Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Zebra Finch Learns to Go Down

I used to live in a house with two zebra finches. They were not always the same two birds. Finches, as you might know, have a pretty short shelf life, and we often had to replace them (I am not going to tell you about the dangers they encountered.) But there were always two.

One day a new female zebra finch arrived. It soon became apparent that she did not know how to fly downwards. She would sit on the perch, lean over as far as she could - until she was almost upside down - and jump off.

But unfortunately, every time she jumped, she flapped her wings, and every time she flapped her wings, she went upwards. She did this over and over. It was horribly funny - "horrible" mostly because the food and water was on the floor of the cage. But she did manage to figure out how to get down there before starving to death.

A few months later, I observed her sitting on a high perch in the cage. She hopped down to a lower perch, and flew down to the floor. Then she flew back up to the highest perch, and hopped down from perch, to perch, to floor again. She did this over and over. It seemed obvious that she was only doing it for fun. She wasn't looking for food, or nest-building material, or anything. She just liked going down.

Is it possible that, somewhere in her tiny brain, a memory remained of the time when she couldn't get down to the floor? Maybe she was just practicing, to make sure she never forgot again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Big Ass Scary Spider

On Monday, I was wandering around in the usual early morning daze. It was a cloudy morning, and I didn't have the light on, but in the half-light I observed a rather large dark spot on the white wall. "What's that?" I asked myself, and flipped the light on. It was a gigantic spider.

Normally I like spiders a lot. I'm always happy to see one in my apartment, as long as it's not actually crawling on me, or trying to drown itself while I'm taking a shower. But this spider was not making me happy. It was too big, and it didn't look like a normal spider.

Most spiders have long slender legs and comparatively small bodies. Also their bodies are shaped in two lobes, like ants or wasps. This spider had a large body and fairly short, thick legs. In fact, I had to count the legs to make sure it really was a spider (and counting legs is not easy to do when you're in the usual early morning daze.) It was brown and had a large white triangle on its back.

I stared at it, counting legs, until it seemed to be aware it was being stared at and ran up the wall. That was even more scary. There's something about large crawling things that sets off an alarm deep inside a person's brain. I kept an eye on it for a while, but before long it disappeared. Then I realized that the only thing worse than seeing a big scary spider is not seeing it, and wondering where it has gotten to.

As far as I can tell from Google, it's not one of the brown recluse spiders that people say are really poisonous. I don't know what kind of spider it is, and I'm still not ready to kill it. But if I see it again, I believe I will catch it (with a glass and a piece of paper) and try to escort it out of the house.