I could hear a pair of great horned owls calling to each other just now, first the female’s somewhat higher pitch, sort of like that of a mourning dove. Then the male’s deeper, louder response. They alternated like that for several minutes. Each call was five or six notes in a monotone, breathy and eerie, and by day would be buried under the cacophony of mockingbirds, but in the weird silence of our neighborhood tonight, like a country town and not just a couple miles from Hollywood and downtown, I could hear them plainly even though the windows are shut. I snuck outside to see if I could glimpse a silhouette, but nothing, just the haunting notes back and forth. Soon only the female called, the male having stolen away in silence. Then she too stopped, and there was almost complete silence but for the steady hum of traffic on the freeway in the distance.
Blue Planet 2. Problem solving and coordinated group action by clownfish. Who knew? Besides other clownfish, I mean. And what’s with the meter long carnivorous worms? Teeth sharp as pinking shears, hence the name: Bobbitt. As in Lorena. David Attenborough left that part out. The damn things can get up to ten feet, I read, like the sandworms in Dune. They can lop a foot long fish clean in half. A Devonian Era nightmare, giant meat eating invertebrates. Acid visions of carnivorous trilobites. Thankfully trilobites went extinct long before we ever got here. (Nor were they ever giant, nor scary, nor anything but invertebratefully adorable, like the little darlings scattered about the bookshelves here.)
Then the scene with hundreds of reef sharks swimming menacingly above thousands of groupers. Suddenly l’amour drives the groupers mad and they rush upward into the sharks, shedding eggs and milt to the seven seas. The sharks go into a feeding frenzy and the surging waters are all blood and roe and sperm, a veritable fish fuck massacre. There seems to be something dreadfully amiss there. Or not. No one ever said natural selection was logical. Ghastly, maybe.
The clownfish were so neat and orderly and mannered in comparison. They’ll go far. Check back in a hundred million years. Groupers will have vanished and clownfish will be talking and thinking vast, deep thoughts.
Damn, man, got an overpopulation crisis in the aquarium. Platys up the wazoo. They’ve live bearers—as opposed to egg layers—and being really awful parents they tend to devour their own offspring. You can see them hunt them down, moms and dads and extended family members all in an orgy of devouring their own genes, evolution be damned. Of course, this keeps the population in check. Now in the wilds of Central America the newly born hide amongst the vegetation. In your typical aquarium with its handful of plastic plants that is not much of an option and the entire litter (or whatever a bunch of fry is called) is lunch. Alas, our tank is positively lush with plants, real plants, unplastic. So a mess of the little fuckers made it. And now they’re adults, beautiful, happy, healthy adults. On the handy side they’re amazing algae eaters, better even than the impossible to spell otocinclus. And they don’t make a lot of noise. Or pick on the other fish. The tank looks like a freshwater tropical reef, plants and fish everywhere. Have no idea what to do. Maybe consider them an investment, being that they’re running four bucks each in the shops now so eventually we can retire. But we’re already retired. They’re too small for a Friday Night Fish Fry, and too big to put down the garbage disposal without years of analysis. If anyone has a fish tank that could use a few of them, you can have as many as you want. It’s an incredibly healthy aquarium—we haven’t had any fish diseases since the 80’s, three tanks ago. Our damn fish live forever.
In the meantime I’ll sit here and watch them swimming and blooping and chasing each other and think about life. There sure is a lot of it in this fish tank. Damn. And you thought you had problems.
I suspect that the exponential increase in the pet cat population led to the exponential increase in urban and suburban coyotes which led to the decrease in the time cats spend outdoors which has caused the exponential increase in the urban and suburban brown rat population which has caused an increase in the amount of rat poison used which has dramatically increased the number of dead and dying rats which has led to the increased mortality in owls I read about today.
[2017 was a bad year for United Airlines. Passenger dress code violations, passenger abuse, and not one but two in flight scorpion sightings.]
The guy should consider himself lucky. United’s in flight scorpion was only two inches long. Like a tiny lobster, someone said. They do come bigger. The emperor scorpion is eight inches long, but found only in first class. There was a species (Pulmonoscorpius kirktonensis) over two feet long, though that was in the Carboniferous about 340 hundred million years ago and I don’t think United has been around that long, only their dress code. There was also a Devonian scorpion (Jaekelopterus) that was over eight feet long, but it was a freshwater species and unless United had a swimming pool, probably not likely to drop on your head. Besides it was too big for carry on. As opposed to carrion. But that’s another joke.
The San Diego Alligator Lizard…two males vying for same female. The male grabs the female by the neck with his jaws and mounts her. They will stay like this for a whole day, sometimes, reminding me of a story you will never hear. Anyway, if only my pal Jeff had stayed and observed for several hours to see who succeeded, taking notes and talking like David Attenborough. I imagine both males did eventually. Hot lizardesses swing. The fact that both gnarly lizard dudes are fighting for the same female makes me wonder if their sperm contains spermicide that will attempt to destroy the previous lover’s sperm. I suppose there’s no reason you couldn’t have multiple fathers as there will be several eggs. This is getting way too complicated.
Our zebra danios have gotten scary. Where once they’d dash about madly at the top of the tank waiting for the flakes of food, now they wake slowly from sleep, huddled together, then in a three fish column begin moving slowly (not their usual frantic dash) into the plants, moving around them, seeking meat. The flakes of fish food float down all around them but they pay no attention. They keep prowling, methodically, maybe an inch or two from the bottom of the tank. I’ve come to suspect that this was how they killed the other fish, by catching them before they were completely awake there amid the plants. I can only imagine that all three would rush in, striking, chomping, killing. In the wild they eat insects and crustaceans and worms, so they are hunters, yet in the thirty some years we’ve been stocking our aquariums with them I have never witnessed them do anything more than grab flakes of fish food drifting by. I have certainly never seen this sort of apparently coordinated behavior. It seems that almost every vertebrate has within it the predatory behavior. We are all hunters. Hell, it was predation that drove evolution itself, the whole Cambrian Explosion with all its crazy speciation was the result of the ever evolving contest between predator and prey. And here, somehow, in our little aquarium, something turned these little inch and half long fish from eaters of fish food to eaters of fish, eaters of even their own kind (as there were five of them just two weeks ago). All was peaceful until the clown loach died. That loach, though never deliberately bothering any of the other fish, was at seven inches long to them like a whale shark is to us. It ruled the floor, digging up snails. The danios stayed up several inches in the tank, away from its sudden movements. But then the loach, one day two or three weeks ago, was dead. Old age. I noticed the next morning that the danios were down zipping around at the bottom of the tank. The neon tetras calmly minded their own business, the two glass catfish scooted about. Everyone, danios included, got very excited at feeding time, like they always did. Everyone swam around excitedly, grabbing bits of tetra min flakes floating by.
I’m not sure when exactly the danios turned into killers. Within two weeks I realized that all the fish were gone but these three zebra danios. Alone in the tank, they chased each other madly about, zipping one way, then another. I was mystified. Where had all the other fish gone? I did some research, and found desperate pleas on aquarium websites. “Help, my zebra danios are eating each other!!!!” or “My zebra danios are killing my other fish!!!” I read in shock just how murderous the little beasts can be. No one seemed to know why, but there was usually a dominant fish that sets it off. A handy bit of evolution, that, where some members of the species will suddenly go rogue, turn alpha, and eat everything piscene in sight. Obviously there is a genetic advantage in there somehow. Perhaps a surge in zebra danio testosterone. But I have no idea. Looking at the tank again, one of the danios is swimming like a lunatic now, frenzied. The other two have ducked behind the leaves. Perhaps there is murder afoot.