Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Kumonster

KUMA: May 1, 2001 - December 5, 2008

When I brought my new puppy home in 2001, I named her Kuma because she looked like a little bear cub (Kuma means bear in Japanese).

She came to be known by many other names, including Kumba, Kumbaya, Kumonkey, and especially (and perhaps most appropriately) the Kumonster. But to me, she will always just be the best dog in the world.

Kuma died unexpectedly on Friday from liver tumors that caused her to bleed internally. She felt sick in the morning, so I took her to the doggie ER, and had to put her to sleep later in the afternoon. She was 7 1/2 years old, too young. I thought I would have her with me for at least another few years. She was my best buddy.

Ever the optimist, I do have things to be thankful for. I am thankful that she got be spoiled in often ridiculous fashion for over seven good years. I am thankful that she got to snack on fancy dog treats from her nonna during visits at least several times per year. I am thankful that she got to sniper-lick the faces of many an unsuspecting house guest.

I am thankful that she got to hang out at the beach a lot.

I am thankful that she got to chase (and lose) many tennis balls in the ocean. I am thankful that my students spoiled her constantly at my house and at the field site:
Snoozing after a long day in the pool at the field site:
Playing volleyball with my grad students on Thanksgiving:
Staring longingly at the turkey remnants on Thanksgiving (and she got more than her share of scraps, if you call breast meat scraps!):
Hanging with Auntie Laini and dog brothers Darwin and Anakin.
Checking out the German Shepherd socks mom got from Auntie Christy for her birthday :
Hiking in Arizona with mom and Darwin:
Resting during a hike on the Central Coast:
Feeling nice and cool after a clean shave on a hot summer day:
Just laying around being beautiful:

I have a permanent reminder of Kuma, a "present" she gave me when I broke up a fight between her and Christy's dog. A broken finger that never healed right! (Kuma started it, by the way. :-)

I am thankful that she was loved by many people.

Last but not least, I am thankful that I had a couple of hours to say goodbye to her.

A last wrestle (kisses included, as always) with Marty:

I made a donation in Kuma's honor to the Woods Humane Society, our fabulous local no-kill shelter. Now some doggies, who weren't as lucky as Kuma to have a loving home, will get some nice holiday treats.

You can visit Kuma on Dogbook and virtually pet her. :-)

Rest in peace, little baby. I hope there are lots of nice people to lick and quail to chase in doggie heaven.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chameleons in Morro Bay!!

I heard a rumor a while back that there is a population of chameleons living in Morro Bay, California. That's right, chameleons-- which are native to the Old World. There is an entry showing the chameleons on a California herp website, including some photos from Cal Poly students back in the 90's. Apparently 10 captive Jackson's chameleons were accidentally released in Morro Bay during a raid by a regulatory agency, and established a population because the climate (alternately foggy and sunny, never too hot) is similar to their native climate at high elevation spots in Africa.

My students put flyers in mailboxes, and many residents called me to confirm that yes indeed, they have seen chameleons in their yards over the years. So on the day after Thanksgiving, we went out a stared at branches all afternoon in the hopes of finding one.

Success! Craig found a female Jackson's chameleon sitting about head-height (well, Craig's head-height, which is actually freakishly high) on a branch in a Cal Poly professor's front yard.

We took the chameleon home and put her in my ficus tree to hang out. She tended to stay there pretty well (aside from one instance in which I returned home to find her across the house in my bed. ? ).

Chameleons are strange animals. For one thing, they tend to move extremely slowly, which has inspired an interesting legend in the A-Louyi tribe of the Upper Zambesi. Interestingly, it somewhat resembles our tortoise and the hare fable, but the consequences are much more dire and in this one the hare wins! The chameleon is the messenger of life and the hare is the messenger of death, but the chameleon is slow and keeps "constantly turning about," so the hare arrives first, and "That is why, when men die, they die once for all."

Here's the full text of the legend:

They say that Nyambe, whom they identify with the sun, used to dwell on earth with his wife Nasilele, whom they identify with the moon. But Nyambe retired to heaven from fear of men. Whenever he carved wood, men carved it also ; when he made a wooden plate, so did they. After he had withdrawn to the sky, it happened that Nyambe's dog died. He loved the animal, and said, "Let the dog live." But his wife said, " No, I won't have it. He's a thief." Nyambe still persisted. " For my part," said he, " I love my dog." But his wife said, " Throw him out." So they threw him out. By and by Nyambe's mother-in-law died, and his wife said to him, " Let her live," just as Nyambe himself had said to her about his dog. But Nyambe answered, " No, let her die and be done with it. I said to you that my dog should live, and you refused. It is my wish that your mother should die for good and all." So die she did for good and all. After that the husband and wife sent two messengers, a chameleon and a hare, to men on the earth. To the chameleon they said, " When thou art come to men, say to them, ' Ye shall live'; but as for thee, O hare, when thou art come to men, say to them, ' Ye shall die once for all.'" The chameleon and the hare set off with their messages. Now the chameleon, as he went, kept constantly turning about, but the hare ran. So the hare arrived first, and said that men should die once for all. Having delivered his message, the hare returned. That is why, when men die, they die once for all.

From Folk-Lore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend & Law by Sir James George Frazer

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Healing Properties of... Alligator Blood?

It's now "winter" on the Central Coast, which means it is time to start reading group at my house on Sunday nights because weekend field work has come to an end. Here is a group of Cal Poly's finest eating Fatte's pizza and getting ready to discuss a paper:

And spoiling Kuma:

I chose a paper out of Mark Merchant's lab on the antimicrobial properties of alligator blood. This is really fascinating stuff. Alligators have proteins in their blood that can kill virtually any microbe, including the bacteria E. coli and even MRSA (the antibiotic-resistant bacteria)! Better yet, the blood can kill HIV!

Alligators engage in territorial disputes that often end in wounds. Also, they get chopped by boat propellers now and then. Either way, it can be hard to heal when you live in the water. So, with their amazing immune systems, alligators appear to have solved that one. The really cool thing about this study was that they ran the samples alongside human samples, which were puny and pathetic in terms of killing microbes.

In totally unrelated news, I went to a roller derby game on Saturday night. It was AWESOME!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Snakey Halloween

I love Halloween.

I love it because all the ghouls, goblins, ghosts, and other maligned creatures come out of hiding to be celebrated for the creepy beings they are. So of course it was befitting that my mean, nasty, bitey, stinky, poopy, hissy pet snake Bluster come out on the town with me.

Bluster was a big hit in the San Luis Obispo Halloween scene. Before I knew it (okay, so I didn't know it at the time, but found out from looking at my photos the next morning :-), everyone in the bars were passing him around and posing with the ghoulish creature. Apparently he had used up all of his bite on me earlier that night.

Not all the partiers were convinced... check out the woman in the upper right. Here's Bluster joining the festivities by taking a sip of rum and coke.

Don't worry, he doesn't bite! Mwoo ha ha!

The night ended when I got distracted with something and the bartender was unhappy to find Bluster crawling across the bar toward him. We got kicked to the curb.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lizards on Ice

So, it's been three weeks since I posted, and what do you know, it's been three weeks since the new quarter started! I am teaching a new class and am having a blast and a nervous breakdown all at the same time. More on that later... but for now an account of my weekend with chilly lizards (plus a snake or two).

Two students and I began their research project on healing rates of lizards. These lizards sometimes suffer attempted predation, or fight with one other, resulting in wounds (like this bite scar shows).

How well they heal can tell you some interesting things about reproduction, hormones, etc. This technique was developed by my friend Susannah French and has been used by several groups as a measurement of immune function.

So... it was an unseasonally cold California spring weekend, hard freezing at night and daytimes in the 50's! Not your typical lizard-catching conditions, but we managed to process a comfy 72 lizards in two days:

The adult female lizards are huge right now, in the throes of vitellogenesis.

A male rattlesnake basking at the entrance to an active ground squirrel burrow:

Students collecting data on him:

A consortship between two new rattlesnakes (female in foreground, male in background at burrow entrance):

Snake in the grass = savoring spring before green California goes brown...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Atrocity alert: Kitten vodka

Check out this news article, it's so disturbing what they do to the poor kittens!

March 26, 2008
SANTO, Texas - A cat breeder who calls himself Bayou Bob found a new way to make money: Stick a kitten inside a bottle of vodka and market the concoction as an "ancient Asian elixir." But Bayou Bob Popplewell's bright idea appears to have landed him on the wrong side of the law, because he has no liquor license.
Popplewell, who has raised kittens at Bayou Bob's Brazos River Cat Ranch for more than two decades, surrendered to authorities Monday. He spent about 10 minutes in jail after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission obtained arrest warrants on misdemeanor charges of selling alcohol without a license and possessing alcohol with intent to sell.
If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Popplewell said he will fight the charges. His intent, he said, is not to sell an alcoholic beverage but a healing tonic. He said he has customers of Asian descent who believe the concoction has medicinal properties.
"It's almost a spiritual thing," said Popplewell, 63.
But alcohol commission agent Scott Jones pointed out that investigators confiscated 429 bottles of kitten vodka and one bottle of kitten tequila. At $23 a bottle, that's almost $10,000 worth of cat booze.
Even if Popplewell intended his drink be used as a healing tonic — an assertion the alcohol commission disputes — his use of vodka requires a state permit, authorities said.
"It's sold for beverage purposes, and he knows what he's doing," commission Sgt. Charlie Cloud said.
Popplewell said he uses the cheapest vodka he can find as a preservative for the kittens. The end result is a super sweet mixed drink that Popplewell compared to cough syrup.
"I've honestly never seen a person drink it," he said.
An Asian studies lecturer at the University of Texas said there is some merit to Popplewell's claim that kitten vodka could be seen as a tonic.
There's a street nicknamed "Cat Alley" in Taipei, Taiwan, where street vendors put the gall bladder of a freshly killed kitten into a glass of strong liquor. The drink, sold to the highest bidder, is supposed to improve eyesight and sexual performance, said lecturer Camilla Hsieh.
"It's like the ancient version of Viagra," Hsieh said.
Santo is located 60 miles west of Fort Worth.

Well, what do you think? Sick, isn't it? Can you believe that the police and journalist are only worried about the liquor license, and not the welfare of the poor kittens?

So, what if I told you that the article was actually about rattlesnakes put into alcoholic beverages, and I simply substituted the words kitten and cat every time there was the word "rattlesnake"? Does that change how your feel about it? If so, think long and hard about why.

In fact, this is an actual article I found on Yahoo news today. You can read it at:;_ylt=AtSwFQp2WK60_UEKmiPWBO7tiBIF

You may think I am incredibly clever and brilliant to pull the old bait and switch on your emotions, and of course this is indisputably true, but I was not very original here. Years ago I got an email titled "puppy roundups", in which the clever author described a rattlesnake roundup and simply substituted "puppy" for "rattlesnake." Unfortunately I cannot find that wonderful composition on the web, but it was quite formative for me.

Why is one type of animal's life worth more than another's? More pointed, why are rattlesnakes' lives considered worthless to the point that they are not even considered when worrying about a redneck selling cheap vodka?

As a sidenote, I found the adorable kitten photo above on a World of Warcraft forum, and the entry was titled "I will kill this cat." (!!!)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Soul (Snake) Searching

Life has been presenting some strange and unique challenges to my sanity lately, so I decided to head out on Sunday for some soul-searching in the field. What better way than to look for snakes? Well, I don't think I found my soul, but I did find a sunburn, and a good number of our snakes. Here are a few quick photos of the beautfiful beasties:

#10, a huge male who has earned many questionable nicknames that cannot be posted here, due to his proclivity for courting the ladies (another week or two, and we expect more of those antics!):

#6, another large male:

#5, one of our biggest males:

#3, a beautiful black male:

A nice-looking male, not part of the study, who rattled at me from the exact same spot two weeks ago (I went back specifically looking for him, and there he was):

#19, a skinny female who will definitely not have babies this year:

#12, a gorgeous little female with a large meal in her belly (see how her scales are all stretched out, showing the skin in between?). Maybe it was a baby Easter bunny?

And finally, the wildflowers are beginning to put on quite a show. I had to pull over and take a photo on the way home:

Happy Easter, even to the bunny-eating snakes!