Cebus apella. Oreophrynella niger.
C and I recently purchased the BBC film series Life, a follow up to their incredible work in Planet Earth, and it has been enlightening to watch such gorgeous cinematography used to display the creative and sometimes terrifying nature of the animal kingdom. We’re only one disc in, which has consisted of three episodes: 1) Challenges of Life (Venus flytraps, cheetahs on an ostrich hunt), 2) Reptiles and Amphibians (Jesus Christ lizard, komodo dragon), and 3) Mammals (humpback whale mating – the rock star of the animal documentary world doing its thing). Among the dozens of species highlighted in this first disc, I want to relay two of them, my favorites.
1) Tufted Capuchin, Cebus apella.
I don’t like small monkeys. Unless they are tiny, that is, but we’re talking fit-in-your-hand or in-your-purse tiny. Capuchins are just small. They are between one and two feet tall, and weight four to eleven pounds. You may know them as the little monkeys that appear in almost any movie (Night in the Museum, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl). I think of them as sneaky, malicious animals that snarl and bite. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been listening to the Golden Compass series, and there’s an angry, cruel monkey in it that I think is just this kind.
Anyhow, the tufted capuchin is the exception to all of my monkey gut feelings. This little gem likes to eat the innards of the nut palm. First, it strips the outside husk with its creepy fangs. Then, it lets the nuts dry out in the sun for a week or so. When the nut is satisfactorily dried out, the monkey will search out a hard stone, and will take the nut to a large boulder, on which it will sit and hammer on the nut with the smaller, harder stone until it cracks open. Some of these hammering stones are bigger then the upper body of the monkey itself, and as an adolescent monkey is learning the trade, they seem to often fall off their boulder due to the weight of their hammer. It is a treat to watch, and check out the divots they leave in those boulders!!
2) Pebble Toad, Oreophrynella niger.
A-mazing. The Pebble toad lives on top of mountains in the Guiana Highlands of South America, and practically survives in a state completely unencumbered by predators. That is, except for hairy, ugly, chill-down-your-spine tarantulas. Yeesh. These toads are pretty unathletic and have no real aptitude for self-defense against such a disgusting predator, but they do have one incredible method of escape. The Pebble toad will pull its arms and legs in toward it's body, not unlike a turtle (trust me on this, mine is 19 this year) without a shell, and hurl its body over the nearest cliff. Hurl. Cliff. Pebble. It's all coming together now. Just think - the comparable leap would be like you or I throwing our bodies off of the closest ten story pyramid-shaped death trap, but these little guys just shake themselves off and walk away. Unfortunately, if our toad lands in a puddle of rainwater, it could be curtains closed for the good life. These guys are awesome, but being unable to swim or hop is decidedly not.
Can you imagine that? You survive a jump off the Sears Tower only to die in the shallow end of the city pool.
In watching the Life series, I've discovered that while I still don't have a stomach for mammal on mammal violence, I can easily enjoy bug on bug violence. Are insect fighting rings legal? Probably in Canada.
Good thing that's so close.