Zootastic #3: Metaphorical Mammal Molestation At Last!

Poor Karen.  She’s gone days without so much as a whiff of geology from this blog, and it’s got to be wearing by now.  So let’s remedy that.  There’s even geology at a zoo, if you know where to look:

That, my darlings, is Mount Rainier.  More specifically, it’s a massive rotten mass of a stratovolcano covered in glaciers, and folks hereabouts aren’t so much afraid of it erupting as simply falling apart.  Sometime soon, we’ll talk about how lava becomes clay and hence leads to the possibility of a mountain simply falling down, which depending on how it comes about may mean that the mammals here have a Very Bad Day indeed.

Still, it’s pretty.  And on a clear day, it’s clearly visible from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, which fact very nearly meant we didn’t get to the mammals.  However, we tore ourselves away from the vista and headed out for some metaphorical mammal molestation.

My intrepid companion’s more interested in the local fauna, but he graciously acceded to my request to hit the Asian Forest Sanctuary.  I am a sucker for most things Asian, and when you throw bebbe kittehs into the mix, well, resistance is, as they say, futile.

One of the first things we ran across was a mama Sumatran tiger nursing her cubs:

It’s tragic that there’s only a handful of these gorgeous creatures left in the wild.  Thankfully, they won’t go extinct as long as zoos keep breeding them.

I found out later just how lucky we were – these babies are only five weeks old, and they’d only been introduced to the public that very morning.  Perfect timing!

A little ways along, the new clouded leopards have a temporary home while their permanent enclosure is built.  They’re about the cutest kittehs evah:

One of them spent most of its time lounging in the middle of the enclosure, but the other lingered by a mesh door at the far end.  In a few moments, we found out why – cuddles!

But why are the cuddles gone?!

That did indeed make me wish I could become a zookeeper.  Then again, I have a very good reason for not actually giving in to such urges, and it has to do with the fact that if my 11lb domestic shorthair had been any larger, I’d be a quadruple amputee.  She taught me that felids can change from cute and cuddly to viciously homicidal without any discernible transition between the two states.  This is why I have never given in to the temptation to own a tiger, and why I have not gone online searching for clouded leopard cub sales.

Not very far away, one of our distant cousins was enjoying a lazy afternoon:

I believe he’s a siamang, but considering he never stirred from his hammock, I could be very wrong about the siamang part, or indeed the he part.  Regardless, he’s a type of gibbon.  And he’s one of the smartest creatures I’ve ever encountered.  If I’d had a chance, I’d have followed his lead and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging in a hammock myself.

One of his enclosure-mates was a bit more enterprising:

He became a veritable Bob the Builder:

I almost expected him to shout out for a hammer.

We’ll take a break from mammals for a moment and appreciate the serene beauty of a lotus flower:

And the company of a very gregarious gyrfalcon:

I’m used to most predatory birds being rather aloof and icily majestic.  Not him.  He stayed glued to the glass, showing off for the kiddies, and occasionally engaging in a bit of karaoke:

And yes, now I want a gyrfalcon.  He looked like a chap who’d be happy perched on an arm, wandering the city streets, making the occasional side-trip into a pet store for a fresh mouse or three.  He looked so bored and lonely I just wanted to break the glass and take him home.  However, the cat would’ve killed us both.  She’s an only child and determined to stay that way.  The zoo staff might also have become upset.  So there he stayed.

Here’s a chap I wasn’t tempted to take home:

Although, believe me, the idea of plopping myself down with ye olde polar bear and spending a lazy afternoon using him as a lounge chair did cross my mind.  He reminded me of our old quarterhorse, in a way, and we’d spent many a long, lazy afternoon propped up together in just that way.  That’s the problem with these wild beasts at the zoo.  They look so cute and cuddly until they, like my cat, suddenly recall they’re wild and attempt to rip your face off.

A bit later on, we came to the arctic fox enclosure.  At first, it seemed there was no arctic fox in residence.  Then we noticed that a tree stump seemed strangely lumpy on top.  Then the lump began washing up:

Apparently, he was bathing for dinner, because immediately after he jumped down and started stalking something we couldn’t see:

Wikipedia tells me a family of these foxes can eat a dozen lemmings a day.  Such is the harmony of nature.

Nature gets downright lazy, especially when an arctic animal like a muskox is napping through a hot summer afternoon:

If he was standing, you would see something that resembles a hairy industrial refrigerator on pegs.  The informative sign nearby advised that bulky bodies and itty-bitty extremities are a cunning adaptation to the cold.  Not that he needs them in Seattle.

Oh, and the idiot who babbled about “eight tiny reindeer” apparently hadn’t met any actual reindeer:

Do those look tiny to you?

That was about it for the Arctic.  On our way back through the zoo, we hit the desert.  If I’d been willing to stand in a line, I could’ve ridden a dromedary camel:

Maybe if they’d been Bactrian.

We hadn’t intended to, but the Asian Forest Sanctuary turned out to be the easiest way to get to an exhibit we’d overlooked, so we passed back through it.  A lot of the animals who’d been dead asleep when we first came by were now up, including the tapir, which had been lying so still I’d initially mistaken it for a boulder:

We got a very good look at one of the gibbons, too, who’d emerged from the hammocks and was exploring the creek:

That, I can tell you, is a white-cheeked gibbon.  What’s more, I know she’s a mature female.  Part of the reason why I know she’s a she is because she’s white.  The other part has something to do with the kiddies getting a good demonstration of where gibbons come from.  Not that they knew what was going on.  Parents are just not prepared to calmly and matter-of-factly explain why one gibbon’s bouncing on the other.

Besides, the clouded leopard not still pining for more cuddles was busy showing off why your furniture would not survive should you make one your pet:

My cat only thinks she’s equipped like that.  My furniture laughs at her.

Mama tiger was out showing off her cub, who wasn’t having any of it:

He or she was far more interested in further lazing about:

Mama, I believe, was window-shopping, because she got very excited about the kiddies watching her a bit later, stalking up and down in front of the glass as if trying to figure out how to get past the barrier and bring home the tasty human flesh:

Yes, my cat is definitely descended from such creatures.

I know what you’re thinking.  Tigers and bears and muskoxen, oh my, but a zoo just isn’t a zoo without elephants.  Did you think I’d disappoint?  Did you think I’d fail you?  Oh, ye of little faith!  I’ve got yer elephas maximus right here:

Using hay to make more elephant, in fact:

But at the end of the day, the place goes to the birds:

Nothing like a peacock for dramatic plumage, really.

After the zoo, we were ready for some nice beach, so we headed down to Owen Beach.  I’ve not been in this part of the South Sound for years.  Mount Rainier is on full, glorious display down there, too:

So of course I had to have my picture with it.  My long-suffering intrepid companion obliged:

Since the point was blocking the sun, it took a lot of fiddling with settings and flash to get any sort of balance at all.  I can’t believe he put up with it, but he did.  And he even agreed to shoot me knee-deep in the Sound:

It’s one of those pictures I shall turn to this winter when it seems like going outside was a cruel dream.

At the end o’ the day, I drove home round sunset, and found myself frantically pulling off the freeway to catch Rainier blushing:

And that, of course, was the perfect end to a perfect day.


Thank you, FaceBook, for making sure I knew!  Tomorrow, when I go to work, the first thing I shall be doing is requesting the night of December 2nd off.


Zootastic No. 2: Sea Mammal Molestation the Reprise

Yesterday, we began rambling through the aquariums at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.  I promised thee more sea creatures, and more sea creatures thee shall have.  With the caveat (in answer to a previous comment) that no, I’m not sure of a great many of my identifications, especially not of the squidgy little blobby things that all look remarkably similar in those helpful species identification drawings.  And as far as the following sea denizen:

I can help you not at all, because neither myself nor my intrepid companion could find a single damned sign telling us what it might be.  We saw the same species o’ fish at the Seattle Aquarium and found no helpful signage there, either.  Apparently, the species name of this animal is classified Above Top Secret.  So, here’s my identification: it’s a tropical fish, and it’s this big and it’s blue.  I include it here because I was so damned excited that the camera actually captured its neony-goodness.

We’ll have a wee bit more luck after the jump.

Okay, well, a little luck, but not as much as one might have hoped.  Because I forgot to photograph the signage that would have oh-so-helpfully told me which particular seahorse species these are, but seahorses they be, and I loves me some seahorses:

According to Wikipedia, I could probably identify their species by counting their rings, but bugger that.  We’ve got plenty of fish to fry, some bigger and some quite a bit smaller:

Those I did photograph the sign for, but it would be hard for this former quarterhorse owner to forget the awful “quarter” horse pun on it.  These are dwarf seahorses.

And that will be quite enough of seahorses, methinks.  Let us turn now to what I am very nearly ready to swear must be a queen angelfish, unless it isn’t:

And yes, she’s all dressed up in camouflage.  Funny how your ideas of camo change when you live somewhere all bright and colorful like a coral reef, innit?

Now we get to animals I can swear I’m right about.  Such as this dude:

If that’s not a horseshoe crab, I’ll eat my hat.  And I cherish my hat – it’s got Roger Clyne’s DNA on it.

I’d never seen a horseshoe crab actually move before.  I mean, yes, I’ve seen footage of them wandering around beaches and so forth, but it was a little different seeing one explore the confines of its tank.  It was more fascinating than I can say, and so I shot video of the more energetic one:

We’ll surface now, and enjoy ourselves some marine creatures that spend time both in and out of water.  Here are some Magellanic penguins partaking of shade on a hot day:

They’re warm-water birds, but apparently not hot-sun birds.  Later, though, they emerged from the trees and did some basking in plain view, although they still weren’t playing the sun-worshipers:

The zoo also had some of the same puffins as the Seattle Aquarium, only this time, we weren’t viewing them through water-splashed glass.  One of them decided bugger the water and headed for high ground:

When he got there, he looked damned proud of himself:

Nearby, a walrus was making the rounds of the walrus exhibit, and kept coming back to take a bow:

You don’t really appreciate how enormous those things are until you’re standing by the underwater observation portion of the exhibit, watching it make its turn, and realize that if you were caught between its back and the glass you’d get squished like a bug.  They’re massive.

The harbor seals were pretty active, too, although completely uninterested in coming out of the water.  Here’s a particularly lovely one:

And yes, I did want to jump right in and go swimming with them.  They looked like they were having fun.  They’d usually go about in a group of two or three, making synchronized turns when they came to the end of the pool without fully emerging from the water.  But when one came to the end alone, it would pop up like a jack-in-the-box, as if wondering where the hell everybody went:

And, of course, no trip to a Northwest aquarium would be complete without the adorable, lazy little sea otters:

You know what, if the Buddhists turn out to be right and we’re all destined for another turn on the wheel if we fuck this up, I hope I get to come back as a sea otter in an aquarium.  These little blokes always look like they’re having the happiest lazy day ever.

And that about does it for the marine life.  In our next excursion, we shall start molesting land mammals, and you’ll get to see why my intrepid companion and I were so very fortunate in our choice of days to visit the zoo.  Begin practicing your ooos and aaawwws now.

I Probably Require Medical Attention

Far too many years ago, I was in a Mexican cantina (continuing my) drinking after my first Circus Mexicus.  Stevie, then the Peacemakers’ lead guitarist, was sitting a few tables away.  We were not yet drunk enough to approach him and engage in appropriate worship.  And then our chance seemed to have passed, as he got up to leave.  But on his way out, he stopped by the table, thanked us for coming to the show, and shook our hands.

Necessary hygiene forced me to actually wash that hand the following day, but it was a close-run thing.

Fast forward a couple of years, many Peacemakers shows later, and picture me staggering toward the exit of a Flagstaff bar after yet another tequila-drenched show.  Stevie emerged from a side door, saw me, exclaimed, “Hey – you were in Mexico!” and gave me a full-body hug.

Necessary hygiene forced me to bathe within the next few days, but it was a close-run thing.

Fast forward to a May in Mexico.  A few months before, having shed my early aversion to tattoos, I had gotten myself inked with the Peacemakers logo, and now no shit, here I was in JJ’s Cantina, meeting Roger Clyne in person and learning that he did, in fact, approve of my choice in art.  I believe it was the alcohol that allowed me to remain conscious.  Otherwise, I should probably have required an ambulance crew to remove me from the premises after having swooned.  The coda to this is that when I saw him over a year later at the CD release party for No More Beautiful World, he studied my face for a moment, started mumbling about cantinas and tattoos, and then remembered my name.  What prevented me from needing paramedics at that time, I’m not sure, but I do remember the room blurring a bit round the edges.

So yes, I have met actual rock stars, and been recognized by them, and so I know precisely how it feels to actually be recognized as a distinct entity rather than an amorphous blob fitting the description of “yet another fan.”  This necessary context should help you understand why I was revisited by this feeling just this evening, when I perused the comments on this thread.  And this on top of PZ responding to my pathetic pleas on Twitter and then linking to ye olde humble blog.  To me, PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson are rock stars, all right?  They are the Stevie and Roger of the blogging world.

There are only three responses appropriate to the occasion.  One is to pass right out, but it seems I come from a line of females not prone to fainting no matter the provocation.  The second is to give a somewhat-restrained “SQUEE!” and say, “Thank you!”

The third is to place your tongue firmly in your cheek, and enact the relevant scene from Wayne’s World:

I know I’m not the only admirer of the above celebrities who’s been treated as more than an interchangeable unit by them.  So there’s just a few things to say: Thank you for recognizing us as more than amorphous blobs.  Thank you for inspiring us.  And thank you for providing Wayne’s World-worthy moments.

Dumbfuckery du Jour

Shit, the stupidity I missed yesterday.  Finally caught up on some of my pollytickal reading today, and came across this shining chunk of dumb shit:

At its state convention in Des Moines last month, the Iowa GOP adopted a new party platform that includes the repeal of mandatory minimum wage laws, the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, and even clarification on the definition of manure. Out of the “387 enumerated planks and principles,” Newsweek’s Jerry Adler found the most “startling” section of the platform calls for “the reintroduction and ratification of the original 13th Amendment.”

Adopted in December 1865, the current 13th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” in the United States or any place under its jurisdiction. The Iowa GOP is not trying to overturn this amendment to reinstate slavery. Instead, it wants to reintroduce the “original 13th Amendmentfirst offered by senator Phillip Reed of Maryland in 1810. The amendment states that “if any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honor” from a “foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen” and “shall be incapable of holding any office of trust.” In receiving only 12 out of the 13 votes needed for ratification, the amendment was never adopted.

Traditional supporters of the idea are known as “Thirteenthers,” who seek to prevent those with the title of “esquire,” such as lawyers and bankers, from participating in government. But according to its spokeswoman, Danielle Plogmann, the Iowa GOP supports it as an attack on President Obama’s Nobel Prize win:

There are, of course, other implications of Thirteenthism, such as ensuring that the United States never again suffers the humiliation of having a president win the Nobel Peace Prize. That was just what the Iowa Republicans had in mind, according to Plogmann, who wrote in an e-mail that the plank “was meant to make a statement about the delegates’ opinion about Mr. Obama receiving the prize.” (Presumably they didn’t mind if, in the process, they were also making a statement about any American scientist or writer unlucky enough to win a Nobel.) Unfortunately for them, the Department of Justice looked into whether Obama needed Congressional approval to accept the Nobel under the existing emoluments clause, and based on the meaning of “foreign state” (which would not cover the Nobel Prize Committee) concluded that he did not.

I read that ten hours ago, and I’m still speechless.  I mean, I know some people lose all sense of reality and proportion when it comes to Obama.  I know some people have an irrational hatred of him that causes them to develop symptoms of rabies when they hear his name.  But to be motivated to change the Constitution because he won the Nobel is just – there are no words for the magnitude of that insanity.  All I can think of is an astronomical comparison: if batshit fucking insanity is equivalent to the gravitational strength of a neutron star, this is a fucking black hole.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, they almost make the Birthers look rational.

Holy fucking shit, Batman.

Anyway, while we’re on the subject of Cons fucking with the Constitution, I think now would be a good time to point out that Sen. Lindsey Graham is just as much of a Con as any of ’em:

Remember, as far as much of the media is concerned, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is a reasonable, pragmatic Republican, with whom Democrats should have no trouble finding common ground.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced Wednesday night that he is considering introducing a constitutional amendment that would change existing law to no longer grant citizenship to the children of immigrants born in the United States.

Currently, the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to any child born within the United States.
But with 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, Graham said it may be time to restrict the ability of immigrants to have children who become citizens just because they are born within the country.

In fairness, Graham didn’t come right out and demand an amendment, but he told Fox News he’s close. “I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here,” Graham told Greta Van Susteren. “Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake, that we should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child’s automatically not a citizen.”

It’s genuinely difficult to overstate the radicalism necessary to seek a transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was designed to ensure that slavery could never again happen in the United States and is now integral to keeping the United States free of a permanent underclass of immigrant workers.

And here’s about where I start to think that the Con leaders spouting this shit aren’t simply echoing their “brown people are scary!  Xenophobia rulez!” base in hopes of getting a vote, but are thinking more in terms of useful idiots, because creating a “permanent underclass of immigrant workers” would very likely suit them and their corporate sponsors right down to the ground.

I wish that didn’t seem like such a plausible conspiracy theory.  I wish we had a sane opposition party.  These freaks and fools frankly terrify me.

Zootastic No. 1: ZOMG It’s a Cuttlefish! and Other Sea Chanteys

The problem with going to a zoo like Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is that there’s so much to see.  You careen from one adorable animal to the next, end up with 50,000 photos, and then have to pick the best of the best when every single one makes you squee.  We’re going to have to divide everyone into groups.

We’ll start with the aquarium bit, because it’s rather a nice continuation of our marine mammal molestation theme, and also because this is the first time I’ve come face-to-face-tentacles with an actual cuttlefish:

Okay, so that’s more of a side view, but still.  THEY’RE SO CUTE!!!  I never truly realized just how adorable they are until I saw this little dude just hanging out in his tank.  I feel guilty now for all those cuttlebones we gave our budgies.

Follow me for more marine life.

This was also my first encounter with blind cave fish.  Let me tell you something: the little buggers don’t know how to hold still for a low-light photo op.  This was the best I could do:

They’re really incredible little critters.  They also reflect a flash something fierce, so when my intrepid companion pointed out that, y’know, being blind and all, they probably wouldn’t mind the flash setting, the results were even worse than this.  Ah, well.  I remember how shiny and sparkly and utterly eerie they were, and you have the general idea.

Here’s something that we don’t have to hope will hold still:

That, it turns out, is a giant acorn barnacle.  This, it turns out, is the World’s Largest Barnacle.  I don’t know if Darwin ever got a chance to see any of them, but he might have enjoyed them before he burned out on barnacles.

Next up is a rough keyhole limpet, which I’ll have you know is no true limpet:

It’s more closely related to abalone.  And it’s carnivorous.  That’s probably something the urchin it’s sharing the tank with isn’t too concerned about.

The aquarium has a huge circular tank in which various and sundry local sea creatures hang about, complete with wrecked boat:

It’s like that tank you had as a kid, only on a massive scale.

We actually have some fascinating critters hanging about under the waves round here.  Take the Red Irish Lord and the Cabezon (I think):

Actually, these are probably both cabezons, but I’m no expert.  Both of them are wild-looking.  Who sez you have to go to a coral reef to get the really awesome fishes?

And the world’s fattest starfish (or at least the fattest one I’ve ever seen IRL) lives right here:

I wonder if the other starfish made fun of him as a kid?

I have no idea what this is, because it doesn’t match any of the things on the informative signage, but it’s too odd not to include:

Barnacle?  Coral?  No idea.  And the fact that these things are so hard for me to puzzle out certainly gives me new respect for those folks who originally arranged these things into orders and families and so forth.

This one’s easier.  I’m reasonably sure it’s the rock scallop, with a nice entourage of strawberry anemones:

Astonishingly, the rock scallop can live up to 50 years – if someone like me doesn’t turn him in to a seared scallop chowder first.  Mmm, seared scallop chowder.

And here’s another, the rather cheerful-looking spiny scallop:

Now I feel a little bad about the seared scallop chowder.

Next up: the hooded nudibranch, a predatory sea slug:

And that’s all we have time for tonight, kids.  We’ll continue with the sea creatures tomorrow, shading our way towards land mammals.  Best to ease oneself in to these things, eh, what?