Finding Inspiration in the Weird

As a writer, I’m always looking for inspiration.  Fortunately, Mother Nature is a wonderful muse, especially when she presents us with creatures just as wondrous as any the most imaginative among us could invent!

Aye Aye

Take for example, the Aye Aye, cutest critter in the animal kingdom.  OK…maybe not so cute.  In fact, I’d say it might be the ugliest animal on the planet, and the Aye Aye’s looks alone are pretty deserving of the title “weird”. AyeAye

The Aye Aye uses echo-location to find prey, similar to bats and woodpeckers. They engage in what is called “percussive foraging”;  they knock on a piece of wood and evaluate the resulting sound for presence of prey (most often grubs and bugs).  Once they’ve located dinner, they gnaw a hole in the wood, then use their super-long middle finger to fish out the insects.  In some areas, the Aye Aye is considered an omen of pending death; if one points its middle finger at you, you are marked for a visit by the Grim Reaper.  Alternately, an Aye Aye might also sneak into your home and puncture your aorta with that long middle digit.

The Aye Aye can knock 8 times per second, which is many times faster than a speeding vacuum cleaner salesman.  I was surprised to find out that these gorgeous creatures are MUCH bigger than I had thought – they can grow up to three feet long, with a tail as long as their body!  It was thought to be extinct in 1933, but was rediscovered in 1957.  Perhaps it was just wishful thinking by the scientists from 1933?

Barreleye Fish

Speaking of odd-looking, most of us have seen pictures of Anglerfish, with their toothy grins and a handy little fishing pole hanging out of their forehead.  However, I contend that the Barreleye Fish is the oddest looking sea creature around.  The fishy body is pretty typical, it’s the head that belongs in a Sci Fi movie:  it has barrel-shaped, tubular eyes which are enclosed in a transparent dome.  The eyes are typically focused upwards to detect prey above, but they can rotate them forward as well.  Our fishy friend also is the only vertebrate that uses mirrors as well as the lenses in its eyes for focusing.

BarreleyeFishAnd to put another nail in the weird coffin, the Barreleye has bio-luminescent organs, which are used to confuse predators by breaking up its silhouette in the water.  This is why Barreleye fishes often conduct raves in the deeps of the ocean. (It could happen!  Or was that just a dream I had?)

 

Axolotl

Another odd critter that’s all wet is an amphibian called the Axolotl.  I love saying their name:  Axolotl, axolotl, axolotl.  Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?  These salamanders, also known as “Mexican walking fish”, are closed to being extinct in the wild, but they are bred widely and kept as exotic pets.  They are “neotonous” (which means that the adult retains juvenile features); in the case of Axolotls, they never form lungs, instead keeping their gills (which are on the *outside* of their bodies) and continuing to live an aquatic life.Axolotl

The coolest thing about the Axolotl is their ability to regenerate: they can re-grow many parts of their body, including some parts of their brain!  I’m thinking that regrowing parts of the brain might be helpful for those of us who may have done a little much partying in college…

Duck-billed Platypus

Finally, what could be stranger than a semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal with a duck’s bill, a beaver’s tail, otter’s feet, and a venemous spike on it’s hind foot?  The Platypus (also known as the Duck-billed Platypus) is so odd that when it was first discovered in 1799, scientists thought the animal was an elaborate hoax.

Platypus.jpgSimilar to dolphins and the echidna (also called the “spiny anteater”), the Platypus has electro-receptors in its head, which it uses to detect electric fields generated by the muscle contractions of its prey.  Hm….wondering if we could make a horror movie starring a Platypus?  The tagline could be “Just. Don’t.  Move.”

Do you have a favorite oddball-life creature?  (And by the way, brothers and sisters don’t count…)

Cats, cats, and more cats!!!

I like big cats, and I cannot lie.  Actually, not just big cats.  Little tiny cats who should be much bigger (like my Panda Bear, pictured below), weird cats, hissy cats, cuddly cats, purry cats, grumpy cats, cute little kitten cats…pretty much anything feline.

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Panda Bear

And I’m not alone – humans have been engaged in a love-affair with the cat for a very long time!  According to Dr. David Kitchener, a Zoologist at the National Museum of Scotland, we have been living with cats for close to 100,000 years. He also suggests that domestication probably happened in Mesopotamia (not Egypt, as is commonly thought) around 12,000 BCE, when cats were most likely bred by Mesopotamian farmers to control pests.  The Near Eastern Wildcat is probably the closest modern-day relative to that ancient feline.

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Near Eastern Wildcat (image courtesy of Shutterstock)

The Egyptians are famous for their love of cats, which is probably why so many of us believe that the Egyptians domesticated them.   They had a cat god named “Bastet”, who was keeper of hearth & home, protector of women’s secrets, and guardian against evil spirits.  I really want to know what secrets Egyptian women had, but my cats sure aren’t talking…

Bastet

Bastet (image courtesy of Shutterstock)

In the city of Bubastis (where Bastet’s temple stood), when a cat died, the people in the cat’s household would shave off their eyebrows to signify mourning.  The mourning period was over when their eyebrows grew back.  I may be a cat-lover, but don’t expect this kind of dedication from me any time soon!

 

 

Moose & Squirrel, and Moose in a Sombrero

I really love creative pet names – In fact, when you’ve had as many cats as we have over the years, you have to get creative with their monikers.  We’ve had Sherman (after Sherman & Mr. Peabody), Watney (Watney’s beer), Itchy, (Itchy and Scratchy), Charles Dickens vonBlackcat I and II (also called “Dickens” and “Charlie” for short), Niña (she was found during an “El Niño storm in California), Bram (after Bram Stoker), Moose & Squirrel (from Rocky & Bullwinkle), Pellet (who had been shot by a pellet gun before he found us), Otter & Seal (because Seal is a sealpoint siamese, so her sister also had to be a water animal), and our three new kittens, Frog, Turtle, and Monkey (after some of our favorite animals in Costa Rica).   Do you have any naming protocols for your cats?

 

 

Otter, Frog, Dickens, and Pellet the dog-cat

Cats also figure prominently in TV, film, and literature.  Personally, my favorite cat names come from T.S. Elliot’s story Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (which the musical CATS is adapted from):  Bombalurina, Electra Growlfinger, Mungojerrie (didn’t he have a popular song back in 1970?), Rumtum Tugger, and more.  Do you have a favorite from that story?

How many of the other famous cats below do you recognize?

  • “Buttercup” from Hunger Games – owned by Primrose and hated by Katniss
  • “Cat” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • “The Cat in the Hat” – Dr. Seuss
  • “The Cheshire Cat” and “Dinah” from Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • “Church” from Pet Sematary by Stephen King
  • “Crookshanks” and “Mrs. Norris” from the Harry Potter stories by J.K. Rowling
  • “Greebo” from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld – Nanny Ogg’s cat
  • “Pluto” from The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe
  • “Tab” from Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • “Mrs. Bigglesworth” from the Austin Powers movies

And then there’s all the comic strip and cartoon cats:

  • Garfield and Nermal from the comic strip Garfield
  • Felix the Cat
  • Heathcliff
  • Hello Kitty
  • Sylvester
  • Tigger
  • Simba and Nala
  • Scratchy (from Itchy & Scratchy)
  • Figaro
  • Puss in Boots
  • Stimpy

Who’s your favorite cat?  And don’t be shy – show us your cat pix!