Monday, February 27, 2006

Squeak and Squawk and Speak and Talk With Us

I’m in an animal quandary. If the nature of the quandary interests you more than how I arrived at it, then skip the part inside the big parentheses. Just so you know, this entire post, at its heart, concerns animals.

A week or so ago, Spencer and I were talking and he asked me if I knew which animal was the one that sweats milk. I laughed. To my knowledge, no animal sweats milk, nor should any animal be forced to do so. It seems like a completely impractical means of cooling any hot mammal body, much less feeding one’s offspring. Debate lasted only a few moments before we ended up at the computer, Googling the phrase “sweats milk.”

If you want the short version of this story, know that the answer is the platypus, nature’s hodgepodge freak show down under. The mommy platypus sweats milk into indentations in her skin and the baby platypi lap it up.


As is often the case, searching for the answer proved more beneficial than actually finding it. Among the sites I saw by looking up milk sweat was an interesting one that documents the notes from the meetings of the Humanist Association of Orange County. During a discussion on the merits of intelligent design as opposed to evolution, the platypus’ tendency to sweat milk was brought up as evidence that not all animals work efficiently. If you scroll down to the section “Design in Nature? Hardly!” — or if you just CNTL+F like a normal person — you’ll note that Frank Farsad uses the platypus and her milk-sweat as an example of a poorly designed animal. Unless anyone yells at me, I’m going to post the entire list here, because I thought it was interesting. (All credit, of course, goes to Mr. Farsad.)
  • Anteaters develop teeth during fetal development and then lose them before birth.
  • Terrestrial salamanders develop gills and fins only during fetal development.
  • Flightless birds possess hollow bones.
  • Cave-dueling animals possess sightless eyes.
  • Male booby birds court females with nesting material, then mate with them, throw the nesting material away and lay their eggs on the bare grounds.
  • Humans have tails during fetal development.
  • Whales possess pelvis and thigh bones.
  • Some insects have useless wings sealed beneath wing covers.
  • Pythons and boa constrictors have pelvis and tiny limbs.
  • Pandas have a sixth digit from a wrist bone.
  • Female platypi lacks nipples. The mother sweats milk.
  • Nipples in human males have no function.
  • Female spotted hyenas have a penis through which sperm swims up.
  • The first offspring of a female hyena is still born.
  • In conifers, male pollen cones are on the lower branches, while the female cones are located on the higher branches.
The other website that caught my eye — aside from the surprising lot that discuss sweat pants and milk in such a way that they popped up in the search as well — would be the Oswego County School District page for Nathan O., a studious lad who writes brief — and, frankly, biased — reports on animals. Nathan O. tackles difficult issues like platypus milk-sweat and why “monkey’s have such a long tail.” (The answer, by the way, is “a magic banana.”)

The site also shows an original Nathan O. work of art titled “My Side of the Mountain.” To look on it is to glimpse God himself.

For your edification, the text reads "I live in a cave. The stones will protect me from the high winds and rain and the fire keeps me warm."


But this research into the strange practices of animals has prompted me to search for a new animal obsessions. As many of my loyal readers know, this lofty spot was once occupied by the noble and strangely beautiful anteater.

Shortly thereafter, I became enamored of the cassowary and its colors, which though they mimic the baboon’s ass, still exude an undeniable natural flair.

When that personal craze died down, I looked to the narwhal — though not too closely, since they’re likely to put my eye out.

Now I’m at a bit of an impasse. I have a few candidates for strange and wonderful animals to become the new focus of my white-hot intellectual intensity, yet I can’t decide on who should get the nomination.

My first thought was pangolins. They’re relatives of anteaters and sometimes called “scaly anteaters.” They look like the result of a drunk armadillo mating with an artichoke, and that comparison would normally be reason enough to win the title outright, but I feel they’re just too similar to the anteaters. And anteaters and I need some space for the moment.

Next up: the axlotl, a Mexican salamander that most closely approximates what I think a real-life Pokémon would look like. I like that its face is basically a generic smiley face. I don’t like that its constant cheeriness could belie inner demons the likes of which I can’t imagine. Also, someone please give this creature another vowel.

Then there’s a little who whose name works in his favor, not against it. Sugar gliders are small, squirrel-like marsupials that make good domesticated pets, as long as your definition of a good pet is an animal that thrives in groups, flies about your ceiling using billowy skin flaps and emits a high-pitched shrieking noise when it’s happy.

And finally, the fainting goat, which I detailed two weeks ago in another post.

So there you have it. I know I should be thinking about my impending long-term trip to the crazy continent, but at the moment this seems like the most pressing matter at hand. Questions need answers, and clearly one of these four animals must be intrinsically better than the other three.

Your thoughts? Your votes?


  1. Of the three, I'll go with axtlotl as well, but have you considered the echidna? It's a fairly insane animal - in order the mate, the male has to dig a trench around the female, then dig under her, then do the nasty. And by nasty, I mean touching cloacas. Urg.

  2. Julio Cortazar has a short story called "Axolotl" in which the narrator becomes so obsessed with the little things that he eventually becomes one with them.
    So my vote is there, too.
    You can find the story in Blow-Up and Other Stories. Or you can cheat and follow this link Google so kindly provided:

  3. Perhaps you should research the source you are crediting.

  4. Hey there, vagueness. To whom and about what do you speak?