April 2, 2012
This article is a really interesting and in-depth look at the justice system applied to grizzlies in Yellowstone after several instances of bears attacking humans.
The Wapiti sow, even with her two cubs, seem to have stepped beyond what is "natural" behavior for a grizzly bear. But then, some argue that attacking humans is part of the traditional grizzly behavior, if we think back long enough ago.
I found the author's description of walking in the woods near the crime scene reminiscent of when I hiked around in lion country in Africa. It gives you a real sense of your vulnerabilities. Something most people today have lost, and only perhaps experience during a mugging or other traumatic event.
November 13, 2009
The Most Amazing Leopard Seal Encounter Ever (National Geographic)
March 8, 2009
Cute Warthog Family, Down on Their Knees, Eatin' the Grubs, Masai Mara, Kenya
Cute Warthog Family, Down on Their Knees, Eatin' the Grubs, Masai Mara, Kenya, originally uploaded by perlgurl.org.
You can find out more about Warthogs in my African Field Notes: The Warthog
November 8, 2007
Siding With The Shark: Fuming On A Fish's Behalf
As a long time resident of the Monterey Bay and a marine enthusiast, I got really excited when I saw that the TODAY Show was doing a piece on an incident with a great white shark in Monterey Bay. It's always interesting when our area makes the news, but I was hoping for a fresh perspective.
Not necessarily that they'd ask difficult questions like: Surfer, what were you thinking swimming where half the great white shark attacks in the world occur? Didn't you read the signs? Anyone who lives around the bay already knows the answers to these questions. We all know how far some will go for the perfect wave. I'm cool with Monterey Bay surfers doing what they do - just don't blame the sharks for taking a nibble when these wave-catchers in their neoprene seal costumes hit the beaches.
White shark occurrences happen pretty often here. The Red Triangle (north of San Francisco to the Farallon Islands to south of Monterey) has the highest concentration of the great white shark in the world — and it happens to be endangered and an apex predator.
They're here for the good eating: the Northern Elephant Seal rookeries like Año Nuevo, various seal and sea lion colonies, not to mention fish and whales. In point of fact, nearly all Monterey's beaches have signs that warn against swimming.
The TODAY Show story, which could have been an exciting tale of survival as well as informative about the area it happened, fell way short. The surfer, Todd Endris, was cool. He told his story, about how he was surfing, got attacked by a white shark (called a monster in the write-up but frankly, 12-15 feet long is average in these waters), fought his way free, and was rescued by a pod of dolphins and his surfer buddy. It was the TODAY Show interviewer,Natalie Morales, who pushed for gruesome details.
While the gorey details were revealed, what did the TODAY Show do? They showed stock footage of the Monterey Bay Aquarium great white shark on exhibit. That is a juvenile great white in the Outer Bay Exhibit and Monterey Bay Aquarium proudly boasts the ONLY great white sharks successfully held in captivity. They did not identify the footage as being from this amazing and unique exhibit, only as a backdrop to the gruesome details of the incident.
It would have been so easy to turn this news item into something a bit more informative and a bit less sensational without detracting from the amazing story of survival being told. But the TODAY show chose not to.
Shame on them. Shark PR is already bad enough. They need more support, not less. Even the late Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, regretted how his work influenced people's view on sharks.
If there's one thing that his research in Australia and off the coast of South Africa taught him, it's that he could not write "Jaws" today.
"I could not posit the situation now that I posited then - sort of a rogue shark that came around and wouldn't go away because it had found a steady diet of human beings," Benchley said in an inter-view over a seafood lunch (crab, not shark).
Scientists have learned that much of the shark behavior they used to ascribe to aggression is simply curiosity.
"I attributed to them a kind of marauding monsterism that became what 'Jaws' was," he said. "Now we know that sharks do not attack boats. The way they decide what to eat is by biting it."
More At: Peter Benchley: Jaws Today
May 29, 2007
Wacky Wildlife At The Waterhole
They're cute, they're plump and they're just a tad... pink.
Baby hippos within a pod tend to hang out together in what is called a crèche. Literally, a crèche is a daycare.. for little hippos. These young hippos are protected by all the females in the pod.
Hippos have very few predators. As adults, nothing can take them (other than humans), but when they are still little, sometimes a lion or a crocodile will get desperate and try to eat one. Baby hippos are sometimes killed by the dominant male hippo if he has taken over a pod and wants to mate with the mother.
I've seen what happens when a lioness tries to eat a little hippo, and generally it doesn't go well for the cat.
I was once on a safari in Pilanesburg National Park in South Africa. A friend and I were watching a pride of lions at dusk. Earlier in the day, we had seen a very young hippo down by the water with two females. As the sun set, the hippos began to trek out into the grasslands to graze for the night. The pride of lions lay waiting in a gully.
We watched for a long time as a large female hippo munched her way straight towards the lions, the little baby hippo at her side. Then the lions disappeared. The guide said that the lions would never be foolish enough to try to eat the hippo, but we were skeptical. I distinctly remember arguing with the guy... and then I spied it. What looked like a bush about 10 feet in front of the hippos was actually a female lioness. I remember saying, "Hey, that's no bush. That's a bloody lion!"
We bickered over this claim with the guide, eventually betting him free game drives for us the next night. The next thing we knew, all hell broke lose. The female had sprung and within seconds, the adult hippo protecting the baby had thrashed her. The female was fairly seriously wounded in the exchange and left, dragging her left behind her.
We had a nice free drive the next evening.
Little hippos are pretty hardy and they grow up (and out) quite fast. It may seem a bit strange to see giant crocs hanging out near the little pink cuties, but it really does happen that way. I like to think its the crocs being smart enough not to really piss of their neighbors. Water sources, especially in Africa, routinely swell and dry up. Semi-aquatic animals like hippos and crocs are forced into very close quarters, and they have a loosely developed symbiotic relationship.
(1) Hippos leave the water, eat lots of stuff, and poop in the water, replenishing its nutrients
(2) Stuff grows in the water, like fish and plants
(3) Animals come to the water to eat the stuff
(4) Crocs eat the animals that come to the water
In this way, one could argue that hippos are a keystone species.
Despite seeing hippos and crocs together all the time, I still find their strange relationship fascinating. Recently, National Geographic caught some exceptionally strange behavior at the waterhole - hippos following the crocs around and licking them, even when the crocs are busy death-rolling and chewing away on wildebeest.
Is it the salt? The bugs? What's going on here?
March 19, 2007
The Reptile Rollover: The Crocodile Death Roll
Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus Niloticus)
There's this great old horror movie called Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). This movie is absolutely terrible, but the leeches (you can see the costume zippers) make a cool clucking noise and the locals keep blaming the swamp gators for killing everyone. I think this is the first time I ever heard of the "death roll" that a gator or croc could do to subdue it's prey.
Basically, after catching its meal, the gator or croc starts rolling under the water to disorient and drown its prey. This allows a croc or gator to feast on large animals at its own pace and they may even store the kill for later consumption if its really big. It's quite amazing to watch. The late Steve Irwin was quick to say, "The crocodile death roll is potentially the most powerful killing mechanism on earth." You can see the step by step process of a crocodile death roll experiment at Brilliant Creatures.
We were watching Nature on PBS the other night, and they had this great piece on Yala National Park in island nation of Sri Lanka. BBC was there to study the leopards, since the park has the highest concentration in the world, but it was this night footage of a leopard kill being taken over by crocodiles that really caught our attention.
The setup: A leopard kills a large boar. Night falls and the leopard returns to eat. The scent of death attracts other predators and soon the leopard encounters a large croc, but the leopard doesn't give up the kill. She bickers with the larger croc, staying out of its jaws but trying to get the corpse away. Soon, two other young leopards show up, and they also eat what they can, but the crocodile is not going to give up. Soon the kill is surrounded by crocodiles and the cats are forced out. Now about a dozen large crocodiles swarm on the dead pig. This all takes place on land in the dry season.
At which point, we noted a couple of things. While the leopards yanked and dragged the corpse along, the crocs throw it around like a toy. The heavy body is flung amongst them effortlessly. Each powerful croc, fanned around the kill like rays of the sun, grabs a bite of the pig and begins to...
You guessed it! These huge crocs all started spinning in the death roll on land. It very effectively twisted a piece of the meat off, so they could swallow it whole before the pig is completely devoured by the other crocs. The crocs even used each other to hold the kill down so they could twist their portion off without flipping the pig over at the same time. According to Wikipedia, nile crocs like the one pictured above will even wedge their prey into something stationary in order to hold the kill still before they roll.
What a fascinating gruesome scene!
March 12, 2007
Grizzlies Go For Gristle
As you may have guessed by now, one of my goals in life is to get some of my photography published in National Geographic. Someday.
So as my photography has improved over time, I've come to the realizaton that a good photo alone is not going to be enough to attract the NGS's attention. No, the photo has to have something no one else has captured. Something unique. Illustrative. I was reminded of this fact earlier this week when I saw this National Geographic video of wild grizzly bears feasting on a bloated whale carcass.
Kodiak brown bears aren't sticklers for presentation when it comes to a scavenged meal. It's quantity not quality that matters here!
I mean, how often do you see several tons of grizzly bears jumping up and down and rolling around on a very dead whale?
It wasn't pretty, but it was certainly unique.
February 28, 2007
Bunny Binkies & Weasel War Dancing
My first pet, like most, was a puppy. His name was Ashes and he would get so excited that he would run like crazy in circles and jump around, crash into things. We all thought it was funny, but it was nothing compared to the wacky behavior we have seen in our pet bunnies.
My husband and I adopted two house rabbits (litterbox trained) when we first got together about a decade ago. Bit and Nibble are quite elderly now (about 12 years old) but when they were younger and got excited, they would do what we called "the happy dance".
The first time we saw Bit do it, we thought something was wrong. She would have these bursts of energy and do these gyrations in mid-air (video). Hop sideways, backwards, off walls. My personal favorite move was when she would jump and land in the opposite direction, and then go still.
Of course at the time, we thought she was having convulsions and that we had done something wrong. Then Nibble started doing it too. At the peak, we had 6 rabbits in the house, and when they were all out together, they would dance over and under each other, leaping and wiggling. It was a sight. I think I have some video of it somewhere. I've since learned that most bunny owners call this behavior binkying.
I recently learned that this happy dancing behavior is not just limited to rabbits. Members of the weasel family, especially pet ferrets, have been known to do something similar, called the Weasel War Dance (video).
While rabbits tend to dance or binky just out of happiness, ferrets seem to do it more as a kind of victory dance. Perhaps thats the difference between prey and predators.
The weasel war dance is a colloquial term for a behavior of excited ferrets. The war dance usually follows play or the successful capture of a toy or a stolen object. It consists of a frenzied series of sideways and backwards hops, often accompanied by an arched back, dooking (chuckling) or hissing noises, and a frizzy tail. Although the weasel war dance may make a ferret appear frightened or angry, they are often just excited and are usually harmless to humans.
More at: Wikipedia: Weasel War Dance
February 23, 2007
Senegal Chimps Spear Their Suppers
I thought about calling this the Bushbaby Barbeque, but since the chimpanzees are spearing the little wide-eyed primates, not roasting them, it didn't seem quite right. Yet.
Yes, you heard me right. Another example of tool usage has cropped up in primates, but this time they aren't bashing nuts open with rocks, or sucking termites out of their mounds with hollow reeds. This time, they've taken things a step further, honing their tools to make more efficient hunting weapons.
The chimps are sharpening sticks with their teeth and then jabbing the homemade spears into the dens of bushbabies, which they then eat. I personally didn't know that chimps ate bushbabies in the first place, so that was news to me as well.
Chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making and using wooden spears to hunt other animals, according to a study in the journal Current Biology. It's the first time primates have been seen using tools to hunt.
The first time, huh? You know, it really bugs me when articles say stuff like "Primates and Humans" or "the first time primates have..." You know why? Because humans are primates. Not only do we share the same order (Primate), we are also in the same suborder (Haplorrhini), infraorder (Simiiformes), parvorder (Catarrhini), superfamily (Hominoidea), family (Hominidae) and subfamily (Homininae) as gorillas and chimpanzees. We can even go down to the tribe (Hominini) if we drop the gorillas and only include the chimps. But no, we have to keep ourselves separate. Superior.
Chimps have been known to use tools before... but this use of spear-like weapons to attack other animals is completely new.
New, to us. This does not necessarily mean that the chimps haven't been doing this for a while without us noticing. Much of our research in the past has been done in artificial surroundings. In zoos with captive animals. Certainly there have not been a lot of long term studies in their natural environment and I think that the technologies enabling people to spend more time in natural habitats may have something to do with a lot of these new findings. This is why people like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey have made such an impact on primatology (the study of all primates except humans) and ethology (animal behavior) in the past. Dian Fossey was known for her scorn of the research students she would get for a couple weeks who would then go back to civilization and often never do field work again.
Wikipedia had some more information, including the fact that only about 1 out of 22 of the bush baby "spear-hunts" were successful. This makes me wonder if this is a more recent change in behavior. If you had a 4.5% chance of catching dinner, would you eventually resort to older, tried and true methods? Or is this statistically an improvement on catch rates and so the behavior will reenforce itself?
February 22, 2007
Invasive Armies Are A Pestiferous Problem
Hawaii seems to have a history of being colonized... by invasive species.
When I was young, I used to value the lives of all animals equally. On rainy days, when I was walking home from the bus stop, I would pick worms out of puddles and deposit them on safe ground. I would let an ant crawl onto my finger and deposit it out of harms way. Those were teh days...Then I went off to college, and while living in the dorms my attitude towards my little six legged friends, the ants, changed considerably.
Our apartment had a full kitchen and we lived on the top floor. The people who lived below us had less than desirably cleanliness. At first, it was just the occassional scout ant. We'd pick them up and take them out on the back porch and release them. Then one day, we came home ad our entire carpet was covered with them. Nothing was safe, anything remotely scented was crawling with the little buggers. From then on, the gloves were off. It was four young women against an army of ants and we vowed to win, even if it meant killing them one at a time.
Long story short, we first tried to be eco-friendly, and even ant friendly. We encouraged them to leave by removing all food sources. We had to keep ALL our food (cereal, bread, spices) in the fridge for safe-keeping for more than a semester but it made no difference with the idiots living below us. Finally, we had to resort to more stringent methods of ant eradication.
After one especially bad evening in which we all, more or less, ate ants, we decided to show no more mercy. After all, they hadn't. They had even foudn their way into our refrigerator. All chemical eradication methods (we found the uni-supplied glass cleaner worked better than most stuff) were used in the battle, stomping for good measure. Despite the exterminators and all manner of ant-proofing chemicals and home remedies, the problem never did go away entirely. We finally just moved off-campus. By the end of that year, each and every one of us, kindly souls that we were, showed not an ounce of regret for squishing an ant with a thumb (and generally did so with some relish). Smushing them was not nearly as disgusting as ingesting them, after all.
Still, it's good to remember that ants generally serve a very useful purpose. They aerate the soil and eat other creepy crawlies, as well as acting as a food source for other animals, including humans (ant eating is a delicacy). We've also been able to axploit the amazing working power of ants in our agricultural processes. For example, the wonderful African red tea, Rooibos, is cultivated using ants. The seeds of the Rooibos (red bush) plant are very, very small. Like grain of sand small. So instead of having laborers try to collect them, farmers employ ants that collect the seeds and return them to their colonies, where they are harvested.
According to Wikipedia, ants make up almost a quarter of the Earth's animal biomass and there are not many ant-free places left in the world, just perpetually cold remote places like Antarctica. One place that doesn't have native ants is the Hawaiian Islands. It was just remote enough not to have them show up on their own.
Not until people showed up, anyway. One especially destructive ant species, the Argentine ant, arrived in Honolulu on goods shipped from California during the Great Depression after causing quite a bit of citrus crop damage on the mainland. This ant tends to chase other ants out and preys on pest-eating and pollenating insects (the kind farmers like) as well as on the crops and seeds themselves.
Nowadays almost four dozen ant species have moved in on the Hawaiian Islands and are causing significant troubles with the local wildlife. Because the islands are so remote, the native plants and animals have evolved differently from much of the rest of the world. There are virtually no social insects native to the islands, and so the strengths of the complex social hierarchy of ant colonies often overwhelm the native locals.
The native insect population that has long acted as the pollinators for the native flora, and has not developed adaptations to avoid being eaten by ants (like tasting bad or flying or having hard exo-skeletons) and so the ants munch away undeterred on them and on the native plants and plant seeds as well.
The Argentine ant has a long history of causing trouble when it is introduced into new ecosystems. Because it is able to survive and thrive at high elevations, the Argentine ant is one of the few ant species that can climb up into the fragile volcano ecosystems, such as Haleakala National Park on Maui. Scientists are finding that the ant colonies established here are having a negative impact on the local insects, arthropods especially. The Argentine loves to eat young bees so you can see out that might negatively impact pollenators throughout the world. This disrupts the whole food chain, causing indirect effects on more native fauna that relies on these native bugs and plants for its food and other uses like nesting materials for animals like the endangered Palila, a large Hawaiian honeycreeper.
On Maui this past week, we saw very few birds but we saw quite a lot of ants and a couple mongooses. It's become apparent that the native bird populations are being attacked from a variety of angles, but almost all problems can be attributed to invasive species - whether its humans stealing their habitat, troubles of mongoose eating their eggs, or ants disrupting their food sources.
January 19, 2007
Millipedes As Meerkat Meals
I was watching the National Geographic Wild Chronicles video podcast the other day about meerkats hunting and teaching their young. In one scene, a couple of meerkats drag a large, black Kalahari millipede across the dusty ground.
Many species of millipede secrete a mildly poisonous substance as a defense mechanism to discourage predators from making the slow-walking creepy crawly from becoming an easy meal. While it's poison wouldn't kill a merrkat (they hunt many poisonous animals and have developed tolerances to stuff like scorpion venom), this secretion certainly doesn't make them taste very good.
Although the meerkats appear to be toying with their meal, researchers believe that they are actually cleaning off the bug. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any other animals that clean their food before eating it, except us.
You can watch this video podcast and others at: NGS Wild Chronicles
December 10, 2006
Panda Sneeze & Spook
My hubby sent me this video link and so I thought I'd share. It's funny how animals can be so much like humans when it comes to "the simple things".
August 8, 2006
Moss Landing State Beach: Otters & Their Young
Mother and Child
Mother and Child
Mother and Child
Mother and Child
Moss Landing State Beach: Otters at Play
Otters Playing, Fighting & Mating
Otters Playing, Fighting & Mating
Otters Playing, Fighting & Mating
Otters Playing, Fighting & Mating
Otters Playing, Fighting & Mating
Otters Playing, Fighting & Mating
Moss Landing State Beach: Shark Attack
Great white sharks make their home in the Monterey Bay, but I have never see one in the Monterey Bay. Still, I know better than to swim anywhere near seals, nor near dusk. However, these otters didn't seem too bothered. Sorry I didn't get a better picture but at least you can see - the bigger splashing, the fin showing, and the very clear black and white coloring and bullet shape of the face. It looks to be a very young great white, given the size. It was not a successful attack.
The Splash (Raft of Otters in the Background)
Snout, Black and White coloring, Pectoral Fin
- PERLGURL.ORG Podcast Episode #1: We're Going To Need A Bigger Boat - Great White Sharks
- Finally! Great Whites Get Protection
- Great White Sharks - More Footage
- Shark Cage Diving - Sketchy?
- Great White Sharks One of Many Victims In Multi-Billion Dollar Wildlife Black Market
- Fast Fishes: Great White Shark Speed Record
- Isolated Ecosystems: The Farallons Are California's Galapagos
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