about kakapos, boobies, dragons and megapodes

soo… i have been reading “to the lighthouse” (by virginia woolf) as well as just starting (i.e. reading at the same time) “last chance to see” by douglas adams and mark carwardine. yes, the brilliant brit, the douglas adams who presented the world with the five-volume trilogy of “the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy.” i have been wanting to read this book for a while now so when i finally got it in the mail, i just had to start reading there and then. btw, zweitausendeins (a german publisher) have a cd of adams reading from both the hitchhiker and this book at some university in germany. his reading is brilliant too. anyway, so now let me explain the title of this entry by adding some visuals: (all these are creatures adams and his traveling companions attempted to track down, and the book documents these attempts as well as giving memorable background stories regarding each species.)

meet the megapode, nothing to do with bigfoot btw. native to india and some indonesian islands, this is an endangered species adams learns about on the island of komodo. the edition of “last chance to see” that i have does not have a picture of this creature so i thought i would find out what they look like. this is what adams has to say about the megapode:

It looks a little like a lean, sprightly chicken, though it has the advantage over chickens that it can fly, if a little heavily, […] The important thing is that the megapode has worked out a wonderful labor-saving device for itself. The labor it wishes to save is the time-consuming activity of sitting on its nest all day, incubating its eggs, when it could be out and about doing things. [… the device] is something that’s hard to miss. It was a conical mound of thickly packed earth and rotting vegetation, about six feet high and six feet wide at its base. In fact it was considerably higher than it appeared because the mound would have been built on a hollow in the ground which would itself have been about three feet deep.
I’ve just spent a cheerful hour of my time writing a program on my computer that will tell me instantly what the volume of the mound was. It’s a very neat and sexy program with all sorts of pop-ups and things, and the advantage of doing it the way I have is that on any future occasion on which I need to know the volume of a megapode nest, given its basic dimensions, my computer will give me the answer in less than a second, which is a wonderful saving of time. The downside, I suppose, is that I cannot conceive of any future occasion that I am likely to need to know the volume of a megapode nest, but no matter: the volume of this mound is a little over nine cubic yards.
What the mound is is an automatic incubator. The heat generated by the chemical reactions of the rotting vegetation keeps the eggs that are buried deep inside warm – and not merely warm. By judicious additions or subtractions of material from the mound the megapode is able to keep it at the precise temperature which the eggs require in order to incubate properly.
So all the megapode has to do to incubate its eggs is to dig three cubic yards of earth out of the ground, fill it with three cubic yards of rotting vegetation, collect a further six cubic yards of rotting vegetation, build it into a mound, and then continually monitor the heat it is producing and run about adding bits or taking bits away. And thus it saves itself all the bother of sitting on its eggs from time to time. This cheered me up immensely.

above, as you will have guessed, is a komodo dragon. they can be up to 12 feet long and stand about a yard tall on all fours. there is some discussion that maybe they were the origin for the myths about fire-breathing dragons (esp among the chinese), and while these creatures do not breathe fire they are indeed dangerous (man-eaters if the chance presents itself), and have, as the book attests, the worst breath of all creatures known to man. 🙂

the kakapo is “the world’s largest, fattest, and least-able-to-fly parrot.” and if you ever thought meeting someone / dating was awfully complicated, you may rethink your perspective after you find out more about the private lives and courtship of these delightful birds. adams’ remarks on the kakapo are well worth reading, just as the rest of this entertainingly interesting book.

my personal favorite, the blue-footed booby. adams describes this bird as not having been properly introduced to a hostile environment, – for example, you could walk up to this critter and pick it up and it would just wait for you to set it down again?!

there are more creatures and of course there is much interesting travelogue type story-telling in this book. do you know what it sounds like to be in the yang-tze river and hear what the dolphins there hear? or how to improvise when you realize you came all this way to china and forgot to bring a waterproof microphone? what happens when you get bitten by something deadly? (you die, of course!) what it means when an indonesian travel agents tells you your flight tickets are ok and your seats confirmed? or to what incredible lengths some creatures go in order to complicate locating a mate and reproducing? this book leaves you with a wealth of amusing and interesting information that should give you plenty to talk about / impress those around you when stuck for something to say! i LOVE this book.
p.s.: … just to clarify, these images are NOT mine. i found them online. if you own any of these and would rather i remove them, let me know. if you own any of these and would like a link back, let me know and i’ll link back.


About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

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