Anyone who didn’t know better could be forgiven for freaking out at the sight of a 30-foot shark–especially if you’re in a kayak or a rowboat. But in fact, there’s nothing to fear.
Jambo, everybody, Mr. Nature here, with some more of God’s stuff. The basking shark is the world’s second-largest fish, right behind the much rarer whale shark. Not long ago there was a major basking shark fishery, but that had to be reined in when the sharks started getting scarce.
These enormous sharks eat plankton and tiny crustaceans, not people. Sometimes a dead basking shark will wash up on the beach, and because of the unusual way in which their boneless carcasses decay, they wind up being taken for mysterious sea monsters.
I’m Mr. Nature, I know about basking sharks; but in all honesty, if I were out there in my rowboat and one of these babies came along, I think I’d probably freak out, too.
Hi, Mr. Nature here.
Did you know there is a Chinese alligator? It’s in the same genus as our American alligator, closely related to it, but a lot smaller, not dangerous to human beings, and is almost extinct in the wild: less than 150 of them left, by most estimates. Their habitat keeps getting destroyed, and poachers shoot them for sale as a luxury meat.
The good news is that there are thousands of Chinese alligators in zoos throughout the world, captive breeding of this species has been very successful, and it could be reintroduced to the wild–if only their habitat could be preserved.
Our alligators were almost out for the count, back in the mid-20th century, but protection, conservation, and the alligator’s own adaptability brought them out of danger. Now they stroll around on golf courses.
One wonders how two such closely related species wound up so widely separated on the globe. Eastern China is a long way from Florida.
Gee, I remember all those stuffed alligators people used to bring back from Florida, when I was a kid. You don’t see those anymore. And that’s a good thing.
Hi, Mr. Nature here, introducing you to New Zealand’s tuatara–the sole surviving member of a whole group of reptiles that died out while there were still dinosaurs around. Today it lives only on a few offshore islands around New Zealand; and the zoos have started captive breeding programs to make sure the species doesn’t go extinct.
It looks like a lizard, but it’s not. Internally, everything is different. Back in the Jurassic world, the tuatara would have had many close relatives, some of them as large as hogs. Tuataras like cool weather, and a healthy one can live more than 100 years.
I’ve heard that tuataras sort of “sing,” when in the mood, and that if you sing to them, they’ll answer. I couldn’t find any video of that: it’s something that I’ve always wanted to hear. Something that brontosaurs heard when they were here.
I’m sick of the news by now, I won’t write any more of it today or tomorrow. Instead, let’s hand off to Mr. Nature. ****
Jambo, Mr. Nature here–with the giant lemur of Madagascar, Megaladapis (and if you can pronounce that, go to the head of the class). We can call it “the koala lemur” because it was built like an oversized koala.
This is an animal that probably should still be with us. It only died out some 2,000 years ago–probably because of a combination of environmental stress (droughts and wildfires) and overhunting by newly-arrived humans. There are cryptozoologists who cling to the hope of discovering a live giant lemur somewhere in the island’s shrinking forests, but I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking.
If you’re into such things, take a good look at the jaw muscle attachment areas on the giant lemur’s skull: ideal for munching prodigious quantities of tough vegetation.
I find it hard to imagine an animal more harmless, more un-threatening, than the koala lemur. I grieve their extinction.
But God does have the whole universe at His disposal, it’s His, He created it, and who knows? Maybe he’s found a better place for these benign creatures. All we can do now is to marvel at what they must have been, not so very long ago.
Well, all right, it doesn’t sing like Gene Autry. But it does squeak like a mouse–no small achievement, when you don’t have vocal organs.
Mr. Nature here, with the North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillar, which squeaks like a mouse when you bother it. This video was filmed outdoors, so you’ll have to turn up the volume to hear the caterpillar. Scientists theorize that it does this to fool small animals that might want to eat it: the caterpillar’s squeak sounds like an alarm call one of those small animals would make if someone really dangerous, like a hawk or a cat, came along. That’s the theory, at least. No one’s found a way to ask the caterpillar.
The caterpillar produces its squeak by forcing air out the spiracles (breathing holes) along its sides. Pavarotti never learned how to do that.
God’s stuff–infinite variety, infinite surprise.
Hi, Mr. Nature here, with a cat you probably have never heard of–the manul, or Pallas’ Cat (named for a Mr. Pallas who first described the species for science). These cats, although they’re rare, are found all over Asia, from Iran to Mongolia. The ones in this video are in a zoo in New York.
Okay, who wants to go to the zoo and pay to see a cat? But these cats are unusual. They may look fat, but they’re not: that’s just their build. And they need a lot of fur because it gets kind of cold in Tibet in the winter.
We are told by the zookeeper that they wouldn’t make good pets. Well, I don’t know how many people have ever tried to have a pet manul. It would make a very nice package for your lap. Almost all animals respond to kindness, gentleness, and affection, and cats are intelligent and adaptable. Not that I’m urging you to acquire a member of an endangered species for a pet! Our animal shelters are full of nice ordinary cats who really need you.
But I do find these Pallas cats pleasing to look at, their fur cries out to be petted, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn up in North Obann, one of these days.
Jambo, everybody! Mr. Nature here, to introduce you–at a safe distance!–to the world’s most benign-looking poisonous snake, the boomslang of southern Africa.
How deadly is this little charmer? Karl Schmidt, president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, curating at the Field Museum in Chicago, died in 1957 from the bite of a juvenile boomslang sent to him for identification by zoo curator Marlon Perkins (of TV’s classic Zoo Parade). Dr. Schmidt had a very low opinion of the boomslang’s lethality. He died writing down his symptoms so that no one else would make the same mistake.
The boomslang lives in trees and preys on chameleons and birds. It’s a rear-fanged snake, which means it doesn’t have those great big fangs up front that tell you you’re in serious trouble when you see them aimed at you. It’s a very pretty green snake with a cute face. Keep your distance!
Some of God’s creations need to be treated with respect. Or else.
P.S.–Not to go all Memory Lane on you, but I used to watch Marlon Perkins on Zoo Parade–and later Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom–every Sunday afternoon. He had an assistant who was deathly afraid of snakes.
Finally! A Chalicotherium video that I can post for you.
This is one of the “knuckle bears” seen by Jack and Ellayne at the edge of Lintum Forest. Us Mr. Nature types know them as Chalicotheres. Their fossils are found in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. As large animals go, they were very successful.
The big, sharp claws are for pulling down tree-branches so they can eat the leaves.
If I ever see one of these on my bike ride, lumbering off the golf course into the woods, I will know the world is changing.
And you just know I won’t have a camera handy.
P.S.–Last night I dreamed I went to Mars, the Martian civilization was just about identical to our own, and so I went to the movies. And there, as I stood in line at the concession stand, I spied some boxes of “Bell Mountain Candy,” with the books’ cover art decorating the boxes.
I enjoyed that!
When the 20th century started, this animal didn’t exist, scientifically. There were rumors of it, coming out of central Africa, but nothing official. Not until 1901.
Hi, Mr. Nature here, with the only animal in the giraffe family that’s not a giraffe–the okapi. This one’s in a zoo. The wild ones live in the Congo rain forest.
This gorgeous animal illustrates an unsolvable problem in cryptozoology: once a cryptic creature actually turns up, it immediately ceases to be crytozoology and becomes just plain zoology. The poor cryptozoologists, by definition, can’t have any specimens!
One of my aunts gave me a wonderful toy okapi when I was about five years old: wish I still had it. It may be in my brother’s toy box.
We pray God defends and preserves these beautiful animals that He’s created.
This is from before we all went sloth-mad:
There were a lot of ground sloths, once upon a time. They were all big, and the biggest one, Megatherium, was bigger than an elephant. Artists used to show them being preyed on by saber-toothed cats, but that was before we learned that Megatherium was virtually immune to attack by anything short of an anti-tank gun.