Hello, you beautiful minds. Let’s take some brain candy, shall we? So put down your game controls for a brief yet splendid moment, and stuff your brain with tasty tidbits of information.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

“You Look Delicious” –any cat

The domesticated housecat may seem innocuous, but deep inside that feline brain lurks an opportunistic genius. This is part of the reason why I love cats. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are nice, but I want a pet that isn’t afraid of eating my corpse if I die inside the house. And that’s exactly what a housecat would do.  Of course, this is a broad generalization. Some cats are sweet little angels that would mourn the loss of their human forever while others, including my cat, will get hungry if their human is still for more than a minute.

The cat’s pragmatic nature probably explains why they are the most popular pet in the world (also, their small size makes them easier to hoard). It is believed that cats domesticated humans at least 9,500 years ago in the Fertile Crescent or Egypt. The African wildcat, or Felis silvestris lybica, is believed to be the ancestor of today’s housecat. Unlike the easily manipulated dog, cats have not undergone much physical or behavioral change after 9,000 years of human tinkering. Aside from a few color and coat changes, the housecat still looks (and acts) remarkably like its wild counterpart. Currently, there are two main theories as to how the cat left the wild and ended up in our house. Some believe that humans actively selected cats to hunt vermin. Others believe that humans gradually accepted the presence of cats as the felines hunted vermin in the increasingly infested human habitations. In other words, the relationship was symbiotic. I tend to agree with the latter theory. After all, who would actively try to “train” a cat to do anything? Cats don’t care what you want them to do. As Eric Cartman would say, they do what they want.

Fun Fact: Cats walk with a “pacing” gate. This means the legs on the same side of the body move at the same time. Camels and giraffe do this too. So do many standardbred harness horses.

Housecats have learned many new traits during their time with humans. They are much more vocal than their wild counterparts, exhibiting a wide range of vocalizations. A simple “meow” means “please feed me,” while a longer “meeeoowww” means either, “feed me now,” “it’s been literally minutes since I was last fed,” or “I’m in heat.” Some cats will make short “eep” sounds. These sounds roughly translate to “food?” A growl means “get the f*** back!” and a purr indicates happiness at having been fed. If a cat swishes its tail back and forth while making short “ack ack ack” noises, it probably wants to kill and devour something. Remove any delicious babies from the vicinity if the cat starts exhibiting this behavior.   

Cats have played an important part in human mythology. The Egyptian goddess Bast is associated with felines, and is often depicted in cat form. Freyja, a Norse goddess, is also a “cat person.” In fact, her chariot is pulled by cats, which is hilarious. Even the Islamic prophet Muhammad was a fan of cats. His favorite cat was named Muezza. So let’s all love cats, shall we?
The cat depicted above is Lady Toes, Oracle of Irvine, Queen of the Galaxy, Commander of Fear, Keeper of Secrets Under the Mountain, Grand Poobah of Existence. Gaze in awe at her magnificence. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

La Brea Tar Pits: the Happiest Place on Earth!

It may be hard to believe, but I was a rather odd child growing up. Instead of going to amusement parks and vapid moving-picture shows, I was taken by my father to museums. One of my favorites was the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. I still love that place and look fondly back on those wondrous and mystical outings. I remember the shine of the sun reflecting off of the tar, the plucky bubbles constantly forming on the black surface water, the fiberglass mammoth sinking to its artistically-rendered death as its mate and baby watch from the shore. Ah, the fond memories of childhood! I used to wish that all of Los Angeles could be a vast Pleistocene plane dotted with gleaming pits of tar. Actually, that is still my wish.

For those of you wishing to experience joy and excitement for yourselves, I suggest you pay Rancho de la Brea a visit. The park is nice, but the tar pits are nicer! Pit 91 is especially interesting as it is the only one being actively excavated. It’s basically a treasure trove of awesome. Occasionally, new bubbles of tar will emerge from under the parking lot or lawn. They are usually marked off with an orange cone. If you see one, be sure to point at it and giggle.  

The Page Museum is the (mostly underground) building where the fossils are sorted, cleaned, mounted and displayed. It is a small but abundant museum complete with extinct bison, smilodon, camel, prehistoric horses, a colombian mammoth, and a TON of dire wolf skulls. Seriously, if dire wolf skulls were currency, the Page Museum would never have to ask for donations.

So now that you know this place exists, drop everything you are doing and go visit it! I assure you, it is magical. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Red Bucket Equine Rescue

This is a random post, but Red Bucket Equine Rescue is being forced to leave the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center. There will be a story about their situation tonight at 10pm (Pacific) on Fox News (it may just be local news, not sure). Red Bucket is a great non-profit. They save and rehabilitate neglected and abused horses and then try to find them homes. Their adoption policy is very strict, which is good, and they do background/facility checks. You can read more about their situation here: http://redbucketrescue.org/media/rescued-horses-given-30-days-to-leave-h-b-home/

If you have some spare change lying around waiting to be given to a good cause, Red Bucket would appreciate any donations. Consider donating your monthly Starbucks allowance.

I will be back to "regular" posting soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Assortment of Antelope

Because I like antelope…in no particular order.
Lesser Kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis): The lesser kudu, although not nearly as famous as their “greater” cousins, are still pretty cool. They are slightly smaller than the greater kudu, standing at about 35 to 43 inches tall at the shoulder. Males are grey-brown in color while females are more reddish. Both sexes have white stripes going down their backs. Both lesser and greater kudu males have spiral horns. Lesser kudu can be found in East Africa eating leaves, playing badminton, and trying not to let their population dip below 118,000 individuals. Although considered the less-interesting accountant cousin to the greater kudu, the lesser kudu are one of the fastest antelope. So take that greater kudu.
Sable Antelope (Hippotragus niger): Another inhabitant of the woodland of East Africa is the sable antelope, so named because the male of the species is sable (a fancy way of saying “really dark brown”). Females are slightly less dark and roam in herds led by a single bull. More progressive than other antelope, the sable antelope exhibits horns in both sexes, although those of the male tend to be longer (insert joke here:____________________________). Their scimitar-shaped horns make the sable antelope quite formidable, and are used to fight off predator attack. Unfortunately, other creatures, notably human hunters, have found those horns useful too (for wall decorating), and sable antelope numbers are in a slight decline. Sad day.

Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri): If E.T. and Janice Dickenson had a baby, and that baby was also an antelope, it would be a gerenuk. These creatures are the freaks of the antelope world, but they are awesome freaks. Gerenuk are a long-necked antelope found in East African scrubland. The male and female look similar, although only the male have horns. They are the only member of the genus Litocranius, which is sad. As their long necks suggest, gerenuk eat leaves from bushes and trees that are high up. The look super cute when they eat. They stand on their little skinny legs and lift their little skinny necks and stretch out their little skinny tongues and eat leaves. They also tend to go up on their hind legs if the leaves are too high. If I ever become a crazy multi-billionaire with a menagerie, I want some gerenuk in that menagerie.

Well, that’s enough antelope for now. A few more may show up on this blog eventually, but antelope information is best acquired in manageable batches. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hyper-specific Topic: Horse Color Genetics

Let’s go off on a tangent, shall we? A warning first: If you don’t care about horses at all, skip this post. As all five of you who read this blog may know, I am a fan of all things equine. And when I am a fan of something, I learn about it. So, I’ve learned a little bit about horses over the years. One pet peeve of mine is when professional horse-people, especially people who breed horses, seem to know nothing about them. I mean, c’mon folks. One of the many, MANY places in which ignorance raises its ugly head is in the prediction of a foal’s color or coat pattern. I’m tired of people bragging about how their buckskin stallion “throws 75% color in his babies!” ARG! There is a scientific way of determining the future baby by simply observing the color genetics of the sire and dam! You just have to get your horse DNA tested. Now, this will cost money, but so does successful, responsible horse breeding. Now, in breeding there is always going to be a healthy degree of chance, but we can reduce the role of chance by understanding the wonderful world of genetic inheritance. Follow me along on a magical journey with equine science!

The Terms! Before we advance, we should all know some basic coat color/pattern terms. For this post, I shall focus on the cream gene because of its popularity. The cream gene is known as a color modification gene for its tendency to modify color! Specifically, it dilutes color. Red turns to gold, gold turns to white, white turns to a super-massive black hole and destroys the Universe. Still with me? Great. The cream gene is responsible for those lovely golden palominos we see during the Rose Parade. Thank you, cream gene, you’re doing a great job! And now we have been introduced to the cream gene.

Two other important terms are homozygosity and heterozygosity. If a horse is homozygous for the cream gene, it will have two copies of that gene. If a horse is heterozygous for the gene, it will just have one copy. These words may sound scary, but the idea behind them is simple. If heterozygosity is a hamburger, then homozygosity is a double-double. Not all color-related genes are this simple, but we have to start somewhere.

One thing that makes the cream gene easy to deal with is the fact that it is an incomplete dominant gene. If a horse inherits the gene, it will show. Below are examples of the cream gene in horses:

Palomino: This is a popular coat color that happens when a horse with a red (chestnut/sorrel) base coat inherits one copy of the cream gene. Notable palominos include Trigger, Mr. Ed, and Barbie’s horse.

Buckskin: This is the less-famous Baldwin brother of horse color. Like palominos, buckskin horses have golden coats, but instead of a white mane and tail, theirs are black. The buckskin color is what happens when a bay (brown with black points) based horse has one copy of the cream gene. Just to confuse you further, a bay horse is considered to have a black-based coat. This is due to the presence of the aguti gene, which is dominant over the black gene and turns the coat brown (while leaving the mane and tail black). So a buckskin is a black horse that is a bay horse that is a gold horse. Notable buckskins include; Buttercup (Trigger’s less-famous stable mate), and Cisco (from “Dances with Wolves”).
                                                     (Photo attributed to: Tierpfotografien at de.wikipedia)

Cremello: When an otherwise red-based horse gets a double helping of the cream gene (both parents must have passed the gene on), it appears white with pinkish skin and blue eyes. This horse is now homozygous for the cream gene and will always pass the gene to its offspring. Breeding to a cremello is a nearly sure-fire way of producing a cool-colored foal. Cremello + chestnut = palomino (always). Cremello + bay = buckskin, chestnut, or smoky black (appears black). Because more variables are involved with bay horses (aguti gene, black gene, etc), there is a wider variance of color in this mating. Some notable cremellos include: …I can’t think of any right now.

Perlino: A perlino horse is also double for the cream gene, but has a black (or bay) base coat. Like a cremello, it also appears white with pink skin and blue eyes. When bred to a bay or black or chestnut, the resulting foal can be palomino, buckskin, or smoky black. I am also having a hard time finding famous perlinos. 

Here is a super-fun site that allows you to predict foal color: http://www.horsetesting.com/CCalculator1.asp
Here is a visual chart that is also fun: http://www.horsecolor.com/dilutions/cream/foal_chart.htm
And here is a chart depicting the cream gene: http://www.horsecolor.com/dilutions/cream/color-chart.htm

                                            I am not a perlino or a cremello, I carry the unicorn gene.