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Archive for May, 2019

I took the trash out this evening, and I discovered a litter of trash pandas hanging out by the bin. I did not see the mother, but they did run when we realized we weren’t to be trusted.

trash panda 1

trash panda 2

trash panda 3

trash panda 4

trash panda 5

We did not touch them.  I hope their mother is nearby. If I see them out tomorrow, I will be calling the DNR.

 

 

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This video was posted on an outdoor channel in Eastern Washington:

This guy is a good naturalist, and he has excellent trail camera placement.

But what he’s actually seeing are not hybrids. What he is seeing is the wonderful transition from the mule deer type that is common in the interior West to the black-tailed deer type, which is common more toward the Pacific Coast.

Those two deer are now recognized as a single species (Odocoileus hemionus), though the mule deer type is recognized to have some hybridization from the white-tailed because it possesses white-tail-like mitochondrial DNA.

Hybridization does occur between white-tails and mule deer, but the survival rate is quite low among the F1s. Mule deer have a stotting evasion behavior, which is incompatible with the white-tail’s bounding pattern. The offspring inherit both behaviors, and they cannot effectively evade predators.  The stotting behavior is used to communicate to a predator that might be hunting the mule deer on the open range that this deer awfully healthy and that it should try a different target. White-tailed deer are forest deer, and they just bound away from predators.

But apparently, there was an introgression of a white-tailed deer matriline into what became mule deer at the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary.

So this transition from true interior West mule deer to the Pacific blacktails apparently starts in Eastern Washington, and of course, you’re going to see the transition somewhere. These two forms interbreed because they are subspecies, and at some point, you’re going to hit the transtional zone between the two, where it gets hard to tell which is which.

 

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The 17-year-cicadas (Magicicada) are coming out this year in this part of Ohio, as well as the Northern Panhandle of WV and parts of Western PA.  They emerged last night on our lawn and began their adult form on our silver maples.

(All photos by Jenna Coleman).

magicicada 2019

The discarded exoskeleton of the Magicicada nymph:

magicicade nymph husk

An adult one is bursting through its nymph exoskeleton.

bursting throuhg the exoskeleton

The adult exoskeleton is pasty and takes a few hours to harden into black.

pasty exoskeleton magicicada

hardened into black

Our maples are covered with discarded nymph exoskeletons, drying adults, and adults that are almost ready to start whirring in the trees.

maples coavered

The adult form is so oddly ugly that it is beautiful.

magiicada

magicada 2

magicciada 3

These cicadas have a life-cycle based upon brood. They spend 17 years underground. When that time comes in late May, they climb up out of the ground and begin mating and laying eggs. Their will be whirring loudly from the trees in a couple of days, and by the end of June, you won’t see a single one. This reproductive strategy is meant to overwhelm their many predators with so many easy targets that more than a few will manage to reproduce.

This blog covered another Magicicada outbreak in 2017, but that was a different brood. This one is Brood VII. That one was Brood V. 

So we are ready for the weird noise of these cicadas as they complete their final life stage.

And we will soon be tired of it.

 

 

 

 

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I love reading old breed books. Getting into German shepherds now means that I have a whole new selection of books to read, and in older German shepherd books that are written in English, there is a strong desire to distance this breed from wolves.  At one time, the breed was banned in Australia because of its supposed wolf ancestry, and Australian sheep interests were quite concerned that the breed infuse wolf phenotype and behavior into dingoes if they got loose and crossbred. So there is a tendency to downplay any relationship between this breed and wolves, and this tendency sometimes gets quite ridiculous.

In the first few pages of Jane Bennett’s book on the breed, which had its last printed in 1982, I noticed this image of a wolf.

Jane Bennet Wolf German shepherd

If you cannot read the full caption, check it out here:

Tomarctus wolf Jane Bennett

So I don’t expect to see accurate zoology or paleontology in dog books, especially from old ones. And to be honest, I am skeptical that German shepherds are especially wolf-like dogs with close wolf-like ancestry.   It is possible that some of the Thuringian sheepdogs in the breed’s ancestry had some wolf crossed in, but I don’t think they are wolfdogs in the same way that a Czechoslovakian vlcak is.

But the idea that the most recent common ancestor between a wolf and German shepherd was Tomarctus is not at all accurate. In some of the old dog books I have, Tomarctus is sometimes mentioned as an ancestor of modern dog species.

However, current paleontology places Tomarctus in the Borophagine subfamily of Canidae. Not a single living descendant of the Borophagine dogs exists. These dogs lived only in North America and all were extinct by the end of Pliocene. Tomarctus went extinct about 16 million years ago, which would be in the Miocene.

So it was not even a late surviving Borophagine dog, and it certainly was not the most recent common ancestor of wolves and German shepherds.  If it were the most recent common ancestor, then Czechoslovakian vlcaks, Saarloos wolfhonden, and Volksoby would have been impossible to create. 15-16 million years is more than enough time for two mammalian lineages to lose chemical interfertility, and dogs and wolves simply are chemical interfertile right now.

The most recent common ancestor between a German shepherd and a wolf could have been a wolf kept at the Frankfurt zoo that some think is behind the Thuringian sheepdog Hektor Linksrhein/Horand von Grafrath, which is the foundation dog for the modern German shepherd breed. Or it could have been a wild wolf that mated with a sheepdog somewhere in Germany, and that sheepdog line got mixed into the breed. Further, dogs in Eurasia, some of which may have German shepherd in them, are interbreeding with wild wolves at a much higher frequency than we might have imagined. 

I honestly don’t know, if the GSD breed has close wolf ancestry, and reasonable people can disagree on this issue.  I have not seen definitely proof either way, so I do remain agnostic on this issue. The temperament of the breed, though, is of very trainable herding dog.

But whatever the truth is, I don’t think anyone thinks the most recent common ancestor of the German shepherd and the wolf was a species that outside the lineage of both.

This claim isn’t as bad as the claim that chow chows are derived from extinct digitigrade  bears or from an extinct predatory species of red panda.

Jane Bennett’s book includes lots of good information in pedigrees and care of a German shepherd, but that page of the book indicates a strong desire to distance the dog from the wolf in a way that those of us living in the era of molecular biology and modern cladistics would find a bit bizarre.

The current thinking from full-genome comparisons is that all domestic dogs are derived from a now defunct lineage of Eurasian gray wolf. To keep Canis lupus monophyletic, we must keep the dog as part of that species.

So I have noticed a theme in many of these older books to keep German shepherds as distant from wolves as possible, even if it means making a claim that could easily disproved with a simple look at the Czechoslovakian vlcak or the Saarloos wolfhond, which both existed when this book was last printed.

Jane Bennett bool

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This question has been posited to me several times on Quora, and I’ve tried to answer it several times.  But I do think it’s best that I just post it here with simple video.

There was movie called Buffalo Rider in 1978 that had the main character as a sort folk hero who rode a bison around taking down evil doers all over the West. It is not the best -acted or best written movie (to say the least), and one thing you very quickly realize is how hard it would be to ride a bison.

I have a sense of humor, so I will post a Jomo and the Possum Posse video that makes fun of this film. You can see how hard it is to ride a tame bison!

So when I see this on Quora again. I’m just going to link to this.

And I should point out that when you go to tame wild bovines, you’re kind of putting your life in your own hands. Even domestic cattle are pretty dangerous animals, and I cannot imagine how brave one would have to have been to domesticate aurochs, which were larger and far more recalcitrant.

If you can live where you can just hunt them, you’re a lot better off.  You are not forced to live with them in intimate contact every single day.

So there was never good reason to tame bison in America until Europeans arrived, and there were plenty of good reasons to leave them as a natural resource that one could harvest in much the same way we harvest white-tailed deer.

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Happy fox

Clive enjoyed his morning run today. He’s very happy.

happy fox

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Samaras

samara

The lawn maples drop their samaras now, when May is ratcheting up in its verdant splendor.  The fruit of the maple is a one-winged angel, and it falls in a great twirling as the wind catches it a bit as spins down to the lawn below.

Later on, the mower’s blades will chop the samaras asunder. No sapling will rise from the seeds.  The maples will cast their leaves out toward the summer sun and bask in the sweet feeding of summer photosynthesis.  Maybe a storm will cause one to fall and die, for these are old silver maples that have been growing here so stately as edifices upon the lawn.

And when they do die, they will die without issue. Thousands upon thousands of samaras they have drop into the May breezes, and not a single one has brought forth a sapling, much less a tree.

All lawns are a war against growing. The grass must be kept cropped short, especially after a week’s worth of raining. Shrubs must be pruned back.  Dandelions and crabgrass must be extirpated at all costs.

But the trees and the shrubs and the short grass grow nicely in our tolerance. We marvel at this beauty and maybe even lie to ourselves that it is natural and complete to have such things surrounding our homes.

Without humans, though, there would be no lawns. There would only be prairie and steppe and forest and desert. The plants would grow and die according the precepts of rain and sun and the munching maws of the herbivores.

We tolerate no such insolence from the flora and foliage. We cultivate it all, but we tolerate what we feel is aesthetically pleasing.

In this same way, we tolerate a grizzly bear loping lonesomely on the distant ranges of the Bitterroots or a wolf trotting with purpose across a frozen lake in Northern Minnesota.  Much of the Lower 48 is cultivated or paved or in some way civilized, but we allow these wild beings their place. Just as we let the maples grow tall upon the lawn, though, we don’t let the grizzly come sneaking back into Nebraska or want the wolf prowling outside of Cleveland.

Such is nature in the Anthropocene.  This era is the era in which man is not just the dominant species on the planet, but it is the era in which man is the driving force behind almost everything that happens here.

Yesterday, I read that the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere exceeded 415 parts per million.  That level has never been experienced so long as Homo sapiens has existed on as a species. It hasn’t been known in 3 million years.  That was during the Pliocene, when there were no wolves or brown bears.  So their species will have never experienced such a thing before either.

The excess carbon dioxide comes from humanity’s various enterprises, all of which are designed to make life possible for the 7.5 billion people who live or try to exist upon this heating, crowded orb.  In our current incarnation, we behave as extraterrestrials. We can live our whole lives without glimpsing anything wild, and we no longer know about the plants and animals that live near our homes.  We are strangers to much of it.

And yet we also live as if we are supernatural. We can clear a forest. We can dam up a river. We can irrigate the desert. We can make a species extinct if we want to, or we can save it. We play the games of an ignorant deity, not knowing or even attempting to consider the consequences of our actions.

But with all this power, we have allowed ourselves to become as sessile as barnacles. We are fixed to our homes. We are fixed to our cities and towns, to the property we own or rent.

And in our desire to export and trade, we have built great concrete habitats to ourselves, many of which lie cloistered hard up against the coast, so the ships can come and take a load or bring in some goods from a far distant shore.

But unlike barnacles marooned in low tide, we will not greet the rising saltwater as a life source. We will be inundated.  We will build up flood walls, but the warming world we’re about to encounter makes the sea levels rise too much for us to construct that many barriers against the coming floods.

AT that point, we will know we’ve messed with nature too much, and its tolerance for our picayune existence will be at an end.  We will be the samaras ground up in the mower blades.  We will be the maples standing tall upon the lawn, eventually crashing to the ground without any issue.

The hope is that we listen to those who know, who have studied, who have learned and deciphered and shun those who wish to deny what is coming.  In this era, which I have sometimes called “the electronic dark age,” denial and misinformation can float its way across the world before facts can even stand a chance at being known.

This is the era in which people cannot tell truth from fiction, and truth very often sounds like what you want to hear or makes you feel good.

I watch the samaras twirl down from the lawn maples, knowing fully well what their fate is. They lack brains to know what is coming. They fall upon the lawn in innocence and grace.

But humans can know. It’s just that too many of us don’t want to know, and too many wealthy interests want us not to know.

But the tides are rising as surely as the mower blades crop the grass and render away the maples’ fruit.

 

 

 

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