Mar 31, 2009

Interesting Origins

Photo source: KrakenHammer via Wikipedia
Guinea fowl have interesting origins. Artemis, the Greek god of hunters, killed Meleager the Boar Slayer's sisters, Deianira (wife of Hercules) and Gorge, and transformed them into Guinea fowl. And though Dionysus later persuaded Artemis to undo this deed, by then the guinea fowl as a species had been established. So, when you see these birds, know that they are the descendants of gods.

They were prized birds among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and during the Roman hay day, they were found all throughout Europe, in many a Roman garden, and featured in many a Roman meal. After the fall of the Roman empire, these birds disappeared from the European landscape, only to be returned more than a millenium later by Portuguese traders who imported them from West Africa. Now they are once again popular.

They make for good snake hunters, which is why a buddy of mine keeps a small flock of them on his ranch.

This particular Guinea fowl is a pearled grey helmeted Guinea fowl. And if you're going to be a Guinea fowl, may as well be of the helmeted variety. Better than being a soft head.

Thanks for the links, Fabien.

Mar 30, 2009

Greenland Ugly

The Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) provides for a double dose of ugly. The shark, which dwells in arctic waters, is no beauty contest winner. Its pebbly hide and prehistoric appearance alone make it a good candidate for residency at Ugly Overload.

But the ugly doesn't start there. That's because most Greenland sharks are host to small crustacean parasites called copepods. These parasites attach themselves to the shark's cornea and do permanent damage to the eye, resulting in partial to complete blindness.

Photo source: Nick Caloyianis via National Geographic

But there is a silver lining to be found in these murky depths. Greenland sharks are also called sleeper sharks, because they are so slow-moving. So slow, that they can be dragged aboard with one's bare hands. So how in the world have they been found with squid and other fast-moving fish in their gullets? One theory is that the parasite, which dangles out of the eye like a worm, might serve as a lure for other fish, thereby allowing the shark to get close enough for an ambush attack. How's that for symbiosis?

Photo source: Nick Caloyianis via National Geographic

But then, that doesn't explain the seal, reindeer, polar bear, and even horse parts found inside the shark's belly. Just goes to show that we have a lot to learn. It also goes to show that not even polar bears can feel too safe when taking a moonlit stroll along the banks of the St. Lawrence River.

Thanks for the links, Rebecca.

Mar 29, 2009

Mystery Sphynx

The next time you're in the Mission in San Francisco, drop by Borderlands Books. You'll find good folks, and you'll find good books (especially of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror variety). You'll also find three resident Sphynx cats, Ripley, Ash, and Sly, all of whom are sweethearts, and all of whom hairless. Or, were hairless.

You see, several months ago, Ripley under went a procedure to have a cancerous lump taken off her shoulder. She then had to receive radiation and chemo therapy. Then an odd thing happened. Ripley the Hairless Cat became Ripley the Slightly Hairy Cat. That's right, she began growing thin, fine fur (you can see the fuzz on her back). Anyone care to explain that?

It's very appropriate that this mystery happened to a Sphynx cat. May both she and the proprietors of Borderland Books live long and prosper.

Thanks for the story, Amanda.

Photo source: Tensegrity Dan

Mar 28, 2009


Niner sent this one along. It's a short little article about a masseuse in Israel who has discovered that some people will pay top dollar ($80) to have snakes slither across their backs and faces. Turns out that king snakes and corn snakes deliver a nice kneading sensation when they get their slither on.

Fair enough. Takes a certain tolerance of reptiles to be able to enjoy this treatment. I'd try it, though I wouldn't pay for it.

As far as the animal rights angle on this, I don't know. I imagine Ms. Barak has a good incentive to treat her snakes properly. The last thing she wants to do is place an ill-treated and therefore ill-tempered snake on some woman's bare back. Chances are these snakes are well fed and well cared for. But who knows? Maybe angry and hungry snakes make for better kneaders.

Thanks, Niner.

Mar 27, 2009

Deadly Wanderer

Jade, a proven arachnophile and experienced invert breeder, passed this one along to us. These are images of a man handling the world's most deadly spider: the Brazillian wandering spider (Phoneutria nigriventer).

What makes them so deadly? What makes this handler insane? The Guinness Book of World Records has listed this spider as the most venomous spider, as they are believed to be the cause of the most deaths by envenomation (great band name!) by a spider. Many people die swift and painful deaths after run-ins with it.

Another reason why they are deadly is found in their name: wandering (as opposed to 'Brazilian'). They wander the jungle floor in an active hunt for food. Ergo, their contact with humans. But despite all this, if you are bitten, don't write yourself off. Only a third of their bites result in any envenomation, and even then, only a third of the bites result in full envenomation. I'd like to meet the man who can look down at his newly bitten foot and actually console himself with those factoids as he lumbers through the Amazonian undergrowth.

Mar 26, 2009

Imported Killer

Newquay's Blue Reef Aquarium's slow-growing and precious corals have been under assault. Each day people would return to their award-winning coral display, only to see still more corals having been torn asunder. Each loss was a heavy blow. It wasn't until they decided to break the display up that they discovered the culprit: a four-foot-long giant reef worm.

These reef worms come equipped with jaws that allow them to munch through corals, and thousands of bristles capable of delivering a toxin that can cause permanent numbness.

This giant reef worm, seen above, now resides in his own dedicated aquarium, well away from the corals he once terrorized. No one knows exactly how he got into the aquarium, though the best bet is that he was imported as a juvenile by accident in a new batch of live rock.

As many saltwater aquarists know, you can never be sure what you're going to get when you bring some new live rock or live sand into your tank. You just might get a killer.

Thanks for the article, Vincent and Captain Geek.

Mar 25, 2009

Crocodile Skink Softens Heart

Jelo is an avowed herpe-phobe. He just can't find any affection in his heart for our slimier and scalier brothers and sisters. That is, until he found the red-eyed crocodile skink, tribolonotus gracilis. Upon seeing this wee creature, his heart grew three sizes bigger.

When seen from above, you get a sense of its armored and reptilian self. You're aware that you've got a mobile pine cone underfoot, and that you'd best step clear of it.

But when viewed from almost any other angle, it's hard not to love it.

They are native to New Guinea and the surrounding islands, where they can be found on coconut plantations and in tropical forests. Here's one striking a coy pose for the camera. Tease.

They are for sale as pets, but it looks like they aren't for beginner lizard keepers, and most for sale are wild-caught. I'll pass on owning crocodile skin, but I'll still covet it.

Thanks, Jelo. Glad you could find a place in your heart for this diminutive lizard.

Mar 24, 2009

Mandrill Digits

Ushindi, a mandrill at the Franklin Park Zoo, shows off his fangs and his quasi-opposable thumbs and big toes. I never realized how much like a tree frog feet mandrill's hands and feet could look when pressed against plexiglass. But here, at Ugly Overload, you learn something new all the time. Even if it's completely useless.

Photo source: (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Mar 23, 2009

Cheer Up, Son

Anyone know what kind of fish this is? I don't think those spots are its eyes, and I'm pretty sure I've seen something like this at an aquarium, but I can't place it. Whatever it is, I want to throw it a party, give it a gift, tell it a good joke, something to cheer it up.

UPDATE: Anonymous believes this to be the face of an electric eel.

Thanks for the photo, Lee.

MORE AND MORE UPDATES: The debate over what this creature could be rages on. Another anonymous says it is a Pangasius catfish. Then yet another anonymous berated me for even thinking that it could be an eel (I thought it might be, after looking at some photos, but I'm the least qualified person here to ID anything). Then Vincent came to my defense, saying that it most definitely is an eel. Rasmus, who is a preeminent ichthyologist, says it probably isn't the Pangasius, given its size, and that it most likely is an electric eel. Thank you all for your contributions (even your personal, anonymous attacks).

Perhaps, though, it is Nat Tarbox who gives us the greatest insight. He's found the original photo, which I believe reveals the fish's true identity. Thanks, Nat.

Mar 22, 2009

The Elephant Fish

I can't believe I've never heard of the elephant shark (Callorhinchus milii). What a crime!

This shark lives off of the Australian and New Zealand coast. That hoe-shaped snout has been endowed with a variety of sensory organs that allow it to better hunt down its prey. The large pectoral fins are for propulsion through the water, and the bucktooth look is for awkward yearbook photos.

Thanks for the photo, Lee.

Mar 21, 2009

Spiders 101

Booge sent along this video. It's a great little Spiders 101 course. Most of you know most of the factoids laid out in creepy-crawly detail in this video, but it's nice to get back to the basics. Plus, who can pass up watching four minutes of world-class spider footage? It's either educational, or a promotional push by Antarctica's Tourism bureau.

Thanks, Booge.

Mar 20, 2009

A Lousy Affair

This poor fish has an infestation of sea lice, and he doesn't look to be doing well. Many dozens of species of fish in the cold waters off Norway's coast are infected with them, and many experts are concerned about how the infestation will spread from wild populations to farmed stock.

I had lice twice while I was in elementary school, and the worst of it was the itching and the treatment (a scalp soak in cod liver oil). But I couldn't imagine what my horror would have been if my eight-year-old scalp had been beset by parasites proportionally as large as these...

...or if I were to look one in the face and see this staring back at me (color added to electron microscope image to freak you out). Do they have to look so hunched over and eager to suck out my juices?

Photo source: Kevin Mackenzie

Once again, I've been blessed to have been raised in a temperate climate, largely free of significant parasites, and that I'm not a Norwegian fish.

Thanks for the links, Rebecca.

Mar 19, 2009

Spud, the Mystery of Tiggywinkles

No one knows what's wrong with Spud. He was given to the staff at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Buckinghamshire, UK, back in August, and they are still baffled. What's wrong with Spud? He's a spineless hedgehog. No, that's not a euphemism for cowardice. He's literally a hedgehog sans-spines.

He's a normal hedgehog in all other respects. His diet is normal, his behavior is normal. It's just that he's got no spines. Tiggywinkles doesn't know what to do, so they're doing their best by giving him daily warm baths and rub-downs with baby oil. With that kind of treatment, I think more hedgehogs would elect to give up their spines. I would.

Below is what a spineless hedgehog looks like when rolled up. I, for one, am very glad they have spines. Who would have thought that the spines are what make this little guy so cute. There's a children's book in this tale, folks. Someone write it, please.

Thanks for the article, Alexandra and Theodosia.

Mar 18, 2009

Coveted Wattle

I'm thinking this is an Abyssinian ground hornbill, but I can't be sure.

If I am right, then we have a male version of this subsaharan African bird. He's taken a break from hunting down small mammals, lizards, snakes, spiders, and almost anything that will move to pose for this shot. Or maybe he's just keeping an eye out for local tribesmen, who use hornbills in their tribal medicine (tribal and traditional medicines: the scourge of the natural world).

Keep a wary eye open, Mr. Ground Hornbill. Though you probably live in a zoo, and might even be used in some sketch comedy by some of your handlers, it never hurts to be vigilant, especially when adorned with such a coveted wattle.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Anonymous has identified this as a southern ground hornbill, Bucorvus leadbeateri. Thanks, anon.

Mar 17, 2009

For the Ladies

You'll find the marabou stork at a lot of your trendier carrion hot spots in Africa. With an almost nine-foot wingspan, he's one of the largest flying birds on the planet, and he's looking for a gal with a scabrous head, one who's nice and submissive. He has a newly renovated meter-wide pad he's carved out in a marsh alongside some of his buddies, and he's ready to woo you with his inflatable gular air sac. And once you've consummated your annual union, he'll help you incubate your 2-3 eggs. So, get in line, stork ladies. He's a catch.

Photo source: Knuttz

Mar 16, 2009


I love cases of symbiosis in nature, wherein two species work together for their mutual benefit (as opposed to parasitism, or the more benign commensalism, in which one species mooches to neither the benefit nor the detriment of its host). So when Ida sent me a couple of links (1 and 2) from the Web Ecoist about symbiosis, I had to share.

First we have a variety of marine crabs who have enlisted the aid of stinging anemones. The crabs benefit from having an added defense, and the sessile feeders benefit from being able to move through the water to filter feed with greater efficacy. My favorite is the boxing crab (upper photo), who wields his anemones like deadly pompoms.

(Images via: Flickr, AZAquaCulture, AquariaWorld, DeeperBlue and Diver)

Next we have the egret. She doesn't discriminate; she'll enter into an alliance with any creature with a broad enough back and enough ticks and lice. She gains ready access to the tasty little parasites, while the ride gets deloused. The egret is a smart bird. I can't think of a safer place on the Savannah than on the back of a willing cape buffalo or elephant.

(Images via: DiegoPaccagnella and Angelfire)

Ah, the plover and the crocodile. Crocodile opens wide for the plover because the plover likes to pick its teeth clean of rotting meat. Free dental care, free meal. But who was the first plover to try that? How was that arrangement arrived at? I want to shake that plover's hand. That took guts, even if it was on a dare.

UPDATE: Antagonist Jason has discovered that this photo is fake, and this instance of symbiosis with the crocodile is an ancient rumor, unsubstantiated by modern evidence.

(Images via: WarrenPhotographic, EnjoyFrance, AboutAustralia)

Following that same line of thought, who was the first shrimp to venture in an eel's mouth? Perhaps we'll never know. Regardless, word has gotten around, and these shrimp congregate in droves at designated cleaning stations. Any creature with a mouth big enough is free to drop by for a clean, even if you're human.

(Images via: Nat.Geographic, AboutFish, DiveGallery, UWPhotos and ScienceBlogs)

Last we have the infamous anglerfish, who has been swimming the depths of Ugly Overload for years now. Look at these photos and locate its symbiotic partner. Cant' find it? That's because it's in plain sight, and in the deep sea, it' the only thing in sight. It's the bioluminescent bacteria that reside within its angling lure. The fish get a lure, and the bacteria get a penthouse suite with a view.

(Images via: Wikipedia, EarthGuide, OceanExplorer and Nat.Geographic)

But odd partnerships don't end there with the anglerfish:

to mate, a male angler bites a female, slowly dies and shrivels to a pair of gonads and is carried around by the female until she is ready to mate with his remains.
There are all sorts of social commentaries embedded in that little tale of procreation and relationships between the sexes. I'll leave it to you to sort it out.

Thanks for the links, Ida.

Mar 15, 2009

Bird-Eater on Face

This girl attended an exhibit in Bogota, Colombia, where some 300 arachnids were on display by Dr. Dario Gutierrez to discuss their use in traditional medicines. This girl has a Xenesthis immanis tarantula on her face.

Also known as the Purple Bloom Bird-Eating Spider, this tarantula is an aggressive species from the moist forests of Colombia. They readily flick their urticating hairs from their abdomen.

I repeat, this girl has a bird-eating spider on her face.

You want to know about their use in traditional medicines? I'm not sure how they do it in Colombia, but chances are there's a recipe out there showing how to brew up a nice aphrodisiac from spider bits.

Photo source: AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez

Mar 14, 2009

Foam-Festooned Monsters

Niner asked for more reptile posts, and Morgan delivered. Morgan is a fan of your old-timey flicks in which dinosaurs and reptilian monsters were portrayed with live actors: namely, iguanas and monitors. Though no amount of painted foam can truly disguise these creatures' true identity, it's charming. And frankly, I would prefer foam-festooned iguanas over a lot of the CG being produced today.

So, this is a tribute to Lost World, One Million B.C, and every other show that delivered larger than life monsters with the budget, foam, and reptiles they had on hand.

Thanks for the screenshots, Morgan.

Mar 13, 2009

Stump-tailed Skink

Behold the prehistoric mug of the latest Aussie addition to Ugly Overload: the stump-tailed skink (Tiliqua rugosa). There are four subspecies of this skink, and I have no idea which one this is. But in general, you can expect them to get to be omnivorous and each year the lady skinks give birth to one or two live young.

You can also expect them to be slow-moving and sleepy, with a wide body. In short, they sound a lot like me.

Photo source: Joachim S. Müller

Mar 12, 2009

A Lot to Be Grateful For

As a human, I'm pretty satisfied with my life cycle. I don't have a larval stage where I live like a troll underground for years. I don't have to metamorphose into anything and wait out that awkward soft-shelled time before my exoskeleton hardens properly. I don't have an adult form that lasts for only a few short weeks, just long enough for me to mate and then die (I would be a miserable failure at that part). I have a lot to be grateful for. And I'm grateful that I'm not a cicada.

Here are a few photos from Russel Slutz. First we'll see a cicada just having clambered out of the ground and getting ready to shed its larval skin. Then you'll see the cicada shed said skin and emerge as a freakish enormous fly. In hindsight, puberty wasn't so bad.

Mar 11, 2009

I'm a Bad Person

I pretty much always root for the animals in scenarios like these. Does that make me a bad person? Shouldn't I close ranks with my co-speciesists? Is that even a word?

And who is that guy in the last photo? Why isn't he being devoured? I want him to be devoured so bad. He looks like he thinks he's someone important, which makes me think someone might know who he is. Is he wearing any clothes?