All posts by Ashur Barre

Living (Not) Fossils: Part IV

Good day, dear readers! I hope you have enjoyed the last three posts in this series on creatures that are commonly (if not necessarily accurately) referred to as “living fossils”. If not, while not required to appreciate this post, I suggest reading Parts I, II, and III first, which examined such things as stromatolites, plants, monotremes, birds and mammals. Today’s offerings will include reptiles and amphibians.

Let’s start with perhaps one of the more famous animals in this list, the tuatara.

A tuatara. Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

A frequent inclusion on listicles about “living fossils”, the tuatara is famed because of how unique a creature it is. Despite its appearance, it is not a lizard; it is a reptile, but not a lizard. Specifically, it’s a rhynchocephalian, the only member of order Rhynchocephalia. Its order is a sister to Squamata (lizards & kin), but it is a genetically distinct creature from a different lineage than lizards. It also differs from lizards in its preference for cooler temperatures, nocturnalness, its lack of external ears and its unusual dentition: instead of having just one row of teeth in each jaw, the tuatara has two rows of teeth in its upper jaw, which overlaps a single row in the lower jaw.

The parietal eye of an adult Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis). Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / TheAlphaWolf.

One of its most interesting features is not something unique to tuataras: its parietal eye, sometimes referred to as its “third eye”. Parietal eyes sit on the top of the head or on the forehead of a number of different reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and have different levels of functionality; however, this “eye” is most well-developed in tuataras. In other creatures, it’s sometimes visible as a gray scale or patch on the head; in tuataras, it’s only externally visible in the young, as it is covered with scales and pigment as they mature. Despite this, the parietal eye does receive and perceive light, which helps govern their circadian rhythm, hormones and temperature regulation.

Next we’re going to be speaking of salamanders, but I wanted to interrupt with a brief purple frog interlude.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to the very good purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), also known as the pignose frog or the Indian purple frog. In addition to being pleasing to look upon, they’re one of only two species in their family Nasikabatrachidae. They are burrowing frogs that spend the majority of their lives underground, which does not make them especially easy to study. Unfortunately, they’re also listed as endangered on the IUCN Redlist due their habitats being turned into areas of agricultural cultivation.

But you know now that they exist (if you didn’t previously – their goofy appearance has caused them to pop up in memes and the like) and knowing is half the battle.

An eastern hellbender. Photo credit: Scientific American.

Our next featured creature are the giant salamanders, all of which live in east Asia (the Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders), except for eastern North America’s very own hellbender (as depicted above). The world’s largest amphibians, the Chinese giant salamander has been recorded reaching a maximum length of 5.9 ft (1.8 m), while the Japanese giant salamander comes in second at lengths of up to 4.7 ft (1.44 m). Comparatively, hellbenders are the fourth-largest amphibians in the world, growing up to 2.4 ft (73.6 cm), after the goliath frog (12.6 inches/32 cm, 7.17 lbs/3.25 kg).

An eastern hellbender held by a human, showing its own adorable amphibian hand. Photo credit: Peter Petokas/AP & NBC Philadelphia.

One of their unique features is their form of respiration: the frilly skin on their sides behave like gills. Unfortunately, their conservation statuses are precarious: while hellbenders and the Japanese giant salamander are near-threatened, the Chinese giant salamander is critically endangered due to habitat destruction, habitat degradation and human exploitation.

While it’s still too early to see conclusive results, attempts are being made by the World Conservation Society in conjunction with the Buffalo and Bronx Zoos to carefully raise young hellbenders from eggs to an age where they can be released with greater chance of survival into adulthood in their native habitats.

If you’re interested in hellbender conservation efforts, Dr. Peter Petokas of the Clean Water Institute (CWI) at the Department of Biology at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania has information both on his own personal site and on the CWI’s conservation project page.

Speaking of hellbenders and Pennsylvania, in 2017 the legislative process to designate the eastern hellbender the official state amphibian of Pennsylvania began. Its journey to this lofty status is thus far incomplete, but be assured that we here at the Free-for-All will keep you abreast of the latest developments.

The charming grin of an axolotl. Photo credit: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft / IMP.

Next, I am proud to present one of the more charismatic living (not) fossils, the axolotl, also probably the most charismatic amphibian and salamander. QUICK AXOLOTL FACTS:

An axolotl. Photo credit: pbs.org

Even among salamanders, axolotls’ regenerative abilities are outstanding. For this reason, they’re an important research subject. Here’s a quote from Professor Stephane Roy at the University of Montreal:

You can cut the spinal cord, crush it, remove a segment, and it will regenerate. You can cut the limbs at any level—the wrist, the elbow, the upper arm—and it will regenerate, and it’s perfect. There is nothing missing, there’s no scarring on the skin at the site of amputation, every tissue is replaced. They can regenerate the same limb 50, 60, 100 times. And every time: perfect.

Cuvier’s dwarf caiman at rest. Despite the availability of people selling it as a pet, you should not keep it as a pet. Photo credit: McDonald Wildlife Photog. / Animals Animals / Arkive.org

While perhaps not as exotic, charismatic, or strange-looking as some of the animals I’ve profiled, but one cannot neglect the crocodilians, for they most certainly qualify as living fossils. The term “crocodilians” refers to members of order Crocodilia; in more lay-friendly terms, it broadly includes the crocodiles, the alligators and the gharials. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget caimans – they fall under family Alligatoridae, making them alligatorids.

The big question: what’s the difference between alligators and crocodiles? Are they the same? The answer is no, they’re different, and here is why. There’s even (relatively) breaking news about further differences observed between these two families of crocodilians.

A comparison of Saurosuchus’ estimated dimensions and a 5’9″ (1.8 m) human. Photo credit: Prehistoric-Wildlife.com

So how old are the crocodilians as a group? Their ancestors show up in the fossil record some 200 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic period. In March of 2017, the BBC reported on the discovery of 152 million-year-old crocodilian eggs in Portugal that were laid during the late Jurassic period. Curiously, the eggs were discovered in a dinosaur nest. Perhaps the most famous extinct crocodilian ancestor was the massive Saurosuchus of the Cretaceous, a 23 ft. (7 m) carnivore and the largest paracrocodylomorph on record.

Together, the crocodilians (living and extinct) and birds (living and extinct) form the clade group Archosauria, which includes the most recent common ancestor of both birds and crocodilians. This also means that the crocodilians are the closest living relatives of birds.

Gharials, crocodilians of the family Gavialidae. Photo credit: PSAnand/IUCN Redlist.

Which raises the question: since we’re talking about dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds – what is a dinosaur? The public has the habit of talking about any extinct reptile (or less charitably, people of a certain age) as a “dinosaur”. To clarify this complicated topic, the Smithsonian has an article about what exactly scientifically qualifies a dinosaur as a dinosaur (fun fact: all birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs are birds) .

The teeth and serrated tongue of a goose, which are absolutely dinosaurs. Note that geese cannot produce enamel-coated teeth, so their teeth are more accurately called “tomia”. Photo credit: Reddit.

All this raises yet another question: if dinosaurs are reptiles, and birds are dinosaurs, does that mean that birds are reptiles? The science question hotlines at Arizona State University and at the University of California at Santa Barbara explain things simply, but if you want to get into a somewhat Nietzschean discussion of taxonomic arcana (and who doesn’t?), here’s an article about why reptiles aren’t a thing anymore.

The dance of an archosaur! Two bipedal blue-footed boobies boogie beautifully on a blissful brown beach. Photo credit: Tui De Roy/ Minden Pictures / New Scientist

Circling back around from our shark week entries (parts I and II), I wanted to mention the star of Shark Week 2018 (at least in the land of Fish Twitter, where I happily lurk), marine biologist Melissa Cristina Márquez, who was attacked and dragged by a crocodile while searching for a legendary local shark in Cuba. She’s big in the science communication field (#scicomm! Check out that hashtag on the social media platforms of your choice!), founded the Fins United Initiative and hosts the podcast ConCienca Azul, which focuses on “….interviewing Spanish-speaking marine scientists, conservationists, grad students, photographers, and more from around the world” in Spanish.

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Let’s conclude today’s entry today as we traditionally do: with book recommendations! I think one or two may be a repeat, but perhaps that simply means the books are twice as sweet.

Crocodile: Evolution’s Greatest Survivor, by Lynne Kelly

Following the fascinating history of the crocodile, this story tells the tale of an ancient animal whose ancestors have roamed the earth since the time of the dinosaurs. Addressing the true nature of this intriguing animal, this resource explores its evolutionary survival, the 23 living species in the world today, and the extinction they face due to habitat intrusion. Also explored are the myths and legends surrounding crocodiles and the vicious reputation they have amongst humans.

Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adders Fork and Lizard’s Leg: The Lore and Mythology of Amphibians and Reptiles, by Marty Crump

Frogs are worshipped for bringing nourishing rains, but blamed for devastating floods. Turtles are admired for their wisdom and longevity, but ridiculed for their sluggish and cowardly behavior. Snakes are respected for their ability to heal and restore life, but despised as symbols of evil. Lizards are revered as beneficent guardian spirits, but feared as the Devil himself.

In this ode to toads and snakes, newts and tuatara, crocodiles and tortoises, herpetologist and science writer Marty Crump explores folklore across the world and throughout time. From creation myths to trickster tales; from associations with fertility and rebirth to fire and rain; and from the use of herps in folk medicines and magic, as food, pets, and gods, to their roles in literature, visual art, music, and dance, Crump reveals both our love and hatred of amphibians and reptiles—and their perceived power. In a world where we keep home terrariums at the same time that we battle invasive cane toads, and where public attitudes often dictate that the cute and cuddly receive conservation priority over the slimy and venomous, she shows how our complex and conflicting perceptions threaten the conservation of these ecologically vital animals.

Sumptuously illustrated, Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg is a beautiful and enthralling brew of natural history and folklore, sobering science and humor, that leaves us with one irrefutable lesson: love herps. Warts, scales, and all.

The Bare Bones: An Unconventional Evolutionary History of the Skeleton, by Matthew F. Bonnan

Since I’m spending quite a bit of time talking about evolution, I figured this could be an interesting text to our readers. What can we learn about the evolution of jaws from a pair of scissors? How does the flight of a tennis ball help explain how fish overcome drag? What do a spacesuit and a chicken egg have in common? Highlighting the fascinating twists and turns of evolution across more than 540 million years, paleobiologist Matthew Bonnan uses everyday objects to explain the emergence and adaptation of the vertebrate skeleton. What can camera lenses tell us about the eyes of marine reptiles? How does understanding what prevents a coffee mug from spilling help us understand the posture of dinosaurs? The answers to these and other intriguing questions illustrate how scientists have pieced together the history of vertebrates from their bare bones. With its engaging and informative text, plus more than 200 illustrative diagrams created by the author, The Bare Bones is an unconventional and reader-friendly introduction to the skeleton as an evolving machine.

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science and Our Favorite Dinosaurs, by Brian Switek 

Dinosaurs, with their awe-inspiring size, terrifying claws and teeth, and otherworldly abilities, occupy a sacred place in our childhoods. They loom over museum halls, thunder through movies, and are a fundamental part of our collective imagination. In My Beloved Brontosaurus, the dinosaur fanatic Brian Switek enriches the childlike sense of wonder these amazing creatures instill in us. Investigating the latest discoveries in paleontology, he breathes new life into old bones.

Switek reunites us with these mysterious creatures as he visits desolate excavation sites and hallowed museum vaults, exploring everything from the sex life of Apatosaurus and T. rex‘s feather-laden body to just why dinosaurs vanished. (And of course, on his journey, he celebrates the book’s titular hero, “Brontosaurus“—who suffered a second extinction when we learned he never existed at all—as a symbol of scientific progress.)

With infectious enthusiasm, Switek questions what we’ve long held to be true about these beasts, weaving in stories from his obsession with dinosaurs, which started when he was just knee-high to a Stegosaurus. Endearing, surprising, and essential to our understanding of our own evolution and our place on Earth, My Beloved Brontosaurus is a book that dinosaur fans and anyone interested in scientific progress will cherish for years to come.

Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green

Why feature this book? Turtles All the Way Down features the rare character of a tuatara (named “Tua”) in a work of fiction. 16-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary, by Caspar Henderson

(If you look down in the bottom left corner of the cover, you can see the smiling face of an axolotl.) From medieval bestiaries to Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings, we’ve long been enchanted by extraordinary animals, be they terrifying three-headed dogs or asps impervious to a snake charmer’s song. But bestiaries are more than just zany zoology—they are artful attempts to convey broader beliefs about human beings and the natural order. Today, we no longer fear sea monsters or banshees. But from the infamous honey badger to the giant squid, animals continue to captivate us with the things they can do and the things they cannot, what we know about them and what we don’t.

With The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson offers readers a fascinating, beautifully produced modern-day menagerie. But whereas medieval bestiaries were often based on folklore and myth, the creatures that abound in Henderson’s book—from the axolotl to the zebrafish—are, with one exception, very much with us, albeit sometimes in depleted numbers. The Book of Barely Imagined Beings transports readers to a world of real creatures that seem as if they should be made up—that are somehow more astonishing than anything we might have imagined. The yeti crab, for example, uses its furry claws to farm the bacteria on which it feeds. The waterbear, meanwhile, is among nature’s “extreme survivors,” able to withstand a week unprotected in outer space. These and other strange and surprising species invite readers to reflect on what we value—or fail to value—and what we might change.

Until next time dear readers!

 

Living (Not) Fossils: Part III

Greetings again, good readers! It’s time for the next entry in my ever-lengthening series on creatures that have been described as “living fossils”, despite that this term isn’t terribly accurate literally, figuratively and in implication. Initially I was going to post about reptiles, amphibians and some fish today, but I instead decided to veer off towards mammals. Do not worry, these beasties’ time will come.

It’s not a mouse, it’s not a deer, it’s a chevrotain (or popularly, a mouse-deer), a primitive ruminant! Photo credit: mentalfloss.com/iStock

Despite mammals’ overwhelming popularity in terms of the Charismatic Fauna Olympics, they’re not as well-represented in the various lists of living fossils that are floating around, perhaps because they are by and large an evolutionarily “younger” group than say, fish or reptiles, or perhaps because the average person isn’t trained to necessarily identify what features in mammals are basal re: mammal evolution. Need an accessible primer on mammal evolution? National Geographic will help us today.

Alternatively, some of these animals are so obscure in the popular imagination (or are simply rare) as to make finding reliable information on them difficult. For example, consider the shrew-like venomous solenodon:

A Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) Photo Credit: Arkive.org/Dr. Jose Nunez-Mino.

I very much want to bring you accurate, hard-hitting information on this odd little fellow, but it’s hard to find much beyond people waxing on its living fossilness,repeated declarations of extinction and rediscovery of living examples on both Hispaniola (the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Cuba, the fact that it’s a venomous mammal that injects its venom through grooved teeth (like a snake), how rarely it is sighted, it’s awkward gait, and how endangered it is.

The case is the similar for many of these creatures, but I’ll do my best to inform in an entertaining fashion. In addition to the solenodon and the hastily-mentioned chevrotain, did you know that the star of the beginning of the alphabet, the insectivorous aardvark, is the last living species of its order (Tubulidentata)?

An aardvark at night. Eats ants but isn’t an anteater. Photo credit: arkive.org/Nigel J. Dennis.

Despite some similarity in their appearance and even their popular names at times, aardvarks (meaning “earth pig” in Afrikaans), while they do eat ants, they are not anteaters, nor are they closely related to anteaters, which are native to South America (aardvarks are native to Africa).

A majestic giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark. Is not an aardvark nor really related to them. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Malene Thyssen.

In terms of relatives, aardvarks are more closely related to elephant shrews (which are not true shrews, naturally) and their kin. They belong to a fascinating clade called Afrotheria, which includes (among others) elephants, manatees and dugongs (the sirenians), tenrecs and another creature that I’ll address shortly, the rock hyrax.

Like echidnas, aardvarks suffer (?) from having a  character be much more popular (and much more available in terms of works produced about them) than the actual creature. In this case, it’s Arthur the Aardvark from the Arthur series of books and PBS animation series, brainchild of Marc Tolon Brown. Still, it’s decent publicity, and by virtue of Arthur, aardvarks could be considered to have had some hand in the developing literacy of millions of children.

Arthur Timothy Read, the 8-year-old star of numerous children’s books by Marc Brown and a PBS television series. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Next, we come to the hyraxes, the only living member of the order Hyracoidea. Despite their small size and their superficial resemblance to rodents, they are not rodents – hyraxes are just hyraxes, with their closest living kin being elephants, manatees and dugongs. Like the aardvark, the hyraxes also belong to clade Afrotheria and are the remaining members of a much more populous group.

A family of rock hyraxes, creatures of little power. Photo credit: The San Diego Zoo.

Despite not being so famous in popular culture, hyraxes (also known as “dassies”) do have a bit of cachet in certain circles from being mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament of the Bible. Perhaps most famously, they are referred to in Proverbs 30:26:

…hyraxes are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags…

There are several other mentions of hyraxes in the Bible as well, mostly in reference to dietary laws. If you look up the above verse from Proverbs using a web tool that displays multiple translations, you soon find that hyraxes are also referred to as “rock badgers”, “conies”, “rabbits”, or as non-rock “badgers” in the Bible. Additionally, some of the verses regarding the dietary cleanliness of hyraxes as a food source indicate that they chew the cud (and do not have split hooves), which they do not in fact do, as they are not ruminants.

The toothy grin of a rock hyrax.

This is a translation error – early translators of the Bible into English were not knowledgeable about Middle Eastern fauna and thus shoehorned the Hebrew terms for this animal or animals like it into animals that they were familiar with. If you have any interest in Biblical translation history and challenges, you will know this is not the first time this has happened.

As for cud chewing, it has been suggested that perhaps the writers were describing the hyrax in the act of chewing (which it does do, it is not a snake) and mistook its mastication for the act of cud-chewing.

Cave painting of an aurochs at Lascaux, which certainly chewed the cud. Photo credit: Discovermagazine.com/Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

In the modern time, hyraxes still live in the lands where the action of the Bible takes, and in fact are contributing to climate research by virtue of their habits of urinating in the same place every day (a site called a “midden”). In some locations, local hyrax colonies have been doing this for tens of thousands of years, creating a record of climatological data that can be derived from the contents of their urine.

According to this news piece from 2011, these adorable rock-dwellers have also been nuisances to their urban human neighbors in some locations. Can humans and hyraxes live together in harmony? STAY TUNED.

The Amami rabbit, also known as the Ryukyuan rabbit. Photo credit: https://triplelights.com/japan/tour/kagoshima-low-key-amami-night-exploring-1765

While there are other creatures to discuss (in particular, the Amami rabbit and the Laotian rock rat, both of which are visually distinct among their relatives), I’ll devote this last section to a mammal that is charismatic even among other charismatic mammals: the red panda (Ailurus fulgens).

A red panda, also called the “lesser panda”. Photo credit: DLILLC/Corbis, http://www.animalplanet.com/wild-animals/photos/red-panda/

Despite sharing a name with much-larger giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), red pandas are not bears, foxes, cats, raccoons, otters, dogs, or anything else that they may share visual traits with (pointed ears, ringed tail, etc).

Like a number of other creatures I’ve discussed, they existed in an ever-changing state of taxonomic limbo for quite a while; at one point, this limbo involved theorizing that they were related to the giant panda and other bears. Currently the red panda (and its extinct brethren) is the sole living member of family Ailuridae, which is itself part of the superfamily Musteloidea; members of this superfamily are called “musteloids”. Other members of Musteloidea include skunks, raccoons and weasels.

A fisher (Pekania pennanti), also known as a fisher cat, is not a cat, but an example of a musteloid (distantly related to the red panda) native to New England. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Troy and Rusty Lilly.

So how is a red panda like a giant panda? Well, they both live in China, though red pandas’ range stretches across the Himalayas; giant pandas are restricted to Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces (more information on giant pandas’ current and historical ranges can be found here); both have bamboo-dependent diets (though red pandas enjoy a more varied diet than giant pandas); and they both have modified wrist bones that function as a sixth finger. Unfortunately, both have spots on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, with red pandas listed as “endangered” and giant pandas listed as “vulnerable”.

The artist formerly known as the “parti-colored bear”. Photo credit: The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

So which panda was called a panda (in English) first? According to linguist Susan Harvey, it was the red panda. Giant pandas came to be called pandas (in English) because of the mistaken belief that they were related to red pandas that seems to have surfaced in the early 1900s. Prior to their association with the red panda, giant pandas were called “parti-colored bears” or “mottled bears”. The word “panda” itself in English is thought to be of Nepali extraction, via French.

Because I seem to be linking these creatures with popular culture relatively often, red pandas recently acquired their own popular character in the form of Sanrio’s (the makers of Hello Kitty) Aggretsuko the Red Panda, who had an animation series of her own released on Netflix in April 2018.

And that concludes this portion of today’s presentation! Unfortunately, my attempts to compile a reasonably-fleshed out reading list for this entry turned out a bit meager. Regardless, please take a look at the below offerings and consider them for your future reading choices:

Arthur’s Nose (An Arthur Adventure), by Marc Brown.

Since I mentioned the Arthur books, I figured I should provide a little bit of attention to the book series. Those of you who are more familiar with Arthur’s more recent incarnations will notice that our friend has gone through some character design changes since the first book was released in 1976. As of August 2018, there are 45 books in the Arthur Adventure series, along with a number of spin-off series for different reading levels (easy readers, chapter books and audio books).

Aard-vark to Axolotl: Pictures from my Grandfather’s Dictionary, by Karen Donovan

Aard-vark to Axolotl, an eclectic series of tiny essays, is a collection of prose poems disguised as imaginary definitions, and a collaboration of text + image based on a set of illustrations from an old dictionary. Sometimes sneaky mysterious, sometimes downright weird, these small stories work on the reader like alternative definitions for items drawn from a cabinet of curiosities.

If you’re interested in checking out this item, please speak to a librarian.

Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda, edited by Angela R. Glatston

Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda provides a broad-based overview of the biology of the red panda, Ailurus fulgens. A carnivore that feeds almost entirely on vegetable material and is colored chestnut red, chocolate brown and cream rather than the expected black and white. This book gathers all the information that is available on the red panda both from the field and captivity as well as from cultural aspects, and attempts to answer that most fundamental of questions, “What is a red panda?” Scientists have long focused on the red panda’s controversial taxonomy. Is it in fact an Old World procyonid, a very strange bear or simply a panda? All of these hypotheses are addressed in an attempt to classify a unique species and provide an in-depth look at the scientific and conservation-based issues urgently facing the red panda today.

Red Panda not only presents an overview of the current state of our knowledge about this intriguing species but it is also intended to bring the red panda out of obscurity and into the spotlight of public attention.

  • Wide-ranging account of the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) covers all the information that is available on this species both in and ex situ
  • Discusses the status of the species in the wild, examines how human activities impact on their habitat, and develops projections to translate this in terms of overall panda numbers
  • Reports on status in the wild, looks at conservation issues and considers the future of this unique species
  • Includes contributions from long-standing red panda experts as well as those specializing in fields involving cutting-edge red panda research.

If you’re interested in checking out this item, please speak to a librarian.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

While not technically about platypuses, it mentions platypuses in the title so I’m going to count it. Everyone likes accessible philosophy texts, right?

Outrageously funny, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… has been a breakout bestseller ever since authors—and born vaudevillians—Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein did their schtick on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Lively, original, and powerfully informative, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar… is a not-so-reverent crash course through the great philosophical thinkers and traditions, from Existentialism (What do Hegel and Bette Midler have in common?) to Logic (Sherlock Holmes never deduced anything). Philosophy 101 for those who like to take the heavy stuff lightly, this is a joy to read—and finally, it all makes sense!

Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes, by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Cathcart and Klein are clearly fond of putting creatures described as “living fossils” in the titles of their books. If you enjoyed their philosophy text, why not branch out to political rhetoric via philosophy and humor?

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, authors of the national bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, aren’t falling for any election year claptrap—and they don’t want their readers to either! In Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington, our two favorite philosopher-comedians return just in time to save us from the double-speak, flim-flam, and alternate reality of politics in America.

Deploying jokes and cartoon as well as the occasional insight from Aristotle and his peers, Cathcart and Klein explain what politicos are up to when they state: “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” (Donald Rumsfeld), “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” (Bill Clinton), or even, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” (Thomas Jefferson, et al).

Drawing from the pronouncements of everyone from Caesar to Condoleeza Rice, Genghis Kahn to Hillary Clinton, and Adolf Hitler to Al Sharpton. Cathcart and Klein help us learn to identify tricks such as “The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy” (non causa pro causa) and the “The Fallacy Fallacy” (argumentum and logicam). Aristotle and an Aardvark is for anyone who ever felt like the politicos and pundits were speaking Greek. At least Cathcart and Klein provide the Latin name for it (raudatio publica)!

Until next time, dear readers! As always, feel free to comment if you find any of the entries here at the Free-for-All particularly edifying, wish to share your thoughts and suggestions, or find that any information I’ve presented is incorrect. Constructive feedback is welcomed!