Sunday, March 31, 2013

Killer Cute: Hooded Pitohui.

Ah, spring is in the air! Flowers are blooming, the air is warm, and songbirds fill the air with music. What could possibly be more representative of spring than a brightly-colored songbird?

...a brightly-colored, poisonous songbird?!

This colorful little bird is a hooded pitohui (Pitohui dichorus). It is native to all places called "New Guinea," and quite common there. Both females and males have bright colors, so it's not like we can tell if that's a dude or a chick. Yes, that pun was intended; it's Easter.

And, yes, the songbird is poisonous. The hooded pitohui was one of the first documented poisonous birds, and is frequently touted as the most poisonous.

How does a songbird become poisonous? By eating lots and lots of poisonous beetles. The process is called bioaccumulation, and is roughly the same method by which DDT accumulated in various bird species during the 60's - only, well, more beneficial. It's virtually the same way that lorises and monarch butterflies become toxic.

This bird is going to KILL you.

The resulting poison works like a charm. It is a neurotoxin called homobatrachotoxin, and can be found in most places in or on the bird's body. Merely touching this bird causes tingling and numbness (nerve tampering). Imagine what eating this bird could do. No wonder they're labelled as "least concern."

Need more of a trip? These beetles are related to the same bugs that poison dart frogs (i.e. the little froggies so lethal that natives dip arrows in their poison) eat. The pitohui is a bird who thinks it's a poison dart frog. You thought you knew songbirds? Don't trust those bright colors. They might not be for mating.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Killer Cute: Koalas.

Is there anything cuter than a koala? No; koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus), which by the way are eucalyptus-munching Australian marsupials, look more like teddy bears than actual bears.  It's really hard to take a koala seriously. A koala could tell us that Yurlungr is awakening and the world will end as a result, but we'd bee too busy melting into baby talk to care. Awww, wookit his widdle head!

Oh, wait. Shoot, it's from Australia, the land where everything wants to disembowel you! Run for your life- KOALAS!

Actually, they aren't that bad. Koalas just have killer claws. These claws can dig into the bark of trees no problem; imagine, for a second, what they could do to your soft flesh. There are innumerable bacteria that will make those claw marks even nastier. Also, they can bite, but anything with a mouth can bite. Anything "stuffed animal" suddenly went out the window with those claws.

From Point made regardless.

Then there's the thing called a drop bear. Certain subspecies of koala have evolved into carnivorous little buggers that drop from their perches onto the unsuspecting Americans below. Rumor has it that wearing forks on your head or smearing Vegemite behind your ears can ward off drop bears, but don't hold your breath. Luckily, dropbears are about as real as jackalopes. You may take the forks out of your hair, now.

Here's the real deal: Koalas are slow, stupid, and usually asleep. 80% of their day is spent asleep. Their brains do not fit in their fuzzy little heads because they are so small. Anyone unfortunate enough to get hit by a koala who fell out of a tree was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's not like these things are out to get us.

While not as dramatic as the hippo, koalas can still be very nasty animals. Approach wild koalas with caution. They may look like teddy bears, but they have claws like real bears. You don't know where they've been. On the bright side, at least they cannot crush your head with their rears like our friend the wombat. Now that is lethal cute.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Killer Cute: Hippos.

Picture a hippopotamus for a minute. The image that immediately came to mind was probably one of a cute, chubby animal with a wide snout, huge nostrils, tiny ears, and maybe even buck teeth. Often, they are colored in pastels, as if a chubby herbivore was not cartoony enough.

Even the CUTE hippos can kill you.
But wait. Remember, this is the week where "cute" meets "AAAHH WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN!"  That means that, yes, hippos have some insanely dark stories around them. Steve Irwin was able to tangle with crocs and venomous snakes, but would not go anywhere near hippos. That is the kind of nasty we are dealing with.

Oh my, has pop culture misinformed us about hippos. Virtually all that they have gotten right is that hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius)  are found in sub-Saharan Africa, and that the word "hippopotamus" means "river horse." They are also indeed herbivores despite being on this column. That cute, pudgy hippo is still a death machine waiting to happen, and it is not funny in the least.

If animals had stat cards like baseball players, we would be able to see that the hippo is not built for cuddles. It is a massive creature weighing around 8,000 pounds, capable of running 18 mph, and sporting teeth that would sent a pit bull whimpering into the nearest dark corner. Despite having no real armor, a hippo regularly takes damage from other hippos.  Not only are they tanks, they are mean, heavy tanks. Any human who gets between a hippo and her calf are in for a rude awakening. Then death.

Although a hippo could kill a person by simply by sitting, that is certainly not their weapon of choice. They have been known to capsize boats and, umm, bite people down to their torsos. Hippos have huge, powerful jaws with teeth that pierce a human exactly as well as a rail spike with a ton of power behind it. Vlad the Impaler and Genghis Khan would be proud.

Aside from having nasty tempers, hippos have a few other charming behaviors. As this little dog-bean will tell you, hippo sweat is pink. For a long time, people thought that hippos actually sweat blood; it's really more like a sunblock/disinfectant, and while that sounds like an excellent thing to find at your local Walgreen's, "Hippo Sweat Sunblock" would not leave the shelves. They need this disinfectant for several reasons including another lovely habit called a "dung shower." This is exactly what it sounds like: a hippo whirling dung around with its short tail, preferably over other hippos. And people wonder why hippos are never desired as pets.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

They Actually Eat That: Easter Eggs.

Have you ever stopped and wondered how Easter eggs came about? Coloring eggs, finding eggs, the whole egg deal? We can kind of understand the link between rabbits, baby animals, and spring, but one of these things is not like the others. After all, rabbits don't lay eggs...riiiight?

Well, for starters, both eggs and rabbits are fertility symbols. Rabbits fuck...well, like rabbits, and have litters with many, many babies. Eggs, likewise, are the product of something able to reproduce. They're a symbol of new life like most baby animals are. It makes sense to link the two in that way, at least. Doesn't mean the Cadbury clucking bunny isn't a fine joke.

Layin' chocolate eggs is just another day at the office, apparently.

Really, though? Tying rabbits and birds together goes way back. One story of the fertility goddess Eostre - note the similarity to the word "Easter," there - details a wounded bird becoming a fertile hare; thus the egg-laying bunny was born. Some cultures even use counters that are normally reserved for avian game for rabbits. The idea is in the collective subconscious and will not be leaving any time soon.

 Easter also happens to be one of those holidays colored by whatever culture you happen to be in.  It started as a pagan celebration for the goddess Eostre, hence the name. We can debate about whether hallucinogenic mushrooms were involved or not, but hunting for 'shrooms in the grass makes more sense than hunting multicolored eggs. Ancient Christians were marketing geniuses, synching up the resurrection of Jesus with holidays that were already around. A million variations on "color eggs and pretend it's about Jesus" popped up from there. Regardless of how Easter started or how you celebrate it, it marks the end of barren winter, and if eggs are involved, why not make a few egg dishes in celebration?

Disclaimer: Male Easter Bunnies should still give alternate careers a try.

So what about coloring eggs? In some Christian traditions, particularly orthodox, the eggs are colored red to symbolize the blood dripping from the wounds of Christ. Since then, the color range has expanded from red to a veritable rainbow that looks very much like an assortment of flowers. Some Christian teachings attach the rainbow colors to Mary Magdalene as well, but there is a good chance some form of egg coloring went on before Jesus was born. Nobody knows who has the "real" story, here. Which came first - the bunny or the egg?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Killer Cute: The Slow Loris, Revisited.

(Apologies on the lateness for this entry. I actually have no idea why this bugger took me so long. It feels like I've been a bit off-kilter since Florida. That said, this did provide an idea for the Easter theme week: Killer Cute.)

Hey, remember two years ago when this blog covered the super-cool, unique primate called the slow loris? In 2012, the BBC released a documentary with new information concerning this cute, cuddly YouTube star. It turns out several corrections need to be made to that old entry, but the meat of that documentary is enough to say "screw it, let's just do another entry."

First off, it turns out that slow lorises are not that slow. They, like the gremlins the documentary compares them to, hate bright lights, and move slower because of it. In actuality, they are lightning-fast furballs that can snatch any little thing that moves. That said, they are also more predatory than previously thought, although the fangs and forward-facing eyes should have been a giveaway.

The scientist in this video has one question on her mind: Why are lorises poisonous? It's a good question, seeing as lorises are the only venomous primates and among the very few venomous mammals. The "how" seems to come from the loris's diet, much like how monarch butterflies are poisonous because the larvae eat milkweed. The "why" is a lot harder to figure out, and almost enters the realm of horror movies.

Pygmy Slow Loris- it's even cuter when it's small!

It turns out that this venom has a number of purposes. One, again as with monarch butterflies, the venom makes the loris smell and taste awful. Two, it prevents wounds from healing, making anything it envenomates susceptible to infection and necrosis. Lorises can use the venom in male-to-male combat, meaning that any battle-damaged lorises will die sooner rather than later. Creepier still, Indonesian natives figured out that things that the loris touched didn't heal, so they opted to coat their battle blades in loris blood. They are more terrified of loris venom than snakebite, and we're talking about a rainforest island chain with more venomous snakes than the entire U.S. of A. Screw Houndoom's supposed eternal burns; that's chilling.

I am going to keeeel you.

The documentary also takes a heartbreaking look at an exotic pet market in Indonesia. Conditions in the trade are hot, cramped, and smelly. Lorises and other endangered species can be gotten for a song. All slow lorises are taken from the wild; the documentary would probably have shown us adorable, well-tended baby lorises had any been available.

While I personally do not agree with this treatment, I do see the trade in general as a sort of inevitability. It's silly to think that humans would not try to expand the possibilities of domesticating animals. Anyone who thinks "get a cat or dog" is the acceptable answer to any exotic pet query is kidding themselves; menageries go back at least as far as the European monarchy, and conditions of zoos and the like have gotten better, not worse, through repeated interaction with "wild" animals. We know more about handling animals than we did way back when.

Some animals make good pets; others do not. The slow loris sounds like it is firmly in the "not" category, being venomous, smelly, loud, and not able to breed in captivity. Don't let that adorable YouTube video fool you. There are plenty of other exotic mammals that have proven to breed in captivity, if not make great pets. Wolves and skunks have a better track record in that regard than slow lorises.

You know that Killer White Rabbit from Monty Python's Holy Grail? That's what the slow loris is, for real. It's a cute fuzzy thing that kills people. The natives know it as a lethal, mystical animal that is to be feared despite its cuteness, and occasionally trap it for tourists. Scientists treat it as a mysterious creature that we need to learn a lot more about. The rest of the world see it as nothing more than the most memetic animal since LOLCats. Could LOLris be up next on the horizon? Hopefully not.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bio-Art: Bonnie Wood/Amore de Mori.

The internet is like a rabbit hole. You start looking for one thing, then find a million other things related to that thing. Sometimes, utterly random, insane things find their way onto our browser just by random clicking. Other times, you hit a veritable treasure trove of awesome. This is one of those troves:

Image belongs to the artist. Using for advertising. Free advertisement is always good.

"Random clicking" was how I came upon the web page of taxidermy artist Bonnie Wood. Her page, Amore de Mori, showcases several interesting pieces based on taxidermy. Her Tumblr shows more from other artists. Occasionally, she even puts some of her pieces up as contest prizes, letting aspiring bio-artists win them. Neat.

Here's how you know the graphic designer did an awesome job: The first thing we are hit with is the artist's self-portrait, which resembles images of Mary and Jesus. Except- wait a minute - is that a dead lamb she's cradling? The choice of pic was simply splendid, and captures what this artist is all about nicely. 

Better still, if you're trying to make your own bio-art, please follow this woman on Facebook, Tumblr, or whatever else have you. She posts tips on purchasing your organic art supplies legitimately. How often do you hear about someone knowing or caring about the difference between bones from mink raised on cheap farms and those on humane farms? Almost never. Her blog also has some things in common with mine, showcasing some weird and wonderful things that can be found in your own backyard.

Still not cool enough? Wood had her blog graphics designed by Amelia Arsenic, a member of the dark-techno band Angelspit. Regardless of what you think of her music (which I can totally understand), it's pretty awesome to have a celebrity edit your webpage. Amazing how looking up one band can lead to such a neat find.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Creature Feature: Sawblade Shrimp.

With vacation pics over with, it's time to get back to what this blog is all about: becoming inspired by how weird and wonderful the world is. Yes, believe it or not, this blog has a point- to get people all fired up about how amazing the world already is, and to then use that information to fuel creative projects. So let's head to the oceans again; there's always more than enough weird stuff, there.


If you'll look to the above pic, you'll see a red thing that looks almost like a branch, but not quite. That's a saw-blade shrimp (Tozeuma). It's yet another weird resident of the Indo-Pacific reefs, as well as the Red Sea. They grow 5cm, or roughly 2 inches, and feed on parasites, algae, and plankton.

These are pretty much the walking sticks of the sea. Of course, since this is the ocean, the weirdness has been cranked up to eleven. Banded saw-blade shrimp have bands (go figure)that break up their outlines, as well as transparent bodies. The ocellated saw-blade shrimp above simply looks a lot like the coral it's attached to.  Now you see it, now you don't.


Along with being simply excellent at camouflage, these shrimp have some important jobs to do. As previously stated, they eat parasites. Those parasites come off of other, larger animals that allow themselves a free cleaning from the shrimp. The saw-blades will also clean burrows, jaws, and other things that animals simply can't be bothered to clean.

There are also a ton of saw-blade shrimp waiting to be discovered, or at least named properly. Some people take excellent photos of unknown shrimp when they go to reefs on vacation. There's still a lot to learn about these bizarre, hunched crustaceans. And no, what they taste like is not on the list of things to learn...although a few oddballs have probably tried.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Animal Kingdom Photos: Part 2!

Shot of a browsing giraffe.
Random fish. No code card or anything.

This is a crocodile skull.
This is a hippo skull. Hippos are f***ing terrifying.

Kenyan sand boa in shed.

Everybody loves meerkats. Simples!

Giraffe and okapi skulls, side by side. The giraffe is larger.

A Uromastyx of some sort. SCOURGETAIL!

African green pigeon, I think?

Hope the bald eagle. Inspiring story about DDT, too.

This cockatoo had some funny tricks. :)
Crowned Crane with the wings stretched. His name was Frasier.
Fruit bat fingers!

Only a panel of plexiglass between me and this tiger.
Nice Indian ruins, too.
Then my camera ran out of batteries. There were also a ton of things I did not get to see. Still, Animal Kingdom is a really nice zoo; if you can scrape up the money, it's certainly worth a visit.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Animal KIngdom Photos!

Sorry for the long wait on this one. I had sleeping issues on Thursday going into Friday, and then my camera software became a bitch for no apparent reason. I was going to do this on Friday; apologies.

All of the images below were taken at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom. The place is a massive zoo. Tickets cost somewhere around 90-100 USD.  You get some really up close and personal shots of all sorts of amazing animals. Being a blogger of this sort of thing and chancing to be in Orlando, this was a must.

(All of these photos belong to me, but please use them if you like. :))

The back end of a giraffe, taken on the Safari ride.

Crowned crane. These deserve an entry if I haven't already done one.

African elephants.
More elephants.

Lions are actually lazy creatures. Lazy, brutal, beautiful creatures.

Flamingos. In Florida. Shocker.

Saddlebill stork

A rather showy and loud pair of scarlet macaws.

Sleepy gorilla.

Gnu/wildebeest/catoblepas. Don't look them in the eyes...

 ...then my camera ran out of memory. There were a lot more pics, but these are the best of the lot on that memory card. SEQUEL POST COMING UP!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"They Actually Eat That:" Capers.

Capers are one of those plants that occasionally turn up on the menus of medium-high quality restaurants. It's one of those plants that a lot of people are probably just barely aware of. Still, if it turns up on a menu, one can't help but wonder if there is a Scooby Snack involved.

And they would taste awful in cupcakes.

Caper, the plant (Capparis spinosa), is native to the drier areas of Asia and the Mediterranean. Capers are related to mustard and dill, for those of you who aren't culinary experts. You can expect a certain sour-salty taste from them if they happen to be in something. The buds, flowers, and fruit of the caper are all edible, with the smaller buds supposedly having the best taste. 

By no means are capers a rare plant. In fact, they're so tolerant of things like poor soil salinity and drought that they can be grown almost anywhere. They can be propagated by cutting and are largely resistant to insects. Wild capers are on a vine while cultivars are more shrublike, but neither is really hard to find. In other words, we're pretty much looking at an edible weed.

The ingestion of capers goes beyond gourmet food. They can also be used as a new age remedy for intestinal issues, menstrual symptoms, liver problems, worms, and urinary disorders. Capers can help anything that involves detoxification. Just don't go around saying that they can cure snakebite or something; I cannot be held responsible for any that die because a seasoning herb didn't stop the venom.

So don't worry if you see capers on a menu. It's not as fancy as it sounds and is definitely not linked to mysteries. It might make sauces go down easier if you do not consider it a weed, though.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Creature Feature: Florida Sandhill Crane.

We sometimes envy people who grew up in the country. Yes, the poor education and sparse ukiie of technology would tend to suck, but there is usually a lot of nature out there. Florida is extremely blessed to have these guys:

Florida is home to a population of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis). They range from the United States to Siberia, of all places. They are opportunistic eaters, and will pick on corn as well as small creatures. Some are migratory; others are not.

Sandhill cranes are usually a sight to behold, even if the adult plumage seems rather drab at first. A red patch of skin on the head makes the bird stand out. They are also amazing gliders, and enjoy riding thermals - updrafts of hot air - just as well as eagles and hawks do. The migratory sandhills gather in Bosque del Apache Wildlife Reserve in New Mexico; come in winter to see 10,000 or more cranes in one place!

Interestingly, sandhill cranes are intimately connected with the dinosaurs of old. They are almost living fossils, possessing the longest fossil record of any known bird species. The record goes back 2.5 million years. They also go into the karate "crane" pose, which looks an awful lot like an irate Velociraptor. And you thought Universal Studios was the only place they existed.

Although sandhill cranes in general are not endangered, there are a few subspecies that make the list and have conservation programs accordingly. As non-migratory birds, they are threatened by hunting and habitat loss. Killing a sandhill in Florida rakes up a hefty fine. Breeding programs exist, and should provide a bright future for this amazing bird.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bio-Art: Universal Studios?!

Yeah, OK, this is cheap of me. I'm on vacation in Florida right now and just got out of Universal Studios Orlando. Jurassic Park has been covered at least once on this blog. It's fitting enough that the ride should get some coverage.

This is one of the best rides ever for dino fans. Period. The animatronics are so well-done that you can't hear or see the gears turning. The textures are darn awesome. Underwater hadrosaurs are beyond awesome. My only regret is that there were not more nicely-done dinosaurs in the area. Apparently there's a "pet" Triceratops roaming the area, but you have to let that dino come to you.

C'mon. This ride is better than the live gator show that is apparently just down the street and you know it. Free advertising for an awesome theme park, too. If only they actually had more dinosaurs. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Creature Feature: Ribbon Eel.

Eels seem to have a really bad reputation. Any and all eels suddenly become electrified. They're naturally slimy, not scaly, making them even less appealing than snakes to most people. Eels pretty much snakes of the sea, even though seasnakes are things.

Well, this is an eel that breaks that stereotype into a million little pieces. The ribbon or Bernis eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita) is a colorful creature that can be found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It feeds on crustaceans - i.e. crabs, shrimp, and other little armored things.  As one can imagine, it has been introduced into the aquarium trade...but more on that later.

This is one impressive-looking eel. The  ribbon eel comes in a variety of colors, but by far the most shocking is a bright blue and yellow palette found on some of the males. They also have distinctive nostril flares that look almost like little flowers. Need any more reasons for Asian cultures to think that dragons come from fish?

RAWR! (Actually, it's just breathing.)

The ribbon eel is exceptional in another way: It's a sequential, protandric hermaphrodite. A ribbon eel starts as a male, then becomes a female later in life. This is not unusual for fish, but most moray eels do it the opposite way! In fact, most fish prefer to start female. The ribbon eel just keeps getting weirder.

Supposedly, healthy ribbon eels will live up to twenty years in captivity. Very few individuals have been able to keep them for that long. They don't even have a truly functional care sheet on, meaning that nobody knows enough about these eels to write a thorough guide. From what we could gather, it's a miracle for ribbon eels to live over 5 years in an aquarium. Anyone have an experience to prove us wrong?

This creates a problem. A lot of people really love these eels, but captive breeding is almost unheard of. There is a good chance that overfishing could lead to these creatures becoming endangered. Please be sure to check where such specimens come from so as to preserve the wild little dragons.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Newsflash: Milky Way Bubbles.

Our news is so preoccupied with local and global disasters that one domain often goes forgotten: Outer space. Yeah, we're so worried about things like hurricanes, global warming, and saving the rainforest that it scarcely crosses our minds that a giant meteor might come along and wreck it all. Or, umm, a black hole, which is basically an exploded star that became a pit of void. (It's a lot more complex than that, but off the top of my head.)

Make that two black holes. Yes, millions of years ago, there was a black hole collision in our galaxy. NewScientist has the scoop:

"A tiny galaxy that collided with the Milky Way spawned two huge bubbles of high-energy particles that now tower over the centre of our galaxy. This new model for the birth of the mysterious bubbles also explains discrepancies in the ages of stars at the galactic middle.

In 2010, sky maps made by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope revealed two lobes of particles billowing out from the heart of the Milky Way, each one stretching 25,000 light years beyond the galactic plane.

Astronomers suspected the bubbles were inflated by a period of violence in the galactic centre about 10 million years ago, but no one could say what had triggered the outburst.

Earlier this year, Kelly Holley-Bockelmann from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, was discussing the problem with Tamara Bogdanović from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

"We pieced together all the evidence and realised they could be explained by a single catastrophic event – the collision between two black holes," recalls Holley-Bockelmann.


We know that a supermassive black hole weighing as much as 4 million suns lurks at the core of the Milky Way. We also have an array of dwarf galaxies orbiting our much larger spiral galaxy, as well as hints that past satellite dwarfs have collided with us.

According to the new theory, a small galaxy with its own central black hole dove into the Milky Way and began spiralling through our galaxy. After billions of years, the stripped-down dwarf's black hole made it to the galactic centre.

The two black holes then performed a tight gravitational tango before finally merging. This final act produced violent forces that flung out many of the stars that were born in the Milky Way's middle, explaining why astronomers now find far fewer old stars there than they have every right to expect.

The whirling black holes also disrupted giant clouds of gas, some of which got squeezed so much that they collapsed to form clusters of bright new stars. Much of the rest of the gas swirled into the merged black holes, getting so hot from compression that it radiated huge amounts of energy.

"We think it's both the energy from this 'burp' near the black hole and the winds of gas from the starburst that inflated the Fermi bubbles," says Holley-Bockelmann." - Source. 

So, to recap: There is a massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. At one point, it collided with another black hole, causing a giant energy burst. The article says this needs more evidence, but it's still pretty scary if it's true. If it can happen once, it can happen again. It may even happen near our planet - who knows?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Creature Feature: Scooter Blenny.

Much to one's surprise, Petco can be a learning experience. Most of their exotics are beginner-friendly and can hardly be considered exotic to people who really know the trade. Every now and again, though, they'll have something that is not beginner-level and probably should not be in the hands of the next kid who thinks it looks awesome.

This is a clear exception to the "beginners" rule. It was labeled as a "scooter blenny," but the more proper name is ocellated dragonet (Synchiropus ocellatus). It is native to the southern waters around Japan and an island chain called the Marquesan Islands- good luck finding that obscure chain of Pacific islands on a globe. We had not even heard of them until covering this little fish. It feeds mostly on copepods - a sort of zooplankton.

Names can be very deceiving. This is not a blenny; it is an entirely different type of fish called a dragonet. Dragonets are all minor predatory fish with flashy fins and a taste for small sea life. They generally prefer the bottom of the reef or tank, and the scooter/ocellated dragonet is no exception. After seeing one of these in action, it appears to be walking on the bottom of the tank (thus "scooter"). Not as awesome as a batfish, but still pretty neat.

Source. Gorgeous.

As one might expect of such a flashy fish, the ocellated dragonet exhibits sexual dimorphism. The males have larger dorsal fins with a patch of bright orange at the base. The word "ocellated" refers to the eyespots on the fin up there. The females are much less colorful, blending right in with the gravel in the aquarium. Still a treat to watch "walk," in any case.

Contrary to their presence at Petco, dragonets of any sort are not beginner's fish. As one might imagine, live copepods are hard to come by, and these guys are picky eaters. Most draconets die shortly after purchase because they won't eat. They also live longer in established reef settings. Read: You must already be able to handle a saltwater tank, which in itself is not as easy as it sounds. To be fair, Petco has several other saltwater things, so if it's a tank you're after? Do your own homework before going there, then start away.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"They Actually Eat That:" Red Velvet Cake.

It seems like red velvet is everywhere these days. Baskin Robbins even had red velvet ice cream, at one point. Pink velvet has also become a thing; it's like red velvet, only oddly muted. It's hard to walk down a candy or ice cream aisle without seeing red velvet somewhere.'s a thing.

But just what the hell is it? The name seems to be everywhere. Does it really have a meaning?

First off, let's get to what it's not. Red velvet cake is not generic red-colored cake. You don't just put some red food dye into cake batter and call it red velvet. No, you call it bad red velvet with likely really cheap buttercream frosting. Unfortunately, we have tasted red velvet that was indeed that bad - cafeteria stuff, go figure.

The real secret to red velvet is not some super-ultra-chemical made by Starbucks. Beets (i.e, vegetables) and cocoa are the keys to making red velvet anything. How much of each you use depends on the particular recipe. Food coloring is also present in most recipes. There is no best one - just avoid any that look neon red. Point is, although red food coloring is always in there, red cake is not always red velvet.

This IS red velvet.

It's also nothing new. Red velvet cake has been around since at least the Great Depression, when Adams Extracts, a Texan company, propagated red velvet via recipe cards and easy access to food coloring. The most popular recipe actually originates from New York, although some companies still pay homage to the cake's southern origins.  It also usually has "ermine" or whipped cream cheese frosting, making it taste like a cheesecake with less cheese and more cake. Mm.

Is red velvet a fad? Only in that everybody and their mother seems to be copying it. The cake has been around for a while and will likely continue to be popular. We'd like to see someone try and market blue cake as something special- there's a lot of potential, there. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Creature Feature: Cymothoa exigua.

This blog keeps saying that horror movies need more biodiversity. There are too many shark, crocodile, and snake movies out there. The world is full of untouched terrors that would make great movies, but simply aren't as "classic" as giant, scary predators.

Well, we had no clue this one had a horror flick until it was found in a video store:

After looking at some reviews, The Bay may actually turn out to be a good one. It's been called "eco-terror" and has enough basis in reality to warrant a bio-art entry. The biggest flaw I've seen in reviews are the "found footage" effects. The basis for that movie is equally terrifying:


You, dear reader, are probably in denial of what you are actually seeing. That is indeed a small crustacean inside the mouth of a fish. In fact, that crustacean is so deeply embedded into the fish's mouth that it has actually replaced the fish's tongue.

The real name of this Saw-tier horror is Cymothoa exigua. It primarily parasitizes snapper species found in Costa Rica, but the range of hosts may be expanding. It is also known as the "tongue-eating louse" for obvious reasons. The louse first extracts out of the fish's tongue, effectively numbing it, then sits its lousy rear right where the old tongue was, attaching itself to the membranes thereon. The isopod then becomes little more than a tongue with eyes: its limbs atrophy, it becomes a little more swollen, and so forth. The fish can use the new critter just like a regular tongue, and the isopod gets delicious mucous and other non-horror-flick munchies and a ride. This is the only known instance of a parasite replacing an entire organ - so far.

Hey fish, wanna free tongue piercing? Some stupid fish say "yes."

Here's another fascinating thing: only the females eat the fish's tongue. The males have to live in the gills, which is also probably not pleasant for the fish. They are technically born males, with only the largest of the bunch swimming off and becoming little more than a tongue with eyes. The new tongue-lice have to find a host fast. Nobody ever said life as a tongue was easy.

Remember that pic where the giant isopods wanted our Doritos? Yeah. Apparently, if this continues onto land, they will get their replacing our tongues. Then they'll have alllll the salty snack foods that giant deep-sea crustaceans crave. We wish more horror flicks could get that creative.  Have a nice night!