Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

My take on The Aquatic Ape

April 17, 2010

My take on The Aquatic Ape

The Aquatic Ape
By Elaine Morgan
Type: book

You and I are seriously weird primates.  There’s that great opening in Desmond Morris’ classic book, The Naked Ape, where he looks at a human versus a whole range of other primates (apes, monkeys, lemurs…that sort of thing).  Obviously, one of the biggest things that would stand out is that you can see our skin.  People think of us as hairless, but we actually have a lot of hair…it’s just different hair.

Moving around a room, the bipedalism would be pretty obvious.

Watching a bit more, speech and tool use might stand out (although, if you didn’t understand the language, that might not be as clear…driving around in a car would probably be noticeable). 

That’s all the big picture stuff.  Get into more detail, and we’re even stranger.

You know how, when you got a zoo, you might see a fat-looking orangutan?  The poor guy has a giant gut, like he’s pregnant with a ten-year old kid.  You know what you don’t see?  Thunder thighs. 

Apes (and monkeys other non-human primates) pretty much don’t get fat arms and legs, because they don’t have a substantial layer of fat under the skin, like we do.

You know who does?

Marine mammals.

That might get you looking at humans and marine mammals.  After all, some of those are pretty hairless looking (dolphins, whales, manatees).  If you dig more, you’d see a few more similarities.

One of the obvious things?  We swim.  Oh, pretty much every vertebrate can swim some what (although apes generally hate the idea).  Thee are a couple of primates that don’t mind getting in the water, and the proboscis monkey can get out there in the water.

But we can really swim.  Underwater.  Turning, diving…playing Marco Polo.  Heck, have you seen synchronized swimming in the Olympics?  😉

You know what else?  We like it.  People even like just soaking in a bubble bath.

Take a squirrel monkey and stick it in a bath…you’ll be lucky if you have ten working fingers left.

For primates…that’s just weird.

It’s not just behavioral.  Our noses are physically different in a way that helps us swim…same thing with the larynx.  We have a “diving reflex” that slows our hearts in the water so we need less oxygen. 

So, we have some similarities with aquatic mammals and some dissimilarities with primates.

The aquatic ape hypothesis suggests that, at a particular point in human evolution, we spent significant time in the water.  That doesn’t mean we were hanging out with Ariel and Aquaman…just going out in the water after shellfish and such.

Put that way, it doesn’t sound so strange…lots of human societies depend on the water, even spent a lot of time in it.  Take a look at a suburban neighborhood on Google Earth.  You’ll see a lot of swimming pools.  On the Planet of the Apes?  Probably not so much.  😉

Elaine Morgan, a Welsh writer, popularized the idea with her 1982 book, The Aquatic Ape.  She’s not a paleoanthropolgist, but she put together a nice examination of the idea.  She takes it a lot further, using the AAH to suggest explanations for why we cry, why we talk, even why we have face-to-face sex. 

That may be one reason why the book hasn’t gotten widespread acceptance.  It may try to explain too much.

That’s the problem with a lot of “fringe” ideas.  If you can poke a whole in part of it, you ignore the whole thing.  If you can show that one set of Bigfoot prints are fake, you reject them all.  If one guy thought a weather balloon was a UFO, all UFOs are weather balloons.

Those rejections aren’t very scientific.

The book took on so many factors, that it was relatively vulnerable to finding alternative explanations for at least one of them.

I think one of the best arguments in favor of the hypothesis is that…it makes sense to people.  🙂   Not everything that makes sense to people is right, of course…in fact, it’s often not. 

When you read the book, though, I think most average people immediately think it works, generally.  Maybe that’s the skill of the author, though.  One thing she does is provide the “savannah hypothesis” explanation for the issues…that’s the one you probably know.   It’s a selective presentation, though.  Are there any other savannah animals that have their skin showing?  No, not really…except arguably rhinos and elephants (who may not be really savannah animals, I guess).  Giraffes and zebras have pretty short hair…so I suppose you could argue that short and our “coats” are similar.  Any other bipedal savannites?  No, but some antelope-types do stand up to look around, and so do meerkats, of course. 

I get a little sense that if any one of the broad possibilities for marine mammals match up that agree with the AAH, that gets presented, and everything on the savannah side has to match before it shows up.  It’s not that cut and dried, and it’s great that she presents that hypothesis as well. 

The other one that gets presented just intuitively feels silly to me…the neoteny hypothesis.  That one says that we are like fetal apes…only, we aren’t, mostly.

Is the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis right?

No way to know, yet.  There was an appropriate period when more of the land was under water in the right area.  You can find alternative explanations if you take the features one at a time.  Overall, though, it seems like a simple possible explanation for a lot of weird human features.

I don’t see any particular reason to reject it out of hand, and it’s a fun idea that might eventually get more evidence one way or the other.

What do you think?  Feel free to let me know. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in The Measured Circle blog.

The importance of last bites

April 9, 2010

The importance of last bites

I’ve had a lot of kinds of animals in my life.  I’ve even had exotics, which I don’t really recommend.  When your tree shrew gets sick, nobody in the world knows what to do.   Not just your local vet, pretty much nobody.  Hey, if you want to get an animal where they can almost always fix what is sick, get a rat.  They’ve tested everything on rats, so they have a pretty good idea.  But pet armadillos?  Not so much.

I’ve also generally had cats and dogs together.  We do now.  They’ve always tended to get along pretty well.

I’m not going to say I’m the world’s best animal trainer…I’m not.  I tend to indulge them too much, in terms of behavior.  I’m less concerned with them being perfect little animals than I am with having all of us (four-foots and humans alike) be happy.

One thing I will suggest, though: last bites.

This is something that works well with dogs.  You give them the last little bite of whatever you are eating (assuming it’s safe for dogs…no chocolate, for example).  If you set this up as the norm, they’ll usually sit quietly and wait for you to finish.  We have one terrier mix where it is pretty funny.  He’ll be sitting there calmly, and actually start to fall asleep…while he is still sitting up.  He wakes up again, though.

Why does this work?

It’s natural…dogs would normally need to wait for the Alpha to finish.  That’s a key way that dogs determine hierarchy: who eats first.  You should also eat before the dogs, and you should definitely always feed the cats before the dogs.  The dogs need to know that you rank the cats higher than them.

I’m only talking about a very small amount, though…the size of a fingernail is often enough.

Oh, and cats?  They totally don’t care about this.  I know lions do, but domestic cats?  They don’t seem to get the whole “last bites” thing. 

This is a good way for a new person in a relationship to establish ranking over the dog.  The dog’s owner should give the food to the new person (just putting the plate there is enough…the dog doesn’t need to see it put into the person’s mouth) before the dog gets to eat.  The new person giving last bites to the dog (once it seems safe) will help, too.

Just a suggestion for you…you know your dogs better than I do.  🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in The Measured Circle blog.

Flash! Hope for Tasmanian devils

March 10, 2010

Flash! Hope for Tasmanian devils

Let’s start with this…Tasmanian devils are real animals. 

They are small, muscular marsupials.  Yes, they are legendarily vicious…they’ve certainly been known to eat other devils, and they bite each other in the face…a lot.

The latter habit has been a real problem.  It would sound like a horror movie disease, if we were talking about people.  There is a type of cancer, known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease.  It’s cancer…but it’s contagious.  When an infected individual bites another animal, they can pass the condition on to the other one.  Horrible, disfiguring facial tumors can follow.  They will get so bad, that the animal will be unable to eat, and will starve to death.  It can destroy an entire colony of devils in less than two years.

Is it a serious threat?  Yes.  Since 1996, something like 70 percent of the wild population has been wiped out.  It that were humans, we’d be looking at close to 5 billion deaths.  Extinction (in the wild) estimates were as low as 25 years from now.  They were listed as an endangered species in 2009.

Now, though, a resistant colony has been found.  It’s possible that some animals are genetically different enough to survive the apocalypse.

There is hope.

news article

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.  If you are reading this blog for free and would like to support it, just click here and then shop at Amazon.

Waking up with a paw in your mouth

March 3, 2010

Waking up with a paw in your mouth

The cat hadn’t gotten my tongue.

Not quite.

But his paw was in my mouth.  He was also purring loudly, and slightly flexing his claws.  Not exactly a full on “milk tread”, but enough that it was impossible to ignore.  Maybe a “skim milk tread”.

I’m always amazed at the control cats have in these situations.  Yes, they sometimes get their claws stuck in things, but in terms of how much or little they hurt something initially, they have that largely under control. 

So, my offspring would have an answer in this case: “Chuck the cat.”  I don’t chuck cats, though. 

I spoil ’em. 

I’ve always thought that was kind of an odd expression, though.  “Spoil” seems to imply that you take something that is good, and then ruin it so it isn’t good any more (especially for other people).

All cats, though, are crazy…even before I get to them.  I think what happens is I allow them to be their normal crazy.

I’ve always had cats and dogs together, pretty much…along with some really quite exotic other animals.  I haven’t had any of the latter for many years, and I don’t recommend it.

Are all dogs crazy?   No…some of them are quite sane doggy-type dogs.  Type specimens, in fact.

Cats, though?  They all act in ways that are contrary to their best interest…seemingly, even contrary to their short term desires.

If you spoil your cats, you’ll see all kinds of interesting behaviors.

So, let’s talk “spoiling”.

Exhibit 1: I feed the cat off a spoon.  Just one of the cats (we have two).  He gets up on a cat tree, so he’s at a comfortable height.  I scoop some canned food on to the spoon, and he eats it.  Yes, some of it gets on the carpet.  Yes, it takes forever.  My Significant Other (SO) thought I’d gone over the edge when I said he wouldn’t eat off a clear plastic spoon, just a white plastic spoon.

Exhibit 2: I saved some garbage for the other cat, because he likes to bury his food with it.  We were having somebody come in to clean the house, because we were going away.  We do that every once in a while, and really like the person we use.  Anyway, there was a strip of corrugated cardboard, and a thing of twine.  Every morning and night, this cat buries his leftover food with that stuff.  So the cleaners wouldn’t throw it away, I put it in a bag in the garage.  After we came back, I put it back next to the food, so the routine could continue.

Animals like routine.   Yes, you absolutely have to provide them with novelty as well.  You want to keep pet lizards healthy?  You need to give them something new to explore (but if they have a “home spot”, leave that).  Animals like to be able to predict what will happen, though, just like many people do.  I sing to my dogs every night when I go to feed them…the same song.  I flip the Tupperware “scoop” I use in the air, to go along with the song.  They like that.  🙂 

Oh, one key point…if you have dogs and cats both, always feed the cats first.  The secret of having cats and dogs is that the dogs have to know that the cats outrank them.  Dogs take a lot of their clues on the hierarchy based on who eats first.  You, for example, should eat before the dogs.  They love getting “last bites”.  Not too much, because you don’t want to make them overweight, of course.  However, if you save them a little piece of food (like the size of a dime or smaller), they’ll generally wait very patiently for you to finish.  That’s what many pack animals would do in the wild.

None of this always works, of course.  They are complicated animals, and they aren’t “normal”. 

You may find it easier to chuck the cat on to the floor.

Me?   I’ll wake up with a paw in my mouth…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.  If you are reading this blog for free and would like to support it, just click here and then shop at Amazon. 

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