Koala “bears” aren’t a type of bear at all, and their non-scientific name doesn’t include “bears” on the end, as is commonly spoken outside of Australia by the English speaking world. They are simply “Koalas”.

So if they aren’t a member of the family Ursidae (bears), what are they? In fact, they are marsupials, along with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and possums, among others. Marsupials have the distinctive feature of a pouch, called a “marsupium”. Unlike most marsupials though, a female Koala’s pouch opens downward, rather than upward.

The name “Koala Bear” is thought to come from English speaking settlers around the 18th century, who frequently would name new animals they saw based on what animal it looked like that they were familiar with. Around this same time, Koalas were also often referred to as “tree-bear”, “sloth”, “monkey-bear”, and other such names by these same settlers.

While Koala’s may look cuddly, they are anything but. Their fur is not soft and fluffy like it appears, but rather has more of the consistency of wool. So snuggling with a Koala would feel about like snuggling with sheep, only Koalas have long claws and incredibly strong grips. They also are very solitary animals, preferring to be by themselves most of the time, so make poor pets.

Another myth surrounding Koalas is that they sleep most of the day because they are intoxicated by the eucalyptus leaves they eat. In fact, they simply have very slow metabolisms and it takes a long time for their bodies to process these leaves, which are normally poisonous to most animals. Also, given that they almost exclusively eat eucalyptus leaves, this tends to introduce very little caloric and nutritional value into their diet. So, they have to sleep nearly 20 hours a day, conserving energy and allowing time for their bodies and the microbes in their digestive tract to process the eucalyptus leaves.

Bonus Facts:

Koalas are the only surviving member of the family Phascolarctidae, with all the other types of animals in that family having become extinct.

Phascolarctos comes from the Greek word for “pouch”.

Koalas almost never need to drink water, getting sufficient water from the leaves they eat. In times of drought or when food is scarce, they will drink water from streams and the like, if necessary. But generally speaking, they don’t need to. This is a good thing too, because Koalas are slow moving and easy prey when on the ground.

Eucalyptus leaves are poisonous to most animals, but Koalas are uniquely adapted to be able to process the leaves. They have special kinds of teeth that help grind the leaves into a fine paste and then they have a special blend of bacteria in their digest tract that break down the poisonous oils in the leaves so as not to harm the Koalas. These same microbes also are responsible for most of the nutritional value the Koalas get from the leaves, with the microbes breaking down the leaves and producing the various vitamins that the Koala needs to live.

The special blend of microbes found in the stomachs and intestines of the Koala get there through the mother, who excretes a special type of feces, called “pap”, that the baby Koalas eat when they are about ready to leave the pouch. Without these microbes, the Koala would not survive.

When Koalas are first born, they are about the size of a large raisin. At this point, they are also blind and deaf. The extent of their abilities at this stage is simply to climb, which they will do until they reach the mother’s pouch. Once there, they’ll attach to one of the nipples and stay there for the next 6 months or so, until they grow too big to fit in the pouch. The baby Koala, called a “joey” will stay with the mother until it reaches around a year to two years old. The Koala will leave to find its own home once the mother is ready to have another joey.

Despite the fact that Koalas are slow moving animals, they have no real natural predators, due to the fact that they spend the vast majority of their lives high up in trees.

Numbering in the tens of millions only a century ago, today there are only about 40,000-80,000 Koalas alive in the wild, with that number dwindling fast as their natural habitat is destroyed by wildfires and humans.


The Truth Behind Ten Fairytales

The Pied Piper
In the tale of the Pied Piper, we have a village overrun with rats. A man arrives dressed in clothes of pied (a patchwork of colors) and offers to rid the town of the vermin. The villagers agree to pay a vast sum of money if the piper can do it – and he does. He plays music on his pipe which draws all the rats out of the town. When he returns for payment – the villagers won’t cough up so the Pied Piper decides to rid the town of children too! In most modern variants, the piper draws the children to a cave out of the town and when the townsfolk finally agree to pay up, he sends them back. In the darker original, the piper leads the children to a river where they all drown (except a lame boy who couldn’t keep up).

Little Red Riding Hood
The version of this tale that most of us are familiar with ends with Riding Hood being saved by the woodsman who kills the wicked wolf. But in fact, the original French version (by Charles Perrault) of the tale was not quite so nice. In this version, the little girl is a well bred young lady who is given false instructions by the wolf when she asks the way to her grandmothers. Foolishly riding hood takes the advice of the wolf and ends up being eaten. And here the story ends. There is no woodsman – no grandmother – just a fat wolf and a dead Red Riding Hood. The moral to this story is to not take advice from strangers.

The Little Mermaid
The 1989 version of the Little Mermaid might be better known as “The big whopper!” In the Disney version, the film ends with Ariel the mermaid being changed into a human so she can marry Eric. They marry in a wonderful wedding attended by humans and merpeople. But, in the very first version by Hans Christian Andersen, the mermaid sees the Prince marry a princess and she despairs. She is offered a knife with which to stab the prince to death, but rather than do that she jumps into the sea and dies by turning to froth. Hans Christian Andersen modified the ending slightly to make it more pleasant. In his new ending, instead of dying when turned to froth, she becomes a “daughter of the air” waiting to go to heaven – so, frankly, she is still dead for all intents and purposes.

Snow White
In the tale of snow white that we are all familiar with, the Queen asks a huntsman to kill her and bring her heart back as proof. Instead, the huntsman can’t bring himself to do it and returns with the heart of a boar. Now, fortunately disney hasn’t done too much damage to this tale, but they did leave out one important original element: in the original tale, the Queen actually asks for Snow White’s liver and lungs – which are to be served for dinner that night! Also in the original, Snow White wakes up when she is jostled by the prince’s horse as he carries her back to his castle – not from a magical kiss. What the prince wanted to do with a dead girl’s body I will leave to your imagination. Oh – in the Grimm version, the tale ends with the Queen being forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes!

Sleeping Beauty
In the original sleeping beauty, the lovely princess is put to sleep when she pricks her finger on a spindle. She sleeps for one hundred years when a prince finally arrives, kisses her, and awakens her. They fall in love, marry, and (surprise surprise) live happily ever after. But alas, the original tale is not so sweet (in fact, you have to read this to believe it.) In the original, the young woman is put to sleep because of a prophesy, rather than a curse. And it isn’t the kiss of a prince which wakes her up: the king seeing her asleep, and rather fancying having a bit, rapes her. After nine months she gives birth to two children (while she is still asleep). One of the children sucks her finger which removes the piece of flax which was keeping her asleep. She wakes up to find herself raped and the mother of two kids.

This fairy tale is a little different from the others because rather than sanitizing the original, it was modified by the original author to make it more gruesome. In the original tale, Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold for a young girl who faces death unless she is able to perform the feat. In return, he asks for her first born child. She agrees – but when the day comes to hand over the kid, she can’t do it. Rumpelstiltskin tells her that he will let her off the bargain if she can guess his name. She overhears him singing his name by a fire and so she guesses it correctly. Rumpelstiltskin, furious, runs away, never to be seen again. But in the updated version, things are a little messier. Rumpelstiltskin is so angry that he drives his right foot deep into the ground. He then grabs his left leg and rips himself in half. Needless to say this kills him.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears
In this heart warming tale, we hear of pretty little goldilocks who finds the house of the three bears. She sneaks inside and eats their food, sits in their chairs, and finally falls asleep on the bed of the littlest bear. When the bears return home they find her asleep – she awakens and escapes out the window in terror. The original tale (which actually only dates to 1837) has two possible variations. In the first, the bears find Goldilocks and rip her apart and eat her. In the second, Goldilocks is actually an old hag who (like the sanitized version) jumps out of a window when the bears wake her up. The story ends by telling us that she either broke her neck in the fall, or was arrested for vagrancy and sent to the “House of Correction”.

Hansel and Gretel
In the widely known version of Hansel and Gretel, we hear of two little children who become lost in the forest, eventually finding their way to a gingerbread house which belongs to a wicked witch. The children end up enslaved for a time as the witch prepares them for eating. They figure their way out and throw the witch in a fire and escape. In an earlier French version of this tale (called The Lost Children), instead of a witch we have a devil. Now the wicked old devil is tricked by the children (in much the same way as Hansel and Gretel) but he works it out and puts together a sawhorse to put one of the children on to bleed. The children pretend not to know how to get on the sawhorse so the devil’s wife demonstrates. While she is lying down the kids slash her throat and escape.

The Girl Without HandsFrankly, the revised version of this fairy tale is not a great deal better than the original, but there are sufficient differences to include it here. In the new version, a poor man is offered wealth by the devil if he gives him whatever is standing behind his mill. The poor man thinks it is an apple tree and agrees – but it is actually his daughter. The devil tries to take the daughter but can’t – because she is pure, so he threatens to take the father unless the daughter allows her father to chop off her hands. She agrees and the father does the deed. Now – that is not particularly nice, but it is slightly worse in some of the earlier variants in which the young girl chops off her own arms in order to make herself ugly to her brother who is trying to rape her. In another variant, the father chops off the daughter’s hands because she refuses to let him have sex with her.

In the modern Cinderella fairy tale we have the beautiful Cinderella swept off her feet by the prince and her wicked step sisters marrying two lords – with everyone living happily ever after. The fairy tale has its origins way back in the 1st century BC where Strabo’s heroine was actually called Rhodopis, not Cinderella. The story was very similar to the modern one with the exception of the glass slippers and pumpkin coach. But, lurking behind the pretty tale is a more sinister variation by the Grimm brothers: in this version, the nasty step-sisters cut off parts of their own feet in order to fit them into the glass slipper – hoping to fool the prince. The prince is alerted to the trickery by two pigeons who peck out the step sister’s eyes. They end up spending the rest of their lives as blind beggars while Cinderella gets to lounge about in luxury at the prince’s castle.

Mike Pence, Hoosier Hypocrite

Remember, Mike Pence will be the number two man in the Republican controlled house if they pull off taking over that legislative body. This is what he believes. This is what he wants. It makes me embarrassed to be a Hoosier with guys like this from Indiana running around shooting their mouths off. He had eight years of the Bush regime to stand up and oppose deficits, and borrowing, and all the rest of his litany, and yet he went right along. Now we’re supposed to trust him to fix what he broke in the first place?

Over the Rhine at the Goshen Theater

Tomorrow evening we’re going to see one of our favorite music acts, Over the Rhine, at the Goshen Theater in Goshen, Indiana. About a year and a half ago we saw them in Ann Arbor at the Ark and have been waiting for an opportunity to see them again, and this time they’re going to be so close to home. And this time we have priority seating which should be interesting.

Over the Rhine is made up of Linford Detwiler and his wife, Karin Bergquist. They basically share song writing duties and Linford plays keyboards, guitar, and bass, with an occasional vocal. Karin gets the main vocal duties, and with her voice, it would be crime if she didn’t. She also plays guitar and some keyboards. They often fill in the rest of their sound with an assortment of musicians who enhance and enrich what the main duo is all about.

Their sound can run the gamut from rock to folk to Americana, and several other stops in between. After more than twenty years performing together, they have a large body of work from which to entertain in their live performances.

Some of their best known CDs have been “Good Dog, Bad Dog”, “Ohio”, “Films for Radio”, “Drunkard’s Prayer”, and their last studio album, “The Trumpet Child.” Some of their best songs are, “All I Need is Everything,” “Changes Come,” “Born,” and “Don’t Wait for Tom.”

We’ve looked forward to this for awhile, so hope to enjoy it, and undoubtedly will. I’m having some sore back issues that may make it uncomfortable to sit for the show, but a little discomfort will be worth it.

I’ll have more to report on this after the concert.

A Penny and the Empire State Building

You’ve probably heard people say how if you drop a penny off the top of the Empire State Building, it will accelerate to such a speed that if it struck someone, it would kill them. This simply isn’t true, not by a long shot. The worst that would happen if you dropped a penny from this height is that it would sting a bit when it hit them. In most cases, it wouldn’t even do that.

The Empire State Building is about 1250 feet tall. If there were no air resistance on the penny as it fell, that would mean it would reach a maximum velocity of around 190-ish miles per hour when it hit the ground, taking just shy of 9 second to do so. That might sound really fast, but fortunately, it’s still not fast enough to kill someone.

It wouldn’t evern be fast enough to penetrate a person’s skin, especially if it hit the flat side down, instead of the edge. For reference, a relatively low-”powered” bullet (.22 caliber), which is about equivalent in mass to a penny, exits a rifle barrel with an initial speed of around 600 miles per hour. That obviously will penetrate your skin at close range, but it’s because the surface area that strikes your skin is much smaller. A penny, even at that speed, wouldn’t cause that much damage as demonstrated by Myth Busters when they shot a penny at over 700 mph at a gel “skull”. The penny wasn’t even able to penetrate the gel at all at that speed, which was over three times the speed a penny would reach falling from the top of the Empire State Building with no air resistance.

So what about in real life where there is air resistance? That’s a little harder to calculate because a penny is going to be greatly affected by the wind. The updraft next to the Empire State Building can even be sufficient to make it so the penny won’t ever reach the ground near the Empire State Building, rather being caught in the swells and flying about until it is free from them.

Let’s move away from a place that has such an updraft and windy environment. What would the terminal velocity be then? It turns out, pennies have a pretty low terminal velocity (just a bit faster than a ping-pong ball, which has a terminal velocity of around 20-ish mph). In open air, with no real updraft or breeze, a penny’s terminal velocity is going to be around 30-50 miles per hour. If there is a good wind, even without an updraft, that’s going to drop significantly.

If you’ve got a decent throwing arm, a less nice way to test this out without even leaving the comfort of your own home, which I in no way recommend for legal reasons, is simply to take a penny and attempt to chuck it at someone standing near you. If you’ve got a good arm at all, it’s going to reach much higher than its terminal velocity (assuming you stand close to them so it doesn’t have a chance to slow down) and you might even be able to get it to hit with the edge pointing forward for maximum speed and stinging power, which is something that isn’t likely dropped from a high height. They’ll probably not be too happy with you, but even if it hits their bare skin, it’s only going to sting a bit. Just tell them it’s for science and try not hit them in the eye. That would hurt even if you had a weak throwing arm.

Of course, given all this, one shouldn’t assume that it is safe to drop all light objects from high heights. It really has a lot to do with surface area to weight ratio and how aerodynamic the thing is. Pennies will flutter about and are greatly affected by the wind. Something like a decently weighted metal fountain pen, on the other hand, could cause serious damage if dropped from a high height. It’s aerodynamically shaped and has a nice pointy end. An object like that reaching even just a hundred miles an hour can easily puncture skin and much worse. Heck, even bullets shot straight up in the air have been shown to be quite dangerous by the time they get back to the ground (not all bullets, but many). Many of these aren’t much larger, mass wise, than a penny, just shaped right for traveling through the air.