Apr 30, 2008

Hyena Pacification

Harar, Ethiopia, is home to an ancient tradition. It is a rite of peace-offering, in the form of hyena feeding. But not just leave-the-food-in-a-bowl-and-run-away feeding, but mouth-to-mouth feeding. Human mouth to hyena mouth.

Evidently, this rite has been performed by a single family in Harar -- it's a hereditary position.

Reznor of Meignorant, who reports on this phenomenon, says that he did see wild hyenas prowling the city streets at night. Their nocturnal presence most likely provided the immediate impetus for this tradition.

I can just imagine some city council sometime long ago, or a meeting of the village elders, getting together to discuss what to do with the wild hyenas. Probably a variety of proposals were put on the table, ranging from killing them to scaring them off to packing up and leaving the city to the beasts. But then one man stands up and says that instead, they should make peace. And he would begin by approaching one of the hyenas with a chunk of raw meat in his mouth and attempt to feed it.

Thus were the wild hyenas of Harar pacified. (Though I fail to see the cause-and-effect here: man approaches wild carnivore with raw meet in his mouth should lead to man being eaten, right?)

Regardless, I would like to shake that man's hand (if I could time travel).

The man above and below is no doubt a descendant of that original hyena-feeding progenitor. The family business is still up and running. I assume that it's difficult to secure worker's compensation insurance, though.

Here is Reznor himself. He offered his own peace-offering, and his face was not ripped off.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Apr 29, 2008

Armored Soul Eaters

Igor Siwanowicz is back with some of his amazing macros.

He recently attended a reptiles and insects expo and was able to procure a pair of these diminutive monsters. The armored Madiga liberiana may be only about 7 cm in length, but they're still capable of eating your soul.

Thanks for the photos, Igor.

Apr 28, 2008

Mantis Eyes

I've posted on the mantis shrimp before (can you go wrong with a name like mantis shrimp?), and I'll post on them again. But the Bleimans have alerted me to an article in Wired that reveals whole new depths to this colorful (you'll catch the pun in a moment) creature.

Photo source: Wired

It turns out that the mantis shrimp has spectacular eyes. For one thing, those compound eyes are composed of thousands of rows of light-detecting units called ommatidia. These ommatidia allow the mantis shrimp to see in 100,000 different colors -- that's 10 times what we humans are able to see. Wow. Crayola and the cosmetics trade would have to hire full time personnel just to create names for all their new crayons and lipsticks.

But there's more. These shrimp are the first animals ever discovered to be able to perceive circular polarized light (CPL).

Barbecue shrimp. Shrimp salad. Shrimp gumbo. CPL-seeing shrimp.

CPL is used in a variety of industries, so no doubt studying this ability in these shrimp will prove to be very valuable.

Apr 27, 2008

A Happy Place

Thanks to this blog, anytime I consider taking a vacation anywhere towards the tropics, I stop and think, "Oh, but those spiders..." And Cathy's photo only reinforces my phobia.

She encountered this jewelled spider while on vacation in Bermuda last October. Bermuda! Can't we have one tropical, paradisaical island that is devoid of spiders (especially the spikey ones who don't bother to clean their webs of their victims' husks)? I know what you spider apologists are going to say: something along the lines of if there weren't spiders, then the insect population would overrun the island.

But I don't need a lesson in island and invertebrate ecology. I just want a happy place, where I can sleep knowing a spider hasn't spun a giant web just outside the door of my bungalow.

Speaking of happy places, there's my traditional dark corner where I can curl up and enter a catatonic state. I'll be back later.

Thanks, Cathy.

Apr 26, 2008

Crab Clash

Little crab tossed aside his weapons, armor, and shield in a bold challenge to big crab. But it looks like little crab forgot his sling. The Philistines might win the day.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Apr 25, 2008

Love Is in the Air

It's a beautiful summer day in Anytown, New Hampshire. You're walking through the town fair, enjoying the smell of corndog friers, the cheers from the ferris wheel, and the anticipation of the fireworks to come. You're holding your sweetheart's hand, and in the other you've got a fistfull of pink cotton candy.

Just as you lean in for a kiss, a Dobsonfly comes at you. It's a good four inches long, with massive pinchers. Its ungainly four wings carry it along, belly forward, on a collision course with your face. You screech and fall back, cotton candy and sweetheart forgotten in this onslaught of evil.

Dobsonfly: 1
Romance and humanity: 0

There are several varieties of this nefarious bug. The one featured here is the Eastern Dobsonfly (Corydalus cornutus). Those mandibles on the male are harmless to humans (won't break the skin), as they are used solely for grasping the lady dobsonfly during mating.

Well, maybe romance didn't lose out entirely.

Thanks for the dobsonfly, Rae.

Speedy the Mean Dog

When good pets go bad.

I like little creatures that are scrappy. They remind me of my two-year-old daughter.

Meet Speedy the Mean Dog (the world's next villain?). This little guy reminds us that inside every dog's genome stalks his ancestral wolf. Be afraid.

Thanks for the photos, Louisa.

Photos by Ray Ruiz

Apr 24, 2008

Devolved Frog

Primative, remote, with moist skin? No, we're not talking about me. We're talking about a frog that has been found in the backwaters of Borneo. But not just any frog. This frog has abandoned its lungs in favor of absorbing oxygen through its skin.

Lunglessness is rare in the tetrapod world. It's only found among amphibians and chain smokers. Only two families of salamanders and a single species of caecilian are so un-endowed. Scientists are hoping that Barbourula kalimantanensis will assist them in better understanding the development of lungs.

I, myself, am not too impressed with this instance of lunglessness. I've developed the same trait, albeit through atrophy. Besides, I don't trust an animal that thinks it's too good for fundamental body parts.

Thanks for the article, Mickey, Jade, and Ida.

Photo source: REUTERS/David Bickford/National University of Singapore/Handout via Yahoo!

Apr 23, 2008


Theodosia, in a synchronistic moment, saw yesterday's post of the marabou stork the same day she came across this photo on Fail Blog (very entertaining -- recommended).

I cannot conceive of the circumstances that led to this photo. Neither do I want to imagine what happened in the moments immediately following.

And then for you biologists out there: thought you might appreciate this other one.

Photo source: Fail Blog

Apr 22, 2008

Morose Marabou

Sam took these photos while on safari through the northern part of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. No doubt, Sam, you wore khakis, sported a pith helmet, and wielded a muzzle-loaded rifle.

What a morose marabou stork. Those gangly legs don't to seem to lend themselves to comfortable seating.

Look at his compatriots. Have you ever seen a flock of carrion-eaters who looked more ready for trouble than this gaggle? You know what they say: idle beaks (and appetites for decaying flesh) are the devil's tools.

I would hate to be downwind from them. Or upwind, for that matter: dying fauna beware.

Thanks for the photos, Sam. I am jealous of your travels.

Lola's Link to a DDD

Care for a two-fer on cephalopod videos? I know I do.

Enjoy this clip of the vampire squid from hell (taken literally from its Latin name: Vampyroteuthis infernalis). Not only does this video have oodles of info on this Diminutive Denizen of the Deep (DDD), but it comes with groovy music.

Thanks for the link, Lola. The poster isn't allowing the video to be embedded.

Apr 21, 2008

Tonight's Nightmare

Mexican fisherman call them "red devils." Squid-o-philes call them "humboldt squids". I call them "six-foot betentacled cannibalistic beasts with nasty beaks". My name hasn't caught on in the scientific community.

Marine biologists and fishermen alike have taken note of the invasion of the Pacific waters off the North American west coast by these giant cephalopods. I recommend watching this video. You'll see some freakish sights, some good ol' angling, and maybe, just maybe, fodder for tonight's nightmare. The only consolation is that they are short-lived. But that's small comfort when one is wrapped around your face and shredding you with its beak.

Thanks for the link, Ida.

Apr 20, 2008

Sasquatch Follow Up

Last Halloween I posted on a photo taken by a motion sensor-driven camera of a possible Bigfoot in Pennsylvania, US. The debate was whether the creature really was Sasquatch, an escaped chimpanzee, a diseased bear, or my little brother (escaped from his pen beneath the stairs).

Well, Ida has been doing some investigation. Check out the photo below. This is what a bear with the mange looks like. And although the bear below what photographed in Florida (Ocala National Forest), the similarity to the creature in the above photo is striking.

Besides, our login records show that my brother's alibi is tight.

Apr 19, 2008

Oscar the Featherless Bird

One of the problems with running a site devoted to ugly creatures is that whenever your family or friends (hey, I have a couple!) see something ugly, they automatically think of you (not always the best association). Such is the case here, where my sister-in-law (hello Chris) saw this article and passed it along...

Oscar is a female Moluccan Cockatoo. But you can see she isn't your average bird.

She suffers from beak and feather disease, an auto-immune disease that causes (among other symptoms) her feathers to fall out before they can properly grow.

This disease is contagious, and she must therefore be kept from the other birds at the facilities of the Humane Society of Broward County. Her companions are cats and dogs and humans.

She's been a resident for over 12 years (a protection group rescued her from a man who was housing her in a barbecue grill), though no one knows exactly how old she is. And she's a real charmer. She loves to dance and strut her stuff. She also loves to flirt. She only interacts with the male staff, whistling and shimmying when they enter. She pretty much ignores the female staff.

For more details and a video, read the article. This bird (who won't survive her disease) has garnished a lot more media attention (Inside Edition, Telemundo, and WFOR-CBS4) than I ever will.


Apr 18, 2008

Specialized Mole

Rare is the day when I see anything get the best of a centipede. That alone endears this creature to me (sorry, you invert lovers).

You're looking at the profile of a new addition to Ugly Overload: the marsupial mole. There are two species of these Australian marsupials, and not much is known about them.

They are the epitome of specialization. Anything that doesn't aid in digging has been disposed of, including eyes, external ears, and a tail (vestigial at best). On the flip side, it has some unique digging upgrades: the third and fourth digits on the front paws sport elongated claws (see photo), their marsupial pouches face backward (like the wombat) to keep dirt from getting inside, and their neck vertebrae are fused together to help them ramrod their way through sod.

I'm reminded of myself. I've stripped away anything that doesn't assist in accounting or blogging, including physical health, social grace, and pigment in my skin. On the other hand, my sack-of-potatoes body fits easily into any office chair, I have calluses on my blunted fingertips, and I absorb sustenance from the glare of my LCD monitor, photosynthesis-style.

Thanks for the critter, Mike. Once again, I find myself pining for the Outback.

Photo source: Animal Pictures Archive

Apr 17, 2008

Hmm, an Endangered Turtle...

Turtles and tortoises are all over the news today, from a tortoise addicted to nicotine to shots of Olive Ridley sea turtles laying eggs on the beach.

But I cherry-picked this one.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is now home to a captive Swinhoe's soft-shell turtle from Thanh Hoa province in Vietnam. These reptiles are quite rare (only four known individuals on the planet--that's the brink of extinction).

Let me think about this one. A turtle has become rare in Southeast Asia...how could that be...

here for the results.

Photo source:AP Photo/Cleveland Metroparks Zoo via Yahoo! News

Apr 16, 2008

A Blight

Behold a creature that has made my short list of the most dreaded of all beasts, and reason #1,023 why I don't live in the Middle East.

The Egyptian Giant Solpugid, better known as the camel spider or sun spider, is a blight in the already charm-challenged class of Arachnida. And while there are all sorts of rumors about this monster, they do pose a threat to those inhabiting the deserts of the Middle East.

Want proof? Check out this purty little wound received by a US soldier serving over there.

Thanks for the link, Wendy. I need to go bathe in boiling oil.

UPDATE: The concensus seems to be that this wound wasn't caused by a camel spider, since they aren't venomous. Either the wound got infected, or it was inflicted by a scorpion.

Photo source: National Geographic

Horrifying Hare

Simone came across a site devoted to cute, adorable, yawning bunnies--all yawn all the time. But Simone noted that some of the shots were more horrifying than endearing. Here is one such bunny.

Note the pink slit that is the rabbit's malevolent eye, the maw pulled back in a snarling rictus, the vicious talons revealed and ready...

I'm taking some artistic license here, but you get the point.

Photo source: Talking Egg

Apr 15, 2008

Wild Turkey Tom

Mike of 10,000 birds sent along these photos he took of a wild turkey tom (Meleagris gallopavo).

The loose, knobby, colorful skin that enshrouds this bird's head and neck is bad enough. But I just now noticed the little tuft that caps that flap of skin that dangles off its beak. That's just about too much for me.

I recommend you visit 10,000 birds. Those folks are avid birders and conservationists (very entertaining too).

I've got a mesquite turkey sandwich, with deli mustard and cheddar cheese on multi-grain bread, waiting for me in the refrigerator. I very much look forward to it.

Back Ache

Morgan, Jade, and Ida have all requested that I post this video. So enjoy this Surinam toad hatching toadlets from cavities in her back. Talk about back labor. You'll be itchy for a few hours.

Apr 14, 2008

Fishing Mothers

Here is the fishing spider, a devoted mother native to Ecuador. These spiders are able scurry across a pond or stream without breaking the surface of the water (a talent I thought only ninjas possessed). The mothers are noted for carrying their egg sac around with them wherever they go. I can only assume that the bulky sac hampers her hunting style, but such are the burdens of motherhood.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Apr 13, 2008

Animal Hoarding

I've been asked to post on animal hoarding by a reader (who will remain nameless).

Animal hoarding comes in several varieties. The most famous is the crazy cat lady, known for her hundreds of cats and the stench wafting from her abode.

But we are more concerned with some animal shelters that hoard animals (or house them in inhumane conditions). These photos are taken at one such shelter.

The greater point, folks, is to be sure to investigate any shelter before you hand over your animal or your cash, regardless of the shelter's 'no-kill' or not-for-profit status.

Apr 12, 2008

Leafy Geckos

A major project is underway to better understand the wildlife and ecology of Madagascar. This island, the fourth largest on the planet, is home to an amazing variety of life. 80% of its fauna is unique to the island, making conservation a high priority.

In an effort to do my part, I'm bringing you some of Madagascar's geckos. Awareness and all that.

This first one is the leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus). Note the leaf tail and the geckoness. Very aptly named.

Photo source: Guardian.co.uk

This next one, in case you couldn't guess, is the giant leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus). Again, notice its leaf tail and geckohood. And giantishnesshood.

Thanks for the photos Dourocouli and Ida.

Photo source: Guardian.co.uk

Apr 11, 2008

New Angler

I got beat to the punch on this one by Zooillogix, but I never pass up a chance to post on an anglerfish, especially a newly discovered one.

Photo source: National Geographic

Say hello to the latest member of the anglerfish family, straight from the waters of Indonesia. Two things set this flat-faced fish apart from other anglers: 1) its forward facing eyes, and 2) the absence of the trademark lure.

What is an anglerfish without a lure? A fisherman without a rod? A hunter without a rifle? A blogger without internet access?

But this fish has no doubt found a way to lure its pray in. Maybe it has an alluring dance or a sultry, smokey voice.

Thanks for the article, Alice and Ida.

Apr 10, 2008


Dr. Thomas Eisner has traveled the world over taking photographs of nature, many of which had never been caught on film before. One of my favorite is the photo below.

This is a bombardier beetle doing what bombardier beetles do best: bombarding. These bugs have two glands on their posterior, one filled with hydroquinone and one with hydrogen peroxide. When threatened, they point their posterior towards their targets and squirt. The two sprays intermingle en route to the target, are mixed with a small amount of catalytic enzymes, and undergo a "violent exothermic reaction. The boiling, foul-smelling liquid partially becomes a gas and is expelled with a loud popping sound." Each such attack results in 70 individual shots.

This spray is fatal to attacking insects and small animals. It is painful to human skin.

Built-in, boiling pepper spray. That would be very useful. My own posterior glands produce nothing but sweat, which, though it eventually makes for a foul odor, does not have the defensive capacity of the bombardier beetle.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Photo source: Thomas Eisner and Daniel Aneshansley via The New York Times via National Geographic

Apr 9, 2008

Proud Papa

Look at this proud papa with his clutch and two newly hatched froglets. Have you ever seen a frog more proud of his egg mass?

The male Oreophryne is a native to Papua, New Guinea. He is a devoted father, who embraces his clutch each night to keep the eggs moist and to ward off predators. As a father myself, I commend this frog.

As a sidenote, these frogs belong to the Microhylidae family, many of whose offspring bypass the tadpole phase and emerge from the egg as fully developed frogs. Can't we do this for humans too? Skip the whole teenager phase? The frogs don't know how good they have it. How 'bout it, science?

Thanks for the photo, Aaron.

Photo source: National Geographic

Apr 8, 2008

Molting Cicada

Enjoy this time lapse of a cicada shedding the skin of its youth and emerging as a bigger, winged bug.
Thanks for the link, Ida.
Source: Wikimedia.org

Apr 7, 2008

Traveling Gator

The 14-year-old alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) below, named White Diamond, is the only known albino alligator in all of Europe (a coveted honor among reptiles). He's part of a traveling reptile show out of Germany, called Land der Reptilien.

Did you know that 'alligator' is derived from the Spanish 'el lagarto', meaning 'lizard'? Did you know that albinism is typically caused by recessive genes and results in a lack of pigment in the skin and eyes? Did you know that albino alligators have laser vision, can fly, and grant wishes?

Photo source: REUTERS/Christian Charisius (GERMANY) via Yahoo!

Apr 6, 2008

Popular Fish

Anybody know what kind of fish this is? He's obviously a popular fish, given the following of hundreds of lesser fish swarming about him, and the human paparazzi. A grouper maybe (with his little groupies)? He probably speaks in a husky Sicilian accent and wields tremendous power in the oceanic underworld.

Let me know, you ichthyologists. I offer a $1M prize to the person who identifies him.

UPDATE: Ian and Jim have identified the species. The fish below is a Goliath Grouper. However, no one has identified the individual fish's name (Frank, Harry, Leroy, Amun-Ra, Habakkuk...). So the $1M remains unclaimed.

Photo source: LinkInn.com

Apr 5, 2008

Can't Go Wrong

Here are a variety of brazilian tapir photos. These five hundred lbs 'mountain cows' have become one of my favorite animals. How can you go wrong with three toes, a prehensile snout, and massive, toothy jaws? You can't.

Thanks for photos, Sarah.

Photo source: Sarah

Apr 4, 2008

Octopus Love

Oh, the vagaries and vicissitudes of an octopus's love life...

Graduate student Christine Huffard snorkeled in the waters off Indonesia to watch Abdopus aculeatus, an octopus with a spiky tan body the size of a small orange and arms 8 to 10 inches long. What she discovered was something that would get air time on a mollusk version of Jerry Springer.

...males hang out in front of their lairs to ward off any rivals--even strangling would-be suitors (Odysseus style) if needs be...

...the males prefer the big females, since they have greater egg-laying capacity...

...smaller males will approach the lairs incognito--they swim in low and keep their male coloration hidden, slip past the male guarding the female within, and then procreate with the big mama...

I'm not sure if it's comforting or discouraging to know that octopi suffer from the same relationship issues that we do.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Photo source: Tarik Tinazay / AFP - Getty Images file via Reuters via MSNBC

Apr 3, 2008

Charging Chimp

As much as I enjoy watching the chimpanzees at my local zoo or on commercials, it's a good thing to be reminded every so often that they are wild animals capable of literally tearing you apart.

As a sidenote, Cheetah, of Tarzan fame is still alive as of the writing of this post. He is 76, and has outlived his less hairy co-star. That makes Cheetah the world's oldest known chimp.

Photo source: LinkInn.com

Apr 2, 2008

Dragonfly Nymph Conversations

Nick had a conversation with his paramour recently that caused him to research dragonfly nymphs (feel free to contact him for all the sordid details).

The result of his investigations included the photo below. You'll notice the empty nymph shell hanging off the newly emerged dragonfly.

You'll also notice the little spider in the lower left-hand corner (by the dragonfly's tail), who had to observe the whole thing from the comfort of his little web. That would be like me lounging in my favorite recliner and watching a semi truck roll onto my front lawn, convulse, crack in half, and give birth to a fighter jet. The spider probably had some cool water cooler conversations the next day at work.

Thanks for the photo, Nick.

Apr 1, 2008

Bringing Communities Together

The subscript to this photo from CR McClain reads:

A species of holothurian, Pannychia, swarms a whale fecal mound in the abyssal Paficic.
I really don't know what to say about that. It's possibly the best sentence ever written in the English language. And while there's nothing romantic about fecal mounds, it's nice to think that even such an unlikely item can bring communities (even of the sea cucumber variety) together. Isn't the world a beautiful place?

Thanks for the article, Rasmus. (this isn't an April Fool's post - fecal mounds are no laughing matter)