unofficial holidays related to animals

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May 2 is Tuatara Day

Today is Tuatara Day. On May 2, 1867, scientists first recognized that the tuatara, a reptile found only in New Zealand, is not a lizard (Squamata) as originally thought. Why is this important? Like Tigger and the Highlander, there can be only one. The tuatara is the sole surviving representative of its own group (Rhynchocephalia), which existed alongside dinosaurs.

tuatara on rock

Photo credit: Alison Cree

Although Rhyncocephalia is the closest living relative of Squamata, which includes both lizards and snakes, the two groups diverged about 250 million years ago. To put that family relationship into perspective, a human is more closely related to, say, a kangaroo, than the tuatara is to a lizard.

Tuatara Day evolutionary chart

Illustration: Marc E H Jones

Tuatara is a Māori name meaning “peaks on the back,” a reference to its spiny crest, and the species has been identified by the Māori people as a taonga (treasure). It is nocturnally active and spends its days basking in the sun or in a burrow. Although capable of digging the burrow itself, it prefers to use those made by birds.

Unlike a lizard, it has two rows of teeth on the top, which are fused to the jawbone. When feeding, the bottom row bites between the upper rows of teeth, then slides forward in a shearing motion that allows it to decapitate its prey, as evidenced by reports of birds’ headless bodies found outside their lairs. Not a nice way to treat one’s landlord, certainly.

Tuatara reach sexual maturity around age 14 and have been known to live up to 70 years in the wild and much longer in captivity. The male’s lack of external genitalia makes it useful to research into the evolution of the phallus in amniotes (mammals, birds, and reptiles). Because females only breed every two to five years, producing six to ten eggs that require incubation for up to a year, population numbers are low and protected, making it nearly impossible to obtain embryos for study.

In 2015, researchers used 3-D technology to virtually reconstruct an embryo from slides that had been prepared in 1909 and left in a collection at Harvard University ever since. Their finding that the embryo possessed genital buds suggests a single evolutionary origin of amniote external genitalia. As researcher Thomas J. Sanger wrote, “Without access to these museum specimens we would have no way of knowing the secrets of the tuatara penis.” Author’s note: As a layperson, while I found the subject fascinating, I began to feel I was, at the very least, invading the tuatara’s privacy, and at worst, straying into reptile porn territory. I’m pretty sure my Google search history has been flagged.

Once plentiful, tuatara numbers have decreased since the arrival of humans, dogs, and Pacific rats about 800 years ago. Rats, in particular, have decimated the number of tuatara, most likely due to competition for food and/or predation on eggs and juveniles. Rats, as well as possums and stoats, are being exterminated as part of a government initiative called Predator Free 2050 to save the tuatara and other native species from extinction. The cat, another introduced species, has apparently been exempted from the culling thus far. PETA remains strangely silent on New Zealand’s rodenticide.

Climate change is another threat to the tuatara, who exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination. The warmer an egg’s environment, the more likely the hatchling will be male. As temperatures rise, conservationists are taking steps, such as carefully relocating tuatara to milder areas to keep the ratio from skewing so male that the population collapses.

Although Tuatara Day was first celebrated in 2017 on the 150th anniversary of the scientists’ recognition, boasting its own hashtag, #150NotALizard, on social media, one tuatara had been making headlines since 2009. That’s when Henry, a tuatara living at New Zealand’s Southland Museum, achieved celebrity status after becoming a first-time parent at the ripe old age of 111.

His mate Mildred, a tuatara in her seventies, had apparently forgiven Henry for their disastrous first date 25 years earlier when he’d bitten off her tail, and she seemed unconcerned by their age difference. (We don’t like to use the phrase “robbing the cradle” since tuatara sometimes eat their young. It’s a bit of a sore subject.) Mildred laid 12 eggs and on January 25, 2009, after 223 days of incubation, 11 baby tuatara hatched.

Tuatara Day Prince Harry with Henry

Photo credit: Tim Rooke (Shutterstock)

Seven years later, Henry met Prince Harry on the then royal’s tour of New Zealand. There’s no mention of whether Mildred and the kids were in attendance, too. I was able to reach David Dudfield, Curator Manager at Southland Museum, who let me know that Henry is still going strong and recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his arrival there. He and Mildred have had so many more babies that the randy couple has been separated while staff work to find homes in the wild for some of their offspring.

No word on how he feels about Megxit.

Happy Tuatara Day!

Copyright 2020 Worldwide Weird Holidays

 

Sources:
Tuatara – Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 23
Evolution: One Penis After All – Current Biology, Volume 26, Issue 1
Not a lizard nor a dinosaur, tuatara is the sole survivor of a once-widespread reptile group – The Conversation
Reproduction of a Rare New Zealand Reptile, the Tuatara Sphenodon punctatus, on Rat‐Free and Rat‐Inhabited Islands – The Society for Conservation Biology
Resurrecting embryos of the tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus, to resolve vertebrate phallus evolution – Royal Society
Predator Free 2050 – New Zealand Department of Conservation
Predator Free 2050: New Zealand ramps up plan to purge all pests – BBC News
When a species can’t stand the heat – Science News for Students
Henry the tuatara is a dad at 111 – The Independent
Prince Harry strokes 118 year-old Tuatara reptile en route to New Zealand’s Stewart Island – The Telegraph

December 14 is Monkey Day

Monkey Day was started in 2000 when Michigan State University art student Casey Sorrow scribbled “Monkey Day” on a friend’s calendar. When the day (December 14) arrived, Sorrow and his buddies were inspired to don costumes, mimic baboon cries and otherwise imitate a bunch of monkeys.monkey day

That day a tradition was born. What may have begun as a salute to evolution, an antidote to December’s traditional holidays, an excuse to dress up and act like fools, or all of the above has become a popular holiday throughout the world.

Why? “Everybody loves monkeys,” Sorrow explains. “Monkeys are great — they make people smile. There are no bad monkeys.”

Monkey Day is especially appreciated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Activists organize auctions and educational events to draw public attention to issues concerning animal rights and protection of monkeys. Individuals are encouraged to celebrate by hosting costume parties and competitions.

Humans have long been fascinated with simians and entertained by TV and movie fare such as King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Curious George, Donkey Kong, Grape Ape, Magilla Gorilla and the overlords in Planet of the Apes. Read about other fictive and real-world examples including Koko, Ham, Lucy, Bubbles and Nim Chimpsky on ape-o-naut.org’s Famous Monkeys Through History.)

monkey day

We know what you’re thinking: Monkeys aren’t apes. Why do apes show up on Monkey Day? The site’s creators explain:

Because they are not a single coherent group, monkeys do not have any particular traits that they all share and are not shared with the remaining group of simians, the apes, we here at the Monkey Day website feel it wouldn’t be proper to exclude all primates from the joy of Monkey Day just because they swing on a different branch of the evolutionary tree. So, yes, occasionally you may see non-monkey simians invading and celebrating Monkey Day.

Why are we so drawn to simians in general? “Probably because we come from monkeys,” says artist and Monkey Day celebrant Carl Oxley III. “Plus, they’re funny as hell.”

Today, why not act like a monkey, dress like a monkey and encourage your friends to do so, too? Monkey Day will be more fun than a barrel of, well, you know.

monkey day

Happy Monkey Day!

Copyright © 2018 Worldwide Weird Holidays

March 1 is National Pig Day

national pig day

Princess Cali – credit: ctpost

Mary Lynn Rave and her sister Ellen Stanley created National Pig Day in 1972 “to accord the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place as one of man’s most intellectual and domesticated animals.”

Pigs are intelligent, using various oinks, grunts, and squeals to communicate with each other. They excel in tests requiring the location of objects and can use mirrors to do so, a talent they share with chimpanzees.

They are social and learn from each other, cooperating to accomplish tasks such as breaking out of a pen or finding food. A pig can be trained to manipulate a joystick with its snout and play a simple game, meaning it could probably kick our butts at Pong.

Unfortunately, somebody figured out long ago that pigs are delicious. They are the only honorees we know of that have the dubious distinction of being enthusiastically consumed on the holiday that celebrates them.

Should you show your appreciation by forgoing bacon, chops, and ribs today? (We know what Princess Cali would say.) Have a happy National Pig Day!

Copyright © 2018 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 29 is National Cat Day (and International Internet Day)

Today is International Internet National Cat Day

National Cat Day Hell Yeah Kyrie because I said so!

Hell, yeah, it’s National Cat Day! Sure, it’s International Internet Day, too. On October 29, 1969, a few months after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, the first message was sent across the Internet. The system crashed after the first two letters of the word “login” were shared, but that was enough to make history and change the world forever.

Approximately forty percent of the world’s population has an Internet connection today, up from less than half a percent in 1993, the year when a Web browser named Mosaic was introduced. Its development was funded through a U.S. government initiative championed by Al Gore. Yes, that Al Gore and no, he never said he invented the Internet.

In December 1999, there were 16 million Internet users. By the end of 2005, that number had topped 1 billion. In March 2011, it had grown to 2 billion; in June 2014, 3 billion. Three years later, in June 2017, the total stood at 3.885 billion.

So why are we looking at a cat right now? Because, in a cruel twist of fate, these brilliant innovators unwittingly created the medium that the furry monsters would eventually conquer. To be fair, Thomas Edison did get the ball rolling in 1894 with the first known cat video. 

First domesticated in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent 12,000 years ago, cats have been waiting to pounce on humanity ever since. With the rise of agrarian societies, cats became indispensable for keeping grain stores rodent-free.  Today, cats can be found in 34% of American households, making them the most popular house pet in the United States.

And so they bide their time, transmitting coded missives uploaded by their hapless documentarians.  It’s been estimated that over two million cat videos have been uploaded to YouTube, with a total of almost 25 billion views. (Those statistics are from 2014, the most recent we could find. Who knows how many there are now?) The Internet Cat Video Festival toured the world from 2013 through 2016 but its creator, the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis, MN, has discontinued it to focus its funding efforts elsewhere.

Perhaps that’s because there’s no need to leave home to experience the stupefying, hypnotic power of our cuddly overlords. Need proof? Just watch the following video.

If we’ve whetted your appetite, here is another one. And another. Okay, one more and that’s all, we promise.

Just be sure to close your windows and doors so these adorable demons cannot get in and gnaw on your soft parts as you doze contentedly, lulled into a helpless state by a seemingly meaningless parade of cat hijinks.

If they learn how to open a can, none of us stand a chance.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays