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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hooty Owl-o-ween. This year's Halloween creature, the owl

Hooty Owl-o-Ween
Trick or Treat From the Bestiary: The Owl

Last night I was on a night hike in a wooded wetland in Northern Texas. I heard the ‘hoot’ of the Barred Owl (Strix varia). 

The Barred Owl’s call sounds like this: "who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all," and "who-who-who-who, who-who-who-whoowha" Listening to their calls and the song of the night insects made me feel in touch with twilight. Click on link to hear their calls

These days as the sun sets, we are tuned to electronics from TV to i-pads or driving with our radios blasting. I highly recommend going out in the woods and listening for your local owls and or other night critters. Imagine what hearing the hoot might have sounded like as you rode your horse through the dark forest on your way to deliver a message to King Guy on the Throne.

On Halloween, as you walk down the streets and to the storefronts, you will see a decorative owl or two. Throughout our history and across many cultures, people have had a great fascination with owls. You can spend days, reading about global owl myths and lore. The owl can evoke a series of emotions, from fear to admiration. Owls are associated with witchcraft and therefore a favorite Halloween decoration. 

In Romania, vampires were known as Strigoli, from the Roman word, strix, which referred to the screech owl. Strega, which is Italian for witch is also derived from the word, strix. They are also associated with medicine, birth, death, the weather, and wisdom. 
According to Paul Johnsgard (North American Owls: Biology and Natural History, Smithsonian Institution Press), Mesopotamian tablets from 2,300 B.C. depict the goddess Lilith as "winged, bird-footed, and typically accompanied by owls," a significant association because Lilith was Sumeria's goddess of death. 

Pallas Athene--Greek goddess of fertility and power--was also affiliated with the owl, possibly "because of the nocturnal (and especially the lunar) . . . associations between female fertility goddesses and the cycles of the moon."

Owls have been associated with wisdom. A bird sacred to the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena.

To the ancient Romans, to hear the hoot of an Owl presaged imminent death. The deaths of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Commodus Aurelius, and Agrippa were apparently all predicted by an Owl.
"...yesterday, the bird of night did sit Even at noonday, upon the market place, Hooting and shrieking" (from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar")

Fortunately, for me and other owl enthusiasts, owl hooting has not presaged our deaths. 
Though stumbling over a log in the dark, while listening to hooting can cause injury.
So why has the owl earned a special place in our lore? Especially spooky lore. Allow me to muse.

For one thing owls are crepuscular, which means they come out at the most mysterious time of the day, twilight. The sun is setting, darkness rises and these nocturnal creatures become vocal and active. Man’s fear of the dark, or night has added to the fear of the owl as a harbinger of death. 

Owls look so darn human. This is due to the position of their huge eyes. Unlike most birds whose eyes are on the sides of their heads, the owl’s eyes look ahead as our do, and they have to rotate their heads to see all round them, again, as man does, but owls are a bit better at it, their heads can swivel nearly 180 degrees to each side, adding up to nearly 360 degrees. A pretty freaky thing to see.

Here are reasons why Owls appear supernatural:
They swoop in silently because of downy feathers. Without a warning the owl’s powerful talons silently crushes the mouse.  Fan an owl’s feather compared to another bird’s feather to hear the difference.

Owls have amazing night vision and can see in almost complete darkness.
Their hearing is also superior and they can pinpoint a mouse’s footsteps despite other ambient sounds. At a raptor center, there was one barn owl that was nervous around a handler. It detected that she had a heart murmur.

They have a ravenous (sorry ravens) appetite. Researchers found that one barn owl family can consume 3,000 voles/year. Owls are our best ally in eating rodent pests. The owl regurgitates undigested bones and fur called owl pellets or castings. Finding such pellets might have inspired ancient people to associate owls with death. 

Other reasons why owls contributed to eerie legends:
Often owl vocalizations and screeching cans sound very human and even evil.
Seeing a white owl at night might have been one of the reasons the lore of white ghosts evolved. Even recently mystery lights can possibly be blamed on owls. Or what about those aliens we call the greys with their owlish faces and huge black barn owl like eyes? 

Also, owls consume a lot of what we see as vermin, young rats, mice, rabbits and other small mammals who enjoy eating our cash crops or garden veggies. That they also occasionally eat song birds and snakes. Birds will often be seen mobbing owls. Did we identify with diurnal birds who deem the owl as a threat? 

So step outside and listen for the owl. If you do, thank him/her for keeping our rodent population down and wish them a Hooty Owl-o-ween. Hoot me comments.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Full Moon Interview with A Zombie

I have been a fan of zombie apocalyptic movies and books for a long time and I have two works in progress centered around zombies. This full moon, rather than interviewing my usual werewolf guest, I have decided to interview a zombie, Mr.Z  (real name is not used since the family only know he is missing). 

Where does one go to interview a flesh-eating mindless zombie? The answer is in a secret black ops underground lab somewhere in a desert. I am not allowed to give any more details than that.

How can I interview a mindless zombie? Though they can make sounds, they can no longer speak. However, with the help of Professor M. and the nanochip implanted in the zombie’s brain, Mr. Z’s answers will be interpreted by an advanced computer and sound like Mr. Z talking. Mr. Z will be secured, since he will be reacting to my living flesh and nothing more.

My Interview with Mr. Z

Professor M. gave me a private tour of the underground lab. He explained that prior to Mr. Z’s infection, he was an unemployed store manager who was bitten near the secret lab. The lab was built to support zombie research and to prevent the pestilence.

I sat across from the mid-forties man. He was wheeled in, like The Silence of the Lamb’s Hannibal Lecter, complete with heavy duty straight jacket , mask and strapped in. His eyes widened and he moaned. I felt a rash of goose flesh in that crawling fear of being eaten alive.
His brain was exposed and was wired and soon connected to the computer.
Professor M. : “Go on ask him anything.” He removed his mask and immediately he snapped hungrily at him. Drooling and stuttering a moan, anxious to feed.  
Me: “What are you feeling right now?” The computer buzzed and the zombie spoke in a stiff contrived manner, like a puppet. His skin was corpse-gray, and he was bald with thin hair in patches. His body smelled of decaying flesh. Somewhere between the stench of a rotting road kill and a landfill.
Z: “Hunger. Hunger for your brain and guts.” He then snapped his jaw at me.
Me:  “So you won’t be satisfied by animal flesh?”
Z: “Only human flesh.”
Me: “Do you remember your past, who you were?”
Z: “No.” He shot out a stuttering moan and turned to me. “I am hunger.”
Professor M: “The zombie’s hippocampus was damaged, but ask him about Jessica and Luther.”
Me: “Do you know a Jessica or a Luther.”
Z: “No. I only want to eat your flesh.” He sniffed and fought his restraints.
Professor: “You asked him if he knows his wife of fifteen years and his twelve year old son.”
Me: “Mr. Z, do you feel pain or sorrow?”
 Z: “Only hunger for living flesh.”
Me: “So if you were released, you would attack and do what?”
Z: “Bite the first human I could reach and feed, then find another and another. Feed.”
Me: “Do you feel any emotions?”
Z: “Only rage when I attack to feed.”
Me: “I take it you don’t remember how you ended up a zombie?”
 Z: “No.”
Professor:  “He took a back road in the desert. One of our escaped zombies got to him. We shot the zombie in the head and brought Mr. Z in and kept him in isolation. On the third day he died and quickly reanimated.”
Me: “So your lab created this zombie virus?”
Professor: “The perfect doomsday biological weapon, but we never meant this to happen.”
Me: “Why keep this lab, why not destroy the zombies you experiment on?”
Professor: “We are determined to find a cure. Besides, other labs around the world have similar zombie labs.”
Me: “And nobody knows.”
Professor: “Best to keep it a secret, otherwise panic would lead to chaos. Like nukes, this a weapon that we hope to never use.”
Me: "Yeah right," I muttered.

Z: He moaned and shook in his straight jacket. 

Professor: “Put him pack in his pen.”  Black uniformed armed men came in and took him away.
Me: “What can we do if some terrorist releases the virus or another zombie escapes?”
Professor: “Have a vehicle loaded with enough food and water for a month and get as far away from populated areas as possible.  Pack guns and rifles, but when you run out of ammo, make sure you have a sharp machete, sword or ax. Keep in mind that the next siren you hear, might not be for an impending tsunami, hurricane or tornado but for zombie attack.

I thanked him for allowing me to see and speak to a real horror movie zombie and happy to return to the Bestiary Parlor. What is stranger than fiction is that there are real cases of zombie disease found in nature. The dreaded zombie-ant fungus.

Records of "zombie-ant fungus" were made in 1859 by Alfred Russel Wallace, the great naturalist and contemporary of Darwin, who found two specimens in Sulawesi in Indonesia. Wallace also collected specimens in the Amazon to bring back to London, but he lost all of his material when his ship, Helen, caught fire and sank on the way home.”
Today, scientists have discovered four new species of fungus that infects ant in Brazil six more species of the fungus in Cairns, Australia, home to some of the oldest rainforests on Earth.
Blurb from the Guardian article:
 “The lifecycle of the organism is extraordinary. Ants become infected with the fungus when spores land on them from above, or when they encounter them on the forest floor. Once attached, the spores use enzymes to get inside the ant's body where the fungus begins to grow. Within a week or so, chemicals released by the fungus cause the ant to wander off and bite on to leaf veins and other vegetation, moments before dying. Many ants are found in places where the conditions are perfect for fungal growth.
Once the ant has died, the fungus slowly sprouts from its head and grows a pod of spores which are fired onto the forest floor at night, to infect other ants.
The latest study reveals that some of the fungi produce spores that have a back-up plan if they fail to infect an ant within a day of being released. Spores that rest on the ground slowly grow a secondary spore that juts upright from the forest floor, where it can latch on to ants as they pass.”

If you like mind-control microbes research about Toxoplasma gondii, a bacteria that tricks rats into risky behavior with cats.  This microbe needs to be ingested by a cat to continue its lifecycle.

Hmm? I wonder if such microbes are in underground bio weapons labs?

Do pick up Max Brook’s The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. 

Good idea to also pick up Roger Ma’s The Zombie Combat Manual.  Very practical and I like he recommends to stay in shape. Running and doing weights is a good survival skill for when the time comes. 

Also, watch The Walking Dead.

Before this event happens I hope to have my own end of the world zombie story out. That would suck if I finished my manuscript and people turned into zombies.

Feel free to ask questions, just know I can’t reveal the secret lab.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Report from Bigfoot Confenrence

Many of you know of my keen interest in cryptozoology and all critters of the Bestiary. In particular Sasquatch.  

I just got back from the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy conference(TBRC ) held in Tyler, East Texas. 

I’m so jazzed as I’m especially interested in analyzing Big Foot (Giganthopithicus) scat to determine what exactly they are eating in the East Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas area.   

Just in Texas there are 19 billion acres of dense forest, free of humans.  There’s plenty of food both plant and meat to sustain a large species of hominid. Bigfoot is not just a rare species that occurs in the Pacific Northwest or as the Yeti in Nepal, but rather is quite global. Sightings from most of the United States have been reported.

Me and Bigfoot head

Guest speakers included Dr. Jeff Meldrum and Dr. Ian Redmond, amongst a few local authorities on the Texas Bigfoot.
Dr. Meldrum is no light weight. He is a physical anthropologist at Idaho State University and an affiliate curator for the Idaho Museum of Natural History. His research is centered on vertebrate—particularly primate—evolutionary morphology. His formal study of primates began with doctoral research on terrestrial adaptations in African primates, and has since taken him from the dusty skeletal cabinets of far-flung museums to the remote badlands of Colombia and Argentina in search of fossil New World primates, and to Asia to investigate intriguing reports of unknown primates.

As the acting director of the Center for Motion Analysis and Biomechanics (CMAB) Dr. Meldrum is collaborating with engineers, paleontologists, and the Idaho Virtualization Lab, to model the pattern of evolution of the hominid foot skeleton. His interests also encompass the evaluation of the footprints purportedly left by an unrecognized North American ape, commonly known as the sasquatch. He has authored an expanded companion volume to the very successful Discovery Channel documentary, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. I have the hard copy version.
He brought a vast collection of fascinating footprint track castings. His lecture included his report to a recent trip to Viet Nam, where an unknown bigfoot like hominid is thought to exist.

Dr. Ian Redmond is a well respected field biologist who has done extensive study on elephants and mountain gorillas. He was once Diane Fossey’s assistant and was there when Digit, the silverback mountain gorilla was killed. He is the documentary filmmaker who introduced Sir David Attenborough to gorillas in 1978 for the famous BBC Life on Earth sequences, and he coached Sigourney Weaver for her award-winning role in the film Gorillas in the Mist (1987).

Me and Dr. Ian Redmond

He is active in numerous conservation groups such as The Ape Alliance and the UK Rhino Group ( He is the Chief Consultant and Envoy for GRASP – the UNEP/UNESCO Great Apes Survival Partnership, an organization he helped launch in 2001.

He shares my feeling that we must build trust with this rare North American hominid rather than harming them. Just like Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey did with chimpanzees and gorillas.
I felt so honored to meet Dr. Redmond since he knew Diane Fossey one my personal heroines for her efforts to conserve gorillas. Growing up, I wanted to be Jane Goodall and study chimps in Africa. Perhaps I will study the American giant ape, a possible Giganthopithicus.

The best part of the conference was meeting people who have witnessed Sasquatch individuals. There were hair samples and castings to look at and many DNA labs have reported human-like/primate DNA. Yes, maybe contamination or a close relative of Homo. At least other common species such as bear and coyotes have been eliminated as possibilities.

 Listening to recordings of wood knocking and calls reminds me of how the great apes behave and vocalize. Here is the famous Sierra recording:

Feel free to ask questions or write comments if you want to learn more. I hope to investigate witness accounts, especially now since deer season is starting. Hunter sightings spike in the fall.