Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some Things about Sharks

This post is dedicated to my favorite actor, the late Robert Shaw.  Recently, after re watching one of his shark movies, I got the urge to learn more about sharks to then share that information with my Resplendent Readers.

For some information on Robert Shaw:

Viewing  "The Deep" causes most people to remark that Jacqueline Bisset has pretty breasts.  Yes, the wet tee shirt scene made that clear.  Some people observe that Louis Gossett played a great villain.  Indeed, he had that malignant charm that a bad guy needs to keep you gleefully rooting against him.  What too many people fail to appreciate is Robert Shaw.  (The man had sparkling blue eyes of a sublime twinkle and hue second only to those of my husband, The Handsome One). 

In "The Deep" the Nick Nolte character had all sorts of diving accessories like an underwater camera and rubber shorts.  The Robert Shaw character simply strapped a scuba tank on over his street clothes and jumped into the ocean.  That is the sort of no nonsense manliness that gets my attention.  Of course, that's what's fun about having a favorite actor.  He tends to do things that please you.

So when are we going to talk about sharks, you ask? 

Right now.

Fossils belonging to sharks have been found,  believed to be 400 million years old, including a skeleton, skin and muscles.  These fossils suggest sharks haven't changed much.  Lots of fossil shark teeth have been found that look very much like the teeth of sharks living today.

Some Shark Facts

- they cannot swim backwards

- shark skin is smooth when rubbed from front to back, aerodynamically good, like the hull of a sail boat

- shark skin rubbed from back to front is rough.  Smaller fish use shark skin as an emery to remove  their own external parasites

- there are about 400 shark species identified so far

- sharks can identify the direction a smell is coming from by moving its head from side to side.  (Much as mammals do with hearing)

- the mako shark can reach speeds of 46 mph

- most sharks can see in color

- shark teeth vary from little nubs to big serrated triangles depending on what food the species eats

- some foods that sharks eat:  microscopic plankton, fish, whale carcasses, seals, dolphins, albatrosses,
sea turtles, stingrays, squid, crabs, sea urchins

- how they find food:  chasing prey, ambush, scavenging, filter feeding

- the average shark eats roughly the equivalent of  his own weight per month

- the age of a shark can be estimated by counting the growth rings in its spinal column

- sharks are slow growing.  Generally, the longer lived the shark, the later in life it matures.  Lifespans vary from 20-150 years/maturity achieved from 4-35 years.

Sharks are fish.  There are not, however, bony fish like a perch or tuna.  The shark is a cartilginous fish with a skeleton made of cartilage (a tough, flexible material also found in human joints, such as elbows and knees).  Other cartilginous fish:  rays and chimaeras.  Cartilginous fishes account for less than 5% of all fishes.

Bony fishes have bony skeletons and scales on their skin.  The shark's skin is also made up of scales but the scales are of harder stuff: tooth-like dermal deticle.  This skin protects the shark much like armour chain-mail.

Shark Sense

hearing- acute, they are able to detect sound from several miles away

smell- more like taste, really.  The shark has special receptor cells in the nostrils that act like taste buds to identify stuff in the water that flows over the receptor cells

vision- eyeballs much like most vertebrates.  Sharks are able to see fairly well, especially in low light thanks to a mirror-like layer in each eye that boosts the available light by reflecting it back onto light sensitive cells in the eye

taste- taste buds are located in the throat and the lining of the mouth.  The shark takes a bite of something, if it is deemed palatable, he swallows it. (Ideal foods are ones with a thick layer of high- energy fat, like a seal.  Even an obese human isn't really worthwhile.  This is why sharks usually spit people out after they bite them)

electroreception- the ability to detect electricity generated by other living things.  A shark can sense an animal that is not moving and buried under the ocean bottom by only its breathing and heart beat

Shark Sex

Most sharks are loners so migration is usually necessary for mating to occur.  Not a great deal is known about shark romance.  What is known, in some species, a female shark, when ready to mate will emit a hormonal substance into the water.  Males from miles around descend upon her.  Demonstrations of masculine vigor follow, including fighting and bloodshed.  The female chooses her suitor.  Typically, her choice is the largest and most dominant male.

The male shark has two external reproductive organs known as claspers.  (When not in use they are rolled up like a window shade and tucked in, in keeping with good aerodynamics). 

Some species lay eggs, others, live birth.  Gestation varies among species.  The closest sharks come to child rearing is giving birth in a sheltered lagoon rather than in open sea.

see some cool shark pictures:

Sharks by Mark Carwardine
The Shark Almanac by Thomas B. Allen

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's Idiopathic

Lots of things happen in life that are unexpected.  And lots of times, there is an unknown reason for things that happen.  The most recent example:  Rosebud's adventure into the vestibular.

Just shy of two weeks ago, Rose awakened in the early morning and vomited some yellow foam.  Anybody who has ever lived with a dog has experienced yellow foam style vomit.  It's usually not a big deal.  You clean it up and everybody goes on with their day.  Alas, on this morning, Rose followed up the vomit episode with a distressing display involving staggering and peculiar eye motions.  In short, we feared that Rose had suffered a stroke.

Our veterinarian examined Rose.  It wasn't a stroke.  (There is some disagreement among veterinarians over whether or not dogs can even have strokes).  Diagnosis:  Geriatric Vestibular Disease.  The good news first:  Rose is expected to recover, if not fully, then nearly fully.

What is Vestibular Disease?

The vestibular apparatus is located inside the head near the inner ear.  The cochlea receives vibrations which are relayed to the brain by the vestibular nerve.  It is responsible for perceiving where the body is in relation to the earth.  (You know, up, down, backwards, forwards, stationary or moving).  The vestibular system helps us travel on uneven ground, follow moving objects with our eyes, navigate a staircase, catch a ball, and pirouette. 

When things have gone kerflooey vestibularly, the victim feels dizzy, disoriented, sick to her stomach, the eyes zip back and forth (nystagmus), she might fall down...AND there's the head tilt.  

Causes of Vestibular Disease

- middle ear infection
- brain tumor
- idiopathic (unknown)

Most cases are idiopathic and the dog recovers in a couple weeks, though the head tilt may remain.

Rose is doing better now.  She is eating, for one thing.  Not an enthusiastic eater under the best of circumstances, when she is nauseated, getting her to eat is no easy task.  For the first few days, she refused all food but did drink water.  Then I couldn't stand it anymore and pretty much forced finger fulls of baby food in her mouth.  (Dang, she has strong jaws!).

We still have to watch out for her on the stairs.  But she is able to navigate, more or less normally, everywhere else, in spite of the head tilt.  Yes, her head is literally tilted to the left and thus her body tends to move in that direction.  The first day she sort of walked in a circle.  She got the hang of things better with practice, now she can walk, pretty nearly, a straight line. 

Indeed, she is so much better now, that we've begun to make fun of the head tilt.

So goes things in life.  Trouble begets fear and worry, then action.  Before you know it, resolution, then back to regularity.  Sometimes it's idiopathic.

 Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, by James Giffin, MD & Liisa Carlson, DVM.
 Dog Anatomy by Robert Kainer, DVM and Thomas McCracken, MS.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Breed Profile: Spinone Italiano

The Spinone Italiano originated in the Piedmont region of Italy.  Spinone is derived from pino, an Italian thorn bush.  As you may guess, birds and small furry animals often hide in Pino bushes trying to avoid detection by gun dogs.  

The Spinone is a versatile hunting dog, he can point, set and retrieve.  He is solidly built with plenty of muscle and stamina to trot all day.  His thick skin and rugged hair protects him from cold and difficult terrain. 

The coat colors are:  solid white, white and orange, orange roan with or without orange markings, white with brown markings, brown roan with or without brown markings, and chestnut roan with or without chestnut markings.   

The eyebrows and beard are of longer and stiffer hair, this protects the face from rough brush and briers .

The Spinone is affectionate, playful, energetic, cheerful and mischievous.  He loves to be with his family and is friendly to everybody.  He is gentle and easy going, making him a fine friend to children and frail folks.  Spinoni are good with other dogs and pets but beware of small pets, as his prey drive is strong.

The average life span of the Spinone is 12-14 years.  The breed is believed to have been developed using Italian Setter, French Griffons and White Mastiff.  The Spinone is 22-27 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs 62-82 pounds.

In World War II, Spinoni Italiani tracked German patrols.  Italian art from the 15th and 16th century depicts dogs looking very much like the Spinone of today. 

Spinone Manifesto

- I can point as well as a Pointer, only I do sans hyper

- I'm happy to find game for you but when we are through, I want to sleep inside with you 

-  I'm not stubborn, just intelligent

-  if you don't have a sense of humor, I might annoy you  (LOL)

Next Breed Profile:  Shiba Inu!

sources:, Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds by D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D., Dog Fancy, March 2011 issue,  The Shooting Man's Dog, by David Hudson 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dogs Behaving Semi-Badly

Is some bad behavior OK?  Are there levels of bad behavior, so that some are only semi-bad? Or do we simply employ levels of tolerance for bad behavior? 

And could it be that some bad behavior is somehow endearing?

To explore these questions, let us take, for example, Wilma.

When she was young, Wilma found it uproariously fun to remove
corncobs from the compost pile and place them in random areas
of the backyard.  Not finding it all that hilarious, I informed her that
she was not to do that anymore.  Meanwhile, the compost pile enjoyed an upgrade which included a lid.  Wilma stopped playing with corn cobs. 

However, she continued to make off with garden gloves.  With impish glee, Wilma would lie in wait for me to remove my gloves to blow my nose or tuck in my shirt.  Wilma knew my habit was to take off a glove and let it drop.  So intent on having a naked hand, it could be three or four seconds before I returned my attention to the glove.  This gave Wilma plenty of time to lunge in, snatch the glove, and precede to dance around the yard with it in her mouth- the equivalent of nah nah, Keep Away! ha ha.  Eventually, my failure to be amused or chase her to get the glove back extinguished the glove robbing behavior.

Still, Wilma never fully lost the urge to take stuff that wasn't hers.  She found an outlet for this desire in the bathroom wastebasket.  When left alone at home, Wilma was given the run of the basement. Her crate was down there with a comfortable cushion and water bowl, the door left open.  This gave Wilma options.  Alas, sometimes she exercised her options by  entering the bathroom and pulling used Kleenex out of the wastebasket.  She didn't touch any other item in the wastebasket -only used facial tissue.  She would then shred the tissue and spread it around on the floor in the area just outside the bathroom door.

Needless to say, this shredding of the Kleenex does not fall under the heading of Good Behavior.  Indeed, it would not be exaggerating to say this was Bad Behavior.  Still, whenever we'd come home to find the evidence that Wilma had been messing with dirty tissue, we never scolded her, nor did we ever make any effort to stop the bad behavior.  (You know, like simply closing the bathroom door.)  Instead, while gathering up the pieces of tissue, The Handsome One or and I would typically say something along the lines of, "Wilma, why do you do this yucky thing?!"

Perhaps this is an example of taking the good with the bad in those we love.  (Or the good with the semi-bad).

The truth is, though Wilma passed away some sixteen years ago, I sometimes look wistfully at the bathroom wastebasket.

You know something else, more often than not, when I talk about Wilma, I refer to her as Saint Wilma. Either I am delusional or perhaps our loved ones are more endearing when they have semi-badness in their natures.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Real Crickets Don't Wear White Gloves

An overwhelming number of Cricket species spend most of their time on or under ground.  It's dirty down there in the dirt.  Jiminy Cricket wouldn't stand a chance in the wild.

Nevermind cartoon characters right now.  The real live cricket is quite an interesting character. 

Crickets are insects, cousins to the grasshopper and cockroach.  Insects in general, have six legs, an exoskeleton, antennae, eyes, jaws, wings, a digestive system, a nervous system, respiration system, and their bodies are separated into three parts, head, thorax and abdomen.

The cricket on the left is a male.  The female is on the right.  Notice the middle appendage on the female's rump.  This is used to lay eggs.  She shoves her oviposter into the ground (or into plant tissue) to deposit her eggs.  The eggs are laid singly or in pods of 10-200.

Some Cricket Facts

- found everywhere except very cold places, such as Antartica

- life cycle: two or three generations a year in the South.  One generation a year in the North: eggs or nymphs, overwinter in the soil and adults appear in the spring or summer.

- most active at night

- roughly 20,000 species

- larve (nymphs) pretty much resemble adults (rather like puppies resemble the dogs they become)

- some crickets are solitary, some live in colonies, or swarms

The most commonly seen crickets are Field Crickets.  They are medium sized bugs, black or brown in color, with a stout body and small wings incapable of flight.  There are however, other cricket species that are camouflaged to look like leaves or bark, stones or sand.  Other crickets are near blind burrowers that  never surface.  Some crickets are brightly colored, signalling their distasteful or toxic nature to warn away would-be predators.

Cricket predators include:  spiders, other insects, lizards, frogs and birds.  The cricket's legs are designed for hopping to escape being eaten.  Many crickets avoid prey status by spending the bulk of their time hiding in or under plants, in sidewalk cracks, and under the dirt. 

At night they emerge to eat plant foliage, roots, dead plant and animal material, algae, mud and the microorganisms in mud.

Also at night the (usually male) cricket makes a sort of chirping sound using his stridulatory organs.  These musical notes are for courtship (some species dance too!) and for territorial annoucements.  The stridulation organs are located in vents on the bases of the fore-wings.  When rubbed together, sound is produced.

The call of the male Snowy Tree Cricket is slower when the air is cool and is said to be a measure of temperature.  Count the number of chirps in 15 seconds add 40, and you have the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

images:  Bing, Audubon Pocket Guide:  Familiar Insects and Spiders
sources:  Enclycopedia of Insects  edited by  Christopher O'Toole,
Insects, A Golden Nature Guide