Adventures in Ethics and Science

A conversation while driving:

Elder offspring: On library day this week, I got a book called Endangered Desert Animals. Desert animals are really cool.

Dr. Free-Ride: What do you think is coolest about desert animals?

Elder offspring: They can go for a long time without drinking any water at all. Some of them get their water by munching on tasty cactus flowers.

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s true, animals who live in the desert need to be able to get what they need from the desert, and there isn’t much water there. I think I remember, when I was about your age, reading about kangaroo rats living in the desert. They have to get all their water from the seeds they eat, and if I remember correctly, their pee has so little water in it that it comes out as crystals.

Elder offspring: Weird!

Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah.

Elder offspring: There are so many neat desert animals — gila monsters, bats, scorpions, dromedaries and bactrian camels, bandicoots

Dr. Free-Ride: Wait, are bandicoots really desert animals?


Elder offspring: Yeah, didn’t you know that?

Dr. Free-Ride: I guess I shouldn’t be getting my animal facts from video game commercials.

Elder offspring: (softly) No, you really shouldn’t.

We pass a gas station with a large picture of a camel on a sandwich board.

Elder offspring: Hey look! A camel store!

Dr. Free-Ride: They’re not actually selling camels. They’re selling cigarettes.

Elder offspring: (in disbelief) Cigarettes?!

Dr. Free-Ride: I know! Why would they use a noble beast like the camel to sell stinky cigarettes?

Elder offspring: Well, camel urine is pretty smelly. (Thinks for a moment.) I’d like to get a camel.

Dr. Free-Ride: Oh really? You know we don’t have room for a camel. Where would you keep it?

Elder offspring: Of course I’d keep it in the desert.

Dr. Free-Ride: You have some desert I don’t know about?

Elder offspring: I’d keep my camel in the Australian outback.

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s pretty far away. How are you going to get there to feed your camel?

Elder offspring: The camel will be able to find its own food.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, in what sense is this going to be your camel?

Comments

  1. #1 immunokid
    February 24, 2006

    The Australian outback isn’t such a good place to keep a camel http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/steaks-of-the-desert-a-feral-camel-solution/2005/09/12/1126377213156.html
    but Elder offspring could always adopt a camel and keep it in a zoo (eg http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/mammals/hoofedmammals/bactriancamel.htm ) then s/he wouldn’t have to worry about feeding it and it would be slightly easier to visit.

  2. #2 CanuckRob
    February 24, 2006

    My term paper in first year biology was on the differences between the kidney’s of kangaroo rats and beavers. Even though I was 17 (and your young’uns are younger) I was still impressed that kangaroo rats could pee that way! Evolution does the darndest things.

  3. #3 David Sewell
    February 24, 2006

    You could do what Confederate president Jefferson Davis tried and keep them in Texas or Arizona.

    And last year biologists at Cornell were in the news for their proposal for “rewilding” North America by bringing in Pleistocene-style megafauna, from camels to elephants to, who knows, cave bears?

    (BTW, did “Endangered Desert Animals” have much to say about horned lizards? In my personal experience, they are far less adaptable to habitat change via human spread than most other southwestern US lizard species–when the houses come, they go and stay gone.)

  4. #4 Bro. Bartleby
    February 25, 2006

    Evolution does do funny tricks, in fact, we have a gaggle of brothers that dwell in this arid clime and their only know survival skills are laughter, chanting, and pondering.

  5. #5 Super Sally
    February 25, 2006

    Dr. Free-Ride: Oh really? You know we don’t have room for a camel. Where would you keep it?

    Elder offspring: Of course I’d keep it in the desert.

    You two are getting perilously close to a conversation YOUR mother had with your younger brother (the one who was even more insistent that we needed a pet than you were).

    You recall, in the spring big black ants used to invade the kitchen. One year this happened during an unusually early warm period, before summer “seasonal” items were on prominent display at the grocery. While searching the aisles, with youngest sibling (shy of 4 yrs.) confined in the shopping cart, the commentary back and forth went something like this:

    Mother (muttering): “Where would they keep the ant traps during off season? What is the sort mechanism in this store?”

    Kid: “Mom, what you need is an aardvark.”

    Mother (absentmindedly giving standard, well rehearsed comeback to ALL requests for pets):
    We don’t have room … yada, yada, and besides I don’t know how to take care of an aardvark. I don’t even know what it eats!”

    Kid (indignantly exasperated with mother): “ANTS, of course!”

    Mother (after rewinding the conversation in her brain and actually listening) is seen laughing out loud in supermarket aisle.

    Like I said, you are coming perilously close.

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