Thursday, November 11, 2010

who you callin fat?

a fat sand rat (hi!)
I was enchanted to discover recently that there is an animal called the fat sand rat (pictured above). Fat is part of the species' name, its binomial nomenclature: Psammomys obesus. The animal is in the news because researchers were able to confirm that traditional treatments for SAD had scientific basis; they are diurnal, not nocturnal, as are the usual animals for testing (mice and other rats). Fat sand rats responded well to light exposure and antidepressants, and got out of their little bathrobes earlier in the day and stopped watching so much TV.

a fat puffer
It's fascinating to me that there is a taxonomic way for an animal to be fat. It is such a loaded and extremely subjective descriptor in the human world (reclamation aside), not to mention seen as a voluntary, mutable, and undesirable, state, but it turns out there are at least thirty species besides the fat sand rat who are blithely, officially "fat."

the fat dormouse
There is, for instance, an entire genus of fat puffers, such as the guineafowl puffer (pictured). There are a lot of "fat" fish: fat snooks, fat sleepers, fat mullets; and fat things in shells like fat pocketbooks and fat horsemussels. There is a fat dormouse or edible dormouse, considered a pest in the UK, and the genus of fat mice, which includes the subspecies of the dainty fat mouse and the tiny fat mouse (query: who doesn't want a play village of tiny fat mice?).

the fat mullet
There are also "plump" animals--plump whelks, plump groupers, and plump cyphomae--and two "corpulent" snails--the corpulent rams-horn and corpulent hornsnail. There are three "ponderous" molluscs. There is a portly spider crab, which I think sounds a very dignified thing.

the rotund 
mystery snail
Then there are the "stout" and "rotund" animals. All the "rotund" animals, around ten of them, are molluscs (words to denote swollen size seem very popular in mollusc descriptors), like the rotund disc, the rotund cleftclam and the rotund trophon. There is a genus of stout newts (how Gussie Fink-Nottle), and at least twenty other "stout" species: the stout red shrimp, the stout blacksmelt, the stout longtom (a kind of needlefish).

the chunky fathead
There is, I'm happy to say, a chunky fathead, also known as the Indian driftffish. There are no "chubby" animals (although the marbled murrelet is described as "a very small, chubby, sea bird that seems to lack a neck"), but a few "obese" animals; mostly, again, things in shells: the obese thorn, the obese dipperclam, the obese pondsnail.

the thin shrew
What about the other end of the spectrum? There are at least twenty "thin" animals (no "skinny" or "svelte" ones, though), including the thin shrew, the thin pillar, the thin moonsnail, and the companion to the fat sand rat, the thin sand rat (Psammomys vexillaris), also known as the pale sand rat (as might befit a thin rattie).

a Marmosops
(slender mouse opossum)
There are lots of "slender" animals, including the slender anchovy and slender sole, and several "slender" genii: slender salamanders, slender mongooses, slender loris, and slender mouse opossums (the spectacularly named Marmosops, which should be a kind of fuzzy absorbent towel or perhaps a cute rodent spy game). There is also, oxymoronically enough, a whole genus of slender chubs.

Just for fun, I pulled out words from FHM's list of 100 Sexiest Women in the World 2010 (with its handy "Lady Finder") with which to search the animal world. I found no animals with "plunging," "epic," "petite," "goddess," "chesty," "healthy," "sexy," "hot," or "ass" in their name, but did get:
a tit
• the genus of tits

• a lot of "naked" animals, including a family of naked catfishes, squeakers, and upside-down catfishes and a genus, the famous naked mole-rats

• over twenty "beautiful" animals, including the genus of beautiful squirrels

a beautiful squirrel
• "pretty" animals, including the pretty shiner

• "wild" animals, including the wild turkey

• "erect" animals, including the erect wormsnail
the pretty shiner
• two "massive" species, including the massive urn crab
• the glorious topsnail

• the horny goby
the sad flycatcher
The subjective/adjectival in animal kingdom taxonomy is pretty much endlessly interesting. There is a nervous shark and a sprightly pygmy rice rat. I found at least eighteen "delicate" species. There is a happy wren, and four "sad" animals," including a bivalve called the sad elliptio. Language related to size is just one corner of all the sometimes goofy poetry.

fat rat!
It also turns out the fat sand rat, which is, note, not particularly fat, is a fairly relevant little animal to the human world. They were called fat originally because of the discovery that some of them become diabetic on normal grain-based rodent diets. So not only do researchers use them for studies about SAD, they are very popular for research about diabetes and its effects. Poor little dudes. They better be getting sunlamps for their troubles.


  1. Hi! Isn't the little creature a gerbil? 'Cause it is so similiar to gerbils that I think it is one too. Or maybe just a cousin :)