Sep 30, 2009

Goodbye to the Chinese Paddlefish?

What do you know--another tragedy out of China.

This one comes in the form of an expected recently extinctified (made up word) giant freshwater fish known as the Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius). It used to haunt the mighty waters of the Yangtze River. These monsters measured in at around 21 feet long, but haven't been spotted in over six years, despite a recent survey conducted to determine their numbers, which look to be approaching zero.

Photo source: BBC

If the Chinese paddlefish is indeed gone, like the Yangtze river dolphin before it, then the title of the world's largest freshwater fish will be bequeathed to another, like the Mekong giant catfish or the arapaima of the Amazon river.

But then, it's suspected that the paddlefish wasn't a true freshwater fish. Ready for new vocab word (for you non-ichthyologists)? Anadromous. That's when a fish lives most of its life in marine environments but then returns to freshwaters to spawn. It's thought that the Chinese paddlefish might have been (or is) anadromous.

But not all is necessarily lost. Though the survey was three years long and the research team employed a variety of tactics to try to locate even a single paddlefish, it's quite possible that individuals eluded the researchers. The Yantze River system is immense and complicated, and there are any number of places where paddlefish, especially smaller ones, could still be found. But without intervention, things don't look good.

I'm thinking that the dissemination of some good ol' misinformation might work here. Tell the fishermen on the Yangtze that hooking or netting a paddlefish will render them impotent for seven years, and we might find a resurgence in their numbers (I always suspect Traditional Chinese Medicine as being a contributor to an Asian animal's decline).

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Sep 29, 2009

Wolf Trap

One constant danger while you're fishing is the possibility of damaging or breaking your pole. So what happens to an angerlish if its pole is broken? Does it regenerate? Does anyone know? I'm curious because the wolf-trap anglerfish below looks to have such a complicated set of tackle protruding from its head.

We know why it's called an anglerfish. But why wolf-trap? It has to do with the shape and mechanics of the fish's jaw. The upper jaw is three times larger than the lower jaw, and it is able to open and close sideways. When in the ventral position, the upper jaw combines with the lower jaw and forms a compartment in which prey is held just prior to being swallowed. Think of a Venus flytrap. Or, think of it as a wolf trap.

Thanks for the anglerfish, Theodosia and Chris.

Photo source:

Sep 28, 2009

Big-mouthed & Fang-mouthed

I just want to take a moment to introduce the Khorat big-mouthed frog to the Ugly Overload community. This frog is among 163 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region of Thailand.

How does it feel, you fang-mouthed frog, to know that you have a ready-made blog family awaiting you with open arms the very moment that you're discovered by us humans? That's got to give you a nice warm and fuzzy feeling.

Photo source: AP Photo/David S. McLeod, WWF Greater Mekong via Yahoo!

Sep 27, 2009

Fly Mating Ignorance

This is a family-friendly blog, so I'll spare the many, many comments that can be had at these flies' expense. Suffice it to say that Steve caught them in the act of mating, and that the one on the bottom (I presume the female) was blowing spit bubbles that the one on top (the male?) was eating.

What in the world could that be? There's so little I know about fly mating, and I don't know if I'd have it any other way.

Thanks for the photo, Steve.

Sep 26, 2009

Of Waterbugs, Slurping, and Rostrums

What is this? Tell me what it is! Is it a waterbug? How afraid do I need to be?

If it is a waterbug, then it can be one of any 2,000 species found the world over (save for the poles, of course). Some waterbugs feed are predatory and feed on everything from invertebrates to small fish and amphibians. Others are omnivores, and still others feed on plants.

Many are equipped with rostrums, which are useful in being able to slurp out the innards of their chosen prey. Others, like water boatmen, are able to chew their food a bit and suck up the resulting pulp. Yummy, yummy. I'm suddenly very glad to have teeth, and that most of my slurping involves cold, sugary drinks.

Photo courtesy: Team Ali Baba

Sep 25, 2009

Silvery-cheeked Hornbill

Whenever I see a hornbill, and I behold that mighty beak and its casque, all I see is a massive wedge of toenail, complete with fungal infection. I want to call my grandpa's podiatrist and have him prescribe these birds some sort of anti-fungus medication, anything to mend what seems to be a jagged mass of bone and keratin.

Like other hornbills, the silvery-cheeked hornbill is a smart bird. They inhabit tall evergreen forests in eastern Africa, from the Sudan and Ethiopia, all the way sown to south Africa. They feast on almost anything they can get their beak on, including fruits, insects, and small vertebrates.

Photo source: Helen Grose

Silvery-cheeked hornbills are dutiful parents. They share the task of incubating the eggs in a nest cavity. Once the eggs hatch, the female seals herself in the nest with the chicks until they are half grown. Meanwhile, daddy brings home fruit in his gullet and regurgitates them for the family. At one such nest it was estimated that the male brought home 24,000 fruits in a 120-day breeding cycle (200 fruits a day!).

My kids may not always like what we put on the table for dinner, but they need to count their blessings that I don't come home from work with an engorged gullet and then proceed to regurgitate softened spaghetti and salad for that night's meal. It's all about perspective.

Sep 24, 2009


When a whale dies its cadaver sinks to the bottom floor where it provides the equivalent of over 2,000 years of normal biological detritus to the local ecosystem. In other words, if you're a scavenger lurking in a small-time cave, and a whale corpse falls nearby, you've got your meals planned for a long, long time. And you're very happy.

These whale-falls prove to be such a boon to its environs that they create their own ecosystems.

The first shift scavengers are your sharks and hagfish. They show up to eat all the flesh. Next come the bacteria, to colonize the bones. Then come the bristleworms.

Nine new bristleworms have recently been discovered on whale-falls . It's quite possible that many of these new bristleworms can live only on whale-falls. Other bristleworms are equipped with special root systems that allow them to devour whale bones directly. Though these new ones don't seem to have any such specialized equipment, some do seem to feed on the bacteria that bloom on the whale skeletons. Whatever the food of choice, whale-falls seem to be veritable manna from heaven for bottom-dwelling ocean denizens.

Photo source:

With the economic downturn, couldn't we all use a good whale-fall? It'd be nice to walk outside one day and see pallets of food and cash drift down from the sky and land in my yard. I may have to fight off other first-shift scavengers, like my neighbors. Then there'd be second- and third- shift scavengers, the salesmen and local businesses and politicians who catch wind of my good fortune and try to sell me stuff, and the family and friends who try to mooch off me. But that's okay. I can share.

Thanks for the link, Ida.

Sep 23, 2009

If I Only Had a Brain, Heart, Bones, and Eyes...

Little is known about the granrojo jellyfish (discovered in 2003). It's one of the largest jellies, coming in at 2-3 feet across (which isn't as monstrous as I was hoping), and they live at depths of 600 - 1500 meters. They're the only described member of their genus. Despite having no heart, brains, eyes, or bones (I sense a remake of the Wizard of Oz here...), they are avid hunters.

Notice something unusual about jelly, as compared to most others? Where are the dangly arms? They've traded them in for a thick 'oral arms'. I suggest staying clear of anything, even abyssal ones, that have oral arms. Nothing good can come from encountering one.

Thanks for the article, Theodosia and Chris.

Photo source:

Sep 22, 2009

Robber Fly Meal

When Steve took this photo, he noted (with a hint of glee?) that the head of the green-eyed prey of the much larger robber fly kept moving around the whole time it was being eaten. I know we make jokes about rare steak still mooing and all that, but really, that's taking it too far.

I don't know which is worse: simply gobbling up your prey, or jamming your tongue into it and siphoning off its innards. I think I'd prefer to be eaten outright. I don't know why I'm even considering either scenario, since most human robbers simply want my stuff, and they rarely intend to eat or imbibe me.

Thanks for the photo, Steve.

Sep 21, 2009

Locusts In Flight

This isn't really ugly, but it's interesting, and it involves a pest, so I'll proceed with the post...

For all you paranoiacs out there that know that you either are or soon will be under 24-hour surveillance by little flying robot drones, well, your worst fears are about to be realized. And you have the locust to blame for it.

For years engineers have struggled with the 'bumblebee paradox': the claim that insects fly in defiance of known aerodynamic laws. Thanks to new research involving insect flight in wind tunnels and high speed photography, we now know how they do it. And life will never be the same.

Photo source: Science Daily.
Unlike your typical streamlined aircraft wing or blade, insects have very complicated wing structures that twist and bend and change in flight, with wrinkles and folds, etc. Using computer models, we are now, for the first time, able to recreate insect flight.

What's so important about that? Well, locusts (as pictured here) are able to fly very long distances with minimal energy reserves, and we want our mini robot drones to be able to do that too. It'll be incredibly useful in search and rescue, warfare, and in watching through your upstairs window.

So, the next time you hear a buzzing noise somewhere in the room, or just outside, don't dismiss it as a bug flying by. It could quite possibly be that the government, or the shadow government, is keeping tabs on you and your fellow in-the-know freedom fighters with its new legion of flapping robots.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Sep 20, 2009

Skimming the Surface

Ida sent in this great article featuring some amazing shots taken of bats skimming the surface of a pond for a quick drink in Surrey, UK. These photos got me thinking. Many of us humans have fears (often well justified) of both real and imagined horrors that live beneath the water's surface.

I wonder if aquatic beasts live in similar fear of the monsters that live above the water's surface. If so, then you'd best not show them these pictures.

And if you were wondering how these photos were taken, go the article, then look at the last photo below. It's easy! All you need is fancy equipment and a lot of expertise and patience.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Photo source: Kim Taylor via

Sep 19, 2009

Goblin Monkey, Progressive Primate

If ever there was a primate out there that begged to have 'goblin' or 'gargoyle' in its name, it would be the beast below. But no, someone came up with 'bare-faced' tamarin (Saguinus Bicolor). Really? That's the best you can do?

These Amazonian monkeys are small, weighing in at around 1 lbs, and ranging between 19 - 27 inches. The parents share their duties, showing that they are progressive primates. The male carries the offspring most of the time (80% of births are twins), and then passes them back to mommy for nursing.

These tamarins don't have opposable thumbs, which has got to be disappointing for them. What's the point of having a thumb if it isn't opposable? Can you even call it a thumb? But then, their thumbs, indeed all of their fingers, sport claws, so be sure there's a cage between you and it if you start flaunting your own thumbs.

Thanks for the photo, Steve.

Sep 18, 2009

Let Them Eat Mole-rat Cake

I'm a huge cake fan. My family (extended included) celebrates over 10 birthdays in June, and I tend to put on as many pounds then as I do around the holidays. Maybe serving up cakes like the one below will help keep my appetite in check.

This cake is brought to us by Cake Wrecks, via both Betsy and Theodosia. It's a naked mole-rat, and it's masterful.

Now that I think about it, when I 'search out my feelings,' I know that I'm just fooling myself. Assuming it tastes decent, I'd eat this cake with as much gusto as a German chocolate or carrot or confetti cake. There really is no curbing my appetite, unless you tell me you've infused the cake with the very hormones that trigger the newly chosen queen mole-rat to grow in size, causing her spine to enlarge. That might work. I like my spine the way it is.

Thanks, Betsy and Theodosia.

Sep 17, 2009

Crane Fly Myth Dispelled

You're looking at a close up of a crane fly, though you may know it as a mosquito eater or a mosquito hawk. The fear center of my brain knows them as flying spiders.

I'm here to dispel a myth, a myth that I have believed up until about five minutes ago (I'm an office monkey, not a biologist, so cut me some slack). These insects do not eat mosquitoes. Think about it, have you ever seen one eat a mosquito? Have you ever seen one eat anything? You haven't, because once they've assumed their crane fly adult form, they don't eat. They exist only to mate and die. As grubs they feed on decaying plant matter, but as adults, they are utterly harmless. They have no venom and no mandibles that'll cause you any distress. They'll just fly in your face and trigger a mad flap of your hands

But what are those orange globes on the crane fly's back?
Those are mites. Lovely parasites. It's probably hard to find a good mate when you've got all those third wheels along for the ride.

Thanks for the amazing photo, Steve.

Sep 15, 2009

One-Footed Snake Frightens Woman

When an elderly woman in China awoke to the sound of something scratching in her room, she turned on the lights, fearing thieves. Instead, she was greeted with the freakish sight of a seemingly one-footed (completely developed, with all four claws) snake scrabbling its way along a wall. In a panic, she grabbed a shoe and beat the mutant snake to death.

Now, I normally don't post on (supposed) mutants or wanton death, but this creature, which she ended up preserving in alcohol, deserves some studying. It's too bad it's dead (though I can understand why the woman freaked out, what with having just woken up, the fear of thieves, and the sight of a snake clawing its way through my house...), but I'll be interested to hear what the scientists who now have the snake have to say once they've done an autopsy. This might be the beginning of the Invasion.

Photo source: Blame It On the Voices

Any thoughts from any of you? It's a small snake, no thicker than your finger. I'm reminded of those images from the Everglades a few years ago of when a constrictor tried to swallow a caiman and burst at its midsection from the effort, leaving behind a double corpse that looked like a single freakish python-caiman beast.

UPDATE: Given some of the links that you folks have provided, it looks like my thoughts on this snake actually being a victim of its victim is most likely the case. Apply Occam's Razor and ask yourself which is more likely: that a snake grew a fully functional leg, or that a lizard's hind leg ruptured out of the snake's stomach. Vestigial legs, it would seem, never really develop into fully functional legs, which would lead me to believe that this isn't the snake's own leg. Also, regarding the apparent lack of a wound: remember that this specimen has been soaking in alcohol, which may have affected the appearance of the rupture.

Two more points: 1) it is often the case in instances like this that scientists, especially young or new scientists, like to apply their most arcane, newly-discovered knowledge before exploring more mundane possibilities. 2) It's looking like the application of the shoe to this snake put it out of its misery.

Thanks for the article, Moneca and James.

Sep 14, 2009

What's In A Name? Publicity.

When Peter Jäger discovers a new species of spider (more than 200 in the past 10 years), he doesn't let a good opportunity go to waste. He's bothered by the fact that endangered spider species rarely make the actual endangered species lists. So, to bring his new discoveries to the public's attention, he gives them noteworthy names in an effort to raise awareness for endangered spiders.

Below is one such instance. Say hello to the David Bowie spider.

Photo source: Los Angeles Times

Heteropoda davidbowie is named after Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character.

It would seem that Jäger's penchant for interesting name choices works. Afterall, would you be reading about this new Malaysian arachnid if it hadn't been named after the Thin White Duke?

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Sep 13, 2009

Roll Call

A bit of ant-based levity...

Thanks, Moneca.

Sep 12, 2009

Eating One's Relatives

Photo courtesy Darren5907
As if a jumping spider (the only spiders that don't give me the willies) needed to endear itself to me anymore, here's one sucking up the juices of a fellow arachnid.

While I normally frown upon eating one's relatives, here's an instance where I not only condone the behavior, but encourage it. So slurp away, little spider. And feel free to suck down a black widow chaser.

Sep 11, 2009

Drama at the Carcass

Few birds out there can rival carrion eaters when it comes to size and belligerence. So when you come across a dessicated wildebeest carcass, you're bound to find some heavyweight inter-species squabbling.

The bird on the right is the largest Old World vulture, the lappet faced (or nubian) vulture, with an almost nine-foot wingspan. The bird on the left, who has just arrived at the party, is the equally large marabou stork. He doesn't seem to be too impressed by the vulture's posturing and protests.

Meanwhile, the small band of griffons that has shown up to dine seem happy enough to have the big guys distracted while they go in for some delicious fetidness.

So much drama in the Serengeti.

Photo courtesy Barbara Lawrence

Sep 10, 2009

A Sloth's Embrace

One of two things happened here. 1) Her parents coerced her into taking this photo, and she, being obedient but unhappy, stood there while the sloth's keeper wrapped the sloth's arms around her.

Or 2) she spotted the creature in the trees and stood rooted to the spot in muted horror as the sloth in turn spotted her and took the next hour slowly, agonizingly slowly, making its way down from the tree, across the lawn, and onto her for a well-intended, but unwanted hug.

I hope it's the former, for her sake.

Sloths have always weirded me out, which is one of the most useless fears someone can have. I think it's because they remind me of an animated sock monkey, and that just isn't right.

Sep 9, 2009

More from Mount Bosavi

Mount Bosavi on the New Guinea mainland is turning up all sorts of new critters. There are some bizarre ones and some beautiful ones. And some ugly ones. Guess which ones I'm bringing you.

For a broader sample, click on this link to the Guardian. For a sample of the ugly, allow me to do the leg work for you...

The common tube-nosed bat. Complete with, um, a tube nose.

A jungle spider camouflaged to look like lichen.

Here's another shot of the giant woolly rat. I think it's kinda cute, but it's a rat, and my wife cringed when I showed it to her, so it qualifies for UgO. Besides, how could I possibly pass up posting on a real life ROUS. And, they aren't afraid of humans (haven't come to know us well enough).

This is where all these creatures are being found. So much life in an ironically labeled 'extinct' volcano.

Thanks for the link, Sherry.

Sep 8, 2009

New Wooly Rat

At last, there's an island that isn't Madagascar that's yielding a new species. Unfortunately, it's a rat. A giant, cat-sized, wooly rat.

Papua New Guinea's Mount Bosavi and its crater are home to all sorts of giant rats, which makes it a charming place in all sorts of ways. Bosavi, which hasn't ever seen much in terms of human visitation, promises to present all sorts of new and isolated species, including more giant rats, fish, bats, insects, and of course spiders.

Thanks for the link, Ida and Sherry.

Sep 7, 2009


Photo by Colin Brown
Don't we all at times feel constrained by the rigidity of our exoskeleton? Perhaps we feel a simple need to grow, or perhaps an urge to metamorphose into something entirely new. Either way, we must go through a painful, yet necessary ecdysis, the moulting of that old skin in favor of a new, pliant shell that will allow us to fulfill our greater potential.

Then, just as we emerge, we are aware of how teneral our state is, how soft and pale we feel in our new shell. Over time, that shell hardens, protecting us once again, but soon becoming all-too constricting...

But that's okay, because we've only got a few weeks in which to drone on with an incessant buzz, desperately trying to find a mate before we die.

Oh, sally forth young cicada! Stretch those wings, tan that hide, and ruin many an otherwise pleasant evening out on the patio with your ceaseless buzzing.

Sep 6, 2009

Trapdoor Spider Strikes

I think we all can empathize with this cricket. My boss's office is like this trapdoor spider's spidey-hole. If you aren't alert, and you walk by and catch his notice - WHAM! - he strikes, and you've just been handed an armload of new work and a couple of hours of unpaid overtime.

Count how many times you sit there and watch this spider strike. I'll bet it's more than you'd like to fess up to.

Thanks for the gif, Miroslav.

Sep 5, 2009

Monkey ID Needed

I can't determine what species of monkeys these are. Or maybe my inquiry is flawed from the start. Maybe they're a Jim Henson creation, and these two'll break out with a song about goblin babies at any moment.

Any takers on this one? Monkey? Muppet?

UPDATE: A3 has identified this monkey for us. It is Trachypithecus auratus, the Javan Lutung. Thanks, A3.

Photo source: Marc T

Sep 4, 2009

Representing the Monotremes

Most newborn mammals evoke parental feelings in humans. But there are a few species out there that sometimes go against that trend, like bears, marsupials, and monotremes. Monotremes? Those are the egg-laying mammals of our planet, represented by the platypus and the echidna.

Though the creature below may look like something you had your dermatologist scrape off with a scalpel, it is actually puggle, or a baby echidna. I'm sure that it wriggles and makes little whimpering noises and otherwise endears itself to its handler, but I'm having to work way too hard to keep my already primed paternal instinct engaged.

Most likely it's within the last couple of weeks of being in its mother's pouch, because soon it will sprout spines and mommy will boot it out, to live in a den. Mom will come back every five days to nurse it, until it's weaned at seven months. Then it will have to strike out on its own and find colonies of ants upon which to prey.

Oh, little lumpy puggle, you have such a spiny, ant-filled world to look forward to.

Sep 3, 2009

Roaring Alpaca

Photo source: rofanator
I'm using some detective work here, since I'm never too sure whether I'm looking at a llama or alpaca (or a vicuna, or a guanaco). But I'm guessing this is an alpaca, because it was just sheered (alpacas are primarily raised for their fleece). I'm also guessing it's springtime or early summer, since the sheering is usually done in the spring to make the alpacas comfortable for the heat of the summer.

I'm also guessing that the photographer didn't survive this encounter, which is too bad. He had an obvious flare for photography, and the courage needed to confront such beasts in their own lair.

Sep 2, 2009

Beneath the Snout

Photo source: Paco Cabeza-Lopez
Ever wonder what was beneath a pig's snout? Well, now you know. A dentist's dream,an HMO's nightmare, and enough tusk to keep my fingers on this side of the fence.

Sep 1, 2009


My kids are big fans of Cheerios. When I present them with a fresh bowl of them, their eye stalks don't droop in disappointment like the Giant African Land Snail below.

This snail could learn a lesson or two (and a handy resistance to salt) from my kids. Ingrate.