Sunday, May 15, 2011

On The Wonder Of Arthropods
Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time has probably noticed my love for arthropods. Insects, spiders, centipedes, and even crustaceans fascinate me to no end.

Think about it. Wherever you are, right now, get up and go outside. I guarantee you it will take less than ten minutes to find a fascinating arthropod.

They are everywhere. On the land, in the sea, burrowing through the rich earth. They were the first organisms to spread wings and conquer the sky.

Basically, they are flat out amazing.
Bees in central america gather scent compounds from orchids and carry them around like perfume. Dragonfly nymphs prowl the waters and prey on fish and amphibians. Spiders drift into the sky on silken sails and are the first organisms to fall to earth on newly formed islands.

There is a predatory beetle that runs so fast it goes blind while in motion. Another beetle mixes chemicals in it's abdomen and shoots the napalm-like mixture from it's abdomen like a fiery water gun.

In closing, I pretty much love anything with an exoskeleton and that is not going to change anytime soon. I try to keep the natural wonders on this blog spread across a pretty even spectrum, but expect a preponderance of posts on insects and their kin.

If you are like many people out there, and you think
"bugs" are gross or in some way beneath you, then you probably don't belong here.

If you're like me, however, and you love all the organisms on this fabulous planet, then please come often and let me share these wonders with you.

I deeply thank you for the privilege.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Fish Father In A Hurry
Usually, when covering parents in the animal kingdom, I have a tendency to discuss the ones that are particularly attentive.

This guy, however, has drawn my attention for exactly the opposite reason.

He is a sand goby, Promatoschistus minutus, a coastal fish dwelling in the waters of the Mediteranean and the Baltic sea. He is a bad father.

Well, sort of. Its actually hard to classify his parenting skills, really.
You see, he does care solely for his young, attentively putting his life on the line to watch out for their safety.

Unfortunately he also eats about a third of them. It's not like he's doing it to ensure more survive either. He  mostly eats the bigger eggs, the ones that take the longest to hatch. By doing this, he is able to cut down parenting time so that he can get back out there and breed some more females.

Parental care aside, his selfish motivations and his desire to eat his own babies just so he can go party puts this guy right at the top of my bad parent list.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bigger Than A Giant Squid
Unlike you may believe, the giant squid is not the largest squid hunting the ocean deeps. There is another, much larger monster out there.

It is the colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni.

Dwelling in the deep waters around Antarctica, this behemoth is truly amazing. It's eyes alone are over a foot across. Reaching over forty feet in length, it still isn't as long as the giant squid. However, it's body is longer and much thicker, giving it a more massive profile.

Also, it has a wicked adaptation the giant squid lacks. Whereas the giant squid only has suckers on it's tentacles, the colossal squid's thick arms are equipped with savage hooks to better snare it's prey.

Pretty amazing, isn't it? I think the coolest thing about this real life sea monster is how many of them there are. Though almost never seen by humans, they are numerous enough to make up 77 percent of the Antarctic sperm whale's diet.

It definitely makes you wonder. What other giant killers lurk out in those unexplored depths?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tiger Moths Are Ultrasonic Warriors
This is Bertholdia trigona, a species of tiger moth, and he is an ultrasonic warrior.

I know, moths are supposed to just flutter mindlessly around streetlights before wandering out into the dark and being snacked on by hungry bats.

Apparently nobody told this tiger moth that, because this guy refuses to go down like that. He laughs in the face of marauding bats.

How can he be so mug? Easy, he can jam bat  sonar.
As a bat closes in on this wicked moth, it goes into echolocation overdrive and unleashes a frenzy of sound waves to better see it's intended victim.

This moth is no chump, however, and in response he unleashes an ultrasonic defense that is pure awesomeness. Using highly developed ultrasound emitters, he kicks out a whopping 450 clicks every tenth of a second the bat is attacking.

What was once a crisp moth image becomes a fuzzy blur, and the bat misses it's target.

This is amazing to me. Bat echolocation is very sophisticated, and here you have an insect with a comparably sophisticated defense against it. Insects have long been assumed to be simple creatures, ignored mostly based on their size, but it is my firm opinion that there is much more to their world than we realize. In the coming years, as more scientists probe their hidden world, I am sure even more wonders will be revealed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Farewell, Western Black Rhinoceros
This is the western black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes), a magnificent creature that once ranged across the savanna of central-west Africa.

They are all gone now.

No matter how much you may want to, you will never see this animal alive in it's natural habitat, either browsing on the low grass or rearing it's young.

The sad thing is, they really had a chance at survival. As long ago as the 1930's, conservation efforts pulled these heavily hunted beasts back from the edge of extinction.
As the years passed, however, protection efforts declined as illegal poaching intensified. The courts failed to punish poachers and these magnificent animals slowly disappeared.

By the year 2000, only ten remained in northern Cameroon.

An intensive search in 2006 found none. The IUCN still lists the western black rhino as critically endangered, but they're just being hopeful. They recognize the sad truth that these marvelous creatures are probably all gone.

So let's say farewell to the western black rhino. Wave goodbye as it vanishes into the tall grass of extinction, casting one last sad look over it's shoulder before departing forever.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An Insect Smarter Than A Supercomputer
This is a bumblebee (genus Bombus), and it is smarter than you are.

When it comes to certain tasks this tiny insect, with a brain the size of a grass seed, is smarter than a supercomputer.

In the game of chess, humans and computers often duel it out to a standstill.There is one mathematical puzzle, however, where neither would stand a chance against this fuzzy hymenopteran.

The travelling salesman problem.

Imagine you are a salesman and you must visit a number of cities to sell your product. The problem before you is how to hit every city at least once and to travel the shortest possible distance in the process.
Supercomputers solve this problem the hard way, calculating all the possible routes and distances before arriving at a solution. This method can take hours or days, depending on the complexity of the problem.

Meanwhile, researchers have discovered that bumblebees solve this problem all the time. Given a selection of pollen-rich flowers, these bees don't hit the flowers in order of discovery, but rather take a broader approach and automatically find the shortest path to land on all the flowers at least once.

This should blow your mind. A bumblebee's brain contains fewer cells than we have clumped at the base of each optic nerve, and yet they can master complex tasks that even a human would have trouble with. More study is definitely needed, but in my opinion this bit of knowledge forever shatters our arrogant view that only organisms with brains similar to ours are capable of true intelligence.