Chameleons Really Belong in Sci-Fi

Drawing this reminded me of how weird they are, and how much they really don’t seem like they belong in the real world. If I had never heard of them and someone described a chameleon to me, I’d probably call bullshit.

Their fingers are fused to form perfect little tree-grabbing pinchers. They change color according to their mood. (Not to blend in to their environment, as is commonly believed. This one was almost perfectly¬†millennial pink when I met him, and that’s not exactly a common shade in their natural habitat.) Their eyes bug out from their heads and swivel around independently from each other. Their tails function like a fifth limb. Some of them have straight-up Triceratops horns. They can shoot their tongues out to grab food as it goes about its business a foot or more away from what would have been the danger zone for a normal lizard. They’re basically just cute, grumpy little aliens.

A sketch of a juvenile panther chameleon in pen and ink

Because I’ve worked in reptile stores, I also need to add that they’re high maintenance creatures and you should not go out and buy your own grumpy little alien unless you’re very prepared to spend a decent chunk of money on proper lighting and a large, well-ventilated enclosure. They don’t even like to be held, generally, and picking them up without a great deal of care can break their ribs. They’re strictly display aliens, not cuddly pets.

It’s Been a Buggy Week

I’ve caught so many cool bugs this past week. Since I’ve been kinda hyperfocused on them, I figured I’d share.

I collected some very neat isopods on my way home from California a few weeks back. It reminded me of how much I like bug hunting, so I investigated my yard a little more thoroughly and discovered some really cool stuff.

The springtails we have here are much larger than I’m used to. Springtails are tiny detririvores that live in leaf litter and soil. They’re highly beneficial, and very cute if you can get close enough to see them well. They also hop when startled. Most springtails are smaller than a grain of sand, but these guys are much bigger and easier to handle. I’m calling them werewolf springtails because they have cute fuzzy manes on their shoulders and because I don’t know their Latin name yet.

One of my werewolf springtails

I found out that the cute little pillbugs in my yard are a European species called the common striped isopod. They’re apparently difficult to culture in captivity, but they come in some neat colors, so I’m gonna try.

There’s a red mutation of this species, and I’ve been finding some reds, but I’m not convinced that they’re actually the same species as the rest. I’ll need to see if they grow larger or if they stay this size and reproduce. Either way, they’re really cute.

Different color mutations of the common striped isopod, and mystery red guy.

I also settled all my road trip finds into their own tubs so they can produce little broods of tiny pillbugs in all their pretty colors. My favorites so far are the ghosts, which almost have a lilac or pinkish tinge to them. The calicos are pretty adorable, though. These ones are all a larger and more placid species than the ones in my backyard, so they’re very fun to watch as they trundle around in their new enclosures.

Calicos
Baby calico, a ghost, and a wild type

Anyway, there are some cute bugs. Technically, they’re actually mostly crustatians, actually. Isopods, including all pillbugs and rolly-polies, are land crustatians. They even have little gills on their undersides. So, there’s a thing you know now.

Educational Stalling

So, I got totally distracted by Youtube when I sat down to write this post. I don’t even remember exactly how it happened, but I started to watch something vaguely writing related – which I should have recognized as a dangerous trap in the first place – and then a couple of hours later I was learning how mincemeat pies were made in the victorian era.

Apparently, chopped tongue was a classic ingredient in mince pies, although you could use any other leftover meat you happened to have on hand. It wasn’t specified, but I gather that it’s supposed to be made with red meat, not bird meat. Some of the little details about this sort of old-fashioned cooking are really interesting. She boiled the lemons before adding their juice to the pie filling, but I have no idea why. It just seems like an unnecessary extra step to me, but maybe boiling does something special and magical to lemons that I don’t know about.

I am pretty dang tempted right now to try my hand at making some traditional mincemeat pies, so it’s probably a good thing that it is currently 2am and I can’t easily get the necessary ingredients. I doubt I’d actually be happy with the results, I would never get to bed, and it would mean making a big mess in the kitchen that I’d have to clean up tomorrow. It’s bad enough when I get a random craving and have to make late-night rice pudding. (By bad, in that case, I actually mean delicious. Warm custardy goodness with raisins and cinnamon… Yum.) Making mincemeat pies right now would probably end more like that time I tried to make flan in the microwave. As it turns out, microwaving custard ingredients is a really good way to get several mugs full of heavily sweetened scrambled eggs, but not a good way to make anything edible.

Some other random stuff I’ve learned about this evening: How kimono cloth is dyed, the art of Japanese candy sculpting, and also an incredibly expensive iced coffee that is only served in one shop in Japan. It’s barrel aged for 22 years and is served in the owner’s one-of-a-kind porcelain cup.

Oh, I also watched a fun video about annual killifish. Many species of killifish only live for about one year, because they inhabit ponds and creeks that disappear completely in the dry season. The fish lay their eggs before the water goes away, then the adults die and the eggs have to survive for weeks or months in the dirt until it rains again. Because of this cool adaptation, their eggs are extremely easy to transport. People can pick the types they want and have fertilized eggs shipped right to them in little packets of soil. These are then dumped into water, where the fry hatch and begin growing rapidly into these gorgeous little fish that basically look like aquatic butterflies.

A fish-keeper I follow ordered a bunch of different annual killifish eggs off Ebay, but they ended up sitting in his mailbox in the freezing Canadian winter for several days because of a mix-up. Recently, he was doing some spring cleaning and realized that he hadn’t actually gotten rid of the packages, so he dumped them in some water, just to see what would happen. After just a few hours, there were a handful of healthy fry swimming around in that tub, because honey-badgers apparently have nothing on baby killifish.

I choose to believe that all these random interests and distractions are good for my creativity muscles, because they’re not gonna go away anytime soon, so I might as well embrace it.

Last weekend, I went to… Skagit? I wanna say. Not 100% sure where we were, honestly, but I bought a candle that smells like antique drawers and took pictures of a cool old ramshackle building. (Edit: I was in La Conner, in Skagit County, apparently.)

Writing days this past week: 2 (I’m being generous with myself and counting extensive mental planning as writing work done. If all goes to plan, it’ll be written down tomorrow.)