Saturday, April 5, 2014

A to Z

From antelope to zebra, all herbivorous quadrupeds. The only thing I know about antelopes is that they rhyme with cantaloupes.  And here’s another thing. The word is an umbrella term for a group which include gazelle, impala, and even wildebeest. If you should find yourself in a telephone booth with either of the first two antelopes but don’t know which, both males have horns, of differing shapes, and a gazelle sports a black stripe on its side.  If you were not in a phone booth it might be hard to notice because they are a most jittery animal and very difficult to approach. Wildebeest, aka gnu, are far bulkier and live up to their name.

As any basketball fan can tell you the game is all about gazelles against impalas with zebras as refs blowing whistles. The two antelopes run tirelessly and with grace up and down the court. Occasionally the zebras get chewed out but in the wild zebras do the chewing. They all live and munch in either the grasslands, woodlands or savannas of Africa and none of them ever called a foul. They’re too busy running from cheetahs.

Detroit looks toward four-legged creatures to sell their cars. Neither the Ford Bronco, Chevy Impala nor Dodge Ram could ever compete with the Ford Mustang. The less said about the Pinto the better….and then there’s the Jaguar. But horsepower is still the unit of measure which is an endearing way of honoring the past.

Creationists may argue that zebras got their stripes from the American flag or that God was watching a Laker game but everyone knows God is really a baseball fan and was fixated on the Yankee pinstripe uniform. It has long been noted that zebras are social animals. When they congregate, their stripes form what looks to lions as a huge blob and too much to take on. Another more compelling reason for the stripes is that they evolved over millennia as a protection from the tsetse and horseflies.

Horses, which lack horse sense didn’t think of it and rely on their tail to shoo the flies.  Zebras, with their striped skin, are deemed less inviting to blood-sucking insects. The flies are attracted to solid surfaces because the light waves emitted resemble the light reflected from pools of water where they breed. Survival wins out just like in basketball tournaments. One might think the horsefly would also evolve to get around this striped defense but that is probably too much to ask of these pests. From their POV the system is rigged

Zebras, stripes and all, don’t have what it takes for domestication. Horses were feral once also but opted for a barn and steady meal instead. In exchange they had to pull loads of men with whips. A few took to breeding and racing. They are a thing of beauty especially when they come in as fifty to one shots. 

Zebras should be credited as the first to come up with bar codes. They may all look the same to us but each carries a signature on its hide which singles them out to other zebras. For a long time we thought that was the only reason for their stripes. But now we know better. It is not a form of Z-Harmony in which lonely zebras get to meet their match. Scientists have noted that the biting insects congregate most in certain areas of zebra’s bodies where their hair is shortest and these are the very spots with the most active stripe-lines. One can almost sympathize with flies driven berserk by the refracted light coming off the display of patterns.

In case you are asked what color zebras are the answer is black with white stripes.      

Whether antelopes eat cantaloupe has yet to be studied.

All life forms evolve to give them the best chance of survival. We have neither the speed of antelopes or stripes of zebras. But man possesses both the creative and destructive power never before seen. Our most fearsome predator is ourselves. Four-legged creatures know better than to make such a mess of their habitat.

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