Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Platypus Liebestod

(What is this? Just your friendly neighborhood giraffe skeleton, going for a stroll. It feeds on leafless trees with the ghost of its prehensile tongue. Would you rather have a prehensile tongue, or a prehensile tail? Just asking.)

On the subject of peculiar animals, I stumbled upon this charming little news story from 1957. A platypus liebestod? Who knew?

When Penelope, the duck-billed platypus, mysteriously escaped from her platypusary in New York's Bronx Zoo last summer, she became the first platypus in the U.S. outside captivity. The only other platypus in the U.S. remained in captivity, in the very platypusary where Penelope was wont to waddle. He was Cecil, 12, Penelope's intended. With Penelope gone (TIME, Aug. 19), not even the desperate search by a platyposse could trace her; regretfully she was given up for dead.
Cecil kept a stiff upper bill. Then he began to lose weight. Normally he tipped the scale at 3.4 or 3.8 Ibs., but he dropped to 2.3 Ibs., and his appetite for crayfish, worms, coddled eggs and frogs declined. Whether Cecil was lonely for Penelope nobody could tell, for most platypuses are somewhat phlegmatic anyway (exception: saucy Penelope, who perhaps left Cecil for that very reason). Last week Cecil died. Zoo officials performed an autopsy, concluded that old age had killed him. Sentimental newspapers (including the august New York Times) said that Cecil's heart was broken. If it were true he never let on, being the phlegmatic sort.

So, what's a "liebestod," you ask? Knowing not much about opera, and even less about Wagner, I don't totally know. But I gather that it is Isolde's swan song at the end of the tragic love opera, Tristan and Isolde. Imagine if Juliet were to sing over Romeo's dead body, and then slump over dead herself, to a great whomping crescendo. That's liebestod. I think. The platypus story is kind of sweetly tragic, kind of liebestoddy.

Incidentally, on the subject of zoo animals escaping, Jim and I were at the Fresno Zoo last week, which kind of feels like a backyard zoo, but really really good for a backyard zoo. The black panther was curled up in a cardboard box, just like a housecat. And there were kangaroos that could easily have jumped their dinky fence. Even the wee kangaroos could have made it. I mean, a big sneeze could have sent them over it. So why don't they go? Is it because they are in Fresno and there's not a whole lot to do here anyway!

Fact: a macaw can apply 300 lbs of biting pressure and there is not a nut or seed on the planet that can withstand it. Or a finger. So don't feed your pet macaw peanut butter off your fingertip.


Anonymous said...

I love your endles curiosity about things...isn't research FUN!

Thanks for the lesson (and I can't wait to read your expanded version of that cursed singer in India)!

Kelly said...

Thank you for this lovely post. K

Anonymous said...

laini, i love you. thanks for stretching my vocabulary...and my imagination.
~dawn of the "dawn-cho"

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