Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New at the Zoo

Hot days this week, but at least the dogday cicadas have returned to Illinois to buzz during the late afternoon and early evening. I try to time my book reading on our backyard deck to be late enough to avoid the worst of the afternoon heat, but not so late that I'm mosquito food for the dusk-time bloodsuckers. I also sometimes go out after dark and read by porch light and look for fireflies and listen for crickets. They're ramping up now. I expect much louder cricketsong as the weeks go on.

The Brookfield Zoo has added some features since we were last there. It's good to know that the economy hasn't kept a nonprofit like the zoo from capital investments such as the Great Bear Wilderness, 7.5 acres that, according to zoo, feature "iconic North American animals: Grizzly Bears, Polar Bears, Bison, and Eagles." (Sic. Not sure why animals get caps.) The zoo moved the bears there from the former Bear Grottos, which are no more. The new space for bears is much larger than the grottos, the better for bears to be bears, I figure.

The wolves also have a large new enclosure of their own, the Regenstein Wolf Woods. The resident wolves there were fairly active for such a warm afternoon, coming close enough to the viewing station to show their kinship with domestic dogs. A sign at the viewing station -- which is indoors -- promises a couple of minutes in a darkened room, listening to wolf calls. We couldn't pass that up. The room was indeed dark, except for the glowing EXIT sign, and the soundtrack began with crickets. Then the wolves chimed in, making quite a din.

That confirmed that I heard coyotes in the distance those years ago while camping on national forest land in Montana on a cold August night. All four of us were wrapped in our blankets in our tent, but I was the only one awake to hear the not-so-distant baying of coyotes. Later I thought maybe they were wolves, but apparently wolves howl more than coyotes, who yip and yap more (not that I've ever heard that in the suburbs, though I know coyotes live around here).

We also visited exhibits that have been around a while, such as Fragile Desert and Fragile Rain Forest, though I had to wonder about the fragility of environments that would kill me quickly if I ventured there unprepared. Pinniped Point has seals and sea lions, while The Swamp has alligators, otters, snapping turtles and signs warning us not to buy cypress mulch for our gardens, since cypress trees need to stay in swamps, not be cut for purpose of lawn vanity. I'll go along with that, partly for environmental reasons, partly in my quest for a low-maintenance, biodiverse lawn.

The Living Coast has long been a favorite of mine at the Brookfield Zoo. It has penguins, for one thing. It also used to have a large tank of moon jellies. Now there's only a few in a small tank. Or maybe I'm misremembering things. Maybe the Shedd Aquarium has the tank of moon jellies. But I could have sworn that five or ten years ago the Living Coast had an enormous tank with dozens and dozens of the creatures, a real smack of jellies, meandering around their water unconcerned whether they were in Tethys Ocean or an artificial pool built by land-dwelling primates who, in jellyfish terms, are very recent arrivals.

I assume they're unconcerned. It's impossible to tell. I quote from Wiki: "Jellyfish do not have specialized digestive, osmoregulatory, central nervous, respiratory, or circulatory systems." That's a lot of things not to have. They seem so otherworldly, so ethereal. Yet there they are, moving around placidly like they have for maybe 500 million years.

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