Monday, May 31, 2010

Creature Feature: Naked Mole Rat.

Mice, although sometimes disease-ridden and shocking to find in one's house, are also cute. Seriously, if they aren't in your base, stealing your grain, they are fairly innocuous, quiet creatures that mean no harm to anyone. They need to feed their families too, after all.

So, suppose you would like to make a mousy monster for, say, a television series. How does one go about removing the cute and emphasizing that, wow, a rodent can chew someone out of house and home?

The first step is to remove the fur. Mammals and birds in general are very ugly creatures without fur or feathers. Sphinx cats are popular as the pets of Powers movie villain Doctor Evil, and any dog can become a hellhound as soon as you take off its fur. Hieronymous Bosch was particularly fond of using featherless baby birds as monsters because, let's face it: If a featherless chicken with a huge head started chasing after you, no matter how big the chicken was, you would think it was freaky.

One example of hairless dog, the Peruvian Inca Orchid. It just needs two more heads to guard the gates to the underworld.

The second step would be to show the teeth. Rodents have huge buckteeth that never stop growing. They need to constantly gnaw at things to keep them filed down, which grants the order its name (rodo = 'I gnaw' in Latin, which rodents certainly do).

Just for yet another hint of Hades, let's put them underground. That's a good reason to make them furless, too. It'll also give them less need for vision; as a certain Avatar review on YT pointed out, squinty eyes indicate something sinister about the individual, even if they are squinty for function. Humans are visual creatures; anything with dissimilar senses seems foreign, creepy and weird to us.

While we're at it, shall we add a hint of social insect colonial structure? You know, the social structure that X amount of movie aliens has?

Including THE Aliens.

Presto. You have just found the naked mole rat.

Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) live in the deserts of East Africa. You probably will not see them most of the time, however, as they live underground in complex burrows. Despite their hugeass teeth, they are herbivores. They also eat their own excrement, but let's not get into why certain animals do that. Let's also not get into 2Molerats1Cup.

As stated earlier, naked mole rats are one of the few eusocial mammals. That means that, like ants, termites, bees, and wasps, they have colonies with a single fertile queen rat, a few fertile males, and a class of sterile working females. Their burrows are more analogous to anthills than the domiciles of other mammals.

These little desert dwellers also have their teeth exposed. This aids in digging out their tunnels. Nature does not intend to freak us out, although some of you may be going "uhhh...really?" after seeing some of these creatures.

As if they were not good horror monsters based on aesthetics alone, naked mole rats also lack Substance P. Substance P is what makes most mammals, like us and other rodents, feel pain. The scientists conducting these studies were testing specifically for the type of pain caused by burning sensations and other lasting injuries. Regardless of exactly what kind of pain we are talking about, the idea that something could be, though not invulnerable, impervious to the sensation of pain makes for a good monster. Even wrist-cutters realize that, if you cannot feel pain, you can feel little else.

Bring it on!

On the plus side, they have the potential to solve all of mankind's longevity issues. These naked animals are the most long-lived of any rodent (around 30 years), and do not get cancer. Period. One of mankind's most-feared diseases is unheard of in this little monster. That was totally not a Lady GaGa reference.

One can easily picture a horror novel written about these guys: An innocent, well-meaning group of scientists experiment with naked mole rats in an attempt to isolate some of their awesomeness. The results? Use your imagination.

Or, alternatively, have a clip from the British television series Merlin:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Creature Feature: The Asian Arowana.

In China, dragons are only associated with snakes in that they share a House in the Chinese zodiac. Otherwise, they are completely different creatures. This is untrue of every other type of dragon; all other dragons derive their names from some word for 'snake.' (This is worth its own essay.) Instead of being menacing fire-breathers like Western dragons, Chinese dragons manipulate water and are revered as gods. Images of dragons are considered lucky, but Chinese dragons are always associated with fish instead of snakes.

Inaccurate on so many levels. Note the spaded tail at one point.

One of the more well-known connections between dragons and fish is the story of the Dragon Gate. If a carp jumps over a certain waterfall, it will become a dragon. One version involves a carp tricking a dragon guarding the gate, then jumping over. However you decide to play it, the theme of a humble fish becoming a dragon is invoked on Boys' Day (in Japan) to ensure that one's son will be successful, just like the carp that jumped the Dragon Gate. (Maybe it flipped the dragon the bird while doing so. Nobody knows.)

They swim upstream like this. All day long.

A number of fish, such as the Asian red arowana (Scleropages formosus), are also draconic by association. There are actually quite a few different localities of arowana in Asia, but this will focus on the 'chili red' sort. As with almost everything else awesome, the red varieties of arowana are all native to Indonesia. These have been so over fished that the species had to be placed on the Endangered list. Its habitat is also being depleted, but the pet trade is far more threatening. People want these fish specifically. The prices for them run into 6 digits.

So, what makes this fish such a big deal? Aren't people content with koi?

...Wow. WOW. THAT is a fish that looks like it could become a dragon at any second! One Asian arowana fan describes the fish as "flying through the water like a dragon flying through the sky." Its regal appearance, large size (around 3 feet; that's not even the family's biggest member!) barbels (whiskers on a fish), and gleaming red scales all make it look like China's favorite legendary creature. No offense to the carp; it's determined, but damn if these red arowana do not look like a step between fish and dragon. HOLY CARP!

There are a number of reasons that people want red arowana, but the main one is that they look like dragons. Other explanations include feng shui (since water is a yin body, a fish with fiery, yang coloration must be added to balance it out), general good luck (which is again linked to the dragon), and fish being able to detect guests with ill will or dying in their masters' steads. Never mind the Chinese Cinderella story that some of us were forced to read for writing classes.

More awesome arowana pictures here. Please support well-meaning farms if you want an arowana; otherwise, you are violating CITES regulations. They also get huge, so be prepared to get a large tank.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Creature Feature: FUUUGUUU!

Before it was sushi, it was a fish.

If you have heard of sushi, you have probably heard of fugu. (Or perhaps you saw this and wondered what exactly fugu was.) The dish is made from some parts of the tiger pufferfish (so called because they puff themselves into balls), Takifugu rubipes, and has become a notorious example of Japanese culture. Small wonder; the Japanese have been consuming the flesh of pufferfish for years, leading to some adorable marketing as well as culinary notoriety.

Why is this dish so well-known? Because sashimi made from this pufferfish kills people every year. Fugu contains tetrodotoxin, a poison 1200 times deadlier than cyanide. This poison is also found in a few other venomous creatures, such as cone snails and the blue-ringed octopus. (I was going to do the octopus today, but thought that fugu would amuse you all more. Plus, I had sushi for lunch. XP)

I keel you.

Fugu chefs have to be trained for seven years. One wrong cut could kill; a little bit of poison produces a light tingling sensation, but an overdose (from, say, cutting into the highly toxic liver or ovaries of a tiger puffer) can kill a person withing 24 hours. Since it is so poisonous, the Emperor of Japan is forbidden from eating fugu. This deadly dish is often presented in the shape of a chrysanthemum, a flower associated with funerals in Japan, or at least served on a chrysanthemum plate.

How to cut your still-living puffer fish.

The fish is, interestingly enough, not to blame for its toxicity. It is poisonous for the same reason that monarch butterflies are poisonous: They eat something else toxic. In this case, it's a certain kind of Pseudomonas bacterium, which is found on other toxic critters. Captive-bred tiger puffers do not exhibit any toxicity until they are fed poisonous food. Regardless of how it gets there, the result is pretty damn lethal.

Oh, Japan, you so craaazy!

(On another note, puffer fish and one of my favorite groups of fish in the sea, triggerfish, are related. Indonesia is sucking me in with its awesome fauna slowly but surely.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Creature Feature: Busting Snake Oil.

Does that advertisement for an "as seen on TV" medicine sound too good to be true? Of course it does; television and the internet are the two biggest outlets for what most people would call "snake oil salesmen."

Not all snake oil is fake. The snake that the original snake oil came from, Enhydris chinensis, is a Chinese water snake. Its fat contains compounds that work much like aspirin, dulling pains of all sorts. The second highest source of these oils is salmon. Egypt had a similar composite formula said to cure baldness, as has also been reported from people who eat cobras on a regular basis. Whaddya know, now there are fish oil tablets everywhere.

This is one of the few decent pictures I could find. T_T

You know how tuna and salmon have different nutritional values? Same case here. The snakes that American salesman were using were not even water snakes, and had completely different oils in them. This led to American snake oil being BS - or, in medical terms, a placebo. Something with turpentine in it cannot be good for you. Some snake oils contain no snake fat whatsoever.

As I implied above, there are many other medicinal uses for snakes of all shapes and sizes in Asia. Some of you have probably heard about snake wine; essentially, a venomous snake (note: Enhydris chinensis is considered mildly venomous) is immersed in alcohol for a while. The result is considered especially potent, and used in Eastern countries as a cure for sexual impotence. The snake's view as a healer is very different from the snake's reputation in modern Western society.

That merits its own article. I'll get on that after fixing the first logo...X.x

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Creature Feature: Pink River Dolphins

Dolphins are the girliest creatures alive. Many of us know them as the ocean's most giggly, playful residents, making dolphins and rainbows go hand in hand. Dolphins are extremely intelligent creatures, and, because of their social natures, are used at least as often as wolves for examples of natural parallels to human society. That includes rape and murder, by the way.

What many people do not know is that there are a fair amount of freshwater dolphin species. One species of river dolphin (the Yangtze River Dolphin) went officially extinct in 2006. The pink Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) - is, you guessed it, pink. Rare instances of albino bottlenose dolphins also exist, but those are a saltwater species. The dolphin I speak of is pink as a species.

No, it is not simply pinker than your average dolphin. It is not just 'peachy.' It is fiery flamingo pink. Lisa Frank would have a field day.

The pink river dolphin is native to the Orinoco, Amazon, and Araguaia/Tocantins River systems of South America. These river systems cover the whole upper half of the continent. Although it is currently unknown how many individuals exist, naturalists attempt to get the pink dolphins governmental protection.

Of course, a pink dolphin like this sticks out no matter where you're from. The tribal people of the Amazon rain forest have a number of legends surrounding this pink, aquatic mammal. They are mixed between the bitter and the sweet. Some legends say that, as with unicorns, it's bad luck to kill a pink dolphin; so much as looking one in the eye brings lifelong nightmares; the dolphins become princes at night that, much like incubi, mysteriously impregnate women. Damned if you do, damned if you don't!

It's not easy being bright pink.

I am sure that Victoria's Secret would be thrilled to add pink dolphins to their merchandise. C'mon; environmentally-friendly AND sexy sells! The pink dolphins are win-win! (Note: This critter would also make an AMAZING blacklight tattoo!)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Creature Feature: Cassowaries!

I love ratites. Always have.

I also love Australian fauna. Always have.

It was not long, then, before I did my first Australian ratite on this page. It's not that I do not like flying birds, but ratites - the classification of flightless birds containing ostriches, emus, cassowaries, kiwis and rheas - have always had a special place in my heart. Perhaps it's because they defy what we expect a bird to be.

The cassowary (specifically the double-wattled cassowary, the largest and most notorious species) takes the cake for my favorite ratite ever. I dressed up as one for Halloween one year, and a misspelled version (I forget why it was misspelled) was my first AOL user name. This is going to be one of those entries that comes from the heart.

So let's get to it, shall we?

Some of you probably immediately went, "wow, what a weird-looking bird!" It's approximately what you'd get if you crossed a hadrosaur and a turkey (with some LSD for good measure). That is not too far from the truth - ratites are some of the dinosaurs' closest living relatives...

...and holy crap, WOW, does it show in the cassowary! Not only does that crest (called a 'casque') look VERY much like a dinosaur's headgear, its toes were taken straight off of a Velociraptor. Those claws are not just for show; the cassowary is the most dangerous bird in existence for a reason.

Luckily, its forelimbs are all but useless; like all other ratites, its wings are so small that it cannot fly. Even if it did somehow grow sufficient wings, it lacks the keel that would allow for flight muscles.

Even its vestigial wings are unique. Six flight feathers from when these guys were airborne dinosaurs have been retained as long, hollow spines. Cassowaries also possess a vestigial finger on each wing. This phenomenon is rare among birds; another nearly-prehistoric species, the hoatzin, has clawed digits at birth, but loses them when mature. Trust me, that one will get its own entry eventually.

As described in the video, these intelligent birds are actually herbivores. They eat fruit, bugs, and other harmless things. There are several plants that benefit from the cassowary's eating habits (and, consequently, defecation habits) for seed dispersal and fertilization. It helps the seeds of one particular plant, Ryparosa, germinate. As with most rain forest creatures, habitat destruction has decreased its population significantly. Your mileage may vary regarding the cassowary population, but, lethal or no, they are part of Australia's natural ecology.

When even the giant chickens can kill you, you know you're in Australia. Or Indonesia. (Indonesia might need its own tag, soon.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Creature Feature: Scale Insects

A friend of mine asked me about a Pokemon named Shuckle last night. Specifically, he wondered exactly what made Shuckle's shell so strong that even Deoxys and Mewtwo had trouble breaking through it. Mind, Bugs do resist Psychic attacks, but it was still a valid question.

Also, Shuckle used to make free Berry Juice. I'll stop nerding out now. Promise.

Given what Shuckle is based off of, its annoyingly high defenses should not be a surprise. Scale insects (order Hemiptera) are notorious garden pests with thick shells. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and get their name from making plants look scaly with their little bodies. Their shells are made of a waxy coating that makes them immune to many pesticides. It also makes them immune to soap, one of an insect's worst nightmares.

If soap had this face, I'd be scared, too.

Natural pest removal is usually the best way to get rid of these guys. Or girls. They can be hermaphroditic and give birth without a male, but that scarcely matters when they're picking on your roses. Or lemons. Or...y'know, I'm gonna stop there.

Like turtles, they are also perfectly capable of moving around in their houses:

The news is not all bad. One scale insect in particular, cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) has seen a rise in popularity. Way back when, it was used as a crimson dye for foods, cosmetics, and fabrics. Then artificial colors came around, so the bugs got a break. Soon, however, we started fearing manufactured products, and...that 'natural' dye in your yogurt? Thousands of bugs died to make your food red.

Just sayin'.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Creature Feature: Immortal Jellyfish.

For an immortal creature, it's quite demure-looking. Can I have an immortal Christmas ornament?

The title does not lie: There really is such a thing as an immortal jellyfish. Turritopsis nutricula does not know the meaning of 'die.' At any stage in its lifetime, it can revert back to its polyp form - the rough equivalent of a mature human becoming a baby again. This effectively makes it immortal.

How does it do this? Well, some creatures, such as salamanders, can regenerate parts via a process called "transdifferentiation." In laymen's terms, one type of non-stem cell becomes another. Usually, this process is irreversible and only occurs in one or two parts of the creature's body.

This jellyfish can reshuffle its whole life cycle. Some little critters without complex brains just flipped science the bird.

Despite the chance for immortality, many of these jellyfish do not live long, eternal lives. They are still susceptible to diseases and predation. They are, however, prolific enough to be overcrowding the oceans. No wonder there are so many Tentacool in Pokemon.

Now, I know these guys are not cephalopods, but this STILL merits an "IA CTHULHU!" or two. One of those jellyfish, mutated by radiation, waits in the R'lyeh dreaming. It's not dead, just sleeping.

Your days are numbered, chordates...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Creature Feature: Echidna

It's a porcupine! It's an anteater! It's...wait a sec, what the f*ck is that?!

The spiky fellow up there is a short-beaked echidna, AKA "spiny anteater." Like many of nature's weirdest creatures, it is native to Australia. A few other It shares the status of "weirdass egg-laying mammal" (or, for more science-y types, the order "Monotremata") with the platypus, but, due to it being slightly less ridiculous-looking, is not nearly as well-known.

Even though all echidnas may look the same to you, there are actually 2 extant genera of echidna and one extinct genus. They are primarily divided by area. The ones in the genus Zaglossis are native to the Guineas; the one most people know about, the short-beaked echidna, is the only member of the genus Tachyglossus.

If you have heard of the echidna, it was probably through Sonic the Hedgehog. That is about as much pop culture exposure as they get, despite being the most abundant native mammal in Australia.

I don't know WHAT genus this guy is in, but I hope it's one of the extinct ones.
At least nobody has taken advantage of the echidna's odd sexual aspects!

For the record, no, I have no idea why these little guys were named after a mythical 'mother of all monsters' character. The name "echidna" relates to snakes, not porcupines or anteaters. Maybe they were using it as a catch-all "OMG WTF IS THAT SPIKY THING?!" name.

Creature Feature: Azureus.

Happy Greenfest day! OK, it's not a national holiday, but I did just get back from Greenfest. Green Fest is a huge festival sporting eco-friendly organic everything. Yes, I mean everything; I have seen organic food, environmentally-sound flooring, and even paper made from elephant dung there. If you want to keep places with awesome wildlife alive, go there next year!

That is why today's creature is a frog. Contrary to popular belief, pandas are not the best mascots for the environment; that honor should go to our amphibian friends, such as Dendrobates azureus. Since amphibians (especially frogs) have highly permeable skin and are vital to many ecosystems, they have been viewed worldwide as a gauge of environmental health. Not only are species like azureus up there visually appealing and vocal, they help keep insect populations down and provide food for many other animals. No frogs in an area (OK, besides Antarctica) means that something is very, very wrong.

This little blue frog, like most poison dart frogs, resides in the forests of South America (namely, Brazil and Suriname). This is not the big Amazon basin that everyone and their mother is worried about, but the species is nonetheless listed as 'vulnerable.' It would be a shame to lose such a cool-looking frog!

On that note, not all poison dart frogs are created equal. Though azureus is still poisonous, dart frogs of the genus Phyllobates are the ones commonly used to make poisonous arrows. Azureus is one of the easier species of frog to keep as a pet despite its toxicity. Moreover, the sexes differ physically; female blue dart frogs are bigger than males, but the men of the species have larger, heart-shaped toes.

Now, if this little froggie gave you a sense of deja have probably seen it before:

Perhaps deja vuze would have been a better term.

Tomorrow's animal will be far less spur-of-the-moment. I have a rant waiting to happen thanks to the festival.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Creature Feature: Zebrafish...That GLOW?!

Just when you thought this blog was limited to natural stuff, along come these little fishies. If you know anything about GloFish, you know that they are genetically-engineered zebra danios, and are probably wondering why the hell these little Frankenfish are on a blog about the strange world around you.

Well, they certainly push the boundaries of one's imagination, do they not? Imagine putting these genes into other fish such as bettas, koi, goldfish, or angelfish. Better yet, even though the pigmentation rules are slightly different, wouldn't a glow-in-the-dark snake be sweet? The possibilities of this technology are limitless! (For those curious, science has already given us glowing mammals, but they are not available as pets.)
Pinky smash! Pinky fuel sweet rave parties with glowing body!

The neat part about GloFish is that, like yesterday's albino retic, they were spliced and bred primarily for aesthetics. Although the science was originally used to track pollutants, GloFish are now bred in large numbers and sold as pets. You will see a lot of stuff about glow-splicing being used for science, but how much do you want to bet that these people really just want to make things glow in the dark? Don't be shy; we can all relate!

For those of you thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, those silly Americans! When will they learn that freaks like these will harm the planet?" bear in mind that many, if not all, genetic experiments like GloFish are done in Asia. Americans are just one of the few nations selling them.

Also, look at how bright these things are! There is no way they could survive in the wild. If white tigers and albino animals have it hard, creatures that glow in the dark would have it doubly so. Invasive species worries aside, how could something naturally bioluminescent survive?

There are actually a few examples. Many creatures of the deepsea abyss possess some form of bioluminescence; the most widely-known is, of course, the anglerfish. The proteins used in GloFish and many other such creations use GFP (green fluorescence protein), which comes from the crystal jellyfish (Aequoria victoria and co.), or similar proteins from other sea-bound cnidarians.

Fireflies are a good land-based example; their enzyme, luciferase (not related to Satan; know your Latin!) has been used to make a tobacco plant glow in the dark. Nearly all species of adult scorpion also glow under blacklight, making that purple bulb lighting up your psychedelic mushroom poster a valuable scorpion detector. Nobody really knows why they glow; thus far, the best explanation is some sort of natural sunblock left over from when scorpions were diurnal.

Or maybe Mother Nature was TRIPPIN' when designing scorpions. Who knows?

Eight legs, crablike pincers, a deadly sting...just for good measure, let's make it glow in the dark.

Drug trippers, take heed: Your visions of purple giraffes, neon snakes, and glowing koi will soon become reality...or would if GloFish were not copyrighted. Damn the big corporations for crushing my dreams!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Creature Feature: Reticulated Python


Yes, I am a sucker for snakes just as much as I am for worms. Some people would say that they're related - a few cultures believe that worms are related to dragons, thus leading to the term 'wyrm' for describing both creatures. The same case applies to snakes; 'wyvern,' 'dragon,' 'naga,' and even the oriental 'Orochi' are all directly related to words for snake. The word 'python' comes directly from the particular serpent slain by Apollo at Delphi in Greco-Roman mythology.

Why this python, then? Why not the giant yellow snake that appears on stage and in classroom presentations all the time? Yes, those are totally different snake species, but does it really matter? Won't they both eat puppies, kitties, and other cute furry things when all is said and done?

Surely, if Britney Spears can handle a giant python, anyone can do it...right?

Well, first off, don't get reticulated pythons (P. reticulatus) mixed up with Burmese pythons (P. molurus bivittatus). Both are Asian pythons that grow to considerable size, have similar dietary requirements, and have been featured in the news (often misrepresented) numerous times. Although they have similar range, diets, and get massive, woe to the poor soul who does not do his or her homework!

Like I said, both of these python species grow HUGE. Retics, however, grow bigger; a female Burm usually caps out at around 20 feet, but a retic may well get around 30 (making them the longest snakes in the world)! Retics are also far more inquisitive snakes than Burmese pythons, and have a reputation for being aggressive. This statement was made before the advent of the tiger morph, which, while not staying any smaller, seemed to be less mean than the normal retics. (Plus, it was a co-dominant trait, which encouraged breeding projects - a co-dominant trait usually shows up in 50% of the first clutch.)

Reticulated pythons one of the few snakes reported to eat people on a semi-regular basis. They are not, however, venomous or nearly as dangerous as some news reporters would lead you to believe. They can make fine pets in the hands of a competent handler, but as many of you have noticed, stupid people out-breed smart people by a considerable margin. Maybe this is Darwin at work.

So, if they're so deadly, why do people breed them to begin with? They are indeed very intelligent snakes, and just about the only species to exhibit instincts that one would normally associate with mammals. (For those curious, the Russian rat snake seems to be another personable species.) The most celebrated among these is the retic's ability to recognize its owner within a crowd of people. Some breeders have also reported a homing instinct in their retics - that is, they will return to their cage if set free. These snakes could be amazing pets a few years down the road. There are several dwarf retic strains that are considerably smaller than the monstrous, man-eating snakes that jump to many a mind at the word 'python.'

Silver Eyes are Real by =KuroKarasu on deviantART Yes, I took this. :D

This is why it's a real shame that so many people are trying to get retics, Burms, and several other constrictors banned. At the mention of the word "python," their mind immediately jumps to man-eating, giant snakes, even if one of the smaller species of the genus is in question. They operate under the pretense that giant pythons are some sort of nationwide threat (you're confusing that with stupidity), all the while completely ignoring the similar threat posed by cats, dogs, and cattle - three creatures considered 100% domesticated by most standards. People do not cut down acres of rain forest so that their giant pythons have space to roam; nor do pythons contribute to global warming, I have personally been attacked and/or bitten more often by dogs than by snakes, and every so often, it's rewarding to see a place's natural fauna take care of an invasive species all by itself.

Australia will kick your ass, but that's a topic for another entry.

Retics in particular also look really trippy as albinos. Yes, that's an albino up there; not at all like an albino mammal, is it? The reasons why will be discussed in another article. No PhotoShop was used in the pic above.

Now, imagine living around giant snakes on a regular basis like this kid in Cambodia. That's a Burmese python, which, in contrast to the retic's aggro reputation, is known for being a total sweetheart. The people of Asia may kill snakes for their skins from time to time (which is why the Burmese python is protected in Hong Kong, the land of cheapass EVERYTHING), but their reception is generally far more positive than in the West. Giant pythons such as retics probably inspired and encouraged legends of dragons. Korean folklore in particular has a creature called an imugi, which is a sort of proto-dragon that just so happens to look like a giant snake.

Unfortunately, the only exposure the West has had thus far to the imugi is this:

Try to picture it without the suck, please.

Yeah. I love oriental folklore, and even I thought D-War sucked balls.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creature Feature: Christmas Tree Worms.

Now for a creature that looks like it came straight off of Pandora: The Christmas Tree worm. I'm sure you can see exactly why it is called that. When was the last time you saw a worm with psychedelic evergreens on its back?

Yes, I know, it's another worm. This one is more closely related to earthworms and leeches (common 'eww' worms), but is completely harmless. Hell, you probably will not even see one unless you take a dive into the ocean or know somebody with a very good reef aquarium setup. Some hobbyists select wild coral with these worms on them just because they display so well.

Avatar's Pandora had sensitive plants (which are also a real thing) based on the breathing structures of these magical little worms. If touched, the plants would quickly retract into the ground...

...just like the worms' "gills." They can be used for feeding as well as breathing, so we're using the term loosely.

They also have some of the trippiest spawns ever caught on camera. It's even more apparent in this video that the stalks themselves also look like something out of a movie. Tim Burton, jump on these guys befo- oh, wait, Cameron already put them on Pandora. Never mind.

(I'll do a vertebrate tomorrow, I swear...)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


...and other fantasy fanatics, but mostly "Avatards:" Living in a world that some movie director came up with is not that cool. Sure, it can be fun for a while -I personally write fanfiction all the time- but would you really want to live there?

Pandora, the world in James Cameron's movie Avatar was, without a doubt, incredibly well-designed. Sure, the plot of the movie wasn't that great and many of the characters were stereotypes (or ripoffs from Dances with Wolves), but a lot of thought did go into making sure that Pandora was its own little section of the cosmos...

...Even if it was a LOT like Earth.

For example, I know that a MILLION people have pointed this out, but the Na'vi are way too close to humans to have evolved independently. They are a bipedal, mammalian, sentient species on the exact moon that Earthlings are trying to mine from. They look a lot like humanoid felines, right down to the limb count.

Despite every other similarity to Earth life that Pandora has, the Na'vi strike me as the most blatant mooch. Most things on Pandora have six limbs instead of four like on Earth.

OK, I'll buy that most of the things on Pandora are hexapods instead of tetrapods. So why do the Na'vi, out of all the fauna on Pandora, only have four? Because they're the dominant species? Surely a movie advocating harmony with the natural world cannot be so...species-ist, right?

Although the Na'vi are the dominant species, the more obvious answer is that everything about the Na'vi is meant to feel pretty damn human. Despite their wild features, they are clearly based off of loved animals as opposed to hated ones (unlike the far more common, reptilian-humanoid aliens of most sci-fi flicks), can control (effectively) every species on the planet, and, despite not having a human amount of digits, have a terrestrial amount of limbs. Not only are they 'too perfect' (another thing - what makes the gene pools of humans and an alien species so darn compatible, again?), but they are too human to plausibly be aliens. The people who want to be Na'vi are asking to be furry super-humans, not a species wholly different from their own. I can totally understand the Na'vikin popping up right after this movie came out.

One would think that the environmental nature of the film should have been seen by everyone. There was probably a reason that Cameron made Pandora so much like Earth; I'll buy convergent evolution to a degree, but some of the species are just so damn similar to ones on the green planet that the statement should have been obvious. Evidently, however, not everyone got the point:

Apparently, Pandora was so pretty that, instead of encouraging a sense of wonder about our own planet, people are tempted to kill themselves just to live on Pandora.

"When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed...gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, had lost its meaning."

You know what? Our world IS Pandora. No, we do not have giant wyverns or blue cat people, but how many people feeling this sort of depression do you suppose researched the full extent of Earth's flora and fauna? There are a million creatures, past and present, that could surpass Pandora's awesomeness. Pick a place - a coral reef, rain forest, desert, or even that pond you sit by in the park - and look at what you're missing.

Now imagine all of it being gone, just like Pandora's amazing fauna could have been. Humans (even 'native' peoples like the Na'vi) have a nasty track record of eradicating awesome species. There are reasons that we do not have giant eagles, elephant birds, saber-toothed cats, or other such amazing creatures. Humanity, 'savage' or no, has wiped out more species during its existence than any other creature. The amount of species that humans have driven to extinction is getting to be on par with regular geological mass-wipeouts. There are no reasons for elephant birds not to exist on Madagascar anymore. Thousands of other animals and plants are facing the fates of the Tasmanian tiger, elephant bird, saber-tooth cats, and perhaps even a few dinosaurs.

Now, if you want to kill yourself because of this, go ahead. The last thing the Earth needs is more humans, and you will be removing yourself from the gene pool. If nothing else kills this world, it will die from human overpopulation. This has been known since Soylent Green. Still, wouldn't it be a lot better to try and fix some of the damage, or at least prevent more?

Save your own world before you start worrying about Pandora. Earth is the only planet with chocolate.

Creature Feature: Planarians

Some people may twitch at the sight of nightcrawlers, but planaria are a whole
different can of worms. These guys are just adorable! Most biology classes cover the various freshwater planarian species at some point; there are also a few land-based planaria. They are not as enchanting as yesterday's damselfly, but are still unbelievable in their own right.

For starters, they look adorably cartoonish. Even though they eat via a tube on their stomachs, they swim like little otters, and have some of the most ridiculous-looking (and primitive) eyespots in the animal world. They do not have focused, complex vision like we do; being cross-eyed is not a problem for these little guys. Their 'eyes' are just photosensitive.

To their credit, they look smarter than Bibarel.

They even "smile!" How cute is that? :3

Of course, planarians are not popular biology lab rats because of how goshdarn cute they are. Besides being one of the first critters to sport cephalization ('head-ness') and bilateral symmetry, they have insane regeneration capabilities.

As this extremely fucked-up Japanese cartoon (based off of an equally-FUBAR cartoon with a pink rabbit) demonstrates, cutting a planarian up will cause a whole new individual to be born. Yes, planaria lead the life of Rin from Mnemosyne; people cut them up like genuine sadists only to have them regenerate. This ability also leads to multi-headed planaria like these:

You know that debate about stem cells? These guys are like stem cell mania. The whole deal with stem cells is that they can become any part of an organism. One cut of these guys creates an entirely new worm. Holy fuck. Take that, vertebrates!

Of course, this regeneration is nothing compared to the immortal jellyfish...but that's a post for another day. ^_~

Monday, May 17, 2010

Creature Feature: Ebony Jewelwing (and Company)

I have no idea why, but I have been recalling memories of this little damselfly recently. They are called ebony jewelwings (Calopteryx maculata), and, like dragonflies, eat mosquitoes. Every time I see them, they remind me that faeries exist. The above video is actually of a similar species found in Japan (C. atrata Selys), but it's close enough. Many members of the genus look very similar, and the video of my little friend's Japanese relative gets the point across. The hardcore entomologists can bitch at me if they like.

Next time you see them, realize that you live in a magical world.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Woot, New Blog!

Yes, I made another one. One blog that I do not update often wasn't enough, apparently.

I HAD to make this. There is something so utterly bleak and depressing in modern society that it makes me tear up just thinking about it.

A lot of people want to get away from it all without realizing what 'it all' is. Instead of looking to the real world for answers, they plunge themselves into video games and fantasies. While there is nothing wrong with imagination, it feels as though they are not seeing the world around them in all of its splendor.

It is sadder still that many of the world's most magnificent flora and fauna are vanishing due to climate change and habitat destruction. If people knew that such beautiful things existed in dying rain forests, or even beneath their very noses, they might reconsider buying foam cups and hamburgers.

While one could laud Avatar for raising environmental awareness, it had the opposite effect on some people. Instead of wanting to save their current world, thousands of movie-goers wanted to die, get reincarnated as Na'vi, and live on Pandora. This would indeed cut down on environmental damage, but not in the way Cameron wanted...right? RIGHT?! They were so wrapped up in the fantasy world that they did not realize the magic in the real one. Given how hard Cameron worked on this project, complete with scientific names for his beasties, I can sort of see why they would be enthralled...

...if there were not equally-stunning things on good ol' Earth. Look through a flower catalog. There are some amazing plants hidden in its pages.

There are countless things in nature that look like they came straight out of myths. All you have to do is look for them. This blog is supposed to help with that. Stunning lifeforms have always existed and, hopefully, always will. Let your imagination fly...and manifest into flesh!