Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Muskox Musings

In old news, over a month ago I read that a Muskox (Ovibos moschatus) had been seen in the the forests of northern Alberta, five hundred kilometers south of where it would normally be found. (I first learned of the sighting on Cryptomundo, which is a good place if you want to keep up on what's happening with Bigfoot, which you probably don't.)

The appearance of a Muskox in the boreal forest is perplexing given that the Muskox is is currently found only in the tundra, and is considered to be ecologically limited to that particular habitat.  I speculate, though, that the Muskox's restriction to tundra habitats maybe be an artifact of thousands of years of hunting by humans.  The tundra may simply have been the only part  of the Muskox's natural range in which human population density was low enough that Muskoxen could avoid being completely wiped out.  Now that the Muskox enjoys legal protection from hunting, it may be expanding southward into suitable areas.  A good analog might be the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), which inhabits both the tundra and the taiga, and in historic times was found as far south as Maine.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Iguanodon Thumbs

Over the past few days I've been reading a book about the famous Iguanodon site at Bernissart, Belgium.  (Well, okay, maybe the site is only famous among vertebrate paleontologists.) 

Iguanodon is a dinosaur perhaps best known for the spikes on its thumbs.  It is unknown if the spikes were used for defense against predators, in intra-specific combat, or in feeding. I've been thinking, though, that the thumb spikes would have been perfect for hitch-hiking. 

This theory could have been the basis for a Far Side cartoon, showing an Iguanodon standing next to a highway thumbing a ride, with the caption "The real reason Iguanodon had thumb spikes", along the same lines as the famous "The real reason dinosaurs became extinct" cartoon.  

Or, alternately, the cartoon could show a car pulling up to an Iguanodon on the side of the road, who angrily declares, "I'm not hitch-hiking, I'm an Iguanodon!", with the same sense of saurian outrage displayed in the "Well, of course I did it in cold blood,you idiot! ... I'm a reptile!" cartoon.  

(I was surprised to learn in researching this post that there is apparently no official online archive of Far Side cartoons.)

On a side note, from what I understand, hitch-hiking is still popular in Europe, but it has been virtually extinct in the United States for decades.  In the course of my entire life I can recall seeing only one or two hitch-hikers.  There is an odd sort of "mutual assured destruction" doctrine in people's minds—if you go hitch-hiking, the person who picks you up will murder you, and if you pick up a hitch-hiker, the hitch-hiker will murder you.  

Perhaps we would be less apprehensive about hitch-hiking if we had thumb spikes to defend ourselves.