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6 Professional Painters from the Animal Kingdom

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Note: This article was originally published in 2009. We're knee deep in server migration this week, so forgive us for reposting a few oldies/goodies.

Humans are not the only species to create art. You can argue all day about what is art and what isn't, but some animals are selling their creations, which puts them a notch closer to being true artists than most of us! Here are six different species of professional artists.

1. Koopa the Turtle

Koopa is a turtle belonging to artist Kira Ayn Varszegi. Kira taught Koopa many tricks over the years, such as standing on his hind legs and painting. Watch a video of Koopa in action. During a 5-year painting career, Koopa produced 827 paintings, which you have to admit is fast work for a turtle! He is retired now due to some health issues, although some of his paintings are still for sale. You can keep up with Koopa through his MySpace page or through Kira's blog.

2. Stewie the Tamandua

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Stewie the tamandua was what most of us would call an anteater. Stewie and his companion Pua (also a trained tamandua) appeared in one of the Dr. Dolittle sequels. In addition to acting, Stewie had a talent for painting. Watch Stewie learn to paint in this video. Unfortunately, Stewie died of an autoimmune problem in February of 2008. But he lives on in photos and artwork.

3. Cheeta the Chimpanzee

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It's no surprise that many apes, our nearest relatives, create art. Probably the most famous simian painter is Cheeta, the retired star of many Tarzan movies. Cheeta, now 76 years old, lives at the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary in Palm Springs, California, and his main hobby now is painting. You can buy one of Cheeta's masterpieces for $125 plus shipping costs, which will help support the sanctuary.

4. Smithfield the Pig

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Smithfield the Vietnamese potbellied pig always showed an aptitude for learning new things. A resident of Richmond, Virginia, he paints pictures by holding a brush in his mouth. In addition to painting, Smithfield makes personal appearances for groups and on TV, where he performs his repertoire of tricks like posing for pictures and playing musical instruments. He has survived two bouts of cancer, which left him with a hole on the top of his snout. You can buy Smithfield's paintings through his website.

5. Cholla the Horse

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Cholla is a mustang-quarter horse mix who displays an unusual talent for painting -for a horse, that is. Cholla was 19 years old before he took a brush in his mouth. He was distrustful of humans for many years until his owner Renee won him over and he began to follow here everywhere, even watching her as she painted the fence. When Renee gave him paintbrushes and a heavy-duty easel, his art career took off. The sales of Cholla's artwork benefits an entire list of charities.

6. Hong the Elephant

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Hong is one of many elephants involved with the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project. Rescued from an abusive owner, she lives at the Maetaman Elephant Camp in Thailand, where a total of nine elephants have learned to paint. Unlike other animal artists, the elephants produce representative paintings instead of abstract art!

Originally, Khun Anchalee Kalmapijit, the Operations Director, learned elephant painting from the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang.  Khun Anchalee initiated elephant artists learning to paint for the first time ever in Chiang Mai in 2000.  At the beginning, she and the mahouts trained the elephants to hold the brush by putting it into their trunk.  For a while, the elephants refused to hold the brush, they were uncomfortable with the strange brushes placed in their trunks and let them fall to the ground.  It took some time for them to accept it because elephants naturally pick up things by rolling their trunk and holding.  After the elephants could hold the brush by their trunk, they were given brushes with color.  Then, the elephants chose to draw lines up, down or put dots on the paper.  Their practice compares to how a human first learns to write "“ practice, practice, practice.  The elephants keep doing these until they have the skill to draw a proper line.  This step takes many months depending on how often they practice.  Some time later, when the mahouts want the elephants to paint a portrait or flowers, they put the lines that elephants can do together and train them to remember with lots of practice, bananas and sugar cane.

Watch Hong create one of her paintings in this video. When you buy an elephant painting, you help support the elephants and their sanctuaries.

I wonder how my house cats and hermit crabs would do with a set of watercolors...

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
10 Juicy Facts About Sea Apples

They're both gorgeous and grotesque. Sea apples, a type of marine invertebrate, have dazzling purple, yellow, and blue color schemes streaking across their bodies. But some of their habits are rather R-rated. Here’s what you should know about these weird little creatures.

1. THEY’RE SEA CUCUMBERS.

The world’s oceans are home to more than 1200 species of sea cucumber. Like sand dollars and starfish, sea cucumbers are echinoderms: brainless, spineless marine animals with skin-covered shells and a complex network of internal hydraulics that enables them to get around. Sea cucumbers can thrive in a range of oceanic habitats, from Arctic depths to tropical reefs. They're a fascinating group with colorful popular names, like the “burnt hot dog sea cucumber” (Holothuria edulis) and the sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa), a scavenger that’s been described as a “living vacuum cleaner.”

2. THEY'RE NATIVE TO THE WESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN.

Sea apples have oval-shaped bodies and belong to the genus Pseudocolochirus and genus Paracacumaria. The animals are indigenous to the western Pacific, where they can be found shuffling across the ocean floor in shallow, coastal waters. Many different types are kept in captivity, but two species, Pseudocolochirus violaceus and Pseudocolochirus axiologus, have proven especially popular with aquarium hobbyists. Both species reside along the coastlines of Australia and Southeast Asia.

3. THEY EAT WITH MUCUS-COVERED TENTACLES.

Sea cucumbers, the ocean's sanitation crew, eat by swallowing plankton, algae, and sandy detritus at one end of their bodies and then expelling clean, fresh sand out their other end. Sea apples use a different technique. A ring of mucus-covered tentacles around a sea apple's mouth snares floating bits of food, popping each bit into its mouth one at a time. In the process, the tentacles are covered with a fresh coat of sticky mucus, and the whole cycle repeats.

4. THEY’RE ACTIVE AT NIGHT.

Sea apples' waving appendages can look delicious to predatory fish, so the echinoderms minimize the risk of attracting unwanted attention by doing most of their feeding at night. When those tentacles aren’t in use, they’re retracted into the body.

5. THE MOVE ON TUBULAR FEET.

The rows of yellow protuberances running along the sides of this specimen are its feet. They allow sea apples to latch onto rocks and other hard surfaces while feeding. And if one of these feet gets severed, it can grow back.

6. SOME FISH HANG OUT IN SEA APPLES' BUTTS.

Sea apples are poisonous, but a few marine freeloaders capitalize on this very quality. Some small fish have evolved to live inside the invertebrates' digestive tracts, mooching off the sea apples' meals and using their bodies for shelter. In a gross twist of evolution, fish gain entry through the back door, an orifice called the cloaca. In addition expelling waste, the cloaca absorbs fresh oxygen, meaning that sea apples/cucumbers essentially breathe through their anuses.

7. WHEN THREATENED, SEA APPLES CAN EXPAND.

Most full-grown adult sea apples are around 3 to 8 inches long, but they can make themselves look twice as big if they need to escape a threat. By pulling extra water into their bodies, some can grow to the size of a volleyball, according to Advanced Aquarist. After puffing up, they can float on the current and away from danger. Some aquarists might mistake the robust display as a sign of optimum health, but it's usually a reaction to stress.

8. THEY CAN EXPEL THEIR OWN GUTS.

Sea apples use their vibrant appearance to broadcast that they’re packing a dangerous toxin. But to really scare off predators, they puke up some of their own innards. When an attacker gets too close, sea apples can expel various organs through their orifices, and some simultaneously unleash a cloud of the poison holothurin. In an aquarium, the holothurin doesn’t disperse as widely as it would in the sea, and it's been known to wipe out entire fish tanks.

9. SEA APPLES LAY TOXIC EGGS.

These invertebrates reproduce sexually; females release eggs that are later fertilized by clouds of sperm emitted by the males. As many saltwater aquarium keepers know all too well, sea apple eggs are not suitable fish snacks—because they’re poisonous. Scientists have observed that, in Pseudocolochirus violaceus at least, the eggs develop into small, barrel-shaped larvae within two weeks of fertilization.

10. THEY'RE NOT EASILY CONFUSED WITH THIS TREE SPECIES.

Syzgium grande is a coastal tree native to Southeast Asia whose informal name is "sea apple." When fully grown, they can stand more than 140 feet tall. Once a year, it produces attractive clusters of fuzzy white flowers and round green fruits, perhaps prompting its comparison to an apple tree.

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