Friday, November 27, 2009
Chisellers and other marvels
I recently completed a vertebrate zoology lesson on rodents, lagomorphs, and insectivores, only this time I had no live models to sketch from. It was fun nevertheless. And, I learned a lot.
This on the right is a shrew. In 1607, the English naturalist Edward Topsell described this little creature thus: "It is a ravening beast, feigning itself gentle and tame, but being touched it biteth deep, and poisoneth deadly. It beareth a cruel mind, desiring to hurt anything, neither is there any creature it loveth". Hence, the words "shrews", "shrewish", and "shrew", which in the English language describe cunning, ill-tempered, or villanous people. He was wrong, shrews are fascinating. If my photographic references have helped me being faithful to nature, the shrew I portraid is the smallest extant terrestrial mammal, a pigmy white-toothed shrew, weighing only 2 grams (0.07 oz)!
Mice belong to one of the most succesful Orders, the rodents. 42 percent of all mammal species are rodents, and they can occur in almost any habitat, generally in close association to people. Rodents, as their name implies, are expert at gnawing. They have self-sharpening incisors. Their incisors have enamel only on the front and lateral surfaces, so that grinding worns away the softer dentine in the back, transforming the enamel layer in a cutting edge. The incisors of rodents have open roots and grow throughout life, to compensate for wear. I first sketched this field mouse with a biro and then added texture with wax colored pencils.
Hares belong to the Order Lagomorphs, together with rabbits and pikas. The snow-shoe hare moults its fur twice a year and dons a white coat in the winter, for camouflage. Hares are expert runners, and their strategy in avoiding predators is exactly that, outrunning them. Some of the longer legged hares can reach a speed of 72 km/h (45 mph), while shorter-limbed rabbits hide in dense cover or in underground burrows.
Have a nice day everyone!
Barbara Bacci, Rome