Jan 31, 2010

The Oilbird

This bird may not seem ugly at first appearance, but wait till you get the details. Here's a colorful quote:

"Raucous shrieking and frightful retching… which might express the sufferings of sea-sick demons." Not a passage from Milton, though this description by the early 20th-century zoologist John Golding Myers does describe his entry to a kind of earthly hell: a cave of roosting oilbirds...

This split-personality, cave-dwelling oddity, known to North Americans as the guacharo, doesn't seem to know whether it is bat or bird. It echolocates like a bat to perceive its surroundings, but as well as this crude form of sonar, the oilbird has the most sensitive eyes of any vertebrate.

And then there's this:

As Myers noted, oilbirds spend much of their time squabbling in caves, in colonies numbering up to 20,000 birds. Because of the immense numbers living there, the floor is carpeted with guano, which supports a host of insects and other small animals. The birds also put the guano to good use during the breeding season: they build nests with it.

These birds may be vital to their forests's health, but that doesn't mean I want to spend a night in an oilbird cave.

Thanks for the new bird, Morgan (a resident bird expert). And good luck in your studies.

Jan 30, 2010

Thoughtful Centipede

Ever wondered what a thoughtful centipede would look like? Of course you haven't. But this is the best likeness you're likely to find: reclined on its back, its antennae swaying, its mandibles absentmindedly clicking, its myriad feet drumming on its chitinous belly. I just wonder what's going through that bundle of nerves it calls a brain. Something involving hunting and venom no doubt.

Thanks for the centipede, Stephen.

Jan 29, 2010

Parental Males

Photo source: Richard
The Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) is one of the most recognizable of the old world monkeys. Moreover, they are the only primates, aside from us humans, that live freely in Europe (though, as indicated by their name, they are indigenous to the northern regions of Africa). That distinction has evidently led to this monkey feeling quite uppity.

I think I would flourish as a Barbary macaque. They live in matriarchal troops of 10-30 individuals, but unlike most other primates, the males play a prominent role in the rearing of the offspring, and spend much of their day grooming and playing with the little ones. They form strong bonds with both their offspring and those of others. In fact, it seems that the females prefer highly parental males. One of my few talents is being a daddy, so I think I'd fit right in.

I am now sticking out my tongue in solidarity with my macaque brethren.

Jan 28, 2010


I used to think it a crime that so much color could be wasted on a vulture. But I'm now grateful that I can look at pinks and lavenders and blues instead of the typical naked pate. Still, though, why the stern gaze? I'm glad they keep to carrion.

Photo source: hsc 70

Jan 27, 2010

RIP Thaao

Andean condors typically live to be 50 years old. Not so with Thaao (pronounced TAY'-oh). He lived to be 80 years old. He was born in the wild, where only a few thousand still remain, but spent most of his life in captivity.

Though he wasn't cuddly with humans, he was quite helpful in developing captive breeding programs. I imagine he lived a life that many a young man can only dream of.

RIP, Thaao. And thanks for the article, Ida.

Photo source: LA Times

Jan 26, 2010

You Decide

Rebecca sent this along, and neither she nor I can decide if it's cute or ugly. I'll let you decide.

Jan 25, 2010

Amazon River Dolphin

Should you ever find yourself rafting through the Amazon river basin and you come across a friendly, pink/gray, beaked face, don't be alarmed. You're looking into the curious mug of a freshwater cetecean, an animal known as the Amazon river dolphin, aka boto, aka Inia geoffrensis.

According to myth, the boto shapeshifts into a handsome young man known as an encantado, who seduces young women and impregnates them. That explains the dolphin's smirk.

Thanks for the boto, Jelo. I never thought I'd be able to post on a dolphin.

Photo source: BotswanaGallery.org

Jan 24, 2010

A Little Dose of Humility

We all marvel at the life teeming on sunny reefs. Well, it turns out that the deepest portions of our oceans, those inky-black abyssal regions, where sunlight will never penetrate, where plants cannot grow, where the human body would implode from the pressure, where once scientists thought that life could not exist, are actually home to more abundance and variety of life than those sunny reefs. And we've only explored 1 millionth of those depths. So much to learn about our own planet.

Just a little dose of humility.

Thanks for the article, Susanna.

Photo source: bogleech.com

Jan 23, 2010

Spider Dining

Photo source: Robert Jackson via Australian Museum
Spiders dare upset my equilibrium by their very presence. So you can understand what wicked glee I find in seeing their demise, especially at the hands of jumping spiders (some of my favorite creepy crawlies). Here's a Portia sp. getting the jump (literally) on another spider.

And how about the photo below? That's right, it's a cricket eating a spider. More specifically, a king cricket that has overpowered and decided to dine upon a funnel web spider. How's that for upsetting the perceived natural order?

Thanks for the photos, Annie.

(bottom photo source: Ramon Mascord and the Australian Museum)

Jan 22, 2010

Bulbous Slug

Nudibranchs are some of my favorite creatures. These marine slugs seem almost ethereal as they flow across ocean surfaces. Below is an undescribed Eubranchus sp. (found near a river area in Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia).

See those two bulbs (cerrata) with the pink caps and white stringy innards? Those strings are

digestive glands, and the slug is most likely eating the hydroid upon which it is treading. My own digestive glands are currently working on some leftover general chicken and vegetable chow mein.

Thanks for the slug, Jelo.

Photo source: Alfred Jakoblich via Slugsite.us

Jan 21, 2010

Hello Parasites, Goodbye Allergies

Ahh, the beloved parasitic gut worm, bane to dogs and humans. We humans have done the world the service of eradicating much of the globe of this parasite, at least among human populations. But there is one population that still suffers from this worm: Vietnam, where 2 in 3 school children are thus afflicted.

(Images via:Softpedia, Science Blogs, Best Colon Cleanse) via WebEcoist

But here's the interesting part: children who are treated for gut worm infections have a resulting increased likelihood of developing a variety of allergies and asthma. But in Vietnam, these same allergies are extremely rare. One working theory: being afflicted with the parasitic gut worm gives you resistance to allergies.

Well, I'm signing off. Gotta go pack up the kids and make our way to Vietnam. We'll pick up some tasty phở and Bánh cuốn, maybe some balut, and hopefully a healthy infestation of gut worms. Hello parasites, goodbye allergies.

Jan 20, 2010

Pesty Plecos

Any self-respecting freshwater aquarist (such as myself) knows of the plecostamus. Also known as the janitor fish, they make for great tank cleaners. But to folks in the Philippines they are a menace.

The pleco was introduced to several river systems in the Philippines with the intent of having them clean up the rivers. The plecos dined on the waste, detritus, and filth. The program worked. But them the plecos, now running out of garbage to eat, began to turn to endemic species to feast upon.

Philippine officials are now scratching their heads and wondering what to do. These fish are nigh on indestructible. They've got armored plating, can eat anything, and have a rabbitesque ability to reproduce. Officials have turned to dredging the river bottoms in an attempt to slow down the advance and spread of the pleco. And local fishermen are of no help, since the pleco, with all of its garbage eating, isn't really edible.

Thanks for the pleco, Jelo from the Philippines. Have fun fishing anyway--let us know what they taste like.

Jan 19, 2010

Keeping You Safe

Though the news out about Toyota's recalls may lead you to think otherwise, they do want you safe. So safe in fact, that they've turned to nocturnal dung beetles, bees, and moths for help.

They're studying these insects eyes to fine-tune their software that will enable drivers to see in color at night:

The new digital image-processing algorithm can capture full-color images at night from a car moving at high speeds, and can even adapt to light levels automatically. That means there's no problem with the sudden blinding bright lights of an oncoming vehicle. Even better, the inexpensive system only requires a standard digital camera and typical PC graphics card.

Photo source: Rick Cowen

In addition to the equipment above, this software will most likely use a projector that will give you a heads-up display on your windshield, side-view mirrors, etc. Thank you dung beetle, thank you moth, thank you Toyota, and thank you Ida.

Jan 18, 2010

Spider Spotted at 10 Meters

What do you do with a spider you can spot 10 meters away? You sneak up, take a picture, run for your life, then send the photo here.

Edd took this photo in his yard in the Melbourne Glen Waverley area of Victoria, Australia. Any educated guesses as to what the species might be? How afraid should the flappy insects of his neighborhood be?

Thanks for the photo, Edd.

Jan 17, 2010

Of Parasites, Venom, and Zombies

What happens when you genetically engineer a parasitic wasp to turn agricultural pests into zombies? Well, in the perfect scenario, you end up with a very effective and pesticide-free means of killing off crop pests. On the other hand, you could end up with a set up for a Stephen King novel.

This is in the works folks, and I wish the researchers well. When I also read that they're planning to find out if the wasp venom has medicinal benefits for humans, I got the chills.

Thanks for the link, Ida.

Photo source: Popsci.com

Jan 16, 2010

While Strolling Through Healesville

Bonni was taking an innocent stroll through the Healesville Sanctuary, which is in rural Victoria, Australia, when she stumbled upon this insect. It's about a centimeter long. Anyone know what it is? I'm assuming some variety of ant, but anyone know the species? There are more than 12,500 classified species of ant, so I'm not expecting any miracles.

Thanks, Bonni.

UPDATE: There seems to be unanimous consent that this is a bulldog ant. Thanks, all.

Jan 15, 2010

Why the Elongated Nose?

This little animal weighs in at a mere 12 pounds, and it little more than a foot tall at the shoulder. They are dwarf antelopes. They are the Dik-dik of East and Southwest Africa.

They live in heavy vegetation, where they can hide, and they mark their territory with their feces. Why the elongated, tubular nose? It makes for a great snorkel. But no one has told the dik-dik that. Instead, they use the extra blood vessels and mucous membrane in said nose to survive the heat of the brush in which they abide. So, why the long nose? All the better to dissipate excess heat, my dear.

Thanks for the Dik-dik, Coralie.

Jan 14, 2010

A Spider After My Own Heart

A new spider has been discovered in Israel. Most new spiders are small, but this monster has a leg span of 5.5 inches. Though it looks highly mobile, Cerbalus aravensis is a spider after my own heart -- it's a sit-and-wait hunter. Nocturnal, and most active during the intense heat of the summer, it constructs a camouflaged den with a gotcha-door. When unsuspecting insects or lizards walk by - BAM - it strikes. Instant meal. That's lazier than fast food. It's right up my alley.

Thanks for the link, Jeff and David.

Photo source: 1) Yael Olek/University of Haifa. 2) Roy Talbi/University of Haifa

Jan 13, 2010

Green Vine Snake

Photo source: Jayanth Sharma
Behold the maw of the green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta). They are known in their native India for being very aggressive and ill-tempered. They make for poor pets, unless you don't mind them striking the glass ceaselessly (which some of you might).

Ever wonder how a photo like this was taken? Look below and get your answer. Of course, this begs the question of how the photo of the photographer was taken.

Jan 12, 2010

Monkey Mockery

You might be inclined to mock this monkey. But you wouldn't dare do so to his face. He's a hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas), which makes him among the largest primates on the planet. That makes him your superior when it comes to strength and agility. He might not understand your taunts, but you would sure understand your flesh being flayed.

Photo source: John Booth

Jan 11, 2010


It's been a long, long time since my last wet cat post. Luna here is a healthy Persian cat. She can't help it if she is a spectacular exemplar of 'bedraggled.'

Thanks for the photo, Kelly. You seem like a dutiful cat owner, if a bit sadistic.

Jan 10, 2010

Spider Tapestry

Here's another spidery tale from Judy...

What do you do if you have four years to kill and 1,063,000 golden orb spiders (Nephila madagascariensis) at hand? Well, if you're Peers and Godley, you enlist some help and weave an 11-by-4 foot tapestry.

I highly recommend reading the article to get all the details, but suffice it to say that these two gents spent quite some time hunting down apocryphal tales of articles woven from spider silk. They then duplicated the feat. It involved developing a machine to which 24 spiders at a time could be hooked up and milked of their silk. After about 10 minutes of being hooked up, and about 80 feet of silk later, the spiders were safely returned to their boxes. And just in case you're wondering: that saffron color is the natural hue of the spider silk.

Jan 9, 2010

Urticating Hairs and Pink Eye

Do you have a nasty case of what the doctor thinks is conjunctivitis (pink eye) that you just can't seem to shake? Are you a tarantula owner? If so, then you might have some of their urticating hairs embedded in your eyeball.

Such was the case in Leeds, England, when a 29-year-old man, upon closer examination, was found to have many tiny hairs embedded in his cornea. When asked about them, he immediately recalled a few days earlier when he had inadvertently provoked the wrath of his pet spider, and it had "“released ‘a mist of hairs’ which hit his eyes and face.”

I don't know how the guy forgot that incident, or didn't consider any sort of causal relationship. But let this be today's public safety alert. If you've been the victim of a mist of spider hairs, don't burden our health system by thinking you might have pink eye. Come straight out to the doctor with your tarantula encounter.

Thanks for the story, Judy.

As for these tarantula pictures, they are but some of the beloved pets of one of our resident spider experts, Jade. Thanks, Jade.

Jan 8, 2010

Parental Empathy

Photo source: Damselfly
What more could you ask for than an up-close-and-personal photo of a huntsman (huntswoman?) spider carrying about her egg sac. As a parent, it's hard for me not to give some grudging respect to this creepy-crawly with her parental devotion.

The spiderlings will go through several molts while still with their mother, giving them a few precious weeks of having her attention while their exoskeletons harden. Once again, as a parent, I can empathize with her. I'm not looking forward to the day when my own kids' exoskeletons sufficiently harden and they scatter to make their own way in life.

Jan 7, 2010

Sheepish Fly

Photo source: Tony

The fly below was spotted in Tasmania. It's a sheep nasal bot fly, which was introduced (much to the joy of the sheep) into Australia. Though they prefer sheep, there are many cases where they've infected humans. Infected, you ask? Here's what I mean:

The adult female fly is active during summer and early fall. Eggs are retained in the body until they hatch. Flies deposit as many as 500 larvae in the nostrils of sheep. The larvae then move up the nasal passages to the nasal and frontal sinuses. The larvae remain in the sinuses for 8 to 10 months and then are sneezed out of the nostrils. The larvae pupate in the soil with the pupal period lasting 3 or more weeks, depending on temperature. Adults then emerge from the pupae and may live as long as 28 days.

Isn't nature lovely sometimes?

Jan 6, 2010


Anyone know what kind of bird this is? I want to ID it so I can commiserate with it. I know exactly how it feels. I think the two of us would have a lot in common.

Photo source

Jan 5, 2010

Silky Face

What does this face have to do with sericulture? Everything. Sericulture is the art/industry of raising silkworms for the purpose of harvesting their silk. Bombyx mori is the most common of the silkworm species. It is totally dependent of humans for reproduction and no longer occurs naturally in the wild.

So the next time you put on your silk jammies or boxers, think of this face. That's what you get for being so fancy.

Jan 4, 2010

Slime Eel

Moneca reminded me of the hagfish, (aka slime eel), and it's high-time I posted on it again. This moderate-sized monster (ranging from a foot and a half to almost a meter) is famous for two things: its feeding habits and its slime.

They aren't rightly called fish, since they have no vertebrae. They have no bones at all, and are more closely related to lampreys, which should give you some insight into their character. First the slime: they produce it from glads embedded in their skin, and can fill a milk jug with it in a single sitting. They produce it to ward off predators or to encase themselves if needed. It's so viscous and fibrous that it can suffocate would-be predators by coating their gills. And how does the hagfish rid itself of its own slime? It can tie itself into a knot and slide the knot down its body. That's a trick my son once tried, to escape a particularly inconvenient diaper change.

As for feeding, well, it's the stuff of nightmares. They swim up behind unsuspecting fish, latch on to the fish's skin with their barbs, then proceed to burrow their way in. Once safely ensconced inside the fish, they begin eating from the inside out. Not a pleasant way to go. But honestly, if it were socially acceptable, this is almost exactly how I'd eat my pizza.

Photo source: NOAA public domain photo

Jan 3, 2010

Crocodilian Contempt

I've long thought that if I died and came back as an animal, I'd want to be a crocodile. Not only have they survived several mass extinctions as a species, but they've also managed to survive humans, even becoming menaces and nuisances to them. And doing all that while spending most of your time floating or basking with no natural predators? That's a good life.

Photo source: Ramon

A few factoids: the word crocodile comes from the Ancient Greek word: κροκόδιλος (crocodilos). Also, unlike other reptiles, they have a cerebral cortex and a four-chambered heart. Unfortunately, they are unable to stick out their tongues, since said tongue is kept in place by a thin membrane. They have to rely exclusively on their glare to convey the contempt they feel for you.

Jan 2, 2010

Aggressivity in Brazil

The Bug Lady is running a great blog for all of you who like creepy, crawly things. She's invited me to partake of her many photos, and I was more than happy to dig around. I bring to you her Brazilian Wandering Spider.

As she discusses in her post regarding Phoneutria Nigriventer, most spiders don't have very toxic venom, they don't inject much in terms of volume, they aren't aggressive (note how most scamper away at any sign of danger), and most have fangs that are too small to propertly pierce the human hide.

The Brazilian wandering spider defies all of that.

These beasts are large and aggressive, with masssive fangs. Also, they have some of the most toxic venom of all spiders (though it's rarely fatal to humans). When threatened, they go on the attack and bite repeatedly. And since they don't spin webs, they wander...often times into your shoes. Nearly half of all medically significant spider bites in Brazil are attributable to this single speces.

So, next time you're in Brazil, take that extra moment to check your shoes and your underpants. It just might save you a trip to the doctors.

Thanks, Bug Lady.

Jan 1, 2010


Most of us will reach for toilet paper today. This is just to keep you alert. And afraid.