Stoats - Evil, but how cute are they?

So, as I mentioned in the previous story, the kakapo parrot of New Zealand got into a little trouble as as species when predators were introduced to its formerly pristine environment.  The kakapo had more than just the loss of ability to fly working against them, they also had three critical evolutionary habits that did not bode well for survival.  For one, when danger would arrive, the birds would freeze, which may have helped them hide from the Maori people, but not from pouncing feral cats.  Also, they emitted a rather sweet fragrance, something like a honey tinted floral smell, which may blend into the smells of the island to people, but makes them an easy target for predators such as dogs.  Also, because in their evolutionary past, one of the only dangers they faced was from a giant (now extinct) eagle, they had developed a habit of building their nests and laying eggs on the ground, which made their young easy targets for the stoats.

The kakapo were almost completely wiped out fairly quickly, and faced with growing public concern , the New Zealand government realized they were going to have to do something.  They designated Resolution Island as a habitat, and appointed Richard Henry as chief curator and caretaker.  Over the next six years, Henry would move scores of kakapo and kiwi, another flightless bird, over to Resolution Island, hoping they would be safe there.  The stoats, however, after these six years, swam across the water and reached Resolution Island, and the fragile birds’ eggs.

From there, the kakapo almost met its fate on the extinction map.  Within six years, the stoats had effectively wiped out the population on Resolution Island.  A few birds here and there had been ferreted away to other islands; some of which were populated with feral cats, unfortunately.  Reports of seeing kakapo in the wild dwindled.  In the 1950s, the New Zealand Wildlife Service would go looking for them regularly, but eight years went by before even one was found.  In 1961, a handful were found, but all the birds caught and brought into captivity would die off.  I’ll tell the rest of their survival story later.

When I first heard the story of this bird, the details were not as interesting to me as the main idea – the idea that sometimes life comes at you fast, and without means to adapt quickly, we fail to thrive.  As I learn more about the bird, though, it is the little details that fascinate me.  There is so much more to this story I want to tell you, so you will just have to stick around for the next installment.


I first heard about the plight of the kakapo parrot just recently, during a long winded but extremely interesting video segment of Douglas Adams. There are several interesting aspects about this bird, but the one that is intriguing me the most right now is the evolutionary biology angle.

Basically, the kakapo is a bird that missed the boat.  It probably would have been driven to extinction if humans had not gotten involved and worked at bringing them back to higher numbers.  What happened is that nature spoiled this great big bird initially, and the kakapo got so settled into its environment over the 70 million years that when its environment changed suddenly, it was unable to keep up.

For that long span of time, this parrot species native to New Zealand lived in an island environment with no predators or threats to their survival.  Gradually, they had lost the ability to fly, as their body size increased, their wings got smaller, and they lost muscle and bone development in certain key areas.  The adult males weigh up to 4 kg (which is 8 1/2 pounds), so they are a very large bird.  They also developed a very slow breeding pattern, which would be a good evolutionary strategy for animals with a limited space and resources.

This 70 million year slow process, however, was interrupted in the late 1800s by the influx of Europeans to New Zealand.  The colonists had brought domestic animals with them to this island, including cats, dogs, and stoats (which are cute little ferretlike animals with terrible fierce teeth that like to raid nests of birds and eat their eggs and young).  Suddenly, there was survival pressure on this species that it just could not keep up with.  When the colonists arrived, the joke was you “could shake a tree and the kakapo would fall like apples”.  They were plentiful, and, as the native people before them, the colonists enjoyed eating the tasty plump white meat of this bird who could not get away fast enough.  Feral cats and dogs, along with the stoats, did their damage as well, and by the 1890s, the population was in real trouble.

I would like to go into more detail about the stories of the attempts to bring the population of this bird up, which now hangs at about 122 individuals, and also some interesting reproductive aspects of this bird, but that is too much to go into detail with at this time.  Expect more on the kakapo in the future.

Botanical Detectives

So what is this?

We first encountered this plant while we were hiking through the Armand Bayou Nature Center, finding answers for an Earthcache out there.  I was fascinated with the unique color of the leaves and the soft, rounded seed capsules beneath them.  (Actually, I think I remarked that to me, they bore a resemblance to monkey nuts, but that is just the demented primatologist in me).  In this picture, you can also see a worm moving along the petals, which also intrigued me that day.

This first encounter back in September, we took pictures in hope that we can use them to identify it later.  Only, I couldn’t figure out how best to do that.  A few weeks later, we were at an outdoors expo at Discovery Green, and I talked to a TPWD employee about their recommendations on free online field guides to identify plants.  The lady referred me to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s online field guide, which is awesome.  However, it is somewhat difficult to use when you want to do what I was trying to do, which was match the picture up with another one that had a name attached to it.

Another month or two later, we were out for a lunchtime walk at the Shadow Creek Ranch Nature Park, and I thought I saw a picture of the plant etched into an interpretative sign.  I couldn’t be sure though, because there was no color on the sign and the etching was not a perfect replication.  Also, I meant to remember the name of the plant on the sign that resembled it and look it up later, but I forgot the name I had seen.

Around Christmastime, we were flipping through field guides of plants at bookstores and couldn’t figure out what book would be best to buy to find information like this.  Then, last night, we were at Katy Budget Books and found a pamphlet with color pictures called “Texas Trees and Wildflowers”.  I told him, “this is just what I need!”, then went on to browse the other nature books.  Then he pointed to a picture on the pamphlet and said, “There it is”.

Snow-on-the-Prairie.  Euphorbia bicolor.

Mystery solved.


1. GC30, 5/11/2000 Kansas, Mingo by The Kansas Stasher
2. GC12, 5/12/2000 Oregon,Geocache by Jerry Connelly
3. GC28, 5/13/2000 Illinois,Beverly by Robert Reindl
4. GC3E, 5/18/2000 New South Wales, Australia, Lane Cove by Paul Edwards
5. GC46, 5/26/2000 New Zealand, Geocache by Kevin AndeO’Byrne rson
6. GC39, 5/26/2000 New York, The Spot by GPS_Fool
7. GC31, 5/31/2000 Kansas, Arikaree by The Kansas Stasher
8. GC1D, 6/3/2000 Georgia, Beaver Cache by Jim Gooch
9. GC43, 6/3/2000 Ireland, Geocache by Chris
10. GC16, 6/4/2000 Oregon, Geocache by Jerry Connelly
11. GC1E, 6/11/2000 Georgia, Tour of Stone Mountain
12. GC53, 6/15/2000 Kenya, Rift Valley (Virtual Cache)
13. GC25, 6/17/2000 Idaho,Camels Prairie Stash
14. GC37, 6/20/2000 Missouri,Missouri’s First – Watts Mill by Steve Brown
15. GCD, 6/21/2000 Washington, Geocache by ajromanelli
16. GC26, 6/21/2000 Idaho, Two roads by Ry Jones
17. GC27, 6/21/2000 Idaho, Eggcellent by Ry Jones
18. GC4B, 6/25/2000 New Zealand, Aukland Stash by nz_etrex
19. GC1B, 6/27/2000 Arkansas, Gorilla Stash by Ed Normandy
20. GC18, 7/2/2000 Colorado, Tarryall by Mike Frazier
21. GC40, 7/7/2000 Belgium, Geocache by Pierre Cao
22. GC35, 7/16/2000 Michigan, Power Island by Kluso
23. GC20, 7/17/2000 Georgia, Marooned
24. GC19, 7/20/2000 Colorado, Geocache by Rob Garrison
25. GC17, 7/21/2000 Oregon, Geocache by Jerry Connelly
26. GC23, 7/21/2000 Hawaii, Geocache by Tim Billings
27. GC21, 8/16/2000 Georgia, Lake Lanier by Jay Chamberlain
28. GC36, 8/21/2000 Michigan, Geocache 612 by Gregory Benn
29. GC3B, 8/27/2000 Utah, Potters Pond by leaper64 & dirk88
30. GC57, 9/9/2000 Arizona,Geocache by Dan Rich
31. GC5B, 9/10/2000 California,Phil’s Memorial Cache (Oldest CA. Cache) by GoodDogSD
32. GC5C, 9/17/2000 Idaho,Southern Idaho’s First! by Eric
33. GC62, 9/26/2000 TexasTombstone
34. GC67, 9/28/2000 Colorado, Paul Barclay Stash by Terry Shelton
35. GC68, 9/29/2000 Alaska, Centurion Guards by Gary Short
36. GC6A, 9/30/2000 Denmark, Kippers in the Jungle by Klaus Alexander Seistrup
37. GC6E, 9/30/2000 Alaska, KidsGeoCache by Gary Short
38. GC70, 9/30/2000 North Carolina, Octopus Garden
39. GC72, 9/30/2000 Finland, Sun Gear by Kalle Reunanen
40. GC74, 10/1/2000 Massachusetts, First Mass by Jeremy Gilbert
41. GC76, 10/1/2000 Georgia, Rock Town
42. GC77, 10/2/2000 Germany, First Germany
43. GC78, 10/2/2000 California, Firestone44.  GC79, 10/7/2000 Washington, Iron Horse
45. GC7A, 10/8/2000 Australia, Melbourne’s 1st
46. GC7B, 10/8/2000 Arizona T824 Table Mesa
47. GC7E, 10/8/2000 Arizona, Labyrinth Canyon
48. GC7C, 10/9/2000 Utah Beaver Springs
49. GC7D, 10/9/2000 Massachusetts, Lowell, aka Second Mass
50. GC80, 10/9/2000 Utah Little Creek Stash
51. GC85, 10/14/2000 Massachussetts Camera Cache
52. GC86, 10/14/2000 Vermont 1
53. GC89, 10/15/2000 Georgia Iron Horse
54. GC8A, 10/15/2000 Utah Pony Express
55. GC90, 10/19/2000 Mississippi, Bonita Lakes
56. GC92, 10/22/2000 Oregon Un-Original Stash
57. GC93, 10/23/2000 Indiana’s First
58. GC98, 10/28/2000 Texas Double
59. GC9B, 10/28/2000 Utah Clover Spring Stash
60. GC9C, 10/27/2000 California Rabbit Eye View
61. GC9E, 10/29/2000 New Hampshire NH#1 Mines Follies
62. GCA0, 10/30/2000 California Creekside Stash
63. GCA1, 10/31/2000 Texas A Walk in the Park
64. GCA5, 11/4/2000 Oregon Hembre Ridge
65. GCA8, 11/4/2000 Utah Wah Wah Stash
66. GCAB, 11/8/2000 California Orange County Stash
67. GCAD, 11/11/2000 Australia Devil Bend
68. GCAE, 11/12/2000 New York Sleepy Hollow 1
69. GCAF, 11/11/2000 New Zealand Mount Cargill
70. GCBO, 11/11/2000 New Zealand Flagstaff Hill
71. GCB1, 11/12/2000 New Zealand Unity Park
72. GCB2, 11/12/2000 New Zealand Botanical Gardens
73. GCB6, 11/13/2000 Georgia Yellow River Stash
74. GCBF, 11/19/2000 New York Boston Cache
75. GCBE, 11/20/2000 New York Turkey Cache
76. GCC2, 11/24/2000 California Azucar Mine Offset
77. GCC6, 11/25/2000 Indiana Turkey Run Stash
78. GCC8, 11/25/2000 New Jersey gerbiL cacHe
79. GCC9, 11/28/2000 Texas No Walk in The Park
80. GCD2, 12/2/2000 California Doggie Do
81. GCD4, 12/3/2000 California Bovine Hill Stash
82. GCD6, 12/2/2000 California Born Free
83. GCDE, 12/10/2000 California Igor
84. GCEO, 12/10/2000 Massachussets Aldo’s Andover Geocache
85. GCE4, 12/11/2000 Connecticut Another Brick In the Wall
86. GCE6, 12/12/2000 Massachussetts Willow Brook Wander
87. GCEC, 12/16/2000 Rhode Island Brenton Point
88. GCED, 12/17/2000 Arizona Senda de Tonto
89. GCEF, 12/17/2000 Texas CenTex Prime
90. GCFO, 12/15/2000 Scotland Scotland’s First
91. GCF1, 12/17/2000 Australia Frying Pan
92. GCF2, 12/19/2000 Massachussetts The Silver Lake Stash
93. GCF4, 12/24/2000 South Carolina Modoc Stash
94. GCF7, 11/25/2000 Australia’s Used-To-Be Highest
95. GCF9, 12/26/2000 Nevada XKD-380
96. GCFA, 12/25/2000 Florida Christmas Cache
97. GCFE, 12/27/2000 Arizona Diablo Point Cache
98. GCFF, 12/27/2000 Pennyslvania Stone Wall Stash
99. GC101, 12/27/2000 New York Hudson’s Folly
100. GC103, 12/28/2000 Denmark High Tension in the Bog