Sunday, January 30, 2011

Moon by Whale Light: Alligators

Chris Jones, National Geographic.

The second part of Ackerman's adventure takes her to the Florida to follow the study of alligators. She meets with zoologist Kent Vliet at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm who is studying blood samples of alligators in captivity. The farm was started in 1893 they expanded in the 1930's and holds "a collection of the largest, oldest and fattest alligators ever". Ackerman assists them with their studies which involves measuring them and taking a blood sample. Vliet is checking their hormone levels in captivity as captive animals breed less frequently than those in the wild. Her first day in the field Ackerman climbs on the back of a large alligator to cover its eyes and comfort it. While it's jaws are taped shut, it seems like a formidable exercise, and it is Ackerman's enthusiasm for such experiences that makes her stories so engaging. She describes the alligators so beautifully and respectfully comparing their spiny backs to the Rocky Mountains and the way they feel to the 'best eraser'. It's obvious that she is fascinated by them. American Alligator in Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

The American Alligator is one of three major types of Crocodilians, there are twenty-nine different species but they can be organized most simply as Alligators and Caimans, Crocodiles and Gharials. Alligators have rounded snouts, Crocodiles triangular, pointed snouts. Alligators are apparently quite shy and mild-mannered, Crocodiles are speedier and more savage. Gharials are fish eating crocodilians with long slender snouts, frequenting the Ganges. Different species all over the world have been hunted and many populations are endangered. Luxury goods such as crocodile shoes and briefcases have reduced their numbers. They also suffer from habitat loss, sport hunting and use as novelty goods and trophies.
Weeping Crocodile by Rob Bridges and available here.

They also suffer from a certain amount of bad press. The associations with Alligators, Crocodiles and Reptiles in general is usually negative. Its good to see that the artists above and below feel differently. It is their cold bloodedness and reptilian brains that makes them what they are. Efficient predators that conserve energy and communicate in slow mysterious ways so different from ourselves. Being cold blooded allows them to eat infrequently and while their brains are very small they are uncomplicated and serve the alligators' needs. Crocodilians appeared about 84 million years ago and managed to compete with and outlive the dinosaurs. They are the closest living relative of birds, both evolving from a common reptilian ancestor.

While Roky Erickson probably wasn't thinking of the physiology of the alligator when writing this song to me it seems perfect.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Moon By Whale Light.

Diane Ackerman has such an inspiring sense of adventure. I love reading her books for their beauty and insight but I also enjoy picturing her in the bizarre situations that she finds herself. In Moon by Whale Light she researches four different animals in very different environments. Bats, Alligators, Whales and Penguins. She breaks each of these chapters down into a rich mix of personal experience and scientific fact. She journeys to different places where these animals are being researched and spends time with the researchers, fleshing out their personalities and motivations for going into the fields that they did. She also makes the whole experience seem relatable. Whether she is assisting in the tagging of alligators or swimming with right whales she is curious and inspired by her adventure and it comes through so strongly in her writing.

In Praise of Bats

The first chapter of Moon by Whale Light focuses on bats. A personal favourite of mine, this may have been my initial draw to read the book. She travels to see Merlin Tuttle who has done a great deal to educate people about bats and preserve their species all over the world. One of the leading experts on bats and the founder of Bat Conservation International. Which holds a variety of useful bat information, such as how to humanely remove one from your home, as well as information on how they are impacted by wind energy and human interaction. You can even purchase the official 2011 bat calendar or your own personal bat house.
Honduran White Bat.

Bats make up nearly one quarter of all the worlds mammals, So there is much diversity in behavior and physiology. The greatest distinction is between megabats and microbats. Megabats are the large fruit eating species such as flying foxes. They have large eyes that they use to see as opposed to echolocation and may be distantly related to the primates.
Clockwise:Marianas Flying Fox, Gray Headed Flying Fox, Gray Headed Flying Foxes, another GHFF, and a Spectacled Flying Fox

Red Flying Fox

The microbats, often referred to as the true bats, are smaller and use echolocation instead of sight. There are over 800 species making these bats far more diverse with much more visual differences.
Clockwise: Chapin's Free-tailed Bat, Vampire Bat, Bulldog or Fisherman Bat, Greater Round Eared Bat, Silver Haired Bat, Long Tongued Bat and Big Free-tailed Bat.

All of the photos immediately previous and following are by Merlin Tuttle himself, who has done a great deal for the perception of bats simply by the way he photographs them. The common way to photograph them was to stretch them by each wingtip or clutch them tightly. Both ways show that bats terrified and trying to escape, usually with mouths open, giving the impression of being ferocious. When bats are echolocating they open their mouths, often showing their teeth. They are not threatening, only trying to understand where they are. Tuttle's photographs show a much more interesting side of bats. Each one with such different features, all to aid with echolocation or feeding. And each one looking the stoic character patiently having a portrait taken. There is a wonderful gallery of his work (a lifetime's worth) where all kinds of bats are photographed looking perfectly amiable going about their bat lives.
Clockwise: D'Orbigny's Round Eared Bat, Yellow Shouldered Bat, Ghost-Faced Bat, Eastern Red Bat, Virginia Big Eared Bat, Hoary Bat and Cave Myotis Bat.

Changing the public perception of bats is very important as their colonies are still being disturbed and destroyed. Bats can eat several tons of insects in a year, which can be beneficial to crops, and are excellent pollinators.
Long-nosed Bat pollinating Saguaro.

I find it hard to understand an aversion to bats as I find them delicate and endearing. I love their strange faces and the idea of a flying mammal, so efficient with its night time survival. Perhaps it is our dislocation with the night that has led to our misconceptions about bats. We rarely see them and when we do it is unexpected. Perhaps we should look a little harder for them.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monkey Faces

Monkey Portraits by Jill Greenberg
I just bought this book as a gift, but absolutely had to take a look through it first.
The portraits are beautiful and expressive and so very human. I try very hard to steer clear of anthropomorphism, but with monkeys it seems like such a natural progression or evolution.To make them even more human the monkeys all have names and there is a list of each ones resumé in the back. I suppose that when looking for monkeys in the US that will sit still in front of the camera, it makes sense to choose monkey actors. Although I would imagine that she is a very patient photographer as her subjects have also included portraits of bears and wailing children.
While the humanness of the monkey is appealing, I think what really draws me to them is the duality of them. Actions that look so familiar and comedic but very obviously belong to a wild animal. Sweet little faces that contain enormous teeth. Shown so well by the Golden Snub-Nosed monkey from China. Recently photographed by Cyril Ruoso for National Georgraphic
Hard to fathom that this little creature is related to the ones below. But a healthy reminder that nature is rarely one sided.
Ruoso has had a great deal of experience photographing in the field and photographing teeth much larger those of the wee Snub-Nose.

It's obvious that we are so drawn to monkeys and apes because we see ourselves in them and vice versa, but perhaps this self reflection includes all sides of them.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Just discovered the beautiful jewels of Emily Miranda so perfectly suited to adorn one of the Sirens of myth. Illustrated above by Arthur Rackham.

from top to bottom: Bent Scallop Cuff, Oyster Encrusted Cuff, Claw Encrusted Cuff, Grotto Ring, Claw Earrings and Oyster Cuff. Each piece is unique and I find the construction and level of detail awe inspiring. And they fit perfectly with my idea of mermaids as being beautiful and sinister. The only modern mermaid I feel fills this role is Effluvia from the brilliant mind of Dame Darcy.
If you want to find the rest of this comic, it is available in the Meat Cake collection from Dame Darcy.

I will make a concession on the sinister mermaid front for this video from the Flight of the Conchords, as their mermaids dangerous on the misdemeanor level.


Jade is a semi precious stone, or rather one of two stones made up of different minerals. Jadeite and Nephrite. Jadeite is rarer, but both stones have been used in ornamental carving for many centuries. Both stones are available in different colours, but in both cases it is the purest shade of green that has the most value. The photo above depicts antique Jadeite buttons from China. And while these stones are beautiful and rare, the next images from Jesse Gray are rarer still, as these beautiful jewels are perishable and one of a kind.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I've been looking at the images from the Hubble Telescope a good deal lately.Stars Bursting to Life in the Chaotic Carina Nebula
They are astounding and breathtaking in beauty and scope. It is the images of Nebulae in particular that were the inspiration for the most my most recent design from Hand & Shadow. (This is what I do when I'm not at work, and not painstakingly researching topics to write about here.)

Trying to wrap my brain around the concept of the cosmos leaves me reeling. It is all so massively vast as this little video will attest: