Oct 31, 2009

In The Mop Bucket

Terri encountered this spider in her mop bucket. Now, it takes little provocation for me to walk away from a mopping job. But this? I could legitimately get away with not mopping the kitchen floor for a month, since my wife is understanding when it comes to my arachnophobia. It might almost be worth the encounter...

Anyone know what kind of spider this is? The mop bucket in question is in Phoenix, AZ, USA. Is it a huntsman?

Thanks for the photo, Terri. That penny was awful brave for getting so close to the spider.

Oct 30, 2009

Cure for Cancer?

If you've been reading this blog for an significant length of time, then you know of my near reverence for the naked mole-rat. For one, they're hairless rodents -- instant launch to the top of any ugly animal list. But beyond that, they've got some amazing characteristics.

They are the only mammals that are cold-blooded (they maintain their body heat by cuddling and staying underground), are hive-minded (like ants), and are able to enlarge their spine (the queen does, when she ascends the throne). Additionally, their teeth grow outside their lips, so they can keep their mouths closed when they burrow with their teeth. They're known to be incredibly gregarious and curious.

Photo source: Popular Science

But there's something else about them that has scientists reeling: they're immune to cancer. Us vertebrates have a gene called p27 which serves as our main defense against cancer. But cancers have found ways to circumvent p27, thereby allowing the cancerous cells to proliferate themselves. But naked mole-rats are unique in that they have an additional gene called p16, which stops cancers cold, by preventing the affected cells from replicating themselves.

Is it possible that future humans will be sporting the naked mole-rate p16 in their own DNA? Perhaps the world will become a better place, with us becoming more gregarious. But then we might also become cold-blooded troglodytes that are prone to burrowing and shunning that bright orb hanging in the sky...

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Oct 29, 2009

Gratuitous Gators and Crocs

I thought you all could use a gratuitous spread of crocodiles and alligators. Whether you consider them 'living fossils,' the bane of Captain Hook, or a platform from which to launch a dazzling TV career, these creatures might one day offer up profound medical advances (how do these oft-wounded swamp dwellers heal so well?).

Until then, they'll continue to be objects of conservation and curiosity, nuisances on Floridian golf courses, and the inspiration for myriad logos and mascots. And, of course, the stuff of nightmares.

Oct 28, 2009

Mama Got Sac

When Lisa unlocked her door to help her husband inside she was greeted with the lovely lady below. How do I, an office monkey with meager biological training, know it's a wolf spider? Because I've been posting on uglies for nearly four years now.

I can tell by the fact that she's carrying her egg sac (that silken orb) by her spinnerets, which behavior is unique to wolf spiders. In just a short while the spiderlings inside will burst forth and commit another behavior unique to wolf spiders: the bearing of the young on the mother's back.

There are many varieties of wolf spiders, and they're found pretty much everywhere. If you're reading this blog, you're almost guaranteed to have one lurking nearby. That being said, not all wolf spiders are equal. Some are large, some are small. Some are avid hunters, some simply lie in wait.

I am aware on at least a weekly basis of the fact that I live in a part of the world (the Sacramento Valley) that doesn't boast of any local spider species that get any larger than a quarter. That fact is one of my chief blessings in life. Some of you might be able to disprove that fact, in case I'm wrong. And if I am wrong, I am very, very happy in my ignorance and misinformation. I don't need to know otherwise.

Thanks for the photo, Lisa. You'll have a whole little wolf spider pack lurking about your house next year.

Oct 27, 2009

Of Shear Force and Shingles

What good is a sea urchin without spines? Well, I'll tell you.

Here you've got the Indo Pacific Shingle (or Helmet) Urchin (Colobocentrotus atratus). According to Echinoblog (great site, folks), they are found in rocky intertidal areas of the South and Central Pacific. What benefit does having a helmet-shaped body serve this sea urchin? Turns out that their native waters can flow at high rates, and their shape offsets the effects of shear force.

But the true power of this little beast is seen only when you upend one. Take a look at those tube feet (especially in the last photo). They enable the shingle urchin to withstand water flows of a couple magnitudes greater than your spiny urchine. Those spines won't do you much good if you're swept away with the current, Mr. Spiny Urchin. Nope, best to keep a low profile, like Mr. Shingle Urchin.

Thanks for the uchin, Jelo.

Oct 26, 2009

Jellynose Fish

This fish is a real charmer. He was discovered dead off the coast of Brazil. He's a deep-sea jellynose fish (Ateleopodidae).

This fish has a scaleless, tapered body and is around six foot in length (I might describe my own body this way). Not much is known about them (as is the case with most deep-sea life), but it's believed that they scavenge along the ocean floor and eat whatever they suck up. My infant son has similar eating habits. When mommy isn't looking, I let him loose beneath the dining table after dinner. Once he's done, I don't have to sweep.

Thanks for the article, Leslie.

Oct 25, 2009

Mating Mollusks

All you children should turn away. Parents, send them from the room. Clicking this video will give you a David Attenborough narration of leopard slugs mating. And it's graphic! Whew, the camera doesn't miss a moment. It's almost...artistic. There's an awful lot of bending and twisting and sliding. And slime. Oodles of slime.

Thanks, Moneca.

Oct 24, 2009

To Defoliate an Automobile

What do you do if you're an ermine moth larvae and you and your horde have run out of trees to defoliate? If you're in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, you turn to automobiles.

This is the scene the Dutch woke up to one late Spring day. They immediately thought they were under siege by a giant spider. They were relieved to find that they had instead been descended upon by caterpillars. The webbing is meant to protect the caterpillars while they feast and then pupate.

Sidenote: Much to my relief, no cars were defoliated in the making of these webs.

Thanks for the link, Mike.

source: NGM Blog Central

Oct 23, 2009

Harvestmen Fights

For some reason, I assumed that a battle between two harvestmen would be a true battle royale. A real rumble, with legs flapping, mouth parts flashing, and chitin flying. But no, when Steve took this photo of two harvestmen locked in arachnid combat, he noted that it was fairly anticlimactic. It consisted of nothing more than a 10-minute slap-fest involving their pedipalps. When at last the proverbial dust had settled, the one on the right gave up in frustration (having been held at bay by the larger one on the left) and walked away, neither one appearing to have received the least bit of harm.

But Steve wonders if this may have been part of a mating ritual. Anyone know? If so, we may need to teach them a thing or two about courtship and respect.

Thanks for the photo, Steve.

Oct 22, 2009

The Worst Worm Ever

I don't even know where to begin with this worm. I guess I'll start with the tame stuff...

It's a large predatory species, Eunice aphroditois, that can get as large as three meters long, though most specimens measure in at around one meter. It's actually one of the largest worms on the planet. They haunt the rubble zones around coral reefs in the Indo Pacific, coming out at night in search of live fish.

Photo source: Practical Fishkeeping

So, why my hesitance in posting on this worm? I'll start with its common name: the Bobbit worm. The females of the species eat the ... uh, the ... um. The man parts ... the man bits of the male worm and feed it to their offspring.

I have no idea why they do this. I have a hard time even wanting to know why. Is it for the nutritional value? Does it trigger hormonal changes in the male? Is it needed to complete the act which leads to the very offspring that eat the ... ugh. I can't even say it.

If ever there was an appropriate curse for adulterous men, it would be to die and come back as one of these creatures.

Thanks for the article, Lisa. I, for one, am reminded of how good it is to be a human being.

Oct 21, 2009

Another Scary Gecko

Gah! Another scary gecko. This one is definitely a leaf-tailed gecko, though really the tail isn't the most remarkable part of this lizard. The alien eyes for instance. This hissing mouth for another.

Photo source: POPFi.com

Really, if you're trying to defend yourself, it doesn't help your jungle cred to be called a leaf-tailed anything. Especially not when your neighbors are called venomous blank, or army blank, or blank eater. Even a hissing blank is better.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Oct 20, 2009

Gigantic Orb Weaver

Continuing with the orb weaver theme, here's the latest and greatest from Madagascar.

Researchers have discovered Nephila komaci, the largest web spinning spider known to man. Yippee. Another beast to fuel my nightmares.

The females can have a legspan of 4.7 inches and spin a web over three feet across. The males are rather small, as seen in this mated pair. Big Mama is giving Little Papa a ride (or something like that).

Thanks for the link, Terri.

Oct 19, 2009

First Stab at Spider ID

I admire anyone who can overcome their arachnophobia long enough to sneak up and take a picture of the object of their fear. Tavia did just that, and went the extra mile of setting up a tripod (to control the shudders of revulsion that otherwise would have ruined the photo).

Tavia took this photo in Raymond, NH, and is looking for some identification help. I've learned quite a bit about spiders since beginning this blog, so I'll take the first stab: its an Argiope species, a female (despite not seeing an egg sac nearby). She's reaching the end of her life's tether, as evidenced by her missing leg, and by the season (all the orb weavers are now blessedly gone from my own yard).

So, arachnophiles, how did I do? Do I have just enough knowledge to get myself in trouble, but not enough to have any accuracy in my guesses?

UPDATE: Thanks to Jenny and several anonymouses and Denita, we can rest assured that this spider is indeed Argiope aurantia, a yellow garden spider or black and yellow argiope spider. Thanks to you all.

Oct 18, 2009

Why So Sinister

Photo source: Dorthe Arve Olsen
Geckos are supposed to be comical and endearing. They adorn t-shirts and are they're mascots. There's something wrong with having a gecko look so sinister.

Any idea what kind it might be? Maybe a leaf-tailed gecko of some variety (hard to tell with the tail, leafy or not, not in the photo)?

Anyways, I'm off to go renew my automobile insurance.

UPDATE: According to Anonymous, this is a Uroplatus sikorae, a mossy leaf tailed gecko.

Oct 17, 2009

Walk the Wilderness

If you want to see a superior nature blog that features original photography of Indian wildlife, then you must visit Walk the Wilderness. It's run by Thomas and Shilpy, who visit various wildlife sanctuaries to capture amazing shots. Not only do they detail the wildlife, but they also discuss how the shot was taken, with what equipment, and how the image was processed after the fact.

My only complaint about Walk the Wilderness is that there aren't nearly enough ugly animals on it. Instead, they have elephants and tigers and peacocks and leopards. Take this photo they took of a painted stork. It's but one in a fantastic series. The only thing that qualifies it for this blog is that we get to see an inordinate amount of its wrinkly orange scalp. Even then, the more I look at it, especially at those eyes, the prettier I find it.

Check out their site. You won't be disappointed. Then come back here once you've been detoxified.

Thanks, Thomas and Shilpy. You've got a good thing going.

Oct 16, 2009

Cicada Grimace

Cicadas are no stranger to Ugly Overload, but I love this angle. You can see the split back of the juvenile's exoskeleton, and the remnants of its grimace as its adult form tries to pull itself loose of its former shell. The night is about to become alive with its incessant trilling.

Thanks for the cicada, Kitty.

Photo source: Huffington Post

Oct 15, 2009

Bundled Baby Bats

This isn't my first post on a row of bundled baby bats, and it won't be my last (provided I can find more).

This could have been one of the most adorable photos taken. But then you see that knobby, membranous wrist jutting out from the top of the wrap. And then you look to the bottom of the photo and see that groping talon. What had been an endearing scene is suddenly made sinister.

I almost wish that fruit bats really did feed on humans, because over-sized, canine-headed, and demon-winged flying humanivores would make for a good monster. But it's hard to be afraid of frugivores (though I still manage it).

Oct 14, 2009

Spider Eats Raw Acacia

Here's a video of a vegetarian spider. That's right -- the first ever known spider (Bagheera kiplingi) that actively and willfully hunts plants almost exclusively.

Two notes about this video: 1) there is no sound, and 2) it's footage of a spider hunting plants, and that turns out not to be a very exciting activity. The plants don't try to flee and there aren't any death throes.

One nice thing, though, is that these spiders seem to be able to eat like civilized creatures. Meaning, they can eat the food raw and digest it internally, rather than having to inject their meal with enzymes to reduce it to slurpable sludge before ingesting it.

Thanks for the spider, Amber and Clair.

Oct 13, 2009

Bed bugs are on the rise, and people are worried. Check out this Google search volume over the past few years:

For those of you who haven't been afflicted with them (like me), here's what they look like. Though they can get to be the size of an apple seed, below is a young nymph out exploring the new world of the photographer's skin. So much to look forward to, little parasite. So many uncharted patches of human flesh to explore and feed off of.

Thanks for the link, Moneca.

Photo source: Alexander Wild

Oct 12, 2009

Grandfather Graybeard

Photo source: Michael Salvato
Why is this webless, venomless, mite-relative called a harvestman? They harvest nothing! Nothing!

It's because of the time of year they're most frequently spotted: late summer and fall. In fact, their names in French (faucheux: haymaker, and faucheurs: reaper) and in German (Afterspinnen: pseudo-spiders, and Zimmermaenner: carpenters) mean similar things.

They're also called daddy-long-legs or harvest-spiders, shepherd-spiders, grandfather-graybeards (which is what I want to be called when I'm an old man).

This has always been confusing, because where I grow up, daddy-long-legs do spin webs, very messy ones, and they're all over the place at all times. For those of you who are similarly confused, here's your answer: what we've been calling daddy-long-legs are also called cellar spiders, and they are true spiders, unlike the harvestman.

Oct 11, 2009

Your Master, Atherix Ibis

Photo source: Fabrice Parais via Popular Science
Behold your new master. Behold his face and be afraid, behold his arms, outstretched to welcome his new subjects.

Or, look at the hind end of a watersnipe fly larvae (Atherix ibis). The presence of these tiny freshwater creatures are actually good indicators of overall water quality. They have nothing to do with world dominance -- yet.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Oct 10, 2009

Giving Up Gluttony

Sometimes caterpillars come with such amazing shapes and colors and spines and fur and toxins and appetites that I wonder why they even bother becoming butterflies. Why give up a life of carefree gluttony for flight and nectar and mating?

I think that is a question best answered by the poets among us. It's an answer a lot of our refuse-to-leave-the-nest youth (and not so young) don't want to hear.

Oct 9, 2009

Active Self Defense

The New Guinea Bush Frog (Asterophrys turpicola) is a frog after my own heart. Native to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, this frog isn't a pushover.

If it's threatened, it will inflate itself and gape its mouth--all the better to expose its blue tongue. If that doesn't drive off the predator, then the frog attacks. It'll leap at its foe and latch on with its mouth, often not letting go for several minutes.

My eleven-month-old son has similar defensive abilities, though he adds a screech and the occasional spray of spit-up to his arsenal. His sisters have learned to catch him unawares by approaching from behind, downwind, while one of them distracts him by waving one of his favorite toys at him. Then they pounce and get in a quick hug and snuggle, before he resorts to pulling hair and going after their fingers with his new-found teeth.

Photo source: vespadelus

Oct 8, 2009


Are Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs really supposed to get this big in captivity? This one is housed at the Granby Zoo in Quebec, Canada, so I assume it's being properly cared for. Maybe I assume too much...

I once had a friend (I know, hard to believe), who owned a pot-bellied pig. The pig, who was by then full-grown, had free run of their several acres. One day my friend's mom was backing up in the mini-van. She didn't think to look behind her, and so was quite surprised when her van heaved and bounced over something in the driveway. When she came to a halt, she looked over her steering wheel to see that she had run over the pig. The pig, for his part, got to his feet (he had been sunning himself in the early morning sunlight), grunted at the van in indignation, and walked up to the porch where he resumed his nap.

Photo source: Gaƫtan Bourque

Oct 7, 2009

Porcine Knowledge

Is she a wizened old gal with wisdom to share for the rising generation of pigs? Or is she simply another overfed hog?

Anyone know what breed this is? Those are some big ears and a very wrinkled face. I was thinking Meishan, but they tend to be hairy and not so pink. At times like this I deplore my dearth of porcine knowledge!

UPDATE: Anonymous has identified this as a fengjing pig. Thanks, anon.

Oct 6, 2009

No Turtle Frog Tadpoles

I can't seem to find much out about the turtle frog (Myobatrachus gouldii) of South Western Australia. It seems as though it feeds on termites and lives in open woodlands and scrub plains.

From what I can tell, it bypasses the whole tadpole phase of life. But why in the world give up being a tadpole? That's one of any frog's claims to fame! Why give up one's carefree youth? Although, you would get to skip that embarrassing time of life when you're metamorphosing, and you've got under-developed legs and shrinking gills, and you're reabsorbing your tail, and you're just learning how to croak, but your voice cracks, and you can't eat enough frozen pizzas and chimichangas, and your face is breaking out with acne...

Oct 5, 2009

Shrieking Monkey, Shrieking Daddy

Photo source: Esther Kluth
This past weekend was a rough one for me, what with the wife away on a girls' retreat with her sisters and our daughters, and me left at home with all the boys. I felt quite a bit like this screaming monkey, especially during feeding time (theirs, not mine). And diaper changing time. And going-to-bed time.

But the boys weren't daunted by my shrieks or my bared fangs. If anything, it only encouraged their antics.

Oct 4, 2009

Giant Slime Star

Ever wondered what would happen if a jellyfish mated with a sea star? I haven't. But if I had, this is probably what I would have come up with: a large, gelatinous star. This echinoderm, is known as the hymenaster sea star, or giant slime star, and it gets to be about a foot across.

Really, if you're going to do the whole jelly thing, why not be giant too? Then again, given my lack of true biology training, this could be an ulcerous stomach recently removed from a corpse for all I know. I'll have to take Christopher's word for it.

Thanks for the star, Christopher.

Oct 3, 2009

My Own Monster

I rarely get to contribute any of my own photos, but I was so proud of this one that I had to share. That's right. Mr. Arachnophobia here mustered up enough courage to clamber into the ivy to get a shot of this beast up close. No sedatives or change of underpants needed.

Can anyone tell me this spidey's species? It lives in my backyard in the Sacramento valley of California, if that helps. I'd measure it in at around a two and a half inch leg span.

It never tried to snare any of my children, so I let it be. If some of the coloring looks to be off, that's because I had to use a flash (don't any of you purists give me a hard time! The monster was in the shadows, and it was back lit. Don't judge me.).

Oct 2, 2009

Mind Control Killer Fungi

Mind control killer fungi. That's all I've got to say.

Thanks, Moneca. One more reason not to be an insect.

Oct 1, 2009


This photo was taken at a crocodile farm in Bangkok. The wrestler looks like a nice enough guy, complete with a winning smile. So why, oh why, does the baser part of me wish so desperately for the crocodile to clamp down? What's wrong with me?

I was pondering this picture and trying to figure out why the crocodile was being so docile. Was it training? Tranquilizers? Then I saw the wad of cash in its mouth, and the illusion was dispelled. The curtain was pulled back, giving us a backstage pass on the operations. The crocodile's been bribed!

Grrr. I hate being disillusioned.

Photo source: Ben Visbeek