a collection of uplifting, supportive, grammatically strange comments for me, telling me how wonderful, inspiring, and well-researched my writing is, and offering me a discount on Viagra. But some stand out. This one especially. It’s on my recent post about a fossilized collembolan preserved in amber:

The first fossil Collembola occur in the 400 million-years-old Rhynie chert deposits of the Devonian, although there are secondary fossil hints of earlier Collembola occurrence. These fossils display very modern collembolan features, including typical entognathous, chewing mandibles; ventral tube; and, probably, a furcula. The single described species —Rhyniella praecursor—has been placed in a variety of families, including recently Isotomidae; however, all family placement must be considered very tentative and it is likely that one or two additional species are in this deposit. A single specimen of a very probable member of the family Entomobryidae was found in Permian shale of South Africa but extensive collembolan fossils are limited to amber of the Cretaceous, Oligocene, Miocene, and Pliocene. Collembola represent only a small fraction of the hexapods found in amber, and they are absent from many amber deposits; however, there are over 70 specimens from late Cretaceous Canadian amber, 78 from mid cretaceous Burmese amber, over 160 from the Baltic Eocene amber, about 130 from Miocene amber of Chiapas and the Dominican Republic, and 16 from Pliocene Japanese amber. The Cretaceous material has only one specimen from an extant genus and most specimens can be placed in one of 19 extinct genera. All the remaining amber specimens can be placed in extant genera and in a few cases in extant species. Since the Eocene, generic extinction appears to have been absent, a unique feature among hexapods well represented in Eocene deposits.

Naturally I wanted to know where this came from, and Google indicates that it was originally published on pages 207-208 of  a book called “Insect Ecology: An Ecosystem Approach” by Timothy Duane Schowalter. The commenter, who gave the name “silver price”, lists as their website a sketchy-looking page about the price of gold and silver (what, no purple pills?!).

In conclusion, here is a song by Montreal-based band Malajube entitled “Les Collemboles”:

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1. Comet strikes; everyone dies.

2. Comet strikes; everyone dies except Davos.

3. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

4. Everyone discovers the True Meaning of Friendship.

5. It was all just a dream. (Bran’s, of course.)

6. Cthulhu wakes; chaos.

7. Best. Thriller. Flashmob. EVER.

8. Comet threatens to strike; space travel and nuclear weapons hastily invented; disaster averted and everyone discovers the True Meaning of Friendship.

9. As in #8, except nuclear war breaks out and everyone dies.

10. As in #9, except Davos.

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Back in the day, the day being the last semester of grade eight, I attended a school run by a Baptist church. I knew a lot of very conservative evangelical Christians. They were all really nice, caring people. I think they would all have literally given the shirt off their back to someone in need.

Around this time, I was becoming more politically aware and beginning to follow both Canadian and American politics. My opinions tended to be much more liberal than those of most of my peers and teachers. And this was fine. My grade eight history teacher, a conservative Christian like all the others at the school, encouraged my class to talk about the hot topics of the day, one of which was, of course, abortion. And while he made his own opinions quite clear, he definitely wanted us to form our own, not to parrot his. This is beside my point, though. The point is the opinion I consistently heard about abortion rights from the conservatives—adults and teens alike—that I interacted with. They always—always—stressed that abortions should be available for women who were raped or whose life was at risk from the pregnancy. Always.* (They may have venerated a rape survivor’s choice not to terminate a pregnancy as a Christian thing to do, but this was always a choice.)**

That was more than ten years ago. Now I hear on a regular basis about politicians speaking in support of and even trying to enact legislation that would ban abortion even in those cases. I’m pretty sure that, even a few U.S. election cycles ago, no mainstream politician could have gotten away with saying such a thing. I glanced through some Gallup data, and it seems that the proportion of the American population that believes abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances” hasn’t changed much over the past decade. If public opinion hasn’t changed dramatically, why has public discourse changed? Or is it just my perception that it has?

*Data from Gallup: As of last year, about 70% of self-identified pro-lifers believe abortion should be legal to protect the health or life of the mother, and about 60% support abortion rights for rape/incest victims.

**Then again, maybe all those people, had I asked, would have claimed that date rape wasn’t really rape, because, you know, that slut shouldn’t have been drinking/partying in the first place.

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(Replacing Pantydraco)

Via this talk about dinosaurs, we learn of the radiolarian Rectotormentum fornicatum, named, of course, from the Latin words “rectus”, meaning “correct, in good order”; “tormentum”, meaning “missile stone”; and “fornicatus”, meaning “arched, vaulted”.

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Manu* Libre

  • some amount of Ron Cartavio
  • some other amount of room-temperature (haha, “room”, I mean ambient jungle temperature) Coke
  • slice of lime
  • candles

Mix the rum and Coke to taste. Light the candles and/or turn on your headlamp. Wait for moths and other nocturnal insects to swarm around the lights. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a Peruvian giant cockroach! Eventually a moth will land in your drink. Make sure you rescue it ; it’ll probably dry off and fly into a candle later (the moth, not the drink). The moth’s wing scales will leave a nice powdery residue on the surface of your drink. Enjoy.

Really Dirty Martini

  • gin (or vodka if you’re one of those types)
  • olives
  • empty plastic bottles (pop bottles will do)

Transfer gin and olives to plastic bottles so you don’t have to worry about broken glass while you hike them to your field site. After a few days in the field, during which you don’t bother to wash out your coffee/tea/hot cocoa mug, pour yourself some gin and add a few olives and maybe some olive juice. Enjoy the taste of grime and coffee residue combined with the ultimate in classy cocktails.

The Best Way to Eat Peanut Butter

  • jar(s) of peanut butter—whatever kind you like
  • spoon

Eat the peanut butter right out of the jar with the spoon. Duh.

Oatmeal: Breakfast of Field Techs

  • bowlful of rolled oats. Remember, real men don’t eat “quick oats”.
  • boiled water
  • cinnamon
  • brown sugar or honey
  • raisins
  • any other flavour-containing edible thing you can possibly find, such as peanut butter, hot sauce, haupia (coconut pudding) powder, walnuts, fish sauce, cheese, soy sauce…

Dump any rat turds or dead bugs out of your bowl. Add oatmeal. Pour boiled water over oatmeal until everything looks soggy enough. Add other ingredients. Repeat every single morning for the entire field season. See how long it takes before you put hot sauce on it, and how long before you would rather just not eat at all.

*Weird coincidence: Manu was the name of the park in Peru where I took my first bird job…and it’s also the Hawaiian word for bird!

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