Feb 28, 2010

A Bit about the Goblin Shark

Like so many deep sea fishes, not much is known about the goblin shark. But here's a bit of what we do know:

1) They are bottom feeders.
2) The smallest one on record was 3.51 feet. The largest one was 12.6 feet.
3) As far as reproduction goes, they are thought to be ovoviviparous, but a pregnant female has never been captured. And we've never seen goblin shark babies.
4) They are described as having a large mouth and a soft, flabby body. I have at least that in common with the goblin shark.

Thanks for the shark, Ellie.

Photo source: Discovery

Feb 27, 2010


According to Mrs. Rutkowski, these three bats (Wahlberg's epauleted bat, the Honduran white, and the gray-headed flying fox) are good examples of megabats (UPDATE: it turns out that the Honduran white is NOT a megabat. But I'll leave it here to the comments make sense).

What's a megabat? The name itself can be a bit misleading, as the smallest of this group is only about 2.4 inches long. In general, they're fruit eaters and nectar lickers. They don't use echolocation (except for an Egyptian species). This is all in contrast to microbats, who tend to use echolocation and eat insects.

Of course, no where in the line up is the draculabat. I think we may have a certain Transylvanian editing Wikipedia for his own purposes.

Feb 26, 2010

The Marsupial Mole

Booge asked that I post on the marsupial mole, and I aim to please.

Behold this little-understood borrowing marsupial of Australia. These blind, earless creatures rarely come to the surface, so we don't know much about them. But when they do rear their endearing heads, we are given a treat. They don't dig permanent burrows, but actually collapse their tunnels behind them as they go. They've got a unique feature to them: their neck vertebrae are fused together to facilitate their burrowing.

I once had a neurosurgeon recommend that I have my c5 & c6 vertebrae fused to treat a ruptured disc. I refused him, and I'm all better. Ah, to think I would have had something in common with this little beast. I can't help but respect any animal that can eat a centipede head first.

Photo source: Ken Tucky

Feb 25, 2010

Sort Out The Theme

I'll let you sort out the theme of this post. The participants: a skink, a snake, a tapir, and an okapi.

Feb 24, 2010

Barking, Whinnies, and Screams

Sean McCann took this photo of a female spider monkey in Nouragues, French Guiana. Wikipedia states that the spider monkey has recently garnered the title of the most intelligent of the New World monkeys. They are also the largest New World monkey (or among the largest)with those oversized (ergo spider) limbs.

Combine that intelligence with brachiation and their barking, whinnies, and prolonged screaming, and you've got a monkey that would drop property values in a hurry if they infested your neighborhood. I'll stick with belligerent tom cats and yappy terriers.

Feb 23, 2010

Phragmotic Soldier

Why the enormous, globular (phragmotic) head on this termite soldier? Soldiers protect the hive primarily against ant incursions. The mandibles are obvious. But the large head comes into effect as stoppers. They can literally plug their head into an opening and block unwanted entry.

I've got a large cranium. Maybe I'm phragmotic. Maybe I'll style myself as a 'human soldier,' a member of that elite caste of humans capable of jamming his head into openings to prevent burglaries and home invasions. I'll try it out the next time an unwanted solicitor tricks me in to opening my front door.

Photo source: Rundstedt B. Rovillos

Feb 22, 2010

Primordial Reaction

Photo source: straubin1
I never ever get to post on wolves, and for good reason. So I decided to cheat by getting wolves at their nastiest.

These shots triggered a primordial reaction in me. I can absolutely understand why the night held fear for my ancestors. As for me in gentle suburbia, the night holds only raccoons, house cats, and teenage punks.

Feb 21, 2010

The Mighty Mandrill

Photo source: Willie Stark
Mandrill's are the world's largest monkeys and arguably the world's most colorful mammals. They are blessedly shy and reclusive...blessedly because I know that the branch it is gnawing could easily be my forearm.

They live in large groups dominated by a single male. One such group (documented on film) was estimated as being comprised of upwards of 1,300 individuals. That constitutes the largest single population of non-human primates known. That male is probably also the busiest primate on the planet.

Those enormous fangs come in handy during self-defense. But baring them to other mandrills is usually meant as a friendly greeting. I'll settle for a simple handshake, Mr. Mandrill.

Feb 20, 2010

Opportunistic Apex Predators

This beast, safely photographed through the plexiglass of its enclosure at the Territory Wildlife Park, is a proud member of the world's largest species of living reptiles: the saltwater crocodile.

They range from India through Indochina and down into New Guinea and Australia. Just how big do they get? Crocodylus porosus exhibits the most sexual dimorphism of any crocodilian, with the females being much smaller than the males. But males average 1,300-2,100 lbs and 13-18 feet. However, males have been known to reach 2,900 lbs and over 20 feet in length.

They are opportunistic apex predators and are able to eat literally any animal in their territory. Recent research indicates that they may also be more intelligent than lab rats. But then, these last two sentences could describe me, if given a large enough barbecue.

Photo source: Alan

Feb 19, 2010

Chicks with Appetites

Photo source: John & Fish
As a father of multiple children, I know exactly how the parents of this brood feel. Harrassed, weary, frazzled. But when it's all said and done, it's still adorable. Besides, a child with an appetite is usually a healthy child.

I don't know how Malayan night herons feed their young, but I'm glad I don't have to regurgitate anything for mine. Pizza just wouldn't taste as good the second time down.

Feb 18, 2010

Eye Orbits

Photo source: Ken Ilio

The tarsier's eyes are so large that each bony eye orbit is larger than its brain pan and larger than its stomach (you know the old addage...).

Their eyes are fixed in place, but they've got incredible flexibility in their neck (upwards of 300 degree range) which allows them to see in most directions.

Unlike most nocturnal animals, the tarsier doesn't have any reflective quality to its retinas Enter those massive eyes again. Huge eyes equals huge pupil dilation equals lots o' light coming in.

Curious to see just how large the eye orbits are? Look below.

Feb 17, 2010

After Midnight

The surinam toad is one of the great oddities of the natural world. They have a number of noteworthy characteristics, but chief among them is how they care for their eggs. Click here for the video. It's what happens to gremlins if you get them wet. I just hope no one feeds them after midnight.

Thanks for the photo, Steve.

Feb 16, 2010

Under Foot

Behold the common adder, the common viper, the European adder, Vipera berus, whatever you want to call it. They range from Western Europe all the way to the Far East. They aren't particularly dangerous or large. But what they lack in impressive stats, they make up for in shear frequency (many, many thousands of bites are recorded each year).

This reminds me of all the hysteria that gets whooped up whenever a new dread disease is discovered. It's not the exotic thing that'll get you. It's the thing under foot that will.

Feb 15, 2010


Not ugly. How about intimidating? If those tail feathers were truly sharp and if those bare patches on his chest were cannon muzzles, well, maybe this sage grouse wouldn't be making its way onto the endangered species list. Or at least it would be going down with more of a fight.

Photo source: LA Times
But not all is lost for this once abundant grouse. Federal wildlife officials and the State of Idaho have signed a first-of-its-kind accord designed to incentivize land owners to take their own steps in protecting sage grouse habitat. We'll see how it plays out.

In the mean time, I'll stand down in this confrontation. Even if those feathers aren't sharp, those talons will be.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Feb 14, 2010

Taken in by Green

This photo has been featured all over the place, like the Encyclopedia of Life and Science Daily. It's a cropped image that Matt took of his European green toad (Bufo viridis).

I never understood what Ms. Piggy saw in Kermit the Frog. But maybe it was his eyes that took her in. I can also understand now why toads have featured so prominently in witchcraft (at least, the witchcraft in my storybooks).

Feb 13, 2010

Bat Face

Ever wondered what a bat looks like under a microscope? Me neither. Here's one anyway.

This photo won the Visions of Science and Technology Photographic Awards in 2007. It's actually groundbreaking, and has given bat-o-philes (chiropterophiles?) a good glimpse of this living bat's face.

Are we sure they aren't flying rodents? This looks an awful like a guinea pig. An evil guinea pig at least.

Photo source: Steve Gschmeissner via Metro.co.uk

Feb 12, 2010

Draco Volans

Photo source: GearFuse.com
Prepare for one of the coolest names you'll ever find in biology: Draco volans. This means flying dragon in Latin, and the gliding lizards of Southeast Asia are the happy recipient of such an august name.

These lizards can't fly, but they come close. They come equipped with skin flaps attached to moveable ribs. These flaps are colorful, provide camouflage when closed, and allow them to glide from tree to tree (with the average male having a territory of one to three trees). Instead of ravaging castles and stealing away with the maiden fair, the Flying Dragon is the doom of ant and termite colonies. It's all about scale (pun intended).

Feb 11, 2010

Mermaid Origins

Behold the dugong (Dugong dugon). It's the only strictly marine herbivorous mammal. They feast primarily on sea grass and are particular about what fields they feed upon. Related to both the manatee and elephants, they have forsaken their hind limbs in favor of a whale-like tail and forepaws in favor of paddles. They've also forsaken comeliness in favor of a vacuum-style mouth.

They are supposedly the source of many mermaid myths. I imagine those confused sailors either need to have their eyes checked, or maybe they just spent too much time at sea.

Photo source: Webecoist.com

Feb 10, 2010

Much in Common

Chimpanzees are supposed to have upwards of 99.4 of their DNA in common with us humans. But in looking at this guy, I think I've got more in common with chimps than the average human, maybe pushing 99.9. If I had lips like that, that's how my face would look almost all day long in the office.

Come to think of it, I might be doing that anyway. That'd explain some of my coworkers' reactions to me of late.

Photo source: Arlene Biane

Feb 9, 2010

Orange Mystery Blob

Photo source: PIERRE94
Look closely and try to determine what manner of creature that orange blob is. Is it a soft coral? Perhaps a misshapen echinoderm? Is it some weird growth?

Look again and make a guess.

Now, do you see the tail fin sticking up? How about the pectoral fin planted on the rock like a foot? Getting a sense of it now? It's an anglerfish in all its camouflaged glory.

Have fun staring at it for a while longer. In the mean time, be grateful that this fish doesn't have any man-sized terrestrial equivalent.

Feb 8, 2010

Shouldn't Get So Large

Spiders just shouldn't get so large that they can straddle something made for human hands. Seriously, this spider has a potential leg span of 12 inches.

They're known as huntsman spiders, giant crab spiders, wood spiders, or rain spiders. I know them as brown-out-in-my-pants spider. Thankfully, they've already been assigned its scientific name (Sparassidae), because the name I use doesn't translate well into Latin.

Photo source: Skye Auer

Feb 7, 2010

Crocodilian Faces

Thought we could all use a nice spread of crocodilian faces. This way you can look in the mirror and get a nice shot in the arm of self confidence.

Photo source: Berry van Tuijl

Photo credit Angie

Photo credit Angie

Photo credit Nicholas Cheong

Feb 6, 2010

Charming Diminutiveness

Oh, little baby alligator snapping turtle. So charming in your diminutiveness , so endearing in your tinyhood. You'll grow to be massive. You'll wriggle you lure tongue and snap up fish. You'll be the dread of some pond or stream. In time, you'll even be able to snap off those fingers that are holding you. So much to look forward to.

Photo credit: Stephanie Velzy

Feb 5, 2010

Cricket Bottoms Up

This mantis looks almost coy, almost playful, with her head tilted and her antennae curled, as she devours the cricket. But really, does she need to eat it from the bottom up?I'm sure it's wishing that she'd start with its head first.

If I were taken down by a lion, I assume that it would at least have the courtesy of killing me before it began to eat me. Like me, I doubt this cricket wants to experience being eaten. But do mantises even eat the head? Maybe all the good stuff is in the abdomen and thorax, and the head is nothing by a jumble of chitin and mandibles. Or, is she saving the head for later, the best for last? Something with which to cleanse her mantoid palette?

Photo source: Rob

Feb 4, 2010

Using the Facilities

Usually when I get really scared, I feel an increased urge to ... use the facilities. But what happens when you're actually using the facilities, and a huntsman spider clambers up the bathroom wall a mere three feet from you? It's one of those cosmic paradoxes which for me threatens the Space-Time Continuum itself.

Thanks for the photo, Suzanne.

Feb 3, 2010

Cheshire Frog

A Cheshire frog looming out of the darkness on an overhead tree branch. Definitely more freaky than a Cheshire cat. Lewis Carroll probably made the right choice.

Feb 2, 2010

Britain's Biggest Crab

Photo source: DailyMail.co.uk

I've never seen a guy so eager to get his hands a boiling pot, and some butter and garlic.

Actually, this crab is safe and sound and on display in the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham. This Japanese spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi) is the largest ever seen in Britain. It's already got a claw-to-claw spread of 10 feet. and it's still growing.

Of course, all that size doesn't do it much good out of the water, where its weight is such that it can barely support itself. But in the deep it's a nimble, lethal predator.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Feb 1, 2010


Behold the armored head of North America's largest turtle. The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) weighs in on average at 100 kg (220 lbs). But back in 1937 a 403 lbs turtle was reportedly found in the Neosho River in Kansas.

This snapper gets its Latin name from Coenraad Jacob Temminck, a Dutch zoologist. Being able to stick my name to the likes of this monster would have been the greatest accomplishment of my professional life. As for me, well, I'll have to settle for all the docs and spreadsheets that have me listed as the 'author'.