New Mexico. Whoa.
The first non-avian thing I saw, I heard first. Constantly skirting around in the underbrush, I realized it was a lizard. What happened to lizards? I think here crows are the new lizards. This is the Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard:
The most interesting thing about the Desert Grassland (make up your minds people) Whiptails, besides the bright (sometimes not that bright) blue tail, is that they are parthenogenetic, which means they are ALL female. Every lizard is a clone of her mother. They are in turn very sexist and all their roommate ads never ask for a male to “balance out the house.” Fair housing was all over that in the ’80s.
Cloning isn’t as adaptive a form of reproduction, I kinda thought only amebas n stuff did it. Species don’t get the advantages of the natural selection process– weeding out bad genes, recombining genes to make new options, the usual. You get a bad mutation, you’re stuck with it. Your teeth need braces, bam, every daughter after you will be doomed to embarrassing cafeteria moments.
Second thing: a bona fide Roadrunner! And it actually ran! Check it out!
Way prettier than the cartoon right? There are two species, the Greater Roadrunner in the States, and the Lesser Roadrunner in Mexico and Central America. Wonder who made that call, cough*racist*cough
Okay, so as you know the first thing I did in New Mexico was ignore all culture, architecture, art, Native American influence etc and immediately proceeded to the Museum of Natural History. Britain so far wins for best nat hist muse ever, but that’s okay, cuz the first thing you see here when you get past the gates, is this incredible skeleton:
which I have to say, beats even the museum in London’s giant Diplodocus skeleton. Mega points for positioning, emphasizing our move away from thinking of dinos as plodding heavy dumbnity.
First horse, fox size. I placed a pen on top for scale.
The BEST part for some reason, was the presentation of the bones of a brachiosaur, but just the front leg up to the shoulder, which for some reason made such a different impression than the full skeleton. I put a human on the bottom for scale. Witness:
Jesus GOD they were huge! Really brought home that first dinosaur scene in jurassic park, you know the one. I mean, I realize i’m only 5’2, but to think that’s just up to the shoulder, not even embarking on the neck yet. (note: museum’s on a Monday are dead, no pun intended, so you can take all the embarrassing nerd photos you want!)
My other favorite part, was this little, out of the way microscope with two slides. So, 24 year old Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 (so young our Pluto!) basically in his backyard by seeing this:On the left is one night. On the right is many nights later. Again, bringing home just how far away everything is, and just how INSANEly anal this guy must have been to notice that tiny, tiny speck in a different place among a WHOLE NIGHT SKY of tiny specks. I know, he sees importance in a dot when there are two brand new arrow planets staring him in the face!
Dude died in 1997, about 10 years previous to Pluto’s demotion to “dwarf” planet and not actual planet, much to the freakish outrage of thousands of school children (they all wrote letters!).
I’m thinkin they knew the whole time that Pluto wasn’t really a planet but nobody would pony up to be all Captain Bringdown to this poor guy’s one notable discovery. Yeah, your speck’s actually just a speck, sorry. Good on them.
Okay, something scarier. In Old Town Albuquerque (Aahh!, no wait) is a Rattlesnake Museum (Aahh! well yes, but wait), which holds the largest collection of live rattlesnakes in the world. It was awesome, what a rattlesnake museum should be. Somebody’s house converted into the most freakshow rattlesnake/rattlesnake paraphernalia collector’s house with enough eccentricity to warrant an admission fee. The place was crammed with snake-related comic books, statues, gambling machines, literature, and even a laminated notebook of snake Far Sides. At one point in the middle of the ‘museum’ I could hear two separate tvs with BBC documentaries playing. Is there a more heavenly space than one with David Attenborough in stereo?
So, the snakes were cool, but they also had a few other species of herpetological interest. I was most impressed when I saw this:
This is the head of the Alligator Snapping Turtle. It just sits, just like this, for hours until something comes along, in this case the unfortunate goldfish in the corner of the tank. Check out the freaky rifle-focus in those eyes!
Living in Texas to Florida, this animal can get to be 150 pounds or more, and just waits at the bottom of lakes. Must the largest freshwater turtle in America be the most terrifying, primitive-looking, night terror to feet everywhere?
So that’s what I learned on my summer vacation. Hug your toes everyone.