Archive for February, 2010

Storytime: Once Upon A Time.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Back in the Good Old Days, in the woods, there was a poor woodcutter.  There was nothing noteworthy or unique about this, and he died of old age a poor woodcutter. 
This story isn’t about him. 

 His brother was also a poor woodcutter, because when you’re living in a shack in the middle of a forest there’s very little else you can do.  All of his possessions in the world were an old, battered axe, a cupboard (typically bare), and a dented tin water jug.  He would’ve added his little daughter and wife to the list (this WAS about six hundred years ago), but his wife would’ve objected, and very few things in his life that she objected to lasted long.  It was largely because of this that he spent most of his time out in the woods, where there was lots of fresh air that was untainted by the voice of someone yelling at him.  He would make up dull songs to pass the time as he chopped, sing them very badly, then become miserable each new day when he realized he’d forgotten his song and would have to compose a new one, which would take just as much time and give him the sneaking suspicion that he’d managed to copy all the worst bits of the last.  It was not ideal. 
Then, one day when he was mid-verse, mid-swing, and trying to think of something that rhymed with “forsooth,” the woodcutter heard a strange sound: someone crying.  More specifically, someone that wasn’t him – he’d long ago developed a soft, stifled sob.  Pushing through a nearby thicket, curiosity, overtaking his mopiness, he found the source of the crying: an old woman standing in her garden with her back to him, cradling something. 
“Is there something wrong, old woman?” asked the woodcutter. 
The woman faced him without turning around, and that was when he knew he was dealing with a witch.  She didn’t look sad either, just furious, and it was then that the woodcutter noticed that she was cutting up an onion.  Whoops. 
“You’re trampling my garden!” she shrieked, and she was right; there the woodcutter was, up to his knees in the beans, his thighs in the peas, and his buttocks in the lettuce.  Those were some mighty big lettuces. 
“I’m sorry,” he said, the paralytic fear rendering him insincere.  “I didn’t mean it!  I’ll pay you back, I promise!”
“What does a poor woodcutter like you have besides your life?” demanded the witch, fixing him with the most evil of her eyes (the left one – it had a slightly misshapen cornea, and she squinted a lot with it). 
The woodcutter’s mind raced faster than it had in his life, and as most things tend to do when this happens, it sprung a gasket.  “My wife!” he said. 
“Nice try.  I’m doing you no favours for the ills you’ve just given me.  What do you have that I’d want?”
“My axe!”
“A battered piece of junk!”
“My cupboard!”
“Made out of sticks and branches!”
“My jug!”
“Not worthy to water weeds with!”
“My home!”
The witch jerked her thumb over her back, at the rather tall, ominous, and altogether splendid tower behind her.  The woodcutter’s heart sank.
“Your life or nothing is all you’ve given me.  Anything else, or do I take your heart here and now?”
The woodcutter realized he had one thing he hadn’t named.  “My daughter!” he said, skin shrivelling in shame at the lengths its owner would go to save it. 
“Ahh, there’s a good coward.  Yes, your daughter would do nicely.  A girl around to fetch and mend and carry is worth more than a coward’s heart, I think.  Best go fetch her now, before I grow impatient.”
The woodcutter left for home, feeling miserable and impotent.  “Woe is me.  And us,” he said to his wife, “for I have promised our daughter to a witch’s service in exchange for my life.  Hand her over.”
His wife looked at him like he was the world’s biggest idiot.  “What are you, the world’s biggest idiot?” she demanded.  “We don’t have anything we can’t take with us except the cupboard, and witches are frail old ladies.  Let’s just leave.”
So they did.  The witch was grumpy about it, but they were younger and faster than she was and before the day was done they were far away from her tower.  They’d got away scot-free and never saw that witch or any other ever again. 
This story isn’t about any of them either. 

 The woodcutter and his wife and daughter found a nicer, less witch-inhabited chunk of forest that was within spitting distance of a cool, clear river whose brook was so pretty and pristine that the woodcutter found himself describing it as “babbling” without intending to every time he mentioned it.  Also, they were near a small village full of people that rather didn’t mind having someone cut wood for them, which was a great improvement on the woodcutter’s old business model, which was doing it to get away from his wife and make the odd crude cupboard. 
Anyways, the daughter grew up.  And as she grew, she grew beautiful, which mystified both her parents because neither of them were exactly handsome, to put it lightly.  “Must be your mother’s side of the family,” opined the woodcutter, which earned him a smack.  She wasn’t just a pretty face, either – she wasn’t a stranger to hard work, and besides all the chores she did at home she also handled sewing and laundry for a few people in the village in exchange for favours, food, and the odd bit of knicknackery. 
It all was going so well when the dragon showed up.  The first thing the daughter knew of it was when her father came back from the village tavern in a frightful tizzy.  “It burned down all the crops and its breath blighted the soil,” he wailed.  “It ate up four of Cooper’s oxen and one of Smith’s horses, and it’s napping on the road out of town right now!  Our only hope is to keep it happy until someone can make it to the king and tell him to send help.”
“How do you do that?” asked the daughter, who was interested in all this. 
“Virgin sacrifices,” the woodcutter explained, moodiness wandering over his face as though it had lost the map. 
“Why?”
“It works, don’t ask me why.  We drew lots and Fletcher’s sending his daughter out tonight.  I just hope the messenger’s fast – we aren’t exactly rolling in young womenfolk around here.”
“What about boys?” asked the daughter.
“They don’t count,” explained the woodcutter, lamely, and he took up his axe and left as soon as possible.  Although the daughter felt vaguely pleased at seeing the opposite gender dismissed entirely for once, she somehow felt that in this case it wasn’t as convenient as it could’ve been. 
Fletcher’s daughter, it transpired, had sharper ears than her father had known, and by the time he’d gone to find her she was secluded in a barn with Tanner’s eldest son, busily removing her qualifications.  There was a good deal of shouting and shaming all around when they were discovered, but as she pointed out (rather smugly), there was just nothing to be done of it.  By the time the men of the village had got around to drawing lots again (this time it was old Miller’s youngest), the dragon had woken up, eaten Smith’s other horse and all of Shepherd’s sheep, and passed out again on the road. 
Fletcher’s daughter wasn’t shy about spreading the word, and by next evening old Miller’s youngest was also disqualified and rather smug about it.  The men of the village cursed her and youth today in general, drew lots, and cursed again the next eve, when Tanner’s daughter followed suit. 
And so it went, day by day.  A (female) virgin was chosen, a (female) virgin abused the rather obvious loophole, the men of the village cursed their daughters and lack of pattern recognition jointly, the dragon ate more livestock, and the lots were drawn again.  By the tenth day and night there were no more candidates of either sex readily available, except for one.  The woodcutter’s daughter’s lot was chosen, and this time the men of the village didn’t tell her until the evening had come.  Or rather, the woodcutter didn’t, and it was less because of sadistic cunning and more a matter of working up the nerve to inform her in front of her mother. 
“I’m awfully sorry, sweet-pea,” he explained as he was menaced with his own axe, “but it’s you or nice Mr. Shepherd’s last sheep, and he would be very upset about that.”
At this the woodcutter’s wife moved to inconvenience him, but she was stopped by her daughter.  “Don’t worry, mum,” she said.  “I’ll be fine.”
The woodcutter’s wife examined her daughter carefully, face expressionless.  “You sure about this, pumpkin?” she asked, dead serious.
“Yes.”
A forthright nod.  “Good girl then.  You go do what you can.”
So the woodcutter’s daughter did.  She took her father’s dented tin jug and his battered old axe, and she stopped at the home of the woman who was interested in herbs, and she took herself and her jug over to Mr. Shepherd’s house and strongarmed him into giving her his last sheep in exchange for three years of owed payment for doing his filthy laundry.  There was much gnashing of teeth as she left on her way down to the road out of town. 
The dragon was still sleeping, burping gently now and then, and the area was foul-smelling from its breath and feces.  Resolutely ignoring this, the woodcutter’s daughter killed the sheep with the axe, clumsily hacked its gut open (cursing her father’s reluctance to replace the old implement), dumped the contents of the tin can inside, and walked away to hide behind a nearby thicket. 
The noises the dragon made over the next half hour weren’t pretty, but few things are in the initial onset of the ingestion of several pounds of concentrated wolfsbane.  It wheezed and gurgled and moaned, and when the woodcutter’s daughter wandered out to check it was lying on its side, spewing inflammatory toxins from both ends and filling the ditches with foul-smelling embers. 
It was about then that the prince rode up on his horse, lance in hand, shield ready, and found them both.  He was quite confused when the dragon didn’t fight back as he speared its heart, but sorted it all out quickly by deciding that he’d done everything.  He’d even rescued a beautiful damsel, who protested a bit when he scooped her up onto the horse, but not too much after he agreed to meet her parents first before talking over the marriage question. 
This story probably isn’t about them either. 

Some years passed, and the woodcutter’s daughter was technically a queen and the prince a king.  They had three sons, one after another, and they were pretty good on the whole.  None of them that good-looking, which puzzled the parents a little since they were both considered such. 
“Must be your side of the family,” said the prince, who got swatted for it. 
Anyways, that didn’t matter.  The boys were healthy, happy, strong, and exceedingly boisterous and loud.  Their ages were twenty, nineteen, and eighteen when the trouble came.  One late summer day the king was out on horseback, inspecting the countryside, when a crow landed on his shoulder.  The king nearly shot out of the saddle in surprise, the horse bucked, and he went flying, waking up with a babbling mouth and addled mind.  This irked and alarmed the woodcutter’s daughter greatly, because she knew something that was more than bad luck when she saw it.  She called for the palace magician, and with a lot of talking and thinking they worked it out between them where to look for a cure. 
“Boys,” she said, addressing her three sons, “you’re going to go cure your father.  Try to make it back before winter sets in.  And head south-south-east.”
They promised they’d be back as soon as they could, took the best horses from the stable, some armour, a sword apiece, and plenty of supplies, and were off down the road by noon. 
“Let’s split up,” suggested the youngest.  “We can cover more ground that way.”  They all agreed on this, and the eldest brother headed down the first fork in the road they came across with a fare-thee-well.  His trip was very uneventful for the most part (the king had been pretty good at his job, and the lands were quiet), and sadly found himself unable to locate anything more than a few women who were interested in herbs, all of whom told him that scrambled brains needed something a bit stronger than herbs.  He did get to enjoy some excellent cups of tea, though. 
At the next fork in the road the middle brother turned away with a wave.  His path took him right up to the edge of the kingdom, and after venturing a bit farther he was accosted by a large band of knights and unceremoniously booted out of the domain by a king with an ill temper and a long memory, who distinctly recalled who had hidden frogs in his privy when he was on a diplomatic visit twelve years ago. 
The youngest brother had a bit of a shorter trip than his siblings – the road ended in a very small and very dull village not far from the fork where his elder brother had left him alone.  The only thing that was interesting about it was that it had a very large and cracked dragon skull above the door to the tavern (missing most of its teeth), which he inquired about. 
“The king did that,” said the woodcutter, who had never seen any of his grandchildren before and was welcoming the opportunity to have a pint or two on someone else’s expense.  “Back in the day.  Nice of him to let us keep the skull.”  His voice grew conspiratorial and quiet.  “And I think it’s still got a mite of magic in it.  Old Smith rubbed it for luck one day and the very next day he bought himself a new horse on the cheap.  Bit of a windfall, that.  And I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had a close call with my axe that could’ve turned nasty if it weren’t for the tooth I’ve got.”
The youngest son examined the tooth, which the woodcutter wore as a sort of crude necklace, and conceded that it was very impressive.  “Can I borrow it?” he asked. 
“What for?” asked the woodcutter, and he listened to the story.  “Ill tidings,” he said when the tale was done, secretly relishing the opportunity to say the words in context.  “Anything to give my daughter’s husband a hand.”  The woodcutter thought for a moment.  “Ten golden coins.”
The youngest son had to pawn his horse (Old Smith was happy to have a full team again, even if one was fourteen years older than the other) and walk all the way home on foot, but he was proud.  His brothers had come home before he did, and together they walked in to speak with the woodcutter’s daughter. 
“I have failed,” said the eldest son, remorsefully. 
“I have also failed,” said the middle son, bitterly. 
“I’ve got this,” said the youngest son, helpfully, and gave his mother the dragon-tooth pendant. 
The woodcutter’s daughter examined it closely.  “Thank you,” she said.  “You’ve all succeeded.”
The sons were slightly nonplussed, and then the woodcutter’s daughter explained that the king had been under a lot of stress for a while now, and a bit of a break with someone else running the kingdom and no loud children underfoot had done him a world of good.  In fact, he’d agreed to take ruling duty in shifts with her, and was currently out back playing a happy game of lawn bowls with several of the more energetic dukes.  The princes were a little annoyed, but consoled themselves with the knowledge that at least they’d gotten some fresh air and their father might have a bit more time to spend with them. 

There wasn’t a story about any of them.  But they were well-off enough without it.

 

 

Copyright 2009, Jamie Proctor. 

On Alligacrocaimanadillos.

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010
Today’s topic is going to be one of the few orders of creatures on the planet that you could totally imagine wandering around dinosaurs, giving them ‘sups.  Or eating them.  Whatever.  Ladies and gentlemen, the order Crocodillia
This is not an alligator.

This is not an alligator.

There are several important basic facts about the crocodillians in general that we should brush over.  First, they have easily the most powerful bites of any living animals – 5,000+ pounds per square inch, five times that of the hyena, whose hobbies include crushing bones in its mouth for marrowy goodness.  Second, they (and birds) are the only remaining Archosaurs (infraorder Archosauromorpha), the “ruling reptiles,” whose name is rather hard to argue with when you consider that it also included dinosaurs and pterosaurs.  Producing the largest land animals and flying creatures of all time along with some pretty damned impressive watergoers is no small thing to sneeze at.  Third, they are not armadillos. 

This is not a crocodillian.  Remember that.

This is not a crocodillian. Remember that.

Beyond this, the order itself can be shoved into two major families: Alligatoridae (Alligators and Caimans) and Crocodylidae (Crocodiles and Croquet mallets).  Neither contains armadillos,  who are members of the mammallian superorder Xenartha, which also contains sloths and anteaters, giving its members a notable tendency towards being dumber than a brick sandwich and twice as ugly, yet strangely adorable in an utterly grotesque and dopey fashion.  They also all have prominent claws, whether for burrowing and grubbing (armadillos), tearing apart gigantic termite mounds (anteaters), or dangling upside down from branches while expending no effort or brain cells. 

Now that that’s over with, let’s get down to nitty gritty details.  Specifically, we’ll be specifying the specific differences between alligators and crocodiles.  They’re well-known by everone under the age of fifteen or so, but I’ll restate them for you.
ALLIGATORS:
-Have wide, blunt, broad snouts with an almost U-shaped tip. 
-Have wider upper jaws than lower ones, so their lower teeth are almost never exposed when their mouths are shut.
-Tend to be darker coloured.
-Prefer freshwater slightly more, though they can live in seawater.
-Are less bitchy, cranky, and testy.

CAIMANS:
-Are slightly more agile and crocodile-oid than alligators.
-Live in Central and South America.
-Have longer and sharper teeth than alligators.
-Have bony back scutes as armour.
-Have a bone septum betwixt the nostrils

CROCODILES:
-Have longer, narrower jaws with V-shaped snouts. 
-Lower teeth often exposed when mouth is shut, due to equal-jaw-width.
-Are less concerned about salty water than alligators, due to specialized glands. 
-Are tetchy bastards.
ARMADILLOS:
-Are not crocodillians.
-Eat just about anything, although some prefer to eat almost solely ants.
-Are named from Spanish: “little armoured one.”
-Range in size from the pink fairy armadillo (4-5 inches) to the giant armadillo (5 ft.). 
-Are not crocodillians in any way, shape, or form.  Get this straight.

Now, on to the species!

 The Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis and Alligator sinensis)

This IS an alligator.  Write it down.

This IS an alligator. Write it down.

 The alligators are a less common lot than the crocodiles – there’re only two species around at the moment; the American (A. Mississippiensis) and the Chinese (A. sinensis), both of which are found pretty much where you’d expect.  Average size for the slightly bigger American is 13-14.5 ft. and 800-1,00 lbs, while the Chinese is hard put to broach 7 ft (especially in the wild, where they’re fairly fucked at the moment.  Prolific breeders in captivity, though).  Both species change diets as they grow (somewhat necessarily – although it’d be interesting to see a six-inch hatchling try to bring down a deer), but eat approximately similar things: starting out small with fish and invertebrates of all sorts, then working their way up to bigger fish and practically anything else that’s large enough to interest them.  Big Everglades alligators (that place sounds like a location in one of Tolkien’s notebooks) bring down black bears and cougars from time to time when they’re bored or peckish, so they’re pretty much at the peak of their game wherever they live.  Interestingly, they don’t automatically regard humans as food, although habituation, that feckless and careless whore, once again makes life difficult for everyone – an alligator used to people is no longer shy and that much likelier to try out your munchiness.  The other factor is carelessness: harass an alligator or go anywhere near its nest and you might as well write your will before you go, just to make things easier for everyone involved. 
The American alligator, as an aside, can handle cold the best of any crocodillian – weathering out winters underneath the surfaces of frozen ponds if needs must. 

 

American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus).

This is not an alligator, and neither is the thing in its mouth.

This is not an alligator, and neither is the thing in its mouth.

One of the most prominent of the American crocodiles – of which there are quite a few, surprisingly.  There’s the Orinoco, Cuban, and Morelet’s crocodiles, plus this – although to be fair, none of them are in that great condition, population-wise.  All of their habitats lie within an area covering Central and South American to the Caribbean. 
The American crocodile itself can get larger than its alligatorish relatives – vile hearsay insists on up to 20 ft., although these individuals recieve food at bridge crossings regularly and thus can be considered to be on the crocodillian version of ‘roids - and is much more tolerant of salty water, although they suffer greatly from cold and are incredibly reluctant to head north of Florida.  No matter what size or age, fish is most of their diet – although they can eat pretty much whatever they damned well please. 

 

Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus).

This is not an alligator and whoever told you so was a damned liar with a forked tongue.

This is not an alligator and whoever told you so was a damned liar with a forked tongue.

The nine-banded armadillo is absolutely not related to the crocodillians and is the most common member of its species.  Like most omnivorous, opportunistic, garbage-eating, carrion-savouring creatures deemed pests it has profited admirably from our presence and has extended its range substantially since the mid-1800s.  Originally prolific through Central and South America, it has since expanded across the Rio Grande and through Florida via some helpful idiot.  It can’t go much farther north, but it’s spread from Texas to Tennessee.   They eat all manner of burrowing insects and invertebrates, small amphibians and reptiles, and carrion, thus giving them terrible breath.  Sometimes they’re hunted for their habits of eating eggs, sometimes for their apparently pork-like taste. 
The nine-banded armadillo is the state mascot of Texas as of 1995, and can most often be found there lying dead besides a highway.  Some Texans objected to this decision.

 

Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger).

Caiman babby.  Note that it is, in fact, a member of the Alligatoridae.

Caiman babby. Note that it is, in fact, a member of the Alligatoridae.

Most caiman species max out around nine feet and a bit.  The black caiman reaches the 14.5 ft. length of the larger American alligators on average and the big fellows can hit 16 ft. – and those are just the known quantities; there’s talk of bigger still lurking somewhere out there in the Amazon river.  Speaking of which, it’s found all over the Amazon basin – or was, before someone realized its hide was valuable.  Now it’s fairly rare and treated as such.  Like most large crocodillians it’s pretty much the apex predator of its zone, capable of ignoring or even eating the anacondas and jaguars that prey upon its young and other, smaller caiman species.  They’re likely dangerous to humans, but given the quantity of black caimans left, let alone the number of larger males (the usual suspects), it’s not really an issue at this time.  Besides, the Amazon has plenty of other ways to kill you.  16-foot caimans are just overkill when a poison frog or a random, horrifying disease will do. 

 

Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus).

NOT AN ALLIGATOR.

NOT AN ALLIGATOR.

The best way to enter the Old World is to meet one of its most notorious killers, shake it politely by its foot, realize about 0.01 seconds afterwards that cross-species communication does not work that way, and be messily devoured.   The Nile crocodile has killed more people than God, more than any other crocodile (who as a group kill and eat more people than any other animal), and when it goes for you, like most good crocodiles, it does it because it is hungry.  No mistaken identity needed.  No provocation wanted.  It is hungry, and you are perfectly viable as food.  Like almost everything else within arm’s reach – Nile crocodiles will eat things up to giraffe size, eat leopards and lions if they’re getting hungry, and at maximum adult size (11-16 ft. average, old males can reach over 18 ft.) there is nothing on the continent that will try to go for them.  As with any crocodillians they begin small, and they’ll still eat fish even as adults, but their first preference is always large prey – something Africa still has plenty of, in spite of all we’ve done for it.  Sadly, much of said large prey is also us, and the Nile crocodile has a bad habit of living in and around water that people would rather like to use for other things.  After vigorous hunting from the 1940s to 1960s it’s been prevented from a full bounce-back by pollution, accidental fishing net entanglements, and annoyed people with rifles who don’t want to be eaten.  This is more of an issue than it sounds, since like any good apex predator, removing the crocodiles from the ecosystem shakes things up badly all the way down to the roots as whatever they’ve been eating booms like a post-war baby. 

 

The Pink Fairy Armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus).

These are not alligators, crocodiles, or caimans.  And they're especially not alligators.

These are not alligators, crocodiles, or caimans. And they're especially not alligators.

The teeniest of all armadillos, the pink fairy armadillo (or “pichiciego”) lives in central Argentina, where it spends its time burrowing rapidly through loose soil, dirt, and sand, eating invertebrates, averaging 3.5-4.5 inches in length, and being as cute as the dickens.  Their incredible tininess and ability to quickly dig a hidey-hole make knowing anything about them an absolute bitch, even if they’re endangered or not.  We don’t even know precisely what effect cattle ranching has had on their home territory, but who cares because they are eensy-weensy adorablewho’sagoodarmadilloden?!  Yesyouare!

 

Gharial/Gavial/Indian Gavial (Gavialis gangeticus).

Don't stare at it.  It's a fully functioning crocodillian adult and you should treat it like one.

Don't stare at it. It's a fully functioning crocodillian adult and you should treat it like one.

The gharial’s ancestors split off from the rest of the Crocodillians in the late Cretaceous, leaving the gharial (and its close personal relative the false gharial/malaysian gharial/tomistoma) the only surviving members of the Gavialidae family.  Upon separation, the gharial’s ancestors did what anyone else would’ve done and grew a really long goony-looking jaw to grab and spear loads of fish with.  Unfortunately, now it can’t eat anything larger than a fish unless it’s already dead – anything more exhuberant than a corpse is liable to injure those spindly little jaws and snap off needle-teeth.  They’re timid and also the second-largest of all crocodillians, mostly due to their absurd length (12-16.5 ft. average, 20 ft. lengths not unheard of in the slightest).  Its fishy diet is part of an evolutionary package deal: the gharial has become the clumsiest of all crocodillians on land, unable to even raise itself off the ground fully for a rapid walk, but it’s easily the most maneuverable and speedy in the water, with an overdeveloped and laterally flattened tail that gives it great propulsion. 
The wild population of gharials in India is estimated to be something like 1,500, with around 400 breeding pairs.  They’re under threat from pollution, accidental death, and the occasional idiots with weaponry who can’t tell them apart from the smaller, more feisty Mugger crocodiles

 

The Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus).

Don't be fooled by its apparent docility.  It is NOT AN ALLIGATOR.

Don't be fooled by its apparent docility. It is NOT AN ALLIGATOR.

The largest of all living crocodiles, the largest of all living reptiles, and one of the most human-unfriendly predators on earth, ladies and gentlemen, the “salty.”  The only thing that prevents this titanic (13-18 ft. average, 20 ft.+ in mature males perfectly fine!) bruiser from racking up a body count that’d make the Nile crocodile blush is its territory, which overlaps much less with humans – it can be found spread across the Western Pacific, much as if someone had buttered it with scaly predators; it has no issues with ocean travel and does so regularly, something hinted at in its name.  It’s also the most sexually dimorphic crocodile existing, with females averaging 9-11 ft. and the record-bearer being a relatively paltry 14 ft.  As a final anatomical peculiarity, it’s much thicker and broader than any other crocodile, giving it a similar body profile to an alligator. 
Once it hits 4 metres or so in length utterly nothing will attempt to give a salty trouble on a regular basis, and only the largest sharks or members of its own kind would even consider it.  The bigger males are effectively invulnerable, and any attempt at listing their diets would be better off listing what isn’t on their menus, either regularly or opportunistically.  Here’s a version of that off the top of my head: whales, Indian elephants, and Indian rhinos.  Obviously it doesn’t make a habit of going for dangerous game (like tigers) regularly, but when you don’t have any issues with crushing an adult water buffalo’s skull in one bite, the world is pretty much your oyster. 

 

Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus).

Is an alligator.

Is an alligator.

The giant armadillo lives across the easternness of South America in all manner of habitats nowadays, and can also be found as far south as northern Argentina, where it is legally and biologically an alligator.  They average 62 lbs and roughly 3 ft. in length as adultigators.  Mostly feeding upon termites and ants (the mounds of the former are veritable feasts), it isn’t shy about eating larger prey, like mice and rats and those alligators that are younger than itself.  Its larger size has led it to not fare as well as its relative, the nine-banded armacaiman, and it is considered to be endangered, a fate it shares with almost every other extant species of crocodillian worldwide. 
It’s an alligator, you know. 

 

Picture Credits:

  • Saltwater Crocodile: Public domain image from Wikipedia. 
  • Nine-Banded Armadillo: Taken at Palm Coast, Florida, by Vlad Lazarenko, August 6th 2009.
  • American Alligators: Florida, USA, October 26th 2005, Matthew Field http://www.photography.mattfield.com
  • American Crocodile: Taken in La Manzanilla, Jalisco, Mexico, by Tomascastelazo
  • Nine-Banded Armadillo: Taken near Granger Lake between Taylor and Granger, Texas, on March 1st, 2008, by Brian E. Klum
  • Black Caiman: Taken in Peru, 1998, by Mokele
  • Nile Crocodile: From MathKnight and Zachi Evenor.
  • Pink Fairy Armadillo: Illustration by Friedrich Specht, Brehms Tierleben, Small Edition 1927, image from Wikipedia.
  • Indian Gharial: Taken at the San Diego Zoo by Justin Griffiths and released to the Public Domain, taken from Wikipedia.
  • Saltwater Crocodile: Taken outside Cairns Queensland, January 9th 2006, MartinRe
  • Giant Armadillo: Taken at Villavicencio, Colombia.  From Wikipedia. 

The Life of Small-five (Part 3).

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

(I had something up for today, but then I realized I couldn’t post it because I have to put it into a short story contest and lose first.  So enjoy a half-length bit instead).

Once the thrill and overpowering demands of instinct had faded away from her, Small-five was near-frightened by the new world around her.  The deepest waters she had ever swum had been the reef-rifts, explored with close caution and worriment in her every motion.  Now she hurried over empty blue whose extent she couldn’t even begin to comprehend and whose exploration she would be unable to undergo, even if she desired it or had the time.  The Fiskupids were small, but they were ceaselessly energetic.  She had swum for something like two days straight at a pace that never slowed below a swift cruise, and they showed no signs of stress or strain.  Small-five’s disadvantage was an unfortunate side effect of her near-starvation on the reef – where muscle should’ve bulged, it merely pulsed.

Still, she was optimally placed to correct this difficulty.  She swam and ate and ate and swam, surrounded by a seemingly endless feast of the Fiskupids and their predators alike, untroubled by any needs save those of growth.  At first she watched the Raskljens warily, but when she realized that they saw no need to hunt her when surrounded by so much easier prey she became less cautious, and by the time ten days had passed and the Fiskupid schools finally slowed their relentless pace she swam by most them as casually as they did her.  Except for the larger ones, who still appeared to be slightly too interested in her whenever she saw them.

Other hanger-ons came in time.  Slow-moving, stretched-out Skurromesh, elongated and entwined bodies formed of a mated male and female wrapped around one another’s forms.  The disturbing Fjiloj – her first sighting of them, from a distance, filled her with useless hope; the shine, the glow, for a brief moment made her think of her sisters.  But when she drew closer she saw the colours and tones were all wrong; this was not the bright and strong glowshine of her sisters, but something wrong, soft and ghostly and flickering, uncontrolled, unfocused, unreal.  It bobbed in the water gently, translucent and wrong, and she had the sense to back away, confusion saving her from the whip-strong tendrils that spread out towards her with the speed of a darting Verrineeach, nearly invisible in the water.  What appeared to be a jellylike sack of glowing innards a short distance away was housed inside the powerfully muscled frame of a bony predator, lean and savage, but thankfully slow-swimming.  Small-five fled, and was wary of all light for a time, even to the point of dimming her own to almost unnoticeable levels.

Stranger still was another wanderer, one whose name she never learned.  It was nothing more than a large-ish stretch of cloudy, murked water, but it held together in defiance of dispersion, and somehow moved against the current if it willed it.  It followed the vast shoal for some days, and creatures too close to it tended to vanish without warning.  Small-five never saw what happened to them, but that was enough to make her watch it closely.  It vanished as suddenly and conspicuously as it arrived one day, along with a large and belligerent Raskljen that Small-five had long had to avoid.  A reminder that not all dangers were dangers to her alone, or incapable of working to her benefit.  Still, a relief to see it gone.

Of all of the denizens of the shoal, those that unsettled her the greatest were her own kind.  After the attack above the chasm, she had no interest in making acquaintances – when she saw glowshine in the distance, she shut down her illumination and fled, and she didn’t light up until some time had passed without so much as a glimmer passing her eyes.

The Fiskupid’s slowing seemed connected to the temperature.  Small-five had taken time to notice it herself, but they were in cooler waters than the location of the relatively warm reefcolony she’d grown up in.  It had no immediate effects on her person besides making her appreciate (in some deepened corner of her brain) her added fat, but it had an effect on her surroundings, like it or not.  Not all of the new denizens of the open ocean she saw were alien solely because of habitat – the Filijoj would’ve been sluggish and slower had it ventured far enough north to join the shoal in its earlier days.  Its relatives that dwelt in that particular part of the world were smaller, faster, less aggressive, and far more wide-roaming.   As new inhabitants of the shoal arrived, others departed: the few Skurromesh that had trailed in its wake to pick up leavings fell behind for good, both exhausted, sated, and reaching the ends of their temperature comfort zones.

What made this significant were the Ooliku.  The Fiskupids were on the first and greatest journey of their lives.  Small-five, the Raskljen, the Fjiloj, and the other, stranger things were there to exploit it.  The Ooliku were coming home.  The Fiskupids were merely a convenient food source for them to latch onto as they travelled, and if they were removed they would still constitute a mighty shoal on their own, albeit one barely a tenth of a fifth of a sixth of the size.  They were moving with purpose of their own, a return to the bottom of the world, to the ice and cold and freezing black water that swarmed with nutrients and life.  Their paths would diverge soon, and they would depart, bellies filled with nutrition and packed into fat that would have to last them the last and longest step of their great journey.  Under the poles they would couple and breed and die and feast, only the hardiest returning to the reefcolonies to spray their eggs in warmer waters.

Small-five knew none of this, of course.  All she knew was that the Ooliku were getting heftier, more aggressive, and clustering tighter together.  That, and even the subadults had swollen into burlier adults by now.  Preying upon any of them was now distinctly unfeasible – their beaks were sharp and they had no reserves whatsoever about pre-emptively driving off anything they thought might harm them, flying at anything from the largest Raskljen to Small-five herself in large mobs.  The one predator that seemed to successfully stump them were the Fjiloji – more than once Small-five watched an Ooliku curiously swim all too close to that soft sinister glow, then jerk and die midwater before being brought to indistinct mouthparts, ripped, and swallowed.

Their departure was still a shock.  One evening, as Small-five stirred from her torpor (swimming while resting was a new skill she’d acquired), she noticed that there wasn’t a single Ooliku left.  Every single one had extracted itself from the shoal, presumably formed up into a separate school, and left for the pole, taking a substantial chunk of the shoal’s predator population with them.  Not that it in any way reduced her perceptions of its size – the main change she noticed was that she didn’t have to carefully watch and brood over every lunge into a dense mass of prey, worrying about coming face-first into a clump of surly adult Ooliku.  The sole remaining predators she knew of within the school were only the very largest of the Raskljen, and even they had gradually vanished, replaced by smaller, sleeker cousins less than a third again her body weight, that had no interest in any prey but the Fiskupids, darting into their densest swarms and devouring them ten-at-a-time.  For the first time in what felt like forever, she had utterly nothing to fear.  This newfound carefreeness backfired on her after what seemed to be a very short time, when she swam through a cloud of prey (it was impossible to remember a time when she hadn’t been surrounded by free-swimming food and suddenly found her eyes full of startled glowshine, her own and those of three others.  That they were slightly larger than she was registered through the shock, but her immediate reaction after that had switched from flight to sheer terror-paralysis.  Not that she was in a position where flight would do her any good – she would never be able to move fast enough to outrun them from less than a proboscis-length away.

They hovered there, all four of them.  Glowshine codes flickered back and forth between the three sisters, too quick and complex for Small-five to grasp, variations on themes that she and her sisters had only just begun to grasp before their separation.  But no hostility, no stabbing proboscises, no angry flares of light.  Wariness, yes, but strange codes and signals that might have been curiosity.  They were older than her assailants had been, as was she – practically juveniles, nearing full sapience.

Flicker-pulse-three-point-irregular-twinkle? flashed out the largest of the three sisters.

Small-five watched without comprehension.  It didn’t feel like a name, but it felt impatient.

The pattern repeated itself.  She didn’t understand it.  Small-five-point-burst-of-light, she flashed.  It was the only thing she could think of that was intelligible.  That was what she was, and she didn’t know anything else.

It certainly got their attention.  More flashes and flickers and maybe she was just guessing off of murky memories of her own sisters, but she could see something of interest there.

Dim-glow-bright-two-point-flare.  A name.  The other two lit up: All-fin-sparkle and Nine-point-glimmer.

Names.  Names for all of them.  She’d forgotten what this was like.  With others swimming near here.

They turned to move away, and Small-five saw the lines of light crawl down Dim-glow from snout to tail, the call to swim, to fall together.  Something old, something familiar, delivered by someone new.

Small-five fell in, unsure and uncomprehending, but grateful and with an odd budding of hope inside her.  She hadn’t swum with others in a long, long time.

On Kitties.

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

I’m going to give you all a brief, merciful break from my terrifyingly awkward fiction to give you a tour of my horribly rambly nonfiction.  Today’s subject, in addition, is one which I’m less than well-versed in, yet something we all enjoy: KITTIES! 

OHMIGODIT'SAKITTEH!

OHMIGODIT'SAKITTEH!

Except we’ll be looking at all the kitties that are big enough to kill and eat you. 

Nummy.

Nummy.

Admit it, it’s more interesting that way.  We’ll be doing this in order of rough body size, because that’s the way real manly insecure men do things. 

The Cougar/Catamount/American Lion/Mountain Lion/Puma/Panther (Puma concolor)

Mountain_lion

Yes, that’s all just one species.  Cougars are the largest cats in North America (115-198 pounds for males 64-141 lbs for females, 60 to 76 centimetres at the shoulder).  In the incredibly informal lumping of the Felids (the taxonomical Family of the KITTIES, in case you were an ignorant lout and didn’t know this – hence, “feline”) into the twi groups of the “big cats” and “small cats,” cougars are technically “small cats” – the requirements aren’t size, but membership in the high-falutin’ and exclusive genus of Panthera.  A more literal interpretation of “big cat” adds in the cougar, snow leopard, and cheetah, but that’s newfangled and therefore for those tiresome young people that keep yapping on about saving the whales. 
Cougars are solitary, bar when they’re raising their kittens, which, of course, are extremely adorable (a solitary cat – my GOODNESS GRACIOUS AND BEANS).  They’ve lived over almost every inch of both the Americas, from tip to top, although now for some strange reason totally unconnected with testy land-hogging plains apes with gunpowder weaponry they’re inexplicably scarce across a lot of their former range.  In particular, the Eastern seaboard is pretty cougar-less – a far cry from the old days (which hasn’t stifled the odd sighting or sign of them – there may very well be mountain lions about there again, if in small numbers.  That reminds me of the time what possibly could have been a cougar studied our cat with avid curiosity from about thirty feet away in our backyard before idly trotting away, but hey, back to the topic at hand here….KITTIES). 

The most adorable cases of bed head you're ever likely to see.

The most adorable cases of bed head you're ever likely to see.

Being as far-ranging as cougars are (or were) naturally means flexibility, with regards to habitat, food, and just general adaptiveness overall.  They eat deer, birds, small mammals, bighorn sheep, cattle, horses, even a moose now and then or insects – whatever there is lying about at the time.  This requires a fair amount of individualized learning and experience; dump a South American cougar into the Yukon, and it would be highly puzzled on meeting a moose.  Nothing really returns the cougars the favour – bears, wolves, jaguars, alligators and caimans alike may share the top predator position, or even exceed the cougar’s claim, but they don’t particularly seek out and eat them as a matter of course.  As a rule of thumb, few predators enjoy the prospect of hunting down something that’s very likely to hurt them, and other apex predators are seldom meek and willy prey.  Speaking of which and turning back to the point above, cougars are fairly unlikely to go for humans – they rely on learned prey recognition, something that usually isn’t formed for us in particular.  They’re most likely to attack if they’re starving or feel threatened – and even then,  they prefer to go for children, with their usual method of downing prey: a bite right in the neck.  Attacks like that are almost always fatal.  Scientists say it’s probably because of the canines severing your spinal cord, or your vertebrae crunching, or windpipe collapse, jugular spurting apart, or something else sciencey like that. 

 

The Leopard (Panthera pardus)

The leopard would like to tell your cats that sleeping on pillows is for wussies.

The leopard would like to tell your cats that sleeping on pillows is for wussies.

The smallest of the “big cats” of Panthera, the leopard is part of an exclusive club – this older, more restricted definition of the group is also deemed the “four who can roar.”  That’s right, outside the Panthera big cats, not a single kitty can roar (although they scarcely need that to alarm you – cougars have a scream that resembles a woman’s, just the thing to put you to sleep on a lonely night in the wilderness).  Speaking of the cougar, despite occupying opposing continents, the leopard isn’t all that different from it in quite a few ways – it’s lean rather than bulky, and it’s approximately the same size, maybe a little bigger (45-80 centimetres at the shoulder, 82-200 pounds – for males, which are about 30% bigger than females).  They can also produce runty, messed-up hybrid offspring called pumapards, but back to the leopard here.  Its legs are a tad stubby for its body length (to keep from getting tangled up in branches and such), and it’s got a pretty powerful and massive set of jaws on it for its size.  This, incidentally, works well with its after-hunting strategy, where it often drags deceased prey up a tree for safe keeping – the only cat known to do this, and all the more impressive when you realize some of the things it eats are up to thrice its weight.  If you find a gazelle dangling from some branches somewhere, go away before you piss off its owner.  They’re even more far-ranging than cougars, and can be found from Subsaharan Africa all the way into Southeast Asia in scattered populations. 

Note that leopards have never once used different levels of melanin as an excuse to eat each other.  I'm just saying.

Note that leopards have never once used different levels of melanin as an excuse to eat each other. I'm just saying.

Leopards share with jaguars an interesting little habit of occasionally cropping up melanistic rather than spotted - or, to put it more plainly, black.  It’s most common in rain forests and mountainous areas, where it possibly allows slightly better blending-in.  “Black panthers” like these are still spotted, but it’s very hard to make out the markings against their darkened “un-spotted” fur.  On a more humanitarian note, leopards are less likely to go for humans than their larger neighbours, but when they do (via those good ol’ pair of reasons: age or injury forcing them to easy prey) they are regarded as absolutely terrifying – smaller and stealthier than lions or tigers, but just as dangerous and much, much bolder, thinking nothing of waltzing straight into a settlement and yanking someone out in the middle of the night. 

 

The Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Regal, with a touch of staring-right-through-your-skull.

Regal, with a touch of staring-right-through-your-skull.

The third largest kitty on the planet, the jaguar gets a bit less publicity than the lion and tiger (hey, the three biggest cats live on three different continents – there’s some shallow and meaningless meaning there).  It’s got a lot of variation in size – females are 10-20% smaller than males, which meander from 67-76 cm at the shoulder on average, and weights can vary from scrawny (80 lbs) to average variation (124-211 lbs) to as big as a female tiger or lion (350 lbs!).  A large part of it seems to be regional – jaguars from along the Mexican Pacific coast are around as big as cougars, but those in parts of Brazil average over 220 pounds and elder males can end up over 300 lbs without being freaks. As to body build, jaguars are quite different from the svelte and agile cougars and leopards we’ve examined thus far – they’re built thick and powerful, with additional appropriate words being “robust,” “stocky,” and “compact” (unacceptable phrases include “midgetized,” “badger-like,” and “thicker than mother’s oatmeal”), which makes them good swimmers and climbers in the rainforests of South America.  Its bite is incredibly powerful, and if adjusted for body size may be greater than any other felid’s – which may have something to do with its habit of noshing on turtles now and then, to say nothing of armadillos, caimans, and occasionally even an anaconda or two. 

Tip: those cute little prickles on your cat's tongue are meant to be used to scrape meat directly from the bone.  And knowing is half the creep-out.

Tip: those cute little prickles on your cat's tongue are meant to be used to scrape meat directly from the bone. And knowing is half the creep-out.

The Jaguar’s killing method is also noteworthy – no other kitty uses something quite like it.  They take their prey’s head in those big crusher jaws of theirs, and then bite right into the brain – something that’s thought to have a connection with cracking turtle shells.  They tend to use this most often on mammallian prey – but no need to fear.  Of all the big cats, the jaguar has the least human deaths on its conscience, and all of those are either from aged and near-helpless specimens that couldn’t catch anything else or aggressive self-defense.  A final note on its patterning – jaguars, unlike leopards, have small spots inside their “rosette” markings - and leopards have rounder and smaller rosettes. 

 

The Lion, or “The King of Beasts” according to twits (Panthera leo)

When smugness and utter boredom collide.

When smugness and utter boredom collide.

Definitely the most well-known and overrated of all the big cats, the so-called “king of beasts” is only the second-largest, although it’s the tallest at the shoulder.  It’s also among the most visually distinctive, thanks to the impressive manes the males sport.  Unusually for kitties, lions are social animals.  Size-wise, males meander from 330-550 lbs, females 264-400 pounds, with shoulder heights of 4 foot and 3 foot 6 inches respectively.  As is becoming common, these measurements depend largely on environment – both local habitat and global location.  Other notable lion characteristics include nice long canines (8 centimetres), strong legs, burly jowly jaws, tufted tails (unique among kitties), and oh yeah, that huge honking head of hair the males get.  Lion manes make them look much more intimidating when confronting hyenas or each other, but they also make the males as well-camouflaged as a bowl of white rice and tofu in a candy factory.  This is why the big lazy bastards let the females do all the hunting for them.  AND THEN THEY REFUSE TO LET THEM EAT FIRST. 

Adorable as they seem, this lioness and her cub are trapped in an abusive, one-sided relationship.

Adorable as they seem, this lioness and her cub are trapped in an abusive, one-sided relationship.

The exact target of the lioness’s hunts varies, again, with region, but lions in general eat mostly large mammals – they’re big animals, and most of the time they’re hunting not just for themselves and their fellow huntresses but for those big, selfish, greedy chauvinist pigs back home too.  They tend to avoid prey outside the weight range of roughly 420-1210 pounds – smaller, and it’s often not worth hunting, bigger, and it’s liable to get very dangerous – but there are exceptions to this.  The lions of Kruger National Park go for giraffes quite often, and the lions of Chobe Park in northern Botswana make a virtual habit out of going for the park’s elephants – the largest concentration in Africa.  Apparently they started resorting to calves when times grew tough, then moved on to adolescents and even adults, all done at night, when they can’t see it coming as well as they should. 
Whatever they’re hunting, lionesses are usually in wide-open areas with good sightlines, making it essential that they work together to bring down prey that could very well see them coming.  The favored execution method of lions is suffocation via clamping those big jaws around something’s windpipe and slowly throttling it to death, unless it’s small enough to have its spine swatted apart.  Few creatures can return the favour; spotted hyenas have high dietary overlap with lions and are often in competition with them, but lions are simply too big to be bullied unless they’re alone – rather rare for a social species.  Leopards, cheetahs, and African wild dogs are even more easily dismissed, bullied, and occasionally eaten.  The one predator on the African continent that can make a lion wary is a Nile crocodile; a lion might be able to handle one out of the water, but it’d be a rare and stupid crocodile that’d let itself be caught so easily, and it’d better be a small one.  A lion that’s unfortunate enough to run into a crocodile in its element is very unlikely to make it out alive. 
As a final note, lions are indeed more than willing to eat humans – provided the motivation is there.  Again, the old saw of “if-it-is-sick-or-injured” comes into play, but more important yet may be the amount of prey available.  If humans are moving into the area, and humans and their livestock are now more prevelant than bush species, then hey, what do you think the lions are going to eat?  As said previously, lions won’t hesitate to modify their diet according to regional peculiarities, and if this particular peculiarity is “there’s no more wildebeest and lots of chattering plains apes,” so be it. 

Oh, and when a male lion takes over a pride, he often kills all the cubs so the females get horny again and can have HIS kids rather than some other guy’s.  You know what?  This asshole deserves the title of King of Beasts.  Perfectly. 

 

The Tiger (Panthera tigris)

Despite what you may know about cats, tigers like water.  See where stereotypes lead you?

Despite what you may know about cats, tigers like water. See where stereotypes lead you?

The tiger is both the largest cat of all and possibly the most visually distinctive – fie upon your manes, they have magnificently striped sides!  Body size varies wildly – there are seven remaining subspecies of tiger, ranging from the (relatively) “small” Sumatran tiger (220-310 lbs for males, 170-240 lbs for female – an adaptation to Sumatra’s dense forests) to the positively enormous Siberian tiger (males 43 inches at the shoulder and 420-670 lbs, females 220-370 pounds).  Tigers could be found all across Asia before the 19th century, but nowadays they’ve vanished from Western Asia and aren’t exactly numerous anywhere, even their most favored of old stomping grounds.  Their most distinctive features are extremely powerful legs that let them bring down animals much larger than themselves, and of course, their stripes, which tend to average somewhere around one hundred an animal. 

Tiger stripes can break up their outlines against a forest or long grass quite nicely.  Although the middle fellow there doesn't seem to be impressed.

Tiger stripes can break up their outlines against a forest or long grass quite nicely. Although the middle fellow there doesn't seem to be impressed.

Tigers hunt like most big cats – stalking and then pouncing, with massive bursts of speed that can only last for a brief time.  Water buffalo, deer, tapirs, gaur, and all manner of large prey are brought down like a lion – neck-biting and slow suffocation.  Smaller prey typically has its neck bitten, or possibly a whack with a paw – which can crush the skulls of cattle with one shot.  Other predators for the most part stay the hell away from tigers – even crocodiles won’t chance a confrontation often, and tigers are more at home in the water than any other kitty.  Sloth bears can harass adolescent tigers, but adults prey upon them with ease, wolves have been found to steer clear of tiger territory, and the dhole (or “red dog”) of India, while occasionally capable of mobbing a tiger over food in big groups, usually does so only at risking losing massive numbers.  Even brown bears fare no better than fifty/fifty against Siberian tigers in Russia, with the two species stealing kills and young from each other, and occasionally Siberian tigers there will actively prey even on adult bears.  You know you’re dealing with a hardcore predator when now and then it will decide it wants to eat a mature brown bear. 
Tigers are responsible for more human deaths than any other cat, but show no real preference for humans as prey whatsoever.  Most man-eating tigers are sick, old, have broken teeth, or some combination of the above.  In some cases, it’s believed sufficient exposure to the concept via human carrion can cause tigers to register people as “food, of a sort.”  Interestingly enough, man-eating tigers are among the most timid of all man-eating big cats – seldom venturing into villages or settlements, and almost never going for anyone that isn’t alone.  Even something so trivial as being spotted before an attack can be made may be enough to forstall them.  This in no way has prevented them for racking up truly epic individual bodycounts – and in one case, the bengal tigers of the Sundarbans, an entire population of tigers is noteworthy for using humans as a secondary food source.  Theories on their renowned tetchiness range from having to constantly drink saltwater to inability to properly mark territory due to constant flooding to habituation towards human flesh thanks to frequent death tolls from hurricanes and tsunamis in the region.  Plus, the Sundarban tigers are approximately 500 in number, and are one of the largest single tiger populations in the world, which is a high density of large, aggressive kitties. 

 

Things we’ve missed include cheetahs, lynxes, bobcats, wildcats, ocelots, and much more.  Ah well, I’m sure they’ll turn up in good time. 

 

OH SHIT THEY’RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU.

 

Picture Credits:

  • Sleepy cat: Public domain image from Wikipedia, taken January 9th 2009 by “David.”
  • Lions and a Zebra: Wikipedia Commons, taken December 09, 2005 at 11:21 by Jeffrey Sohn. 
  • Cougar: Public domain image from Wikipedia, from USDA National Wildlife Research Center media archives.
  • Cougar Kittens: Public domain image from Wikipedia, taken by WL Miller. 
  • Leopard on a tree: Public domain image from Wikipedia, from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 
  • Black Leopard: Wikipedia Commons,  from the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona, uploaded by Qilinmon at en.Wikipedia. 
  • Sitting Jaguar: Wikipedia Commons, October 6 2006, Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens, by en:User:Cburnett
  • Yawning Jaguar: Wikipedia Commons, August 19 2007, Toronto Zoo, Marcus Obal.
  • Lion waiting in Nambia: Wikipedia Commons, 26 July 2004, yaaaay
  • Lion cub with mother in the Serengeti: Wikipedia Commons, Tanzania 2007, David Dennis. 
  • Sumatraanse Tiger: Public domain image from Wikipedia, August 30 2007, Dick Mudde. 
  • Tigeress with cubs: Public domain image from Wikipedia, March 11 2008, Kanha National Tiger reserve of central India, Wikigringo.