Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year New Bunny

 So New Years is all about having a great party and welcoming the new year with hopes it will be better than the last.  Well I know 2012 is going to be a great year for me because I got a new bunny!  Her name is Opal, and she is a blue Flemish Giant.  While this isn't the largest breed of rabbit, she is a very big girl, and should grow up to be well over 20 lbs.  In today's post we will talk about some science but I'm also a history fan so I'm going to change things up and talk about how giant breeds (in this case rabbits) came to America.

Opal at 8 weeks old

In the 1800's rabbits were raised and used for meat very commonly throughout Europe.  This was mainly due to the fact that large livestock was expensive to feed, house and had slow breeding rates.  Rabbits have limited need for space and very fast reproductive rates. Being an island, England consumed large amouts of rabbits, and soon turned to importing them to keep up with demand.  Commonly bred rabbits were mid sized around 7 to 8 lbs.  Travelers returned to England with wild tales of rabbits three times the size in Flanders.  Thus around 1860 Flemish Giants were imported to England, then imported to the Americas in 1890 during a similar "rabbit boom".  So now that we know how Flemish Giants got here lets get down to some science!

Opal at 10 weeks old

Probably the most distinguishable features of rabbits are their giant ears.  Most people know their ears act like giant dishes to catch sound waves.  But their ears are also one of their main temperature control (i.e. thermoregulation) devices.  When looking at the rabbits ears you will see many blood vessels.  If a rabbit is cold the simply need to go out into the sun or fold their ears close to their furry bodies, the ears blood vessels go through vasoconstriction or become smaller to retain heat.  If a rabbit is hot they can go into the shade and fan out their ears, where their blood vessels go through vasodilation.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year,
Cass (and Opal as the Jackalope)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pony Time!

So with Christmas less than a week away, I know many little girls are hoping Santa (and their parents) will heed their desperate pleas for a pony under the tree.  Well I was one of the lucky little girls who actually got their dream pony...  My first pony was Phoenix (all pictures of her are in print and I don't have a scanner) and she was that ultimate little girl fantasy, a snowy white Arabian with a perfect dished face.  Could have been a unicorn (and got dressed as one several times) if you put a horn on her sculpted face.  I kept her till she passed away when I was 21.  My second pony is Max (pictured left), another grey Arabian who originally was for my mom but ended up as my jumping pony, clearing obstacles with me that towered higher than his head.  He is still going strong at 25 giving walk-trot lessons for little kids.  Today I have two horses who decorate the side of my blog, Manhattan and Finally.  Manhattan (Manny) is a 17.1 hand Thoroughbred (pictured below) who can jump a house.  Finally is the golden child (pictured at end of blog).  He is a Quarter horse who I have had since he was 2 and has the biggest heart. 

Now that I've shared about my ponies lets get to some science!  Horses are highly evolved animals with some unique attributes.  In my opinion, their feet have the most highly specialized design.  A horse's hoof is actually is the anatomical equivalent of our fingernail.  If you pick up a horse's hoof and look at the underside they have a triangle middle, this is the horse's frog.  It is a spongy shock absorber.  As a horse gallops the hard outside hoof wall strikes first then the frog extends down and outward to absorb much of the shock.  Now I look at the frog and think wow that would be something Nike would love to use in their newest running shoe, or how about inspiration for shocks on off road vehicles?

The frog is also an amazing pump for the horse's circulatory system.   As the horse puts weight onto the hoof, the hoof wall is pushed outwards and the frog compressed, driving blood out of the frog. When weight is removed from the hoof, the release of pressure pulls blood back down into the foot again. This creates a blood pumping system up and down the horses legs.  Horses rarely lay down, you mostly see young horses or older horses taking extended naps.  Horse are unable to spend a long time laying down because their massive body weight will actually crush their internal organs.  So horses spend most of their time standing up.  They have a special locking feature in their knees to help them sleep standing up.  So having great leg circulation becomes even more important. 

I could go on and on about horses but for today that is all you get!  Hope everyone has a happy holiday season with their loved ones. 
P.S. including a horse treat recipe just in case you're like me and want to give your equine friends a holiday treat, just add raisins to make it human friendly.

Oat Molasses Cookies

2 Cups Dry Oatmeal
1/2 Cup grated Carrots
3 Tablespoons Molasses
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
Combine all ingredients. Add enough water to make a soft dough. Stir
well. Form cookies. Bake 350 for 8 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reindeer Games

Well it is the beginning of December so time for a holiday post.  Today's featured animal will be the Reindeer also known as the Caribou.  I thought it would be fun to outline some points that would make Reindeer a great animal to pull Santa's sleigh.  They live in both Tundra and Borreal Forrest areas, both of which are very cold.  Reindeer fur has an undercoat and topcoat to help combat the extreme cold.  The undercoat is dense and wooley, while the top coat is longer with hollow air-filled hairs. 
Only the most impressive animal will do for Santa, and a reindeer's antlers certainly look fancy.  Both the males and females grow antlers but the males grow them noticeably larger.  The age of the deer determines when their antlers fall off.  The older males loose them in December the younger males loose them in spring.  Reindeer antlers are the largest compared to their body size.

Something you may not realize about Reindeer is they have a very special nose.  No, it doesn't glow red like Rudolf's.  They have nasal turbine bones that increase the surface area dramatically. This allows incoming air to be warmed by the deer's body heat before being transported to the lungs.  The moisture is also captured from the wet cold air before the warmed air is expired.  The moisture can be used to moisten dry air or even be reabsorbed back into the body via capillaries.

Why were Reindeer chosen to pull Santa's sleigh?  Well, I think it is because they are the only mammal to see ultraviolet light!  They can see wavelengths at around 320 nm much better than humans who tap out at 400 nm.  This is likely because Reindeer live in the Arctic where the world is often covered in snow and relatively monotoned.  Seeing ultraviolet helps certain objects stand out. 

Now that you see the many features of Reindeer you can see why Santa loves them. 
Happy Holidays to everyone,

Friday, December 2, 2011

One of my Favorite Animals

I've drifted off the biomimicry topic the last few posts and it is time to get back to it!  Today I want to talk about one of my favorite animals, the okapi...  Side note: (for those of you remembering my love of frogs and horses, the specific order of my favorite animals goes 1. Frogs 2. Okapi 3. Horses.)  Okapi's have a very striking coat and body.  They have a reddish brown body, zebra striped legs, and a giraffe shaped head.  The Okapi isn't related to zebras, deer, or horses.  Their closest relative is the giraffe.  If you look at their head you can see a distinct relation in the shape and they have a long dark blue tongue just like giraffe's. 

The Okapi's unusual coloring is actually  ideal for its' environment.  Okapi's live in dense rainforest, where there is little sunlight except for the traces that weave through the dense upper canopy.  This creates stripes of light across the jungle floor that blend in nicely with their legs.  Their body is a dark reddish brown that blends in with the rest of the forest and doesn't attract much attention.  Other striped jungle animals like the Tiger utilize the same strategy of wearing stripes to mimic lighting in the dense jungle.

One of the most unique features of the Okapi is their large ears.  Okapis make lots of noise but our human ears cant detect them.  They are at a ultra low frequency, while predators hear at higher frequency.  By having low vocals they can communicate with one another without predators listening in.  This has evolved mostly for mother Okapi's and their babies.  At the beginning of the day the mother Okapi will hide the new baby while she goes off to find food and water.  She doesn't go out of earshot so if baby Okapi needs her she can come back.

Now what are some possible uses for humans if we had Okapi ears?  Well due to their ability to hear low frequencies, Okapi's can hear earthquakes.  If humans could make a small ear sized device, everyone could have their very own earthquake detection device!

Try to keep in mind that every animal and creature has evolved their specific features for a purpose.  If an animal looks strange their must be a reason!  Happy reading,