Monday, November 2, 2015


Cricket came to me in the fall of 1999 when I found her wandering in front of Vanier College.  She was only a few months old and bore signs of a serious injury which had healed.  Her shoulder missed a patch of fur (which never grew back) and one hind leg stuck out at an angle.  A vet determined that it had either been broken or ligaments had been torn.  She speculated that Cricket might have been the victim of a fan belt injury.  (In cold weather, cats often seek the warmth of a car engine and are injured when the driver starts the car).

In spite of all this, Cricket was a spunky, funny, silly little cat that never grew up (in spirit or size).  She had crossed eyes and a dramatic flair.  Instead of crying at a closed door to get into another room, she would take a run and fling herself against the door! And just let her catch sight of a favourite toy or a laser beam and she was in full predator mode.  She chased that little red laser beam with all the intensity one could imagine.  Play was a very serious matter for Cricket.

Closets and cabinets were also serious things for her.  No matter where she was, if you opened a door, she appeared in an instant and tried to squeeze inside.  Being black, she was not very noticeable in dim light and it was sometimes minutes or even much longer before you realized she was missing.  Never making a sound, she would wait patiently for someone to open the door.

Another thing that she liked to do was sit on my lap when I was at the computer and put her forehead into the palm of my hand and just stay like that.  (It made typing rather difficult)!

Over a year ago Cricket’s blood work indicated that she was in the second stage of kidney disease. A year later, at age 16, her condition was deemed stable and she was eating, playing and doing well.  The only issue was occasional vomiting and I started giving her an antacid to help combat that.

October 22 started out like any other day.  Cricket ate normally, came into the living room where I was watching TV and asked to be picked up for me to give her kisses on the top of her head (which always made her purr).

Then I went out for breakfast and a shopping trip downtown.  I browsed the stores basically to pass the time (which I will always regret) and came home just before 4 p.m. When I came home, my cat Willow came to the door but not Cricket.  I didn’t think very much about it at first but then I found her on the bedroom floor in the corner of the room unable to get up.  It didn’t take me long to realize that she was in real trouble.  I immediately called the vet and they gave me an appointment within the half hour.  Then I brought the carrier to her on the floor and when I lifted her she twisted in my hands and screamed!  In all the time she had been with me I had never heard a sound from Cricket other than purring.  To hear her scream was shocking.

During the wait at the vet’s she also cried and I knew this was very serious and that she was in pain.  She extended her paw through the bars in the front of the carrier and wrapped it around my finger and held on like that until our name was called.  I could feel her tight grip as she fought the pain.  I kept telling her that I was sorry – over and over.  Finally when the vet came to examine her, she determined that Cricket’s temperature was low and that she had a heart murmur.  The diagnosis was an aortic thromboembolism.  In other words, a blood clot lodged in her aorta and blocked blood flow to her hind quarters.  This results in full or partial paralysis and extreme pain as the muscles harden.

I wanted her to be free of pain as quickly as possible and since there was no hope of recovery, I opted for immediate euthanasia.  While the sedation took hold (prior to the lethal injection), I stroked her purring body and told her how much I loved her and I thanked her for all the gifts she had given me over the years.  She was a tremendous life-force squeezed into a tiny body that could always make me laugh with her silly antics and her adorable little face with its crossed eyes and upturned nose.

Cats always enrich one’s life and Cricket enriched mine beyond measure.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Beetle and the Mites

As I approached a beetle perched atop a flower stalk, I noticed a large number of mites crawling all over it.  Amazingly, the next day in a different location, I found the dead body of a vole with the same type of beetle burrowing under the carcass.  It had several mites on it as well.

After searching for an identification of the insect, I learned more about this very interesting beetle and its relationship with the mites.

Here is a short summary of the beetle’s behavior and the mites’ role in helping its young survive.


The beetle is the Gold-necked Carrion Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus, who has sensitive antennae that contain olfactory organs that help it find carrion over long distances.
Once the body is found, the male and female beetles manipulate the carcass in various ways and then the female lays her eggs.  The young eat directly from the carcass or eat regurgitated food from both parents.  The parents are attentive to the young and protect them from competitors while they feed. The female only leaves the young once they are fully developed.  If the female dies, then the male takes over that role.


The mites are Mesotigmatid mites who hitch a ride on the beetle’s back as it flies to the body of a dead rodent or other animal. They eat the eggs and freshly-hatched maggots of carrion flies which are also attracted to the body and, since they compete, having the mites feeding on the maggots is beneficial to the young beetles as it leaves more food for them.

Another fascinating fact:  the mites normally cling to the beetle’s underside but when the beetle is about to fly, they all climb up on its back, facing forward.  They are protected in this position because the beetle rotates its forewing coverings (elytra) up and toward the center, forming a tent-like enclosure with the mites inside.

Reference sites:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The interesting life of the White-marked Tussock Moth

On August 28th, I found a White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar slowly descending a tree in the Ile Bizard nature park near Montreal.  It paused beside a raised piece of bark and stayed motionless for a long time which allowed me to get many photographs of it.  I find it a particularly striking caterpillar and was excited to find it.

Then on September 15th, I returned to the park and whimsically decided to visit the same tree to see if, by chance, the caterpillar was still there.  Instead, in the exact place where the caterpillar paused, I found an odd looking cocoon with black hairs sticking out and a frothy substance stuck to it.  I decided to check the Internet for images of the cocoon of the White-marked Tussock Moth and was surprised to learn that it was indeed the cocoon of the very caterpillar I had seen earlier!

I also learned that the caterpillar was a female who, when she emerges as a moth, lays her eggs on the cocoon which are encased in a foam which hardens and allows them to over-winter.  She must attract males soon after emerging, then mates, and lays her eggs in a very short time frame.  Another fascinating fact is that she has rudimentary wings and cannot fly.

Since reading that the moth stays in the vicinity of the cocoon, I was disappointed not to find her on the tree but I will look for these cocoons next year and hopefully find a moth then.

I also found another cocoon in a different park a few days later, but alas, no moth:

This link has more information and photos:

Super Moon Eclipse

It was thrilling to watch the eclipse on September 27 and I managed to get a few shots:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A wonderful poem/essay dedicated to Cecil the lion

As many of you will probably know, Cecil, a magnificent lion was killed in a horrible manner several days ago and this animal's death has ignited outrage and grief around the world.

Barry Kent MacKay has spent much of his life writing about and advocating for animals.  I have often been moved by his writings but never more so than when I read this poem/essay which he has dedicated to Cecil but encompasses all animals. He has generously allowed me to share it freely and I do so below ...

For Cecil:

We are the others

By Barry Kent MacKay

We are the others on this world.

You know that we are here.

But you do not know us well.  You cannot know us well.  You never, ever will.

We soar high above your heads, our backs aglow with light from stars.

We are below your feet and we are of the earth and soil.

We are in the caves, beneath the waves.  We climb among the trees.  We live amid the leaves.

We live upon your skin and burrow in your gut, and may dine upon your tissues.

We are often skilled at not being seen.  We can also fill your vision.

We come in sizes microscopic, small, medium or large.

We have stomped through rain-wet forests sixty-five million years ago, making the earth and the smaller of us tremble with each step we took, as we smiled the smile you’ll never see, but you can imagine, your visions engineered by our stone bones. 

It was not a real smile.

We were here first, but share with you our mutual origins in the muck of hot and shallow seas, laying the groundwork for what was to become, one little proto-cell at a time.

And what became was all of us, and you, the story long from over, in spite of some of your best efforts to date.

We were the first to crawl, to float, to swim, to walk, to breathe, to kill, to fly, to run, to die, to nurture, to think, eat, flinch, fear, call, climb, play, sleep, to dream, to smell and taste, to listen to the fall of rain, to feel the touch of drifting snow, or to eat a seed, a leaf, a flower or to taste life-hot flesh.  We were the first to masticate, to appreciate, to defecate, to procreate.

You were the first to hate.

We are colourful, with scales or feathers that can rupture sunlight and blaze red or gold, green or bronze or of an intensely fierce and vibrant blue.  Or we are plain, or black, or white, or black and white, or every shade of grey, or even transparent with internal workings on display. 

We glint.  We glow where sunlight never reaches.  Many of us blend in.

We strut.  We hide.  We move in masses.  We live alone.  We come and go.  We hop.

Most of us never see you.  You never see most of us.  Most of us do not even know you exist and you do not know that most of us exist.   But we influence each other. 

We sing, we cry, we roar, we whimper, we snort, we hiss, we whinny, we trumpet, we warble, we growl, we gurgle, we bray, we crow, we bark, we screech, we hum, we buzz, we purr, we author discordant sounds from places hidden in the night.  We make sounds that ache with tonal purity from the misty flanks of mountain heights.  We can be silent, or we can pound the tree, the water, the ground or leap from the sea’s embrace and land hard upon the cloud-reflecting surface to send up a thunderous explosion of brittle spray. 

It is fun, and can dislodge barnacles. 

We never pray.

We are the others on this world.

You have named us with names unknown to us, and catalogued us in so many different ways, and probed our genomes and assigned us to the appropriate phylogeny, changed your minds, and changed them yet again.  Bones measured, teeth counted, brain volume gauged, our acts carefully quantified, our soft tissues properly pickled and then described in peer-reviewed journals, labels attached to our preserved remains and stomach contents carefully enumerated, all the better to know us.

We are called dog, or cat, spider or rat.  We are the lesser kestrel, the razor clam, the banana slug, the fiddler crabs of the genus Uca, the robust skink, the Ceiba borer beetle, the Reeve’s muntjac, the Madagascar leaf-nosed snake, the Corycaeus flaccus, the rainforest rocket frog, the dusky palm squirrel, the graceful grenadier, the rigid cushion star, the yellow-backed oriole, the various underground predatory ants of the genus Acanthostichus, the boreal squid and the clam worms, the lamb led to the knife, the phoronis worm hidden in its sandy burrow, the multitudes you have yet to name, the ones you have yet to blame for whatever we do that might annoy you and those of us you know so well, or think you do, the “charismatic megafauna”: giant pandas, African lions, tigers and tiger sharks and sable antelopes. 

We are ospreys, green anacondas, manta rays, giraffes and bison herds on snow-blasted plains, brocket deer in green-toned forests draped with bromeliads and we are snowy egrets posed in mangrove swamps and we are leaping marlin. 

But you do not know us well.  You cannot know us well.  You never, ever will.

We live not to serve you, but serve you we do.   You wear our fur, our skin, take our ivory teeth, our baleen strips, the oils of our body, the musk, the scales, the gills, the fins, the bones, the blood, the guts, the eyes and other organs, the roe and eggs and babies, the feathers and plumes and claws, and whatever else you fancy whether needed or not, mostly not.  We do need them, oh so very much, and so you take our lives.  

We are the tiger, still shining bright in the forest of the night with a flame you work so very hard, so very profitably, to extinguish.  We are Blake’s robin redbreast in a cage, or the solitaire, the canary or the nightingale, our music filtered through bars and misdirected from where three billion years of evolution intended it to go, and perhaps you imagine its beauty was meant for you.   We are Elsa, the lioness born free, and the goldfinch Leonardo bought and released from its prison cage, Willy the orca who was finally let go, and the lark feeding at the feet of St. Francis, Greybeard the Chimpanzee known to Goodall and the gorillas known to Dian before she was treated so like us.   We are Muhammed’s nesting dove and the sparrow whose fall you say God sees.
We are the caribou migrating across the tundra, now thawing, warming us all with the gift of methane.   Are you insane?

Send your donation here, you claim, and we will save the polar bear.  Promote the Amur leopard in a cage, if you really care.  We are thus imprisoned for our own good.  The northern right whale has brought you profits, the greater bamboo lemur or western lowland gorilla are good for an appeal; fellow primates, you see, and don’t forget the chimpanzee.

We take your measure too.  We are your pets, your prey, your food, your inspiration, your joy and your deep dread.

You have tamed us.  You have trained us.

You are so often in control when we are with you every day.  We are deep within your soul, but you are in our way.  We carry you, nurture you, amuse you with our joy, or our pain, or our death, and we inspire you, scare you, mystify you, or disgust you.  We arouse such passions in you and we hardly even try to do so.  You are better off avoided, when possible.

You come at us with stone, with spear, with arrow, with knife, with gun, poison, traps of every deviously horrific form your minds can imagine and your opposable thumbs can help you to build.  You come at us with bulldozers and other heavy equipment,
explosives,  and dams, scalpels and drugs, electrodes, prods and prongs and probes, hammers and captive bolt pistols, whips and chains and indifference.  You hide many of your abuses, and others you parade with gaudy pride in obedience to hormones and tradition, and, at the root of it all, a reeking foulness deep and best kept hidden. 

We can live without you, but you need us.   But you betray our trust, and you betray yourselves.

We are Jumbo the elephant, Cheetah the Chimpanzee, the scapegoat and the pig on a spit, and we are Cecil the African lion, tormented and killed for your sick needs.
You can take our lives, our skins, our skulls, but you can never have our purity, our purpose, our elegant innocence, nor our beauty.

You cannot.