Nov 30, 2008

Sleepy Lizard

Anyone know what kind of lizard this is? Looks like an iguana, maybe one of the marine varieties of the Galapagos Islands. It's got some impressive knobbage going on, with the knobs on the top of the head and the goiters/sacs for jowls. Whatever it is, it looks content. Let sleeping lizards lie, especially when they look like dinosaurs.

Thanks for the photo, Jeroen van Weeren.

Nov 29, 2008

Down Came the Rain

See what happens when you leave your sink alone for too long? Spiders clamber inside and start reenacting classic nursery rhymes.

Why is it that anything man-made that gets abandoned gets overrun by spiders? Webs show up, and spiders soon lurk in every nook and cranny. I can't think of any other creepy crawly who makes his presence known as quickly and readily as our web weaving neighbors. I guess the webs are a good thing, if for no other reason than for alerting us to their presence. It's the ones that don't weave webs that you can't trust (jumping spiders excluded).

Thanks for the photos, Denise.

Nov 28, 2008

Apply the Logic

Photo source: -k- pix
I said yesterday that you are what you eat. Then why do I feel like this pig today?

What does that mean anyway, you are what you eat? If you apply that logic to what you ate, then if you ate a pig, and the pig was what he ate, then you'd be slop. Extending that logic out to its extreme, then aren't we all just sunlight, water, and a smattering of elements?

There's poetry in there somewhere. I just can't find it.

Anyway, hope you're having a nice holiday weekend. Nicer than this pig at least.

Nov 27, 2008

You Are What You Eat

You are what you eat people. In which case, I'll be a stuffed turkey with sides of mash potatoes, nut bread, green beans, cranberry sauce, fruit salad, buttermilk rolls, salad, olives, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie today.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, folks, regardless of what you eat.

Photo source: D'Arcy Norman

Nov 26, 2008

Super Commuter

The Andean Condor is second only to the California Condor in the weight and size category for New World birds. A full-sized male stands around 4 feet tall, has a wingspan of almost 10 feet, and weighs 20 - 30 lbs. Interestingly enough, it is vultures in the Old World that top the list of largest birds. There must be something to carrion-dining that allows for large sizes.

Photo source: Kevin Law

The Andean Condor, like other New World vultures, are more closely related to storks than they are to Old World vultures, who are related to birds of prey. Also, whereas their African and European cousins tend to rely on eyesight (look into those eyes) to find their food, the New World vultures tend to rely on smell.

The Andean is something of a super commuter. They'll travel upwards of 150 miles a day in search of fetid carcasses. But these birds do it with class; they've got the whole 'black cape with snowy cowl' thing going on, not to mention the comb and waddle. Fancy, uppity bird.

Photo source: Anne Elliott

Nov 25, 2008

Bragging Rights

James decided to further fuel the flames of my orderism bigotry (though it's been suggested that maybe I have a case of 'phylumism'), by presenting me with yet another instance of a lower order animal dining on a higher order one. In this case, we have a black widow spider having ensnared a snake. Click on the image; it is amazing when viewed large.

We catch black widows in our house at least once a month. I've trained my girls how to spot them, and how to avoid them. I'll show them these pictures to really instill some good ol' fear.

Couple points to make:

1) I really hope the snake's friends don't see him hanging there. That's embarrassing. It's one thing to be caught by a mammal or a bird or a tire tread. But a spider?

2) That spider lady has earned life-time bragging rights.

Thanks for the photos, James.

Photo source: The West Virginia Blogger

Nov 24, 2008


Maybe I'm an orderist (new word alert), but I don't like seeing 'lower' order animals dining on 'higher' order ones.

Like in this case of a frog being eaten by a giant water bug. Arthropods shouldn't be permitted to eat vertebrates. That's just wrong.

I've been bitten by a giant water bug, and it hurts. Real bad. And they don't let go. You have to flail about, cry for mommy, and then scrape them off. Though frogs can flail about, calling for mommy does them no good, and it's hard to scrape off something that out-sizes you by several classes.

As a human, I like to think of myself as at the top of the food chain, and immune to the predations of lesser beasts. Only aliens and Superman should be able to eat me. I hope never to be disabused of that notion.

Thanks for the photo, Michael. I suggest all of you check out his other work. He's a master at photographing herps.

Nov 23, 2008

Plague Rats (Again)

This was the most sinister image of a rat I could find on short order. Rats are so easily depicted in cartoons as evil, menacing creatures. But in most photos they simply look like furry rodents. Maybe not your cup of tea, but not necessarily something to induce cringing.

But maybe this tale (tail, punny) will change your mind.

Here is yet one more confirmation that rats are indeed vermin. It seems that the brown or common rat, the most common rat in Europe, may be carrying the latest and greatest dread bacteria, a newly emerged zoonotic pathogen (say those last three words three times fast) known as Bartonella s. (Bartonella? Sounds like an apple cider drink I'll be having for the holidays).

It turns out that the rats are actually carrying the bacteria carriers, which are the rat fleas. That's right: this ugly tale is three layers deep (rat -- flea -- bacteria). And rats aren't the only culprit; voles, gerbils, and other rodentia are guilty of carrying these bacteria as well. These bacteria, of which some 20 species are floating around) can wreak all sorts of destruction, affecting hearts and spleens, etc.

Thankfully, if some 21st-century plague is headed our way, cats won't be blamed this time. In fact, we may find our feline friends in high demand. They'll be haughtier and more demanding than ever.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Nov 22, 2008

Mummified Mystery Antique

Liz is working part time at an antique shop. Naturally, she comes across some oddities when new (well, not new at all) merchandise shows up for her to sort through. Imagine her surprise when she was met with this.

Not you everyday find! It's some sort of mummified something (I think I know what it is). Leave your guesses in the comments. Whatever it is, I'm sure it can be ground up and sold as an aphrodisiac somewhere in Asia. Top dollar, too.

Nov 21, 2008

Cosmic Dessert

This harvestman is having a bad day. Not only is he often mistaken for a spider, but he has only a single pair of eyes, his legs (which function as sensory organs in their own right) are prone to falling off, he has no venom, no silk glands, has to molt every ten days, and he's often lost in the shuffle of a possible 10,000 different species of harvestmen. But that's all in a day's work. What's really bothering this arachnid are those red parasites (I'm thinking they're mites).

As I look at this photo, I realize that if I were to come back to this planet as some other life form, probably the worst thing I could come back as is a parasite who feeds off of spiders and their kin. I can't imagine having to have my mandibles buried inside a harvestman's carapace all day long, siphoning off its juices. That's a cosmic dessert I don't wish to be served.

Thanks for the photo, Rick. I'm going to go do some really good deeds today.

UPDATE: Based upon the comments, this might be an instance of phoresy -- the benign insect equivalent of hitch hiking, rather than parasitism.

Nov 20, 2008

Death by Horsehair Worm

What you're looking at below is a handful of adult horsehair worms. You'll see that they vary quite a bit in length and color, but all have the appearance of wriggling, coarse hairs or wire.

But it's not the adults that are so fascinating. It's their life cycle before reaching maturity that is the most intriguing.

Photo source: Texas A & M

The next time you see a beetle or a grasshopper floating dead in the water, don't assume it was a case of a simple drowning. In fact, in the case of the potato bug, more often than not it was murder (cue screechy stabbing noise...)

The young horsehair worm begins life as an egg that is ingested by a hapless insect. The egg then hatches, and the little worm grows inside its host in typical parasite fashion. But the worm doesn't stop there. No, it will settle for nothing less than the death of its host. And it does so by causing the host to drown itself, so that the matured worm(s) might burst forth into the water just in time to mate.

Wow, murder, betrayal, mating. This has all the hallmarks of a good soap opera.

Thanks for the horsehair worm, Rae.

Nov 19, 2008

Ambush Poo

Look closely, people. Try to decipher what creature you're looking at.

That's right. It's a spider disguised as a pile of glistening poo. Does it get much better than that?

You're staring at a fascinating bit of camouflage. The bird dung crab spider (Phrynarachne sp.) not only looks like bird poo, but also acts like it (which involves little more than sitting still). But that's not all. They'll even sometimes spin a little patch of white silk for it to lay on, in mimicry of the white goo of bird guano.

But there's still more.

Some species of Phrynarachne even emit a smell that resembles feces or urine. All these factors allow for great opportunities to eat flies.

I wonder how I can dress and smell to attract pizzas...

Thanks for the great photos, Darren5907

Nov 18, 2008

Almost Extinct Mogwai

This tiny primate doesn't qualify as ugly, but enough of you sent me articles on it that I'm compelled to share it. Besides, after yesterday's spider post, we all could use a little cleansing of the brain pan.

Good news has come out of Indonesia. The pygmy tarsier, which has been thought to be extinct for 80 years now, has made a rare appearance.

Photo source:

(This creature's name must be Gizmo. I wonder how many other Mogwais they found in the forest that day...)

The Texas A&M researcher, Sharon Gursky-Doyen, who headed up the team that discovered this tarsier actually got bit by one of the males when she was tethering a collar around its neck so that it might be tracked.

Someone needs to alert Ms. Gursky-Doyen that a bite is the least of her worries. She can't allow the thing to get wet, and under no circumstances is it allowed to be fed after midnight.

Um, that might be one of the cutest things I've ever seen. I'm ashamed for having posted on it here.

Thanks for the articles, Jenny, Mikko, and Jessica.

Nov 17, 2008

Spider Work

Right when I think I'm getting over my arachnophobia (I even picked up a daddy-long-legs the other day with my bare hands), I come across a photo like this, and it returns like pine sap you thought you had cleaned off, only to find it had never left, and now it's all over your clothes.

Why do spiders have to be like this? All hairy and leggy and menacing (especially wolf spiders). I'm fine with reptiles. Can't we have reptiles do all the spider work, controlling insect populations and what not? Frogs and bats, too. They wouldn't mind the work.

Dangit. Now I have to go scour myself clean and ball up in the corner of the shower of my office building's locker room. My coworkers will think less of me. Again.

Photo source: Mere Poppins

Nov 16, 2008

Pistol Whipped

When fisherman Tim Bailey caught a pair of inch-long shrimp in the waters off Cornwall, UK, little did he know that he had made a rare discovery.

While transporting the shrimp to Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay, he kept hearing popping noises coming from the shrimps' container, as if someone were popping bubble wrap.
Curator Matt Slater was able to identify the pair of shrimp as a species of pistol shrimp. It was a rare discovery, because these crustaceans are normally found in more tropical waters.

But what was that popping sound? They're pistol shrimp (yet another great name for a rock band). They are able to click their claws in such a way that they can emit a 218 decibel sound: louder than a Concorde jet or a sperm whale (or, dare I say, a pistol?).

Photo source:

(I know, I know. The pistol shrimp isn't exactly ugly, but crustaceans don't usually qualify as cute, do they?)

They use that pistol crack to stun their prey, which normally consists of even smaller crustaceans and plankton. Once stunned (pistol whipped?), the prey are attacked by the shrimp. The curator eventually had to separate the pair of shrimp because they kept stunning each other. Can you imagine being a dad or a mom pistol shrimp and trying to keep your kids from constantly stunning each other? Oh, the chaos.

Pistol shrimp (of which there are 600 species) have been known to keep yachtsmen awake at night, as the yachtsmen try to sleep in their yachts, but can't because of all the popping going on beneath them. I feel so bad for you, Mr. Yachtsman. What with you having a fancy yacht and not being able to sleep on your fancy yacht. We each have our burdens to bear, don't we?

Thanks for the article, Liz.

Nov 15, 2008

Hypnotic Sun Bear

It is very rare that I get to post on anything of the ursine persuasion, given the bear's natural regal and powerful look. So, when I found this photo of a sun bear, I was very happy.

Sun bears are nocturnal, and with curved claws, naked soles (great name for a rock band), and a 100 lbs body weight, they are terrific climbers. They like small vertebrates, fruit, and, of course, honey.

Young sun bears are playful and curious and do well in captivity. But they become markedly cranky and bad-tempered as they grow old. What with the wrinkles and the hypnotic stare, icy stare, and the poor temperament when old, I'm thinking my grandpa might be a sun bear. That would account for all his tree climbing and honey cravings.

Photo source: Melissa A

Nov 14, 2008

Baboon Equivalent

My first thought upon seeing this photo was that this must be the baboon equivalent of me washing the dishes or rubbing my wife's feet.

That thought was followed by two more, in rapid succession: 1) It's good to be human, 2) I never, ever want to draw any corollary between baboon grooming habits and anything I do with or for my wife ever again.

Still, good for him. His lady friend looks pleased. I'll bet he has a nice-sized harem.

Photo source: Brett Fernau

Nov 13, 2008

Giant and Cuttley

Photo source: Doug Anderson
I've gone diving quite a bit, and on low-visibility days I've found it hard not to look over my shoulder every so often, just to make sure some leviathan or denizen of the deep hasn't crept up on me. Or at least to make sure that the monster targeted my dive buddy first. I guess I've always been afraid that I'd turn around and see something like this looming behind me (those tentacles can only be intended to grip my head in a bid for siphoning out my brains).

But I wouldn't ever encounter this creature in my California coast diving. This is Sepia apama, the Australian Cuttlefish. These are the largest cuttlefish in the world, often weighing in excess of 11 lbs (5kg). That's not too much mollusk to be afraid of, but still, you'd be in their environment, and these creatures are very intelligent (the most intelligent of the marine invertebrates, according to some). They can crawl, swim, move by jet propulsion, are attracted to bright colors (like my pasty pink skin), and are curious about divers.

If you do want to see one in person, get in line. Every year, from June to August, these creatures assemble in the waters of Whyalla, Australia, to mate (a romantic event involving the male placing his spermatophore inside a pouch just below the female's mouth, followed by the sperm-filled capsule bursting). And they do so in enormous numbers.

Divers, photographers, and researchers come every year from all parts of the world to witness the spectacle. I might go myself, though tthose dangerous beaks and rasping tongues make the prospect daunting (oh, and the cost of travel).

Nov 12, 2008

Dining Mantis

Sorry. Couldn't help it. Had to dip back in to Igor Siwanowicz's kettle of photos and serve another helping of mantis.

This mantis is posing for the camera, gripping its meal with one be-spiked arm, while coyly touching his mandibles with the other. Don't be shy, little mantid. Go ahead. I know you prefer to start eating your food while it is still alive, so why wait?

There you go. Right there. You usually start eating the neck first, but the thorax works too. I would save the juicy abdomen for last, too.

Thanks for the photos, Igor.

Nov 11, 2008

Counting Colugos

The Colugo is back again, this time with two more species than previously thought.

The colugo is the closest thing the earth has to a flying monkey. 'Gliding almost-primate" doesn't have the same ring to it, so flying monkey it is. They can glide up to 450 across the tree canopy. Here's a shot of one doing so. I don't think the colugo appreciates being photographed from below, though you get a good idea of why they are called 'dermopterans' (dermo=skin, ptera=wing).

Photo source: Norman Lim via

Until recently, the scientific community had credited the colugos with only two species. But recent genetic tests have revealed that what was once assumed to be a single species was actually three. Now there are four species of colugo.

See what happens when you assume? You end up shorting the nearest relative we primates have by half of their total species count. Is that any way to treat family?

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Nov 10, 2008


Mosquitoes come in all shapes and sizes and species. Not all drink blood. Not even those that do drink blood do so for their own survival. Rather, the female hematophages (blood drinkers) do so to supplement their need for protein and iron in an effort to spawn still more mosquitoes.

Here is one such instance. See her ram her siphon into the human's skin and tank up? All that blood is human blood. It's because of this blood drinking, and the attendant spread of blood-borne pathogens, that mosquitoes are responsible for the death of more humans in world history than any other animal.

Mosquito photos: venwu225

You can swat 'em. You can fumigate 'em. You can even enlist the help of members of the Toxorhynchites, the largest extant mosquitoes out there. These mosquitoes don't drink blood; they prey on other mosquitoes. But you can always count on spiders. They seem to have the last word in a lot of these discussions.

Spider photo: Brian Valentine
(bye bye, little midge)

Nov 9, 2008

Ghost Bat and Loose Excreta

This ghost bat was a show stealer at the Darling Harbour enclosure in Sydney, Australia on Halloween. It flew about the enclosure to the oohs and ahhs of the appreciative crowd.

The ghost bat, Macroderma gigas aka false vampire bat, is Australia's only carnivorous bat (and it's endangered). They dine mainly on ground-based prey, like large insects, frogs, small mammals, and human brains. Their hunting technique: to drop on their prey from above, envelop it in their flight membranes, and then attack the prey's head and neck with vicious bites until dead. They then begin eating, either on site or after dragging it back to the lair, including the flesh, bones, fur, scales, etc. They seem to need this roughage in their diet, otherwise they develop loose excreta. And no bat wants loose excreta.

Photo source:

Though, knowing nature, I'm sure there is a bat out there who uses its loose excreta in an aerial attack of some sort. It splatters its prey with sticky bat guano, thereby pinning it to the ground. How 'bout it nature? Got one of those?

Thanks for the ghost bat, Laura.

Nov 8, 2008

Moving Forward

The spanner crab (Ranina ranina, or frog crab) is found along the west and east coasts of Australia, and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. It's got something of a tick appearance going on (as Jelo pointed out -- thanks for the photos). They are rare among crabs in that they walk forward as opposed to sideways.

They prefer sandy beds where they lurk submerged in the sand so that they might snatch at passing hapless fish. They are also opportunistic eaters (as am I).

They often find themselves on the dinner plate, or in the dinner bowl. Jelo says that in his native Philippines, the spanner crab (called the curacha there) is used to make delicious stew, complete with lemon, garlic, and chili. Sounds fantastic.

This photo here reminds me of a sloth I posted on a couple of years ago. Never thought I'd draw that corollary.

Nov 7, 2008

Slug Panting

Jen is a proud resident of New Zealand, where the typical slug is only a couple of centimeters long. Imagine her shock and horror when she traveled to the UK and found this huge slug along an urban Birmingham footpath.

My best guess is that it is the red or rufus form of the European black slug. You can see the indentation of the slug's pneumostome, just behind the slug's 'neck', on the right side. A pneumostome is an opening found on land slugs and snails, usually on the right hand side, used in respiration. You can only see it when it's open. And they only open it about once every two minutes when fully hydrated. More often when dehydrated. Could this be the slug equivalent of panting?

Thanks for the photo, Jen.

Nov 6, 2008

Keeping Your Resolutions

This is for all of you who are contemplating losing some weight when the new year comes. Keep this post bookmarked and come back to it when you find your will slipping (unless you are an entomophagist).

Thanks for the photos, Casey.

Photo source:

Nov 5, 2008

The Awards Are Out

The awards are out for Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and here is one of the entries. It's identified as a baboon, but I'm not convinced. Could it be a drill?

It could be my brother, but he doesn't like to go outdoors (no place to plug in his game consoles).

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

UPDATE: Christopher has identified this as a
Sulawesi macaques-and he should know; he's working on his PhD. Thanks, Christopher. You're more qualified to run this blog than I am!

Photo source: Stefano Untherthiner via

Nov 4, 2008

Mantis Bonanza

Time for another mantis bonanza. I can't find who to credit for these photos, but I'm assuming they belong to the uber-talented Igor Siwanowicz.

Most of these specimens are of the exotic Asian variety. Asia gets all the cool mantids (even most of the ones you encounter in North America are Asian imports).

Nov 3, 2008

Zombie Spiders

Want to read an article that will have you leave you squirming? Then check out this link, brought to us by Casey. It shows how in nature there are parasites, and then there are parasites who up the ante. And the world is more zombie-rich for it.

Behold the alien beauty (I'm stretching here, for the sake of this post) of a Costa Rican orb weaver known as Plesiometa argyra. This spider is known for its perfectly symmetrical and round webs.

Ah, but what happens when a parasitoid wasp comes along and stings the spider? The spider goes comatose for about 15 minutes and wakes up and resumes its normal routine. But the spider is unaware that the attack it just *survived* resulted in it being inject with a wasp egg.

A little while later, that same little waspling will hatch and begin dining on the spider. Typical parasite behavior--until it gets time for the little larvae to pupate. It enlists the spider's help in that, by making it a zombie. The larvae hijacks the spider's brain and induces it to ply its web-weaving skills at pupae making. The orb weaver literally spins a cocoon for the larvae and suspends it above the forest floor, safe and out of the way of would-be predators. See the photo below: the left is of a normal web, the right is a zombie web.

And what does the larvae do to show its appreciation? It drains the spider dry and tosses aside its shriveled carcass. I'm afraid that's what my kids will do when they've used me up. I've already got a head start on the zombie thing after a couple of weeks of sleep deprivation.

Nov 2, 2008


How does a creature pull off presumed-extinct status? Well, it of course helps to have limited numbers to begin with, and a low birth rate. Add to that residence on an island under international embargo, being nocturnal, and living in burrows, and well, you've got yourself a hard to spot little ugly. I've posted on it before, but it's time to come back for more.

Though of Cuban derivation, the once-thought-extinct almiqui finds its closest relatives in the wilds of Madagascar. Also known as the Cuban Solenodon (sounds more like a dinosaur name to me), this little mammal is shrew-like and only 37 have ever been officially captured (the first one back in the 19th century). But, recent studies have shown that there are still more out there. That's important for Cubans to know, because almiquis are rare among mammals in that they have venomous saliva. Watch out. ¡Un almiqui me mordiĆ³! ¡Quema!

This second picture borders on cute, so I'll move on to the last one.

This specimen was found in the Fire Swamp in the Holguin province of Cuba. Sadly, it was killed after being engulfed in a gout of fire (its slayers were acting in self defense).

Thanks for the solenodon, Jelo.