Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In Which I Know They're Dogs, But...

Or, Death In the Mossy Nest

My survey project on the large citrus mountain required only half a day today, and because we started so early, I thought I'd pop in at home, shower, and then go spend the rest of the day in the office. He Who Snores and She Who Roars were surprised, and greeted me with that sleepy-eyed, yawning face they have when woken up unexpectedly. Mr. Big was happy to sit outside while I showered, but Pestica has been in a shadowing mood lately, so she insisted on coming inside. After I finished, I wanted her to go out again, as I knew she needed to use the grass, so I took her back outside. Mr. Big had been dozing on the patio, in the shade, but perked up when she bolted out the door. She had seen some birds sitting way in the back, near her toilette, and she took off after them. The birds were so startled, they flew into the oleanders, but without realizing that there is a chain link fence behind said oleanders that would obstruct their flight to freedom. One lost his flight and ended up in Pestica's mouth.

She was so proud of herself for catching a bird. Mr. Big was an excellent birder in his day, known to snatch birds out of the air in flight. His most noteworthy catch: a juvenile/almost adult Cooper's hawk. So she pranced around, showing off to him, with the bird in her mouth. It was probably still alive and unharmed at that point, but scared and stunned. I've successfully persuaded her to yield undamaged birds from her mouth to me in the past. But not this time. Mr. Big  trotted up behind her and snapped at the protruding back end, getting a mouthful of feathers. She, determined not to share her bounty, at that point bit down (probably killing poor little bird then), streaked off behind the shed, and started to eat her prize. It was a morning dove, I think.

I know Nature is not mean. When death occurs in Nature, there is no malice, no delight, no deliberate, meaningless injury. Death is for food or because some predator is trying to make you their food. But it distresses me when the dogs eat birds nonetheless. I admit to being the softy Mother Nature is not.

And have you heard about the latest Neanderthal man genetic research? Reversing the reverse of years ago, the genetic evidence now indicates that modern humans (except modern African humans) have Neanderthal DNA. Supporting my long-held contention that humans, regardless of species, were just as randy, just as willing to be swayed by a pretty face or a better hunter, just as nondiscriminatory as other mammals, in the past. I always thought this was the most pragmatic view of a world with several different hominid species.

When I was in graduate school, however, the operating theory was the opposite, that there had been no admixture between anatomically modern humans (Mossy Speaks Anthropologese!) and Neanderthals. I thought that was silly and wrong when I first heard it, decades ago, in class. That view (and I was just a lowly student of the many famous and not-so-famous scientists whose whole lives' work was/is in human evolution and who had real, substantive arguments for and against admixture) was pooh-poohed by some experts in paleoanthropology (and physical anthropology was my minor, not my major area of graduate studies, so really my thoughts were negligible to anyone but me). But, it appears I, and those real experts in the field of ancient hominid studies, were right after all.  Long live the hominid, in all its glorious species diversity! Yes, Gentle Reader, we are mammals after all. We have a big brain, opposable thumbs, and the ability to plan for the future and regret the past, but we are no more and no less than our animal brethren.

So, all those cliched jokes about ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends being Neanderthal--could very well be true.

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