SciBlogs

Archive May 2011

The Dragon Connection Brendan Moyle May 23

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One of the most enduring human myths is that of the dragon. Large predatory reptiles have a way of gripping the human imagination that other threats do not. Thousands of people die from car accidents or the like and these are often overlooked by news reports. If someone dies to a crocodile or alligator attack however, this is often news that is widely reported globally.

There is a visceral fear of such creatures that may well have an evolutionary origin. Our early hominid ancestors would have cohabited river plains with large crocodiles. Just as people in such areas (usually with the Nile or Estuarine crocodile) still suffer attacks today. Fear of large predatory reptiles would be a vital survival instinct. Likewise, stories of heroes vanquishing such creatures (the ancient Egyptian God Horus slaying crocodiles) or St George & the Dragon are enduring human popular memes. Crocodilians morph into vengeful dragons under the impetus of legends.

In Chinese culture the linkage to dragons is more benign. The Chinese alligator is much smaller than the Nile or estuarine crocodile (its 2 to 2.5m long as adults, the estuarine can grown up to 7). The Chinese alligator didn’t predate on people (ducks sometimes though :) ). The benign link is connected to the bellowing of male alligators in spring time. As the weather warmed up, the males would start vocalising to defend their territories & make their presence known to females. For an agricultural peoples, this harbinger of spring (and the end of winter) would have been welcome. Indeed, neolithic people in China made drums out of alligator skins to mimic this bellowing (and of course, bring about Spring)[1].

The evolution of the Chinese character for dragon can be traced from the earliest Shang depictions (very crocodilian in appearance) through.
[2]

Similarly, the literary connection between dragon and alligator has been maintained. THe dragon is sometimes called the jiao (alligator) or jiaolong (alligator-dragon). In present day China, locals still call the alligator the tu long (earth dragon, as a consequence of its burrowing habits) or he long (river dragon) [3]. (These literary & historical roots show that some creationist claims that dragons were dinosaurs cohabiting with people are wild fantasies).



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[1]Thorbjarnarson, J. and Wang, X. (2010) The Chinese Alligator: Ecology, Behavior, Conservation and Culture. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

[2] Ibid, p62

[3] Ibid, p63

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo Brendan Moyle May 18

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Another crocodile- this time I don’t know what its gender is :)

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo Brendan Moyle May 17

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The Smile


Female Estuarine Crocodile, Northern Territory

Tonight’s Photo: Tree Brendan Moyle May 15

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I spotted this tree on Kawau Island island and quite liked it’s organic appearance. I’ve done two version of it, the second a black-and-white conversion.

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo: The Chase Brendan Moyle May 14

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For new followers-



This whistling kite is chasing a heron, whose caught a fish. The kite is a superb acrobat and is following the heron very closely, trying to force the heron to drop it. The site for this shot was Bird Billabong near the Mary River in the NT of Australia. It’s a bit of a hike to get to, so take lots of water and expect to sweat a lot.

During the actual shot sweat was dripping off my brow into my eyes, and the sting of sweat on the eyeball was a nasty distraction. It took a lot of concentration to keep the camera following the birds as they swooped over the water.

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo Brendan Moyle May 12

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Przewalski’s Horse

Drummers from the HunChun Tiger Festival Brendan Moyle May 12

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A more traditional performance by women drummers at the tiger festival from last year



These are parts of efforts to celebrate the presence of tigers in the Jilin province and sustain support for their conservation.

Photos taken with a700 and 70-200/2.8 G lens.

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo Brendan Moyle May 11

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The very ancient tuatara, last survivor of the archaic Sphenodont reptile order

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo Brendan Moyle May 10

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White-Faced Heron



A common heron species in NZ. Photographed feeding in the golden hour before dusk.

Tonight’s Wildlife Photo Brendan Moyle May 09

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NZ Dotterel


Link to Larger Image

I took this photo from a Kayak- it seemed the best way to avoid disturbing the nesting site for this endangered species.

Birdlife International Fact Sheet