Monday, August 29, 2011

Animal Alphabet: V is for Vogelkop Bowerbird

A few people have expressed concern or curiosity, so if you're reading this and are worried about how my part of Vermont weathered Irene, let me say that our house was unscathed. Irene hit here as a lot of rain and wind, but really if I hadn't been warned I'd have had no reason not to think it was just a longer-than-usual summer storm. Spend your cares instead on the Schulz Library at CCS, in a different part of the state, a lot closer to a river and with more cause for concern.

This week's Animal Alphabet critter doesn't look like much:

But, in fact, the Vogelkop bowerbird is one of the most amazing instances of the variety and splendor of the natural world.

Rather than trying to impress his mate with elaborate feathers, wattles, or dancing displays, the male bowerbird builds and decorates a structure for the female to inspect. And the Vogelkop bowerbird, more than any of its relatives, constructs an impressive and wondrous gallery, collecting colorful seeds, flowers, fungus, snail shells, beetle elytra, and even human detritus from around the forest, and arraying these collections in an area under his bower as much as five or six yards across.

Every male collects different items and arranges them according to his personal (if that's the right word) taste.

This is a pretty crummy drawing. Go look at David Attenborough investigating a real Vogelkop bower.

I think you will agree with me on this point: if you were walking through the Vogelkop peninsula of New Guinea without any knowledge of the bowerbirds, and you encountered one of these structures with its array of ornaments and its piles sorted with obvious regard to aesthetics, you'd believe it was made by a human. Or a fairy. Or a spirit creature. Or a smurf. Something.

Next week: probably my last sea creature, and it's a doozy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

King Kirby Day 2011

Today would have been Jack Kirby's ninety-fourth birthday, and I wanted to celebrate the day as I did last year: by swiping one of the panels drawn by Kirby that was burned into my visual memory at an early age and lives there to this day.

I don't have much time to explain why I chose this particular panel—that'll be a post for another day, soon. But if you've seen the Favorites zine, this is a panel from the comic I wrote about.

Other people (and little stuffed bulls) will surely honor Kirby better. But I wanted to make sure I didn't let the anniversary of his birth pass without peering again into the mysterious power his images have over me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Animal Alphabet: U is for Uakari

Nothing special to say about this week's Animal Alphabet entry.

The uakari is a funny-looking monkey with a body like Hartza's and a head like a certain Nazi bedeviler of Captain America.

In other words, it looks like a tomato on a haystack.

Is this version better?

Next week: something like an art collector.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Animal Alphabet: T is for Temminck's Tragopan

Okay, here's this week's entry in the Animal Alphabet.

If you've received a postcard from China recently, you might have been wondering about the creature on this odd stamp.

That's a tragopan, with its lappet extended. (The lappet is a sort of bib-shaped wattle that the male tragopan can unfurl for territorial or mating displays. Those odd horns are made of the same tumescent stuff.) There are five species of tragopan, but only one alliterates (and therefore suits this post to a T):

T is for Temminck's Tragopan.

Let me invite you to watch another ARKive video of the Temminck's tragopan's mating display. Like last week's creature, the tragopan can make some pretty astounding transformations of its shape.

I had a hard time figuring out what position to draw this guy in. Originally I had thought to draw it in three stages of behavior, sort of like the Pokemon-style self-portraits I've admired in the past.

But time was a bit too pressing for that plan, since I'm still writing syllabi for classes that start at the end of the month.

If you are a recent parent, I do not recommend watching this video of the "crying baby" call that this tragopan apparently makes. Or, maybe, I dare you to do it.

Next week: Have I really not drawn a primate yet?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Animal Alphabet: S is for Sarcastic Fringehead

Even more than in an ordinary week of this project, I must preface this post by saying that this is a real animal. You can see video here of the critter in question, with David Attenborough narrating, excerpted from the excellent Life BBC series.

I strenuously recommend that you follow the video link, because otherwise and despite my assertion you may not believe that these two characters are the same creature. I don't think I could have imagined the transformation if I hadn't seen it.

Anyway, this week in the Animal Alphabet, S is for Sarcastic Fringehead.

Yes, really.

According to an aquarium website, the "sarcastic" comes from its pugnacious personality (in evidence in the Life video), but I can't help thinking the name also has something to do with that "default facial expression" (see also Charles) created by the fringehead's weirdly hinged jaw. The sarcastic fringehead always seems to be halfway between a glower and a smirk. ("Glauwirk.")

And "fringehead" apparently derives from the little wiggly appendages above its eyes, not from its political beliefs.

Next week, we'll have a colorful and peculiar Asian bird, unless I come up with something crazier.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Animal Alphabet: R is for Rhea

When I told Mike that this week's entry in the Animal Alphabet was going to be a creature connected to Darwin, Mike said, "So R is for remora!" And I invite you to linger for a moment on the mental image of a sharksucker stuck to our hero Charles.

But no, that's not what I had in mind.

In fact, R is for rhea. Specifically, it's for the lesser rhea, which used to go by the name Rhea darwinii and still is sometimes known as Darwin's rhea.

I'm willing to give a prize to the first person who identifies the source of that background.

You might already know why this ratite is linked to Darwin. During the Beagle voyage, while collecting specimens in Patagonia, Darwin was searching for a rumored smaller species of rhea. After a good deal of bootless hunting, as he tucked in to a meal, he recognized that the bird he was eating was, in fact, the undescribed species he'd been searching for. In other words, he discovered a new species on his plate.

Next week: a crazy fish with a crazy name.