Jun 30, 2008

Scheming Caterpillars

I never thought caterpillars could look scheming, but these guys pull it off, with their hunched shoulders and clicking their feet together.

They're planning something diabolical, and I don't know if I care to be around when they do. Most likely, however, their plans don't extend beyond the leaf upon which they are dining.

Photo source: Igor Siwanowicz

Jun 29, 2008

Washed Ashore

Jack saw my post on Herbie's red sculpin that tried to take in more mackerel than it could and was kind enough to send us his own photos.

While wandering the beaches of Fiji (...must suppress bitter feelings of jealousy...) Jack came across this fish (or rather, most of the fish) that had been washed ashore after it died having tried to eat a pufferfish.

I don't typically post on carcasses, but I do so now to illustrate a couple basic maxims of life:

1) Don't eat pufferfish, especially when whole and alive.
2) Even the prettiest places on earth have their grisly moments.

Thanks for the photos, Jack.

Jun 28, 2008

When Cheez Goes Bad

Leigh's hit the nail on the head with this one. What happens when you let processed cheese fester in a swamp? You end up with a Giant Chinese Salamander. Thanks Leigh!

Photo source: icanhazcheezburger.com

Jun 27, 2008

Rhino Beetle with Rhino Horn

In a case of life immitating fiction, a new species of rhinoceros beetle has been discovered. This is the first such beetle to sport an actual rhino-style horn on its head. And where did we first see a rhinoceros beetle with a rhino horn? In Disney's A Bug's Life.

No doubt other Disney creations are going to be found in the natural world. Scuba divers will encounter talking and scheming clown fish, hunters will be outwitted by sentient deer, and a young princess-to-be will be found to have an entire gang of helpful mice who can sew, clean, and cook.

Thanks for the photo, Wendy.

Photo source: National Geographic

Jun 26, 2008

Beware the Paussinae Beetle

There's a cautionary tale to be found in the ecology of the Paussinae beetle, one that I plan on teaching my children.

The Paussinae beetle, also known as the ants' guest beetle or ants' nest beetle, come in a variety of subspecies, but all of them live myrmecophilously (living symbiotically with ants--new word for ya). These beetles are equipped with large antennae which the ants use as handles to move them around. And why are the ants moving them around? Let's get back to that myrmecophilous word.

The beetle secretes a highly volatile substance that the ants can't resist; they gobble and lick it up. This substance appeases the ants and even suppresses the ants' usual aggression towards intruders to the point where the ants drag the beetles into their nests for future dining. The beetles and their larvae feed off food provided by the ants, or on the ant's very own larvae. Some species of Paussinae beetle leave the nest only to breed during ant swarming season.

So, back to my cautionary tale. Beware becoming enamored with or addicted to a thing and inviting it into your home so that it might eat your larvae. Well, you get the point.

Thanks, Ida.

Photo source: Biodiversity Explorer

Jun 25, 2008

The Sandworm Is Back

Herbie has followed up on his Atlantic sandworm photos by trying to catch those fangs fully extended. But it's tough: they work them in the blink of an eye, and much like my three-year-old daughter, have no sense for how to play to the camera.

Some of the shots, therefore, are a bit blurry, but gone is the squishy-faced worm. In it's place we have a diminutive, yet somehow epic monster.

Once again watch your step when walking New England coastlines.

Jun 24, 2008

Crocodiles Communicate Even Before Hatching

Do all crocodiles hatch looking like their already planning mischief?

They might be. Crocodiles begin chatting to one another, and to their mother, just before they hatch. Researchers assume that it is some sort of communication, signaling that it is time to emerge and begin a long life of immitating a log, ambush hunting, being hunted in turn by over-zealous documentary hosts, and trying not to end up as a pair of boots or luggage.

Photo source: REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Jun 23, 2008

Gus Wins Ugliest Dog Contest

This year's annual ugliest dog contest at the Sonoma-Marin county fair has come and gone this past weekend, and we have a new winner.

Meet gus. He's 16, has three legs and one eye, and of course, he's a Chinese Crested. Jeanenne Teed, Gus's owner, flew him in from St. Petersburg, FL, for the competition--and it has paid off. He has garnered a cool $16,000 in winnings, and has earned himself and his owner a showing on CBS This Morning in New York city.

Gus, like many other past winners, was adopted (rescued). Teed's daughter discovered the pooch 'housed' in a crate in someone's garage. But the Teeds have big hearts, and took him in. Well done Teeds. I only hope that when I'm discovered in a garage, missing a limb and an eye and in the twilight of my life, that someone will take me in. I don't even mind if you trot me around in front of the press.

Thanks, Ida.

Photo source: AP Photo/The Press Democrat, Crista Jeremiason

Photo source: KNBC - TV

Jun 22, 2008

Most Beautiful Goat Contest Held in Riyadh

Ever since I first posted on these curled-fist-in-a-sock goats, I've wondered what breed they are. Well, Rachel's done it. These goats are members of the illustrious Damascene breed, or Maaz Al Shami. I love the truncated face and the ears that look like they've grown inside a toilet paper roll.

What are all those Saudis doing in the background? They have gathered in Riyadh to participate in the Mazayen al-Maaz, the annual competition to crown this year's Most Beautiful Goat.

I wonder if could attend next year's event as a 'foreign correspondent.' Anyone out there with Saudi connections?

Thanks, Rachel

Photo source: JBlog Central

Jun 21, 2008

I Can't Believe I'm Saying This

Photo source: Verizon.net
Say hello to the gelada. Theropithecus gelada (theropithicus = "beast-ape") is a baboon relative native to Ethiopia, though the fossil record has them all over northern Africa and even into Spain.

What impresses me most about this monkey, aside from the mane on the males, is that hour-glass patch of bright skin that looks as though the animal's chest and neck is being flayed open.

The patch is prominent in the males, less so in the females. But, when the female is in oestrus, the patch brightens and even becomes festooned with a 'necklace' of fluid-filled blisters.


I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I prefer the baboon equivalent of the swollen rear end on the ladies. So why doesn't the gelada sport the bloated red rear? One theory is that it would hinder the gelada, since it spends hours each day scavenging for food in an upright sitting posture. Hey, that's how I spend most of my day too.

Thanks for the gelada, Ida.

Photo source: Futura-Sciences.com

Photo source: Monkeyland.co.za

Jun 20, 2008

Through the Microscope

Suzy took a class in parasitology last semester (I'm sure the study of my brother occupied an entire unit of the class), and took these photos through her microscope. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) ctenocephalides = cat and dog flea

2) strongyles = parasitic worm of horses

3) dermacentor = tick

4) sheep ked (saying, "What? What?" in a Brooklyn accent). Thanks, Suzy.

Jun 19, 2008

Spew The Regurgitated Toad

When Jackson Crews, a professional Australian rugby player, threw some unwanted meat pies and pasties on the lawn for his dogs, little did he know that he was placing his dog in mortal danger.

Bella, one of the dogs, began wolfing down the pies. In her eagerness, she spotted a cane toad and swallowed it whole. Crews saw this and called a local animal hospital, for he knew that cane toads are lethally toxic to anything that tries to eat them. They instructed the rugby player to bring his dog in immediately.

The hospital staff gave the dog two injections of vomit-inducing chemicals, and on the second heave the dog regurgitated the toad. Just imagine everyone's surprise when the toad, upon further inspection, had emerged vomit-covered but completely unharmed. And that was after 40 minutes in Bella's stomach. They named the toad Spew, though I might have gone for Jonah.

Photo source: Northern Territory New via Telegraph.uk.co

Bella is doing just fine. Swallowing the toad whole as opposed to chewing it first was instrumental to her survival.

Jun 18, 2008

Scientific Deduction

I've searched and searched for some evidence of vampirism in the Vampire Squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis, lit. "vampire squid from hell"). My first thought was, hey, they live in low oxygen levels (as little as 3% saturation). Maybe they 'suck' oxygen from their prey. Nope. Then I thought that since they live in a nearly aphotic (lightless) environment, maybe they're allergic to light. But no, these creatures are highly bioluminescent--they have photophores all over their body, and spray a glowing fireworks cloud in place of ink.

There's no mention of them being able to transform into a bat (or, batray?), and they do have a reflection. Obviously, they can cross running water. That leaves only the possibility that they are allergic to garlic or crosses. That, my friends, is scientific deduction.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Photo source: Sharenator

Jun 17, 2008

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

Herbie went fishing off the New England coast for striped bass a couple of mornings ago. Being a knowledgeable fisherman, he used a mackerel for bait. So when he felt a tug on his line, the last thing he expected to find was a fish even smaller than the mackerel.

You're looking at a red sculpin who bit off more than he could chew (or swallow, or survive). Why didn't the red sculpin (aka sea raven, Hemitripterus americanus) just let go? These fish, like many others, are equipped with backwards facing teeth back in the throat called vomerine teeth. These teeth help the predator keep a hold of the prey, but they spelled this particular fish's demise.

Thanks for the photos, Herbie. Better luck next time.

Jun 16, 2008

Nature's Outdone Herself

The long-beaked echidna is a resident of New Guinea. A nocturnal, burrowing creature of around 20 lbs, the echidna dines on invertebrates and the female lays a single egg in her pouch--kind of like a hedgehog meets a platypus meets a wombat meets an anteater.

These creatures are so spikey, that though they do not have teeth, their very tongues are equipped with rows of spikes. It is also highly intelligent. Nature has outdone herself in the echidna.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Photo source: Sharenator

Jun 15, 2008

Squid Spawning

Here's something to piggy-back on the unnamed squid from earlier this week. It's a video of a mother squid releasing her hatchlings. If you're short on time, fast forward to about minute 3 and enjoy (the music may put you to sleep, so be careful). It's more ethereal than ugly, but it's a squid. I never knew they did it like this (this species at least). It's like mommy squid is equipped with a literal maternity blanket that she gently shakes to release her little ones.

Thanks for the video, Simone.

Jun 14, 2008

Mite Infestation for the Birds

The Gothamist is reporting on a Long Island woman who is suffering from a rare infestation of bird mites. The woman contracted said infestation of mites from a bird nest found in her bathroom ventilation shaft. When she went to towel herself dry after a bath, she unwittingly covered herself with these mites. She soon had them "crawling out of her orifices."

The good news is that these mites cannot live long without a bird host (mmm mmm, do they love bird secretions), so they'll die soon and drop off. But not before leaving dozens of pin-prick bites all over her.

How do you avoid bird mites? First of all, don't be a bird. After that, you must eradicate all bird nests from your property and never bathe again.

Thanks for the itches, booge.

Photo source: Gothamist

Jun 13, 2008

Pink Fairy Armadillo

I think I've found my new favorite armored mammal (yes, I break my favorites down into very narrow categories). This is the pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus). Though the creature's name hints at the possibility that one of my five-year-old twin daughters might have named it, "it is found in central Argentina where it inhabits dry grasslands and sandy plains with thorn bushes and cacti." My daughters, to my knowledge, have never traveled there, and they, as a rule, steer clear of cacti.

This armadillo can bury itself in a matter of seconds if properly motivated (think prowling coyotes or teenage boys), and feeds mostly on ants and ant larvae. I can't think of anything wrong with this creature. It's armored, has massive claws, eats the pesky ant, and probably speaks with a suave Argentine accent. Can you ask for anything more?

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Photo source: Sharenator

Jun 12, 2008

Dune. Arakis. Desert Planet. Fish Bait.

You're looking at what must have been Frank Herbert's inspiration behind Dune.

Behold the Atlantic sandworm (Eulalia viridis). This creature is commonly found burrowing in the mud at low tide along the New England coastline. Herbie, the photographer and Mighty Worm Hunter (Paul Atreides would be so proud), has found specimens as large as 10". He says they make for good fish bait. And Herbie knows his fishing (that's a hint at "stay tuned for more...").

Check out those pincers (which aren't even fully extended) and think twice the next time you take off your sandals to enjoy a barefoot stroll down the shores of Cape Cod or Rhode Island.

Thanks for the photos, Herbie.

Jun 11, 2008

Dutiful Host

To the left is an example of a parasitoid (something I've often called my brother) dramatically changing the behavior of its host.

In this instance, a braconid wasp injected upwards of 80 of her eggs into the flesh of a geometrid moth caterpillar. The caterpillar then went about its normal routine as the eggs developed and incubated inside of it, munching on leaves and smoking its hooka pipe.
But come hatching time, the wasp larvae burst from the caterpillar all at once--but this didn't kill the caterpillar (even though the larvae had been feeding on the caterpillar's insides). Not in the least. Instead of screaming and dying a la Alien, the caterpillar is left alive, but lives with one final directive: to protect the young wasps who have emerged only to immediately pupate.

The caterpillar denies itself all food and sustenance, suppressing its own urges at self-preservation to stand guard over the little cocoons (as seen in the photo). If any predators come too close, the caterpillar fends them off. Field studies have shown that the wasp pupae thus guarded have a 50% increased survival rate over those that aren't guarded. Once the wasps emerge from their cocoons, the caterpillar dies, just as if Ernest Hemingway had written the entire drama himself.

Thanks for the article, Mary. Life is a little less enjoyable now.

Photo source: Science Daily

Jun 10, 2008

Squid Info Needed

I need some help with this one. Can anyone give me the common name of this squid, which has been named Stauroteuthis syrtensis? It's some sort of cirrate octopus, but I'm having trouble getting the goods on this creature.

I do know that the "suckers" on the arms are actually photophores -- light-emitting organs used to distract both predator and prey. I also know that if I encountered one of these things while in full deploy, I would never go scuba diving again. But that's not saying much: my additional marriage-weight has made my wetsuit a bit snug, making the whole issue moot.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

UPDATE: Evidently, this squid has no common name. Anon has suggested that we come up with one. Any ideas? Leave comments.

Photo source: Sharenator

Jun 9, 2008


At first glance you thought I had posted on a flamingo, didn't you? But then you saw that head and frowned. It looks like someone affixed a spatula onto a vulture's face, and then grafted it onto a flamingo body. But this isn't a frankenbird. It's a roseate spoonbill.

Much like its cousin, whose plastic iterations decorate many a lawn, the spoonbill uses its beak to sift through shallow waters to catch small fish, insects, crustaceans, etc. Also like the flamingo, the roseate spoonbill gets its coloring from what it eats. Or rather, from what its food eats. Some of the crustaceans the bird dines on eat algae, thus causing the pink coloration.

Unlike the flamingo, the roseate spoonbill has the good fortune of soaring through the digital skies of Ugly Overload.

Thanks for the photo, Jade.

Jun 8, 2008

Geoducks Are Delicious

You're looking at a geoduck clam (pronounced 'gooey duck'). I've got lots of experience with these, having gone clamming for them for years now off the coast of Northern California. I use the old-fashoned method of syphoning the slurried mud with a pump made from PVC piping, a steel rod, and a tennis ball, then diving to my belly in an eager grab for the elusive clam's retreating neck. The big ones usually survive an encounter with me, because their necks are long enough that their bodies are more than six feet down, enabling them to get just beyond my six-foot reach. At least it's sporting, and few things are as humbling as being outwitted by a creature with a negligable nervous system.

These suckers are the second-longest living creature on the planet, second only to the giant tortoise. Oh, and
wouldn't you know it: they're considered to be aphrodisiacs in Asia. Having eaten my share of them, I can say that there are few Western foods less sexy than a bowl of salty goop filled with mollusk bits, but maybe I'm missing something. After all, raw fish eggs seem to do the trick.

Thanks for the geoduck, Annica.

Photo source: Dark Roasted Blend

Jun 7, 2008

Elephant Shrew

The elephant shrew is neither an elephant nor a shrew. They can be found in almost any environment in southern Africa, scampering about and probing with their noses in an effort to feed their insectivorous diet.

Are these legal to own in the US? I could use a few around my property. They could hunt down the crickets and spiders that plague me. I normally don't encourage rodents to take up residence around my house, but who couldn't use some more insect-eating creatures (spiders excluded)?

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Photo source: Sharenator

Jun 6, 2008

In a Tug Boat Cabin

Jade sent me some photos of the inhabitants of his aquariums, and when I saw these of his arrow crab, I had a flashback...

...cue harp music...

I was scuba diving down in the Sea of Cortes with a buddy of mine, and we were exploring a wreck of an erstwhile tug boat. We got down inside the cabin, and much to my horror, every corner and window sill was infested by spidery crabs just like this one, just as if the place were infested with daddy-long-legs. My arachnophobia kicked in, which was amplified by the fact that I was 50 feet underwater, wearing a constrictive wet suit, and inside a rusty chunk of metal.

It seems that spiders have forged an alliance with their crustacean cousins to haunt me wherever I go.

Thanks for helping me relive my nightmare, Jade.

Jun 5, 2008

Carrot Horns and a Tapir Nose

The Saiga once roamed the vast expanse of the Eurasian steppes. But, wouldn't you know it, the saiga has been poached to near extinction because the horns are valuable in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I'll tell you what, you practitioners and partakers of TCM, I'll carve up some carrots in a fancy spiral pattern, and you can use them to boost your virility, or whatever you use the horns for, and hey, there'll also a tasty addition to any salad.

Thanks for the photo, Ida.

Photo source: Sharenator.com

Jun 4, 2008

Of Pigs and Cucumbers

Only on the ocean floor would you find a pig as a subcategory of a cucumber. That's exactly what a Sea Pig is: a variety of Sea Cucumber. My one hope is that this creature oinks when it eviscerates itself in a toxic goopy plume.

Thanks for the sea pig, Lee Ann.

Photo source: Galathea 3

Jun 3, 2008

Jellyfish - It's What's for Dinner

I've often wondered why jellyfish don't feature more prominently in the big pelagics of the world's oceans. The easy answer is that jellyfish don't offer much in the way of the nutrition (unless spread on wheat bread with some peanut butter).

That being said, the sunfish (Mola mola) has a lot to show for its efforts, as they dine on jellyfish almost exclusively. It is the world's heaviest known bony fish, weighing in at 2,200 lbs. They are as long as they are wide, with some specimens reaching over 10 feet in length. They look like a half of a fish when viewed from the side, and like a mini-sub when viewed from above.

Thanks for the ocean sunfish, Elizabeth.

Photos via whatsthecrack.net