Archive for September, 2020

Unusual Adoptions in the Animal World

September 28, 2020

11 cats live in my yard–2 adults, 3 subadults, and 11 kittens.  Stripey, the biological mother of 8 of my yard cats, is the tamest.  She runs inside our house like she owns it.  She is supposed to be an outdoor cat, so to coax her outside I open the door and throw food on the porch.  Naturally, this positive reinforcement encourages her to run inside the house whenever we open the door and are in an hurry to make it in time for a doctor’s appointment.  Stripey doesn’t let me exercise either.  When I jog up and down the street she follows me until I sit down in our special place and pet her.  2 of her subadult kittens are less tame, though they sit and watch me when I pet their mother.  The other adult cat in my yard is Midnight Runt who also sits and watches me pet Stripey but never quite has the nerve to get within arm’s length.  Midnight Runt is less tame than her subadult spawn, the Cardupnik, who purrs when she is near me and lets me pet her when she is eating. (Cardupnik is the Yiddish word for little person or shrimp.)

Stripey.  She lost her first 2 litters but has so far successfully raised her next 2.  She is less than 3 years old but has had 4 litters already.  Maybe I need to crush up some birth control pills in her cat food.

Midnight Runt watching me pet Stripey.

All the cats are good climbers.  A neighborhood dog chased some of them into this tree hollow.  They play on my roof every morning, hunting squirrels and birds there as well.

Stripey had a litter of 5 kittens a month ago.  The timing suggests she went into heat before her previous litter was weaned.  What a slut.  I really want 2 or 3 cats, not 10; but Stripey was not through increasing my cat population.  A kitten, a few weeks older than Stripey’s, wandered into my yard a week ago from the woods behind my house.  This kitten was stressed, mewling nonstop for 36 hours.  Its biological mother was probably a feral cat that was killed by a car, coyote, dog, or heartworm. Or perhaps the orphan wandered too far away and got lost.  Stripey adopted this orphan kitten, nursing it alongside her own.  The orphan has quickly learned when I put food out and no longer flees at the sight of me.  The orphan also watches me when I pet Stripey.  Nevertheless, there is a sad look in its eyes.

Stripey’s 5 biological kittens, plus the 1 she adopted.  The orphan is a few weeks older than the others.  The orphan is on the step.

It is not unusual for a mother cat to adopt kittens that are not her own.  The caring instinct is so strong they will sometimes adopt puppies, baby rabbits, and infant squirrels.  Their mortal enemies may be brought up to think they are a cat.

I did a little research and found some strange adoptions in the animal world.  Gorillas and crab-eating macaques have adopted kittens.  In the wild a lioness adopted a baby antelope.  Perhaps the most unusual adoptions occur in captivity where a baby hippo bonded to a giant tortoise, and a baby macaque became attached to a wild boar.  (See: ) Most unusual of all would be an human raised by animals, but none of the accounts I researched are reliable.  Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, were allegedly left for dead but were saved by a mother wolf that nursed them.  However, this legend originated 500 years after Rome was founded in 753 BC.  Reliable accounts of feral children do not clearly indicate they were raised by animals.  Instead, it seems more like they were living with wild or domestic animals and had little interaction with humans.  In some cases of neglect toddlers crawled around with cats and dogs and lived on pet food.  They never learned to act human during a crucial phase of development.  Another famous case involved a 5 year old slave of a goat shepherd in Spain.  He received some training in outdoor survival before his master abandoned him, and he lived in the wild for 12 years before police captured him.  He claims he blundered into a wolf’s den to escape a cold winter’s night and suckled from a mother wolf alongside her puppies, but he was not actually raised by a wolf.  He was probably used to suckling milk directly from goats, and it wasn’t that much of a stretch to nurse from another animal.


The Giant Short-Faced Bear (Arctodus simus) Ate Seals

September 21, 2020

Scientists excavated the foot bone of a giant short faced bear from Daisy Cave on San Miguel Island 30 years ago, but the most modern scientific techniques were not used to analyze the specimen until recently.  The giant short-faced bear was a large bruin, weighing up to 2000 pounds, that ranged across North America from Alaska to Florida until it went extinct about 11,000 years ago.  It was closely related to the extant spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and the extinct Florida spectacled bear (T. floridanus).  The latter species was apparently more common than the giant short-faced bear in southeastern North America, but specimens of Arctodus have been found in Florida, eastern Alabama, and Virginia.  New studies of Arctodus have dispelled long-held erroneous misconceptions about it.  It was not hyper-carnivorous and was more of an omnivore like most extant species of bears.  Its legs were not unusually long as wrongly depicted in most illustrations, and its face was not that short.

Typical erroneous illustration of Arctodus simus.  It was very large, but its legs were not unusually long nor was its face unusually short.


The foot bone discussed on this blog entry.  Image from the below reference.

San Miguel Island is 1 of the Catalina Islands located off the coast of California.  The Arctodus specimen found in Daisy Cave is unusual because not many species of extant and extinct mammals occurred on the Catalina Islands.  Scientists are aware of just 10 species, including the extinct pygmy mammoth (Mammuthus exilis).  Today, Daisy Cave is located adjacent to the ocean, but 17,000 years ago (the age of this specimen) it was located well inland because sea levels were much lower during the Ice Age.  Arctodus specimens are known from 9 sites in California, but this is the only 1 known from the Catalina Islands.  The authors of the below referenced study propose 4 possible scenarios explaining the presence of this specimen here: a) it came from an individual that belonged to a population of Arctodus that colonized the island, b) it was an individual straggler than swam to the island, c) the bone was carried to the island by people, or d) a bird of prey such as a terratorn, condor, or eagle carried the bone to a nest on the cave.  No other bones of Arctodus have ever been found on the island, while dozens of pygmy mammoth bones have, suggesting it probably didn’t come from a population of Arctodus that lived on the island.  The date of the specimen pre-dates the known occurrence of man in the region by about 4,000 years, though there’s ephemeral evidence of people in the region earlier.  The authors of the study favor scenario d, but I doubt a bird would carry an heavy foot bone of a bear that far from the mainland.  I favor scenario b. During the Ice Age San Miguel Island was just a 5 mile swim from the mainland–not too strenuous for a strong healthy bear.

Scientists identified the foot bone using morphology and genetics.  It compared favorably to known specimens of Arctodus foot bones.  Though grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) can have similar size dimensions in their foot bones, they are not known to have occurred in California prior to 5200 years ago (the date of the oldest known grizzly bear specimen from within the state.)  An analysis of the genetics determined the bone belonged to a bear more closely related to the spectacled bear than any bear in the Ursid genus.

Scientists also analyzed the bone chemistry of the specimen to determine its diet.  Based on the chemical ratios, they estimate seals made up 16%-22% of this individual’s diet, while bison and/or camel made up the balance.  (I’m skeptical of these studies.  See: )  The authors of this paper assume the bear scavenged dead seals, but I’m sure a 2000 pound bear is quite capable of subduing a live seal.  Arctodus likely ate whatever it came across and could catch.

Video of a polar bear killing a walrus.  I’m sure a giant short-faced bear could easily kill a seal and would not necessarily rely on scavenging to obtain seal meat.


Mychajliw, A. et. al.

“Biogeographic Problem-Solving Reveals the Late Pleistocene Translocation of Short-Faced Bear to the California Channel Islands”

Scientific Reports 10 2020

How to Cook Farm-Raised Quail

September 14, 2020

When I moved to Georgia during 1976 there was a beautiful old field between my neighborhood and a fishing pond.  We lived in the Cedar Creek subdivision located in Athens, Georgia, and I don’t know who owned the land with the pond we often trespassed upon.  Sadly, that land has been transmogrified into a shopping center parking lot.  Clarke County should have purchased the land and made it a park.  Back then, it was hilly and covered in tall yellow grass and within sight of a bottomland forest that grew alongside a chain of beaver ponds.  The outlet of the pond was a small waterfall that led to pools where large catfish often became trapped.  Crayfish and claw-less freshwater shrimp abounded in the creek, and signs of raccoons-their hand-like paw prints and discarded crayfish shells–could be seen all along the sandy creek side.  An otter slide led to part of the stream.  Deer darted into plum thickets.  One side of the 4 acre pond was bounded by a thick growth of alder; centuries old oaks shaded the other side where we usually fished.  Every Saturday morning while my friend and I headed toward the pond for another fishing adventure, we were frequently startled by the sudden drum-like explosion of a quail covey.  They could have stayed hidden in the tall grass and we would have never known they were there, but apparently we crossed a danger zone for them.  The explosive sound of a quail covey launch probably scares predators too.

Bobwhite Quail Covey by Lynn Bogue Hunt | eBay

Covey of Quail.

Populations of northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) currently are in decline, and I have not heard its 2 note call in several years.  Quail prefer old fields, grasslands, and open pine savannahs–habitats that have been replaced by 2nd growth forests, pine tree farms, subdivisions, and urban sprawl.  Bobwhite quail survived population declines during Ice Ages.  A study of bobwhite quail genetics determined their populations declined during the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago but stabilized at the end of the Ice Age ~10,000 years ago.  Subfossil remains of bobwhite quail dating to the late Pleistocene have been excavated from 8 sites in Florida, 3 sites in Virginia, and 1 each in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas.  Quail remains along with those of ruffed grouse were the most common bird bones found in Kingston Saltpeter Cave in Bartow County, Georgia, dating to ~13,000 years BP.  Predators such as owls and hawks likely carried them into the cave.

Bobwhite quail belong to the New World quail family (Odontopharidae) group that is related to Old World partridges.  There are 32 species of quail in the Odontopharidae family, but the northern bobwhite quail is the only species native to eastern North America because this region has more continuous homogenous habitats.  They are a sister species to members of the quail family in the Callipepla genus which includes California, scaled, and Gamble’s quails.  Most other species in the Odontopharidae family are found in Mexico and South America.  The family likely originated there.

Meadows Quail Farm, Georgia Giant Bobwhite Hatching Eggs for sale

Photo of the inside of a quail farm in Georgia.  Nestlings like heat.

Kroger’s Supermarket sells a box of 4 dressed quail for $6.49.  Most other stores, if they have it at all, are double the price. These quail come from a farm in Greensboro, Georgia about a 90 minute drive from my house.

The best way to cook quail is to broil or grill them.  Unfortunately, most restaurants deep fry them–a culinary crime.

Farm-raised quail is readily available in supermarkets, and they are easy to prepare.  The best way to cook them is to sprinkle them with lemon juice, salt, and pepper; then stick them under a broiler for 15-20 minutes.  They can also be grilled.  Marinate them in your favorite marinade, and charcoal grill them for about 5 minutes per side.   (Wild quail may require a different cooking method.  I never cooked wild quail.)  Quail tastes a little better than chicken, but they don’t have much meat.  At least 2 birds per person should be served.  Deep-frying quail is a travesty, and they should never be cooked that way.  The breading covers up the delicate taste of the meat.


Halley, S. ; et. al.

“A Draft De Novo Genome Assembly for the Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) Reveals Evidence for Rapid Declines in Effective Population Size Beginning in the Late Pleistocene”

Plos One March 2014

A Pre-Historic Sloth-Eating Monster

September 7, 2020

A real monster inhabited the wetlands of South America during the Miocene between 20 million years BP-6 million years BP.  Purussaurus brasiliensis, an extinct 34 foot long caiman, preyed on everything from fish to giant ground sloths.  No complete skeleton of this giant caiman has ever been found, but the size was estimated from several skulls.  It weighed over 10,000 lbs. and was more than a match for any beast living in South America during the time it existed. The few marsupial carnivores that lived then didn’t offer much competition.  It was almost as large as Deinosuchus rugosus, a 39 foot long crocodylian that ate tyrannosaurs during the late Cretaceous.


Purussaurus was a 36 foot long caiman that lived in South America during the Miocene and preyed on giant ground sloths.

Illustration of purussaurus preying upon a ground sloth.

Recently, scientists examined a fossil arm bone of a giant ground sloth (Pseudoprepothenum) and determined it had 46 tooth marks made by a purussaurus.  At least 6 other species of caiman and crocodiles lived then in South America, but purussaurus was the only species large enough to attack and subdue a giant ground sloth, though this particular specimen was estimated to weigh about 100 lbs. The sloth specimen was found near Iquitos, Peru along with many other fossils of fish, reptiles, and mammals.


Pujos, F. and R. Salos-Gismonde

“Predation of the Giant Miocene Caiman Purussaurus on a Mylondontid Ground Sloth in the Wetlands of Proto-Amazonia”

Biology Letters 2020