Home

A Brief Biological Guide to American Political Amphibians and Reptiles

gekko%20flag%2003.jpg
In this educational piece the author describes the neoteny exhibited by the political species
Jim Gabour
1 January 2012

Attention, please.  Notebooks at the ready.  

The political amphibian, and its related reptilian brothers and sisters classified as Reptilia politicus americanus, are curious creatures of varied appearances and lifestyles.

“Amphibian” derives from the Greek for “double life”.  Usually the amphibian’s early years are spent in water, breathing through gills in the side of their head as fish do. At this stage they actually resemble fish, swimming by wriggling their tails.

As they mature, amphibians normally lose those gills and develop legs. 

Political parallels are numerous.

A number of species, though, begin leg development but keep their childhood breathing apparatus and stay in immature waters throughout their lifetimes. This is a classic example of an evolutionary phenomenon known as neoteny -- describing an amphibian which keeps a juvenile identity even as a full-grown adult.  

This condition has been observed by the scientific community to exist within human political circles in a suborder that thrives on the leaves of Camellia sinensis, the common tea plant.

gekko%20flag%2003.jpg

In spite of some religiously-based scientific dispute to the contrary, all amphibians have soft skin which readily absorbs elements from their environment.  Thus, they are destined to be among the first organisms to suffer from the effects of global pollution and climate change.

The Urodela or Caudata classes of amphibians have especially diverse methods of survival and/or of dealing with the universe, with amazing parallels to humanoid political behavior.

When the Four-Toed Salamander (Homidactylium sculatum) is apprehended by a predator, it intentionally separates a portion of its body, specifically its tail, which breaks off and wriggles wildly to divert the aggressor while the larger corpus of the lizard gets away.  This Salamander quickly regenerates a new tail and proceeds on as before.

Unlike most of its silent kind, the Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) emits low-pitched howls when cornered.

A Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea aquatic) is a stubbornly one-sided and neotenic, i.e., it retains the gills of its earlier liquid-bound stage, refusing to change into a land creature.  Though rarely sited, it is believed by scientists to flourish in scattered springs across the American South.

The Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), also known as The “Allegheny Alligator” or “Devil Dog”, is a giant among salamanders, growing to 29” or 74cm, which completely rejects living on solid ground.  The dramatic names reflect these creatures’ reputation as ferocious attackers and poisonous biters, legendarily tagged as beings aggressively destructive to human pursuits.  In fact they are harmless and feed on bottom dwellers and worms.  They are said to be currently threatened by industrial expansion and dams.

Lesser Sirens make a loud clicking sound when excited, make even louder noises when captured, and also will fight aggressively to keep from being held in place.

Dwarf Sirens are secretive creatures, and during dry spells wrap themselves in mud and hide on the bottoms of existing water holes.

Chameleon males, who are actually distantly-related reptiles, change colors drastically when excited.  They also inflate a large, brightly-colored sac on the underside of their neck when trying to draw the attention of a possible mate.  The trait may account for their name, which derives from the Greek for “ground lion”. 

After successful consummation, however, they quickly disappear into any nearby environment, mimicking their surroundings with their skins and hoarding whatever has been won in the courtship process, even if it is only a genetic memory of the briefest encounter.   Their camouflage, however, is of secondary importance.  Mostly chameleons change colors to get laid.

This persistent behavior crosses suborders among the class Reptilia politicus americanus, but the trait of rapid retreat after the procreative act seems particularly dominant among the seemingly breeding-starved subfamily republicanus.

Chameleons are also distinguished by their parrot-like feet, their separately mobile and stereoscopic eyes, and their very long, highly modified tongues which are sometimes longer than their own body length and can be completely deployed in a fraction of a second. 

Since they do not have an outer or a middle ear, chameleons may actually be deaf to outside vocalization, though some can communicate via vibrations that travel through solid substances, like whatever they are currently using for a perch. 

The soundbite-transmitting marble floor of the media offices in the US House of Representatives serves the politicus in much the same manner.

Gekkos are a large genus, not originally native to America, that have been introduced into the Southeast and Southwest US, and have rapidly spread throughout surrounding regions.  It is often considered an invasive species.  Some specimens are said to have loud calls and fierce bites. 

In a philanthropic and biologically educational move, American advertising has introduced a much tamer species of greenish, upright-walking gekko to public consumers as an insurance mascot. 

And the behavior of a species discovered just a decade ago inhabiting overgrown corners of New York’s Wall Street -- the Gordon Gekko -- has become a role model for a number of American presidential candidates.  One photograph documenting such behavior has created both international notoriety, and intellectual confusion, in the already befuddled scientific community.

Some members of the reptilian family Gekkonidae, though genetically still holding much in common with amphibians, have unique traits quite unlike those of their brethren.

During dry periods the California Newt (Taricha torosa) buries itself in decaying forest detritus and rat burrows.  When threatened, it tries to scare off its attacker by assuming a posture it believes is intimidating, in most cases rolling over and flashing its brightly colored underbelly.

The Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) preys largely on worms and insects.  Like most newts the Eastern secretes a poison through its skin so that anything trying to devours it gets a nasty mouthful and spits it back out.  Consequently, it is avoided by what would otherwise be natural predators, and survives.

The Warty Newt, though large (18 centimeters, 7 inches), is an endangered species, and is now said to live only in a central swath of Europe.  Similar to other newts, this creature’s “warts” produce a milky, foul-smelling liquid that keeps predators away.  The Warty Newt flourishes in darkness and is an insatiable eater.  In Europe a government permit is required to interact with warty newts. 

Rumors have it that the same restrictions may soon apply to those rare but invasive examples of the warty species that have shown up in the US, particularly in Southern states like Georgia and Virginia.

Unless otherwise specified, a primary source for the above information on reptiles and amphibians is Wetlands:  The Audubon Society Nature Guides, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1989.  Pages 383-394.

Confirming the somewhat speculative data on political species maybe be obtained by first-hand observation of the preening and mating process on Fox News, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Headline News, all variety of BBC, and may also be examined in detail daily in most paper-based media outlets.

Class dismissed.

Peter Geoghegan: dark money and dirty politics

Democracy is in crisis and unaccountable flows of money are helping to destroy it. Peter Geoghegan’s new book, ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’, charts how secretive money, lobbying and data has warped our democracy.

How has dark money bought our politics? What can be done to change the system?

Join us for a journey through a shadowy world of dark money and disinformation stretching from Westminster to Washington, and far beyond.

Sign up to take part in a free live discussion on Thursday 13 August at 5pm UK time/6pm CET

In conversation:

Peter Geoghegan Dark Money Investigations editor at openDemocracy and the author of ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’.

Mary Fitzgerald Editor-in-chief, openDemocracy.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData