Travel: A curious history of Nara's holy deer

Travel: A curious history of Nara’s holy deer

Nara has had sacred significance long into the ancient mists of time in Japan. Long before Tokyo and Kyoto became the capital of Japan, Nara reigned as the most important city in Japan, its capital from 710-784 AD, before this mantle was passed on to Kyoto. By decree of the emperor of Japan in 724AD,…

Ancient word of the day: hedgehog

Ancient word of the day: Hedgehog

The ancient word for today is hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus. In the Middle Ages, writers didn't make reference to hedgehogs, but to urchins. A term still favoured in some English dialects. It's also associated with the sea urchin, which is literally a sea hedgehog. The word urchin came over to England with the Norman invasion and…

Ancient word of the day: Athene Noctua or Athena's Owl

Ancient word of the day: Athene Noctua or Athena’s Owl

The Greek goddess Athena had as her sacred animal familiar the owl, also known as the Athene Noctua in Latin. The Romans, fond as they were of stealing from the Greek pantheon, renamed Athena to Minerva. Athena and her owl are considered to be symbols of wisdom, in both cultures. Silver tetradrachm coin at the…

Welcome to the most remote island in the world...Bouvetøya

Welcome to the most remote island in the world…Bouvetøya

Bouvetøya, also known as Bouvet Island is definitely a contender for the most remote place in the world. I discovered Bouvetøya via an excellent Tumblr with the understated title of Map Design. This is a treasure trove of cartography. Another is the seminal book The Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky.  This is a…

Historic Jukebox: Henry David Thoreau & Fleet Foxes http://wp.me/p41CQf-9V

Thirty great medieval epithets for people and beasts

Why do we say a gaggle of geese, a flock of sheep, a pride of lions or a swarm of bees? Well it harks back to medieval times when sportsmen grouped together collectives of beasties to refer to them in movement or attributing a quality to them - presumably while the poor creatures ran away…

Here be the Viking Hoard: The Mystery of the Lewis Chessmen http://wp.me/p41CQf-ItW

Here be the Viking Hoard: The Mystery of the Lewis Chessmen

The Lewis Chessmen were likely to have been made in Trondheim in Norway from walrus ivory. This kind of bone was hard to come across at the time (1150-1200 A.D), as it required hunting during a brief window of time per year in the Arctic Circle, using primitive hunting tools of the time and in…

Ancient Australian Megafauna: Diprotodon optatum

Ancient Australian Megafauna: Diprotodon optatum

Diprotodon optatum was the largest marsupial to ever roam Australia, weighing over two tonnes. We rarely find its whole skeleton preserved in caves because it's sheer size prevented it from falling through crevices into the oblivion. Although phylogenetically Diprotodon optatum was closely related to the extant wombat and koala, in terms of its physiology in appearance it…

Ancient Australian megafauna: Procoptodon goliah

I don't know about you, but large Australian mammals and marsupials have got a special place in my heart. However of all of the large beasties to have lurched around in Terra Nullus I am most besotted with animals that have long ago passed into the dusts of yesteryear such as the behemoth 200 kilo…

Film Review: Ancient Woods

Film Review: Ancient Woods

I saw this film at the recent New Zealand International Film Festival. The festival has grown and developed over the years and has become quite a magical event. I thoroughly recommend it if you are in Auckland. Ancient Woods is a Lithuanian production and it’s a magical foray into the flora and fauna living in…

Every Picture Tells a Story: Lucky's 18th Birthday

Lucky’s 18th Birthday

Lucky sadly left this planet in recent months. Here he is a year ago on his 18th birthday. I just love this look of absolute and unfettered delight at eating the ice-cream cake. He was a good boy. My parents got him when he was only a puppy from the animal shelter. He was sentenced…

Summer in Melbourne Part 1: Mushroom Reef Sanctuary, Flinders.

Secrets of the Mornington Peninsula: Mushroom Reef Sanctuary, Flinders.

Following on from my previous post about Tyabb Packing Centre, here is another little known wonder from the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne where I return to whenever I get the chance.  The Mushroom Reef Sanctuary is home to a gigantic mushroom shaped basalt reef near Flinders in Westernport Bay. Located 86 km from central Melbourne,…

The Jigsaw Puzzle of Pangea: What It Tells Us About Our Fragile Human Lives

The Jigsaw Puzzle of Pangea: What It Tells Us About Our Fragile Human Lives

Around 200 million years ago the world's landmass was contained in one giant supercontinent called Pangea surrounded by a mega ocean. I know that this isn't news but I still find it startling and incredible nonetheless. In the graphic below you can see the composition of Pangea but with the modern countries boundaries superimposed on…

Six Quirky Facts About Red Pandas

Six Quirky Facts About Red Pandas

Red pandas are sweet looking, unobtrusive and stunning mammals that live in the mountainous forests in the Himalayas. With their lustrous and vibrant reddish brown fur and round sweet faces; they have the vague appearance of a fox rather than a Giant Panda. Here's more about a mysterious animal that my boyfriend and I fell…

The Viking Imagination: Medieval Cartography of Scandinavia http://wp.me/p41CQf-Iuf

The Viking Imagination: Medieval Cartography of Scandinavia

Just because I love cartography, here's a couple of remarkable Scandanavian medieval maps. Note the dominance of several kraken and sea monsters off the Norwegian coast and how each country is barely hanging on by a thread because of these menacing beasts. Here be magic, Vikings and mysterious beasts. Velleius Islandia by Abraham Ortellius (1603)…

Welcome to a strange and forgotten alien world: Socotra

Welcome to a strange and forgotten alien world: Socotra

Looking like a cross between a surreal computer game and an alien planet, Socotra is a relatively unexplored and remote island off the coast of Arabian Peninsula. It's a sparkling diamond of natural diversity and rugged wildness, with over 700 endemic species of flora and fauna. Only a small number of countries have more endemic…

Roland: Gargantuan Elephant Seal From Berlin

Roland: Gargantuan Elephant Seal Of Berlin Zoo

Roland was a goliath 4,000 pound sea elephant (A.K.A an Elephant Seal Mirunga patagonica. He lived in Berlin Zoo from the late 1920's until his death during the second world war. Here he is getting a snow bath from his handler at the Berlin Zoo (date unknown) In this film you can see his large…

A placid and beautiful Highland Cow, found roaming on the Isle of Skye. Copyright Content Catnip 2010.

Travel: A History of the Beautiful Highland Cow

Highland Cows or as they are commonly known in Scotland Highland Coos are an ancient breed known to have grazed the rugged Scottish landscape since the sixth century. Their genetic origins are still up for debate. They may be native to Scotland or introduced by the Vikings to Great Britain. One scientific train of thought…

Kea - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

Maori tribes have long held beliefs and customs about the native birds of Aotearoa New Zealand. Birds or Nga Manu had a vital place in Maori tribal life as they provided food, beautiful feathers for adornment and their strengths and personalities were a rich source of metaphor and poetry. Their behaviour was use to predict…

Tui - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

The ultimate guide to collective nouns for New Zealand birds

This post is for all of the New Zealand and global bird-lovers out there. New Zealand has some wonderful and incredibly intelligent birds that also tend to have rambuctious, mischievous and cheeky personalities. Check out this video of a kea being, well... a kea if you don't believe me... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxoCuRuHlt8 Here are some little known…

Exquisite Marine Invertebrates of the 19th Century http://wp.me/p41CQf-rWG

Exquisite Marine Invertebrates of the 19th Century

In this blog in previous years, I've talked about how humans and cephalopods are oddly similar, explored the underwater realm of Sydney Harbour in great detail, and the invisible realm of microscopic creatures rendered by Ernest Haeckel. But in terms of delicate creatures, the Blaschkas were the 19th Century heavy-weights. I originally posted this post…