Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Breed Profile: Australian Shepard

The origin of the Australian Shepard is not Australia.  Some say the breed was developed in the United States, some say Spain.  What we do know, is that the Australian Shepard's instincts for herding and guarding were used to develop the breed for use as an overall farm worker.  Today the Aussie still works on the farm.

The Australian Shepard's work ethic also translates to talented fly ball competitors, rally and obedience champions, as well as eager companions for assorted activities.  The Aussie needs physical exercise and mental challenge, thus is best suited for an owner who would rather participate in Dog Dancing, than sit and watch Dancing with the Stars.   

The Aussie is medium sized, weight in the 45-60 pound range, height 18-23 inches at the shoulder.   The coat consists of a thick undercoat and a silky outer coat.  Shedding occurs heavily in spring and fall, and quite a bit all year.   That pretty waterproof coat comes in assorted colors: Blue or Red Merle (dark blotches over a lighter background of the same color), Black, Red, Black and Tan (the main colors are  accompanied by white trim on the face, legs and chest).

The Australian Shepherd has no tail.  Usually they're born bobbed, though some rouge Aussies are born with a tail which is usually docked in puppyhood.  Being tailless does not mean you can't tell when an Aussie is pleased to see you.  He makes that clear by wagging his entire hind end.

Like most breeds with guarding instincts, Aussies are loyal to their family and leery of strangers.   

The Aussie Manifesto

-I'm not hyper;  I simply have stamina to spare.
-It's not so much that I can outwit you, I just have a nimble mind.
-Sometimes I can't resist herding things.  This means adults, children, assorted pets, and sometimes even toys, run the risk of being rounded up. 

Next Breed Profile:  Scottish Deerhound!

The Essential Australian Shepherd by Wiley Publishing
Dog Fancy Magazine, January 2010
some nice pics

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Critters with Eight Legs

It could happen to you.

You're strolling down a garden path or sidewalk when suddenly you walk into a Spider Web.  As you desperately try to get the thin sticky yuck off off you, consider who put it there.

OK.  There probably aren't Giant Spiders building webs with human prey in mind.  Still, I've gotten spider silk in my hair on my arms enough times to wonder about it.  So I did a little research on Spiders.

The biggest spider eats birds, so human beings becoming Spider Chow is not very likely.  (We'll leave that scenario to the movies).

As most people know, Spiders are not insects.  Insects have six legs, Spiders have eight.  Spiders are of the class Arachnida which includes other eight legged creatures with exoskeletons, for instance:  mites, ticks and scorpions.  Spiders are categorized still further based on their various structures and behaviors -into some 38,000 species.

Some Spider Facts:

-found everywhere, except possibly, Antarctica and the Ocean
-life span 1-2 years (an exception: female Tarantula's life span is 10-20 years)
-most spiders have 8 eyes, but some have as few as 2
-legs are used for locomotion, taste, sensing objects for navigation, and sensing vibration
-range in size from 2 millimeters to the size of a small pizza
-typical litter size: 100
-venom is mainly used to subdue prey, only a few species have venom that can harm mammals

The Spider Body

The body of the Spider is made up of two main parts: the Cephalothorax (head and thorax) and the Opisthosoma (abdomen).  The Cephalthorax contains the eyes, mouth, fangs, brain, poison glands, stomach and legs.  The Opisthosoma houses the heart, digestive tract, reproductive organs, lungs and silk glands.  The two sections are attached by a small waist, or Pedicel.

There are many variations in Spider appearance but they all have this basic framework.  Some Spiders are hairy, some are not.  Some are bland in color, some quite garish.  Some species are able to change color for camouflage allowing them to blend into such backgrounds as leaves, tree bark and bird droppings.

Baby Spiders and the Creation of Them

Male and female Spiders live apart. When it's mating time, the male finds the female usually via Phermones.  Sometimes the male is much smaller than the female and she barely notices him when he inserts his seed.  Male Spiders don't have a penis.  The male transfers sperm from his testes to his palp (finger like appendage near the mouth).  Then, when he finds a willing (or indifferent) female, he inserts the sperm.  Sometimes the male is at risk of being killed either before, during, or after the event.

Many Spider mothers build a silk sack around their eggs and guard the sack from predators.  When the babies hatch they eat their egg, then cut their way out of the silk sack.  Some Spider moms allow the babies to ride on her back for a week or so.  At that point, the babies molt and go out alone.  The molt only happens to youngsters.  Because the exoskeleton is stiff, it must be shed to allow for growth.  Some Spider moms will regurgitate food for the babies, some moms will offer up their bodies for her children's final feeding before they must fend for themselves.


Not all Spiders spin webs.  The web silk is formed inside the Spider's body and projected out through a spinnerette located in the abdomen.  Silk comes in different strengths (sort of like fishing line does).

When we think of webs, we usually envision the orb/symmetrical design (like Charlotte's).  Spiders employ other ways of webbage, such as:  blanket, clump, scaffold, hammock, funnel.  Other Spiders don't use a web to capture prey, they hunt using stealth, ambush, diving underwater, bungee jump using a silk thread, or steal food from another Spider's web.  To avoid getting stuck in webs, Spiders walk on their tip toes or stay on the non sticky strands (remember there are different "grades" of silk, some are non stick).

That webbage you walk into on a garden path, where it appears that places to begin and end a web are several feet apart?  Most likely, it is a Spider that uses a single line or two, like a tight rope.  The Spider is able to catch insects using a narrower trap.  The theory is, the Insect (or you) cannot detect the single line as well as a cluster of lines, making it more difficult to avoid.

Spiders sometimes hang out just after a molt, for protection.  Their bodies are vulnerably soft for a while, before the exoskeleton hardens. 

They also hang around in search of victims.  (boowaaraahh!)

The Natural History of Spiders  by Ken and Rod Preston-Mafham
The World of the Spiders  by Adrienne Mason

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Here's a Cute Critter!

This is a Speothos venaticus, or bush dog.  These rarely seen dogs live in rainforest and wet savannah areas.  On average, bush dogs are 12 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 15 pounds. They have webbed feet, and are good swimmers.  They dine mainly on small mammals.

Bush Dogs live in small packs.  After a gestation of 67 days, the litter arrives with from 1 to 6 pups.  Puppies remain with mother till 8 weeks of age, though some stick by her longer -up to 5 months.

for more information

Friday, August 12, 2011

Can you hear me, Rose?

Five years ago, in people years, Rose was in her mid forties.

In a couple of months, Rose will celebrate her fourteenth birthday.  This puts her, in people years, somewhere in her seventies.

Rose has a blue tinge to her eyes now, suggestive of cataracts.  She moves a bit stiffly these days, suggestive of arthritic joints.  And she just might be losing her hearing.  Is she deaf as a post?   

Don't know for sure.  One thing for sure, when Rosebud sleeps, she does it heavy.  Of course, sometimes dogs sleep deep.  Lately, Rose's sleep is consistently in the deep end. The sound of, "do you want to go outside?"  no longer snaps hers out of slumber.  Indeed, verbal entreaties do not awaken Rose at all.  She must be shaken awake (or rocked awake, when she is sleeping in one of her favorite places: a green lazy boy chair).

When she does wake up, it isn't clear whether she is heading to the door because she heard the Outside Announcement or because she is eager to join the dog procession.  When it's time to come back inside, Rose doesn't respond as quickly to, "let's come in house,"  as she used to. 

Rose has always been inquisitive and curious.  You know, nosey.  Rose maintains an interest in critters that inhabit the yard.  Sometimes she gets so caught up in the chase she loses track of time.  In her younger days, I would have to call her an extra time to break her focus on the fauna.  I've always considered Rose's vermin hobby part of her sassy badness.  Sassybad means stubborn, independent- not immediately doing what you're told.  In other words, the very spunk that makes a dog a companion and friend to be proud of.  Needless to add, these qualities can also be irritating.  In a close relationship, you discover that the infuriating stuff about someone you love is often the most endearing. 

Now adays when I urge Rose back inside after she has had a session of critter hide and seek, speaking to her doesn't cut it.  I must move into her line of vision and beckon with my hand.  She then trots in step behind me and into the house.

Though Rose is the kind of gal who looks you in the eye, it seems that lately, she watches me far more than before.  (Either that, or I'm studying her so much these days, that she's staring at me staring at her).  Then again, she may be looking for cues and clues because she can't hear.

Yes, I'm pretty sure that Rose is pretty deaf.  This isn't too big of a deal.  We have plenty of nonverbal ways to communicate, and we can develop more as needed.  And it gives me a glorious excuse to stomp on the stairs!  We don't want to startle Rose; I'm sending her a warning message via vibration.

When we take a moment together, just us, I stroke her and whisper, "Rosebud".  Her eyes still melt into mine with a love I can only hope to be worthy of.  Can she hear me?  Maybe she can't hear with her ears anymore.  Rosebud hears me with her heart.   She always has.

sources:  Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by James Giffin, MD & Liisa Carlson, DVM

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ramon has a Clubfoot

Just when you think you've got it all figured out, something goes awry!

With great joy, I've been keeping birds for years.  My birds live in a draft free room, in clean cages with plenty of room to fly, with clean water to drink, fresh food, the finest seed, mineral grit, a variety of perches and swings, the companionship of other birds, toys... 

I'm doing everything right- or so I thought.  Turns out, bad stuff happens, even under ideal conditions. 

Somehow, while going about his affairs, secure in his cage, Ramon injured his foot. 

The most likely reason for a caged bird to hurt his foot is due to nails that are too long.  The bird catches his nail on something, panics, tries to pull himself free, fights and flutters, causing injury.

Riddled with guilt for possibly failing in regards to Ramon's pedicure needs, I checked his nails.  They were not particularly long.  While we're on the subject, trimming a Zebra Finch's nails is pretty easy. (The hardest part is catching the bird).  You can use the same type of nail clipper you use on your own nails.  Hold the bird firmly but not too tightly. (The Finch Aviary website has a nice instructional video on nail trimming).   The nail's quick is usually visible, leaving it unlikely that you will cut into it and cause bleeding.  If you do, a little dab of corn starch on the spot stops the bleeding. 

Let's talk about catching a Finch.  The most common way to do it is to stick your hand in the cage and grab the bird.  (Think Silvester and Tweety.  But strive to be more gentle about it than Silvester).  It may be possible to train a Finch to jump on your finger like a Parakeet. I've never tried.  I simply reach in the cage and trap him in my hand.  He'll fly around trying to escape being caught. Eventually, he'll tire and the flying becomes slower making it easier to catch him.

As you've guessed, I did catch Ramon to examine his foot.  There was some swelling but no blood.  Speaking of blood, Sue of Royal Bird Haven advises using diluted peroxide to clean a foot wound.  Sue further advises that if the skin on the foot is dry or chapped appearing, apply olive oil.  As for Ramon's foot, the precise injury was unclear.  Torn nail?  Nope.  Broken bone?  Maybe. Close examination and gently feeling leg and toes suggested that there was probably not a broken bone.  It doesn't make sense to slap a split on there just in case.  Or does it?  I didn't.  I kept an eye on Ramon.  For the next few days, while at rest, he sometimes held the injured foot aloft.  However, he regularly used the stricken foot when perching on the edge of the food bowl, standing on the grit dish or when bathing.

OK, Ramon most likely did not hurt his foot because of over-long nails.  Other reasons for a caged bird injury:  something in the cage.  I took inventory.  Any splinters or gouges in the perches?  No.  Chips or cracks on the grit dish or water bowl?  No.  (That's right, for my birds's grit and water, I use a bread plate and small side bowl from the beautiful china set I inherited from my grandmother).  Any rough spots or dents in the cage bars?  No.  Problems with the swing, the food bowls, the clothes pin that holds the fresh greens?  No.  Everything appeared to be in tip top shape.

What else could explain the damage to Ramon's foot?  A disagreement with a cage mate that lead to fisticuffs?  Let's see, Ramon shares his home with Lupe, a young female.  Following the untimely death of his mate, Mary, Lupe was introduced to Ramon.  In short order, they were sitting close together grooming each other.  Lupe is less demure than Mary was.  Even so, it seems unlikely that there was a scrap between Ramon and Lupe.  And even less likely that a dustup ended with physical harm to Ramon, the larger of the two.

It's been a few weeks now, since the mystery incident involving Ramon's foot.  He no longer holds the foot aloft when at rest.  He moves around on both feet like everything is just dandy.  There is no denying though, the foot doesn't look the same as it used to.  Unable to explain how Ramon came about his unfortunate talipe, I can only shrug and say, Ramon has a clubfoot.

Like the scar on G.I. Joe's face, my mangled foot is a reflection of my manly lifestyle.

sources: http://www.finchaviary.com/,
               Royal Tropical Fish and Bird Haven, Royal Oak, MI

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Critters Tall

Giraffes are herbivorous mammals found in Central and South Africa.  The giraffe is a ruminant, which means he has a four chambered stomach and vomits up food to rechew.  You know, they chew their cud.  Favorite cud: Acacia leaves.  The giraffe's long neck allows him to easily reach greenery in tall trees.  Remarkably, that long neck has the same number of vertebrae as the short necked human:  seven.

Some Giraffe Facts

-average male (bull) height (measured to the horn tip): 18 feet
-average female (cow) height: 14 feet  
-bull weight: 1800-4300 pounds
-cow weight:  1200-2600 pounds
- gestation: 15 months
- top speed: 35 mph
- average lifespan: 25 years
- tongue length:  21 inches
- enemies: lion, hyena and leopard

Giraffes aren't herd animals in the same way as, say, elephants or wildebeest.  Groups of giraffes vary from as few as six to as many as forty members.  The cows often create a group when their calves are young, taking turns feeding while the others baby sit.  Bull giraffes aren't involved much, hands on - so to speak, other than in mating.

Cows give birth standing up, which means the baby's arrival is a rough one.  He quite literally drops in.  In good giraffe tradition, the calf stands up quickly and within 15 minutes is walking.  Babies are about 6 feet tall at birth and weigh 150 pounds.  One year later they are 12 feet tall.

Both males and females have horns, which are formed from ossified cartilage.  The females have tuffs or hair on top of the horns, males are bald. 

Nobody knows for sure, but it is believed that giraffes cannot swim. (Of course, Bumblebees aren't supposed to be able to fly either, so this is one of those nifty mysteries that we can speculate wildly about should we wish to do so).

Giraffes are not highly vocal but they aren't silent either.  Males make a loud coughing sound during courtship.  Females whistle to call to their young.  Calves bleat, moo and mew.  Miscellaneous giraffe vocalizations include grunts, snorts, hisses and flute-like sounds.

One species of Acacia tree germinate only after seeds pass through a giraffe's digestive track.

sources:  http://www.nationalgeographic.com/, Tall Blondes by Lynn Sherr