A short film about a short life. A creature with three hearts and a hole in her brain.
It’s been a long while. I’m sorry. What’s my excuse? I’ve got a new backyard in a new city. Gone are my days in the gallery and staring into the confusing abyss of contemporary art. I miss my old backyard even the 8 legged behemoths in the trees but I’ve gone back to school to learn how to communicate science. The video that I’ve posted is an assignment that I did a couple of weeks ago. My lecturer said we could chose any medium to communicate our message so I decided animation would probably be a bit of alright. I mean who doesn’t like cartoons? What an idiot. Animation is hard. Like really really hard especially when you don’t know how to do it and you’ve only got 3 days to do it. Excuses aside, I present to you my first animation, Toothfish.
(For best results watch it in HD on something that can handle a bit of bass! HA! Get it? bass! like sea bass?!…HAHAHA)
Two days ago an awesome thing happened. I was busy playing Guild Wars 2 when my partner yelled out ‘Oi Rach! COME HERE! I was reluctant to leave what had escalated into a huge battle against a mass of undead humans who were hellbent on trying to stop me from destroying an evil crystal. However, I could detect an urgency in his voice so I signed off and went into the lounge where he was staring at a couple of gum emperor moth cocoons (Opodiphthera eucalypti) that I had collected from a eucalyptus tree a couple of months ago. One of the cocoons was clicking loudly.
Gum emperor cocoons look like hairy wombat balls and are incredibly robust. The clicking was growing louder and within a few minutes a soft patch (induced by a special secretion) appeared at the top of the cocoon. Every now and then we could see a tiny black hook poke through the cocoon wall. This hook is part of the emerging moth’s forewing and is used for tearing away at the tough fibres of the cocoon. After about 15 minutes the moth began to vigourously push through the cocoon until it finally burst through head first. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and when I edited this quick video together I found I had to constantly cut out excited gasps, heavy breathing and swearwords from the audio track. When the moth’s wings had stretched out and her body had firmed up we took her in a big cake box to a suburban wildlife sanctuary and let her go.
I opened the door to the porch and was surprised to see a female house sparrow (Passer domesticus) hovering around the door frame. I sat down on the steps with my coffee and wondered why a sparrow would risk flying in such a confined space. It dawned on me that she was probably desperate for protein in the form of insects (in this case spiders) to feed her rapidly growing and demanding chicks. I looked up to the corner where Sigourney (star of ‘How to Keep a Pet Spider’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt6_SUnd2Ew) had her web, but I couldn’t see her. This wasn’t particularly unusual because orbwebs and many other New Zealand spider species are nocturnal and hide during the day. I went back to the porch at nightfall to check if Sigourney was ok but I still couldn’t see her. I continued checking over the next few days and noticed there was uneaten food stuck in her web. I had to accept that my pet spider had been decimated by a sparrow. I was gutted. I had been watching Sigourney develop and grow and was quite certain that she was gravid. I had been looking forward to the day her spiderlings would burst from their egg case and venture out into the great unknown. Sometimes the circle of life can be a real asshole. Rest in Pieces Dearest Sigourney x o x.
So, a short video on how to keep a pet spider. An interesting topic you might say, especially for someone who’s afraid of spiders. I have to admit the process was rather cathartic. Sigourney was in a controlled environment which meant I could keep my anxiety wrangled. As I observed and filmed her there was interesting shift in power, I had to feed her or she would die. I had to look after her or there would be no short film. Usually she’s the one calling the shots, making me squirm and shudder with a wave of her leg. Over the few days I had Sigourney in this environment I was able to max out my imagination and I began to believe that our relationship was one of trust, reliance and affection. Deluded? Yes. Completely.
Still, I am now rather fond of this one particular spider.
As a kid I was contracted by my step-dad (wildlife photographer) to catch flies. I charged $5.00 per species and could make up to twenty five bucks in a weekend. This was some serious cash for a nine year old in the 90’s. With this money I would buy a buttload of candy and game tokens for the local arcade TimeZone.
In a strange, slightly Pavlovian way, I still get a sense of satisfaction catching flies. Today I came across a drone fly (Eristalis tenax). Drone flies look like domestic honey bees but you can tell them apart by the position of their eyes and the way they hover when they fly. Catching these flies with your hands is quite a good ‘party’ trick (admittedly it would have to be a lame party) to convince your friends that you’re some kind of hardcore bee whisperer that is immune to the pain of bee stings.
Drone fly babies are affectionately called rat-tailed maggots. The name is derived from the snorkel (the ‘rat-tail’) that the larvae use to breathe while they live in polluted water or piles of crap before pupating.
This is a male blackbird (Turdus merula) that I discovered on the lawn. After checking his wings and legs I put the bird in a nearby tree. He promptly jumped off the tree and disappeared into a small mountain of grass clippings. This is not the first time I’ve come across a terrestrial blackbird.
Back in 2005, I met Ratbird. Ratbird lived in the woodpile at my brothers house. We were quite convinced that he was the illegitimate love child of a Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) and a blackbird. Ratbird wasn’t much to look at. He lacked some primary tail feathers and had a bald patch on his head. However, I was always impressed by his ability to scuttle over the woodpile and squeeze into the tight spaces between the logs. Unlike normal blackbirds, Ratbird preferred to feed at dusk and wasn’t particularly vocal.
Blackbirds are conspicuous, territorial and obnoxiously noisy - often tirelessly repeating the ‘chuk chuk chuk’ alarm call in suburban areas.
This is a North Island lichen moth (Desclana atronivea). Normally, these moths are almost impossible to spot, as the name suggests, they hang out on lichen and become virtually invisible. Luckily for me this individual flew into my hotel room and landed on the heinous mustard coloured wall paper. Not so inconspicuous.