Weird Science: Bombardier Beetles

Bombardier Beetles are curious critters. They create high-speed jets of boiling hot, caustic liquid capable of being pin-point aimed through a 270-degree arc. Wow…

Because of their uniqueness, they’re a controversial critter, used by both evolutionists and creationists as proof that the other side is just being goofy. As a result, it was difficult to find information that didn’t have a heavy bias. Some day, if I’m feeling up to starting an ideological firefight on my blog, I may give you my opinion (and the reasoning for it) on that particular debate.

For now, though, check out a beetle that would blow itself up if the mechanism for creating such an exothermic reaction failed.





The Bird’s Word: Getting the Human’s Attention

Masika came out 2


My name is Masika D. Greyt. I’m a Timneh African Grey. I’ve lived with several humans before my current human, so I think I have some good insights into human behavior. So, all you fine, feathered birds and human allies, here is some advice for you.

There are definitely times when a parrot needs to get the attention of their human roommate. After all, humans seem to be on a different schedule and forget when our snack times are. I don’t understand this, personally. You would think that they could keep up with the schedule’s 952-day rotation. Still, none of my humans quite figured it out, so I have devised a number of ways to get their attention to remind them that I am dying of hunger over here and could use a snack. Yes, even if there is “plenty of good food and water in my bowls.” That’s not the point. Honestly.

Screech. No, not a cute, little squeak. Really cut loose with a good, loud SCREECH! That will get the human’s attention. They might not be happy about the noise, but they might come visit and notice that you have been snack-deprived.

You can also discover new noises to make. Every apartment I’ve ever been in has had some feature that allowed me to make terrific noise. My current apartment has metal walls and roof but a plastic basement. Where the metal connects to the plastic, I can twang the metal with my beak. That gets my human’s attention. She thinks I might be trying to break my apartment. Nah. This is a pretty sturdy place. I could destroy it if I wanted to, but not yet.

Rattling the doors, depending on your apartment’s design, might also work. You’ll have to check out the sort of apartment your human bought for you. You’ll find some kind of noise to make with it.

If you’re a big enough bird, you can also smack empty food bowls around. Just grab them by the edge, slide them out a little bit, then slam them back into the side of the apartment. Guaranteed to get your human’s attention. If your food bowls are attached to to the apartment walls, you’ll have to find some other way.

There you have it. Three ways to get your human’s attention. I’ll be back from time to time to give you more avian advice.

Um… Now what? Beans?

I ran out of letters in the alphabet for my mutant alphabet blog posts. I knew this was coming. I mean, seriously, the alphabet has a finite start and finish, but when I was writing the November blogs, I had just started a new job, and I was a little short on time to think ahead to what would be next.

Hmm…  One pal suggested I just switch alphabets. If I knew another alphabet, that might work. Another suggested I start at A in the dictionary and move forward. That’d be some 300,000 blog topics!

I had an idea to do another Hugo/Nebula comparison, this time taking 5 books from the early years of the award and 5 books from the recent awards, but it’ll take me some time to read 10 novels, so that’s not going to help any time soon.

So, while I sort things out, here is a blast from the past: Masika guest blogging when my blog was on my webpage.

Rebel being funny 002

This is the Avian News Network with an important bulletin…

There’s a new hazard creeping into veggie bowls of unsuspecting parrots everywhere. At first glance, it appears to be a strange, pale green, u-shaped bean, but DO NOT BE DECEIVED! This is no green bean.

This devious object makes a wonderfully satisfying crunch when you sink your beak into it, but that’s just part of its ploy to lure you into a false sense of security. If you continue to chew on this crunchy non-bean, you’ll discover its secret. It’s actually made of strings! These strings have the approximate strength of surgical steel and will defy all efforts to sever them by even the strongest beaks. Worse, these strings run the entire length of the “bean.” They peel out as you attempt to enjoy your snack, so you are then left with one of these green strings hanging from your beak! How totally undignified!

If you find one of these stringy “beans” in your veggie bowl, don’t panic. Even if you’ve fallen prey to their plots before, you can still defend yourself properly. Simply pick up the “bean” with your beak without chomping down then toss it through the grate and onto the trash receptacle below. There, faced with its dismal failure, the “bean” will wither and die, posing no further threat to your avian dignity.

Sooner or later, your human will figure out how treacherous these things are and stop allowing them to sneak into your veggie bowl.

This is Masika D. Greyt reporting for the Avian News Network.

Z Is for Animals

Many large cities have zoos of some sort. Big ones, little ones, whatever. Often, they’re the usual sort with critters in some kind of enclosure, grouped either by nationality, ecology, or animal kingdom. That’s why Z is for Animals.

One particularly nifty zoo is a butterfly garden in Ames, IA. I’ve been to Reiman Gardens a few times while visiting my northern family. The butterfly garden is located on the grounds of Iowa State University. It’s a combination botanical center and butterfly garden, complete with a walk-through “aviary” for butterflies.

(c) 2010 Riccardo Cuppini // Retrieved from Flickr Creative Commons and used unchanged

(c) 2010 Riccardo Cuppini // Retrieved from Flickr Creative Commons and used unchanged

Walking through the enclosure doesn’t take long at all, but there are places where you can stop and observe the dozens of different species fluttering around the various plants or landing on fruit slices left around the place.

On the way out, they check your bags, jacket, hair … anywhere a butterfly might hide. Best to keep the wee critters in the enclosure.

This specialized zoo has more than just adult butterflies. There are places where you can check out caterpillar and chrysalis stages, too. Those are important for the life of a flutterbye just as much as the adult versions.

If you ever find yourselves near Ames, IA, you oughta go check it out.

K Is for Sneeze

There was a time when I could go visit a friend of mine who had a handful of cats, including a long-haired one. I could spend the day there with them, and as long as none of the cats came too close, I was okay.

Several years ago, I started developing allergies to most of the planet. I’m allergic to anything that even looks like a mold or grass, half the trees in Texas, five dozen “foods,” some dogs, and even cats. Now, even the cutest little kitten in my space causes me to start sneezing brain cells. That’s why K is for Sneeze. Unfortunately, there’s no “just take an antihistamine” solution. I’m allergic to the inactive ingredients that appear in most OTC products.

Back when I could be in the vicinity of a cat without sneezing my fool head off, I would go over to my friends’ house and do stuff with them. Most of their cats were outgoing and friendly sorts, but they had one that was a little skittish … in the same way that an ocean can be described as slightly damp. She usually hid when anyone was over.

(c) 2015 Eric Jude used by permission, unchanged

(c) 2015 Eric Jude used by permission, unchanged

One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch watching a movie. In my peripheral vision, a dark-colored cat came across the back of the couch to where I was sitting. My friends had 4 dark-colored cats, including the really skittish one, and the approaching cat was too small to be the long-hair and even too small to be the other two. That left the skittish one. I turned toward the cat and said, “Hi.” She took one look at me and bolted back down the hall.

Apparently, I was not the one she was expecting.

This was not the only time I disappointed a critter by being the wrong person.

Your next prompt: L is for Griffins.

B Is for Pets

This is a long one, so hold onto your hat!

Pets can be a real blessing in our lives. They bring us joy, companionship, and sometimes even protection and assistance with our tasks. Sometimes, though, they can be a pain in the posterior, like the neighbor’s dog barking at 2am or the cat that scratches up the furniture.

My family has had a number of different kinds of pets: dogs (Amber, Tiffany, Daphne, Nosey, Belle, Sasha, 2 Dalmatians I don’t remember the names of, Katie, Chanel, and Ginger), 3 rabbits (Midget, Phydeaux, and Kitty), a guinea pig, a crawdad, Renfield the lizard, and an assortment of pet stuffed animals.

For myself, though, I’ve only had one dog, and that only briefly. He made me sneeze brain cells and he upset my bird, so he happily went to another home where the kids there will have a grand time with him. The rest of my pets have been birds. That’s why B is for Pets.

I have had very many birds, and although I would like to have very many more, I may be on my last one … unless I can convince her that other birds are not out to steal her territory.

My first birds were a pair of cockatiels, Sijon and Lockheed. Sijon was a gray cockatiel, and Lockheed’s pictured below (I don’t have a pic of Sijon). Sijon was deadly serious. He could wolf-whistle, which he did often. My duty was to answer him exactly as he whistled, or he repeated the whistle until I “got it right” and sometimes he hissed when I was “wrong.”



For the longest time, I thought Lockheed was a dude, but then “he” laid an egg and solved that bit of confusion. Lockheed is the source of my online gaming moniker “GeriatricTiel.” She lived to a very old-for-cockatiels age of 30. She was the sweetest little bird, the only one I could trust with kids. Whether or not I could trust the kids with her was another matter. Her favorite hobby? Making spitballs out of whatever paper she could get her beak on.

My next bird was a cockatiel named Spot. She was a graduation present from some friends. She would have been excellent at Avian X-Games. That bird was either ADHD or an adrenalin junkie. She would walk to the edge of the cage and step off … and only start flapping halfway to the floor. When I put her back on top the cage, she’d do it again. She would also unload my purse for me, taking everything out one object at a time. I guess she was looking for a nest hole and had to get my junk out of the way.



Freebie, too, was a cockatiel. He was, as his name implies, free! I was working at a pet store when he arrived with injured feet. The manager was convinced the bird had gangrene and was going to have the vet put the bird down. I asked if I could purchase the bird at cost and take him to my own vet. The manager just gave me the bird with the caveat “When that bird dies, I don’t want to hear about it.” I called my vet, who had an opening that evening, and I brought the little ball of yellow fluff in. The green gunk on his feet? Bird poo. Yes, his feet were a bit cut up from the cage mesh, and he was missing toenails, but he lived on for many years and regaled me with “Good morning!” no matter what time of day it was.



Then came the white-capped pionus, Johnny. He worked with me at the pet store until the pet store got tired of him not selling. The breeder wouldn’t take him back because he was too old, so I bought the bird for just over cost. Johnny was a terrific bird. He was goofy, chatty, and at times even cuddly. He loved his jalapeños, seeds and all. The most interesting thing about this bird was how defensive he got. On a couple occasions he flew off my hand or shoulder and went after someone who showed some aggressive body language.

Johnny B. Good

Johnny B. Good

Another pionus, a Dusky Pionus this time, came into my world. He was a fledgling. Tiercel was a sweetheart … until he came of age. Then he became a sharkbeak. I tried several ways to calm him down, but he wasn’t having any of it. In the end, I rehomed him with someone else, and he’s doing much better there.

Tiercel (Picture was taken by the breeder)

Tiercel (Picture was taken by the breeder)

That brings me to my current goofball. Masika (formerly named Rebel) is a Timneh African Grey. She’s a rescue baby with a rough past, and so she isn’t exactly hand-tame at this point. We’re working on it, though, and she has made terrific progress, especially now that she is the only bird.

Masika D. Greyt: Silly Bird on the Loose!

Masika D. Greyt: Silly Bird on the Loose!

Masika’s breed is known for their phenomenal talking ability, but she rarely says a word. She can say “Hello” or “Wow” or “NOOOOO” in several different pitches, and I’ve been told that she says “Howdy, pilgrim.” I’ve actually heard her bust loose with a “Hello, baby!” She doesn’t talk much, and I think that might have contributed to or resulted from her poor treatment as a younger bird.

She’s quite the whistler and sound effect queen, though. In addition to door clicks, car key fob beeps, and the smoke alarm, she can whistle the first few bars of a couple tunes, namely the musical scales (both upward and downward), the Airwolf opening theme, the characteristic whistle of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and even a wee bit of Doctor Who. Imitations are within her range, too. She does a small dog yipe, doves, cockatiels, and owls. She’s rather shy, though, and will not perform on command. I can’t even manage to record her because she stops being cute and amusing if she thinks I’m recording anything. Even if I hide the recorder, she seems to know and will drastically reduce or stop her chirps.

We – being me and her previous owners who rehomed her with me when they retired – think she’s 30 or so, if we’re doing our math correctly and our assumptions about how long she spent in the dark, bug- and rat-infested warehouse are correct. I am Owner #4 in her world, and if it’s up to me, she’ll only go to Owner #5 if I die before she does. Greys can live to be 80 or more, so it’s possible.

Because she is so terribly territorial, I cannot get another pet, avian or otherwise, at least until I tame her down a bit more. I had Freebie, Lockheed, and Tiercel when she came to me, and I had to take drastic measures to keep her away from them or she became irritable and went into attack posturing if she saw or even heard the other birds, and when I had the pup for a couple days, she was a perpetual grouch.

She’s a cute little goofball, and I can adapt to her idiosyncrasies while I work with her.  We’re making progress! When I first got her, changing her food and water caused full-on panic. These days, she’ll actually step onto the back of my hand and go for a ride … for at least a few inches before she hops off. It doesn’t sound like much, but slow but sure wins the race.

For next time, here’s your prompt: C is for Map

On Smoke Alarms and African Greys

African Grey parrots are incredible. Along with their distant cousins the Yellow Nape and Double Yellow Head Amazons, they are near perfect mimics of sounds around them. Some are expert speakers. Mine is a sound effect and whistle queen. I’d record her sound effects displays, but she goes deadly silent as soon as I bust out a camera or iPad. *sigh*

Here: a demo of African Grey sound skills. This is not Masika the Greyt, but rather another African Grey.

That one is a Congo African Grey.  Masika the Greyt is a Timneh.  Here, check out her darker grey and her maroon tail:

Masika came out 2

From time to time, Masika surprises me with a new sound or whistle. Last summer it was the opening notes from Doctor Who.  This fall … the smoke alarm.

No, I was not burning something in the kitchen, but the smoke alarms in the house started acting up. Naturally, they only do this at 2:30 in the morning. I assume that’s the unwritten rule of smoke alarms: if they go awry, it must be at 2:30 in the morning. There’s a corollary to that rule. If more than one is going to go nuts, they’re not going to do it on the same night. A couple nights a week or so apart were disturbed by smoke alarms demanding new batteries. Never mind that I had just replaced them last June.

Masika, never one to neglect a new noise, was definitely paying attention. Last week, she cut loose with a piercing BEEP that sounded like a dead-on match for a grouchy smoke alarm. She even nailed the somewhat electronic quality of the beep.

One evening, as she was going through her litany of sound effects, including her new smoke alarm beep … several times … at regularly-spaced intervals, my pa came in and looked up at the smoke alarm on the ceiling.

“Is this the one that’s beeping?”

Without looking up from my computer, I shook my head and pointed to the Greyt one, right about the time Masika decided to squeak out her newest sound.

“Oh, it’s your bird?”


Yep. It was the bird.

I find many of her sound effects amusing. I’m hoping she gets her fill of this one soon and meanders on to the next.