Aug 31, 2009

Colugo Fliers

No, no, this isn't a flying squirrel. It's a flying lemur. But it isn't a lemur either. It's a colugo.

Native to southeast Asia, these nocturnal creatures make for amazing fliers, capable of gliding upwards of 230 feet from one tree to the next.

The colugo might be able to pass for cute, as long as those flaps aren't engaged. But when fully deployed it's hard to see anything else but those expanses of fleshy membranes. And fleshy membranes aren't cute.

See that little baby colugo clinging to mommy's belly? Now, that is cute. Down right adorable. It takes about 2-3 years for colugolings to mature. Sad is the day when mommy has to tell the growing colugo, "Honey, I'm sorry. But you're just to big to fly. Mommy can't carry you anymore"

Hmm, there's a children's story in there somewhere.

I imagine one of the cutest things to witness would be the maiden voyage of a little colugo, as it gathers up its courage, spreads its limbs, straightens its tail, and takes a bold, but still timid leap into the air...

Aug 30, 2009

Intrepid Flytraps

I don't think I've ever cheered for a plant before. Sure, I've admired them, eaten them, given them as gifts, and breathed their oxygen. But ever rooted for one? This is a first.

Those two tangles of legs belong to a pair of harvestmen. My world just got a bit brighter with the knowledge that somewhere out there are intrepid Venus flytraps who endeavor to keep me safe from my arachnid enemies. Maybe I'll plant these around my bed. Then I can sleep peacefully, knowing that the chances of a harvestman scrambling across my face while I sleep is next to nil.

Photo source: welcome hank

Aug 29, 2009

Primitive Planarian

Photo source: Georgia University FACES
Should you stumble across one of these creatures, which are rare in most parts of the US, you have one of three options. 1) Resign yourself to the fact that you're the sorry sap at the beginning of an alien invasion that has the misfortune of having made first contact, and you'll be consumed and rendered a zombie, or 2) simply shrug, smash it, and move along, or 3) do a bit of investigation and find out what it is.

If you choose that last option, you'll discover that you have indeed encountered an invasive species (unless you're in east Asia), one that has made its way around the world in nursery pots (or in human spinal columns...). You've encountered a Land Planarian (which happens to be a great name for an alien race).

These primitive flatworms have no circulatory or respiratory system, and no skeletal structure. They don't have eyes, and their mouth, which is halfway down their belly, also double as their anus (which I've found to be true among quite a few humans, too). They ambulate by gliding upon a bed of mucus of their own making, and they dine on earthworms, slugs, and human happiness. They're harmless, unless you are a happy human, or an earthworm (the planarian will attack prey 10-times its size to suck out worm juice).

Last but not least, they can procreate by laying eggs, or by budding, or by simply squeezing off part of its tail, which will then sprout into a new planarian.

Thanks for the planarian, David.

Aug 28, 2009

Turtle Rescue

Two points to make on this video: 1) Hats off to those who took the time to whisk this softshell turtle off to safety (or the cook pot, for all we know...), and 2) this is why you keep your fingers away from these aquatic hunters.

Thanks for the video, Ida.

Aug 27, 2009

Lunar ROUS

Photo source:
ROUS alert. This beast, known as the moon rat (Echinosorex gymnurus), is the largest member of the order of Insectivora. That's right, there's no larger rodent-like scourge among the terrestrial invertebrates of Southeast Asia than the moon rat, which gets to be the size of a house cat.

What really ups their charm, besides those wee beady eyes, that glistening nose, and its scaly tail, is the onion or strong garlic smell they secrete from their anal glands.

Hmm, pair this creature up with the vinegaroon, and you've got yourself a ready-made salad dressing.

Thanks for the moon rat, David.

Aug 26, 2009

Mite Cleaning Crew

I've always found the idea of 'cleaner animals' endearing: like the yellow tangs who clean sea turtles of parasites, or the birds who pluck ticks off of buffalo and rhino hides. And for some reason, that same disposition lends itself to finding the scene below almost a bit heart-warming.

Those are little cleaner mites, as seen beneath an electron microscope, who have set up shop on cockroaches to keep them tidy.

Photo source: Jay Yoder via Popular Science

Specifically, these mites are eating moist debris from around the breathing holes of a Madagascar hissing cockroach. The cockroaches are said to harbor some 14 different species of mold, and the mites help keep the mold in check. That makes the roaches less of an allergen for us humans, though the mites themselves are an allergen. Double-edged sword. Seems you just can't win with mites.

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Aug 25, 2009

Newt Ribs

I know, these newts looks like your run-of-the-mill newt. Nothing extraordinary to look at, though they might be fun to keep in a terrarium.

Photo source: Peter Halasz via Budapest Zoo

What you don't know is that the Spanish ribbed newt, Pleurodeles waltl, has a rare talent: it can thrust the pointed ends of its rib cage through its sides to produce defensive spurs.

Photo source: BBC via

When it comes to dealing with self defense mechanisms, I've become pretty adept, at least when it comes to countering my son's ploys to avoid a diaper change. He tries the time-honored tricks of flailing, rolling, flopping, and making himself dead weight by going limp. I've learned a blend of distraction, cajoling, good humor, and a patented leg lock (to be used on the floor only) to get said diaper changed. If, however, I ran the risk of my boy intentionally thrusting his ribs through his flanks to pierce my hands with their pointy ends, diaper changing would be an entirely different ordeal. That's escalation on a level with which I am not prepared to contend.

Thanks for the newt, Ida.

Aug 24, 2009

The Benefits of a Short, Broad Skull

The wrinkle-faced bat, known to be frugivorous despite being closely related to the vampire bat, has long been known for its abominable face. But it's the shape of the skull that has puzzled researchers.

Photo source: BBC News

It's recently been determined that the short, broad shape of the skull gives the wrinkle-faced bat a 20% stronger bite than bats of a similar size (Centurio senex weighs in at a mere 17 grams). Why such a powerful bite on a fruit-eating bat? All the better to eat their way through thicker fruit skins during lean times, my dear.

So, if you encounter one in the wild, feel free to scream and flail and run away, but know that the only danger this bat poses (unless you're a fruit) comes in the form of what is left in the seat of your pants after said encounter.

Thanks for the article, Luke.

Aug 23, 2009

Possible Condor Reintroduction

The California Condor might be coming home to roost for the first time in the northern reaches of its native territory, which was once as far north as British Columbia. The Yurok tribe is seeking to reintroduce them, and I can't help but offer my sincere wishes that the condor is able to propagate itself in the northern wilds once more.

Photo source: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer via Yahoo! News

Here's some historical perspective on the California Condor: the first written record we have of one is from 1602 when they were spotted feasting on a whale carcass in Monterey Bay. Then, in 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition caught one that had been feeding on a whale carcass. In 2006, five condors were found in Big Sur feasting on...can you guess it?...a whale carcass.

The average whale carcass can feed a population of condors for months, and as I've read elsewhere, dead whales were a primary food source for condors back in the day. But we're so diligent in keeping our coastline clear of dead whales, that the condors aren't able to feed like they used to.

I don't really know how to fix that situation. Maybe one of you ecologists or biologists or someone more familiar with condors or the disposal of dead whales can weigh in.

Aug 22, 2009

Frustrating Chameleon

This is a very frustrating video of a chameleon changing colors as it's introduced to new items. First you can see him, then you can't. Then you can see him again, then he's gone again. Very frustrating. Of course, the chameleon doesn't look terribly please at having his camouflaging ability trotted out for our entertainment.

Thanks for the link, Ida.

Aug 21, 2009

Scientists Seek Out Even More Spiders in Fossil Record

As if I didn't have enough spiders to worry about, scientists have decided to dredge up the past, like an ex-girlfriend who loves to glory in your youthful follies, and find spider fossils in iron carbonate sediment.

Till now there have been a number of obstacles to studying such fossils, but with new techniques and new equipment, researchers are able to recreate stunning images of the fossils, including the 3D rendering of the spider below, determined to be upwards of 300 million years old.

Photo source: Natural History Museum and Imperial College London via New York Times

The spider, dug up in Mazon Creek, Illinois, USA, is said to belong to an extinct order of spiders known as the trigonotarbids (this extinction is the only good news in this article). These new images reveal spines and and ball-like growths on the legs that hadn't ever been seen before. And the even better news is that there's no shortage of specimens to study.

Yippee, more nightmares to be dug up. I'll tell you what -- these paleontologists are like the frigging dwarves of Moria. Don't they know what happens when you delve too deeply? You'll find yourself with a life-size image of Shelob, and then a Balrog over your shoulder.

Thanks for the article, Jeff.

Aug 20, 2009

Carp Carpet

I love fish (though, not to eat). I have a large aquarium at home. I've had ponds full of koi and goldfish. I love scuba diving. So why do I include the photo below on Ugly Overload? Because I've always had a fear of swimming in freshwater lakes. The reason? Carp.

Photo source:

But the carp are the main attraction at the Spillway in Linesville, Pennsylvania. In fact, this spot is so popular that it is second only to the Liberty Bell, with hundreds of thousands visiting each year. The visitors come to hurl bread at the carp that amass so thickly to eat that ducks have been known to walk across them when vying for doughy morsels.

The next time you're in Pennsylvania, be sure to drop by Linesville. You'll find a snazzy new promenade at the Spillway and vendors aplenty to supply you with all the tossable baked goods you could ever want.

Thanks for the carp, Paula.

Aug 19, 2009

Of Spines, Chickens, and Ants

What lays chickens like an egg, has spines like a porcupine, has a pouch like a wombat, and an appetite and tongue like an anteater? You guessed it: Echidna, the mate of Typhon and daughter of Ceto, who gave birth to Cerberus, Chimera, Sphynx, Hydra, and others...

...wait, I've got my mythology and biology crossed...

Echidna is an Australian creature which comes in both long-beaked and short-beaked varieties. They are powerful diggers and are the bane of ants in the scrublands they call their home (let's face it: ants have it coming). The female echidna lays a single, grape-sized egg once a year. She rolls the egg into her pouch and ten days later gives birth to a puggle. Thus is born the next generation of befuddling beasts.

Thanks for the photo, David.

Photo source: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo via

Aug 18, 2009

Velvet Worm vs. Beetle

Watch this video of a velvet worm (great band name!) and be thankful that you aren't a diminutive arthropod.

Thanks for the video, Jelo.

Aug 17, 2009


I learned a new vocabulary word when researching the frugivorous long tailed macaque. This monkey, who inhabits much of Southeast Asia, tends to do its foraging in the undercanopy: that portion of the jungle and swamp that is below 20 meters. Why so low, why so often on the ground? They do so to avoid feeding competition with other symaptric monkeys.

Vocab word: sympatry: "occupying geographical ranges that at least partially overlap without interbreeding."

I guess it can be said that I live in sympatry with a whole host of other humans with whom I have no intention of interbreeding, and with whom I compete for food. Most notably: at work when the drooling masses descend like vultures to a carcass whenever someone brings in a tin of homemade brownies. David Attenborough would cringe at the level of ferocity we humans can display to get our paws on those brownies. It's a Hobbesian world.

Photo source: Keven Law

Aug 16, 2009

Sleepy Primate

I'm a sleepy primate (that's great, maybe even super, ape to these monkeys below) today. Our ten-month-old son has been enjoying getting up before 5am for the past couple of days.

I wish I had some proper fangs to bare at him. I imagine in the dim light of the LED night light we have in his room that the fangs would look nice and intimidating. Maybe he wouldn't be so eager to get up...

(hamadryas baboon, mandrill, and golden snub nose monkey)

Photo source: Edgar Thissen

Photo source: Tiger Jack

Photo source: In Cherl Kim

Aug 15, 2009

Monster Wasp Nests

Warmer winters have led to some interesting developments. Take the image below, for instance. An Alabama man decided not to eradicate the yellow jacket nest that had blossomed in his old '55 Chevy truck. He let it run wild, and this was the result. If the average yellow jacket's nest houses 3,000 wasps, how much does this one hold?

I hope he doesn't have any neighbors. I don't know exactly how I'd feel about a guy who renders my yard unusable, but it wouldn't be charitable.

Thanks for the hornets, Moneca.

Photo source:

Aug 14, 2009

Read the Fine Print

When I saw the photo below in combination with the headline stating how the invasive Burmese python is wreaking havoc on the Florida Everglades, I assumed something was being done to the snake to address that problem. So, I read on.

The article goes on to explain how park rangers are using unmanned aerial vehicles and thermal imaging to locate python nests, which the pythons keep cool in the heat and warm in the cold. But the article never explains what's actually happening in the photo. Is the snake being fitted with a transponder? Is it being trained to fly those unmanned drones, thereby making them 'snaked' drones? Is it being transformed into a python-killing cyborg? Is it about to be water-boarded? Is it an autopsy? Are those people members of the Order of the Phoenix, and is the snake a horcrux? So many questions, so much fodder for my paranoid and over-imaginative mind...

But then I read the caption and found out that it's being equipped with a radio tracker. Or so they would have us believe...

Thanks for the article, Ida.

Photo source: University of Florida via Popular Science

Aug 13, 2009

Taste for German Flesh

I've posted on giant catfish before, including the goonch. But never (knowingly) on the Wels catfish (Silurus Glanis). These beasts have the distinction of being the second largest freshwater fish found in Europe, second only to the beluga sturgeon. They've also gained a second distinction: for having developed a taste for German flesh.

In my effort to stay abreast of current events concerning uglies the world over, I bring you a tale from June of 2008. It's the story of bathers fearing to enter a popular lake near Berlin. More than one bather has found herself bitten on the leg by what experts can only assume is a Wels catfish, since large bites are consistent with their wide mouths and small, needle-like teeth (see last image).

Sei vorsicht, you Berliners. There's a catfish out there mit ihrem Namen on it.


Photo source: SpiegelOnline

Aug 12, 2009

Turtle on a Storm Drain

Pamela encountered this Chinese softshell turtle while on vacation in Japan. What's that? A Chinese turtle inspecting a storm drain in Japan? Well, it's difficult to determine the natural habitat range of Pelodiscus sinensis, since it has been used as a food source for so long among migrating people. They've been found in China (of couse), Taiwan, Manchuria, Korea, and Japan. More recently, they've been introduced to several southeast Asian countries and even into several Hawaiian islands and California.

These turtles are often cooked up as turtle soup. I imagine these are the same critters I saw stacked alive in baskets in Chinatown food shops in San Francisco. When I saw them, I felt an E.T.-style urge to liberate all of them. But I don't think they would have fared any better on the streets of SF than in a soup pot. Practicality won the day, to the turtles' detriment.

Thanks or the photo, Pamela.

Aug 11, 2009

LCD Beetle

How does the jeweled beetle manage to look green despite not having any green pigment in their exoskeleton? Magic, that's how. Quick, someone go tell Traditional Chinese Medicine peddlers: they can cook up a new aphrodisiac.

Actually, there' a less magical, but still fascinating explanation: they sport microscopic cells in their exoskeleton that are almost identical to high-tech liquid crystals. The beetle appears green from certain angles because of the polarizing qualities of the crystals.

Thanks, Ida. I'm looking forward to the next generation of LCD monitors being nothing more than a writhing mass of beetles strung across a metal frame.

Photo source: BBC News

Aug 10, 2009

Dobson Juice

It's high time we had another dobsonfly post. Enjoy this video of a dude handling one. And getting squirted by it. Enjoy your lunch.

Aug 9, 2009

Ant Raft

This one comes to us from Moneca. Ants really are amazing creatures, as seen here when they form a life raft to float their colony to a new spot. I can't imagine what it would be like to go for a swim in the ol' watering hole, only to come up for air in the middle of this. I don't think it'd go well for you.

Aug 8, 2009

Satanic Bonding

Photo credit to Piotr Naskrecki via TYWKIWDBI
This little leaf tailed gecko is unique to Madagascar. It's known sometimes as the fantastic leaf tailed gecko or the eyelash leaf tailed gecko. 'Fantastic' because it's almost too hard to believe such a creature could exist, 'eyelash' because it sports camouflaging eyelashes, and 'leaf tailed' because its tail resembles a decaying leaf.

However, Uroplatus phantasticus is most commonly known as the Satanic Leaf Tailed Gecko: 'satanic' because of its association with the Prince of Darkness.

Geckos such as this one may hold the key to the technology that will allow us to be able to walk on walls and ceilings. They don't do with with tiny barbed hairs or sticky pads. Rather, their feet are equipped with about a billion of points of contact that allow them to bond on a molecular level with the surface they are climbing.

Thanks for the gecko, Menolly42.

Aug 7, 2009

Pupating With Impunity

Part of my daily routine is to head out back after work and check on my tortoise and my vegetable garden. I have to do this in the bright afternoon sun, otherwise I'll end up walking through accursed orb weaver webs in the evening gloom. During summer season, when the orb weavers are everywhere, I dare not go outside at night without a broom leading the way.

But I've never had to contend with silk-spinning caterpillars as seen in the photos below. From what I've read, these tiny monsters swarm a bush or a tree, taking a couple of weeks to enclose it in silk, giving the caterpillars protection enough to devour the leaves and then pupate with impunity. It seems they aren't worth the calories, given all the effort it would take to work one's way through the sticky mess.

It's at times like these that I'll just take it easy and count my blessings that it's only orb weavers that I have to contend with. And black widows. And brown widows. And vampires.

Photo source: Kat

Aug 6, 2009

Philippine Fairytale

When two missionaries in the Philippines tasked themselves with hiking up Mt. Victoria, they got more than they bargained for. The fact that they got lost for 13 days in their ill-prepared attempt was more than made up for (among botanists, at least) by what they found. It seems like something out of a fairytale, complete with pink ferns and blue mushrooms. And to make sure it is a true fairytale, complete with danger lurking in the shadows: a carnivorous plant.

Their talk of finding large pitcher plants prompted a 2-month expedition by pitcher plant experts in the hinterlands of the Phillipines. They did indeed find a pitcher plant so large that it not only dines on the more mundane insects, but also on creatures as large as rats (and small, wayward children who don't obey their parents). This new species is named Nepenthes attenboroughii after David Attenborough.

I'll be telling my own version of this fairytale to my daughters tonight, except these pitcher plants will actually be fairy traps employed by the evil Enchanter. The plot needs some polishing, but I think they'll dig it...

Thanks for the article, Monica.

Photo source: HortLog

Aug 5, 2009

Liver Fluke Life

Here's a story of zombies, parasitic mind control, and livers. In the end, I take away a cautionary tale from it, one that I'll pass on to my kids (the smaller ones at least): don't eat snail slime.

Prepare for some erudition on the liver fluke.

Thanks or the video, Moneca.

Aug 4, 2009

Casting Call

This one is for all you ugly dog owners. Well, I mean, you don't have to be ugly. Your dog does.

Animal Planet is putting out a casting call for videos of your ugly dogs. Bring them your snarling, drooling, toothless, and mangy masses. You just might get some real air time...

Aug 3, 2009

Squinty-eyed Tarsier

Photo source: Jack Jacob
The only thing worse than a wide-eyed tarsier is a squinty-eyed tarsier. Add in that white-knuckled strangle grip on the branch, and you've got a recipe for a Madagascar variant on Gremlins.

Don't feed them after midnight, and don't assume your clock is telling the right time. They're clever little beasts.

Aug 2, 2009

Baldy Raccoon

You're looking at Baldy, a hairless raccoon living in Toronto. Though images that have surfaced of her prompted all sorts of speculation as to what she might be, she's definitely a female raccoon. How do we know? She's given birth to healthy raccoon babies. That's a pretty good clue.

Neighbors started noticing her losing her hair a couple of years ago, and she's somehow managed to survive a Canadian winter being totally bald (the dog food left out for her is helping). So, here's to Baldy, wishing her luck. May your mange or alopecia or whatever it is that has stricken you not cause you too much distress.

Thanks for the article, Alison.

Photo source: Colin Williams via

Aug 1, 2009

Ode to the Horseshoe Bat

So take a good look at my face
My nasal flap looks out of place
It's my sella meant to facilitate
Hearing far away objects

The above is a little known additional verse to Smokey Robinson's beloved Tracks of My Tears. It was his ode to Bourret’s horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus paradoxolophus. More specifically, to the flap of skin pointed to in the image below. I can see what it was removed from the LP for mass market appeal, but many chiropteraphiles were outraged by the ommission.

Researchers believe that such a flap allows the bats to better ping objects in the distance with their echo location, thereby getting a better sense of what's out there. After doing some computer modeling, the researchers determined that if the flaps got too long, there would be a diminishing of returns. As it would happen, the three species that sport such a large flap have the length dialed in on the sweet spot.

Thanks for the bat, Judy.

Photo source: Rolf Müller via