Midwestern US 2010

mutant blueberry

We spent the next day in Kansas City. Mom bought some blueberries for breakfast, but I don't think she guessed that they would provide visual entertainment. These two were very large, had scale-like folds piled up on top and coming down the sides. They tasted fine, though.

Japanese beetle

I'm also guessing that when Mom told us she was going to go spray the plants to get rid of the Japanese beetles, she didn't expect us to follow with the camera.

Japanese beetle face

Head-on view of the beetle. While rather pretty, the beetles are not native to the Americas and eat many food and ornamental plants. Thus, after photographing this one, I humanely euthanized it under my shoe.

Mom's flowers

Mom's flowers, after being de-bugged and watered.

Mom's flowers

Another of Mom's flowers.

Mom's yarrow

A close look at Mom's yarrow plant. This was one of many flowers that I gave her over the course of many Mother's Days when I was in college. This one has survived the intervening decade and survived the move to Mom's new house.


Next stop: Saint Louis zoo. It was unbearably hot (no pun intended), so most of the animals were sluggish. The spectacled bear takes a slow walk around its enclosure.

sea lion show

We asked the girls what we should see at the zoo, and they immidately said, sea lion show! It was pretty cool.

sea lion show

The sea lion waits for his next instruction... or a fish. The blue cooler has a couple of different kinds of fish. The trainer illustrates that sea lions do not chew their food, but instead gulp the fish down whole, regardless of size. I did not get a picture of this, it always happened much too fast for the camera.

junior assistant

The keeper's young assistant gets the sea lion's attention.

say ah

The sea lion obeys the hand signal to open his mouth.

leap through the hoop

Leaping through the hoop.

take a bow

Taking a bow.

meet with the crowd

Meeting with the fans after the show.

sunbathing lion

The lion seemed to consider it a pleasant day for sunbathing.

sunbathing lion

At about 90 degrees F, it probably was almost warm enough to feel like home for this guy.


The lioness was a bit harder to find, having hidden herself high in the tree.


From the back it's easier to tell where she is. Apparently the feline's peculiar notion of comfortable goes way back.


Close encounters of the spotted kind. The leopard was walking in laps around its cage.


Tyger, tyger, burning bright... aw, forget it, let's just lie in the shade.



great hornbill

Tigers are cool, but the aviary was cooler... or at least less hot. The great hornbill is native to India and Indonesia, where it lives in old-growth forests. Different hornbill species use their casques for different purposes. The male great hornbill uses his to butt other males in arial battles over mates, but its main purpose seems to be similar to that of peacock tails: females prefer males with larger casques.

unknown bird

The Saint Louis zoo lists its species on its web site, but this guy isn't among them. I have no idea what he is.


Anyone who watched Saturday morning TV in the 80's recognizes a toucan. There are around 40 species of toucan, this one is the toco toucan, native to South America. It has the largest beak of all the toucans, but no one is entirely certain why. The beak is used in prehending food and peeling fruit, and may be used in sexual displays or territorial displays. Another possible use is for heat exchange. Toco toucans live in hot climates, and about 30-60% of heat loss is through their beaks.

unknown bird

Another unlisted bird. This guy is probably among the Galliformes, or the family of chickens, peacocks, pheasants, and quail. This narrows it down to about 250 species.

cape thick-knee cape thick-knee

This little bird is the largest of the thick-knees. A native of Africa, it is classified with the wading birds although it prefers dry habitat. The family of thick-knees are also called stone-curlews. Curlews are wading birds with similar plumage to this bird, but since we figured out that the two groups are entirely unrelated, stone-curlew didn't seem like such a great name. It is also known as the spotted dikkop, but since kop is Dutch (and probably Afrikaans) for head, perhaps thick-knee is the best among this bird's options. The name thick-knee can be traced to a 1776 description of the Thick-kneed Bustard or Eurasian stone-curlew. I think this particular thick-knee was trying to convince the crowd of excited children at the front of the cage that it was more interesting than its mate in the back of the cage. In addition to waving one wing around, it was making a very loud cry.

Elegant Crested Tinamou

The Elegant Crested Tinamou is a South American relative of the ostrich. Unlike the ostrich, they can fly, but prefer to run away if they can. There were actually four of them in this cage, but they blend in remarkably well with their woodchip bedding. It seemed as soon as they noticed that I had noticed them, they all got up and walked to the other side of the cage. There did not appear to be any difference between males and females, and there probably isn't any - the males incubate the eggs and raises the chicks, and thus must maintain a low profile. The chicks are feathered and can run almost immediately, and thus the whole family leaves the nest as soon as they hatch. No mention is made of where the hen is at during this time, but nests contain eggs from more than one Tinamou mother, and it is probable that mothers have more than one father for their chicks as well.

unknown bird

The 80's hair-bands have nothing on Mother Nature. Check out the eyeliner.

tawny frogmouth

The Tawny Frogmouth hails from Australia. Despite appearences he is not an owl, but like owls he is a noctournal hunter. He spends most of his time sitting perfectly still, relying on his resemblence to a broken branch to hide him. When food (usually insects but rarely small lizards or frogs) comes wandering by, the branch suddenly moves and grabs it with its beak. The name frogmouth arises from the fact that their mouths can open very wide.

burrowing owl

This little guy is a burrowing owl, an American native with a range encompassing all of Western North America and most of South America. Unlike most owls they are omnivores, eating rodents, lizards, insects, and fruit such as prickly pear fruit. Their natural habitat is grassland, where they nest mostly in used burrows from prairie dogs, although they are capable of digging their own. I have no idea why this particular individual is dog-sitting.


On to the primates, where the big male gorilla watches us watching him play with his toes. The name gorilla originates from a 4th-century BC explorer, Hanno the Navigator, who described a tribe of savage people, more women than men, with hair covering their bodies. It is not known if what Hanno actually saw were gorillas, but the description came to mind of the 19th-century naturalists who first described gorillas to westerners. There are two species and a half-dozen subspecies of gorilla. All are critically endangered, both from trade in bushmeat (primate meat, sold for food) and recent outbreaks of Ebola viruses. There are currently about 100,000 Western gorillas, with 4,000 in zoos, and 4,000 Eastern gorillas, with 24 in zoos. Mountain gorillas have a total population of about 620, with none in zoos.


Playing with toes seems to be a popular pasttime in the zoo today. The chimps were right up against the glass, watching us as much as we were watching them.


Chimps are our closest living relatives. About 4-8 million years ago there lived a primate who walked on two legs when on the ground but clambered through the trees on four legs. Unlike most other primates, this one had small canine teeth in both the males and females, indicating that the males had given up fighting with each other (or at least it was no longer one of their main activities). The children of this creature probably split into two tribes: one which moved deeper into the forest, became better at clambering through the trees but clumbsy on the ground. In this branch of the family tree, resources were scarce and they developed a social structure with one dominant male and many females in a troupe. With this came more fighting and larger canine teeth, which combined with large chewing teeth to push the front of the skull foreward. The other branch of the family, though, lived on the edge of the forest, which expanded into vast savannahs as the climate shifted to a drier time. Thus this line didn't have much call for tree climbing, but became very good at walking on two legs over long distances, and rather than climbing with its hands used them to manipulate ever more sophisticated tools. The one in this picture is from the first branch of the family tree. The one taking the picture is from the second.

Early hominid fossils are tantalizingly rare. Genetic studies have placed the human-chimp split at 5 to 7 million years ago, but it seems that the two species split gradually rather than suddenly (no sudden geographic separation, for example). The few hominid fossils we have from this time - Toumai, the skull of a Sahelanthropus tchadensis from 7 million years ago, a few bones and teeth from 6 million years ago tentatively assigned the name Orrorin tugenensis, and a number of fossils belonging to Ardipithecus ramidus from 4-5 million years ago - fit the description given above.

rockhopper penguin

We decided to cool down in the Penguin and Puffin building. This place is kept at chilly Antarctic temperatures. This rockhopper penguin eyes the incoming bipeds.

rockhopper penguin

There are three populations of Rockhoppers: Eastern, Western, and Northern. Of the three, Western are the most common, so that's probably what this is. Rockhoppers are native to islands which were used in the 19th century as supply stops for whaling vessels, and thus are the best-known of the six species of crested penguins.

rockhopper penguin

A couple of rockhoppers chillin' next to a REALLY BIG vertebra. I don't know what this vertebra is from, but I would guess whale. It might be a model, but if so then they did a good job of modeling the wear on it, too.

king and gentoo penguins

A group of regal-looking king penguins, with gentoo penguins in the center and to the right. The gentoos are the ones with a white cap. Gentoos live on the shores of Antarctica and surrounding islands. The build nests of rock, which the females guard ferociously.

king penguins

King penguins are the second-largest penguin species. Their size allows them to dive deeper (up to 1000 feet, holding their breath for 5 minutes during dives). Penguin parents take turns holding the egg on their feet, keeping it warm under a fold of feathers. When the chick hatches, it spends its first few months there too. Eventually it grows the thick, waterproof feathers that allow the adults to swim in the icy waters.

king eider

A king eider, not a penguin, but an arctic duck. They breed in the arctic (North Pole) tundra, and spend the winters in the relatively balmy climes of northern Alaska, Canada, Norway, and Scotland. They find pairs while out at sea, and then travel together to the tundra. The male leaves soon after breeding, and the female sits on the nest, hardly leaving it for 23 days. When the chicks hatch most of the females will simply leave, returning to sea, but some will stay behind and tend all the chicks through the summer. They lead the mass of chicks first to pools of fresh water (where they eat water plants and insects) and gradually out to sea, where they join the rest of the adult eiders.

tufted puffin

Unlike penguins, puffins can fly, although they are better at swimming. The tufted puffin resides in British Columbia and Alaska, spending the winters at sea and the summers nesting in high cliffs and on remote islands. They lay their eggs in burrows to protect them from gulls and other egg-eating birds.

spectacled bear with carrot

Apparently, spectacled bears like carrots.

Next stop: Insectarium

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