Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Go, Nads, Go! Go, Nads, Go!

"It's paleontology's dirty little secret," it says in this article I'm reading, "that we do not know the sex of our dinosaurs." Paleontologists, many of whom do not look like Laura Dern in short shorts, aren't often in a circumstance to have a dirty little secret, so this will have to do.

It is, on the face of it, an embarrassment at least.

Humans are hard-wired to try to detect each other's sex. We may appear to be taking little note of each other, but let a person walk by who confuses us and most people will double around the block to get another look. We may not have any designs on the person, but somehow we have to know. Which sex are you? We're basically narrowing it down to two, so, often, that's why we're confused.

I admit I did not know this embarrassing thing about paleontology. I do remember that their first T. rex is named Sue, so  I assumed they had a clue. Evidently all the ones since are named Pat. The article is illustrated with a competently drawn set of theropods and one of them, the pregnant one, has a big belly. There's even an arrow pointing at "distended abdomen." This is speculation. Nothing in the fossilized skeletal remains would indicate a distended abdomen and thus far dinosaur maternity pants have proved to be even less likely to show up in the fossil record.

And if a given T. rex is prone to wild hormonal mood swings and rages, how would you tell?

It is possible it didn't even matter to the dinosaurs. After all, as I have repeatedly observed over the years, chickadees are quite able to locate viable mates despite the fact that not one of them differs from any other in any particular, other than the theoretical presence of testes and ovaries. Other than that.

Now, though, someone has managed to tease out evidence of a particular kind of bone that is present only in birds who are thinking about laying an egg, laying an egg, or have just laid an egg, the vast majority of whom have thus far proved to be female. It does seem like a lot of trouble to develop an entire kind of bone just for laying eggs, but they need the calcium for the shells, and that's where they're storing it. So we might have a potential sex marker for our fossilized dinosaurs. Sociologists consulted, of which there are zero, have noted that it won't help us identify a female dinosaur who has decided to concentrate on a career instead.

I admit I'm surprised. I know paleontologists have extrapolated entire dinosaurs on the basis of a single toe bone. One time some scientists discovered a mashed-together batch of dinosaur hatchling bones that appeared to be pocked by digestive juices; they concluded they were looking at the remains of a regurgitated crop pellet, which means paleontologists, bless their bones, are capable of recognizing fossil barf, but they don't consider that a dirty little secret.

All of the T. rexes examined were rather roomy through the hips and had little upper-body strength, but that doesn't make them females. And a lot of theropods, of all available sexes, wore nice hats and accessories. They were presumed to be plenty colorful. If you're as big as a house, there's not a lot of point to camouflage. Maybe the boys had big pink and purple dotted frills and the girls settled for a modest gingham check. We just don't know, yet.

But we want to know. It's hard-wired.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sponge-Bob Poopy-Pants

I mean no disrespect for the choices of others, and I'm not casting nasturtiums or anything, but when I go into someone else's kitchen to wash the dishes, and there's no sponge, I fall into a kind of petite despair. My practical contributions to the world are few. I don't cook. When I say "Can I help you?" while you're cooking me dinner, and you assign me the simplest task, like chopping vegetables, I'm going to ask you ten questions about size and shape and then labor away with a pitiful sawing motion until you take over the job yourself. I'd much rather do the dishes afterwards.

But then I approach the sink. Oh no, I think. A dishrag person. There's a sad, limp little dishrag hanging on the faucet and no sponge anywhere. It looks like something Cinderella's stepmother made her use. It becomes slimy with goo almost immediately if it wasn't already. I drag it around inside a pot with the conviction that I have merely disrupted the most evident deposits and left behind a uniform veneer of thin sludge. What I want is a nice, hand-sized cellulose sponge with a scrubby pad on the back. I'm going to put on a dot of detergent and tear into that crusty stuff with the scrubby side and rinse with water hot enough to blister a rhino. Cleaning dishes with a droopy dishrag is like mowing the lawn with a rough blanket.

At the same time I'm aware that dishrag people feel very strongly about their sorry little schmatta. Otherwise, surely, they'd use a sponge. I decided to post a simple query on my Facebook page and see what developed: Dishrag, or Sponge?

We'll set aside Susan Ellis's answer for the moment ("husband").

Responses were pretty evenly divided. Sponges had their adherents. But the dishrag people were adamant that we sponge people were purveyors of the Plague. When they go into a house and see a sponge on the sink, they are persuaded that every surface is covered with a film of poop molecules. They will realize they have entered a fecally enhanced atmosphere, a dun-colored haze, primed by a miasma of coliform bacteria billowing from the kitchen. "A kitchen sponge renders the kitchen ten billion times more bacteria-laden than a toilet seat," the experts intone, somberly.

This, in spite of the fact that I have hardly ever used my dish sponge to wipe my butt, particularly the scrubby side. And I would further submit that they have no idea what I can do to a bathroom when I'm good and charged up.

Well. What is required is the stockpiling of clean dishrags, each one of which must be dunked in bleach, sent through a scalding laundry and dried crisp after each use. Then, to be on the safe side, they should be spoken to sternly, and set on fire. There's nothing to be done with a sponge. They should be prevented from entering the country with a wall and concertina wire.

I'm not changing anything. I read up. Actually, the experts say dishrags and sponges are equally culpable. I'm going back to my usual lifetime strategy of deliberate ignorance. I've been smearing bacteria around my kitchen for forty years and remain in the pink of health. If I'm not worried about my sponge, it can't hurt me. As soon as I learn the nature of the catastrophe that awaits me, I'll develop eighteen different kinds of nervous disease. Besides, I'm not a bit scared of coliform bacteria.

In fact, I'm packin'.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Three-Parent Baby

We never had a baby. Lots of reasons, really. Odds are it would have turned out something like us. Also, we had no evidence the planet was running short on humans, and neither of us was mature enough, frankly, to have given any thought to my mitochondrial DNA.

That was then. We'd have been in much better shape now. Now, apparently, you can make a baby with three parents. Right off the bat, that gives you more ways to spread the blame. I found the concept intriguing. At the very least it seemed we might have been able to eke out a taller child. But what if Dave and I could have collaborated on genetic material that would pass on, say, Mikhail Baryshnikov's dancing ability?

Or anything else he'd care to contribute?

The process sounded like it could be a lot of fun. Evidently, though, this is not the sort of result they're going for, and I might also have been mistaken about how the three-parent conception procedure works. It's all rather clinical and entails a lot of technical whizbangery. And it's always going to involve two women and a man, who is unlikely to be Mikhail Baryshnikov.

My interest waned.

What they are trying to do is avoid passing on genetic defects that lead to diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's. And some of these are passed on via mitochondrial DNA, which is different from your standard over-the-counter nuclear DNA. The mitochondria are little pellety jobs inside almost every cell that perform a number of functions, such as converting energy. Each one is like a little power plant, and has its own personal loop of DNA. It's not very large. In fact, the whole contraption resembles a bacterium more than it does anything else.

There are those who postulate that the mitochondria were originally developed from a tiny rib taken from the host cell. But most scientists believe that they were sort of conscripted into our more complex cells to do slave labor early on, like a billion and a half years ago. Maybe this doesn't speak well of us, but the mitochondria are used to it. Nobody's asking for reparations, and Stockholm Syndrome set in for them a long time ago. And now they can't survive outside the cell anymore, but they get back at us by pretty much deciding when we start to wither and die.

The mitochondria are passed along solely from the mother, who populates her child with all the mitochondria he'll ever need just from whatever she has lying around her own egg cell. The father has mitochondria too, of course, but they never make it to the zygote. Most of the mitochondria in the sperm cell are at the end of the tail, and that snaps off from sheer exhaustion when fertilization occurs. And whatever's left of the male mitochondria is marked for self-destruction inside the egg. Mama looks around at what the sperm is bringing to the table and says Yes Please to the Baryshnikov bits and No Thank You to the mitochondria. It's just easier that way. Less argument.

It was the study of maternal mitochondrial DNA that allowed scientists to determine when our most recent common ancestor lived, the woman whose mitochondrial DNA lives on in all  of us. In an unbelievable coincidence, her name was Eve, and she lived about 200,000 years ago, give or take 100,000 years. That sounds like a pretty slapdash calculation, but really, once you get to be 100,000 years old, that's about as old as you're ever going to look. They did a backwards progression of mitochondrial genetic decay to come up with the 200,000, and got supporting evidence that Eve has been tapping into her IRAs for 199,930 years.

So now we get back to the three parents of the three-parent baby, one of whom is unlikely to be Mikhail Baryshnikov. One is a woman with sound mitochondria; one is a woman with dicey mitochondria but a nice egg nucleus; and the third is of course Dad, who is in charge of aiming a sperm at the combo-platter egg, where his mitochondria will blow up like suicide bombers. The sperm doesn't care. The sperm is all fervor and no nuance. All anyone is planning to get out of the deal is a baby with a better chance of avoiding certain diseases.

And, with any luck, it'll be Round-up Ready, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Pipes Of Wrath

We have two plumbers whom we know by name and recognize on sight. I know what you're thinking, but although we ask a lot of our toilets, we always treat them with respect, and they rarely let us down. It's not the toilets.

Part of the problem is we have that cabin in the forest, and Water wants us to know what a pain in the ass it is to follow the rules in a forest setting. There's water all over the place on that mountain but if you ask it to contain itself within a prescribed set of pipes, it goes all hippie on your ass. It'll stage a demonstration at a moment's notice. I'm free! water says. You can't tell me what to do! I'm going to Occupy The Carpet if you even think about it! Fight The Man!

Then, on the home front, we've got the normal amount of plumbing at our house, and then we also have the rental house next door, and who knows what they're doing over there. All I know is if you're planning to cut someone up into little pieces and flush them down the toilet, you're going to need a plumber eventually. Most of our renters have not struck us as maniacal, but they've all been musical, and it is possible they engage in a little midnight percussion on the pipes, all rhythm and freedom with a little whoopsie finish.

So we have the in-town plumber and the out-of-town plumber, but actually the out-of-town plumber, RW, was responsible for most of the new plumbing in this house when we put on the addition. And that is why we need the other in-town plumber.

We love RW--we really do. He's tremendous. He's also enormous. Plumbers need to get into tight spots sometimes but all spots are tight to him. He is a giant of a man and he always wears Carhartt overalls that wouldn't be snug on Asia. We took one look at him the first day and praised the Lord for those overalls. Then one day he showed up wearing sweatpants. The elastic had jumped ship ages before. Oh my god. Children could disappear in that butt crack. Survivalists could store three weeks' worth of freeze-dried packets in there without anyone knowing. Tiny mules worked their way down the switchbacks starting at his tailbone and far, far below, at the bottom of the cleft, miniature rafting expeditions shot by, one by one.

RW was on the job one day when Dave got a furniture delivery and concluded the only way to get the sofa to the second floor (because our existing stairs were too narrow) was to put them through the window-holes, before the windows went in. He set up the extension ladder and put a rope around the sofa, giving the free end to RW, the plumber, upstairs. The idea was RW would keep tension on the rope and Dave would walk the sofa up the ladder. When he got near the second-floor window hole, he had to push up and out on the sofa to try to get it horizontal, which was the only way it would fit. Dave's tall, and he's strong, but he'd reached the limit of his ability to get the sofa horizontal, and was just about to call out to RW to help him lower it back down again, when the sofa disappeared from his hands and whooshed into the window with no more effort than a bank-deposit in a vacuum tube. Dave shot down the ladder and in the house and up the stairs in time to see RW holding the sofa from one end like it was a Lego and asking where he wanted it.

We love RW.

In-town RW
But he installed one of our toilets with some kind of crimp in the pipe such that it takes over five minutes to fill with each flush. Crimp, loogie, whatever it is he put in there was subsequently sealed up with sheetrock. The bathtub, which we don't use, leaked the one time a guest did use it. And now we have a hole in the ceiling above the downstairs toilet where water drips down from the shower drain one floor up.

So that's when we call the in-town plumber, Also RW. In-town RW wears his phone on his face and sometimes when you call him he asks if we're home now, and when we say yes, he shows up, just like that. We love that about in-town RW, although we wonder if he spends his off-hours in our shrubbery, which would be either wonderfully responsive or creepily expedient, depending on your mood.

We love them both. RW the sofa-slayer, and RW the RW-fixer. We don't know why he's always right spang there when we need him. But we think it's the same kind of thing as when our dog Boomer used to sit right next to Dave's feet at the dining room table. Folks get to know where the crumbs are going to fall.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Knute The Doot

Be still, my churning colon. There is a fossilized Viking turd on display at the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, England. The Lloyd Bank Coprolite dates from the 9th century. People have studied it to determine various things about the donor. We all do that. We're all at least a little interested in the provenance of our poop. Most of us aren't set up to do a really good analysis, but sometimes we can recognize stuff. Besides corn--you don't get any extra points for recognizing corn.

Anyway it was decided that this particular Viking did not have a particularly good diet. He seemed to be short on vegetables and fruit, for instance, even though it was clear that vegetables and fruit were available at the time. I think that is a little judgmental. Many of my own maternal relatives, all of whom are diluted Vikings, also disdained things that were not meat or potatoes. My Uncle Irvin, for example, was reputed never to have eaten a green vegetable or salad in all his years. Which numbered 85. Take that, Kale-Boy.

They further conclude that our Viking was constipated, because the turd was so large, both in length and girth. Judgey, judgey, judgey. This was a Viking, not a pansy-ass poop scientist. He probably dropped a dirigible like that once a day and twice on Thor's Days.

We certainly have an interest in poop in this house. In fact, the only acceptable excuse for walking away from a conversation is "I have to poop." Sometimes, if Dave is especially wrapped up in what he wants to say, and suspects my condition is not critical, he'll follow me all the way to the bathroom and ask if I'm crowning.

Veterinarians are also interested in poop, at least professionally. I remember following our dog Boomer around for hours waiting for her to produce a sample, until finally, finally, after I thought to take her to the neighbor's yard, she grudgingly presented a sad, small, gray, chalky, brittle, sorry excuse for a turd, and I bagged it and took it to the vet. I suppose he was looking for tapeworms, but any worms she might have harbored would have been ground into flour by that thing. The vet was judgmental and annoyed. "What have you been feeding this animal? Bones?"

Well, excuse me. How should I know what she's been eating? We worked off the same bag of kibble for her entire life. She didn't care for it. This was a dog that was constantly on the front porch knocking at the door when we thought she was already inside. We'd let her in after she'd made her rounds of the neighborhood, and whatever she'd eaten wasn't known to us except on the occasions she ralphed it up on the kitchen floor, but primarily, I believe, she favored meatloaf, biscuits, gravy, sausage, and beer. Possibly bones. Never had a sick day, either, but she did drop dead at 17, so there's that.

At any rate, I see no reason anyone should be all tut-tutty about the diet of our friend Knute the Doot, who made his fine deposit under the future Lloyd's Bank building twelve centuries ago. The day any of your shit lasts that long, get back to us.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Trying To Hit A Triple

Marge (or Studley)
Well, I've been watching, and it's a regular hormonathon out there. The birds are chasing tail all day long. I don't know if they're kissing up or beating up, but something's up.

Not a penis though. We don't have any ducks, geese, swans, or ostriches in the vicinity. Most everyone else of the nouveau-dinosaur persuasion around here has to make do with a cloaca--in fact, making doo is one of the things they do with it--and by all appearances, there are a lot of folks here wanting to get into a close cloacal position together and swap bird schmutz. It's only third base, but that's all the bases they got to work with. So tail is being chased. That's the only thing being chaste.

Some are being chased away. Juncos are herding robins right into the cherry tree. Robins are bigger than juncos but they don't seem too fierce. It's probably the worms. Sometimes a spare junco drops out of the cherry and gets chased by another junco. From a distance I can't tell if the spare is an object of desire or a rival. But they're all busy staking out their little kingdoms and interlopers must be routed.

Last Year's Windowson Baby
Not everyone is going to get lucky, I imagine. But everyone's thinking about it. Those unable to defend their kingdoms are congregating at Phi Crappa and bragging about all the cloaca they get.

The suet feeder demonstrates the pecking order in this yard. Chickadees give way to juncos. Juncos acquiesce to song sparrows. Starlings rout those, and scrub jays and woodpeckers can dine unmolested. (Scrub jays will perforate anybody, and everyone knows it.) And for some reason they all step aside when the bushtits arrive. That's because although bushtits are very small, they're very plural. Nobody knows what to do about them. A perfectly sturdy junco will perch sullenly on a branch and watch the suet feeder turn into a fluffy bustle of tits, looking like a grumpy old fart on a park bench when kindergarten lets out.

Well, clearly it was time to put out the cleaned-up birdhouse for our resident chickadees, Marge and Studley Windowson. Marge and Studley have been rearing chilluns in that house for six years now. And as usual they did come to check it out.

But so did a pair of nuthatches.

Oh dear.

We do not know how that will go. The nuthatches seem a little more serious at this point. They're pecking at the hole. Everyone wants to put their own stamp on a place. Person buys a mid-century ranch, and the first thing he does is swap out the garden gnomes for pink flamingos. Marge (or possibly Studley) is over in the crape myrtle scolding Studley (or possibly Marge). I told you we needed to put in an offer. We're going to get aced out by Californians with cash.

It could go either way. The specs for a nuthatch house are the same as for a chickadee house. The birds are all of a size, and frequently associate together. In fact, nuthatches are said to be able to understand spoken Chickadee, if not speak it themselves. So for all we know the nuthatches found out about the place when the chickadees started talking about the old homestead. Loose beaks boost sneaks.

I'll take what comes. Dave is very fond of the Windowsons and is wondering if he should nail up a new house in the same tree. We don't know what kind of zoning applies. Could be too much density puts off both species. I'd be cool with the nuthatches. I can tell them apart.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Voices

What I intended to do was park my fanny in front of the TV with a beer and watch The Voice. Don't judge. I like The Voice. You don't approve of that, find yourself a classier blogger.

However, my plans were dashed when the temperature rose and the weather turned drizzly mid-afternoon. That's not TV weather. That's frog weather.

For three years now the members of the Harborton Frog Shuttle have been ferrying frogs and salamanders across Highway 30. The amphibians live uphill in Forest Park and the place they have their Spring Mixer and Cotillion is downhill, below the highway. This has resulted in a situation that brings tender-hearted drivers to a screeching halt to sob against the steering wheel. Unfortunately, there aren't very many of those drivers. It's a squishfest. Rob Lee, who lives at the junction of Frog Lust and Highway 30, decided to do something about it.

It's pretty low-tech. Assemble an army of frog wranglers and give them buckets. We pick up the frogs, put them in the buckets, drive them across the highway, and decant them into the swamp. Our chief concern is for the charming Red-Legged Frogs, which, like a lot of other critters, are in some trouble these days. But we'll scoop up the tiny Chorus Frogs too. They're not listed as endangered, except in the sense that they're going to turn into paste on Highway 30, and that's endangered enough for us.

Long-Toed Salamander getting a ride
They're surprisingly easy to catch. It's possible that recent generations of frogs have internalized a collective memory of Highway 30 and they're not all that anxious to cross it. So when they're on their way and someone stands in front of them with a bucket, it strikes them as being a fine time to take a breather.

There are a lot of things that look like frogs when you're wandering around in the dark in the rain. Rain splashing off the pavement looks like small hopping frogs. Stranded clumps of lichen look like frogs. Your more charismatic leaves look like frogs. Water droplets on the grass look like frog eyeshine. You know what really looks like a frog? A frog. You get good at it after a while.

Last year our efforts were less effective and more fun. Aerobic, even. On a good warm, wet night, we were dashing all over the place trying to bag them all. This year, our intrepid frog captains have rigged up fencing with landscape cloth. It's nothing these frogs can't surmount, really. Half of these guys have been mounting everything in sight for weeks now. But it is a puzzlement at first. They poink up to the fence and sit there and say "Huh." And we collect them like so many dimes in the sofa cushions.

In the first part of the season, all the frogs are coming downhill. It's easy to tell the sexes apart. The female red-leggeds are much larger to begin with but they've also let themselves go. They're plump with eggs. They're gravid; the males are avid. Boy howdy they're avid. They're motivated. They're fast. Of course they don't have to deal with bloat. On the way back up it's a little harder. Presumably you can tell the males because they have swollen, let's say, thumbs, but frankly you can tell the females also because, not to be indelicate about it, they kind of have stretch marks.

Yes, at a certain point many of the frogs start heading back uphill from the swamp. And that means we have to intercept them below the highway. There is a considerable number of weeks that we'll have frogs going both directions. Sometimes we're not sure which way they're going. We have to conduct an interview right there in the street.

The red-leggeds make almost no sound at all. If severely provoked, they sort of mutter "Hey, now." And there's a little thumping sound when they, ah, kick the bucket. But that's about it. Still, the swamp is crazy with frogsong. That would be our chorus frogs. The little buggers are total belters, every one. Right on pitch and no affectations. You're not going to find that on TV.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Meatballs Of My Discontent

I woke up in the dead of night, and stayed awake, for hours and hours, ruminating. You know, as one does. In this case I was ruminating about meatballs. Specifically, the meatballs we had for dinner, and whether or not they had an exit plan, and if so, what it was. "Ruminate" comes from the Latin and means "to chew on again," and that was certainly one possibility.

This isn't a normal thing for me to ruminate about. One of the things I think Dave can be most proud of is that he's prepared our food for forty years and only poisoned us the one time. And that time, near as I can guess, was because of the bagged salad greens he bought at the store, and that is totally their fault. It's not as if Dave took the greens out of the bag and sprinkled Dried Poop Flavor Flakes on them or anything. Dave, whose reputation is at stake, still puts that episode down to a 24-hour virus. Whatever it was, it required a toilet and a bucket, both. Just one of them would not do.

I can't overindulge without consequence like I used to. There was that time I woke up in the middle of the night convinced my dinner was going to make a reappearance. The dinner would have been collateral damage--the culprit was the slab of layer cake I ate afterwards. I'd made it myself. It had apricot preserves in the middle and enough buttercream frosting to set a horse back, and I ate a wedge of it big enough to prop open the gates of Hell during election season. We were at the cabin with friends, and I knew I'd have to put clothes and shoes on, sneak out the door, and walk way down the road if I didn't want to disturb anybody. I opted to remain in bed and give my valiant digestive system a challenge for the next four hours.

So, the meatballs. They weren't really Dave's fault either. He found them in the freezer, store-packaged. "Do you think these are still any good?" he asked.

"I don't know. Do they have an expiration date?"

They were Swedish meatballs from IKEA. I guess I bought them because I thought they'd be worth a try. When? Let's see. We bought the kitchen cabinets from there in the winter of 2012. So, around then.

"Well--all it says is 'best if eaten by January 2014.' I don't know."

"'Best if eaten by' is not the same as an expiration date, is it? They're just slightly less tasty. And they've been in the freezer all this time. I say, let's give 'em a whirl." Mmmmm! Meatballs!

They were a little musty. Not all that good. Dave, who can eat anything but won't, had three or four and pushed them aside. I had seconds. I can't help it. I'm a sucker for little bite-sized items. Plus, there were, like, a billion of them. I thought: might as well get a jump on them.

An hour into my nighttime rumination, I concluded a few things about their exit plan. They're from IKEA. They're not going to go out the same way they went in. They were going to go out the exit door, but they were going to take their time. They had to go past cabinets, computer tables, bedroom furniture, bookcases, picture frames, and glassware first. Then they'd shoot straight out past the meatball display, and Katie bar the door.

I settled in for the long haul.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Olm, Sweet Olm

Thanks to my friend Linda, I know stuff about the olm, such as: there is such a thing as an olm. The olm is a long skinny white salamander that lives exclusively in central Europe. I am sure that is true, because if there were an American olm, it would have noodled its way to Linda's vicinity and peeked out and waved a tiny little arm at her, and--and--she would have noticed it.

People send me information like this because I am a huge salamander fan. And as such, I welcome salamanders of every race and creed. That's my official position, but just between you and me, my fondness is not evenly distributed. I'm shallow. When I say salamanders are the most attractive animals on the planet, I'm kind of referring to certain ones. I'm partial to the Plethodons. Even the estimable Ambystomas are a little ribby and fat-headed for my taste. But show me a nice flat-headed number with a big smile and big round eyes and little perfect fingers that cannot make a fist, and cue the swoon.

That does not describe the olm. First, there's the matter of its color. White is not a color that really works that well on anybody. True, the olm lives in underground caves in nearly perfect darkness and no one can see him, so his casual attitude toward pigment isn't much different than the fact that I wear pajamas when I'm not planning to leave the house. But the head is all wrong too. You want that smooth round face to hang a smile on. Not a tubular snout with a tiny pie-hole. And the eyes, being useless, have sunk below the skin where they lurk weirdly like eggs-over-easy. Still, we do have a salamander here. What do we know about it?

It lives in the regions of Herzegovina and Croatia where the salamander is well-regarded, being one of their only sources of vowels. The Slovenian word for it is moceril. It means "one that burrows into wetness," and they assure us they mean the salamander. Then they wait for us to use it in a sentence and then they all crack up. Slovenians are assholes.

But not much is known about the olm, because unlike your clownfish and parrots and such, it lives in places no one wants to spend much time in. The locals used to believe they were baby dragons. Some report that the female olm lays upwards of 70 eggs, but only once every six or seven years. Others believe they can also give birth to live young. Yet others believe they spring from the head of the mighty Czklnkynt on St. Pczkwt's Day.

Yes. I bought this. Slovenian coin.
Researchers claim the olm may live up to the freakishly specific age of 58, although others counter that they might reach 68 or even 100. Obviously no one paying attention has yet outlived one of the suckers, and somebody somewhere is receiving grant money to sit next to an aquarium with a notepad at the ready and observe an olm until it goes belly-up. I hope he has cable.

The males are smaller, but can also be distinguished from the females by their relatively larger cloacas during breeding season. In order to determine this a researcher would have to grab several olms to compare and flip them over and poke at their privates. This is the sort of thing ornithologists do to birds all the time, but that doesn't make it polite. Research also indicates the olm, although blind, may be able to orient itself to the earth's magnetic field. There wouldn't be much call for this in a little underground cave of limited scope, but at least they know whether they're coming or going.

They are subject to various environmental pressures now, but are surprisingly resilient. In lab experiments the olm has been shown to be able to remain alive for up to ten years without food. The main threats to the tiny olm are climate change, pollution, and olm researchers.