Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The outlaws

I'm working away on the grizzly bear section of my new drawing, but my mind is not on grizzly bears. I'm a little obsessed with the rock hyrax.

Rock Hyrax

I saw one in a glass cage at the Smithsonian Zoo last year. It stood above me on a plastic cliff with alert look on its face that said, "Give me a reason..." It looked absolutely intelligent, probably vicious, and not at all intimidated. Which makes sense given what I found out yesterday about its relationship to the manatee. The rock hyrax is basically a small furry elephant. It's not a rodent. It has a long memory, sophisticated vocalizations, fangs, and sweaty suction cup feet that enable it to ping pong between sheer rock faces in what must be a very engaging manner. It also named Spain. (If you don't believe me, believe the BBC.)

If you want to know why I'm obsessed, check out these facial expressions:

And these fangs? They're tusks. Prehistoric rock hyraxes were once as big as elephants. (That image seems to refuse to show up in some browsers. Sorry.)

Thom's mother calls the spouses of her in-laws the outlaws. And since I've become acquainted with the rock hyrax, I thought I'd take a minute to introduce a few outlaws. These are creatures who look like they belong in the family, but don't.

The Amami Black Rabbit

The amami rabbit is either nature's argument against conservatives who think women are naturally meant to be stay-at-home moms or the ultimate latchkey kid, depending on how you look at it.

The female amami black rabbit digs a den in which to give birth. Once her baby is born she nurses it for a while and then carefully closes up the door to the den with dirt, patting it with her feet. She hops off and does her thing for a couple days and then shows up, breaks down the door, nuzzles her baby for a while and then feeds it. Scientists think her milk must have an extra high fat content- think baby ice cream- in order to allow the baby to survive for so long between feedings. When she's done she seals the den shut again and hops off. This goes on until the baby rabbit gets to be about 54 days old at which point she lets it out of the den and the baby hops away forever. So she burns down the house. I mean fills in the den, never to use it again. The next time she gets pregnant she digs a new den.

This is the Volcano Rabbit. It only lives on the edge of volcanoes. In Mexico. And it's immune to regular rabbit diseases. So it's basically the rabbit equivalent of nomadic Mongolian horsemen. Super tough, but small. It's the second smallest rabbit going. And it's been isolated from its Japanese cousin, the black amami rabbit, for so long that they're barely even considered related.

I can't wait to be done with the drawing I'm working on so I can dive in to this twisted family tree.

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