Sunday, February 14, 2010

Avain leprosy: The next pandemic

I recently came into the possession of 40 freshly plucked Branta canadensis and Anas platyrhynchos legs. To the layperson, those are Canada geese and mallards, respectively, but I like using the scientific names because I think it makes me sound like a real scientist...until my office mate points out that I pronounced the name wrong, and I just help confirm his low opinion of the intellect of Southerners. At least in writing, I'm safe (as long as I cut and paste from a reliable source so the names are spelled correctly). I say "freshly plucked" since the legs were FedExed to me from my mom's friend's husband just after shooting them on a hunting trip the weekend before. Who knew you can just FedEx freshly shot body parts? It seems like someone should be checking into this kind of thing, or at least including it in an episode of CSI. But after being FedExed cross country in ziploc bags in a Tupperware cake carrier without ice, lets just say that "fresh" was no longer an accurate adjective. And after leaving them in my office overnight, which has a tendency to get warm, to baste in their own bloody juices, let's just say that "fresh" was even more of a stretch... and it's good thing my office has a window that opens.

For some inconceivable reason, my advisor and the collections manager forbade me to open the bags and play with the legs in the paleo labs. Instead, I unleashed my odoriferous wrath on the zoology department, who are apparently used to rotting flesh. After gearing up in gloves, mask, and lab coat in case there was a Shamu-type splash zone (yeah, I don't do flesh), I braved the bags juicy juicy bird legs. I should perhaps have mentioned before now that my research involves comparing the internal structure of fossil and modern bird leg bones - I don't just randomly have married men send me dead bird parts. (Though would it really be infidelity if they did?) Upon opening these bags of festering juiciness, I discover that I was just sent the feet - tarsometatarsi down. My research focuses on the femora and tibiotarsi - the upper and lower leg bones. Essentially, I was sent nothing I could use for my dissertation.

So the next natural question was what to do with 40 rotting bird legs. Well, you see, my office has a balcony outside the windows that you can get to through the kitchen next door. Typically this balcony is just used by me for reading or lunching when I feel a case of Rickets coming on, but, could conceivably be used for things like shooting champagne corks at undergrads. Not that I'd ever do anything like that. And while thinking about things that I would never do on the balcony that would also imply that I drink champagne in my office, I spawned a wonderful solution for anyone with extra rotting bird legs in their office. Avian leprosy. You hear about avian flu, swine flu, hoof-in-mouth, but nothing about avian leprosy - just Google "avian leprosy" or "bird leprosy", and all you get are hits from blogspot, livejournal, etc. (not that those aren't respectable scientific and journalism outlets....I mean, just look at my blog). My idea is a fabulous social experiment by testing the mindset "ignorance is bliss". Because they've never heard of it, no one fears avian leprosy. We'll see about that. Using the tactical position of the balcony, I would lob rotten bird legs at passersby. This would be followed up with a public posting on the threat of avian leprosy (I could use this blog, but I wouldn't want to overwhelm the world, knowing what a mass media outlet this is), perhaps even a scientific report showing photos of up to 40 disarticulated bird legs . Then I would just sit back and sip champagne on the balcony watching the panic spread. Honestly, I think it'd do a lot to get people's minds off the economy. So it'd really be a benefit to society.