Jul 31, 2009

Real Charmer

Photo source: digitalia
The red uakari is just asking to be misunderstood. They've got hardly any tail to speak of, so one might assume them to be ungainly in their arboreal homes. But that's not so; their long arms and legs make them as dexterous as any other monkey.

And what about that red face? No, he isn't angry. Quite the opposite: he's healthy and happy. Healthy, because it is presumed that the bright red face is meant to display health, as opposed to those afflicted with malaria, who tend to take on a pale countenance. Happy because this particular monkey is the nicest monkey in Peru. A real charmer, despite looking very much like a zit I had when I was fourteen.

Jul 30, 2009

Tonic Immobility

The old joke goes something like this: Two hikers encounter a hostile bear in the woods. One immediately kneels to tie his shoe laces. His companion says, "What are you doing? Do you honestly think you can outrun a bear?"
The first hiker says, "Nope. All I have to do is outrun you."

The same situation applies here, only opposite. When Adanson's house jumping spider seeks out its preferred prey, the red flour beetle (such domestic names...), it prefers living beetles over those which are dead...or which feign death. So in this instance, the first beetle doesn't need to be faster than the second beetle; he needs to look deader.

Photo source: LiveScience.com

Takahisa Miyatake of Okayama University in Japan has been studying the red flour beetle for years. He has developed two strains of them: one that will feign death for 20 minutes, and one that won't feign death at all. So, what happens when Adanson's house jumper goes on the prowl among these two groups? Well, that spider is only 38% likely to eat a 'dead' beetle if there isn't a living, non-feigning one around. But if there is a living, wriggling one nearby, that same spider will go for it nearly every single time.

Feigning death (technically called 'tonic immobility'--great name for a rock band) seems to work like a charm among these beetles, especially if the beetle next to you is a chump that doesn't know when to lie low.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Jul 29, 2009

Slugs Galore

I've been remiss in getting my posts out on time. I've been a busy little monkey, and the uglies have been neglected. But you'll be seeing catch-up posts rolling out very soon (like today). To compensate for my tardiness, here's a smorgasbord of slugs, myriad mollusks of the land-dwelling, shell-less variety.

Slugs come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors, and this post is a tribute to them. The whole shell-less thing has developed independently at a variety of times and in a variety of locations. So, though these slugs all look very similar in shape, they are not nearly as related as you might think.

First we have a Carpathian blue slug (Bielzia coerulans). You'll also see some banana slugs, and in the end, two photos of hermaphroditic slugs who should have had the decency to find a room.

Photo source: Gábor Kovács

Photo source: Andy Hay

Photo source: Jim Whitehead

Photo source: Per Ola

Photo source: S. Shepherd

Photo source: David J.

Photo source: Christine

source: notratcheted

Photo source: Christopher, Tania, and Isabelle

Jul 28, 2009

Return of the Monster Squid

Photo via The Orlando Sentinel
They're back. Time for the invasion of the Humboldt squid off the southern coast of California.

These normally deep-sea dwelling cephalopods have come to the surface to...well, we don't know why. But they're causing quite a stir among even veteran scuba divers. Some are staying out of the water, some are going in. Here's an experience Shandra Magill had recently:

On a recent night, Magill watched in awe as a dozen squid with expressive eyes circled her group, tapping and patting the divers and gently bumping them before dashing away.
One especially large squid suspended itself motionless in the water about a yard away and peered at her closely, its eyes rolling, before it vanished into the black. A shimmering incandescence rippled along its body, almost as if it were communicating through its skin.
But the next night, things were different: A large squid surprised Magill by hitting her from behind and grabbing at her, pulling her sideways in the water. The powerful creature ripped her buoyancy hose away from her chest and knocked away her light.
When Magill recovered, she didn't know which direction was up and at first couldn't find the hose to help her rise to the surface. The squid was gone.
“I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, 'Oh my gosh, I don't know if I'm going to survive this. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have,” she said.

As a scuba diver myself, I can understand wanting to jump in and get a good look. As an animal with a self-preservation instinct, I also understand wanting to stay home with a bag of Cheetohs, with the comforting knowledge that I won't be eaten by a mollusk.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Jul 27, 2009


I'm a sucker for rescue dogs (having been raised with a few), and for the owners who take them in.

Scooby here is normally a sweet dog. He just gets fangy when in the presence of other canines. He's something of a caninophobe, but we can forgive him that. Especially with his stylish bandana.

Thanks for Scooby, Elizabeth.

Jul 26, 2009

Poor Little Iguanalings

Photo source: Tim Eastgate
This is a Galapagos land iguana, and I'm wondering if it is an albino. Lots of pale, pinkish scales there, and even the eyes look pink.

These reptiles vary in size from 3 to 5 feet in length, and can weigh upwards of 25 lbs, depending on which island you find them on.

On South Plaza island, where the populations of land and marine iguanas overlap, you even have cross breeding. This results in viable, though most-likely sterile, offspring. Poor little crossbred, sterile iguanalings, torn between land and sea. There's a tale to be told in there, maybe a children's book, maybe a coming of age Young Adult novella. Query your literary agent and see what they say.

Jul 25, 2009


Goats are some of my favorite creatures. They've got such varied personalities, and there are so many varieties. Each breed is a walking, chomping, head-butting history lesson.

Anyone know what breed this is? Is it some sort of pygmy?

I've often thought that if I owned a goat, I'd name him Azazel (the original, literal scapegoat). But then I'd be inviting all sorts of trouble on myself.

Photo source: Brian Bradley

Jul 24, 2009

Aphid Killer

Moneca sent us a video to follow up on our fire ant killing phorid fly.

Here's a black wasp, who turns out to be quite adept at controlling aphid colonies. Watch her as she injects eggs into as many as 200 individual aphids with surgical precision. Watch the waspling grow, kill the aphid, and emerge.

Thanks, Moneca.

Jul 23, 2009

Hate to Disappoint...

Photo via BBC News
Sea lampreys have been featured here a few times as they seem to make the headlines a fair amount. This update comes from the Great Lakes of North America.

The sea lamprey was accidentally introduced into the lakes back in the 1800s, and though they typically spend their adult life in salt water, the fresh water of the Great Lakes hasn't deterred them from thriving. In fact, they've become a pest, both to native fish populations and to the fishing industry.

So how do you eradicate them, or at least control them? Many measures are in place. But the Fish and Game folks have a new tool in their tool belt. Enter pheromones.

The sea lamprey begins its life as a fry in fresh water streams, from which they find their way to the open ocean, where they assume their vampiric persona. To breed, they find any ol' fresh water stream, swim up it, breed, and die. Not a bad life, really.

One of the big factors determining the success of lamprey spawning is male pheromones. Females follow pheromone scents to track down worthy males and breed. But what if one were able to produce a synthetic pheromone and lure the females up unsuitable streams or even into traps? Well, that's exactly what they're about to do.

The new program will take about 3 years to be fully in place, and will use 20 different streams, up which females will be lured to a fruitless spawning season, thereby curtailing the number of successful spawns.

As a rule, I hate to disappoint the ladies, but this is best for everyone.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Jul 22, 2009

Snake Killers Or Snake Oil?

Guinea fowl have a variety of uses around the farm. For instance, these African birds have long been touted as snake hunters. But then, others dispute this claim. The two arguments seem to line up based upon who's trying to sell what. Talk to a guinea fowl seller, and these birds are great insect and tick eaters, along with snakes. But others, in the pest control field for instance, say that guinea fowls aren't much good at snake killing.

I have some friends (really, I do) that own some guinea fowl and swear by their snake killing talents. Can anyone else corroborate this?

Photo source: goincarcrazy

Jul 21, 2009

Phorid Horror

There are many ways to enter this humble world of ours. Some are more dramatic than others, but not many can surpass the entrance of a young phorid fly for sheer triumphant drama.

In this sequence of photos (via National Geographic) you'll see a female phorid fly hovering over a fire ant, who gets pierced by her needle-sharp ovipositor. The egg now planted inside the ant will soon hatch, and the larva will migrate to the ant's head, where, over the course of a few weeks, it will suck up the ant's brain. What is left of the ant after all this? A zombie ant, of course.

The phorid fly larva then commandeers the ant, and can even force it to wander away from the ant hive to protect the ant from the other ants who might begin to get suspicious of the zombie ant. Once in seclusion, the larva pops off the ant's head and proceeds to emerge. How's that for drama? The insect world provides us with horror stories better than most human minds can conceive.

Thanks for the article, Moneca.

Jul 20, 2009

Of Cannibalism and Competition

Photo source: Sharyn East
Spiders offer up some of the best examples of sexual dimorphism, as seen here in the dramatic size difference between the female (Big Bessy) and the male (Tiny Tim).

Though I can't speak to the specific species here, I've learned that several taxa of orb weavers can have the male being as small as 10% of the female's size. Why the size difference? It comes down to two competing forces: sexual cannibalism and male-male competition.

The gist of it is that if you are small enough, you don't trigger the female's hunting instinct and you can get close enough to mate. However, if you're too small, a bigger male can crowd you out of the race. But then, if you're too big, you get eaten by your paramour.

The trick is to strike a happy medium. Not so big that you get eaten, but not so small that you can't muscle aside the competition.

This just gives me one more reason to be happy that I'm a human male. I did just fine with the male-male competition in capturing and keeping my wife's attention. But if I had run the risk of her eating me, that would have put a damper on my courtship technique (body armor doesn't accessorize well).

Jul 19, 2009

Mating Quid-Pro-Quo

I really should post more about these slugs, seeing as they don't live too far from me. This one comes to us from Betsy, whose son's finger is in danger of being slimed.

Here are a couple of factoids about the Pacific banana slug.
*They are the second largest terrestrial slug (the largest being the European Limax cinereoniger -- uppity Europeans, thinking you're so clever with your huge slugs...).
*Like most slugs, they come equipped with two pairs of sensory tentacles. The upper, larger pair (called eyestalks) can perceive light, while the lower two detect chemicals. Both can be retracted.
*The breathe through a single lung.
*The slime they secrete to aid in avoiding dehydration is also laden with pheromones to aid in mating. The slimy scent is the slug equivalent of a human's 'come hither' curled finger.
* These creatures, like most (all?) slugs, are hermaphrodites, and mating consists of exchanging sperm with each other. It's a slug mating quid-pro-quo.

Thanks for the photo, Betsy. I hope your son got his nickle back. The slug seems to be taking an interest in it.

Jul 18, 2009

Baby Bats in a Row

I know, I know! This photo has no place here! I get it already! But I have no other outlet, no other place to post a photo of a row of swaddled baby fruit bats sucking on pacifiers. Couple the adorable image with the heart-warming tale of humans stepping in to care for these orphaned bats, and you've just imbibed enough goodness to last you through the week.

Photo source: Snuzzy.com

But, lest we should forget, let's keep in mind what they will become...

Thanks for the bat photo, Laura.

Jul 17, 2009

Reptile Rescuer

Bring him your scaley and cold-blooded masses. He's Al Wolf, and he operates Sonoma County Reptile Rescue. As a former San Francisco Zoo manager, he has ample experience in dealing with wild animals. He now uses that skill set, developed over years, as a reptile wrangler who will travel across 15 counties to pick up reptiles, be they wild or pets, who need rescue.

How much does he charge for this valuable service? Nada. And he's able to find homes for nearly all of his charges.

Here he is grappling with an aggressive Savannah monitor. These Old World lizards are of the Varanidae family. Their Latin name, Varanus, comes from the Arabic word, waran. Waran, in turn, stems from the superstitious belief that Nile Monitors could warn of the presence of crocodiles. Kind of like how Bilbo's Sting could warn of the presence of Orcs.

Thanks for the article, Theodosia.

Photo source: Paul Chinn / SF Gate

Jul 16, 2009

Frog and Spider Harmony

See that frog down there? Does he look terribly distressed? Not so much. He's got more of a hunker-down, lie-low expression going on. That's because this spider, a burrowing theraphosid tarantula Xenesthis immanis, has seized the frog, examined it with its mouthparts, and will most likely let go and move on, leaving the frog none the worse for wear (well, unless you consider the involuntary evacuation of your frog bladder as being the worse for wear). And this frog has quite possibly experienced this before.

Photo source: TetrapodZoology

Microhylids - or narrow-mouthed frogs - are the object of scrutiny and research among scientists and herpetalogists. It seems that there is something of a symbiotic relationship brewing between these tiny frogs and these large spiders (who have come to understand that these frogs aren't to be touched, being toxic and all). The frog benefits from close proximity to the spiders by having the big bruisers as protectors, and by being able to feed on the small invertebrates who show up to dine on the spider's prey carcasses. The spider in turn benefits by having a local pest control service that takes care of any ants that might be on the prowl for spider eggs.

I love symbiosis like this, even when spiders are part of the mix.

Thanks for the article, Morgan.

Jul 15, 2009


AutherSkwerl recommended that I do a post on siphonophores, so here we go. Say hello to some siphonophores. Siphonophores are closely related to jellyfish, and are often mistaken for them (as is the case with the Portuguese man o' war (see below), which is a siphonophore, not a jellyfish).

Photo source: Baasch.org

Some of the 175 described species of siphonophores can be found idly drifting along, looking for food to come to them (a behavior I'm very often engaged in), most are active predators. They can be enormous, some over 120 feet long, while others can be bioluminescent. All are fragile and can be dashed to pieces by strong currents or impacts. Some deep sea varieties sport dark orange or red digestive systems that can be seen through their clear, gelatinous exteriors (see below).

Photo source: NOAA.gov

I've known some people who are disturbingly like the siphonophore. They spend so much time indoors that their skin becomes translucent (dare I say, gelatinous), and you can begin to perceive their innards. They are drift hunters, and their only active hunting comes in the form of nighttime forays to nearby fast food joints or pestering their mothers into buying frozen goods for them.

Thanks for helping us round out the jellyfish family tree, AutherSkwerl.

Jul 14, 2009

River Monster

When being given a lead on a new ugly animal, you are rarely steered wrong by a zoo keeper. Such is the case here, where Gabriel Montague of the Children's Zoo, Zoo New England, clued me in to the river monster that is the Goonch catfish.

This beast haunts the great Kali river between India and Nepal. If its appearance weren't enough, there is also an increasing concern that this beast might have become a maneater. The theory is that since local burial rituals consign partially burned human corpses to the Kali river, these catfish might have begun consuming human remains (which might also account for some of the inordinate sizes we're finding in the Goonch). A side effect of this cuisine is that some members of the Goonch clan may have developed a taste for human flesh, and see no difference between live meat and dead meat.

Just keep this in mind the next time you're swimming the Kali. Also, try to make sure that your burial rituals don't cause local fauna (especially the big ones) to acquire a taste for us humans.

Thanks for the monster, Gabriel.

Photo source: Discovery.com

Photo source: OtterReserves.com

Jul 13, 2009

Vulture Chicks

The American black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is pretty widespread across the New World, though their territory doesn't reach the same northern and southern extremes of its cousin, the turkey vulture. Unlike many other vulture species, these birds usually lay their eggs on the ground (which is probably why you see these two-week-old chicks huddled on the ground). They don't even bother much with making a nest, though sometimes they'll decorate the egg spot with colorful bits of plastic or glass or bottle caps.

I wonder what they used for decor before I started throwing my garbage out my car window...

Thanks for the photo, Clair.

Jul 11, 2009

Dairy Cow Business

You're looking at the business end of the dairy cow, at least when it comes to gas emissions. That's right: the front end of the cow, not the rear end.

It turns out that dairy cow belches are releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than their flatulents. Since the dairy industry is estimated to account for 2% of the greenhouse gases in the US, Tim Maikshilo and his wife, Kristen Dellert, are doing what they can to minimize those belches.

They're doing it by feeding their dairy cows foods and grasses that are high in Omega 3 (alfalfa, flaxseed, etc.), as opposed to the more typical corn or soy.

No one tell my wife about this. If she ever were to find out, I'd find significant changes to my dinner plate tonight.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Photo source AP Photo/Toby Talbot via Yahoo!

Jul 10, 2009

Writhing Pile of Worms

I've been on vacation for the past week, so I missed a lot of the hype and buzz on this viral video. Though it seems that there was rampant and sophomoric hypothesizing about what it might be, we know it to be a writhing pile of tubifex worms. I've had more than my fair share of dealing with tubifex worms, as I've fed them to my aquarium fish in the past. But that practice was soon banished from my home when I accidentally didn't seal the worms' container properly and the tupperware clattered to the bottom of the refrigerator, leaving a writhing pile of worms for my wife to discover. There's a lesson in this: writhing piles of worms rarely lead to marital harmony.

Thanks for the link, Kelly, Claudio, Kat, Monica, Leslie, Guillaume, Tracy, and Adam.

Hypnotic Eyes

Opo Terser is one of those photographers who I envy. He's one of those photographers that make the world a better place. Why? Because of photos like this, and his detailed description of the intricacies of what he observed and how he took the photo. Read here for more.

Photo by Opo Terser

You're looking into the colorful eyes of a female Maevia inclemens, though to me she would no doubt look like any other jumping spider. Opo has observed, and this shot proves it, that many jumping spiders have amazing colors in their eyes, though not many as much as M. inclemens. Opo noted through his view finder that a wave of red oscillated across the eyes as the retinas shifted beneath the lenses. That would be absolutely hypnotizing to watch.

It's probably for the best that these salticids are so tiny. Otherwise they'd make for the most amusing and distracting pets.

Thanks, Opo.

Jul 9, 2009

Lone Lycos

There are something around 2,300 species of wolf spider (family Lycosidae) the world over. They're found almost everywhere, so I have no idea what particular species of wolf spider this one is. I am confident that it isn't a nursery web spider (they are often confused for one another) though, because nursery web spiders carry their egg sac with their chelicerae and pedipalps, as opposed to the wolf spider, who carries it by her spinnerets.

Photo by João P. Burini

Can't help myself here, but I've got another bit of word trivia for you. Lykos is Greek for wolf (ergo the Latin version Lycosa for this spider). For my fellow gaming geeks out there, now we know where the term 'lycanthrope' comes from. Lycos = wolf, anthrope = man. Wolfman.

Jul 8, 2009

Of Double Wombs and Albus

BJ volunteers at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa and snapped some shots of one of their newest guests.

There are 65 species of possums worldwide, but only one is native to North America: Didelphis virginiana, aka the Virginia opossum. Possums get their common name from the Algonquin name for them: apasam, which means 'white animal.' The Latin world, Didelphis, means 'double womb,' a reference to the marsupial pouch which functions as a secondary stage for offspring development. And, of course, for the last bit of etymology trivia: the word albino comes from the Latin word albus, which means 'white."

No, sorry. One more bit of word trivia: ROUS stands for Rodent Of Unusual Size. Beware the Fire Swamp.

Thanks for the albino possum, BJ.

Jul 7, 2009

A Toast to Fruitful Rainy Season

My wife once did a research paper in college in which she discovered that arranged marriages report much higher marital satisfaction than is found in a typical 'love marriage.'

I hope this trend holds true for these two newlyweds. Raja (left) and Rana (right) were joined in matrimony, complete with full Hindu ritual, in the state of Mumbai, for the purposes of appeasing the rain god. I also hope that the rain god will be pleased and that a fruitful rainy season will follow.

Photo source AFP via Yahoo!

Jul 6, 2009

Degrees of Pink

The Andean Condor has many claims to fame, including being the largest bird in the Western Hemisphere, and being one of the longest-living birds on the planet, with a lifespan of around 50 years.

The bird below is a male, who resides at the Philadelphia Zoo. You can tell it's a male by its large fleshy comb (maybe that comb helps it steer mid-flight, like Rocketman). These birds have bare heads (the vulture trade mark), with flesh that is a dull red. But, depending its mood, the flesh can become flushed. I have an uncle with a similar trait: the degree to which his face is pink is directly proportional to the degree to which he is drunk. Remember, kids, friends don't let friends feed on carrion drunk. They don't know when to stop.

Photo by Art G.

Jul 5, 2009

The Death of Beetle

This poor beetle has fallen prey to a robberfly, as so many other winged insects do. The beetle was pounced upon by the robberfly, then felt a short, sharp proboscis being inserted into its chitinous exoskeleton. But no sooner had it begun to struggle, when it felt a hearty blend of neurotoxic and proteolytic enzymes being injected into it. All resistance ceased then, as the beetle became paralized and its innards turned into a soup which got slowly slurped up through the proboscis.

Some robberflies mimic bees and have their more bulbous shape. Other robberflies, however, have sleek, tapered abdomens, some of which end in a sword-like ovipositor. They're also cannibals. Charming creatures, these robberflies.

Photo by Budi Santoso

Jul 4, 2009

Lightning-fast Wood Stork Beaks

Mo Hassan took this photo of a wood stork, the only stork currently breeding in North America (in Florida, where the breeding is timed to the dry season so as to partake of the fish caught in shrinking pools). This particular stork was lurking outside Mo's hotel in Orlando.

The wood stork has a rare and effective fishing technique; it lowers its beak into the water and lies in wait, waiting (obviously) for the touch of a soon-to-be-erstwhile fish--preferably a minnow. Then, in as little as 25 milliseconds, it snaps its beak shut. This reaction time is almost unrivaled in the vertebrate world. Not even my near instantaneous and unmanly shriek at the feel of a spider skittering across my bare foot is as fast.

Jul 3, 2009

Cuddling Worms

Morgan forwarded this article about cuddling worms. Yes, researchers at Rockefeller University believe they've isolated the type of neuron that decides whether or not the worms are going to cuddle.

RMG is the name of the neuron, and it controls the 'hang out together' function of Caenorhabditis elegans. It processes all sorts of genetic and environmental factors to help it decide to be gregarious or not to be gregarious. Such factors include food avaliablity, oxygen levels, and the presence of popcorn and a good movie and one's lady friend by one's side.

I've found that my own RMG0-style neuron is responsive to only one stimulus input: the receptivity of my wife. We men, like these worms, are a simple creature.

Thanks, Morgan. You've brought the worm and human worlds that much closer. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, especially if you live in the tropics, but there it is.

Image courtesy of Rockefeller University via ScienceDaily.com

Jul 2, 2009

Be Thankful

I thought we could all use a medley of primate rears today, as an exercise in gratitude. You are most likely sitting down as you peruse this post, so take a moment and be thankful that your rear isn't as swollen and engorged as these (well, hopefully). It's gotta be painful right? The baboon in the second shot looks like she's letting it dangle instead of trying to sit on top of it.

From the looks of that last photo, the big red booty gives young ones something of a fleshy saddle to straddle. Makes riding on mommy's back a bit more comfortable. And look at their intertwined tails. How precious is that?

Photo by Hanan Smart

Photo by Amsk

Photo by Beate

Jul 1, 2009

Parasitic Harbinger of Good News

It's often all a matter of perspective and context. If I were taking a pleasure stroll along one of my favorite waterways and stumbled across a dead eel thing with a gnarly set of teeth, my day would be ruined. But such was not the case for a volunteer cleanup crew working on the shores of the Thames River.

What Oscar Bridge discovered turns out to be a recently deceased sea lamprey, a parasitic fish that predates the dinosaurs. The fact that it was dead was of no concern, since these fish die after they spawn. That it was found in the Thames is considered to be fantastic news (unless you're a sea lamprey host).

Not long ago the Thames was so polluted that it was considered to be "biologically extinct." But thanks to a variety of efforts, it is now considered to be one of the cleanest city rivers in Europe. Ergo, the return of a sea lamprey to these waters is a very good sign. After all, lampreys are picky spawners: they only enter water they consider to be clean. Picky, picky.

These parasites were once considered to be delicacies (of course). In fact, King Henry I is reputed to have died from eating too many of these. I think one would be enough to do me in.

Thanks for the link, anonymous.

Photos via BBC News