May 31, 2011

Your Tuesday Ugdorable

I visited some old zoo friends this past weekend and met a new species they've acquired: this is a black and rufous elephant shrew. I'd worked a bit with the short-eared elephant shrew, but as you can see, it is not nearly as elephantine:

I'd rather work with either than a real elephant though. Those guys can kill you. With these the worst risk is probably that'd you laugh yourself silly.

-Wombat (No Relation)

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

May 26, 2011

More Food Chain Disrespect

You may recall a bit earlier I introduced you to the Giant Centipede, which doesn't follow normal food-chain conventions, given that a large portion of its diet are bats that it catches in flight. Today, I'll be giving you some new nightmares, with another bug that eats above it's station - the Giant Water Bug.

Now, Water Bugs like this are known to take small vertebrates (frogs and fish) for dinner, but the Giant Water Bug, Kirkaldyia deyrolli, from Japan sets its sights a bit higher.

Yes, it's eating a turtle. According to the researcher who photographed it, this particular specimen was about 6 cm long, less than half their maximum size of 15 cm. After catching it, as the bugs only catch live (or at least moving) prey, the Water Bug "insert[ed] its syringe-like rostrum into the prey's neck in order to feed." Again, not the proper order for the food chain. Similar species live across North and South America, as well as East Asia. They're nocturnal, can fly, and have a venomous bite. They have been know to bite humans, causing pain for several hours. Anyway, here's another one, this time eating a snake.

Thanks to the BBC for information and pictures.


May 22, 2011

Happy World Turtle Day!

Monday May 23rd is World Turtle Day, first declared in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue. And for the occasion we've got someone who is obviously VERY happy with his ugly turtle.

Pictured is Japanese biologist Munetaka Nakagawa and the enormous soft-shelled turtle that he recently found in a river in Kyoto. It's thought to be over 50 years old and probably the largest of its species in Japan, at 38.5 centimeters long and a weight of 7.3 kg.

Not only is that guy smiling, apparently Japanese culture in general puts a more positive spin on this ugly animal than you might expect:

Soft-shelled turtles are traditionally associated with nourishment and strength. For that reason, Nakagawa suggested, "It may have appeared to send us a message, 'Cheer up, Japan!'"

And I'm sure it will cheer everyone up to see this excellent close-up profile shot of an Asian softshell (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Slow and steadily,
- Wombat (No Relation)

May 21, 2011

Aggression, Hostility, Antagonism

We've seen some psycho demon chihuahuas recently; let's see what kind of deviltry can come from cats.

Unknown source

This cat is rage personified:

And this cat is just pure evil. (Note: embedding is disabled on this video, but I highly recommend watching it on youtube.)

May 19, 2011

Evil Chihuahuas

Why these hideous dogs are so popular is beyond me.

Photo by David Shankbone

I mean, who wants to look at a face like that every day? ... Evidently these owners do:

Count me out.

May 17, 2011

Lake Titicaca Giant

I'm horrified that I haven't heard of this frog before. But that's why we have readers like Jelo, who alert us to beasts like the Lake Titicaca Frog . These monsters, which reach a length of 50cm, have adapted to the high altitude and cold waters  of the lake by developing unseemly folds of skin. When splayed out (a position they enjoy) they are the size of a salad plate, and those folds of skin help keep them oxygenated. Usually, when I'm splayed out like that, I'm in need of air too.

When Jaques Cousteau led an expedition to the lake, he found "thousands of millions" of these frogs cruising it's depths. He reported some weighing as much as two pounds and stretching out to nearly twenty inches. But local fishermen say the days of those behemoths are gone. They're smaller now, and harder to find.CITES has listed them as 'vulnerable.' And why? One of the main reasons is that geniuses in Lima, Peru, have decided that if you make a drink with some of this frog's juice it will act as an aphrodisiac.

Now, it's true that Telmatobius culeus means "aquatic scrotum" (not a recommended band name, at least in Latin) But take one look at the frog and you'll see why it received that charming moniker. Believe me, though I don't know from personal experience, drinking aquatic scrotum juice will do nothing for your own nether regions.

Photos via Ever So Strange

May 11, 2011

Horrors of the Hairy Frog

Today's guest is the Hairy Frog, Trichobatrachus robustus. This frog has a few things that make it rather unique. The most obvious is the hair, which frogs generally aren't supposed to have. Fortunately, it isn't really hair, just "threads of vascularised skin [grown] during mating season". I'll be honest, I don't exactly know what that means either.

But that isn't what really gets the Hairy Frog onto this page (even though it generally would be enough). No, it gets to join this page because of the trait that gets it its other common name, the Horror Frog. Now, a decent number of frogs have some sort of claws on their feet for defense. The Horror Frog doesn't. When it needs to defend itself, it actively breaks bones in its feet, then pushes the sharped, broken ends through its skin to use as makeshift claws. See the picture below.

According to,

At rest, the claws of T. robustus, found on the hind feet only, are nestled inside a mass of connective tissue. A chunk of collagen forms a bond between the claw's sharp point and a small piece of bone at the tip of the frog's toe.

The other end of the claw is connected to a muscle. Blackburn and his colleagues believe that when the animal is attacked, it contracts this muscle, which pulls the claw downwards. The sharp point then breaks away from the bony tip and cuts through the toe pad, emerging on the underside.

Here's a picture of the end result, from the outside.

Thanks to (NSFW/18+) for alerting me to this bizarre frog.


May 9, 2011

Another bad hair day

I thought I knew a lot about sloths. I used to work with two-toed sloths as a zookeeper. I know that the closest relatives of sloths are the apparently very different anteaters and armadillos, and that together they all make up an order called xenarthra. Hey, I even wrote a mystery with a sloth in the title, a sloth on the cover, and where important plot-related peril happens to sloths.

And yet somehow I only recently stumbled upon this species, the maned sloth. It's reportedly the rarest species, so I guess that's how I missed it.

Sloths are definitely not conventionally attractive, but I think they're the cutest things ever - especially the babies. I mean, if this doesn't prove that the world needs the word "ugdorable" I don't know what does:

That maned sloth, though...

But hey, maybe all it needs is a good makeover. It doesn't look too bad in this artist's rendering:

You can have some ugly animal craft fun by downloading that cutout-and-assemble maned sloth at the Yamaha website (I am not making that up).

You can also read more about this sloth and other xenarthans at - where else -, the website of the conservationists who specialize in them. And see more pictures, including some very clear views of that unfortunate hairstyle, at the website of photographer Kevin Schafer.

Wombat (No Relation)

Two-toed sloth baby by Flickr user justonlysteve.

May 6, 2011

A True Illustration of "Eyes Glazing Over"

Finally, someone to accurately portray how my eyes looked during operating systems class!

Photo by Toby Hudson

This obliging masked lapwing (shown below enjoying a juicy worm) has provided a prime depiction of the nictating membrane, or third eyelid, that provides eye moisture and protection to various animals while still maintaining visibility. The lapwing uses its nictating membrane to blink but closes the whole eyelid to sleep.

Photo by Toby Hudson

Shown here is a chicken blinking:

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

A red-tailed hawklet winks for the camera:

Photo by flikr user ronmdon

And yes, this is the same nictating membrane you have seen up close and personal on your pets:

Photo source: Washington State University

Thanks to alert reader JIP for bringing this terrifying horizontal eyelid to our attention. Happy 25th birthday today!

May 4, 2011

Origins of the Pekingese: A Love Story

Ah, the Pekingese.

Photo source:

The ancient toy dog breed beloved of the Chinese Imperial court. Whence came its flat face and bow-legged gait, characteristics of the breed for over 2,000 years? According to legend,

A lion and a marmoset fell in love. But the lion was too large. The lion went to the Buddha and told him of his woes. The Buddha allowed the lion to shrink down to the size of the marmoset. And the Pekingese was the result.

Photos courtesy of My Opera and the Amazona Zoo

Photo source: Good Dog Care

A less common version of the story substitutes a butterfly for the marmoset, but I think the family resemblance is more obvious in the marmoset version.