Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Thinking of Getting a Turtle? Read this first :)
May 31, 2017

I began my journey into reptile-land back in late 2008. It all began when my mother’s boyfriend at the time suggested getting a couple of aquatic turtles from a flea-market. I told him very firmly that I liked the idea of having turtles, but I wanted to do some research about a proper setup, diet, and other things that turtles may need since they obviously are nothing like cats and dogs. He told me he understood. And a week later he came home with two tiny aquatic turtles.

They were so tiny they fit in the center of my palm. My mom liked how active the smaller of the two was, so she started calling her Hurricane. I wanted their names to match somewhat, so I named the other Typhoon. We’ve had them ever since.

After a few years of experience in turtle care, we heard from a friend that someone she knew had a turtle he wanted to “get rid of”. He’d had this turtle for a few years and was sick of taking care of her. We asked them to bring her to our apartment so we could see what condition she was in. Aside from a bad case of conjunctivitis, she was in really good shape. We said yes almost immediately. We got her in a proper setup over the next few days, treated her eyes with medicated eye drops, and after a couples of weeks she was fine. We named her Sadie.

Hurricane is a standard red eared slider. Her shell is about 7 inches long now. She doesn’t like being held, pet, or any contact with us unless it involves being fed in the early morning. If we pick her up, she starts scratching and snapping and even hisses. Hurricane cannot be handled like a typical pet at all. When I have to move her to and from her tank, I have to be quick to avoid being bitten or scratched.

Typhoon is special. She is half red eared slider, and half common map turtle. She shell is 8 inches long. Map turtles are VERY different from sliders. Maps are spunky, assertive and very sensitive to their environments and how they are treated. I think of them as the most “emotional” of all aquatic species. Typhoon is pretty chill with just about anyone, adult or child. I’ve introduced her to kids, and plan to keep training her so that she can actually work with kids in an educational setting in the future. I can pick her up and hold her, rock her side to side, give her chin rubs and she’s totally cool with it.

Typhoon and Hurricane share a 55 gallon tank. A while back, Hurricane used to be very aggressive toward Typhoon, and seriously injured her chin. I knew well before that incident that aquatic turtles DO NOT like to live in groups. By some miracle these two since then have managed to sort out their differences. I do not condone putting aquatic turtles together, even hybrids, because the likelihood of aggression is too high to risk it. Aquatic turtles can seriously hurt each other, and captives have been known to kill each other. I assure you, I am moving into my own apartment later on this year, and these two will be separated.

Our theory is that the guy who had Sadie before us, took her from the wild. We live in CT, and taking a red eared slider from the wild is actually okay, because they are invasive here, and do a huge amount of damage to native wildlife and foliage. However, I also caution you who reads this – don’t take a red eared slider from the CT wilderness if you aren’t prepared to care for it. Sadie likes my mom and sits in her lap, but is very aggressive toward everyone else. Part of this is due to her size and age. Her shell is almost 11 inches long, and she is approximately 20 years old. In 2012, Sadie became gravid, which means she was carrying unfertilized eggs. All of my attempts at nesting boxes, attempts at getting her to lay those eggs outside, failed. We brought her to the vet to be induced. She bit the vet when he tried to give her the shot. My mom held Sadie by the rear-end of her shell, I put a popsicle stick in her mouth, and the vet quickly stuck the needle in her before she could get away. She laid one egg. We brought her back the next day for a second shot. The vet techs told us not to come in with them, despite us insisting that we should. 15 minutes later, one vet tech emerged with Sadie wrapped in a towel and she was as pale as a ghost. And Sadie is looking at us like nothing had happened. That vet tech practically shoved Sadie at us, and told us about what a nightmare it was to give ONE SHOT to our turtle. We were told that if she didn’t lay any eggs after this, not to bring her back and just let her do it in her aquarium. That’s what Sadie ended up doing. She laid the 11 remaining eggs underneath her basking dock. After that experience, we CANNOT put our hands in Sadie’s tank, because she will attack us. That tank is her nest, her territory, and she will defend it ferociously. In the morning when we feed her, she launches herself out of the water and bites the first thing she can get her mouth around. I am not exaggerating, turtles can launch themselves out of water similar to what alligators and crocodiles do. On a side note, every since the day we got Sadie, she’s been extremely close with our Egyptian mau mix, Spike. We let Sadie walk around the apartment and Spike follows her everywhere. Spike is the only living thing that Sadie has never acted aggressive toward.

Not all turtles are like this. Most people end up with sliders like Hurricane, that are very active, and don’t like to be handled. There are a few rare ones like Typhoon that genuinely enjoy contact with people. None of the people I know who have turtles have ever been shocked at Sadie’s aggression.

I genuinely enjoy caring for turtles, because they are fascinating animals. People tend to think reptiles in general are lazy, unintelligent and slow-moving. Watch my turtles dash across my living room floor, take apart their filters and plot their escape routes from their aquariums, and you’ll stop thinking they are dumb and lazy. Aquatics have full color vision, they can see a good distance and they even have personal likes and dislikes of various colors. Typhoon is attracted to yellow and acts aggressive toward anything pink. Hurricane like red and green, and doesn’t care either way about any other colors. Sadie likes dull, neutral colors, and tends to act aggressive toward anything vibrant. There’s no pattern to this, because I’ve heard stories about turtles that were obsessed, genuinely obsessed with colors like blue and orange. After all my years with turtles, I attribute this to personal taste, and I see nothing that indicates it’s an evolutionary advantage to have color preferences.

In short, I’ve learned so much about them that I could write a book about aquatic turtle care. I won’t spend my time doing it, but I could do it if I wanted to. I won’t go as far as to recommend turtles, or say they are “good” pets. I will say that they work for some people, and don’t work for others. Do your research about the species you want, take the time to spend a few extra dollars on a good, appropriate setup and don’t forget to ask questions. A good place to start is http://www.redearslider.com, which is where I started. They gave me a good boost into turtle care, and then I took off on my own. My advice however, is that if you feel for even a second that you don’t want to take the time to spend the money on the right aquarium setup, and take the time to learn about aquatic turtles, then you should not get one.

You Do Not Have the Right to Choose
January 28, 2015

There are a specific handful of arguments that parents like to make to explain why they do not vaccinate their children:

1. It’s my right to choose whether or not my child is given a vaccine.

2. Vaccines cause autism.

3. Vaccines cause allergic reactions.

4. Diseases can be prevented with healthy food and good hygiene.

5. Vaccines are ineffective.

6. We don’t really know what is in a vaccine.

This has been a debate that I’ve followed for a long time. Since the measles outbreak in the Disneyland park in California, it has been on my mind more often. My frustration with the anti-vaccine movement lies primarily in the rhetoric used to discredit vaccines, along with the extreme lack of empathy.

No, it is not your right to choose whether or not your child is given a vaccine. You do not have the right to make diseases which were eradicated come back and infect other people. You do not have the right to put your child in harm’s way, or allow your child to catch an illness that can be spread to INFANTS who are too young to be vaccinated. Measles is deadly to infants. You do not have the right to murder babies with your poor decision making.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is not, never has been, and never will be caused by vaccines. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a sensory disorder which causes developmental delays. The causes are an enlarged amygdala, which is the emotional epicenter of the brain. There are also abnormalities in the frontal lobe, which can cause intellectual delays. Autism Spectrum Disorder is passed on to a person via genetics, in other words, if your child has autism, your genes gave it to them. There has not be a “rise” in cases of autism, because we have learned more about this disorder in the last several years, including ways to properly diagnose it using MRI scans. Autism is a fascinating anomaly, and is unique to each person who has it. Do not use your anti-vaccine rhetoric to make people with autism feel guilty or ashamed. People with autism who are savants can do incredible things that the average public cannot do. Why not celebrate that?

Allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare, and at the very worst, they are a fever. Paracetamol, when taken after receiving a vaccine, can control these minor reactions. Any serious reactions to a vaccine happen at about 1 in one thousand, to 1 in one million. The amount of people who have died after being vaccinated, is so infrequent, that statistics on risk can’t even be drawn from those deaths. Logically speaking, if my choices are catching and spreading a deadly illness to other people, or get the vaccine with a 1 in one million chance of having a serious reaction, I’m going to get the vaccine. Several studies were conducted in the 1980’s to determine whether or not the Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The studies concluded that there was no direct connection between the DTP vaccine and SIDS. This means that the infants would have died of SIDS whether they had this vaccine or not. You can read more about it here: http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/initiative/detection/immunization_misconceptions/en/index4.html

The common cold can be prevented, or at least lessened in severity with good hygiene and healthy eating habits. However, the measles vaccine was first used in 1963, and right after the cases of people with this disease dropped dramatically. Another example is smallpox, which was also eradicated because of its vaccine. And according to http://www.who.int,

Finally, we can look at the experiences of several developed countries after they allowed their immunization levels to drop. Three countries —Great Britain, Sweden and Japan — cut back the use of pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine because of fear about the vaccine. The effect was dramatic and immediate. In Great Britain, a drop in pertussis vaccination in 1974 was followed by an epidemic of more than 100,000 cases of pertussis and 36 deaths by 1978. In Japan, around the same time, a drop in vaccination rates from 70% to 20%-40% led to a jump in pertussis from 393 cases and no deaths in 1974 to 13,000 cases and 41 deaths in 1979. In Sweden, the annual incidence rate of pertussis per 100,000 children of 0-6 years of age increased from 700 cases in 1981 to 3,200 in 1985.

People auto-immune diseases, such as HIV and Multiple Sclerosis, do not have the option to prevent illness with hygiene and health food. Their bodies do not have enough of an immune system to fight off influenza, and even colds. They must rely on the flu vaccine otherwise it can be serious and even deadly for them.

Read this to understand the vaccine creation process: http://www.immunizeforgood.com/vaccines/how-vaccines-are-made Vaccines are also created using these viruses and bacteria, which are killed and placed inside the vaccine. When your body is exposed to the dead virus or bacteria cells, your immune system can safely react to it and consume those cells, thus allowing your anti-bodies to build up an immunity to the diseases those cells cause. Also check out Upworthy’s graph of 14 vaccines and how effective they are: http://www.upworthy.com/ever-wonder-why-people-100-years-ago-died-so-much-younger-its-these-14-reasons?c=ufb4

If you have always wanted to know what is in a vaccine, this gentle read will give you insight: http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile50d.stm

The Alternative Treatment is No Alternative
January 9, 2015

If you are a Connecticut resident, you’ve probably heard about 17 year old Cassandra, who is being forced by the CT Supreme Court to undergo chemotherapy to treat Hogkin’s Lymphoma. The decision was reached after a trial to determine whether or not Cassandra was a competent minor who could refuse chemotherapy. The result of that trial, is that despite being almost 18, Cassandra is not able to make this decision on her own. You can read NBC Connecticut’s report here: State Supreme Court Rules Teen Can’t Refuse Chemo.

There are many arguments against the Supreme Court’s ruling, most of which focus on bodily rights and the right to choose. Many say Cassandra is a mature 17 year old, and has been against chemotherapy since before she was diagnosed. Her mother, who knows that the chemotherapy will save her daughter’s life, supports Cassandra’s refusal of it. Her mother is also adamant about using alternative treatments instead.

Statistically, when Hogkin’s Lymphoma is treated with chemo, the survival rate is 85%. There doesn’t appear to be a clear statistical analysis of success rates with alternative treatments. This could be for many reasons, such as these treatments are used experimentally and by smaller groups of people. Alternative treatments are rarely offered by doctors. For cancer in general, most alternatives are used to treat symptoms and keep patients comfortable. Alternatives are also offered by independent organizations or practices, which means they could be fraudulent, or do more harm than good. Trying to find an actual instance where someone was cured of Hogkin’s Lymphoma without chemotherapy and instead alternative treatment, yielded no results. However, Hogkin’s Lymphoma has been treated with stem cells, which can cure the illness, but this procedure is far more dangerous than chemo, and hardly ever used.

Since the primary argument against the court is Cassandra’s maturity, it is important to note that no matter how mature she is, she is biologically 17 years old. Maturity and myelination of the brain are two entirely different things. Maturity comes from environmental experiences, most of which are social. Myelination is the growth and development of the brain. There are certain things a 17 year old brain cannot do as well as a 27 year old brain (27 is the average age when the human brain fully myelinates), like make important, life saving medical decisions. Cassandra is very good at focusing on what chemotherapy will do to her body right now, but what the cancer will do to her body, does not appear to be at the forefront of her mind. In addition, her reaction to the treatment was to run away from home for a week. Before that, she and her mother had missed several treatments. This is why teens are minors, and why we must protect them, not just from their parents/families, but from themselves.

That leads me to my next point, about why alternative treatments are no alternative. It’s more than statistics, it’s the fact that these “natural cures” don’t actually cure diseases. It’s the fact that this belief that if you refuse vaccines and eat healthy food you’ll never get sick, and alternatively you get very sick, very often. It’s about the fact that these folks are trading health for making a statement, and forgetting that deadly diseases like smallpox were eliminated because of vaccines. It’s the fact that this teenager will die very young without chemotherapy, and the state is being more humane than you are giving them credit for.

This is mainly a question of what is ethical, and what is not. We live in an age where assisted suicides are becoming more common, and abortions are being heavily debated. These are serious topics for discussion, because they examine when, and how, it is okay to die.

Take abortion for example – it is a huge debate about whether or not abortion is murder. Whether or not the fetus’s survival is more important than the mother’s. Regardless of how you feel about it, you cannot argue with scientific fact: The fetus is not alive. In order to be alive, you need to be able to do three things, breathe, eat, and grow. Fetuses have plugs in their noses while in the womb, so they do not breathe. The nutrients they receive are via umbilical cord, and come from the mother. The mother starves herself, the fetus does not eat. Growth is also dependent on these nutrients. Therefore, it is okay to have an abortion because you cannot murder a fetus that is not alive, and is not human. It is not okay for a mother to die because of a fetus’s imaginary life being considered more important. That is unethical.

Assisted suicide is another serious debate. People who choose assisted suicide do so because they have incurable diseases that are painful, not just physically, but psychologically and emotionally. People choose assisted suicide because the quality of life is so poor, that it cannot be improved, thus making life not worth living. Assisted suicide is best reserved for people with circumstances beyond their control, like an incurable disease. It is not for people who want to die because they are unhappy with life choices, or other aspects of their lives which can be improved or worked toward. Assisted suicide is not a cop out, it is an alternative to imprisonment because of a disease, and because quality of life is not defined by a beating heart.

You may have heard about Brittany Maynard, 29, who chose to die on November 1st last year. She was suffering from a malignant brain tumor, and was terminally ill. Radiation treatment would have kept her body alive, but as she put it, her mind was going to be eaten. Being a competent individual, she made this decision, and many people argued against it. Many people disregarded quality of life, in favor of quantity of life. You can read more about her story here: Cancer sufferer: Why I’m choosing to die on Nov 1 aged 29.

What makes the previously described instances, so relevant to Cassandra’s story? Perhaps it is because the woman’s right to choose what goes in and out of her body is serious. You cannot force a woman to do something she doesn’t want to do. It sounds hypocritical, to say that a 17 year old can have an abortion without parental consent, but not choose whether or not to have chemotherapy. However, it’s not hypocritical, because it is not okay to force a teenager to live with a child she does not want, and it is not okay to force a teenager to die of cancer. Argue otherwise all you want, but it is very unlikely that Cassandra’s choice to refuse chemo was really her choice, and not her mother’s. It is quite convenient that Cassandra happened to have these views about chemo, then was diagnosed with cancer. Parents can often times be the bane of a teenager’s existence.

Now why have I chosen to bring up assisted suicide? Notice my description of it, and how it is about incurable diseases. Hogkin’s Lymphoma is a curable illness, with a survival rate of 85%. This martyrdom, of refusing chemo and choosing to die instead of accepting life saving treatment is a severe cop out. Furthermore, the vast difference between Brittany Maynard and Cassandra, is twelve years. Brittany was an adult, not just legally, but physically too. She was well beyond the expected age of myelination, and thus fully capable of making that decision. This is not something which should ever be left up to a teenager, or any child at any age. Imagine if the maturity argument was allowed to be used for a five year old, and what horror that would bring.

I am going to leave you with a description of what Hogkin’s Lymphoma does to the human body. First the lymph nodes swell. This is followed by itchy skin, night sweats, and then unexplained weight loss. The liver and spleen enlarge. Sufferers also experience cyclical fevers.

If left untreated, or treated with alternative medicine, then the cancer’s attack on the lymphatic system weakens the body’s ability to fight disease. This is not that different from having HIV, because now a cold can be dangerous, especially if it turns into pneumonia. People with this disease will not just be suffering from it, but from all of the other illnesses that they will get on top of it. They will be sick constantly, uncomfortable, and certainly unable to live life well. If the alternative treatment prolongs death and causes more suffering, then it is not an alternative.

10 Things You Should Know About Body Language
November 26, 2014

Despite all of our advances in technology and civilization, we have never given up our basic instincts to communicate through body language. The unspoken word is one of the best ways to communicate how we feel about another person, family, friend, or partner. Here are several things you should know about body language and other behaviors that might help your relationships with others (Note, I’m not a psychologist, I’m just way more observant than the average person):

1. Crossed arms/legs: Confrontational and/or close-minded. Sometimes, we cross our legs or arms while standing or sitting just because that posture is more comfortable, and it has nothing to do with the person we’re talking to. However, during a conversation about a strong topic, like religion or politics, crossing legs or arms means someone is not open to what you are saying, and can even be waiting for you to finish your sentence so they can get in their two cents. The quicker a person’s response to you while crossing legs or arms means this conversation will go south fast. If this person is a date, it’s probably a good idea to find somebody else.

2. Head tilt: A strong expression of interest, usually related to the conversation. It’s generally believed that people do this when they want to hear clearer, but also when thinking deeply about what you are saying. The more someone tilts their head to one side, the more interested they are. Usually they will tilt their head in the direction of their dominant hand, or their political views. (I always tilt my head to the left, since I am left-handed). The less a person talks, and the more they head tilt, the more interested they are. This is an example of a friend or partner who genuinely respects what you have to say.

3. Touching the arms: Believe it or not, we are very conscious of the condition of our arms (Think about life without arms. These are an important part of our body needed to survive). People with autism especially, will react intensely to having their arms touched. But the average population receives a lot of information from having their upper arms touched, especially by a friend or potential partner. It’s an expression of comfort, to allow yourself to enter the personal space of another person and not be rejected. Touching the forearm, back of hand or wrist is an expression of mild comfort, but there is still an attachment that needs to be built. It’s also important to note that when a man clutches the upper arms of another person, they want that person close to them.

4. Sitting with knees spread: I know what you’re thinking, but this is not a sexual behavior. Usually friends, especially male friends, do this with each other when they feel comfortable, relaxed and safe. Men do this around women too, and it means the same thing, but they don’t do it as often.

5. Two-armed sideways hug: If someone hugs you with both arms but approaches you are your side rather than face first, then this is an affectionate friend.

6. Face to face two-armed hug: This means many, many things. But overall, whether you are friends, family, partners, there is some type of love involved, either romantic or unconditional.

7. One-armed hug: People who have known each other for a long time don’t do this, usually. If they do, they aren’t very close. If someone does this to you on a first date, they may not have much of an interest in building an attachment, or in some cases they may not be very attracted to you. 😦

8. Hand holding: Our palms and fingertips are one of, if not the most sensitive areas on our body. Holding hands is a very powerful expression of closeness, and even a desire to be closer if in a romantic relationship. But for friends this can mean a desire to build a stronger friendship and get to know that person more.

9. Kissing: Lips are nearly as sensitive as hands, and we kiss to release chemicals that build an attachment. The problem with kissing someone you just met, is that it creates a “false” attachment which is physical rather than emotional. Since the human species is naturally monogamous, it’s not a good idea to kiss on the first date. If you do kiss on the first date, even though you don’t want to date that person again, you’ll still be thinking about them for several days afterward. Our bodies can get a little confused about what we want…

10. Eye contact: The most important romantic gesture between two people is eye contact. Friends make eye contact too, and often develop unconditional love from it. But eye contact among couples is how we open ourselves to that person and make ourselves vulnerable. If someone does not willingly make eye contact with you, then they do not feel at ease with you yet. If your pupils dilate during eye contact, there is genuine love there.

What is ALS?
August 15, 2014

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a neuromuscular illness. ALS causes the death of motor neurons in the central nervous system. ALS is progressive, which means motor neurons do not die simultaneously, but one at a time or a small number of them at a time. The loss of mobility will also prevent adequate motion and exercise needed to maintain muscle mass, thus causing muscular atrophy. Most often, people are diagnosed after the age of 40. The average life expectancy for a person with ALS is between 2 and 5 years, however some individuals have lived less than 2 years. Others, like the graffiti artist Tempt, have lived for over 7 years, and in a rarer case, Stephen Hawking has lived with ALS for over 50 years. A large percentage of people with ALS die due to respiratory failure. ALS is always fatal.

Symptoms include difficulty swallowing and speaking. Muscles may ache or burn after routine exercise. Other signs are a limp or “dragging foot”, and a thick, deep voice, similar to cerebral palsy. ALS’s likeness to other neurological and neuromuscular illnesses makes it difficult to diagnose.

Yesterday, a local musician I’m acquainted with, posted a video of himself doing the ice bucket challenge for ALS. The purpose of the ice bucket I still don’t quite understand, but the videos that people do involve shout outs to friends/family they know to donate to ALS research. I appreciate the sudden outcry for effective treatments and a continuing search for a cure for this disease.

I have a feeling that such an outcry is late, because it takes a lot to understand what ALS is. Not just what it does physically, but what it does emotionally to those who have ALS, and what it does to their family members. There are many serious and terminal illnesses that people can go through in solitude. But when one person is diagnosed with ALS, their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, are all diagnosed with ALS too.

It takes away your energy, and it can make you feel like a burden to other people. You can’t do everything that you used to do anymore, so you have to rely on people to take care of you. And if your caregivers aren’t doing their best to look after you, you can’t always say what you need, how you need it and what is hurting you.

You cannot control your body, you can’t touch your body, and in order to get somewhere, someone has to carry you. Simple tasks like going to the bathroom without assistance, brushing your teeth and hair, even scratching an itch are now a challenge, and as the disease progresses, impossible.

If you want to spend time with your friends, you are either too tired or don’t feel like struggling to be part of the conversation. You have to stop driving because sometimes an officer might confuse your delayed speech for being intoxicated. Sometimes you may feel too embarrassed to go out in public, for fear of what people will think of you.

Sometimes, your friends or family get mad at you if you can’t write back to them or just don’t feel like it because you’re exhausted.

But most of all you are frustrated, because you can’t change it.

I once told someone I knew who had been recently diagnosed with ALS, that the human mind is very powerful. That maybe the reason why someone like Stephen Hawking has lived so long with ALS is because he lives a real life, not a prolonged one. That this does not define you, and you will always be who you are. ALS can take away many things, but it cannot take away your mind.

Since we have to live with ALS, we deserve to live well. We deserve love, patience, and empathy. We deserve to be treated like human beings. And most of all, we deserve a cure.

I found a hole in vegan logic.
April 13, 2014

I can’t stand that “smarter way” that people talk about. How they think it’s smarter to not eat anything that has a mother or a face.

There’s nothing smart about not understanding nature’s concept of predator and prey. We don’t eat things for the sake of eating. We eat other animals to recycle them. Nature does not eliminate things. The nutrients from the food animals eat goes through their bodies, and out, and I’m sure you can imagine what the out is.

Animals in slaughter houses are not pets – that’s why they’re in slaughter houses. I know what goes on in these places, and what types of people work in these places. Do you really think happy go lucky people would work a job where they kill livestock every day?

Going back to the mother or a face logic… This is not smart. Every living thing on this planet has a mother. Even those micro-organisms on your food may reproduce asexually but they also have mothers. In that sense, it’s inevitable you’ll eat something with a mother no matter what you do. The best part is, plants have genders, and they have sex. Trees are female, because they bare fruit containing seeds which make them ovaries. Flowers are male because their pollen fertilizes the seeds in the fruit. Plants may not have faces, but they do have mothers, so based on your logic you should be starving yourself to death.

Does ___ Make a Good Pet?
April 4, 2014

Inevitably, someone who has never kept an exotic pet before will ask this question at least once. What this question really means is “Will this pet snuggle in my lap, be easy to pet and play with, eat food out of a can and be easily house trained?” Exotic pets are exotic for a reason. They are not typical cats and dogs. They require needs that are far different, as well as different kinds of space.

I recently received a disgruntled email from the Center of Biological Diversity. They are pushing for legislation that will ban the trade and import of large constrictors (boas and pythons) across the United States. If such a legislation were to go into effect I would not only be on the phone with the Better Business Bureau immediately, I would also be very angry at all of the foolish people who bought a hatchling burmese python, then got scared of it when it grew to 10 or more feet, and released it into the everglades. The same foolish person was probably told that a burmese python makes a “good” pet.

Don’t get me wrong here, I have three aquatic turtles and a Colombian red tail boa. I did extensive research on how to take care of a boa constrictor long before I got Sophie (that’s her name). She grows to approximately eight feet long, but it is possible for her to grow up to ten feet. Sophie requires a lot of space in her habitat. She needs a water dish she can fit her entire body into for soaking, and plants for hiding. We use aspen bedding so that she can dig/tunnel, generally be comfortable and also because there are no oils or other substances in aspen that her skin can absorb. ALL snakes can absorb toxins into their skin very easily, especially oils. Pine oil could kill Sophie if it got into her body, so we don’t use pine bedding.

So no, Sophie does not make a good pet. She’s interesting, a comfortable challenge, and she is part of our family. But from Sophie’s perspective I’m the human that gives her a rat every three weeks and takes her out of her habitat two to three times a week to let her climb all over me. To Sophie I am not a predator, not food, just a safe animal for her to be around so that she can ensure her survival. Dogs think of you as a companion, cats even think of you as a companion, but snakes do not.

I read an article recently about a female burmese python that was found in the Florida everglades, and he was over twenty feet long. Obviously she was released by her owner who bit off more than he/she could chew, or she escaped. Either way her owner was irresponsible. They did not catch her and try to rehome her. They killed her. She didn’t even attack the people that found her, she was just automatically expendable. And even if she had bitten one of those people, constrictors are not venomous. Snakes bite because they feel their personal space is being invaded, and biting is their last resort. The snake is only a hazard to Florida wildlife when an IDIOT puts the snake in the wild. Snakes don’t sit around plotting against the ecosystem.

I don’t believe banning large constrictors is the solution. I believe banning ownership of snakes with no strings attached is a better solution. A permit can turn off a lot of people very easily, and people who don’t have one get caught pretty quick. Americans are better about calling in animal abuse, neglect and illegal trade/ownership than protecting their own HUMAN children.

Exotic pets don’t make good pets, they make exotic ones. If you have the time, energy, money and responsible personality you can take care of an exotic pet and enjoy doing it.

Guess What Autism Is, and Isn’t
March 24, 2014

Certain things infuriate me, and one of those things is talking to people like they aren’t all there, don’t get it, or don’t understand. There’s a lot of stigma and misinformation surrounding autism and I’d like to have a chat with you about it.

Autism spectrum disorder is not an intellectual delay. People who are diagnosed with an ASD aren’t “idiots”. They are quite the opposite. It’s not uncommon for someone who has a high functioning ASD to have an average or above average IQ score. Savants are not so uncommon either. For example, you could send me to work in a building with absolutely no visible clocks, watches or cell phones for a week, and I’d still be able to tell you what time it is, because I can count time in my head. I can also teach myself most foreign languages within approximately 2 to 4 weeks. Now these traits are because I have OCD, but it’s easier for me to describe myself than somebody else. Someone with ASD can have a below average IQ score, but that still doesn’t characterize ASD as a learning disorder. I’ll explain why later on.

ASD is a neurological and developmental delay. Sensory and motor function is effected, as well as social interaction. Someone with ASD can have a hard time relating to other people, approaching them and maintaining relationships. They may seem awkward or inappropriate, clingy or distant. ASD effects the ability to walk, communicate verbally, use hands to work with small objects (fine motor skills), and emotional expressions. People can become easily frightened by things like rearranging furniture, which would be “no big deal” to someone who isn’t autistic. Hypersensitivity to sound and touch can be both upsetting and painful. Sometimes hypersensitivity to touch is based on levels of trust, and other times it’s because being touched is uncomfortable or painful.

Asperger syndrome, contrary to popular belief, is no longer considered part of the autism spectrum by most doctors and psychologists. The reason for this is because Asperger syndrome effects social behavior and language, but not always physical development. People with AS tend to be very skilled with manipulating objects, in other words taking things apart and putting them back together. AS involves more obsessive-compulsive type traits, such as fascinations with vehicles, mathematics and physics.

Autism is associated with aggression and violence, but that doesn’t mean it causes those things. Aggression can be brought out by intense emotional experiences, like losing a close family member or friend. Children and adults connect with other people differently from the average population, so they either don’t think too much of someone’s presence in their life, or that person’s presence is the most important thing in their world. Interruption and change in activities and routines can be also be met with aggression because they don’t always have a way to say they upset or make a compromise or easily make rational decisions. Not to insult anyone, but sometimes the solution to a problem is if Luke Skywalker suddenly appeared and started swinging his light-saber all over the place. There isn’t always a clear definition of where reality ends and fantasy begins in the mind of someone with ASD. Autism is not insanity; everything is just the same.

There is a believed link between the increased size of the amygdala in the brain, and ASD. An enlarged amygdala takes up space which means a loss of gray matter, leading to a lower IQ. In addition, the amygdala is directly below the sensory cortex and motor cortex, which explains in part why neurological development is effected. The amygdala is also the main emotion hub of the brain, and when it’s bigger, it’s going to produce bigger emotions. This characteristic has been observed in various brain scans, and many, but not all doctors are willing to call it a direct cause of autism.

Quality of life for someone with autism has the same chance at being great or terrible as every other human being on this planet. People with autism are not destined for loneliness, or living without independence (to an extent, severe ASD can greatly restrict self-care). Patience and understanding may sound cheesy but if you respect people and the challenges they face, you won’t judge them. In truth, the more exposure people with ASD have to other people and the world, the better they do as they grow.

Reasons Why Serval Cats Shouldn’t Be Pets
October 24, 2013

First, take a moment to read up on the African Serval Cat: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serval

I love them, from their quirky personalities to their elegant coats. Servals have the appearance of a large cat, with the playfulness and character of a domestic dog. As much as I think they are beautiful, I don’t believe it is right to keep them as pets. That doesn’t mean I think all exotic pets are bad; I have three aquatic turtles and a Colombian red tail boa. My snake is one of the gentlest pets I’ve ever had, far gentler than my Egyptian Mau. But, my cat and the serval have one thing in common, and one thing that makes them different: They are both aggressive, and only one belongs in the wild.

Servals are stronger than a typical house cat. They are predators, and designed for snatching low-flying birds from the air. They have a stronger bite than a domestic feline, and they use their powerful front legs to bash wild snakes unconscious before killing and eating them. That doesn’t mean our house cats haven’t brought home the occasional bird or mouse for their humans. But if you let your serval outside, you might not see your serval ever again. If a serval escaped from your house, it would not feel safe without the humans it knows well. Servals are known to be aggressive toward people they don’t like, and they can seriously hurt someone. So, a serval must stay indoors all the time, unless you buy an expensive outdoor enclosure. Certain animals, like my snake, are fine with minimal square footage because they instincts do not require travelling for food. Mammals however, they need to move around.

So your serval is inside all day long. They are crafty like cats, and can learn tricks like dogs. They have to be trained twice as much as a dog, though, or everything in your home will be destroyed. Servals chew like puppies, and since they naturally defecate and urinate in water, they will turn their nose up to the litter box. They relieve themselves in private, so they can’t be brought on walks. If you get a serval, you must come to terms with the harsh reality that they will spray anywhere they see fit, including your bed.

They won’t eat canned food. A serval’s diet is mostly small animals. Usually people provide them with raw meat diets, along with frozen rodents and birds which have to be thawed out. A serval needs to be the only pet, or share the home with cats and dogs which are equal to its size. This means you cannot have smaller pets like fish, reptiles, birds, rodents, or even small cats and dogs. A serval could accidentally or intentionally kill my pet cat, three turtles and my snake.

Servals are usually declawed. When a wild animal is “domesticated”, and it has its knuckles amputated because keeping it in your home would otherwise be harmful to you, perhaps that is a signal not to have it as a pet. Declawing damages the serval’s beauty as a living thing. Declawing will make any cat, wild or not, resort to biting more often because their first defense is taken away. Servals express themselves a lot with their mouths, by love/play-biting and holding onto blankets and soft toys for comfort. But serval bites are painful, when done out of aggression or just playing too rough. Where is the perk to having a wild animal as a pet when you try to take the wild out of the animal?

Savannah cats aren’t much better. The Savannah cat is a cross between a domestic house cat and the serval. This was to deter people from owning servals. But savannahs are not always good with children, and small pets, though they can get along with domestic cats. Savannahs need almost as much training, and the only upside is they use the litter box. But the savannah is a false image. Once again, they are the human’s attempt at taking the wild out of the animal.

The alternative: adopt an Egyptian Mau. Mine, who goes by the name of Spike, is a fun fellow, who can be destructive on occasion to knick-knacks, plastic shower curtains, door frames, and shoes, but this is easily countered with a firm “NO”. He keeps the litter box so tidy it’s almost frightening how clean he is. He has energy, and he love-bites, but I won’t need stitches. He has those glorious spots on his hips and belly. He eats food from a can, or joins us for dinner. He can learn tricks, and knows certain commands like “sit”, “wait”, “heel”. He talks more than a serval, and listens to everything we say, then joins the conversation. He snuggles, purrs, plays, kisses, headbutts and greets us when we come home. He loves other animals, and babysits our huge turtle when we let her walk around the apartment. I don’t need to have a wild animal. I am quite happy with my cat whom I adopted from a shelter, rather than spend thousands of dollars on, just to show off to guests.

Gender Identity Disorder?
August 31, 2013

During my Developmental Psychology course last semester, we actually visited this topic. Yes, it shocked me too. I can’t say that I agree or disagree with this label. I don’t like labeling people as disorders. I don’t like telling people what they can and cannot do with their body. Honestly, for me to be in favor of abortion but say someone cannot change their physical appearance would be hypocritical and putting my nose where it doesn’t belong.

I do find it concerning when someone feels so uncomfortable in their body that they believe they have to change it. Someone who is transsexual, will have the mindset of one gender, and the body of another. In other words, they think like a woman, but look like a man, or vice versa. To be transsexual means to make a full transition from one gender to another. This gender must look and act a certain way based on the majority of society’s perception of gender roles. This raises a serious question; is trans-sexuality a disorder, is it based on insecurity, or is it something else entirely?

Is someone allowed to identify as a man, but look like a woman? Does the body truly need to match the mind? Is it possible, that my own “masculine” attitude is just my personality, and that my body is fine as it is right now? Is trans-sexuality really trans-sexuality? Is it a mental illness? Is it based on how we treat each other? Could it be all of these things, or none of them?

There are plenty of theories by psychologists that explore the mindsets of men and women and how they differ. One theory suggests that the fetus sometimes develops with a male or female body, but later develops a brain which thinks as an opposite gender. Given how messy the human gene pool is, it wouldn’t surprise me if we managed to genetically scramble something again. I think it is safe to say that the human race successfully broke genetics. This theory is sometimes used as an “explanation” for homosexuality as well.

Speaking of homosexuality, no wonder it bothers people when someone has a mind and body that don’t match. People nowadays seem to have a big issue with a woman who acts “masculine” and a man who acts “feminine”. What are your definitions of masculinity and femininity? Do you think wearing pants is a manly thing to do? Do you believe having long hair is a girly thing to do? Do you believe boys play sports and girls play with dolls? Or are you less uptight about someone else’s lifestyle, and would rather let someone be as they are?

Answer me this in the comments section: Do you believe transsexuality is a gender identity disorder? Why or why not?