Friday, December 30, 2011

Butterball: Horrific Abuse of Turkeys in NC

I am disturbed and outraged about the abuse of turkeys revealed by an undercover video here in my own state of North Carolina. The abuse was documented at a factory farm raising turkeys for Butterball, the largest producer of turkeys in the United States, in the town of Shannon, NC. I am posting the video from YouTube, which was shot by a member of the animal rights group Mercy For Animals who worked undercover at the farm in November and early December. The video is graphic and disturbing, so be aware before you watch. It shows turkeys being kicked and stomped, dragged by their necks and wings, thrown forcefully into transport trucks, and sitting neglected with open wounds and rotting eyes, untreated and covered with flies.

Fortunately, local sheriff department agents raided the farm yesterday, December 29. Now it is up to the law enforcement agency to do the right thing, shut down this facility, and prosecute the people who are responsible... not just the workers in the video, but also those in charge at the farm and Butterball.

Here is a link to a petition where you can tell Butterball what you think of their abuse of these gentle and intelligent birds.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Squirrels Play Shell Game With Their Nuts

Are you thinking you might just get a free tasty snack by stealing a few acorns from a neighborhood stash? There's a good chance that you'll go nuts trying to outwit your local gray squirrels. This article shows how tricky squirrels can be when it comes to protecting their winter food stores.

Scientists watched gray squirrels while they collected and stored nuts for their winter stash. They found that around one-fifth of the "nuts" that they hid were really decoys, non-existent food burials to confuse other animals that might try to steal their cached nuts and seeds. The squirrels made an elaborate show of digging a hole, pushing a nut into the cavity, and covering it up... but there was nothing in the hole!

What's more impressive is that when the squirrels noticed that they were being watched, the percentage of decoy burials that the squirrels made went up.

The scientists concluded that the squirrels were learning this behavior through a processes of trial and error, indicating that they were capable of "a far more advanced thought process" than was previously believed. Of course, we don't need any scientists to tell us that squirrels are capable of advanced thought and behavior such as hiding food, raiding bird feeders, and blogging.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

San Antonio: Did You Really Think This Through?

I love the city of San Antonio, TX. I spent several years there in college back in the 1980s. And the beautiful downtown River Walk is one of the major attractions of the city. But I have to wonder if the city leaders really thought through the new Christmas lights display that they installed this year. Here is what the lights look like at night:

OK--those are real trees, lining a river that meanders through the downtown area of a major city... densely wrapped top-to-bottom in Christmas lights.

I wonder what else might be in those trees...

(Slaps forehead) Oh yeah!

And now the city is surprised at the amount of damage that the squirrels have done to their new Christmas lighting display, and wondering what they can do to stop the squirrels from chewing the wires!

Here's a thought for the San Antonio city planners: The River Walk is a beautiful, scenic, pleasant and peaceful spot, an awesome asset to your city. For years you have gotten by with a more tasteful holiday lighting display. Based on what I see in the photos, the new display is not only tastelessly excessive, but looks like it has to get in the way of the squirrels and birds that inhabit those trees. I find it hard to believe nobody realized that the squirrels would chew through those wires. It's what they do! I wonder how many squirrels have been fatally electrocuted so far... this is not even mentioned in the article.

Please, San Antonio, take down those lights, admit you made a mistake, and go back to a more tasteful and wildlife-friendly display for next Christmas.

Squirrel Facts: The Texas Antelope Squirrel

The Texas antelope squirrel is one of five species of antelope squirrels. These tiny ground squirrels, with bodies around 14-17 cm long, and tails 6-10 cm, live in desert regions of the American southwest. The five species of antelope squirrels, which inhabit separate ranges with little overlap, are:

  • San Joaquin antelope squirrel of California
  • Harris' antelope squirrel of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico
  • White-tailed antelope squirrel, from New Mexico and Arizona northward to Oregon
  • Insular antelope squirrel, of Baja California
  • Texas antelope squirrel, of southwestern Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico
The range of the Texas antelope squirrel lies mostly along the Rio Grande and Pecos rivers of southwestern Texas and New Mexico. It inhabits rocky desert regions, usually in proximity to mountain ranges. It is a buff or gray ground squirrel with a single white line along each side. The tail appears somewhat flat, and is often carried arched over the back.

The Texas antelope squirrel is one of the few animal species that remains active throughout even the hottest summer desert days, even when temperatures soar to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They deal with the heat by occasionally finding a shady spot, where they will lie flat with limbs outstretched, allowing their excess body heat to dissipate through the belly to the cooler shaded ground.

Given the arid environment, the Texas antelope squirrel has a surprisingly varied diet. It feeds on the seeds of yucca, juniper, mesquite, salt grass, sotol, the ripe fruits of cactus such as prickly pear and cholla, and insects.

These little squirrels nest in burrows that they dig, usually in the shade of a clump of bushes or a boulder, or the side of a river bank. The nest inside the burrow is lined with rabbit fur, feathers, shredded bark, or dry grass.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Persian Squirrel Photos (link)

I wanted to post an article about the Persian squirrel, also known as the Caucasian squirrel, which I mentioned in the last post. However, I could find frustratingly little information about this little tree squirrel of the Middle East, beyond a very basic physical description--reddish brown face, tail and belly, and gray back. However, if you go here, you will see four of the best closeup squirrel photos I have ever seen (especially the first and fourth photos), of a Persian squirrel, taken in Turkey earlier this year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Donde estan las ardillas?

Don't you hate it when you're in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, and you just want to find out where the local squirrels hang out? Well, you're in luck. Here is your list of words for "squirrel" in almost 300 languages. So next time you're in Iran and want to see some Persian squirrels, just say "sanjaab."

Did someone say my name?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Study Shows That Rats Care

I've always liked rats. They are cousins to the squirrels, and the ones that I have known have always been very nice. Now science has demonstrated what I already believed to be true, that rats care about their friends.

To summarize, two rats were placed in an "arena." One was confined in a small tube from which it could not escape, and the other was free to roam around the arena. The tube could only be opened from outside, a task that was difficult but could be learned by the free rat. The free rat was clearly distressed by the confinement of the other rat, and would circle the tube, trying to figure out a way to free its friend. Almost all of the free rats in the experiment eventually found out how to open the cage. After discovering the secret, the free rat would always liberate its friend, even though no reward or benefit resulted.

My favorite part is this: when the free rat was presented with two tubes, one containing a confined rat, and the other containing chocolate chips, the free rat would open both tubes and share the treats with the other rat, even though it could have eaten all the chocolate before freeing its friend.  In many cases the free rat even carried a piece of chocolate to its friend after releasing it from the tube!

I'm not a big fan of this kind of research. Although it doesn't look like any invasive physical harm was done, the scientists manipulated these rats, placing them repeatedly in stressful, unpleasant situations. However, I do like that the results show that humans don't have a monopoly on empathy or selfless behavior. I think most of us who are around animals and care about them already knew this, but there are many people who apparently are unconvinced. I know that anecdotal observations or impressions does not equal scientific research, but I can remember times when I have been upset, and Beebz, or our cat Sushi, seemed especially affectionate, as if they picked up on my feelings and wanted to comfort me.

Now that they have done their part for research, I would like to see the rats from this study released from the world of research, and placed in homes where they can live with their friends stress-free.

Here is a short video of part of the experiment:

Squirrel Facts: The Arctic Ground Squirrel

The arctic ground squirrel lives in Alaska, northern Canada, including Northwest Territory, Yukon, and northern British Columbia, and Siberia. It is reddish on its face and sides, with light brown fur on its belly and gray speckled with white on the back.

The Arctic Ground Squirrel

These squirrels of the north live in colonies that can include several hundred individuals, dominated by one or two males that control the territory. Each adult squirrel has a burrow that is dug about three feet under the  ground, and lined with lichens, leaves, and muskox hair. The burrows are connected by a network of tunnels. During the summer, the arctic ground squirrel will start storing willow leaves, seeds, and grasses in its burrow. The squirrels hibernate from September until April, and when it awakens, it will eat the stored food until the spring plants grow. In the spring and summer, other foods include roots, berries, stalks, and mushrooms.

Arctic Ground Squirrel Eating a Mushroom
During hibernation, the body temperature of the arctic ground squirrel can drop as low as -3 degrees C (27 F), which is the lowest recorded naturally occuring body temperature of any mammal.

Babies are born in June, in litters of five to ten. Although the babies are blind and helpless at birth, they grow quickly, and by September are ready to leave their mother, forage and store their own food, and establish their own burrows.

Arctic ground squirrels communicate both by sound and body contact. Upon meeting they will touch noses to establish recognition. These squirrels are extremely vocal, with different alert sounds used to distinguish different types of predators. The Inupiat Eskimo word for the arctic ground squirrel is "sik-sik" for one of its characteristic calls.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Last night I got into a little argument with a couple of fundamentalist Rick Perry supporters on Twitter. I won't rehash the whole argument right now, but just say that later on it made me think of this song by Ben Folds, which I think captures the spirit of fundamentalist Christianity in America perfectly.

Town to town
broadcast to each house they drop your name
but no one knows your face,
billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray
for Jesusland

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Squirrel Haiku

Bundle of dry sticks

in high branch of barren tree

hides the warmth inside

By Daniel Hickerson

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Squirrel Poem by St. Francis of Assisi

I just discovered this poem by St. Francis of Assisi:


I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments –
he got so excited

and ran into a hollow in his tree and came
back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.

And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear,
you understand:

everything imparts
His grace.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The First Squirrel

This is Protosciurus jeffersoni:

I eat and eat and eat, and I just never feel full!

He lived in the North America during the Oligocene period, around 25 million years ago. Protosciurus was very similar in appearance, size, and skeletal structure to modern tree squirrels such as the eastern gray squirrel. The most complete specimen was found in Wyoming, and its remarkable similarity to modern tree squirrels has led to the theory that all of the present-day squirrels originated in North America with this species.

Do you ever have one of those mornings when
you just don't feel like getting out of bed?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Indian Palm Squirrel

The Indian palm squirrel is also known as the three-striped palm squirrel, and is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. It is a tree squirrel about the size of a rat, and actually has five white stripes, although only three of them run the entire length of its body from neck to tail.

Their diet is mostly made up of nuts and fruits. Like the eastern gray squirrel, the Indian palm squirrel is common in urban areas and lives comfortably in close proximity to humans.

There is a beautiful Hindu legend about the Indian palm squirrel. According to the legend, the squirrel helped to construct a bridge for Lord Rama so that he could retrieve his wife Sita, who had been kidnapped. The squirrel worked tirelessly carrying small rocks for the bridge, all the while chanting Lord Rama's name. But the larger and stronger monkeys and bears, who could carry much larger stones, made fun of her for being small and weak. Lord Rama, recognizing the squirrel's dedication and seeing her crying from the other animals' ridicule, lifted her up and stroked her back, and declared that from then on nobody would make fun of her. His fingers as he petted her left the stripes on her back.

Lord Rama and the Squirrel

Dancing Squirrels

Here are some squirrels dancing to "Don't Stop 'Till You Get a Nut" by Michael Jackson.

My tweep @The_Lil_General was kind enough to bring this to my attention.

Oh, and that was the first time I've ever used the word "tweep." And hopefully the last.