Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lab Rats and Other Peculiar Mammals

I work for a medical device company whose primary customer base is hospital pathology labs.  Pathology labs are the places your biopsies and blood work go to get tested and where suspiciously deceased people are taken for autopsy.  You can imagine hospitals like to keep these types of places hidden from the public eye so as not to upset patients and families with bloody, gory, body parts and stiff, lifeless bodies.  More often than not pathology labs are located in the basement of the hospital or in a secluded corner where no one ever happens upon.  This type of job environment tends to attract a certain unique breed of personalities who are attracted to this office of isolation where they can be their quirky, cooky selves without feeling judged...   Here you can often find are really cranky people,  really quiet people, really awkward people, really funny people, really anal people, and really goofy people.   All things considered these work spaces often harvest a certain degree of quirkiness... and this lab is no different.

One worker wears the same corduroys and plaid blazer everyday and would only wear a different tie to distinguish one day's outfit from the next.  Although he was always "wearing" a tie, he would never actually tie it.  He would just drape it around the back of his neck and have both ends hang down on either side of his torso.  He is an older guy and from the looks of it, doesn't give a hoot what anyone thinks about his appearance.  His eye glasses, thin white bifocal frames with a hot pink leash around his neck,  hang crookedly upon his nose because his one ear is way higher than the other.

Within 5 minutes of talking to him I know everything about the founding of Melbourne and the state of Victoria, the signing of the Federation, and a quick who's who of the monarchy. 

Then he is on to his next favorite subject.....Monotremes.

Monotremes are a rare type of animal that connect the current fur-covered, 4-chambered heart, lactating mammals as we know them with their egg-laying, internal-testes past.  There are two species in the Order Monotremata: the Platypus and the Echidna. 

Australian aboriginals once believed that the platypus was the offspring of a lonely duck and a water rat.  The platypus first arrived in Europe in 1799 and many believed the animal was some sort of cleverly-crafted carnival side-show hoax.  However, after careful examination by scientists it was determined that this animal was in fact a true species and not "the result of clever stitching." 

The Australian Platypus:

For all you science nerds out there, the characteristics that distinguish monotremes from other mammals include:
  • Monotremes have a single opening in which urine, feces, and eggs are deposited before being expelled from the body.  (Mammals have at least two distinct openings for expulsion of urine/feces and for the birth of live young)
  • Monotremes have a leathery bill (unlike any other mammal)
  • Monotremes do not have a true nipple; milk is secreted through abdominal skin (I think we all know where other mammals' milk comes from...)
  • Male monotremes have a spur on their hind limb that secretes venom 
  • Monotremes have a less-coiled primitive internal ear bone
  • Adult monotremes lack teeth but instead have horny pads
  • The gait of a monotreme is more like that of a reptile: aligned laterally with respect to the body whereas other mammals' limbs are aligned below the body.

Unfortunately I was not able to see a platypus first-hand while in Australia... I was however lucky enough to spot his cousin, a long-beaked Echidna:

(and the short-beaked version)
My run in with the Echidna was quick and nearly tragic.  We were riding in a tour bus heading east on the Great Ocean Road.  Our bus driver tour guide is busy staring off to the the left of the road describing the fresh, new flower shoots beginning to sprout out of a previously control-burned area.  He's been looking out long enough to not realize that the car in front of him is completely stopped allowing for a waddling Echidna to cross the highway safely.  As all of us on the bus are staring out to the left trying to see the flowers he's talking about when one observant passenger in the front yells "WHOAA! Watch OUT!!!" Luckily the driver didn't break, as there wouldn't nearly be enough room to safely stop.  He swerved into the oncoming traffic lane, nearly ran over the little Echidna, and proceeded to give the other driver a blasphemous honk.   Everyone still breathing? 

Now back to those new flowers...  Nice recovery.

I also saw a kangaroo during the same bus tour... however, it was dead on the side of the road....
Sorry, mate

Another popular Australian organism is the ever-so-docile Koala bear.  "Koala" is an aboriginal term meaning "no drink."  In fact koalas are not known to drink water as part of their normal diet.  They eat leaves and from that they ingest enough water to maintain their lifestyle which consists of sleeping for 18-19 hours a day and sitting/eating/excreting for the remaining 5-6 hours. 

Areas of Melbourne can reach up to 120 degrees in the summertime and can be subjected to very dry, windy conditions.  Recent outbreaks of brush fires have devastated some koala habitats and during one of these fire-fighting efforts in 2009, Sammy the Koala was captured on camera drinking water from a firefighters bottle:
During our AAT Kings bus tour, we drove straight through koala habitat.  The bus driver slowed down and advised everyone to keep vigilant out the window towards the tops of the trees.  "If you see a koala bear just shout out which side of the bus it's on so others can see."  I am anxiously glaring out my left side window when someone shouts: "There's one on the left!" ...Me: where?!?  "One on the right!" WHERE?! "Oh there's another on the right!"  Ahhhh I DON"T SEE ANYTHING BUT STICKS!"  Everyone is "Awwww"-ing,  "OoOo!"-ing,   "Ahhh!!"-ing.  "There's another on the left!!!" 

I am frantically looking left to right, top to bottom, near sighted to far-sighted....  The anticipation of wanting so badly to see something has always made me blind.  Slow down bus driver, I can't see a thing!  And just as soon as we entered koala territory, we were past it.  The majority of the bus is happy and satisfied with experiencing real life koalas in their undisturbed, natural habitat, while I sit there deflated.... severely disappointed in my overly-excited, spazmatic self.  I guess I could say I saw one, if I was there when other people saw at least 5, right? I could have "looked" at one even if I didn't "see" it per say...  Anyway, there's always google images...

This guy cracks me up:

Disclaimer:  all the pictures in this post are courtesy of the World Wide Web.


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