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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Animal Instincts

Today in Sarah’s Biology Class we will be discussing animal instincts.

The lesson will be based on science and fact. Very loosely based. There will be anecdotes, questions and jokes. Again, not an ultra scientific exploration of animals down to their very DNA. A fun mish mosh of science meets Sarah. Shall we begin?

There have been many scientific moments in my life and household of late, which meant a blog post was inevitable. In order of appearance, here are the scientific questions and observations that have emerged:

1)      Why is there a toy Smurf in the refrigerator?

Smurfs may be known by their scientific classification, Smurfus Invisibilitatae. They have the unique ability to become invisible when their main predator, Gargamel (an evil wizard), sneaks too close to their habitat. Smurfs live communally in a group of hollowed-out mushrooms. Within the colony is one dominant leader who helps to organize all the worker Smurfs. The leader’s scientific name is Smurfus Paternus. Common name: Papa Smurf. He is differentiated from the workers, whose coloring is blue and white. Smurfus Paternus is identified by his blue and red coloration.


2)      Mom, do crickets have brains?

Excellent question, posed by my youngest child. I settled in to offer this answer: I don’t know, but if they do, it’s not very big and they can’t make decisions the way we humans can. The cricket question likely was developed in response to the high frequency of cricket visits in our house this summer. Approximately once per night, one of my kids yelled that a cricket had been spotted and that the cricket catcher (me) should report to the area of the sighting—STAT—with jar in hand. Once upon a time I was not a fan of crickets. They look like cockroaches and startled me when I saw them, so at first I was leery. At some point I became used to crickets and we got a little routine going, in which I’d tiptoe up to the cricket, and with one swift (expert) move, capture it in a jar. Then I’d say something along these lines of, “Okay, cricket. Out you go. You know the rules. People inside the house. Crickets outside. Nighty night.”


3)      Spiders are suddenly taking over my neighborhood.

A few days ago, on my morning walk, I noticed four or five gigantic, spooky spiders in my neighborhood. I wish I could say they were Halloween decorations but alas, they were real. They are the kind with a body as big as a gumball and webs the size of a hula hoop. Eek. These big bruisers apparently need a lot of attention, for they set up webs where all the scaredy-cat humans (me) can see them. Their creepy legs move fast, which adds to the spooky factor, because when you see them, you can’t help but think, “That thing is fast. I’d better start running now. I have a fifteen foot lead but I think he could catch up to me and scuttle up my body. HELP!”

4)      Fighting like cats and dogs.

Yesterday morning I became an unexpected referee in an animal fight. I was walking home, past a cat I’ve seen a zillion times. It’s an orange cat we call “Garfield” and he lives at one of the houses I pass every day. Sometimes he hangs out at its neighbors’ front yards. I was walking west and a woman walking a dog was walking east. Our paths were about to cross the spot where Garfield sat, head up and alert, watching over his sidewalk like a sphinx guarding a pyramid. Suddenly, the cat lunged at the dog. The dog lunged back. The dog walker tightened the leash and she and I both said with authority, “No, cat!” The other woman and I both used our feet to nudge the cat back (no kicking was involved, it was just a little nudge). Again the cat charged. Again the feet tried to separate the animals. This all happened within ten seconds or so. I suppose it was my animal instinct that took over, rather than a well-thought-out separation strategy. The dog walker managed to pull her dog down the block and I said sternly to the cat, “You’re staying here, cat,” and I stayed until the dog was gone. As I walked home, I replayed the thoughts I’d had during the near fight: Cat, are you kidding me? This dog is at least fifty pounds. You’d be a Scooby Snack for him in no time flat. Cat, I know you felines can be territorial but this dog is walking by on a leash, not trying to take over your cat flat. It’d be like David and Goliath—this dog is five times bigger than you are. Get real! It hadn’t occurred to me that cats and dogs might fight each other. Fighting their own, sure. But this tussle seemed as odd to me as an apple fighting an orange. Still, I felt that I’d helped prevent a fight. I patted myself on the back.


My final animal anecdote didn’t happen to me, but it fits with our animal theme today. Did you hear that part of a woolly Mammoth skeleton was found in Michigan quite recently? So exciting! I marveled at the side of its skull. It must have been mind-boggling for the farmer who found it in his land. As I read on, I learned that wooly Mammoths have been found in ten other sites in Michigan, so perhaps the farmer was pleasantly surprised but not shocked by the discovery. If there are Woolly Mammoths all over Michigan, it would be the equivalent to news about the weather here in San Diego. “Oh, sunny and clear? Wonderful.” Just kidding. His discovery must have shocked the farmer. The skeleton is 12,000-13,000 years old. This woolly Mammoth stuff is exciting!


Thanks for joining me for another educational episode of Sarah’s Biology Class. I hope you learned something and laughed a little, too.


  1. If it makes you feel any better, the tarantulas are out in droves in the desert (I.e., my parents house). Last week they spotted one in their living room and two on their patio while drinking their morning coffee--within a 5 minute time span. Spider apocalypse! Actually, it's mating season.

  2. Kim, oh my. I've only been around a tarantula once (which was plenty). Now I have major sympathy for your parents! Eeek. What a way to wake up...