Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Wishes to You!

Photo Courtesy of stephend9
I will keep this one short, but sweet... Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ask a Zookeeper: Clever Capuchin Monkeys

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Thanks for tuning in to my third installment of my "Ask a Zookeeper" series! Today's question comes from the lovely Mary Vettel (aka, Zooks), who writes:

"Can Capuchin monkeys see in the dark?
And do they see colors?"

Before we get started, let's chat a little bit about what a Capuchin monkey actually is. Probably best know for their mischievous roles in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Night at the Museum, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Hangover 2, Capuchin monkeys are considered the most intelligent of the New World monkeys. They are often kept as pets (like Ross's "Marcel" on Friends), and they are also the quintessential street performers.

"Where's my peanut?"
Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
In recent years, Capuchin monkeys have become quite popular and successful as service animals, and specially-trained Capuchins are often placed with individuals who are paralyzed or who suffer other severe mobility impairments. (Learn more about service Capuchins at Helping Hands, a non-profit organization that provides Capuchin placements.)

Native to Central and South America, Capuchin monkeys are tree dwellers, and they usually live in large, polygamous family groups of up to 35 individuals, typically led by one alpha male. They are omnivores, and they feed primarily on fruits, nuts, seeds, buds, insects, spiders, birds' eggs, and small vertebrates. They will also eat crabs and shellfish by cracking their shells with stones. (An excellent example of tool use as a measure of intelligence, which we discussed in my literary crow post!)

But getting back to your fabulous question about vision, Mary. What's interesting about Capuchins is that they are diurnal--or most active during the day--just like we are. At night, they sleep wedged between branches in an effort to evade an array of potential predators--including jaguars, cougars, jaguarundis, coyotes, tayras, snakes, crocodiles, and raptors.

Because they typically aren't active at night, nature hasn't blessed Capuchin monkeys with particularly powerful night vision. Most scientists agree that in many respects, Capuchin eyesight is similar to human eyesight. We have about the same ability to distinguish fine details, and our eyes react similarly to the presence of light after long periods of darkness. (Probably less swearing and grumbling from the monkeys, though.)

On to the color vision! Research has recently shown that Capuchin monkeys--just like humans--have a huge range of variation in their color vision.
Normal human vision is considered "trichromatic," which means that our retinas contain three types of color receptors (called cone cells) for conveying color information. (Basically, we can see in colors. Lots of colors.)

Some humans, however, have "dichromatic" vision, which means one of our three basic color mechanisms is absent or not functioning. According to Wikipedia, there are various kinds of color blindness found in humans:
  • Protanopia is a severe form of red-green color-blindness, in which there is impairment in perception of very long wavelengths, such as reds. To these individuals, reds are "perceived" as beige or grey and greens tend to "look" beige or grey like reds. 
Protanopia Test:
Can you see the very vague 37 in this picture?
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
  • Deuteranopia consists of an impairment in perceiving medium wavelengths, such as greens.
  • Deuteranomaly is a less severe form of deuteranopia. Those with deuteranomaly cannot see reds and greens like those without this condition; however, they can still distinguish them in most cases.
Deuteranopia Test:
Can you see the very vague 49 in this picture?
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
  • A more rare form of color blindness is tritanopia, where there exists an inability to perceive short wavelengths, such as blues. Sufferers have trouble distinguishing between yellow and blue. They tend to confuse greens and blues, and yellow can "appear" pink.
Tritanopia Test: 
Can you see the very vague 56 in this picture?
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
Most mammals are dichromatic in some way, but many New World monkeys are a notable exception. Scientists now believe male Capuchins are dichromatic, but up to 60% of female Capuchins may be trichromatic! Their peak sensitivities lie in the blues, greens and yellow-greens--which makes sense, considering where they live--but their color vision may not be all that much different than ours.

"Your tie clearly doesn't match your shirt."
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
Why, you may ask? According to The Evolution of Color Vision in Primates, "Diurnal primates generally eat fruits and young leaves, and it has been argued that trichromatic color vision is an adaptation for discriminating the most nutritive, colorful items.

"However, in dim light, trichromats have exhibited a slight disadvantage for discriminating fruit from foliage. In many situations, dichromats have a foraging advantage when food is camouflaged or similar in color to the background. Since almost all New World monkeys are known to search for food cooperatively, the entire group can benefit from the advantages of trichromacy and dichromacy."

Boom! So, there you have it. Discriminating, intelligent and cooperative. And pretty darn cute, too.

"With our powers combined..."
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
Thanks for tuning in to my bi-weekly "Ask a Zookeeper" series, and thanks again to Mary Vettel for such a fantastic--and difficult!--question. (Not gonna lie, I had to call in some help from my primate keeper friends for this one. ;)) Please let me know if you have any questions for a future post, and please join me in two weeks for my next post. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest: The Product of Post-Crash Insomnia

 
In honor of the Deja Vu Blogfest (brought to you by DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, Nicole Ducleroir and Lydia Kang), I am re-posting a favorite blog post of mine that I think needs to see the light of day one more time.

The purpose of this Blogfest is to prevent great posts from fading away into the ever-expanding blogosphere without one more shout-out. It's also a great time to check out the posts from others that you may have missed. Here's the list of the other participants: The Deja Vu Blogfest.

Without further ado, here's a re-post of one of my favorite posts, "The Product of Post-Crash Insomnia." I originally posted this on March 9, 2011, and it's by far the most meaningful thing I've ever written. I will post it again here in its entirety: 

Al-Can Highway, October 2010, Photo Courtesy of Me

I survived a pretty intense car accident in October 2010, and--like most people, I suppose--I now separate my life into two segments: pre-crash and post-crash. My husband and I were driving through a very remote section of northern British Columbia near the Yukon Territory on our way from Alaska to California, and our car flipped six times before finally coming to rest in a drainage ditch. Although we both survived, we almost lost one of our dogs, and the accident itself was unfortunately just the first of our struggles.

After we finally arrived safely in the Lower 48 (nearly two weeks later), I couldn't sleep for weeks, and I found myself haunted by the ghostly images of what we could have become: a cluster of faded crosses buried and forgotten in waist-high snow. It amazed me to think that we could have simply ceased to exist. All the threads of our lives--our goals, our dreams, our connections and our relationships--could have slammed to a stop, and life would have continued on without us.

There is nothing more humbling than realizing the sun will someday set without you.

At the height of my post-crash insomnia, I realized the only way I could purge my experience was to write it down, and here is the result. (I apologize in advance for the language and the general choppiness; I've tried my best not to embellish, and I've recorded everything as best as I can remember.) By putting it on paper and then putting it out here, I think I'm finally ready to let it go...

OCTOBER 23, 2010

The hard left swerve of the first fishtail.

The paralyzed feeling of helplessness as I bolt awake to see our truck sliding into the lane of oncoming traffic.

Ice. Obsidian patches of water. Ribbons of dirty snow swirling across the spruce-lined highway like dim grey snakes or threads of tape ripped from the underbelly of a cassette.

Beautiful. Looks like dancing.

Michael. My Michael, my dirty, adventurous mountain man. The love of my life.

Tensed at the wheel, cobalt eyes wide in panic.

Attempting to correct us, he flings the wheel hard to the left, then hard to the right. His knuckles are clenched, white as paper, stretched too thin around our sun-faded steering wheel.

A ship’s captain in the throes of a thunderstorm.

Relax. Don’t panic. This has happened once before. Everything will be fine.

Fleeting thoughts of a harmless skid back home in Anchorage, that afternoon we drove from the Hillside two winters ago. Watching with a mixture of dread and fascination as our brand-new-to-us Toyota Tacoma did a ballerina’s pirouette and came gracefully to rest at the corner of Lake Otis Parkway and Northern Lights Boulevard. Didn’t leave a scratch.

Flawlessly executed. A judge’s Perfect Ten.

This time will be just like that.

Some sort of talking. Michael’s frustration and fear, my words of encouragement. Trying not to panic in the midst of a runaway train ride.

Don’t freak out. It will just make him freak out more.

A decision.

Angling toward the ditch. Wide and soft-looking, with blades of golden prairie grass folded to the ground by the winter’s first snowfall.

Launching off the asphalt, realizing the road is a few feet higher than the shoulder. Watching the ground rise to meet us and clutching the “oh-shit” bar without even realizing it. Socked feet—the same pair of Wigwams I’ve been wearing since we crossed into British Columbia two days ago—braced against the floor’s grey rubber mats.

This. Is. Happening.

Just noise now. Shattering glass, the screeching of metal upon metal. Plastic and steel and tires tearing into the earth, ripping through the ground like a heaving, angry claw.

The smell of dirt, the chill of ice. Lights and darks, and the realization that we’re flipping now. Over and over and over. Tiny and insignificant, like lottery balls tumbling in a wheel.

My head is suddenly hanging out the window. Resting sideways on the door frame like that time I drank too much Bushmill's the night we got engaged.

But this time I’m mad.

Furious. Mind-bendingly, unflinchingly, unfiltered in my rage.

STOP!

STOP FLIPPING!!

THIS ISN’T FAIR… YOU CAN’T DO THIS… LET ME GET MY HEAD INSIDE THE WINDOW FIRST…

GODDAMNIT, LET ME GET MY HEAD INSIDE THE WINDOW!!!


There’s dirt everywhere. In my mouth, in my eyes. It tastes raw and silty, dark and fertile. It’s good soil.

In the midst of the chaos, I feel something hard against my chest—Michael’s arm?—and I hear a voice yelling. Screaming, actually, and I understand with a start that it’s my voice I’m hearing.

Weird.

Didn’t even realize I was speaking.


One. Two. Three. I lose count of the truck flips after four, realizing with detached amusement that my obsessive-compulsive tendencies aren’t even filtered by car wrecks.

And then suddenly, there’s silence.

Distant, detached, uncompromising silence.

Mother Nature doesn’t really give a shit about you.

We’ve stopped. The truck is right-side-up, and our twisted front bumper is angled downward into a drainage ditch. We’re teeter-tottering in mid-air like kids on a seesaw.

Thank God for this drainage ditch.

Pausing for only an instant, I swirl sideways to take stock of the truck’s passengers.

There’s Michael. Eyes wide. High cheekbones drained of color and face skewed with shock. He’s okay.

Check.

Looking backward into the truck’s extended cab, I lock eyes with Bridger. Our floppy-eared, vulnerable pound dog Bridger. Black bandit’s mask and that beautiful tan face. His eyes are wide, but he’s sitting up, and those lanky sled dog legs are fully intact. He’s okay.

Check.

“Where’s Naia?”

The question tumbles from my mouth as I lock eyes with Michael again. It’s the first words I’ve spoken.

Naia. Our radiant, vivacious, ebony German Shepherd mix. Our heart and our soul, and the glue that keeps us all sane and balanced. The most fearless member of our blossoming young family.

She’s gone.

Michael and I move quickly, nodding in silent understanding as we turn from each other. Our hands and arms move on autopilot, unbuckling seatbelts and flinging open car doors we later won’t remember opening.

I’m outside before I know it, leaping with socked feet into the waiting drainage ditch. Bands of ice shatter beneath my toes, and I shudder as my legs sink into a freezing, muddy creek. Sulfur, vaporous and rotten, surges into my nostrils.

Shit. Now my feet are all wet.

Feeling like I’ve stood in the creek for days, but realizing it has probably only been an instant, I clamber up the embankment on my hands and knees, scuffing my palms and tearing the knees of my favorite pair of jeans. Those way-too-expensive Seven for All Mankind jeans I bought last year at Nordstrom because Michael said they made my butt look cute.

Up the hill, our belongings—suitcases, clothes, gasoline cans and blankets—are scattered through the prairie grass like leaves in the wind.

And then there’s Naia.

Tossed amongst the luggage like a crumpled rag doll, she’s awake, and her golden eyes are trained on us. Her silly, oversized bat ears stand erect like satellite dishes.

Michael has almost reached her—with Bridger bounding like a terrified jackrabbit behind him—so I make a beeline for the highway, waving my arms as a minivan pulls to a stop on the road’s shoulder. My vision seems to be flickering as an older truck slides in behind the minivan, and then Naia is suddenly howling.

She’s running with her tail down—short, compact and panicked, her legs beautiful in their musculature. Her stance is the same one we saw two days ago at that rest area in the Yukon Territory, the one where she chased pebbles and bounded through the black spruce forest with the speed and grace of a panther. Clipped and measured in her movements.

Like a police dog. Like a big girl.

She isn’t even three yet.

She’s bolting into incoming traffic now, and I’m yelling something about not panicking, but Michael already has her, and he’s leading her back across the asphalt. He’s holding her by that beautiful, “girly, but not too girly” purple collar he picked out last year for her birthday.

His injured hands are spilling blood all over it.

There’s a family—a wholesome, bacon-eating Canadian family—and now they’re rushing us inside the minivan. Two wide-eyed daughters stare from the backseat as the mother spreads a bedspread over the middle seat for us.

It’s cute. Pink and cartoonish. Fluffy and decorated with maybe the Powerpuff girls, but I hear myself saying, “I can’t… I don’t want to get blood on your blanket…”

I’m inside now, and Bridger is cowered on my lap. Naia is crumpled in knots on the floor, and Michael is staggering back from the truck. He’s clutching my wallet and the new Canon camera I bought last year so I could “take a picture every single day of 2009.” The base is swinging crazily from its straps, winding in figure-eights like the loose seat of a swing set. The lens cap is missing.

What a funny thing to save.

The van door closes, and now we’re pulling away from the accident, swirling back toward Fort Nelson, where we stayed at that chain hotel and ate Dominos pizza last night. Looked at our map of Canada and studied that battered copy of our Milepost magazine. Tried to figure out our itinerary for this crazy move from Alaska to Colorado.

I watch our truck fade in the distance, its nose face-down in the drainage ditch and its back wheels suspended in mid-air like a child’s Tonka truck. Our camper shell has been ripped off, and our things—all our things, each one lovingly packed in preparation for this trip—are scattered in tangles like the wake of a tornado.

That’s our LIFE out there.

I catch a stray word and repeat it—“Totaled?”—feeling the wheels inside my head laboring to process the notion.

But that’s not possible. That’s our truck. We’re driving to Colorado in that truck.

Michael’s hands are on mine, and I realize I’m covered in blood, too. Dark blood, thick and viscous, spills from wounds on my hands and face.

“You’re bleeding.” His eyes are wide, and they glimmer with sapphire light, bright and clear as a glacial lake. “I’m… so… sorry.” He pauses on each word for emphasis, running his hands up and down my sides to check for injuries. “I’m so, so sorry. Are you okay?”

I don’t know. Am I?

Dragging my fingers through my hair, I pull free tiny bits of glass—beautiful, raw diamonds that shine like stars in the morning haze. My right hand is beginning to swell grotesquely, and my left jaw is aching, but I think I’m remarkably healthy.

“I’m fine. How about you?”

I touch his arms, his face, that sandy beard he insisted on growing special for the trip. His grey Mountain Hardware beanie is smudged with streaks of dirt and blood, but I can still see those two campfire ash stripes he accidentally wiped across its brim during our weekend trip to Seward last spring.

“I’m fine.”

Turning to Bridger, I repeat my inspection, cradling his bony shoulders against my chest and feeling my heart break as I watch his back legs tremble.

Naia is crying, howling out in pain whenever she twists herself on the floor of the minivan. We can’t find any wounds—not even the one I thought I saw on her hamstrings just before she ran into oncoming traffic.

Internal injuries.

The thought strikes me with the weight of a wrecking ball, and I do my best to convince myself I’m mistaken. “She’s probably just sore,” I say, patting Michael’s knee in encouragement after I palpate her spine and the bones of her back legs. “Everything seems to be intact, and she’s letting me touch her everywhere. That’s a good sign.”

But what the hell do I know? I’m not a vet tech.

As we drive, we thank the Canadian couple more times than is reasonably necessary, asking them their names over and over only to feel their answers drifting away moments after they form.

Duane is the dad; I try my hardest and finally commit him to memory, feeling my mind battling the word like an out-of-control kite in the midst of a hurricane. Duane. Duane is beefy and good-natured, with a gap between his front teeth and meaty, flushed sausage fingers. Duane. Remember the name Duane.

Duane and Duane’s wife—who I will later only remember as an ash-blonde blur—were on their way to Fort St. John this morning. They’ve been living in Fort Nelson for the past five years, and Fort St. John is the next town over; it’s a three and a half to four hour drive, and one of Duane’s daughters will be getting her braces tightened there Monday.

“We’ve been driving behind you the whole way south from Fort Nelson, about 40 kilometers,” Duane says. Same speed. Following at a safe distance. These straight roads will get you, he says. Your tires get away from you on that ice, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“Forty kilometers is a long way to backtrack,” Michael says.

“I feel terrible we’ve ruined your day,” I say, watching the windows fog up from the heater and wondering why Duane hasn’t fixed that hairline crack spreading like a spider web across his front windshield.

“You’re all alive,” Duane’s wife says—or was that Duane? “If you weren’t, that would have ruined our day.”

“It would have ruined ours, too,” I say, smiling because I’m being clever.

Get it? Because we would have been dead.
 
Ha! See? I’m still funny, even in the midst of a tragedy.

####

“I’m sorry ma’am, you can’t bring your mutts in here,” the nurse says when we arrive at the Fort Nelson hospital, staggering out of Duane’s minivan as his wife calls the police and says help is on the way.

“We don’t have anywhere else to go,” I answer, clutching Bridger’s collar and tracking wet, socked footprints across the linoleum as Michael sways in behind me, holding Naia to his chest with wide eyes and bloodied hands.

I bet we look like those people you always hear about. The crazies.

A room suddenly opens for us in an unused portion of the hospital, and we spend the better part of the morning sitting on the floor in stunned silence, giving a police report to an officer named Katie and force-feeding Naia and Bridger dry crackers and lukewarm water.

It will cost $500 per person to be seen by a doctor, so we forego medical exams for now. And Fort Nelson doesn’t have a veterinarian—what the fuck kind of town doesn’t have a veterinarian?—so Michael and I skip deliberation and make the only decision we feel is reasonable.

Give us a rental car, because we need to get Naia to a Fort St. John vet hospital right now.

####

Fast-forward four hours, and Michael and I are in the middle of nowhere on that same God-forsaken two-lane highway in the middle of a snowstorm. I am sitting in the back seat of our rental Kia Sorrento, and Naia is crumpled in a little black heap at my side. She shifts to get comfortable amongst the avalanche of belongings we’ve stacked to the ceiling around her, and this tiny movement sends a stab of pain coursing through her already weak body.

“How’s she doing?” Michael asks from the driver’s seat.

I don’t know how he’s doing this; driving through this snowstorm in the middle of this fog, dodging stray elk and flicking on and off his high-beams during those heart-stopping moments when visibility drops below twenty feet.

It’s pitch-black out here, black as an abyss, a wormhole stretching across the frozen void of space. The steady stream of snow tapping our windshield ironically reminds me of that Windows screen saver that makes you feel like you’re flying through the solar system.

Only now I’m afraid we’re going to spin into another accident, and this time, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep myself together afterward.

It’s a statistical improbability, a mathematical unlikelihood. I probably have a better chance of being attacked by a shark and then being trampled by an elephant. But there’s always that one little anomaly, that one weird guy in Texas who’s been struck by lightning more than 60 times.

Some times these things just happen.

Why not twice in one day?

Naia’s golden eyes are rolling in her skull, and her breathing is raspy. I’m trying to get her to drink water, and I’m doing every trick I can think of to distract her from her panting.
“Got your tongue. Hahaha, look at me, I’m gonna get your tongue if you don’t put it back in your mouth… I’m gonna get your eye googies next. I know you have this gross little habit of always wanting to eat them after I’ve wiped your eyes clean. Don’t you want to pause for a second to eat your eye googies?”

I watch Naia struggle, and I suddenly feel my chest closing. Those golden eyes are so beautiful, and her ridiculous bat ears are perfect.

She’s going to die. Naia is going to die right here sitting on my lap, and there’s nothing I can do to help her.

A swell of anger spills itself into tears, and I clench my eyes shut, fighting the pain and clutching Naia so tightly that I imagine my arms have the power keep her together.

The power to keep her here.

This isn’t fair. This isn’t the way things are supposed to happen.

We’re supposed to move into a new house together. We’re supposed to have babies, and Naia is supposed to be their nanny. She’s supposed to snuffle their ears and sleep beside them every night.

We can’t say goodbye to her yet. We can’t leave her here in this god-forsaken place, broken and extinguished like a snuffed candle. She isn’t even three yet.

This isn’t how this is supposed to happen.


Oil refineries tantalize us for hours, gleaming red and warm in the distance, camouflaging themselves as the town of Fort St. John only to mock us when we approach. Their wicked flame smoke stacks glow like beacons, and we feel like we’re traveling through time as we steer past them into the abyss.

####

We have been on the road for more than five and a half hours by the time we finally reach North Peach Veterinary Clinic, a square metal box illuminated by street lights and outfitted with a squeeze cage in the front for handling large livestock procedures.

My socks are gone now, so I carry Naia barefoot through the snow as Dr. North waves and pulls her glass door open for us. She’s small and athletic, coffee-haired and tan-faced, with kind eyes and rock climber hands, and she can’t believe we’ve come to her vet hospital before seeing a doctor ourselves.

Her office is warm, and the air smells like antiseptic and metal as Michael and I struggle to place Naia on an exam table. She cries out in pain, and her insides heave. A trickle of blood begins dripping in dark rivulets down the base of her tail.

I take one look and suddenly think I’m going to vomit.

Her insides. Her insides have turned into mush, and there’s nothing I can do to help her.

A wave of heat rips through me, and I collapse in an exam chair, tearing off my favorite chocolate vest and that pink American Eagle hoodie I put on this morning because I knew Michael would think I looked pretty.

It’s ripped. I ripped the sleeve of my pretty pink hoodie, and Naia’s going to die here.

The flecked tile floor feels cold against my back as I slump to the ground, and Dr. North brings me a water-filled mug. It’s old and white, stained with coffee and chipped at the handle, but the water tastes good, so I share with Naia.

“It’s good if she wants to drink, right?”

“Maybe, but we don’t want her to drink too much in case we need to sedate her.” Dr. North attempts a smile, explains that she’s going to take her now and do x-rays. We should make ourselves comfortable in her waiting room.

####

Bridger and I pass the time by walking laps through the fluorescent-lit reception area while Michael sits slumped in a corner, eyes watery and hands shaking, dried blood caked around his knuckles.

I decide to make up a new game.

1…. 2… 3… 4…

20… 21… Twenty-two steps to make it from one end of the room to the other. Gotta beat that pace next time.

1… 2… 3… 4…


Six steps to get all the way around the corner.

1… 2… 3… 4…

18… 19… Only twenty steps to get all the way back. Let’s try it again a little faster.


Eukanuba, Science Diet... Dry treats, chewy treats, cute little cans of cat food…

Bridger loves keeping pace with me. This whole thing is his idea, actually. He’s named Bridger Pacey Boop Chickos thanks to his propensity for walking laps around our bedroom at 4:00am, his black and clear toenails click-click-clicking against the lacquered wooden floors when he needs to go to the bathroom.

“He’s a morning person,” we would laugh, grumbling as we unfurled ourselves from our nest of blankets. “The rest of us are night owls, but Bridger Pacey Boop Chickos is a morning person.”

Dr. North returns to the reception area, peering at us with a tentative smile. Her words are blurs, and the x-rays she presents only serve to accentuate how beautiful Naia is, even when she’s just bones on a screen.

“See that?” Dr. North asks. “That’s her bladder. I was afraid it may have ruptured when she started bleeding earlier, but it turns out her kidneys are just badly bruised.” She points to the bones, the wispy, smoke-colored bones all lined up like Lego blocks on the flimsy plastic sheet, and she smiles again, explains that everything looks great, and that Naia probably only has a hairline fracture on her pelvis.

“A hairline fracture,” she repeats, “so she’ll probably be a good candidate for arthritis when she gets older.”

I’m stuck on the word, and a surge of tears suddenly pours down my cheeks as I lean into Michael for support. Dried brown blood coats my fingernails like clay, and I pat Bridger on the head as I repeat it: “Arthritis? Naia is going to get arthritis? Michael, did you hear that? Naia is going to get arthritis because Naia is going to get old. Michael, Naia is going to get old.”

Air whooshes from my lungs, and a swell of pure joy fills my ribcage, warm, golden and inviting as a sunrise.

Memories spring to life and dance like a film roll before me—wrestling matches, hikes in the sunshine, fire lit nights—and then suddenly I’m seeing pictures of things to come. Dancing in the kitchen, Christmas trees, blanket-wrapped babies and a little black, bat-eared nanny. Dog bones, snowflakes, soccer games in the park… Bridger, Naia, Michael and me fighting for space on our always-too-small queen-sized bed.

The four of us. Our blossoming, young, four-member family.

We all get a second chance.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ask a Zookeeper: The Dynamics of a Bear Attack

Brown Bears, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
 Thanks for tuning in for my second installment of my brand-new "Ask a Zookeeper" series!  This post comes from two sources:
  • Lydia Kang, who writes: "How would a bear kill a person? Like, what happens in a mauling? Are we talking torn out throats, or disemboweling... Sorry, I know it's gruesome, but I wanted to know for one of my previous WIPs and I never quite got the answer."
  • Donna Perugini writes: "Some of the questions you get really make me curious. I think you could even open up psychological profiling here along with the zookeeper section. Seriously! Not all bears (black, brown, grizzly, etc.) are the same regarding their aggressiveness."
Excellent questions and ideas, ladies! You're in luck, because I occasionally taught Bear Awareness classes in Alaska, and my husband and I follow the rules VERY closely when we go camping in bear country. (Let the record show, however, that I wasn't always up-to-date on my bear knowledge. Growing up in Florida, I didn't even enter brown bear territory for the first time until a trip to Glacier National Park on my honeymoon. During that trip, I was so petrified that I rarely made it far on our hikes, and a chance encounter with a deer on one nearly sent me into hysterics.)

Upon my arrival in Alaska, I took it upon myself to learn absolutely everything there was to know about bear attacks, thinking it was the only way I'd ever convince myself to enter the woods again. I also became obsessed with my zoo's brown and black bears (Jake, Oreo, Zayk and Mavis), and I watched them as often as I could--memorizing the way they moved, the way they reacted to things and the clues they gave off when they seemed excited or irritated.

Jake the Brown Bear, Photo Courtesy of Me
What impressed me most about the time I spent working around them (and the time I later spent helping raise the orphaned brown bears the zoo would occasionally receive) was the amount of intelligence the bears displayed--especially in regard to problem-solving. It was staggering, but it was also intensely helpful, because intelligent animals tend to act in predictable ways, and this is paramount when dissecting something as complex as a bear attack.

Many people split bear attacks into two categories: black bear attacks or brown bear attacks. (Brown bears and grizzly bears are essentially the same thing; the phrasing differences are mostly semantics.) I think, however, that it's infinitely more helpful to split bear attacks into two different categories: DEFENSIVE attacks or PREDATORY attacks.

Brown Bears, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
DEFENSIVE attacks are the ones we are FAR more likely to encounter in the wild: we've stumbled upon a bear, startled it, blocked its access or threatened its food, gotten between a sow and her cubs, etc. These attacks are typically not as life-threatening as predatory attacks, because the bears will generally stop attacking us as soon as they feel like we are no longer a threat. (Slightly heartening, I suppose, but still not delightful-sounding by any means.)

Defensive attacks by brown bears are far more common than defensive attacks by black bears (though still uncommon in the grand scheme of things), because black bears evolved in habitats with lots of trees. When black bears feel threatened, they typically just scoot up the closest one. Brown bears, on the other hand, evolved in more open areas, so they are more hard-wired to stand their ground.

If you ever encounter a startled bear, remain calm and do not run. Here are some tips from BearInfo.org:
  • Speak in a low monotone voice so the bear can identify you as human.
  • A bear may charge in an attempt to intimidate you – usually stopping well short of contact.
  • If contact is made, or about to be made, drop to the ground and play dead. Protect your back by keeping your pack on. Lie on your stomach, clasp your hands behind your neck, and use your elbows and toes to avoid being rolled over. If the bear does roll you over, keep rolling until you land back on your stomach. 
  • (In response to your question, Lydia, when bears attack to kill, they typically swipe at the chest or back and then finish their prey off by biting its neck or head. At that time, they usually go for the entrails. Gross, right?)
  • Remain still and quiet. A defensive bear will stop attacking once it feels the threat has been removed.
  • Do not move until you are absolutely sure the bear has left the area.
Black Bear, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
PREDATORY attacks are incredibly rare, but they are exactly what they sound like: attacks where a bear is purposefully seeking us out and intending to kill and eat us. This is the stuff nightmares are made of, so it's obviously important to react differently.

Here are some more tips from BearInfo.org: Any bear that continues to approach, follow, disappear and reappear or displays other stalking behaviors is possibly considering you as prey. Bears that attack you in your tent or confront you aggressively in your campsite or cooking area should also be considered a predatory threat.
  • If the bear does not respond to aggressive actions such as yelling or throwing rocks and sticks, you should be prepared to physically fight back if it attempts to make contact. 
  • Try to be intimidating: look as large as possible. If you are in a group, stand close together to give the illusion of size.
  • If you have bear spray, emit a deterring blast, preferably before the bear is within twenty-five feet. This gives the animal time to divert its advance.
  • If the attack escalates and the bear physically contacts you, fight back with anything that is available to you. You are quite literally fighting for your life.
(Ironically, black bears are responsible for the majority of predatory attacks, not brown bears. This is why popular wisdom suggests only fighting back during black bear attacks and playing dead during brown bear attacks. Who knew?)

Zayk the Black Bear, Photo Courtesy of Me
Lastly, here are some great ways you can AVOID bear attacks all together, courtesy of HikingDude.com:
  • Keep your eyes open for signs of bears. Footprints, droppings, trampled vegetation, clawed up tree trunks, overturned rocks, ripped up rotting logs.
  • Invest in some bear spray before entering bear country. Know how and when to use it.
  • Hike in groups. This gives you people to talk to, making noise is important to warn bears of your approach.
  • Feel the wind. If you are hiking into the wind, your scent will not reach bears ahead of you and the chances of encounter are higher. Be aware and consider making more warning noise.
  • Feel the land. Hiking across open meadows, ridges, or hillsides provides the opportunity for spotting bears at a distance. Hiking in gullies, thick forests, or along streams masks noise and scent and increases possibility of encounters.
  • Dispose of garbage in bear-proof containers, if they are available.
  • Hang all food, garbage, and smellable items in secure bear bags. Locate two trees about 200 feet from your campsite and at least 20 feet apart. Hang your smellables between them at least 12 feet from the ground.
  • Never eat or even bring smellables into your tent. This includes toothpaste, perfume, snacks, gum.. anything with an odor. This also includes the clothes you cooked in - put on different clothes for sleeping.
  • Cook at least 200 feet downwind from your tent. Even better, stop and cook your meal a mile before stopping to camp. Don't even open your food or garbage bag in camp.
  • Clean all dishes immediately. Do your washing 200 feet from camp.
  • Make sure you leave a spotless campsite. Remove all reason for a bear to visit this location looking for food.
Last but not least, don't forget that bears are very reclusive animals. They are hoping to avoid you just as much as you are hoping to avoid them. Just remember to let them know you're in their neighborhood, and behave like a well-mannered guest.

Thanks for tuning in for the second edition of my "Ask a Zookeeper" series, and please let me know if you have any questions for future posts.  My next question is about Capuchin monkeys, and I will be posting it in two weeks!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Sky is Everywhere = Oh. My. God.

Have you guys read The Sky is Everywhere yet? Lydia Kang was generous enough to give me a copy during her recent blog give-away, and I cannot express to you how much I'm now in love with this book. (Thank you SO much, Lydia!)

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads
Here's the Amazon.com description: 

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life - and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.

This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.


Jandy Nelson has a BA from Cornell, an MFA in poetry from Brown, and another MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's a literary agent, a published poet and a devout romantic. The Sky Is Everywhere is her first novel.

Here's the official Book Trailer from Penguin Young Readers:


Nelson's poetic roots are so clear in this novel, because it almost reads like a work of poetry. Her metaphors and similes are so fresh, beautiful and... right... that they nearly fly off the page. The characters are crazy three-dimensional (and bizarre), and the love story--stories, actually--are absolutely stunning. The way she describes a first love is so realistic and all-consuming that it leaves you breathless.

My favorite part of the novel, however, is the adoration and heartbreak Lennie feels toward her deceased big sister, Bailey. It inspired me to jump on the phone and tell MY big sister how much I love and appreciate her. I'm sure you will feel the same way if you have siblings.

In short, FIVE out of FIVE stars from this girl. The Sky is Everywhere not only entertains you; it also inspires you to become a better writer--and sibling.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Two Fantastic Recent Reads

I've been reading like a madman lately, and I just finished two awesome YA books--the kind of YA books that you devour in just a few days. Have you guys read these yet?

Photo Courtesy of Maureen Johnson Books
Here's The Name of the Star's Amazon.com book description: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Such a fun and original read; I honestly didn't know what was going to happen until the very last page!

Photo Courtesy of TheDivergentTrilogy.com
Here's Divergent's Amazon.com description: One choice can transform you. Pass initiation. Do not fail! Thrilling urban dystopian fiction debut from an exciting young author. In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior's world, society is divided into five factions -- Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) -- each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a "perfect society." At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives. On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family's group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy, but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly "perfect society." To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.

I'm not usually a huge Dystopian fan, but Divergent sucked me in right away. I can't believe I have to wait until May 2012 for the sequel!

Thanks to the wonderful Lydia Kang's recent book giveaway, I am now reading The Sky is Everywhere.  I also just picked up Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and I am already delightfully creeped out by all the weird pictures.

Have you read any good YA novels recently?

P.S.- Oh my gosh, I just found out that the lovely and incredible Jenny Phresh is hosting a huge book giveaway on her blog as we speak. A great place to find some amazing new novels: Book Giveaway Extravaganza!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ask a Zookeeper: Literary Crows?


I'm so excited to answer my very first "Ask a Zookeeper" question!  (I'm going to try to run this series every other Wednesday until I get the hang of it, and then I may increase to every week.)

This question comes from Jaye Robin Browne of Hanging on to Wonder. She writes MG and YA books, is represented by Steven Chudney at The Chudney Agency and also volunteers for her local Humane Society. She writes:

Q: "Could a crow be taught to read?"
A: Short answer: "Absolutely!" Long answer: "Define 'read'..."

Northwestern Crow, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
I love this question, because I didn't realize how intelligent members of the Corvid family--which also includes ravens, jays and magpies--were until a few years ago. I was working at a marine park in Florida at the time, and our Bird Department's pride and joy was a young African pied crow named Russell. (Get it? Russell Crow? *Pauses for obligatory chuckles.*) 

Russell was a star pupil, and our trainers successfully trained him an assortment of ridiculously complicated behaviors, including one where he buzzed the crowd in our theatre to the soundtrack of Top Gun. He retrieved donations and deposited them into an oversized piggy bank, and he "put himself to bed" at the end of every show, even shutting the door behind him.

African Pied Crow, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Later, at my zoo in Alaska, I met a magpie named George who possessed the apparently not-so-unique Corvid ability to mimic human speech.  She loved to blow kisses to her adoring fans, and she also said, "How are you doing?" and "Hi, George!" (Yeah, so we blew it with the gender thing. By the time we figured out she was a girl, she was already calling herself George.)

Black-Billed Magpie, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
My most amazing experience with Corvids, however, was the pair of ravens I also took care of in Alaska. Sam and Poe were both crippled with wing injuries, but that didn't stop them from maintaining a booming social life. They always vocalized and interacted with the wild ravens outside their enclosure, and I often caught them picking through their dinner, setting aside the good bits and passing the rest of their food out to their friends between the bars. This happened especially frequently during cold winter months when food was scarce.

I was floored by this, and I couldn't initially wrap my head around why on Earth Sam and Poe would engage in such an altruistic and selfless behavior. And then it occurred to me.  Sam and Poe had developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the wild ravens.  They provided the food, and the wild ravens provided the enrichment. It was a match made in Heaven.

Common Ravens, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
But I digress. This realization inspired me to do some research, and I was stunned by the wealth of knowledge available on Corvid intelligence. Not only can Corvids manipulate tools, mimic human speech, display social reasoning and demonstrate extraordinary feats of spatial memory, but they have also been proven to "recognize and ascribe numerical meaning to symbols," which suggests they may be able to “read” numbers and simple icons. 

Here's an excerpt from a recent article by Sunanda Creagh of The Conversation Literary Group:

In the latest edition of the journal Animal Behaviour, Japanese researchers describe an experiment in which eight jungle crows were presented with two containers, one with “2” written on the lid and one with “5”. The “5” container had food inside, while the “2” did not. The crows soon learned to pick the “5” container at a 70% success rate.

Other experiments tested whether the crows could differentiate between containers marked with non-numerical symbols such as shapes. The birds scored a 70 to 90% success rate picking the food-filled container for 19 out of 20 non-numerical symbol tests.

...Dr Stephen Debus, a bird expert and honorary research associate in zoology at the University of New England, said the results were interesting but not surprising because crows were renowned for their superior intelligence.

It is unclear why the birds evolved such smarts, he said “but I gather that it is probably related to their complex social organisation and also, being omnivorous in complex environments, they need to be able to find food in novel situations and solve problems in obtaining that food.”

He said he expected the study of crows to reveal more of their skills in future.

So yes, Jaye Robin, I would DEFINITELY say a crow could be taught to "read" on some level, and they can certainly discriminate and retain the differences between symbols. Pretty wild, huh??

Thanks for tuning in for my first edition of my "Ask a Zookeeper" series, and please let me know if you have any questions for future posts. I have a short list of great ones already, and I can't wait to hear more!

(Wanna learn more about Corvid intelligence? Check out this informative--and very, very funny--article from Cracked.com, called "Six Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Think.")

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Would YOU Ask a Zookeeper? (+ Shout-Out to Lydia Kang!)

Have you guys discovered Lydia Kang's blog yet? She's a brand-new member of the Lucky 13's Blog of 2013 debut authors, and her YA sci-fi, THE FOUNTAIN, debuts in Spring 2013 from Dial Books for Young Readers.

In addition to being a writer, Lydia is also a doctor, and she generously shares her medical knowledge every Monday during an ongoing series she calls Medical Mondays. During this series, she takes reader questions about medical-related issues, and this is a GREAT resource for aspiring writers. Here are some examples of past questions:
  1. "Can you explain how a person might go blind after a severe trauma, rather than by disease?"
  2. "What kinds of effects can prescription drugs of abuse can a person have, and what are the withdrawal symptoms if they go off the drugs?"
  3. "What's the turnaround time for tests to prove illegal steroids were being used?"
Do you have a medical-related question in your work in progress? Take advantage of Lydia's expertise by emailing her at: MedicalMondays (at) gmail (dot) com!

I've been enjoying Lydia's "Medical Monday" posts so much lately that I feel inspired to try my hand at my own series. After thinking about it for a little while, I think I may have come up with something.

As many of you know, I'm a zookeeper and animal trainer by background, so I definitely have my share of random animal knowledge.  And occasionally, one of my writerly friends will have an animal-related question about the novel he or she is writing. (i.e., "What does dolphin skin feel like?" ... "If my protagonist killed an adult brown bear, could he carry the pelt by himself, or would it be too heavy?" etc.)

In the spirit of knowledge sharing, I'd love to start a new series on my blog called "Ask a Zookeeper," where I take any of those random questions you have about the animals in your stories. (I've worked with primarily North American animals and some Asian animals, but I know lots of others who can help with additional animals.) And look, I've even designed a pretty badge, using a pic I took of Lyutik the polar bear at the Alaska Zoo:


Do you have a question?  Shoot me an email at lisa.chickos (at) hotmail (dot) com or leave a comment, and please feel free to spread my post to others you think may be interested in participating. I look forward to reading your questions!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bella vs. Katniss?

I just read a really interesting article in the Atlantic called 'Twilight' vs. 'Hunger Games': Why Do So Many Grown-Ups Hate Bella? (Spoiler Alert: This article gives away both endings, so don't read it if you don't already know what happens in both series.)

Regardless of our personal stances on the pros and cons of each series (and I know we all have a favorite!), I think the article brings up a lot of interesting points. And whether or not we agree with all those points, it also gives all of us aspiring young adult writers something to think about. In particular, what do we want readers to take away from the values, attitudes and goals of our main characters?

Thoughts?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Just a Little Zen... Starling-Style

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Have you ever heard of a starling? It's a non-descript, little black bird--fairly common and rather forgettable for the most part. I bottle-fed these guys all summer at the wildlife rehab center, and the only thing I found remarkable about them was their uncanny ability to escape from their pens and dive-bomb me during feeding time.

I was so unimpressed with starlings, in fact, that I recently smirked when I received an email with the subject line: A Murmuration of Starlings. (What can I say, my friends are animal nerds, too.  This is what we do for fun.)  Imagine my surprise when I followed the link and found myself spellbound by some truly gorgeous starling footage.  

Common starlings, apparently, sometimes congregate in huge flocks called "murmurations." These murmurations move in massive, coordinated, airborne dances, and scientists still struggle to explain exactly how these dances are possible.

I won't bore you with scientific theories (which you can find here, if you like).  Instead, I will simply leave you with this beautiful video, which was taken recently by two kayakers in Ireland. Turn up your speakers, relax and enjoy this beautiful, little moment of Zen.

How cool is Mother Nature??

Sunday, November 6, 2011

And the Winner Is...

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Random.org just generated the winner of my 200-Follower Giveaway, and that winner is...

Rain Laaman of "Rain-On Sentence!!"

Thanks so much to everyone who entered; I love To Touch a Wild Dolphin so much that I just may be giving more away in the near future!  Stay tuned, Rain, for your shiny, new copy, and I hope you love it as much as I did! :)

In other news, who's on Twitter and Goodreads?  I know I'm following some of you, but I'm fairly new to the Twitter phenomenon, and I'm not exactly proficient yet.  I've been on Goodreads for awhile, but I mostly just rate the books I'm currently reading, and I could definitely expand my mind there as well.

I'd love it if you found me:

Twitter: @LisaAnnChickos
GoodReads: Lisa Chickos

Hope to see you there!!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

200-Follower Celebration & Giveaway!!

I remember cruising to an AbsoluteWrite member's blog early this spring and noticing that she had just hit the "200-Follower" mark. She wrote a post to celebrate the occasion, and I read it with amazement and envy, thinking to myself, "How in the world did she ever find 200 like-minded people to follow her??" (I meanwhile, had a whopping nine followers at that time, so you can certainly understand my awe.)

Now, here I am, seven months or so later, and I can't believe I have actually hit this amazing mark myself. Thank you SO much to everyone who has taken the time to hit that little "follow" button this year. You guys have cheered me through so many milestones, and you've enriched my life in so many ways.  I cannot imagine the fun and fantastic chaos that would occur if we were all somehow able to converge together on one spot.  Best conference / frat party ever!

In celebration of my "200-Follower" mark, I'm really excited to host my very first blog giveaway, where I'm giving away a copy of one of my very favorite books of all time: To Touch a Wild Dolphin by Rachel Smolker. Here's the cover, followed by Amazon's book description:

Photo Courtesy of OpenLibrary.org
"In 1982, Rachel Smolker traveled to Monkey Mia, a remote spot in western Australia where she’d heard wild dolphins regularly interact with people. She had no intention of staying long; she simply wanted to see if the rumors were true. That initial trip changed Smolker’s life; it commenced a fifteen-year scientific obsession that has culminated in this fascinating scientific adventure story–the first-ever intimate account of dolphin life in the wild.

"
To Touch A Wild Dolphin is a seminal work that radically alters our fundamental understanding of these enigmatic creatures. Learning to identify scores of dolphins by their dorsal fin, Smolker and her team of scientists were able to conduct close and consistent studies that revealed the dolphin to be even more intelligent than we’d previously suspected. And while they were every bit as playful as we’ve known them to be, they also proved to have a dark and alarmingly violent side. But more than just a document on dolphins, this book is a touchingly personal look at the life of a scientist, at the rigors and sacrifices but also the wonders and joys of unending days in the field. Written with prose poetic and pristine, this book is nothing short of a landmark."
(Alright, it's a little random... Would you expect any less from me?? :)) 

I discovered this book in 2005, and it literally altered the course of my life, catipulting me from admiring dolphins from afar in a Disney-esque way to studying and working around them at marine mammal rehabilitation centers. I even give Rachel Smolker a cameo shout-out in my young adult novel BELOW THE SURFACE, and I highly recommend this book if you've ever wondered what's behind a dolphin's beaming smile or daydreamed about working with them. (And if you're worried that this book is too technical or science-heavy, no worries!  It reads a lot like a travelogue, and you don't need any existing knowledge to appreciate Smolker's research and discoveries.)

If you'd like to enter my giveaway, please leave your email address in my comment form. I will keep comments open until Saturday, November 5, and then I will randomly generate a winner from Random.org. The winner will receive a sparkly new copy of To Touch a Wild Dolphin!

Thanks again to all of you for taking the time to stop by and support me this year.  I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

Dolphins Team Up to Get the Girl

I've been following wild dolphin research for years, and I remember feeling like my world had been rocked the first time I realized Shark Bay's male dolphins formed alliances to team up and get the girl--many times without any of the tenderness or affection we often associate with them. This article from Discovery News confirms what scientists have been saying for years: The importance of a good wingman can never be underestimated.

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Dolphins Team Up To Get the Girl
Male dolphins who formed an alliance of wingmen fathered more babies than those who worked the seas solo.
Wed Nov 2, 2011 11:57 AM ET
Content provided by
ABC Science

An alliance of four male dolphins, dubbed The Beatles have shown that when blokes co-operate, they have more sexual success.

The research by a team at Macquarie University is published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. The study found that male dolphins who form an alliance fathered far more babies than those who worked in smaller groups or alone.

The researchers studied a population of 70 male and 64 female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins living in Port Stephens, New South Wales. They collected skin samples from males and calves and looked for genetic markers which would reveal the paternity of the calves.

They found that 14 different males had sired 32 calves. However, nearly half of the calves -- 13 individuals -- were sired by a single alliance of four dolphins known as The Beatles.

Three calves were sired by a three-male alliance and five calves were sired by another three-male alliance.

The remaining 11 calves sired by pairs or lone males.

Males are known to form alliances in a number of species, including lions, chimpanzees, horses and, some would argue, humans.

"But there has not been any evidence to show why an alliance might be preferable," says co-author Dr Jo Wiszniewski.

"This research shows that male dolphins need to cooperate with each other to maximise their reproductive success."

Up to 80 per cent of males form alliances to seek out and reproduce with females during the spring/summer breeding season, says Wiszniewski.

"Males in alliances have better control of the females - we often see the males swimming around the females one on each side, sometimes one at the back. The female can't get away from them," she says.

"They basically herd the female - they try to keep her away from other males. They would swim by her and when she was feeding, they would feed too."

"These kind of herding events can last just from a few hours up to a few weeks at a time," says Wiszniewski.

Female dolphins only have a calf every two to five years, so in any particular year there are very few females available and ready to mate with.

"That's why there's so much pressure for males to form alliances, to become more competitive," she says.

Previous research from Western Australia also found that male dolphins who form alliances breed more successfully. But in this case, forming cooperative alliances was less surprising, Wiszniewski says, because those dolphins were related.

"If one of those males helps another reproduce, he still gets benefits because his genes still get passed on," she says.

But in Port Stephens, the cooperating dolphins weren't related.

"That's what's so fascinating. By helping another male, they are actually risking the chance that they won't reproduce with a female. So they really need a high level of cooperation and trust so then the male knows that by helping another male, he's also going to get helped."

Wiszniewski points out that one of The Beatles - John - doesn't seem to have fathered any calves.

"We have a feeling he was not a full part of the alliance. He was what we call the odd male out -- he wasn't really 'in' with the group."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

QueryTracker Success Story + an Awesome Giveaway!!!

Photo Courtesy of e calamar
I have been drooling over the Query Tracker "Success Stories" ever since I began querying my novel, and I'm beyond thrilled that I now get to post a success story of my very own!  (Apparently, I was Success Story #640; I will remember that number forever!)

Here's a link to my newly-posted success story: An Interview with Lisa Ann Chickos, and thanks again SO much to all of you who have been so instrumental in keeping me sane and positive during this crazy experience.  YOU ARE AMAZING!!

Speaking of amazing, I'd like to take a minute to plug my good friend Allen Walker, who I mention in my interview as one of my beta readers / the best editor EVER. I've known him since the third grade, and my novel literally (literally, literally) wouldn't be here without his incredible editing advice.  He's been with me every step of this process, from that very first phone call where I said, "You know what might be fun? What if this girl joined this beluga whale research team in Alaska, and then some crazy stuff started happening...?"

He helped me through the terrible Act Two lull, talked me out of making my secondary characters into cartoons (specifically Snidely Whiplash, in at least one case), and helped me through every single step of revision until I got this thing as perfect as I could.  More specifically, he helped me become a better writer, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

Allen is in the process of setting up an online editing service (Blue Fox Studios), and he's agreed to do some free line-editing work for my writerly friends in exchange for some quick testimonials on his brand-new website.  (But ONLY if you like his work... If not, there's no pressure. No strings attached, I promise.)

So... If you mention this blog post and tell him I referred you, he will give free line-edits to the first five people who email him the first 25 pages of their novels. (This is a GREAT deal.  Seriously. Try him out, and I am CONFIDENT you won't be sorry!)

Thanks again for the amazing support all of you have shown me during this crazy submission process; I am SO lucky to have you!!

UPDATE: 10/31/11 @ 12:11pm: Wow! That was quick! Allen has already received emails and samples from five interested folks, so his free critique giveaway is officially closed. Stay tuned, as we may offer this promotion again in the near future, and thanks so much for trusting my recommendation and putting your faith in him. He can't wait to get started, and I can't wait to hear how you like your critiques!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pay It Forward and 7x7 Link Award!


I am so excited to participate in the Pay It Forward Blogfest, courtesy of Dawn Kurtagich's awesome blog shout-out. If you haven't visited Dawn yet, I highly suggest stopping by to say hello. She's an aspiring YA author, represented by Weronika Janczuk, and her life truly reads like an adventure novel. (Think, elephant stampedes at close range and baboons stealing her underwear. I'm not making this stuff up.) Plus, she's just so friendly, approachable and nice. You will love her; I am confident!

Now to the blogfest. The purpose is to introduce others to three bloggers you find awesome. Then attack the list and explore! Find some cool new friends, and discover some great new bloggers to follow.

Here is my list:

1. Rebekah Crane actually lives in Colorado, and we just spent the most hilarious evening drinking wine and cocktails, laughing about the craziness of this submissions process, and generally just laughing. Oh my gosh, it was fantastic, and Bekah is so much fun. She has gotten like 15 full and partial requests for her YA novel so far, and she is perked on the cusp of great things.

2. Dan Brennan is "a mystery, an enigma, and a riddle rolled into one. He’s also a tiny bit pretentious, sorry about that." (Haha!) He's also one of my favorite writerly friends around, and his newest foray is an attempt to simultaneously seek traditional and self-publication (with different projects). His Infinite Circles series is his experiment in self-publishing, and he plans to post his novel, BURNING DAYLIGHT, chapter by chapter on his blog. Chapter One is currently up, and it's really (really, really) good.

3. Peggy Eddleman just got an agent!! She is now represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, and she absolutely deserves to bask in this happiness. She's thoughtful, she's positive, and every time I visit her site, I am overwhelmed by a burning desire to eat cookies!

(Recipients, feel free to pay others forward on your blog if you'd like, or just sit back and enjoy your new visitors!)


On to my new award, which is the 7x7 Link Award, presented to me by the lovely Girl Parker, who is an aspiring writer, an aspiring photographer, an incredibly sweet and supportive friend, and freaking amazing cook.  (Seriously, just read this post: Date Night, German Chocolate Cake Style. Are you drooling yet?)

The purpose of this award is to ask bloggers to identify their own blog posts in certain categories (to breathe new life into some oldies but goodies). Here are mine:

1. Most Beautiful Post: The Quirks and Idiosyncrasies of Dolphins... Nothing in the world humbles me more than a pod of dolphins, and I posted some fantastic footage of them from Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, in this post. (Okay, this is kind of misleading, because "Most Beautiful Post" implies that I actually wrote something beautiful. But hey, how am I going to compete with a pod of dolphins?)

2. Most Popular Post: Announcing My New Agent...  Yeah, not too surprised about this one. The day Jamie Brenner (and Brianne Mulligan) entered my life was definitely a life changer, and I am so thankful for all the support and words of congratulations everyone shared when I announced my big news.

3. Most Controversial Post: The Hotdog... I love my hometown in Florida more than words can say.  But like most kids from small Southern towns, I didn't always feel this way. I posted this older essay about myself as a teenager because I'm proud of the risks I took while writing it.  But I also posted it with a great deal of trepidation, because the years (and life and wisdom) have pretty much erased every negative feeling I expressed while writing this.

4. Most Helpful: RMFW Lesson #1: Time Management for Busy Writers... This is my first--and currently the only--post in my "Lessons from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers" series.  Life got crazy busy right after this, but I can't wait to continue adding nuggets of wisdom from all the incredible authors I got to meet during my first-ever writers conference.

5. Most Surprisingly Successful: Dolphin Tale Premiers September 23rd!... I think I have excellent timing to thank for the success of this post.  I simply wanted to shout-out that adorable dolphin I remember from my time in Florida, but I didn't expect so many random readers to stumble upon my blog through their Google searches.  (And let's face it, Winter is fantastic.  Once again, how am I going to compete with a dolphin?)

6. Post That Didn't Get The Attention It Deserved AND 7. Post I Am Most Proud Of: The Product of Post-Crash Insomnia... Okay, so I cheated and combined these last two. But I am proud of this post on so many levels. I survived a pretty intense car accident in October of 2010, and I quickly realized the only way I could purge my experience was to write it down. It's gruesome and violent, and I posted it way back in March before I really had any followers, so I'm not surprised it has gone relatively unnoticed until now.  I also understand that many people probably don't want to join in on my car crash, but the writing, the editing and the reading was the only catharsis that actually worked, so I've never been prouder of anything.

And HERE are the five bloggers I would like to bestow with their very own 7x7 Link Awards. (Recipients, right-click the award to save it and post it in your own blogs if you'd like. Then feel free to pass it on to five more worthy bloggers.)

1. Deana Barnhart is hilarious, and she makes such an effort to support other writers by posting interviews, hosting blogfests, and researching great information for all of us to enjoy.  I am very excited to hear which posts she likes best.

2. Jenny Phresh... Okay, I have to admit, I'm posting this selfishly.  I just can't imagine which post the lovely Party Pony would put under "Post I'm Most Proud Of."  If you don't know why I'm so excited, go visit her blog, and then you will know why.

3. Beckah-Rah is dark and hilarious.  Check out this random sample of the first few words that just happen to be on her blog today: "Last night, I dreamed that my sister talked me into going swimming with her at this strip club’s indoor pool, which turned out to have a chemical in it that dissolves your clothing. Then, of course, we saw the pervs watching from the underground pervert rooms. We got out and were promptly man-handled by creepy homeless-looking strip club patrons, and then we got kidnapped by Santa Claus."

4. Audra has a really unique site called "Rediscovering Domesticity," where she shares all sorts of great tips for home life, from fun and easy recipes to budgets to children.  A great resource, and I'd definitely be interested to hear which posts she thinks are most helpful.

5. Perri's "Lesser Apricots" blog is fantastic, because she always posts random song clips, great pictures, and really unique posts. (i.e., These are the subjects that are "near and dear" to her heart: one-hit wonders, lesser apes, rural Florida and other relevant oddball bits.) Can't wait for a "Best-of" list!

That'll do it, folks!  Have a wonderful night!