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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Microbe Week: Diatoms.



Crap. This blog has been usurped by modern art. Show's over, guys. Real life's not that interesting after all.

What? It hasn't?! You've gotta be kidding us...those things can't really be alive, can they?

 

Ooh yes. Yes, those colorful geometric shapes are very much alive. They are called diatoms, and they have been around since the Jurassic at least. They are eukaryotes (i.e. not bacteria, period) and are collectively called heterokonts, along with kelp and golden algae. Yes, they really do look that trippy under the microscope.

Diatoms are key players in aquatic food chains everywhere. Many of them are photosynthetic, meaning that, like plants, they make their food by photosynthesis. Diatoms make up a large portion of phytoplankton, one of the single most important biological food groups. People are trying to figure out what impact, if any, we are having on the awesome living glass sculptures.



Yes, we did say living glass sculptures. Diatoms come in a silicate shell - the same sort of thing glass is made of. The exact shell varies with the type of diatom, but they all look like they could (and should) have been made by Murano. They stay crunchy, even in salt water. Why are diatoms not a breakfast cereal, again?

Diatoms are, of course, popular subjects for bio-art. Just look at them. They look like art already. Diatoms are not only used as subjects for paintings and drawings, but also as a medium themselves! The little eagle below probably took hours to get right.



We hope that you enjoyed Microbe Week! Next theme week will be Mythbusters. Just how real are those things that go bump in the night?! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Microbe Week: Escherichia coli.

OH NOES. This blog is covering one of the most notorious little buggers ever: E. COLI! 

This is just ONE kind of E.coli. It would make a neat lightbulb.


DIE, DIE, DIE, you stupid little microbes! This is what you get for ruining our spinach and punishing us for sloppy sanitation! CLEARLY, ALL E.COLI MUST BE PURGED!

Kidding, of course. E.coli, much like Salmonella, are mostly a problem because we don't cook our food well enough. For those of you who take raw meat and look at it under a microscope, E.coli are Gram-negative, rod-shaped (bacillus) bacteria. They are a very popular model bacterium, even if they make all petri dishes smell like an outhouse after a while. E.coli may be doing your math homework within the next few years. 



Escherichia coli and its cousin genus Salmonella are the two most talked-about bacteria on the planet. Again, if food poisoning makes the news, E.coli could well be the culprit. There are 39 strains of E. coli known to date, and all of them have one thing in common: They live in mammals.  Since I can see all that porn on your computer, you qualify.

All mammals have some strain of E.coli in them. Humans usually get E. coli as benign inhabitants of the large intestine within 40 hours of birth.They are normal gut flora in mammals, just like Salmonella is normal microflora in birds and reptiles. Issues occur when the wrong strain of E. coli gets in one's gut, leading to a very bad case of diarrhea indeed.

Like sprinkles, only alive and in your colon.


Infections with E.coli usually occur when meat or veggies have not been properly washed or cooked. The main carriers of E. coli are cows, which may show no symptoms themselves. Anything raw is also at risk, especially if wild pigs have been running around. Watering with sewage is never a good sign. In short, crap reaches mouth - that is never a good thing in humans.

Symptoms of E.coli infection vary with the strain. In general, these are colon bacteria - expect a high fever, horrible diarrhea (sometimes with blood), urinary problems, and other crotch-kicking issues. There is a particular strain of E.coli that causes meningitis in infants by cleverly disguising itself as an antibody. E.coli infection makes Salmonella poisoning look like a walk in the park.

You don't know where it's been. Oh, wait, yes you do, and it's filthy.


Did we mention that it's nigh-unstoppable? Escherichia coli develops antibiotic resistance staggeringly fast. Not only does it have our antibiotics to dodge, but it also has to protect itself from the antibiotics found in livestock. E.coli can also trade DNA with Staphylococcus aureus - the other superbug people are worried about. Even mixing agar substrates doesn't work on E.coli. T4 phage therapy is one of the best ways to stop E.coli, but how do you market "get infected with a virus to make up for our sloppy food system?"

So stop worrying about Salmonella. You've got other shit to deal with just for being a mammal.


Microbe Week: Bacteriophage.

 

Call Area 51. We have reason to believe an alien has escaped the base. I repeat, an alien has escaped the base. It looks sort of like a mix between a spider, a syringe, and a land rover. We are currently not sure if it is even alive. Over.

Technically, no, viruses are not alive. They do not respire. They do not grow. They cannot self-replicate, instead injecting their DNA into a host cell and hijacking that cell's machinery. The bacteriophage above uses bacterial cells, not ours, so don't worry.



Bacteriophages (bacteria-eaters) are exactly what their name says, assuming you can understand Greek. They don't eat bacteria so much as inject their DNA into the capsule, then let the rest write itself. The bacteria soon explodes with more alien-looking phages. Since a phage's tail can only latch on to certain parts of the bacterium, certain phages can only attack certain bacteria. The most popular is the T4 phage, which eats the pesky E.coli bacterium.

Phages are important for their ability to destroy far worse bacteria just by reproducing themselves. These viruses have been quietly used for centuries to cure cholera, leprosy, dysentery, and anything else caused by a bacterium. They are the best defense we have against supergerms and E. coli infections. Never thought you'd side with a virus, did you?



So, what about E. coli, anyways? Tune in tomorrow!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Microbe Week: Archaea.

Remember how I mentioned that the Earth's atmosphere was not always filled with oxygen? Look out side for a minute at the clear white/blue sky, green plants, and maybe even that raccoon going through the garbage. Sure, it's not perfect, but life has never been perfect.

The Earth's atmosphere was not always as nice as it is today. Picture an atmosphere of water vapor, CO2, and nitrogen with methane and other lovely gases floating around. Volcanic activity was an everyday occurrence. There is no ozone layer yet, so the most powerful sunscreen in the world cannot protect you from the sun's scorching rays. The planet's cooling down with rain and clouds, but is taking its sweet time.

 

Now picture something living in that environment. Something that isn't a red man with goat hooves and a pitchfork.



Welcome to the home of archaea. As the name would imply, archaea are really, really old bacteria. They are their own domain. Not genus, not family, not phylum, domain. They are about as closely related to bacteria as animals are to plants. They reproduce by dividing and exchanging plasmids, little rings of DNA that bacteria regularly swap like trading cards just to give humanity the finger. They do not reproduce sexually at all.

Hear that? These bacteria were around before sex and oxygen. That's how old they are.





Archaea have some really trippy ways of getting energy. Some metabolize sulfur or ammonia- stuff that most 'normal' life forms would consider disgusting. Others make energy out of light without needing chlorophyll. Still others feed on methane - a chemical abundant in the Earth's primitive atmosphere. They have as many ways of getting energy as eukaryotes, things with nuclei and all that other nice membrane-bound stuff.

At first, it was thought that archaea could only be found in extreme environments like salt lakes and volcanic hot springs. Now that is no longer the case. Scientists can pick up the tiniest traces of these organisms everywhere. They have found traces of the archaic nucleic acids in everything, from soil to seawater. Luckily, they do not infect anything - presumably, most of their time is spent calling Staph bacteria and E.coli "whippersnappers."

Still the home of archaea.


Life. It's everywhere.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Spirulina.

Go to a smoothie shop sometime. Besides the flavors of the day (usually strawberry, strawberry-banana, and wildberry mixes), there is always a signboard of things that one can add to make one's smoothie healthy. (Note: This may not apply to McDonald's.) Such things include extra vitamin C, wheatgrass, extra protein, and other lovely ingredients to make your smoothie taste less like an over-sugared fruit drink and more like health food.

Then there's spirulina. That sounds adorable and scientific, and hey, the signboard says it's good for you. It sounds like another superfood. So you get some in your strawberry smoothie and it comes out looking about as appetizing as cat vomit. Don't worry; it tastes just fine.

But what did you add, anyways? There's some horrible, horrible catch to spirulina, isn't there?

Actually, this one looks really pretty!


Spirulina (Arthrospira maxima) is really a cyanobacterium, powdered for your convenience. It is one of many cyanobacteria. All that means is that the bacterium in question is blue-green due to chlorophyll - yes, the same stuff in plants. You've got the nutrients of a bunch of veggies in your smoothie thanks to eons of bacterial evolution.

Really, we mean eons. 

Cyanobacteria were the first creatures to ever make chlorophyll. That is how old they are: they predate plants. Forget the dinosaurs and trilobites, cyanobacteria are so old that they single-handedly changed the Earth from having a caustic atmosphere of methane and CO2 to one with oxygen, creating more efficient biological systems for all. (OK, except for the anaerobic bacteria - those are still around, but more on them later this week.) You owe these bacteria for the air you breathe. They're that important.  

And they look like Cousin Itt mixed with a sloth.


People have been eating spirulina for as long as humans have been around. It is pretty much everywhere. A lot of it is farmed in Southeast Asia. It is in no way endangered. Really, they're bacteria. It's hard to find endangered bacteria. 

So don't be afraid to put spirulina in your smoothie. These little guys have been feeding life since before you existed. Raise your plastic smoothie glasses to oxygen!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Microbe Week: Salmonella.

Again, Salmonella strikes us as a must-cover during Microbe Week. The crazy authoress owns several snakes, and one of the weapons most often swung against them in legislation is that all reptiles bear Salmonella on their skin. This is a load of bull, especially given how ubiquitous Salmonella is.



Salmonella is a genus of Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria. They can be found on almost any animal, but only infect humans through other animals. They are typically ingested in contaminated food (which has been around feces or dirty water). The resulting disease, salmonellosis, may result in bloody diarrhea, but otherwise, symptoms are usually mild. Surprise, surprise, the buggers are related to E.coli - another bacterium commonly seen in the news.

The horrible, nasty disease that people worry about with Salmonella is called enteric salmonellosis. The disease hits hard and fast - anywhere from a half a day to a week after encountering the bug. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea. Most deaths occur in the elderly. Otherwise, it just kinda sucks to have for a while. You'll probably be fine if you're over 40.

Aquatic vertebrates are the main carriers of Salmonella, but this microbe has been found in everything. Mice are just as likely to have Salmonella as chickens and reptiles. Any type of meat could potentially have Salmonella. The last two big outbreaks of Salmonella barely involved animals - even our peanuts and chili peppers aren't safe!

AAAAH, PEANUT BUTTER!


The main culprits for infection are chicken, chicken eggs, and other types of mishandled meat. This comes from how sloppy American meat processing is; stuff is allowed to mix, things are not properly cleaned, and ultimately, it's a huge, feces-filled mess that is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Salmonella is also hard to kill, able to endure almost anything but extreme temperatures. If the cause of death was food poisoning and cyanide has been ruled out, Salmonella's your next best guess.

Pet reptiles are far from the leading cause of Salmonella poisoning. The thing that causes 30 Americans to die from Salmonella poisoning every year is chicken. The Salmonella cases that caused the whole reptile scare came from small children putting small turtles in their mouths - admittedly, something that small children are wont to do. They're small children. They put all sorts of weird things in their mouths and have compromised immune systems. Of course they're gonna get sick.

Thanks a lot, kid.


Don't ban reptiles, ban chicken! Let's see how well that flies in Congress, shall we?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Microbe Week: Paramecium.

If you are a regular biology student, your first encounter with the microbial world will probably be with a slipper-shaped fellow called a Paramecium. It looks vaguely like an elliptical blob with strange hairs along its sides. They are rather bland as far as protists go, but simple and familiar enough to create a solid basis.

They aren't THIS colorful. Usually.


Nonetheless, it makes sense as an intro to protists. K? K.

Paramecia are found in fresh water all over the world with a few species found in the ocean. They are also frequently found in biology labs, often slowed down so that the students can observe them better. They eat yeast, bacteria and algae. Some have symbiotic algae in them already. They can reproduce sexually or asexually, which helps explain why they're so popular.

Cover your eyes, children.
 

A single-celled organism like a paramecium needs to do all the things that any other animal needs to do: move, eat, reproduce, defecate, the works. All cells need to get energy. Paramecia have mouths, organelles (mini-organs), gullets, two nuclei, and a special pump that makes sure that they do not shrivel up or explode via osmosis. Oh, and yes, they do poop. Everybody poops.

Guess what the anal pore does?


Paramecia move by fluttering tiny little hairs called cilia. They move the opposite of whatever direction the hairs are folded - that is, backwards-folding hairs move the paramecium forwards, and forward-folding hairs move the microbe backwards. If you think this sounds topsy-turvy, paramecia really do turn as they move.

Since paramecia are the main protists used in science, quite a few experiments have been done with them. One of the most impressive I have seen is the fishing rod made by Joe Davis, who can also hear the different sounds of microbes. Using a bunch of high-tech gizmos, one can fish for paramecia beneath a microscope. The fishing hook he designed fits perfectly into the oral groove of a paramecium. It really does tug when you've got a big one!

Next Theme Week: Microbe Week!

You voted, I listened: This theme week will be dedicated to the world invisible to the naked eye. There are some things that one can only see beneath a microscope, and they have been around a lot longer than anything with organs. They spawn quickly. They have evolved extensive weaponry that allows them to thrive in any condition...and we mean any. There's life where one would not normally think to find life, like in subzero conditions and thermal heat vents.



Every day will have a different micro-creature under the spotlight. Even "They Actually Eat That" will have a microbe that you never thought you actually ate. Y'know, as if yeast and cheese fungi were not enough. 

Prepare for a lot of small creatures that you never thought you'd see. And a lot of squeeing from the crazy authoress.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Creature Feature: Harvestmen/Daddy Longlegs.

Sometimes, people ask me about my pets. Along with my two cats, two birds, betta fish, and ten snakes, I sometimes add the colony of cellar spiders living in my basement. Most of the time, I don't get to the spiders- people are too stunned by my snake collection to really get there. They've always been interesting creatures to me, if only because they were one of the few weird things I always had access to in my basement.



No, that is not a daddy long legs. That is a cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides). Cellar spiders are perfectly normal spiders with bulging abdomens, many eyes, and two distinct body segments.They shake in their webs when threatened and would probably make an interesting entry all by themselves.

THIS is a daddy long legs:



Daddy long legs, or harvestmen, are about as close to spiders as scorpions are. The 5,000-odd species comprise their own order, Opiliones. They have been around and virtually unchanged since the Devonian, a time period when fish were just beginning to get on land. As expected with something that has lived so long, these arachnids can be found virtually everywhere. There are even a few cave-dwelling species that would be excellent to cover in a troglobite week.

True daddy longlegs possess several anatomical differences from spiders. The two body segments of a harvestman are nigh-indistinguishable from each other. The legs are exceptionally long in most species. Harvestmen have only two eyes, not eight. Just about the only thing they have in common with spiders is their eight legs.



They even eat different things from spiders. While spiders eat bugs and occasionally birds, harvestmen can eat insects, plants, fecal matter, and any dead animals lying around. Exactly what they can eat depends on the suborder in question. Harvestmen have the most versatile diets of any arachnid group, even though they are relatively unarmed.

Harvestmen are harmless. Really. Despite being omnivores or scavengers, their chelicerae (very short fangs) cannot pierce human skin easily, let alone inject venom. They have no venom glands whatsoever. They do not even have silk like spiders. Don't listen to the BS about daddy longlegs being the most venomous creatures on the planet; even the copies are harmless.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Creature Feature: Icthyosaurus.



It's a fish! It's a dolphin! Wait a tick - it's neither of those things. Just what the hell is it?!

That, friends, is an Ichthyosaurus. That name literally means "fish lizard." It lived in the Jurassic - about the time that Allosaurus was the dominant carnivore on land. The seas were also populated by lizards during the Mesozoic, and Ichthyosaurus was among them. It ate fish (well, yeah) and may have been nocturnal instead of using sonar like dolphins. Many of its fossils have been found in Europe, with the first ever found in England.

Now, we know what you're thinking: How come this fish-lizard looks so much like a fish or dolphin? Surely this uncanny coincidence must be attributed to God's good will, or so the folks in Texas would say upon seeing this thing. After all, it looks like a lot like a mutant fish-dolphin cross.



The similarity in form is just convergent evolution at work. There is a certain torpedo shape that works very well in the water, especially for things that probably ate the same things as dolphins. Form fits function. Ichthyosaurus had the same function, and thus the same form, or vice-versa. We can't exactly go back in time and tell.

Cooler or creepier still is that the Ichthyosaurus gave birth to live babies. Little baby fish-dolphin things were found inside the fossilized belly of a larger fish-dolphin thing with no eggshells to be seen. This is a result of Icthyosaurus being a wholly marine animal. There's no need to move onto land when one can give birth to live young. It just makes things a bit creepier for people who think that mammals are the only livebearers.

The only truly notable appearance of an Ichthyosaurus in pop culture is a small fight in Jules Verne's novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. As with all awesome monster fights, the size of the Ichthyosaurus was exaggerated. Also, we're pretty darn sure the earth's core is molten, now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Creature Feature: Hooded Merganser.

"I want a new duck. 
One that won't try to bite 
One that won't chew a hole in my socks 
One that won't quack all night..." -Weird Al Yankovic, "I Want a New Duck."

Ducks do not get nearly enough love. Sure, when they're cute and fluffy little ducklings, it's all good.After they grow up and get either brown or white feathers, the 'cute' switch turns off in most people. The "pate, Chinese food, whatever shall I do with you?" switch takes over. Sure, as adults, most ducks look pretty bland, but one group stands out by looking like punks at full size:



Mergansers all look pretty funky, but the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) stands out by being the most striking and popular. It is native to the northern U.S. and Canada, but has taken off in the U.K. as well. They are not yet naturalized, but getting there as more and more escape from gardens into the wild.
 
Hooded Mergansers are beautiful. The males have the striking, white-splotched hood that gives the species its name. Their yellow eyes stare straight into your soul. For once, I will not be ranting about how crappy the females look; they're still the Lady Gagas of the duck world.



Mergansers also beat the other ducks at being hardcore by eating fish. Other ducks eat water plants or whatever junk food the humans happen to toss in, but that is not how mergansers roll. A merganser dives down and, using its keen (and waterproof!) eyesight, snags a fish for breakfast. Merganser chicks can dive for their own food within 24 hours of hatching, making them more badass from birth than most mammal babies. To hell with your breadcrumbs - mergansers make like cormorants and snag fish with their toothy bills.

Wait. Wait. Toothy bills?

Different kind of merganser. Same terrifying toothy bill from the Mesozoic.


Except for the 'egg teeth' birds and reptiles have, mergansers sport the closest thing modern birds have to teeth. Mergansers have serrated bills to hold on to those slippery fish. This has given mergansers and their relatives the name "sawbills." As if this duck could not get anymore extreme.

(P.S. If you just pictured a duck wielding a chainsaw and/or on a motorbike yelling "EXXTTREEEME!", please donate to my tip jar. :) ) 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Creature Feature: Megalodon.

As I was saying yesterday, sharks are the most feared creatures in the sea. If people see a shark fin sticking up from the water, the whole beach gets evacuated. The sail of the deadly man-o'-war may be mistaken as an inflatable pool toy, but the fin of a shark looks sinister. Never mind the rows upon rows of teeth in its mouth, or that its torpedo-shaped body is much better adapted than yours for swimming.

Hell, sharks even made the mammoths piss themselves. Sharks have been around since before the dinosaurs, but did not reach the epitome of "death by teeth" until the Cenozoic. The monster of the seas back then was not the Great White, but a far more massive shark called megalodon. (Carcharodon megalodon? Nobody's really sure.)



C. megalodon was the terror of the ancient seas.  Fossils show that it ate dolphins and could easily have swallowed modern dolphins whole. A single tooth was 7 inches long. This thing made Jaws look like a cute, fluffy kitten.



What did it eat? Everything. Nothing was bigger than C. megalodon. It joins Andrewsarchus in the "We know this thing was huge, but we don't know how huge," category. All we can guess is that this was a gigantic shark from the teeth alone. What we have says that it should have been around 16 meters (52 feet) in length. That's larger than the whale shark, which is a giant plankton-eater.

The largest TWO are megalodon.


How the hell did this massive predator die out? Cooler waters and a shortage of food.  For once, humans are not to blame at all. Other predators, including orca relatives, simply gave C. megalodon trouble. Yes, it ate delphinids, but the dolphins and whales were eating its food right back. Flipper has once again saved us from shark attack.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Shark.

Wait. What? What the hell are sharks doing here? Sharks are the undisputed, murdering psychopaths of the ocean. The appearance of a shark fin is usually a sign to get the eff outta the water. They can't be an aphrodisiac, what with concealed junk and all, so what the hell are they doing on this column?

Silly. Humans will put ANYTHING in their mouths. Sharks wind up in nets just like other fish do. Of course they get eaten.

 

Or, well, their fins get eaten. Shark fin soup is the main shark dish that gets environmentalists in a tizzy. It is, of course, found in China and several other places that carry on Chinese traditions (such as Thailand). Since the fin has no flavor of its own, the broth and other ingredients make the soup palatable.

The fin is said to have numerous health benefits, including helping the lungs and kidney function properly. It also has a unique texture somewhere between crunchy and chewy. The soup is served at banquets, weddings, and business meetings as a show of respect to guests. It is popular enough to make a dent of 70-90% in many shark populations.













The kicker: Only the fins are used in the soup. The rest of the shark is tossed into the ocean, fully alive but unable to swim. Other little fishies probably say "serves you right!" and spit on the shark's rotting, finless corpse as they swim by. Considering this is coming from China - the place that eats all sorts of animal parts - this wastefulness is especially shocking. Plus, killing off apex predators isn't cool.

Shark meat is not nutritious. Cuisine or not, it contains very high levels of mercury, just like eagle meat would have contained tons of pesticides during the DDT days. The bigger the fish, the more mercury it has. Bioaccumulation. Learn about it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Creature Feature: Hellbender.

Ohsnap. This blog has run out of weird creatures, so we now have to show you Satan. (Actually, I was about to repeat myself today. Good thing I caught that.) Break out your rosaries and holy water for the demonic beast called the hellbender:

AAAAAAAH- wait, what?
 

Or, if you prefer, the giant, salamander-ish turd called a hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis). Its native range is from New York to Arkansas and Kentucky. It lives only in swiftly-running water and chows down primarily on small fish and crayfish (which are considerably more hellish than this salamander). It is the biggest salamander in North America and third biggest in the entire world, growing up to two feet from head to tail.

The name 'hellbender' comes from being seen by religious nutjobs (which ALL colonists were, really). They didn't like how weird the thing looked in general. The folds on its side may also have reminded them of the tortures of the afterlife. Basically, it just looked too darn strange not to come from Hell. It has also been called "devil dog" and "mud-devil" because it looked THAT evil.

Hail derpy Satan!

The hellbender breathes through both gill slits and the rippling frill along the sides of its body. This frill is part of why the hellbender needs oxygenated, fast-running water to survive. This weird way of breathing limits its habitat options a lot. Hellbenders are very niche creatures.

The good news: Nobody has tried to steal that niche for over 65 million years. They have been living in running water since before we had a relative called Necrolemur (which should totally be a rock band). There were hellbenders in the Jurassic Period. A hellbender flipped the dinosaurs the bird after that giant meteor hit. A hellbender saw humans and went "Meh, as long as they don't touch my river." Since the hellbender has gone virtually unchanged for eons, it has been deemed a living fossil.

Put me down, whippersnapper!
 

Hellbenders are, unfortunately, disappearing. All amphibians are super-sensitive to environmental changes. Hellbenders take double the hit because they require a specific environment in which to live. Dams, pollution, and collection to see exactly WTF is going on with these guys all contribute to irreversible population loss. There's no need to make the hellbender's life Hell on Earth, too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Creature Feature: Slow Loris.

Mammals, especially primates, are often considered "normal." There's nothing weird about chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, or monkeys in the public mind. Perhaps except for lemurs, primates are just like little people. There could never be anything totally, completely strange about them...right?

Haha. The slow loris (Nycticebus) flips that mindset the bird. Very, very slloowwwwlllyyyy.



The slow loris is a small, tree-dwelling primate native to South-Southeast Asia. They can be found as far west as India. They are omnivorous and particularly fond of tree gum. Their closest relatives are lemurs, galagos, and other lorisids. Yes, we know they look like sloths; that confused scientists, too.

Slow lorises are about as closely related to humans as lemurs and are just as strange. Their arms, legs, and body are completely adapted for arboreal life.  Their hands have blood vessels that let them grip for very long periods of time - a necessity when one is an animal with "slow" in one's name. The digits are strange, too, with strangely-angled thumbs (180 degrees from the rest of the fingers) and perpendicular toes.

Oh, and they are slow. One would not suspect a small mammal to metabolize things as slowly as these lorises do. They even reproduce slowly. So, yeah, they're primates who think they are sloths.

Am I a sloth or a monkey? I forgot.


That's not the weirdest part. The weirdest part is that these not-gremlins have a poisonous bite. They have a special gland in their arms that secretes a mild poison. Said toxin mixes with their saliva to create a deterrent to predators. Bet you didn't think one of the few poisonous mammals out there was a primate, did you?



All the poison in the world cannot protect the slow loris from exotic pet fanciers and traditional medicine hunters. Lore around the slow loris ranges from everybody having a slow loris as their golden compass daemon to its gall bladder being used as tattoo ink and other parts being used for Viagra. All of that is moot when the animal is so darn cute that people smuggle slow lorises despite all possible legislation against it. Said lorises are usually de-fanged; the loris above is only as submissive as is it because that is a loris's defensive posture. It's scared out of its mind. Both of these stresses, combined with deforestation and a VERY low birth rate, mean that we may not be able to make cute videos of slow lorises for much longer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Creature Feature: Green Anoles.

When I went to Florida, I was chasing "chameleons" all the time. They were fast little buggers. I also knew, even at a young age, that they were not chameleons - chameleons were waaaay freakier and native to Africa.

Duuuude, you could acid trip on this lizard.


The "chameleons" in Florida and pet shops are really an agamid called the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis). They are native to the Southeastern United States and Caribbean Islands. They are one of the most popular pet lizards; most shops have the sense to label them as anoles, too.



Like chameleons, the green anole is capable of changing color. Again like chameleons, this is more a mood thing than a background thing. A stressed green anole will be brown and sluggish no matter what color it's on. If you want that kind of acid-trip camouflage, get a flounder. Neither chameleons nor anoles change color to blend in.

The males also have pretty red throats.

Green anoles are the generic green lizard kept in captivity. They are easy to breed, easy to feed (crickets and moths), and are currently having their genome mapped. Are they chameleons? No. Good starter lizards? Very yes.

Cool Video: Amazing Bugs.



Afraid of insects? Don't be! These bugs are beautiful, bizarre, and would make great jewelry! Just thought it was worth blogging. ^_^

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Creature Feature: Leaf Insects.

Natural camouflage is amazing. I cannot count the amount of times I have thought that a leaf looked like a sparrow or vice-versa. In nature, many creatures look like plants and vice-versa.



The leaf insects (family Phyllidae) of Australia and Southeast Asia are by far the most sophisticated leaf mimics in the known world. They eat leaves (such as lettuce, ivy, and bramble) and have evolved some very convincing camouflage to avoid predators. These insects know how not to be seen. Even the order name, Phasmatodea, derives from there suddenly being a bug in the branches where there was not one before.

 

Leaf insects put all other natural camouflage to shame by looking almost exactly like leaves. Their abdomens are flat like leaves, their legs have leafy flaps, and they are veined like the leaves they imitate. They even have 'bite marks' that make them look like they have seen some wear.



Leaf insects go beyond looking like leaves. They also move like leaves, swaying in the breeze along with their branches. Whether this serves a purpose beyond making the insect look more like part of the plant or not has yet to be determined. Mantises, who also have awesome camouflage, sway like this is well, and chameleons have a similar trick.

These strange, exotic insects make excellent pets. They eat nothing but veggies that can be found at the grocery store. Several species are capable of reproducing without a male. You can grow your very own insect-ninjas with ease!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Creature Feature: Snowy Owl.

The epic Harry Potter movie saga ended last night at midnight. For those of you curious about the movie, the only thing I will truly spoil is that there were a surprising amount of plotholes and cuts for a movie that took two parts to complete. Also, R.I.P. Nagini - you were one helluva fine reticulated python.

This is not about Nagini. This blog has already covered reticulated pythons. It's about Harry Potter's beloved owl, Hedwig, who died in the last movie.

R.I.P., Hedwig, poor victim of Rowling's axe-craziness.
Snowy owls live all over the Arctic circle. They are most prevalent in Canada, Alaska, and Eurasia. They are Strigiformes, meaning that they are related to horned owls and have one of the most awesome family names known to science. Like all owls, they eat rodents, and are large enough to eat rabbits and raccoons as well. Lemmings are their favorite prey items. See? If all lemmings jumped off of cliffs, these majestic birds would be short a food source.

 

The most distinctive trait of snowy owls is, of course, their feathers. White dominates the color palette of snowy owls just as it does for many Arctic animals. Even the feet are covered in soft, white feathers. Females have more black mottling on their bodies than males and are also heavier. Yes, this means that Hedwig was always played by a male owl in the films.

The snowy owl is the official bird of Quebec, a chilly, French-speaking region in Canada. It has appeared on coins and paper money. A snowy owl also adorns the Quebequiose coat of arms along with a pair of moose.



Farewell, Hedwig, and farewell most awesome franchise. I'll miss Harry Potter. Sort of wonder what will replace it on the bookshelves after the fad dies off...

...on second thought, do I want to know?