Origami n' Stuff 4 Kids

Saturday, April 18, 2009

crazy for cats

Cats, cats, cats.

With 88.3 million cats in U.S. households, they've replaced dogs (74.8 million) as America's most popular pet. That's a lot of kitty litter.

What is it about these sharp-clawed predators that fascinates us? Ask the ancient Egyptians, who kept them as pets 4000 years ago.

What began as working relationship (mouse eats grain, cat eats mouse–when pharaoh is happy, everyone is happy) later became an obsession as cats became associated with Bastet, the goddess of fertility and motherhood. Pampered at temples devoted to Bastet, they were mummified and buried in huge communal graves.

What most don't know is that this devotion wasn't always pretty. Cat mummies became so popular that by 300 B.C., young kittens were sacrificed in large numbers as temple offerings. So many, that in the late 1800s an English company bought 38,000 pounds to sell as fertilizer. That's 180,000 cat mummies in a single shipment!

However, Egyptians weren't the first cat-lovers.

Kitties have been coughing up hairballs and dead birds on earthen doorsteps far earlier. In 2004, a human and a cat were found together in a 9,500 year-old Cyprus grave. And in 2007, a study in the journal Science found that the granddaddy of all house cats was a desert wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, which roamed the Middle East 10,000 years ago and continues to do so today.

Now that cats are here to stay, here are some funky facts about our fickle feline friends:
  • Wild species of cats are native to all continents except Australia and Antarctica...Sadly, most of the thirty-six cat species are in danger of becoming extinct within the next twenty-five years.
    (Natural History Museum)

  • Cats have remained relatively unchanged since they first appeared 30 million years ago.

  • A house cat can jump nine to ten times its height, the equivalent of a professional basketball player jumping more than 60 feet.

  • A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder", a male cat is called a "tom" (or a "gib", if neutered), and a female is called a "queen".

  • A domestic cat's sense of smell is about fourteen times as strong as a human's.

  • Cats have a third eyelid, the nictitating membrane. And unlike humans, they do not need to blink to lubricate their eyes with tears.

  • Cats lack a gene required to taste sweetness...which would be unnecessary, since such a gene is only advantageous in animals that consume plants.

  • Most cats sleep 12 to 16 hours a day, to conserve energy between hunts.

Cat records:
  • Smallest cat: the Rusty-spotted cat, Prionailurus rubiginosus, found in India and Sri Lanka. Less than half the size of a domestic cat, it stands seven inches high and weighs less than three pounds.

  • Largest cat: the Tiger, Panthera tigris. Males can weigh as much as 700 pounds, are ten to eleven feet long (not including tail), and can eat 80 pounds of meat in a single sitting.

  • Rarest cat: Iberian lynx. Only 100 to 150 are believed to survive in the wild, a result of dwindling habitats and decline in prey.

Be sure to make some Big Cat origami I've designed:

©2009 Tammy Yee. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 10, 2009

aurora borealis

Astronaut Don Pettit creates a time lapse video of the Aurora Borealis from the International Space Station. NPR Science Friday, April 10, 2009.

candy corn in space...

NASA astronaut Don Pettit experiments with candy corn aboard the International Space Station to demonstrate the hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties of soap. . From NPR's Science Friday, April 10, 2009. Hosted by Ira Flatow.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

is a bird in the pot worth two in the bush?

Let me tell you about a chick named Peep.

I refer not to the marshmallow confections so ubiquitous this time of year, but to a pet. We had returned to the Philippines for my father-in-law's funeral, and my son had more questions than I could answer. The open casket in the living room, the constant stream of visitors during the week-long wake and the oppressive tropical heat left me drained. What better way to occupy a young boy than to give him that everlasting symbol of life, a newly hatched chick? Seeing him smile with a yellow ball of fluff on his shoulder and bird droppings running down his back was the highlight of what was to be a long and somber visit.

So imagine my delight when news of Peep arrived from the Philippines. It was a letter from an aunt, thanking my son. Peep, she wrote, had fed many neighbors and the consensus was that he was exceptionally delicious. Enclosed was a photo of a fat happy chicken, minutes before his neck was wrung.

"What's that, Mommy, is it Peep?"

"Yes it is, and look how he's grown!"

Thus began a series of small lies, The Legend of Peep, if you will. Fifteen years later, he still doesn't know the truth. Was I squeamish discussing death with him? No. I was simply at a loss for words having to explain why anyone on a U.S. pension in the Philippines would need to eat a pet, especially one associated with a dead grandfather.

Which brings us to the Worcester's buttonquail, an elusive, flightless bird found only in the Philippines. Last seen 100 years ago, the spotted quail has never before been photographed, and was thought to be extinct. Its appearance in a bird trapping documentary astonished Desmond Allen, the World Bird Club member who identified it, and soon the world of ornithology was abuzz.

The problem? The only Worcester's buttonquail ever caught on film was sold for 10 pence, simmered in a delicate broth of vinegar, and eaten as quail adobo. I have no evidence for the exact preparation, but adobo is as good a guess as any.

The name of the documentary? Bye-Bye Birdie.

But it doesn't end there.

According to the AFP (Ultra-Rare Shark Caught and Eaten, April 7, 2009),
"A megamouth shark, one of the world's most elusive species, was caught, carved up and eaten by fishermen from a town in the Philippines, the environmental conservation group WWF said Tuesday."

Discovered in 1976 off the shores of Hawaii, only 41 specimens of this ancient shark have ever been found. And this time I do have a recipe. Take 500 kilos of megamouth, stew in coconut milk, and you have enough kinuout to feed a village!

As humans encroach on natural habitat, more such encounters shall occur. However, it would be naive to expect that education and strict poaching regulations will solve the problem. Fueled by civil unrest, dwindling resources and deforestation, the bushmeat trade has become a wildfire:
"Because there is nowhere else for people to turn for protein, and because of poor enforcement, bushmeat hunting has continued in many parts of the world, despite regulations that make most of the hunting illegal. (Discovery News, Bushmeat Ban Not the Answer)"

A fire that not only endangers biodiversity, it endangers us.

There have been 14 ebola epidemics in Africa since 1976, in which 80% of the victims hemorrhaged to death within a few days, and which have been traced to bushmeat. Outbreaks coincide with the dry season and the birthing cycles of the virus's reservoir, fruit bats. Because primates often inhabit the same trees, they are exposed to blood and placental fluid released during bat birthing. Villagers contract ebola through contact and consumption of primates and fruit bats:
"Consequently, public awareness programmes and an input of food supplies essential for the needs of remote villages during the dry season should help avoid Ebola virus transmission from the bats to humans." (News Medical: Fruit bats a reservoir for Ebola virus, Jan 2006)

Ah, but that's in Africa, you say. So was HIV. Evolved from SIV, the simian or primate variant, HIV has jumped from primates to humans at least seven times.
"That suggests that new strains of an HIV-like virus are circulating in wild animals and infecting people who eat them, sparking fears that such strains could fuel an already disastrous global HIV pandemic." (New Scientist: Bush-meat trade breeds new HIV, Aug 2004)

And in December 2008, Ebola-Reston was confirmed in four pig farms in the Philippines, raising fears that the disease may someday be transmitted from pigs to humans.

So stick to the marshmallow Peeps, peeps. Once we, and biodiversity, are gone, I doubt we'll be resurrected.

©2009 Tammy Yee

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