Jul 31, 2008

Computer Monkey

I have to admit it. This picture gave me a moment of existential pause. This scene has played itself out too often in my home. Not that we have a harem of hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas) living in our house. How many times have I been pecking away at the computer with the wife and kids looking on, waiting for me to show some YouTube video, or trying to explain why I do a blog about ugly animals.

But you know what this means for me personally? It means that baboons have Internet access now, and it's only a matter of time before they stumble across this blog and read what I've written about them. I'm going to have to go into hiding, get off the grid. Anyone care to take in a blogger-in-hiding?

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Photo source: ChrisL_AK

Jul 30, 2008

Moley Moley Moley

For this post I thought I would juxtapose an actual mole photo with that of a mole cricket. These two creatures have quite a bit in common. They're omnivores that burrow looking for food, and are considered to be pests in most areas. Unlike the mole, however, the mole cricket can fly. That would add a whole new complication to mole abatement if we had to chase down flying ones.

Photo source: Knuttz.net

Jul 29, 2008

Mekong Catfish

You've no doubt seen photos on the web of the insanely huge mekong catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) of Southeast Asia. But have you seen a video of one?

Check out this monster. This endangered fish gets to be 10 feet long and 650 lbs. It gains that bulk by eating plant matter, algae, and precious human children.

Jul 28, 2008

Writing Spiders

In this photo all you see is the demon spider (Argiope s.) lurking in its web. What you don't see terribly well is the squiggly stretch of silk it places in the center of its web.

These spiders were once called "writing spiders", because of the stabilimenta (those squiggles I mentioned), which were thought to be some sort of communication a al Charlotte's Web. Studies have shown that diurnal spiders that employ stabilimenta are 34% less successful in catching their prey, but their webs are far less likely to be damaged, because lumbering humans like me and other passing creatures (birds, etc.), can more readily spot and avoid the web.

We should pass some sort of legislation that requires all spiders to include stabilimenta in their webs. It's the least our arachnid neighbors can do. How about it, legislators?

Photo source: Sean McCann

Jul 27, 2008

Sun, Wind, and Camel

Photo source: Igor Siwanowicz
Here are some more gems from Igor. You may know this creature as the camel spider (it's got a bunch of names--wind scorpion, sun spider, sun scoropion, et al), but it is neither a spider nor a scorpion. It's in its own fancy order of arachnida (Solifugae).

Here are two charming descriptions from Wikipedia. First, on feeding:

Prey is located with the pedipalps and killed and cut into pieces by the chelicerae. The prey is then liquefied and the liquid ingested through the pharynx.

Mmm. Slurp slurp.

Next, on mating:

[On Solpugids in general] Reproduction can involve direct or indirect sperm transfer; when indirect, the male emits a spermatophore on the ground and then inserts it with his chelicerae in the female's genital pore. To do this, he flings the female on its back.

Romantic creatures, these Solpugids.

Thanks for the photos, Igor.

Jul 26, 2008

Dining On Coral

The green humphead parrotfish (Bolpometopon muricatum) is a large beast. It reaches 4 feet in length and can weigh up to 100 lbs. They are found in the Indian and Pacific oceans and are known to be somewhat skittish.

The eat algae and coral. That gnarly beak is what allows them to chomp live corral down into tasty bits. And what is that humphead for? Why, they sometimes ram coral with it to break it up. All the better to eat coral with, my dear.

I might adapting some of that behavior to my own dining experience. Perhaps a head-butted pizza will go down easier.

Here's a video of a school of them. Watch those chompers in action.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Photo source: UnderwaterPhotography.com

Jul 25, 2008

Wrinkle Character

Matt sent us a picture of his friend's pug. Pug's have a rich and long history as a breed. Most sources agree that they hail from China, dating back to before 400 B.C.

The Chinese of those by-gone years bred dogs for wrinkles and markings that looked like Chinese characters. In the case of the pug, they were bred for facial wrinkles that formed a W, which resembles the Chinese character for 'prince'.

Do you know what this means for all of us as we grow old and wrinkled? We need only search for patterns and characters in our wrinkles to take pleasure in them, as opposed to dreading the steady onslaught of age.

I think I just spotted the Egyptian hieroglyph for Anubis in my mother-in-law's crow's feet. That can't be good.

Jul 24, 2008

Childhood Dream Fulfilled

The Desert Horned Lizard is found only in western North America, a point of pride for Americans and Mexicans alike. Like many children (myself included), Igor Siwanowicz was fascinated by them.

But why, you ask, is the horned lizard so appealing to children (at least the disturbed ones). Is it their diet of ants, beetles, and spiders? No, not really. How about how they bury themselves in sand to lie in wait? No, not that either. They're not aggressive. In fact they're quite gentle and won't even bite. The worst they might do is try to push their head spikes into your hand, and that's just plain old endearing.

Oh, maybe it's because they can squirt blood from their eyes up to five feet if threatened. That might arouse a kid's interest.

Photo source: Igor Siwanowicz

Igor sent me these photos with the explanation that he was able to live out his childhood dream by procuring a pair of these critters and getting to photograph them. And the world is better for it. Igor is one of the most talented photographers you'll ever find, so stay tuned. I have a more heading your way.

As always, thanks Igor.

Jul 23, 2008

Hippos Like to Lick Crocs

I've posted on hippos before. I've posted on crocodiles. But never have I posted on them together. But this video is so much more. Ever wanted to see a hippopatamus lick a crocodile? I know you have, so enjoy.

Thanks for the video, Ida.

Jul 22, 2008

Oodles of Mantises

The 2,300 species of praying mantises comprise an order of insects called Mantodea. They are found worldwide in temperate climates.

There's a bit of interesting etymology on this bug, which is usually the subject of entomology. First, it is spelled 'praying' mantis, not 'preying'. Those folded arms lend this insect a certain devotional atmosphere.

The word 'mantis' is Greek, and means prophet or fortune teller. Praying prophet? Very appropriate. Mantids so often look like they know something we don't.

But then, preying fortune teller also seems fitting. I've seen enough predatory charlatans out there. These creatures are very good at deception after all.

Anyways. I've picked out five of my favorites. Enjoy.

Photo source: Igor Siwanowicz

Jul 21, 2008

Ajolotes are Bipedal (Kinda)

Tina saw my post on the slow worm, which is in fact a legless lizard. Then she found this creature, which has only a single pair of legs, but is neither a snake nor a lizard. In fact, it is unusual for creatures of this genus, the Amphisbaenians, to have legs at all. First a creature that should have legs, now one that shouldn't.

Photo source: Unexplained Mysteries

Say hello to the ajolote of Mexico. As you might expect, given the configuration of the claws and the lack of pigmentation, the ajolote is a subterranean, burrowing creature. The scales are arranged in rings, giving it a wormy appearance. The nubby tail doesn't help either. This is a very confused creature.

But it goes to show that it's hard to find good looking a subterranean animal. But what good are looks if you never see the light? It's easy to be ugly when you can't see yourself in the mirror.

Thanks, Tina.

Jul 20, 2008

Fuzzy Hermit Crab

Back in 2006, American and Kiwi researchers photographed for the first time ever the creatures living near methane vents in the cold waters off the New Zealand coast. The deep-sea communities surrounding these methane seeps are rich in diversity. And I have cherry-picked them to bring you, in my estimation, one of the ugliest and most fascinating of them.

Below is a photo of a deep-sea hermit crab. See those furry filaments on its claws? They are thought to be used to harvest the energy-rich chemicals infused in the pitch-black water from the methane or hydrogen sulphide seeps. Now how is that for a clever adaptation? Necessity is the mother of invention, and with no sunlight around for energy, these crabs, like many of their abyssal neighbors, have turned to the vents for sustenance. Much like how my brother and his friends seem to draw nourishment from playing Metal Gear Solid 4.

Thanks, Ida.

Photo source: NOAA via NewScientist.com

Jul 19, 2008

Look into My Eyes

This isn't a post about snails. This is a post about brainwashing parasites.

Some of you will recall (with weeping and wailing) my
post on the video of a snail whose eye stalks had become occupied by a pair of caterpillar-like larvae who had commandeered the snail's nervous system, forced the mollusk into the open, only to have its eye stalks devoured by a passing bird.

Well, lookee below for a still of that scene. One of the many freakish aspects of this parasitical circle of life (Elton John on three...) is that the snail is rarely killed. Once its eyestalks have been plucked off, it regains control of its senses and is able to return to a relatively normal snail existence, albeit with years of psychotherapy ahead of it.

Thanks for the reminder, Ida.

Photo source: Ondrej

Jul 18, 2008

Malayan Horned Frog Doesn't Like You

The Malayan Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta) is a marvel of camouflage. What you don't see in this photo is that it looks exactly like a leaf that has fallen to the forest floor of its native Malaysia. What you do see is the grumpy, unimpressed disposition of a large-headed frog that is described as both "predacious and voracious."

They make for good pets. They'll use both the terrestrial and aquatic portions of its terrarium, dine on all sorts of invertebrates (and rodents, lizards, and other frogs if you're so inclined), and will even breed in captivity. But they'll also make you feel inadequate as they watch you with those disapproving eyes as you move about the house. So it's kind of a toss up.

Thanks for the photo, Theodosia.

Photo source: Animal Pictures Archive

Jul 17, 2008

Ghost Slug

Irene called me out on my claim that if you hear about a new creature that it was probably discovered on Madagascar. But a new slug has been unearthed, to date only found in Wales, specifically in Cardiff and Caerphilly. Behold the Ghost Slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda).

The ghost slug earned its name because of its pale flesh and subterranean lifestyle (very chic in the mollusk world). But there is something very unusual about this diminutive monster:

Unlike most slugs, the ghost slug is carnivorous and kills earthworms at night with powerful, blade-like teeth, sucking them in like spaghetti.

I can imagine a worm-oriented horror film called Nightcrawler. Only, the twist is that the Nightcrawler isn't the worm, it's the ghost slug! **shriek**

The closest cousin to this slug is found in Turkey and Georgia, so researchers have no idea how the ghost slug made it to Wales (hitchhiking?). One possible scenario is that it was inadvertently introduced via plant pots many hundreds of years ago, making the slug an alien species. Welsh earthworms are so happy about that accident.

The first photo is of an adult slug, the second one of a baby.

Thanks, Irene.

Photo source: Rhagor

Jul 16, 2008

Smarty Pants Octopi

According to Slate.com:

Aristotle didn't have a high opinion of the octopus. "The octopus is a stupid creature," he wrote, "for it will approach a man's hand if it be lowered in the water."

Oh yeah, Aristotle? Can you open a mason jar with your tentacles and eat the crab inside like in this video (sucks to be the crab)? They've got half a billion neurons, which puts them on par with mammals and birds and Greek philosophers.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Jul 15, 2008

Not So Slow, Not So Wormy

Though I can't account for the speed of the Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis), I do know that this creature isn't a worm. And though it looks like a snake, it isn't that either. It's a legless lizard found in all sorts of habitats in Wales (among other places).

So what's one way for the average layman to figure out if they're looking at a snake or a legless lizard? Easy: lizards have eyelids. So if one blinks at you, they've given themselves away.

I can imagine a reptilian version of a James Bondesque spy movie in which the villain suspects that the dashing and handsome serpent-hero he is working with is actually a slow worm. Only when the villain catches the hero blinking (over a game of poker) are his suspicions confirmed. Violence and hilarity ensues.

Thanks for the slow worm, Sherry.

Photo source: tr33Io

Photo source: Brecknock Wildlife Trust

Jul 14, 2008

Herpetologists Needed

We need some herpetologists to weigh in on this one.

The good people over at Scienceray are unable to identify this creature. It looks like a frog to me--one with heavy brows, thick lips, and oodles of wrinkles. Perhaps it's the sharpei of the amphibian world. I can't tell if it's feeling melancholy, pensive, or just hamming it up for the camera (look at that pose, with the chin resting on its hands...it's too much. I want to hold it and say everything's going to be all right). It's puffy swollenness reminds me of my own appearance after I've eaten too many salty foods.

Thanks for the article, Annica.

UPDATE: There seems to be a consensus among those better informed than I (a group which includes most of my readers). This is an unusually poofy White's Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea)

Photo source: Scienceray.com

Jul 13, 2008

Half the Crab I Used to Be

Don't let this crustacean fool you with his crab-like appearance. You're looking at Petrolisthes elongatus, the New Zealand Half Crab. This particular specimen was found on Jetty Beach, South Bruny Island, Tasmania. What's a New Zealand creature doing on Tasmania? Good question. It's an introduced, foreign (alien?) species.

These half crabs are a variety of porcelain crab. But their name begs a question, doesn't it. What's the other half? Well, I can't find that out. My best guess is that it the other half is evil. What makes this not a true crab? For one, it's got three pairs of walking legs as opposed to the traditional four (the fourth pair of legs are used for cleaning). Lastly, this crab's abdomen can be flapped and extended (much like my own), and true crabs have no such functionality.

But I doubt the average 'true' crab walks up to a half crab and mocks it for its halfness, not with that claw action. A gargantuan version of this might be able to take Tokyo and Mothra on at the same time.

Thanks for the link, Ida.

Photo source: Nuytsia@Tas

Jul 12, 2008

Devourer of Termites

The turtle frog is a head-first burrowing amphibian native to the southwest tip of Australia. A few items of note: they live in the sand beneath logs but usually not near water, they have the largest eggs of all Australian frogs, their tadpoles develop completely into frogs while still in the egg, and they've got tiny heads.

But my favorite factoid about this little frog is that it is a very discriminating eater. It dines only on termites. It is such a voracious eater that it can eat 400 at one sitting. That would be like my small-headed brother eating several large pizzas without having to push back from the table. Oh, wait, he already does that. And he's got moist, pebbly skin, lurks under logs, and shies away from human interaction. I need to investigate this.

Thanks for the article, Wendy.

Photo source: Brad Maryan via Frogs.org.au

Photo source: Gerry Marantelli / Amphibian Research Centre via Frogs.org.au

Jul 11, 2008

New Bat Discovered

Whenever you hear of a new species of animal having been discovered, a safe bet is that it was found on Madagascar.

Such is the case with a new bat that has been entered into our taxonomic records. Everyone give a high-pitched screech of welcome to our new inductee, the sucker-footed bat (Myzopoda schliemanni). This creature "has suckers (large flat adhesive organs) attached to its hind feet and thumbs which are used to attach itself to the smooth surface."

If you're going to be a bat, you might as well have suckers on your thumbs, especially if you can keep those useful claws. Well done, sucker-footed bat. Now we just need to get you a better name.

As a side note, if you hear of an animal from Madagascar, you can also assume with some safety that it is endangered. Such is the case with this little guy.

Thanks for the article, Annica.

Photo source: Scienceray.com

Jul 10, 2008

Fishing Spider Carries Egg Sac

Here's some shots of a massive fishing spider from Australia. She's a soon-to-be mother, as indicated by the egg sac she is carrying around.

When mommy isn't busy being a taxi for the egg sac, she can be found floating on the surface of ponds and streams. Each of her legs is pretty uniform in length, which allows for her to spread her weight evenly when she ventures out on the water. From there she can do the whole lurking thing and plunge beneath the surface to grab a tadpole, small fish, or water insect. Or human soul.

Thanks for the link, Ida.

Photo source: Nuytsia@Tas

Jul 9, 2008

Ugly Bug Faces

Dark Roasted Blend has a fantastic spread of ugly bug faces (are there any other kind of bug faces? -- that's a rhetorical and inciteful question, you bug lovers). A lot of them were taken by an electron microscope, and I recommend you check them out.

Here are some of the others. Please welcome the Antlion (aka doodlebug) for her debut on Ugly Overload. And then, of course, we have the ever-popular house centipede.

Thanks for the link, Mary, Annica, and Lee Ann.

Jul 8, 2008

Back to the Office

The good folks over at NOAA gave us this one. It's a scorpion fish who has seen better days. I'm back from a week long vacation, and I feel a bit like this guy now that I have to return to the office.

Thanks, Brian.

Photo source: Paula Keener-Chavis, NOAA

Jul 7, 2008

Annual Chameleon

Researchers in Madagascar have determined that Labord's chameleon (Furcifer labordi) live for only about 4 - 5 months. They all hatch in November and die some time in March or April. They are an annual species whose population turns over every year.

Photo source: National Geographic

The chameleon actually lives longer than that. But they spend 8 - 9 months inside the egg before emerging to eat, mate, and die. They have no juvenile stage. They skip straight from hatchling to adult. Though it would be nice to skip the teenage phase (for the parents at least), it wouldn't be so cool to have everyone I know, the entire species, die off en masse. But, c'est la vie.

I've known some people like this chameleon. They spend more time incubating than 'living', and by the time they are ready to get started, their time is almost up. On the other hand, I've also known people who have it together early on and are ready to carpe diem.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Jul 6, 2008

Chow Time for Roaches

Jade, our resident invert breeder, has sent us a veritable panoply of roach photos. Enjoy.

Check out Terminix for more pictures of common household roaches.

First we have Orange spotted roaches (Blaptica dubia). The males have the wings, and the juveniles have the color. That leaves the ladies flightless and drab (not really--they've got a chic glossy brown thing going on).

Next we've got your classic hisser (Gromomorphia portensia). As Jade says, "You can't go wrong with these guys." Hmm. Well. I've never tried to go right with them, so I wouldn't know.

Last, but absolutely, definitely, by no means least, we have Turkistan Roaches (Blatta lataralis). In the trade these fast little vermin are known as 'red runners.' I would be known as a 'pasty-white runner' if I encountered a group of these in my cupboards.

Just in case any of you are wondering, these photos were all taken at meal time. Jade feeds his roaches dog food and bananas, which is better than lots of dogs and monkeys get for food.

Jul 5, 2008

What's in a Name

The triops is a hermaphroditic crustacean (males are very rare--a good thing for you misandrists), and is a temporary pond-dwellers. They lay eggs in these ponds, and when the ponds dry up, the eggs remain in a state of suspended animation until filled back up. Want a triops? Just take eggs and add water. Think sea monkeys.

Speaking of which, I'm surprised these critters haven't become a more popular novelty pet (they are sold as pets, but haven't caught on). I think it has to do with the name. Some clever marketer needs to come up with a better one. If you can name a shrimp a sea monkey, you can name a different crustacean just about anything you want.

Any ideas?

Thanks for the new pet, Kira.

Photo source: MyTriops.com

Jul 4, 2008

ROUS Seeking Mine

Mozambique is but one country littered with lethal mine fields. There have been many different methods developed to discover these mines, ranging from running mad-cow-diseased cattle over the fields to detonate the bombs to sacrificial child-soldiers to armored mine-clearing vehicles. But all such methods have significant flaws or limitations, or are just plain evil.

Enter the Giant Gambian Pouched Rat.

Photo source: Time.com
These rats are ideally suited to clearing land mines. They are intelligent, easy to train, easy to transport, cheap to feed, work well with any handler, and are resistant to tropical diseases (unlike dogs who weigh too much, get bored, and succumb to such diseases too readily). 36 such rats have already cleared the country of thousands of mines. Two rats can accomplish in one hour what a human de-miner would take two weeks to do.

How do they do it? They are trained to sniff out the TNT in the mines. As they scamper across the field, they sniff the ground. Once they catch a whiff of the explosive, they scratch at the ground. The rat's handler then clicks a remote, which signals the rat's collar to chirp, making the rat run back to the handler for food. The rats find the mines, but are too light to detonate them. They can be used again and again and seem to really enjoy the work.

I have a new found respect for vermin. Which reminds me: I need to give my brother a call.

Jul 3, 2008

The Globe Artichoke

The more I investigate the pangolin, the more fascinated I become. These walking pine cones are amazing creatures. They are the only mammal on the planet armored with keratin scales.

Photo source: Nigel J. Dennis / www.nhpa.co.uk

Photo source: CBC Radio As it Happens
Native to portions of Asia and Africa, the pangolin (of which there are eight species) gets its name from the Malay term "pengguling ("something that rolls up"). The pangolin rolls up into a ball when threatened, and those scales are not only tough, but they are also razor sharp (ergo the gloves).

The closest living relative isn't the anteater, though the pangolin is also called the scaly anteater. Rather, its closest living cousin is the carnivora (one of the best names ever given to an animal).

If you want to watch some endearing footage of one, check out this video. They walk bipedally.

Thanks for the photos and the video, Ida and Booge.

Jul 2, 2008

Triumphant Nubian Vulture

The Nubian, lappet-faced, or eared vulture has every right to gaze at the sky in contemplative triumph.

These Old World vultures are among the largest birds on the planet, with a wingspan of nine feet. Unlike many other vultures, these birds are not gregarious. They keep to themselves in mated pairs, with each pair dominating a large range of territory. This decreases the number of Nubians who show up at any given carcass, and keeps them from having to travel too far for food.

They have amazing eyesight and essentially no sense of smell. That's a good combo if you're dining on rotting meat.

Photo source: Frank Wouters

Jul 1, 2008

Octopus with a Rasta Hat

What kind of octopus wears a rasta hat? And why can't I be that diver?

Come on, you cephalopodophiles, identify this one for me. There are between 650-700 species of cephalopods in the world, roughly a third of which are octopi (octopuses, octopodes). Can you at least narrow it down?