Sep 30, 2008

Equity in the Wild Kingdom

Every so often, mother nature allows for a bit of fair play and turn about.

Here's a photo of a fringe-lipped bat (Trachops cirrhosus) dining on a tungara frog in Panama (not an uncommon occurrence). The bat looks overwhelmed by the meal awaiting it. The frog looks put out.

Photo source: National Geographic

Not to be out done, the amphibians even the score. Large green tree frogs (Litoria cerulea) like to lurk outside the lairs of little bent-wing bats (Miniopterus australis) and nab one for dinner.

Photo credit: D. Bruce Means

Though I would never suggest that there is a natural law of parity or equity in the wild kingdom, I think my kids can learn a good lesson from this, perhaps in a Brothers Grimm-style dark fable. A children's book about bats eating frogs and frogs eating bats is in order. I'm sure they'll be charmed.

Sep 29, 2008


This is a puffer/blow fish that I believe belongs to the family of Tetraodontidae. And, unless I am wrong (and I am never wrong), they are headed for the Fire Swamp this fish belongs to a family of fish that are the second-most poisonous vertebrate in the world. Don't eat the skin or internal organs of one if you don't know what you're doing. Aren't these creatures used in the creation of zombies in the Caribbean?

This reminds me of a story I heard from my dive master down in Mexico. We had just come up from a dive in which I got to handle a fully-inflated porcupine fish. He told me how the previous summer he had a student who had swum up to him, clutching a finger that was oozing a cloud of blood into the water around his hand. The dive master took the student to the surface and asked what happened as he examined a finger that was missing its last half inch. The student, amid shocked sobs, explained that he was playing with a porcupine fish, and the thing looked so cute that he stuck his finger into the fish's beak. Bye-bye fingertip.

Seems like some people need a thick layer of civilization to protect them from their own stupidity.

Thanks for the photo, Marie.

Sep 28, 2008

Without a Proper Macro Lens

This is what linty was able to pull off even without what he calls a 'proper macro lens'. You photographers and your uppitiness (new word alert). I couldn't take these kind of photos even with a proper macro lens.

While I sit here and get over my bitterness, enjoy these photos of a fly, grub, spider, and ambush bug.

Thanks, linty. My feeling of inadequacy just grew a bit.

Sep 27, 2008

Vietnamese Mossy Frog

Photo source: Adam Fagen
One frog that is gaining in popularity as a pet is the Vietnamese Mossy Frog (Theloderma corticale). These frogs (native to north Vietnam at around the 3,000 foot elevation) have among the best camouflage going; they're incredibly difficult to spot in the wild. They've only been in the market for a few years now, but they're turning out to be relatively easy to keep in vivariums. They're classified as 'beginner' frogs on most pet sites. They're even easy to breed, and can be kept in groups (preferred). 

This frog is protected by the Vietnamese government (where they're probably under threat because of use in 'traditional medicines'). An interesting note: the eggs are laid on rocks and vegetation just above the water's edge. When the eggs hatch, the tadpoles drop to the water, where they'll spend the next year until they metamorphose into adults. 

Also, if you kiss one, you're likely to contract horrible warts--but that danger is offset by the fact that one in ten of them is a cursed prince in disguise. But don't tell my impressionable young daughters that.

Thanks for the frog, Erik.

Photo source:

Sep 26, 2008


Those of you who enjoyed my previous bot fly posts will love this next one. Megan is a biology student who is earning her keep at a veterinary clinic. About a month ago she had to deal with a rash of cuterebra cases in dogs.

Cuterebras are but one iteration of the bot fly. What's a bot fly?

Photo source: Brittanica
Well, the fly itself is harmless. They don't bite or sting. They do vaguely resemble bees, but they have nothing, ecologically speaking, in common with them. You see, a bot fly (a cuterebra in this case), lays its eggs along the paths or around the dens frequented by small mammals (dogs, cats, squirrels, rabbits, etc.). The hapless animals then either rub up against or ingest the eggs, which then hatch. The newly spawned bot fly larvae travel to a spot just beneath the skin and form a 'nodule'.

These nodules can be sizeable, since the larvae which inhabit them can get upwards of two-inches long. The larvae have cutting teeth that they use to cut a little hole on the outside so they can breathe. Look up 'bot fly' on YouTube for videos of them in people's backs. You won't be the same afterwards.

Photo source: unknown

If you find a squirrel with cuterebra nodules, don't worry. The larvae will drop out within 30 days and pupate on the ground. The nodule will heal up. You might not be so cavalier, though, if you get infected. If you do, you'll want to cover the hole with petroleum jelly, which will cause the larvae to emerge for fresh air. Then you can grab it with tweezers. But don't squeeze too hard. If it pops or crumbles inside your skin, it can trigger an infection or even anaphylactic shock.

Ugly, people. Ugly. Thanks, Megan.

Sep 25, 2008

Mantis at Midday

Vincent encountered this Chinese praying mantis in Lexington, Kentucky, US, out of season, at midday, and out in the open. Vincent, I can only assume that this 'insect' was accidentally left behind by the mothership, and you interrupted its attempt to be reunited with its starshipmates (a la E.T.).

The Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensi) is one of the largest of the mantids. They have unusually large thoracic segments, which allows them to rotate to follow its prey without actually having to move its whole body. In fact, praying mantises are the only insects that can turn 180 degrees at the 'waist.' They are also the only insects that can read minds and travel through astral wormholes.

Thanks, Vincent.

Sep 24, 2008

Shark Legs

Jade sent this one along. This is a picture (and a close up) of a shark caught in Malaysian waters with what appears to be a pair of webbed feet.

The woman in the photo, Looi, wanted to cook some fish for lunch and bought this shark with that end in mind. It wasn't until she got the shark home that she discovered the feet. She posed for the photo, then called her husband, unsure what to do next. They agreed that she should return the shark, since, according to Chinese belief, it is bad luck to eat fish with any unusual characteristics. She returned it to the fisherman who had caught it, who then promptly returned to the sea.

I'm no ichthyologist, but don't male sharks have pronged genitals in the same region as these 'feet'?

The article doesn't say if the shark survived this ordeal. I assume not. But I want to know if Malaysia can expect any more legged fish in its waters. Also, why give up the chance to be the first human to dine on shark legs? I imagine they'd be tasty if rolled in batter, fried, and slathered with sauce.

I'm eating a tuna sandwich as I write this post, and I'm quickly losing my appetite. Thanks, Jade.

Photo source:

Sep 23, 2008

Empty Nesting

Jon took this photo of another mommy wolf spider in Kansas. When he counted the babies on her back, he came up with a count of roughly a zillion. Oh, and after my most recent post on a wolfspidermum, Jade informed me that the babies leave sometime around their first molt. Given the weight of all those spiderlings on her back, I'll bet empty nesting never felt so good.

This photo was taken by John. He would like some assistance in identifying the species. Any takers out there?

Last but not least, we have this hapless spider. Wendy stumbled into the bathroom in the middle of the night only to find it trapped in her bathtub. This spider (another wolf spider?) trying to climb the water spout wasn't so itsby bitsy. She took a picture and then let it be. Her husband had to scoop it out the following day and release it into the wild. The one good thing about finding a hairy spider in your tub: they help sweep up any stray lint.

Beware, Little Puppy

Abby is a shiba inu mix. Now, the shiba inu is an attractive breed, with a rich heritage. They are the smallest of the native Japanese breeds and were bred to hunt small game, boar, and bear. Shiba is Japanese for 'brushwood', the dog's traditional hunting grounds, and inu means 'dog'. Ergo, the brushwood dog.

The shiba inu is loyal to those who have earned its respect, but reserved at best with strangers. Such is the case with Abby here. She's just fine with Danielle (thanks for the photo, Danielle), and her owner, but she hates strangers and other dogs. This is 13-year-old Abby reacting to Danielle's puppy, who is five feet away. Beware, little puppy, of Abby when she is in her anger. 13-year-old teeth bit just as deep as fresh ones.

Sep 22, 2008

One Successful Toad

Australia has been accused of accidentally introducing the dreaded cane toad into East Timor back in 1999, when Australia led a force of peacekeepers into the country to end the pro-Indonesia militia slaughter there. Despite strict quarantine efforts, it seems that a number of the poisonous cane toads, which can get up to 5.8 lbs and the size of a dinner plate, hitched a ride on the Aussie equipment and vehicles that was headed for East Timor.

The Cane Toad isn't even a native to Australia. Though it hails from Central America, it was introduced into Australia via Hawaii back in 1935 as a way to control the sugar cane beetle (ergo, the Cane Toad?). 3,000 individual toads were introduced. Estimates now place the toad's population in Australia at 200 million. Now, when viewed from a propagation-of-the-species perspective, that's one successful toad. This toad's stowaway behavior seems to be working for it, much to Australia's and East Timor's dismay. It really is a blight upon any ecosystem it enters.

This picture could be one of a Cane Toad, and artist's representation of Professor Umbridge, or a screenshot of Mike's nemesis from from Monsters, Inc. You decide.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Photo source: Reuters

Sep 21, 2008

Sand Diver Lizard Fish

Can you go wrong on this blog with a fish named the Sand Diver Lizard Fish? Can you go wrong with an ambush predator who lurks beneath the sand with only its eyes showing? No and no. Synodus intermedius is common in the Western Atlantic and Southeast Asia, though it is most common among the sand bars of the West Indies.

These fish are also sometimes kept in aquariums, which is why Rasmus (master ichthyologist) found it on Practical Fish Keeping, where they did an article on 10 hideously ugly fish. Though you wouldn't want to step on one, you shouldn't worry about any danger from this fish. That is, unless you're a crustacean or small fish, in which case you probably need to logoff and get back in the water, sand diver lizard fish or no sand diver lizard fish.

Though I complained a couple of days ago about the naming of the False Killer Whale, I approve of this creature's name. It also belongs to the order of Aulopiformes, meaning 'grinners'. That makes this fish a bit more charming. A bit.

Thanks, Rasmus.

Photo source: Creative Commons via

Sep 20, 2008

Primary Directive

Image Source
This post is dedicated to one of the primary drives of all creatures. No, not eating, sleeping, or finding shelter. Not checking your email or CrackBerry. Mating.

Emily sent me this article from It's full of good photos (check out the dragonflies), but I've cherry picked it for the ugliest bugs.

This first one is of a pair of amorous Lixus angustatus, aka Snout Beetle, aka weevil. They are the bane of flour and baked goods the world over, and come in such a wide variety that scientists are having trouble keeping them all straight. Suffice it to say you don't want them.

Image Source

Here we have the diminutive but lethal ambush bug. This insect pounces on its prey, which is often much larger than itself, grips the hapless victim in its forearms, pierces it with its beak, then sucks out its innards. I'm so pleased that we'll have more of these in the world thanks to this pair.

Image Source

Last but not least, we have a grasshopper pair. Could a post about ugly mating bugs be complete without a picture of mating grasshoppers? Probably, but I liked the colors and the sexual dimorphism here. I never would have thought the pink bug and the yellow bug belonged to the same species. But then, no doubt my wife and I get the same reaction. What's that pretty thing doing with that ugly thing?

Thanks, Emily.

Sep 19, 2008

False Name

Sherry sent along this cetacean in just the nick of time. We need to recover from all the spider posts. Though not strictly ugly, we still want to carve out a home here for this marine mammal.

You're looking at a False Killer Whale. Sherry takes umbrage with this name. What a bummer for the whale! I can only imagine that it was waiting with baited breath (stinking of squid and fish) to find out what common name man had given it, and was thoroughly disappointed when it found out. Even its Latin name, Pseudoorca crassidens, hints at fakery. I doubt the whale set out with any intentions of being a fake anything when first it entered the biosphere.

Crassidens means 'stout tooth' in Latin. Why not call it the Stout Tooth Whale? Or, I like Sherry's suggestion: Grim Reaper Whale (to continue with the 'killer' theme).

Photo source: Stefan Thiesen Buntrabe

The next time you're in tropical, subtropical, or warm waters and you encounter one of these, please apologize on behalf of mankind. We really should have given them a better name.

Sep 18, 2008

Spider Gala

I've got loads of spiders to unleash, so prepare for an Arachno-gala. Do whatever you need to do (get the shower water hot, curl your toes and tuck your feet underneath you, whatever), and enjoy.

Let me begin with Judy's eight-legged friend in Wisconsin, US. This webslinger alternates between her leafy abode by the porch and her web. You have more restraint than I, Judy. No arachnid is allowed to take up residence near my porch for more than a day (except for jumping spiders, they get a pass). They get relocated.

Mara encountered this beauty in Akita, Japan. It was so large that she and her friends nicknamed it Gojira (that's Godzilla to us English-speaking gargantuan monster movie fans). See how international this post is? We're reaching across the globe, people.

Poor Carrie's tale follows, in which she lived out a nightmare of mine. She and her husband, Dan, were sitting in the garage, taking a break after a long day of construction, when Dan thinks he spots a mouse on the floor. But, low and behold, it wasn't a mouse. It was a mommy wolf spider, complete with spiderlings on her back. Carrie begins gacking and scrambles into the doorway as Dan spends the next 10 minutes taking pictures of the beast.

But Carrie's story doesn't end there. Dan turned around and spotted this next spider lurking in the doorway directly above where Carrie was watching on in horror at the wolfspider. Carrie's husband now runs interference for her whenever they enter the garage.

This last spider lives on the banks of Hyony's pond. Hyony doesn't know what kind of spider it is, and would like to know what it might be. The abdomen is currently around 1cm long. Anyone want to take a stab at it (not literally, like me).

Sep 17, 2008

Ugly Duckling

Anja wanted to share a woeful tale and these photos in an endeavor to spare the lives of very beneficial creatures.

One of her friends came across some insects like these, was horrified, grabbed a can of raid, and killed them all. When Anja found out, she was horrified. Little did that friend know that the little uglies she eradicated were actually the grubs of the beloved ladybug (aka ladybird).

That's right, you may find these creatures in your yard. If you do, leave them be. They are something of the ugly duckling of the insect world. Let them amble about, pupate, and emerge as one of the 5,000 varieties of ladybugs, most of which are beneficial to crops and plants (some can be destructive, but those are very much in the minority). Why's that? Well, during the course of this beetle's weeks-long lifespan, it will eat as many as 5,000 aphids or similar pests.

Thanks for the photos, Anja. Don't let your friend beat herself up too much. We all make mistakes.

Sep 16, 2008

Gelada Monster

I believe this is a gelada monster monkey. Theropithecus gelada is the most terrestrial of all monkeys. They live at high altitudes in Ethiopia, where they eat grasses. They have large, fatty butts that allow them to comfortably sit down most of the day so they can munch. See, there is a scientific advantage to having a fatty butt. I can now feel proud of the role I fill as office monkey, where my own fatty rear is used to augment the ergonomic qualities of my chair.

These monkeys are under threat, despite their remote location. Native peoples hunt the males for their impressive manes, which are used in coming-of-age ceremonies. Come on, people. Let's leave the gelada out of your ceremonial rites. How about issuing diplomas instead?

Thanks for the photo, True Bavarian.

Sep 15, 2008

Death in a Cemetery

Paul is a photographer down in Jacksonville, FL, US. While plying at his trade in a cemetery, he saw this scene of death play itself out.

You're looking at a 3" fly with a grasshopper in its clutches. This fly, which I think is a variety of robberfly, was able to fly with its kill in its maw and land on this tombstone. To butcher one of my favorite Groucho Marx quotes: "Time flies like an arrow. Robber flies like a grasshopper."

Thanks, Paul.

Sep 14, 2008

Tarantulas Galore

Jade, extraordinary breeder of inverts, has sent me a treasure trove of new photos of his wards. I'll be passing them along in bits and pieces, so as to spread the tarantula and roach posts out. Here are the first four, complete with info straight from the expert himself.

1) Usumbara orange starburst baboon (Pterinochilus murinus). Over in their native Africa they have earned the name of 'orange bitey thing', and it is well deserved. They'll take on all comers, any time, any place. Unlike other tarantulas that are static in their hunting technique, these tarantulas will pick and choose to be arboreal, terrestrial, or burrowers, and will likely change tactics a couple of times over their lifespan.

2) Antillies pinktoe (Avicularia versicolor). These northern Brazilian tarantulas are some of the most colorful and docile tarantulas out there. This is Jade's favorite species, and that's saying something. This particular individual (a female) just passed on a couple of days ago. May you find abundant prey in the Spider Elysian Fields.

3) Red and white birdeater (Nhandu chromatus). Meet Nightcrawler. She is so-named because she moves so fast, it seems that she teleports. Jade opened her egg sac seven years ago, and they have been companions ever since. These birdeaters are a fairly aggressive species (much to birds' dismay). Nightcrawler has a leg span of 6.5".

4) Mexican gold (Brachypelma rhunaui). This one actually belongs to Jade's lady, Rachel. This species is fairly docile and can reach a leg span of 6", though this 10-year-old specimen is 4" across. The females can reach an age of 20-30 years. They make for wonderful display tarantulas, since they are terrestrial and don't really make use of hides. But they're rare and expensive (about $80 for a hatchling).

Sep 13, 2008

Caterpillars of Death

As I've said before, my wife abominates all things wormy. That includes caterpillars. Our new house's lawn is infested with caterpillars, and they tend to undulate their way into the house, resulting in daily pleas to have me scoop them up. After reading on these caterpillars, I see that my lawn larvae have nothing on these caterpillars of death.

You're looking at a variety of Ionomia moth caterpillars. All are spikey, and none are benign. Quite the opposite. Though the moth is harmless, the bristles on the larvae are lethal. Dozens of people in Brazil die just by touching them. Why? The toxin in the bristles is a powerful anti-coagulant, causing the blood to break down inside the dying victim. Lovely.

Thanks for the Dark Roasted Blend article, Ida.

Photo credit: 1) Anuska Nardelli 2) Diego Gonçalves 3) Ronai Rocha

Sep 12, 2008

Mythical Tongue

The AFP is reporting that the Zoological Society of London is reporting that the okapi has been captured on film for the first time in the wild. How is that possible? I've seen several of these in captivity, here in California. How is it they haven't been filmed in the wild? Seems like the tropical forests of Zaire could use some more exploration. Though, it might be best if humans (poachers and developers at least) just stay out.

The report says that okapi are so elusive, that they were once considered to be a mythical unicorn. Perhaps instead of a magical horn, they have a magical tongue? Less powerful and stabby, but still quite useful.

Photo source: Soeradjoen

Sep 11, 2008

Pseudoscorpions and Phoresy

Matt encountered this creature in his home in the UK. Why is the picture so small? Because the creature is so small. This is what happens when those of us without macro lenses need to take pictures of tiny things. Matt wondered what this creature was, and I was actually able to help him (bug identification isn't my strong suit). It's a pseudoscorpion.

These tiny little arachnids are ubiquitous. You probably have them in your own house.

I went on to What's That Bug?, where the good folks are amazingly talented at bug identification, and was able to find out a bit more about the pseudoscorpion. Here's a shot of one hitching a ride on a Ichneumon. Here's your vocabulary word for the day: phoresy. Phoresy is defined as "One animal attaching to another animal for transportation only." Little arthropods do it all the time. There's no parasitism going on. The hitch-hiker simply needs to get around. Think of it as micro-mass transportation.

My one-year-old son does it all the time too. I'll be standing in the kitchen, minding my own business, when suddenly he is grappling my leg. I am then forced to walk around dragging him along, much to his dellight.

Thanks for the photo, Matt.

Sep 10, 2008

Self-Sustaining Monster

The spider photos keep pouring in. I can't stem the tide...

Bonni encountered this huntsman spider at her home near Melbourne, Australia. That's her husband's hand in the bottom right; he's 20 feet tall, just to give you some perspective on the size of the spider. Actually, these arachnids can reach a legspan of over 6 inches (16cm). They are nocturnal hunters, whose flattened body allows them to hide during the day inside tree bark and in your pants. They can bite humans, which will result in pain and swelling, though a cold compress might help. The cold compress can also be used to clean up the mess that would appear in my undies.

Here's a freaky visual: like most (all?) spiders, huntsman spiders must molt to grow. Therefore, it isn't uncommon to see the skins of these giants hanging from trees and wires. Can you imagine (and maybe some of you Aussies don't need to imagine) walking into your backyard, only to find every tree limb decked with spider pelts, like some morbid Christmas tree? See how I torment myself? See how my arachnophobia has become a self-sustaining monster?

Thanks for the photo, Bonni. I've died a little today.

Sep 9, 2008

Cotton Mocassins & Rattles

Amy, while traipsing about southeastern Oklahoma at a Nature Conservancy preserve, came across a mama cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and her brood (see the more colorful snakelings on the right).

Amy was wise to keep her distance. Cottonmouths are the only venomous aquatic snake in North America (they do most of their biting underwater), and are aggressive. They are pit vipers, related to the rattlesnake and the copperhead. Depending on who you listen to, they'll either bite you 1 in three times, or actively seek you out if you stumble into their territory. Regardless, the odds aren't good.

These snakes are also known as water moccasins. What's with the naming of vipers? Cotton, rattle, moccasin? Such benign terms to refer to such deadly animals.

Thanks for the photo, Amy.

Sep 8, 2008

Of Kinas and Urchins

You're looking at a Kina, which is the Maori term for a sea urchin. More specifically, this is a New Zealand Sea Urchin. Sea urchins, like many of their fellow Echinoderms (think sea cucumbers and sea stars), have fivefold symmetry (aka pentamerism). Just look at the shell of one, and you'll see it. But why are they called sea urchins? All aboard the Etymology Express...

The word urchin comes from the Old English word for hedgehog, urcheon. So, when you see a sea urchin, don't think of a marine version of a beggar child. Think of how appropriate the name actually is: sea hedgehog.

Also, please don't think of aphrodisiacs when you see a sea urchin. My cousin used to dive for them up in British Columbia, and he could earn $1,000 USD a day when they were in season. Who were his buyers? Almost exclusively Japanese men who hoped they could increase their potency with the ladies. To all my Japanese brothers: do you want to know what a true aphrodisiac is? It's taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, and getting up with the kids when they start crying in the middle of the night--and doing it all with a smiling face.

Thanks for the photo, Hannah.

Sep 7, 2008

Tick Tock

Some time ago, when I had to scrounge for photos and beg permission to use them, I was rebuffed by some wildlife photographers who said that there are no ugly animals. That all of nature was beautiful, and therefore I could not post their photos on a site called Ugly Overload. I would respond by saying that my site isn't a freak show; it is but one humble attempt to restore balance to the blogosphere. After one such rebuke, when a photographer wouldn't let me post on his hamadryas baboon, I posted on a tapeworm to prove that nature could be ugly.

The tick is still more proof. So I revel in posting on it.

There are many varieties of ticks. All of them suck blood from their hosts. They can't fly or jump. They only scamper and drop--and they do so for blood. How do they know where to find their prey? They seek out heat and/or carbon dioxide.

I actually have a fond memory of ticks. When I was a lad I had captured a skink and placed it in a spare terrarium. For about a week I mistook the black orbs nestled against the skink's ears as some sort of skink ear decoration. But then I realized that those orbs were ticks. With one hand I held the skink secure, and with the other I pressed a just-blown-out match tip to the ticks. One by one, they released their grip and fell to the countertop and began scampering away. But they met a swift end beneath my thumb (a bloody end, as it turned out). I then released the skink in the same place I had found him. For once, a reptile left a boy's care better for the experience. See? How's that for improving reptile-human relations?

Thanks for the photo, Booge (I'm still scratching myself).

Sep 6, 2008

Hunting Beak

You wouldn't know it from this angle, but the Pacific Spookfish (Rhinochimaera pacificus) has a long beak. This shot is from a head-on angle. The spookfish lives in the deep sea, and has been recently profiled in The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss.

The long beak that you don't see houses mucus-filled sensory canals and pits to help it hunt down the shellfish and crustaceans it eats. Though I've left my teenage years behind me, I wish I had known about this back when pimples were a problem. I could have claimed that they weren't pimples at all, but rather that they were mucus-filled sensory canals and pits to help me hunt. Hunting apparatus instead of acne. I like that.

Thanks for the link, Danielle.

Photo source: Claire Nouvian via