Festivus 2017 – A Time for Feats of Strength!

Festivus 2017

“Well, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming…” This year sort of flew by and when I pause to reflect on what all I did this year I don’t know if I could name anything. It all seemed to happen so fast.

And so I find myself here at the end of 2017, which means Festivus is upon us! For those of you who don’t know Festivus is the gift exchange on the forum, I have been a member of for the last 15+ years or so it seems. Anyway, it started out as a place for nerds to talk about video games and now it is a place for old people to complain about their kids and taxes.

I sent my gift out earlier this year and then waited in trepidation for my own to arrive. And it did!

All the way from the frigid white north that is Canada! I poured myself a strong drink and dug in:

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Dwarf Hutia – It was Very Good

Dwarf Hutia
Dwarf Hutia, Samuel Turvey

Dwarf Hutia (Mesocapromys nanus)

The Dwarf Hutia is one of a very small number of modern animals that was first described through fossil remains. Such fossil remains have been found across Cuba and the nearby Isle of Pines (or the Isle of Youth, if you prefer).

Hutias are medium to large-bodied stocky rodents with broad, round heads, small eyes and short, rounded ears. Hutias have short legs and five toes on each foot with strong, curved claws. Their brown fur is thick and coarse. The Dwarf Hutia was the smallest of hutia species.

Dwarf Hutia
Desmarest’s Hutia, a living relative.

The last specimen of Dwarf Hutias was collected 80 years ago in 1937. Tracks and droppings found in the remote Zapata Swamp has given some hope that the species has survived. But, the consensus of experts is that this small rodent is now extinct.

Primary causes for their extinction were habitat loss due to the encroachment of humans and human-related activities, such as farming and ranching, and the introduction of mongooses to the islands.

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Dusky Seaside Sparrow – It Was Very Good

Dusky Seaside Sparrow
Dusky Seaside Sparrow, P. W. Sykes

Dusky Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens)

The Dusky Seaside Sparrow was a non-migratory bird native to the marshlands of the St. John’s river and Merritt Island on Florida’s mid-Atlantic coast. The Dusky’s dark coloration and unique birdsong separate it from other seaside sparrows and marked it as a distinct subspecies.

The Dusky was categorized in 1872 and recognized as a subspecies in 1973. Its population saw a rapid decline throughout the 1940s and 50s due to the intense use of DDT on Merritt Island. The Dusky’s population was further damaged when the Island was flooded and then its marshlands drained. By 1979 only six specimens were known to exist.

Dusky Seaside Sparrow
The extinct dusky seaside sparrow, Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens.

The last six specimens were all captured with the hope that the subspecies could be saved through an intense breeding program, but all six of the specimens were male. These male Duskys lived out the remainder of their lives on Disney’s Discovery Island. The last Dusky Seaside Sparrow died in 1987.

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Dodo – It Was Very Good

dodo

Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)

The Dodo was native to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean. Despite being the most famous extinct species we know remarkably little about this large, flightless bird. There are no known dodos specimens in existence. Contemporary accounts of the bird describe the taste of their meat and little else.

The few accounts that do describe the bird state that the dodo had greyish or brownish plumage, with lighter primary feathers and a tuft of curly light feathers high on its rear end. The head was grey and naked, the beak green, black and yellow, and the legs were stout and yellowish, with black claws. The Dodo was a large bird, three feet tall and is believed to have weighed anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds!

Dodo
Dodo skeleton cast and model at Oxford University Museum of Natural History

While Mauritius island was visited throughout human history and the Portuguese had a base on the island in 1507 it was not until 1598 when the Dutch came to the island that the Dodo was first described. In just over 50 years the last sightings of the bird would be recorded around 1662. It was not noticed at the time that the species was extinct. In fact, for many years afterward, the dodo was considered a mythical animal. It was not until the 19th century that its extinction was recognized.

The Dodo’s flightless nature and unfamiliarity with humans, and other introduced species made it vulnerable.  It was easily hunted by sailors and colonists who also began to destroy its habitat. More devastating were the effects of the non-native animals brought to the island. Pigs, cats, dogs, rats, and macaques introduced to the island all thrived at the expense of the Dodo and other native animals. Dogs killed adult Dodos, while the rats, monkeys, and cats preyed on eggs and chicks.

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