Impurest's Guide to Animals #180 - Thylacine

Last week it was too hot, now it’s too wet what with six months of rainfall falling on the UK in just twenty four hours. Cooler temperatures are good for last week’s creature, the Leatherback Turtle that plays by its own physiological rules. This week we have a tiger striped issue requested by @jaycool2. Hope you guys enjoy!!

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Issue #180 - Thylacine

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[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Chordata

Class – Mammalia

Order – Dasyuromorphia

Family - Thylacinidae

Genus – Thylacinus

Species – cynochepalus

Related Species - The Thylacine was the last surviving member of the family Thylacinidae. Its closest surviving relative is the insectivorous Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) (1)

Range - Thylacines ranged across most of Tasmania, and at one time were found across Eastern Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Gone but Note Forgotten

The Thylacine was the largest of the modern carnivorous marsupials, with a body length of up to 130cm and an average weight of 20kg, with male individuals generally being a bit larger than females. Due to its dog like appearance, and the black stripes on its dun back, this species received the names ‘Tasmanian Wolf’ and ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ from the first European settlers who saw them. Unlike wolves and big cats, the Thylacine had an awkward gait, and instead of running after prey it performed a strange hopping motion akin to that of a kangaroo.

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[2]

Thylacines were carnivores that specialised in hunting small games from ambush, with bandicoots and possums probably making up most of their diet (2). Prey was dispatched with a bite to the neck, and the Thylacine possessed a very wide gait, reported to be able to open its mouth up to an 80° angle. Native predators were likely non-existent, but the species competed with food with Dingoes (Canis lupus dingo) and later when Europeans arrives, the Red Fox (Vulpus vulpus), and was targeted by humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) who saw the species as a pest and a dangerous threat to sheep (Ovis aries) farms, and were offered bounties of £1 (equivalent to £100 in modern times) per head by the government. It was likely a combination of all these factors that led to the species extinction in the wild in 1930.

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There is some evidence that Thyacines bred all year round, but little is known regarding courtship or gestation period. Mothers generally gave birth to four joeys that stayed in the pouch for three months before emerging into a lair, where they would stay until they were old enough to fend for themselves. Interestingly, the male Thylacine had a pouch too, to protect his genitals while moving through the brush, and is one of only two marsupials where both genders to possess pouches, the other being the relatively unrelated Yapok or Water Opossum (Chrionectes minimus) from South America (3).

Five (we failed) to Save #17 - Extinct Species

Life is constantly at war, with each species struggling to survive from generation to generation. This constant struggle is made harder by the spread of humanity and our species need to control environments for our own purposes. While this trait isn’t necessary evil, and in fact helped our ancestors survive and thrive in the distant past, nowadays it often pushes those species we don’t have a need for, or find undesirable aside, often to near endangerment or extinction. The species covered below are all recent additions, after the introduction of nature conservation in 1820 by Sir James Ranald Martin (4), to the list of species driven to extinction.

American Chestnut Moth (Ectoedemia castaneae) Status: Declared Extinct in 2006

Cause of Extinction: Disease - While humanity can be blamed for many extinctions, it only has an indirect role in the demise of the American Chestnut Moth. This species fed almost exclusively on American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata), a species that itself was suffering from a fungal parasite known as Chestnut Blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) for over a century. The blight itself was native to Italy, and managed to reach the continental US in the early 1900s by stowing away on timber imports from Europe.

Guadalupe Caracara (Caracara lutosa) Status: Declared Extinct in 1903

Cause of Extinction: Persecution - Described as evil and vicious by early observers, this once common bird was hunted due to the fear that it would mercilessly kill livestock, with the population going from plentiful in 1867 to eleven individuals in 1897. While most of the other species mentioned became extinct by accident or mismanagement, humanity went out of its way to make the Guadalupe Caracara extinct. In a rare case of co-extinction the parasitic louse Actuiforns caracarensis which only fed on this species, was also declared extinct alongside its host.

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Japanese Sealion (Zalophus japonicus) Status: Declared Extinct in 1974

Cause of Extinction: Overhunting - Harvested for meat, fur and blubber (for use in lamps), it is estimated that before hunting was banned in 1940, that trawlers had harvested over 16,000 animals since the beginning of the century. Destruction of habitat due to submarine and surface warfare during the Second World War further threatened the species, with the last indidivual accidently killed in a fishing net in the early 1970s.

Mexican Dace (Evarra bustamantei) Status: Declared Extinct in 1983

Cause of Extinction: Habitat Destruction - Possibly one of the first victims of global warming, the Mexican Dace coincided with the drying of the water bodies it inhabited. The cause of this drying was twofold; dry conditions had reduced water level, and forced human populations to use what little water was left for drinking and for agricultural purposes.

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[5]

Round Island Burrowing Boa (Bolyeria multocarinata) Status: Declared Extinct in 1975

Cause of Extinction: Soil Erosion - A meter long burrowing constrictor, the Round Island Boa is one of the many species that became extinct due to mismanagement of its environment. Overgrazing of land by goats (Capra aegargus) and rabbits (Orcyctolagus cuniculus) led to the loss of nesting areas for the snake as what remained of the soil the species burrowed through blew away.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110831210058.htm

3 - Dixon, Joan. "Fauna of Australia chap.20 vol.1b" Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS). 8 January 2009

4 - Stebbing, E.P (1922)The forests of India vol. 1, pp. 72-81

Picture References

1 - http://nnimgt-a.akamaihd.net/transform/v1/crop/frm/M9js8ZNF8WfwDLANPpFpug/9e1f3505-025f-436f-8822-183996480428.jpg/r0_262_3189_2055_w1200_h678_fmax.jpg

2 - https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-B_3qRtPPYUs/URE7i8KbqhI/AAAAAAAAPU8/R1o_ouI2yAY/s400/thylacine_01.jpg

3 - http://d3lp4xedbqa8a5.cloudfront.net/s3/digital-cougar-assets/AusGeo/2013/09/11/7688/thylacine-tasmanian-tiger-2.jpg

4 - http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-uizNbp_FqBA/U78NRfiHwpI/AAAAAAAANTk/ilSc913a2dY/s1600/caracara-guadalupe-ejemplar-conservado.jpg

5 - https://www.enkivillage.org/s/upload/images/2014/12/90a8513441bc37e1f8bc0d23ea957347.jpg

I’m not going to lie, I spent most of the time writing this issue fighting back the tears. Over the next two weeks we have requests from @ficopedia and @ig-88 which should be far happier. Until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For an animal that returned from extinction, click here to see the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect. Or to see Australia’s ‘native cat’ click here to see the boisterous Tiger Quoll.

51 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #179 - Leatherback Turtle

It is roasting outside here in the UK, not a good thing when you have lots of surveys to do. Such tropical weather would have suited last week’s animal, the penis fencing Bedford Worm. This week’s animal also likes warm temperatures but is equally at home in the cold as well. Hope you guys enjoy!!

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Issue #179 - Leatherback Turtle

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[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Chordata

Class – Reptilia

Order – Testudines

Family - Dermochelydie

Genus – Dermochelys

Species – coriacea

Related Species - The Leatherback Turtle is the last extant member of the Family Dermochelydie

Range

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[2]

Warm and Wide

The Leatherback Turtle, at an average weight of 340kg, a body length of 1.8 meters and a flipper span of 2.7m, is the largest extant species of turtle in the world, and among the heaviest of all living reptiles, only being outweighed by three species of crocodile. Other than their immense size, the most distinctive feature of this species of sea-turtle, is the lack of a bony shell, with the species relying on thick leathery skin encrusted with osteoderms supported by seven ridges that run along the length of the animal’s carapace. The more significant difference between the Leatherback Turtle and other turtles, and indeed all other extant reptiles, is found internally and relates to the animals incredibly high activity rate. When swimming the muscles in the flippers, coupled with the insulating brown adipose fat cover under the shell, transfer heat into the core of the turtle, keeping its body warm even in the sub-Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska and Scandinavia (2).

Leatherback Turtles are obligate carnivores, and feed primarily of jellyfish, but have been recorded eating soft bodied cephalopods and tunicates. Prey is seized by the beak, and then pushed down into the stomach with a number of backward facing spurs lining the walls of the mouth and throat. As a product of the high metabolism, Leatherback Turtles have to eat frequently, and must consume up to 73% of their body weight a day to remain healthy (3). Adult Leatherback Turtles have few predators, although Orca (Orcinus orca), Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) and Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcarias) are all infrequent predators of this species. Despite appearing passive, Leatherback Turtles are formidable defensive fighters, biting with their beaks and slapping predators with their flippers until they can escape or the would be predator backs off.

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[3]

Mating, as with all marine turtles takes place at sea, with the male nuzzling and biting the female to determine her reproductive status. After mating the female will head to shore where she will remain for three to four months to allow the eggs to develop, before clambering onto the beach after sunset to lay her eggs. Sandy beaches are preferred due to the leathery nature of both the adult and hatchlings shells, as well as to incubate the eggs as they further develop. The female may make up to nine trips to lay eggs, usually spaced a week or more apart, to avoid exhaustion (4). Over the next two months the eggs develop, with the temperature deciding the gender of the developing embryos, with warm temperatures producing more females, and cooler ones more males. Upon hatching, the baby turtles head to the sea in a swarm to reduce the threat of predation on the way through the surf.

Five Fun Leatherback Turtle Facts

The journey to the surf is a traumatic one, around 10% of all the hatchling Leatherback turtles will be picked off by predators before reaching the ocean. Of the survivors, another 25% will perish in the first few days in the open ocean, with only about 6% of the remaining survivors making it past one year of age (4).

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Leatherback Turtles are among the deepest diving vertebrates on the planet, with adults turtles descending to depths over 1000m deep in search for jellyfish.

In addition to being deep divers, Leatherback Turtles are the fastest moving reptiles on the planet, with mature adults being clocked at moving at 22mph.

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When swimming, the brown adipose fat in the Leatherback’s body acts as an insulating layer, with almost 100% of the energy produced by burning the fat tissue being transferred to heat to keep the animals core warm, even in water temperatures as low as 0.4°C

Leatherback Turtles are the only reptiles whose scales don’t contain β keratin molecule (5)

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - Frair W, Ackman RG, Mrosovsky N (1972). "Body Temperatures of Dermochelys coriacea: Warm Turtle from Cold Water". Science. 177 (4051): 791–793

3 - Heaslip SG, Iverson SJ, Bowen WD, James MC (2012) Correction: Jellyfish Support High Energy Intake of Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea): Video Evidence from Animal-Borne Cameras. PLOS ONE 7(6): 10.

4 - http://www.leatherback.org/why-leatherbacks/life-cycle-of-leatherbacks

5 - http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/pr0702619?journalCode=jprobs

Picture References

1 - http://reptilis.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Dermochelys1-1024x628.jpg

2 - http://seaturtleexploration.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/leatherback-01.png

3 - https://i.ytimg.com/vi/AO9wzb7ijPY/hqdefault.jpg

4 - http://www.puertovallarta.net/images/what_to_do/leatherback-turtle/leatherback-sea-turtle-02.jpg

5 - http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/2D/2D017009-C071-460A-A201-334AC7E954AE/Presentation.Large/Leatherback-turtle-swimming-with-juvenile-golden-trevally.jpg

So this turtle seems to be breaking all the rules associated with reptiles, no wonder I like it so much. Over the next two weeks we have requests from @jaycool2 and @ficopedia Until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For another gigantic reptile, click here to see the groovy Gharial. Or to experience the dark side of turtles, click here to meet the animal whose name basically translates to ‘I kill’.

45 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #178 - Bedford's Worm

Bat surveys all night last week, bat surveys all this week, looks like I truly am crespuclular at the moment. That’s in sharp contrast to the diurnal Spanish Fly which had managed to infiltrate history in the worst way possible. This week we have a compressed issue suggested by @gunmetalgrey. Hope you guys enjoy!!

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Issue #178 - Bedford’s Worm

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[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Platyhelminthes

Class – Tuberellaria

Order – Polycladida

Family - Pseudocerotidae

Genus – Pseudobiceros

Species – bedfordi

Related Species - Bedford’s Worm is one of the eighteen members of the genus Pseudobiceros

Range - Bedford’s Worm is found throughout coastal waters around Indonesia and Northern Australia

Breed by the Sword

Bedford’s Worm is a large brown marine flatworm that grows to a length of 10cm. The body of this worm has a number of yellow and pink spots across its flanks and back. It is this colouration and patterning that gives the species the alternate colloquial name of the Persian Carpet Worm. Respiration occurs across the entire surface of the animal through passive diffusion, while food is taken through a mouth in the centre of the worm’s belly. Like the majority of the marine flatworms, Bedford’s Flatworm actively swims by undulating its body when looking for food or reproductive partners.

Bedford’s Worm is a carnivore, and activlly hunts for prey such as small fish and other marine worms which are sucked into the mouth before being ground into easily digestible pieces. Any inedible waste is removed via the mouth, since, like all other flatworms, the Bedford’s Worm lacks an anus. It is possible that Bedford’s Worm defends itself from predators such as larger fish using Tetrodotoxin like its terrestrial relatives, although there is currently little evidence that this occurs (2).

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The Bedford’s Worm, like most flatworms are hermaphrodites, being simultaneously male and female at the same time. Despite this individuals can’t breed with themselves, and instead seek out others, before engaging them in a fencing duel using, one of its two, penisues. The fight only ends when one of the animals is touched on the body, becoming the female and retreating (3). After a brief period, the worm lays its eggs in a crevice and leaves them to hatch, with the larvae briefly staying in the plankton until they mature into adult flatworms.

Nature’s Most Wanted #11 - Snail Eating Flatworm

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The Snail Eating Flatworm (Platydemus manokwari) is a medium sized terrestrial flatworm originally native to Indonesia, and invasive across much of the Pacific ranging from Japan and Australia in the west to the isles of Hawaii in the east. While some of these introduction are likely accidental, the vast majority are intentional to control the Giant African Land Snail (Achatina fulica) after it became invasive itself, and the previous biological control option the Rosy Wolf Snail (Euglandina rosea) was deemed inadequate to handle it, preferring to prey on native snail species rather than prey many times its own size (4).

A Rosy Wolf Snail (top) trying to predate a Giant African Land Snail (bottom)[4]
A Rosy Wolf Snail (top) trying to predate a Giant African Land Snail (bottom)[4]

The combination of these three species, has spelt disaster for many native snail species, especially in Hawaii where there are no native invertebrate snail predators. Between competition for food with the Giant African Land Snail, and the predatory attentions of the other two species, the diversity of Hawaii’s native tree snails has declined from forty species to about thirty five over the last 150 years, with all the remaining species endangered due to interactions with invasive species.

Due to its robust nature, and small size, the Snail Eating Flatworm is a far more difficult species to eradicate than both the Giant African Land Snail and the Rosy Wolf Snail. The only reliable method of catching the species is to take soil samples, examine them, and then kill the worms and their eggs by heating the soil in water to a temperature of forty five degrees or more. Due to the cost and time intensive nature of this procedure, and the presence of a multitude of invasive species on islands throughout the Pacific, little is being done to eradicate the Snail Eating Flatworm in its invasive range save for keeping native snails quarantined away from potential entry routes used by predators.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/killer-flatworms-hunt-poison

3 - http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/weirdest-flatworms

4 - http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/speciesname/Platydemus+manokwari

Picture References

1 - http://www.underwaterkwaj.com/uw-misc/flatworm/Pseudobiceros-bedfordi-jj-7825-111113.jpg

2 - http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1791/1913/1024/IMG_7221.jpg

3 - https://dfzljdn9uc3pi.cloudfront.net/2014/297/1/fig-1-2x.jpg

4 - http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-cudOWbdwawE/UuXRmSmvCWI/AAAAAAAAC8k/EjLgbumOjVw/s1600/Euglandina_rosea_with_Achatina_fulica-16.jpg

Penis Jousting! Killer Flatworms! This issue is as cool as the next issue is heavy. And at a quarter of a ton, it’s pretty dam heavy. Until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For more flatworm fun, click here to check out the beastly ‘Hammerhead Slug’ (yes I know it’s an odd name). Or for the most diabolical of worms, click here to see the Horsehair Worm, and animal that makes its victims commit suicide.

29 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #177 - Spanish Fly

A quiet May has come and gone, and June is now here. Last week we addressed the askew cute karma balance by bringing in an adorable Pudu.

Going from enjoyable to macabre we have to address the mass murder of the reindeer on the Norwegian tundra. The answer to the question was B, lightning strikes sent a deadly ground charge through the earth and arched up the reindeer’s legs and into their hearts, stopping them simultaneously. The ground charge was less dangerous for the carrion birds and the human investigators, because the electricity was able to travel harmlessly down the other leg without going through the heart or lungs.

Additionally while seemingly improbable, F, which states that an outbreak caused by anthrax spores from a defrosted reindeer corpse did indeed occur in 2004 in the wastes of Siberia, and claimed the lives of twenty people in a nearby town.

This week we have an acidic blooded beasty with an exoskeleton. Hope you guys enjoy!!

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Issue #177 - Spanish Fly

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[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Arthtopoda

Class – Insecta

Order – Coleoptera

Family – Meloidae

Genus – Lytta

Species – vesicatoria

Related Species - Despite what its colloquial name suggests, the Spanish Fly is actually a member of the Blister Beetle family.

Range

Spanish Fly Beetles are found throughout Southern Europe and North Africa, as well as parts of Asia.

Blister Treatment Required

Spanish Flies are bright metallic green beetle which have a body length of 2cm long. The species gets its Latin name from the word vesica which translates to blister in reference to the symptoms of the beetles defensive secretions. Like most beetles, the Spanish Fly navigates through a combination of its four eyes and the chemical and scent cues it picks up with its antennae. While the species rarely flies, it possess wings and is a strong flyer when required to move, either to search for food or mates.

Adult Spanish Flies are herbivores, chewing on plant matter and drinking nectar from flowers. When under attack male beetles release a chemical formed from acidic compounds in the insect’s blood that causes blistering on skin contact, and can cause death if ingested. Females are unable to produce this compound, and instead get it as a nuptial gift from the males she mates with (2). This chemical defence is passed onto the shells of the eggs she lays on the ground to prevent ants and other insect predators from eating them.

The typical lifecycle of a Blister Beetle [2]
The typical lifecycle of a Blister Beetle [2]

The first instar of the Spanish Fly larva is known as a triungulin, which heads up the nearest flower and waits for a solitary bee to come along. Grabbing the bee, the triungulin is carried back to the bee’s nest where the larvae moults and resembles a more traditional beetle grub. While ensconced in the bees nest, the larval beetle will feed on the stockpiled food resources the bee has brought back to feed its own young, and when these are exhausted the beetle grub eats the bee larva and pupates into a cocoon, before emerging next spring as an adult beetle.

Terrors of Toxicology #7 - Cantharidin

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An ancient aphrodisiac, extract of Spanish Fly has gained somewhat of a notorious reputation due to the toxic effect on the human body. As such it was seen as a chemical associated with assassins and alchemists. The active toxin is Cantharidin, a colourless substance with a bitter taste produced from the blood of the insect, and oozed through the joints of the legs. The initial effects of taking Spanish Fly resemble that of male arousal, and it is perhaps that fact, that is responsible for the chemicals classification as an aphrodisiac when taken orally. In addition, the blistering effect of the chemical when properly prepared can be used to remove warts, it is just that most who attempt to use this chemical have no experience in administrating it.

After the initial stages, Cantharidin attacks the digestive system and denatures the enzyme Protein Phosphatase 2, a chemical used to export genetic material to begin new cell synthesis. From there it causes excessive irritation in the bowels, internal bleeding and can escalate to the bleeding of the mucus membranes on cells throughout the body, until the toxin is denatured or the bodies organs shut down (3). Ingestion always results in deadly side effects, and is incredibly toxic in horses (Equus ferus) which accidently eat beetles that are hiding in hay and alfalfa provided to them. While less severe, exposure of Cantharidin to the skin causes painful (and sometimes) blisters to form across the exposed epidermis.

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While surpassed in toxicity be many other toxins, Cantharidin has left its mark throughout history in the hands of kings and commoners alike (4). Spanish Fly was used by the wife of Augustus Caesar to influence her guests to commit sexual indiscretions for the purpose of blackmail, while the Marquis de Sade used pasties laced with the chemical to kill two prostitutes he had been in an orgy with to name just a few (in)famous users. While largely relegated to an obscure aphrodisiac these days, Spanish Fly is a deadly gamble to any who take it, especially since it is hard to dilute in water or food.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - Boggs, Carol L. (1995). Leather, S. R.; Hardie, J., eds. Male Nuptial Gifts: Phenotypic Consequences and Evolutionary Implications (PDF). CRC Press. pp. 215–242.

3 - Schmitz, David G. (2013). "Overview of Cantharidin Poisoning (Blister Beetle Poisoning)". In Aiello, Susan E.; Moses, Michael A. The Merck Veterinary Manual. Kenilworth, NJ, USA: Merck Sharp & Dohme

4 - https://earlymodernmedicine.com/crime-sex-and-the-spanish-fly/

Picture References

1 - http://open-up.eu/files/styles/large/public/eol_0.jpg

2 - http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_circulars/CR536/images/fig10.jpg

3 - http://science-explained.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Spaanse-vlieg-e1443725539688.jpg

4 - http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/medical/blister_beetles18.jpg

Talk about a toxic threat, it’s almost like this little creature is a micro xenomorph in disguise. Next week we a compressed request from @gunmetalgrey. Until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For more toxic trouble, click here to see the creepy Koppie Foam Grasshopper. Or for another badass beetle click here to see the primeval Trilobite Beetle.

40 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #176 - Southern Pudu

Last week, terror and death struck this blog in the form of the Orange Legged Centipede, an animal that scares me to no end. This week we have a beastie on the other end of the cute/creepy spectrum to balance the cute karma. Hope you enjoy!!

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Issue #176 - Southern Pudu

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[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Chordata

Class – Mammalia

Order – Artiodactyla

Family – Cervidae

Genus – Pudu

Species – puda

Related Species - The Southern Pudu is one of the two species that make up the genus Pudu, the other being the Northern Pudu (Pudu mephistophiles)

Range

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[2]

The Power of Pudu

The Southern Pudu is one of the smallest deer species in the world, with only the Northern Pudu smaller then it, with a body length of only 85cm in length and a maximum weight of 13kg. The species is quite stocky and has short legs to allow it to slip through thick undergrowth when navigating the temperate rainforest that it lives in. Like most deer, Pudu have large eyes and ears, with the later being highly light sensitive to help support its crepuscular lifestyle. Only male Pudu have horns, but unlike other species of small deer such as Muntjac (Muntiacus sp) don’t have enlarged canine teeth for fighting each other, relying instead on the short recurved antlers when engaged in interspecies conflict.

Like all deer, Southern Pudu are obligate herbivores, feeding on ground dwelling shrubs, bark stripped with either their teeth or antlers and fallen fruit (2). Thanks to the succulent nature of their diet, Pudu rarely have to drink, and this can minimize the risk of visiting water holes that are more common outside the woodland they prefer to inhabit. Due to their small size Pudu have many predators ranging from big cats such as Puma (Puma concolor) foxes and birds of prey. Predators are evaded by fleeing in a zig-zag pattern and darting into cover that is hard for its pursuers to follow it into.

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[3]

Like the majority of deer, male Pudu only have antlers just prior and during the mating season which occurs in early-autumn between April and the beginning of June. Solitary outside of this season, male Pudu compete in the rut for the privilege to mate with the attendant females. After mating the female Pudu will eventually give birth to a single dappled fawn in the spring which stay with their mothers for almost a year before becoming fully independent, and can live for up to ten years in the wild (3).

CSI Ecology: The Case of the Reindeer Massacre

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The ‘Victims’

The victims are all reindeer (Rangifer taranus), consisting of over 300 individuals of various genders and ages. There are few external marks on the bodies, but those that do support these likely come from crows and eagles, and are likely post-mortem. Most of the animals seem to be malnourished, and a number of the older species have Chronic-Wasting-Syndrome (CWS) a disease that cause neurodegeneration (4).

Another reindeer, one that had died far earlier, was found a few miles away from the herd half defrosted from the permafrost. An analysis of the body shows that this individuals had been killed by Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) and that dormant spores were present on the skin and throat of the corpse.

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The ‘Crime Scene’

The Norwegian tundra were the reindeer had been killed showed signs of recent storms, and weather data for the seven days prior to the herds discovery confirmed a massive thunderstorm had blown through the area. Indeed there was still pools of standing water in the tundra, despite the dry weather following the storms showing how much rain had fallen.

Plant life was sparse, and warm summer temperatures had reduced the lichen cover that the reindeer usually feed on. A large amount of Fly Agaric Toadstools (Amanita muscaria) were present in the area, an unusual feature this early in the season, which reindeer are known to feed on.

‘Witnesses’

A number of bird scavengers, such as ravens (Corvus corax), magpies (Pica pica) and Golden Eagles (Aquilla chyrsaetos) were present in the area and had been feeding on the bodies of the reindeer.

In addition the human discovers of the bodies noted that there was a strange static like phenomenon running through the area.

Suspects

After much detective work we’ve narrowed down the cause of the reindeer herds death to one (or more) of the following causes;

a) The flash flood caused by the storm overpowered the herd and swept their remains into one place

b) Lightning strikes caused a high current ground charge to fill the ground and arc up the animals legs and simultaneously stop their hearts

c) The reindeer feasted on Fly Agaric Toadstools and effectively overdosed on the toxins contained within them

d) Toxins contained in the tundra were activated by the storm waters, killing all the animals that drank them

e) Malnutrition coupled with Chronic Wasting Syndrome finally overcame the herd

f) An outbreak of anthrax from the defrosted reindeer rapidly spread through the herd killing them.

The answer to this question will be supplied next week.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - Pollard, Sarah (2009). "Pudu puda". University of Michigan. Museum of Zoology.

3 - http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pudu_puda/

4 - https://www.mattilsynet.no/language/english/animals/chronic_wasting_disease_in_norway.23274

Picture References

1 - http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/23/23D770D5-8EB4-43DF-8285-6F2BA9F2E736/Presentation.Large/Male-southern-pudu-feeding-on-vegetation.jpg

2 - http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Images/Pudu_puda/P_puda_map.gif

3 - http://www.zooborns.com/.a/6a010535647bf3970b0120a5814f7d970c-pi

4 - https://dncache-mauganscorp.netdna-ssl.com/thumbseg/829/829549-bigthumbnail.jpg

5 - http://www.hirunews.lk/Data/News_Images/201608/1472539653_7694695_hirunews_reindeer-dead.jpg

Now this guy is cute, and with that said the cute/creepy karma is balanced once again. Next week we an animal with an exoskeleton and acidic blood. Until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For another cute critter, click here to see the oh so shy Saola. Or for another small animal click here for the last chance to see the ‘soon to vanish’ Vaquita.

36 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #175 - Orange Legged Centipede

Well here comes another healty dose of nightmare fuel, not just for you guys but for myself as well. Thanks to a request from @rockette we go from the tactical prowess of the Jumping Spider Portia labiata to the brute force approach of this creature. Enjoy is not even close to what this issue is about. Sorry about that…

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Issue #175 - Orange Legged Centipede

[1]
[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Arthropoda

Class – Chilopoda

Order – Scolopendromorpha

Family – Scolopendridae

Genus – Scolopendra

Species – subspinipes

Related Species - The Orange Legged Centipede (also known as the Vietnamese Centipede, Red headed Centipede and Jungle Centipede) is one of the many species that make up the genus Scolopendra or Giant Centipedes

Range - Orange Legged Centipede are found across South East Asia, China and Southern Russia and has been accidently introduced into South and Central America as well as the Caribbean.

Impurest Cheese’s Enemy #01

The Orange Legged Centipede is a large centipede which grows up to 20cm in length, and whose body is split into 21 reddish brown segments with each segment containing a pair of orange legs. In addition to a pair of legs, each segment of the centipede’s body supports an S-shaped opening through which it respires through. Like the majority of centipedes, the Orange Legged Centipede has poor eyesight, and relies on chemical receptors on its feet, as well as its sense of touch, to navigate around its environment.

Centipedes from the genus Scolopendera are active hunters, and the Orange Legged Centipede is no exception, feeding on large invertebrates, rodents and reptiles that it finds on the forest floor. Prey is injected with venom by a modified pair of legs on the front segment known as forcipules and held in place as the centipede begins to eat its victim alive. This venom is also used in defence, and causes severe pain, nausea, anxiety and palpitations, and in the very young, very old or those with cardiac problems can result in death, with one fatality from the Philippines attributed to this species (2).

[2]
[2]

Male Orange Legged Centipedes produce capsules containing mature sperm cells that he deposits in the spermathecae reservoir of the female. Once mating has completed the female with fertilise her immature eggs, and later lays them in a dark damp area. The female centipede will protect her eggs until they hatch, and will continue her vigil once the hatchlings emerge until their first moult. These immature centipedes will continue to grow, moulting every year until they reach sexual maturity at around three years of age (3).

Five Creepy Centipedes (oh boy are they creepy)

Let’s start at the tame end with the House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) the much maligned lodger of many a man’s home around the world. While harmless to humans, this species can cover up to 16 inches a second (4).

The Feather Legged Centipede (Alipes sp) has feather like rear legs that it rubs together to create a sound warning predators that it’s around and venomous, much in the same way a rattlesnake uses its tail. Should it be attacked this species can even detach one of these feathers and a section of the next leg, to keep making the warning sound and distract its attacker while it escapes.

[3]
[3]

Should they find themselves in a new environment, centipedes can become deadly pests, as evident with the Tanzanian Blue Legged Centipede (Scolopendra morsitans) when it accidently escaped onto St Helena and Ascension, where it drove the St Helena Earwig (Labidura herculeana) and a number of other insect species to extinction.

While all centipedes are venomous, the Texas Redheaded Centipede (Scolopendra heros) can leak a toxic chemical down its legs when attacking prey or defending itself, and can cause localised necrosis if it enters the human body through an open sore or wound.

While it has had an entire blog dedicated to it, the Orange Legged Centipede has a particularly nasty reputation in Japan where it is called the Mukade, a word that simply translates to centipede. This species is considered to be the inspiration of the oni known as the Ōmukade, a giant centipede that lived in the mountains and preyed on dragons until it was slain by a human hero.

[4]
[4]

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - http://www.petbugs.com/caresheets/S-subspinipes.html

3 - Yates III, Julian R. (December 1992). "Scolopendra subspinipes (Leach)". University of Hawaii EXTension ENTOmology & UH-CTAHR Integrated Pest Management Program: Knowledge Master. Retrieved 2016-12-24.

4 - http://animals.jrank.org/pages/2545/Centipedes-Chilopoda-HOUSE-CENTIPEDE-Scutigera-coleoptrata-SPECIES-ACCOUNTS.html

Picture References

1 - https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3024/3031619084_0dc003652b_b.jpg

2 - http://www.myriapoden.de/galerie/albums/userpics/10001/normal_oneggs.jpg

3 - http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-zQ05EDMNNmk/VPcJnnY1o_I/AAAAAAAANzA/tb33ChCV8-A/s1600/feathertail_centipede.jpg

4 - https://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/yokai/images/2/2f/Oomukade.PNG/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/250?cb=20150320203552

And to top it off this little monster was the one that bit me in Indonesia, there are no animals I hate but this one is really toeing the line. Next week we have a cute issue simply for karmic balance. Until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For a Giant Centipede that eats bats click here to see the Giant Amazonian Centipede. Or for a Giant Centipede that can swim, click here to see the Waterfall Centipede.

46 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #174 - Portia labiata

I was under fire last Tuesday. Apparently they don’t stop paint-balling even if there is an ecological survey on, and paintballs hurt. Perhaps I needed some advantageous sixth sense to dodge these projectiles like the wonderful little Winghead Shark. This week we add the words ‘tactical genius’ to super senses, hope you all enjoy.

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Issue #174 - Portia labiata

[1]
[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Arthropoda

Class – Arachnida

Order – Araneae

Family – Salticidae

Genus – Portia

Species – labiata

Related Species - Portia labiata is one of the seventeen Jumping Spiders found within the genus Portia (1)

Range - Portia labiata is found in forests and scrubland across South East Asia; from India in the East to the Philippines and Indonesia in the West.

The real ‘Spidercide’

Portia labiata is a small brown spider, with females reaching a body length of only a centimetre, with males being about three quarters of the size of an adult female. Like other Jumping Spiders, the large pair of main eyes are the main feature of this arachnid, and when combined with the six smaller eyes dotted around its head gives the spider all round vision. While all Jumping Spiders have good vision, those found within the genus Portia have the most acute eyesight, and even best dragonflies in detecting targets and maintaining focus, although said focus is very narrow and takes far longer to build up an image (2). To aid it in navigating around its environment, P.labiata has rows of bristles on its legs that allow it to detect chemical changes and vibrations in the world around it.

[2]
[2]

Like the majority of spiders, P.labiata is an obligate carnivore, and while it will feed on insect prey, the preferred prey of all members of the genus Portia are other spiders. Web building spiders are preferred, although the species has no qualms about hunting other jumping spiders, and the size of prey can range up to two times the size of the hunting Portia. Hunting tactics are varied, and can be adapted on the ‘fly’ either through experiences of previous failures, or by detecting and taking advantage of changes in the environment (3). Hunting tactics are usually planned from a vantage point, and may take up to an hour to process before P.labiata begins moving in on its intended victim. When attacked itself, either by predators or its intended victim, P.labiata can shed a leg to sate its attacker, before jumping to safety.

Female Portia spiders set up territories ‘one moult’ before maturing as adults, and mark the edges with draglines, which contain pheromones indicating the strength and age of the spider who set them. Male spiders home in on these draglines, but will actively avoid those that contain the scent of other males, and will make himself known to the female, by standing tall and wave his palps to get her attention. Often the female reacts aggressively, but should the male stand his ground and respond in turn, mating usually occurs, although once complete the female is quick to turn on her mate, and even cannibalise him if he is unable to escape (4). Eggs are laid sometime later on a leaf suspended on top of the female’s web and are guarded by the female until they hatch.

Five Sneaky Portia Hunting Tactics

Portia spiders will pluck the webs of web building spiders to mimic struggling prey in order to attract the web’s host towards it. The Portia spider will at first pluck randomly, but upon finding the correct vibrations to attract its victim, will continue to associate that particular ‘strumming motion’ with that particular species.

[3]
[3]

Should plucking prove unresponsive, Portia spider may enter their preys web, and slowly advance towards the owner, only moving when the wind blows or another vibration can mask their movements.

Alternatively, if the spider in the web has eggs, Portia may deliberately make its presence known and cause the host to flee in what has been dubbed a ‘Portia panic’ before stealing the eggs for consumption later (5).

Portia spiders also target the Spitting Spider (Family: Scytodidae) which defend themselves by spitting venom. Portia will always attempt to attack from behind or above, unless it’s a female carrying her eggs in her fangs, in which case it attacks from the front, knowing that its prey will have to drop the eggs before defending itself.

[4]
[4]

When planning an attack on a victim Portia will always choose the most optimum route, even if said route takes it out of the line of sight of its prey and take hours or even days to reach its intended prey.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - Jackson, R.R.; A.D. Blest (1982). "The distances at which a primitive jumping spider, Portia fimbriata, makes visual discriminations" Journal of Experimental Biolology. 97: 441–445.

3 - Wilcox, S. & Jackson, R. (2002). "Jumping Spider Tricksters". In Bekoff, M.; Allen, C. & Burghardt, G.M. The Cognitive Animal: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives on Animal Cognition. MIT Press. pp. 27–3

4 - Jackson, Robert R.; Susan E. A. Hallas (1986). "Comparative biology of jumping spiders Portia africana, P. albimana, P. fimbriata, P. labiata and P. schultzi, areanophagic, web-building jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae) utilisation of webs, predatory versatility, and intraspecfic interactions". New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 13: 423–48

5 - Wilcox, R. Stimson; Robert R. Jackson (1998). "Cognitive Abilities of Araneophagic Jumping Spiders". In Russell P. Balda; Irene Maxine Pepperberg; Alan C. Kamil. Animal cognition in nature: the convergence of psychology and biology in laboratory and field

Picture References

1 - http://farm8.static.flickr.com/7773/18297500732_27aaa17121.jpg

2 - https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5346/10071160275_5d67f82bb1_b.jpg

3 - https://c1.staticflickr.com/8/7349/12375745183_8484451310_b.jpg

4 - https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/976x549_b/p037zbtz.jpg

This spider is a genius!! Well skilled no doubt at the very least. And thanks to @rockette we go from tactical thinking we go to ‘road train of terror’. Until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For more cute Jumping Spider antics, click here to see the adorable Zebra Jumping Spider. Or for an animal that can ‘predict the future’ click here to see the tactical Tentacled Snake.

45 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #173 - Winghead Shark

They say don’t bring your work home with you, but that’s what I did last Thursday as I drove home, the thoughts of last week’s issue on the adorable Vampire Squid floating around my head. And that’s when I felt the crawling sensation, that’s when I looked down and saw it…a tiny Looper Moth (Tricoplusia sp) caterpillar had jumped ship and decided to hitch a ride to a new garden home. Luckily I was able to remove him, and we both made it safely to my house and he was released on a nice tasty English Oak (Quercus robur). Hope you all enjoy.

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Issue #173 - Winghead Shark

[1]
[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Chordata

Class – Chondrichtyes

Order – Carcarhiniformes

Family – Sphyrindae

Genus – Eusphyra

Species – blochii

Related Species - The Winghead Shark is one of the ten extant species within the Family Sphyrindae also colloquially known as ‘Hammerheads’ (1)

Range

[2]
[2]

Undersea Wing

Winghead Sharks are medium sized hammerheads, with a dull grey body that reaches a maximum length of a little under two meters. The most noticeable feature of this shark, as with all its relatives, is the hammer or cephalofoil that makes up the animal’s head, which in fully grown individuals can be equal to half the length of the sharks body. Like the rest of the ‘hammerheads’ the eyes and nostrils are located on the tips of the cephalofoil, with the former providing vision all around the animals body, and because the eyes point forward slightly, provide an overlapping field of binocular vision consisting of roughly 48°, the most of any hammerhead or requiem shark (2). The evolutionary trade-off for such a large head however, is a mouth far smaller than those of similar sized sharks, thus reducing the size of prey all hammerheads can consume.

An X-Ray of the Cephalofoil of a Winghead Shark [3]
An X-Ray of the Cephalofoil of a Winghead Shark [3]

Winghead Sharks are, for the most part coastal feeders, remaining close to the seabed hunting small fish, crustaceans and squid. Like most hammerheads, this species prefers to hunt at night, and spends the daylight hours schooling together to reduce predation from larger sharks such as Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier). Like a number of pelagic sharks, the Winghead has to continuously swim to keep afloat, as it and all the other species of hammerhead are among the most negatively buoyant of all sharks.

Winghead Sharks mate in late July through to about August, usually just after the summer monsoon has swept through the countries it lives in. Mating is brief, and females carrying pups often become aggressive to others of their own kind (3). Gestation differs from area to area, with Wingheads breeding around Australian waters taking a month longer to give birth than those around India and Indonesia. After nine to eleven months, the mother shark gives birth to up to twenty five 30cm long pups, complete with tiny 1cm wide cephalofoils, which fold out upon emerging from their mother.

Ecology 101: A Guide to Environmental Mechanics #18 - The development and function of the Cephalofoil

Along with the ‘spears and swords’ of the billfish, and the toothed rostrom of the sawfish (Family: Pristidae) the cephalofoil of the hammerhead sharks is the weirdest and most easily recognisable feature of any marine fish. Whilst the classic hammerhead supports a bar shaped cephalofoil, among the ten species of extant hammerheads there are cephalofoil’s shaped like shovels, flattened like the hood of a car and swept back like the wings of a jet plane. While initially it was thought that species with the largest and most extravagant heads were the most genetically advanced, it now has been discovered that those species with the largest cephalofoils in relation to body size are genetically the most primitive of the group, and that the small hammer of the Bonnethead (Sphyrna tiburo) is the most advanced of the family.

A Bonnethead Shark [4]
A Bonnethead Shark [4]

Initially the shape of the cephalofoil, along with the sharp sweeping turns made by a number of bottom feeding hammerheads, led scientists to theorize that the cephalofoil acted as a stabiliser to enable such sharp turns. Eventually it was discovered that the unique structure of the shark’s vertebrae was responsible for allowing it to turn so sharply (4), although it was through observations of the sharks foraging this way that a more credible theory regarding the function of the cephalofoil was discovered. The way that the sharks swept their heads across the ocean floor, and when swimming in open water suggested that the unique shape of the shark’s head was increasing their sensory perception.

A Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) hunting [5]
A Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) hunting [5]

Studies into the function of the cephalofoil of the most basal of all the hammerheads, the winghead shark, reveals that the positioning of their eyes on the end of the cephalofoil, not only grants the sharks all round vision, but also a wider field of binocular vision then other sharks. Not only is the vision of hammerheads more acute then other sharks, but the position of nasal cavities along the length of the cephalofoil which allows hammerheads to theoretically sample 2300 cm3 of water per second for the smell of prey, mates and predators (5). Another potential advantage is the increased separation of the nostrils, which may allow the hammerhead to resolve the path and direction of a scent trail far faster than other sharks.

The reason for the evolution and development of the cephalofoil however, probably lies with the invisible sixth sense of sharks and rays, the ability to detect electrical impulses given off by the firing of muscle and nerve cells by living things. As seen with the distantly related sawfish, spreading the electroreceptive cells across a wider area allows the animal to pick up these impulses far quicker than those clustered together. Indeed many modern hammerheads feed predominantly on buried prey such as crustaceans, skates and stingrays, suggesting that this may be the original reason such a unique and well recognised structure evolved in the first place.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - McComb, D.M.; Tricas, T.C.; Kajiura, S.M. (2009). "Enhanced visual fields in hammerhead sharks". Journal of Experimental Biology. 212 (24): 4010–4018

3 - Stevens, J.D.; Lyle, J.M. (1989). "Biology of three hammerhead sharks (Eusphyra blochii, Sphyrna mokarran and S. lewini) from Northern Australia". Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 40 (2): 129–146

4 - McComb, D. Michelle; et al. (2009-11-27). "Hammerhead shark mystery solved". BBC News

5 - Kajiura, S.M.; Forni, J.B.; Summers, A.P. (2005). "Olfactory morphology of carcharhinid and sphyrnid sharks: Does the cephalofoil confer a sensory advantage?". Journal of Morphology. 264 (3): 253–263.

Picture References

1 - http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/68/68A270CD-D717-46BB-AAFB-5AAE23DDB552/Presentation.Large/Winghead-shark-dorsal-view.jpg

2 - http://www.buzzle.com/images/animal-kingdom/sharks/winghead-shark-range.jpg

3 - http://68.media.tumblr.com/698947eedb1ec71e29c6f08fb0a85571/tumblr_myr7gwKkEQ1qzy0ygo1_1280.jpg

4 - https://fthmb.tqn.com/nualxxYsSVI7LXnyfEI_pDaVDxA=/768x0/filters:no_upscale()/about/124758333-56a5f72f3df78cf7728abe34.jpg

5 - http://cdn2.arkive.org/media/EF/EF37E450-4E92-4E81-AE0D-22484A48FA08/Presentation.Large/Great-hammerhead-swimming-over-sandy-seabed.jpg

So that’s the story behind the cephalofoil of the hammerhead sharks. Next week we head landwards and meet one of the deadliest tacticians in the animal kingdom, but until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For another odd shark with weird head-gear, click here to see the dashing Daggernose Shark. Or for 'Bruce' himself, click here to meet the groovy Great White Shark.

44 Comments

Impurest's Guide to Animals #172 - Vampire Squid

May the 4th. May the 4th what? I have no idea, so let’s head into the recap of last week, where we met the European Yew, a tree whose bark was far worse than its bite (because said bark was loaded with deadly toxins). This week we leave the forest to look for a vampire…from hell…that’s actually adorable. Hope you all enjoy.

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Issue #172 - Vampire Squid

[1]
[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Mollusca

Class – Cephalopoda

Order – Vampyromorphida

Family – Vampyroteuthidae

Genus – Vampyroteuthis

Species – infernalis

Related Species - Despite its name, the Vampire Squid is not a true squid, and is the only extant member of the order Vampyromophida (1)

Range

Vampire Squid are found a depths betwen 300 and 3000m throughout their range [2]
Vampire Squid are found a depths betwen 300 and 3000m throughout their range [2]

Sparkly Vampire

The Vampire Squid is a small deep water cephalopod which reaches a body length of 30cm. Colouration of the skin appears to vary between black to dark red, and are covered in light producing photophores, as does the coloration of the large globular eyes, which can be red or dark blue. Unlike squid, Vampyroteuthis has eight short arms connected with webbing, each of which support a flashing blue photophore on the tip. Vampire Squid have large gills, in proportion to their body size, to filter oxygen from the water, which may only constitute 3% of the gases saturated in the water molecules. Like all cephalopods, the Vampire Squid has blue blood, thanks to the oxygen absorbent copper molecule in the hemocyanin molecule, and has the most efficient absorption rate of any of its relatives to help it survive in oxygen poor environments (2).

[3]
[3]

Due to limited food found in its abyssal home, the Vampire Squid moves very little even when hunting for food. While it could be debated that the species is carnivorous, the actual diet of Vampyroteuthis consists of marine snow, particles of dead animal and plant matter as well as other waste matter, that is gathers using two thin filaments that are analogous to the feeding tentacles of true squid species. The Vampire Squid is prey for a few predators such as Giant Grenadiers (Albatrossia pectoralis) and deep diving marine mammals such as Curvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostis). To defend itself the Vampire Squid inverts the webbing of its arms to reveal an array of menacing, yet soft, spines called cirri. This behaviour also masks the photophores on its body, effectively allowing the Vampire Squid to vanish from sight and slip away to safety.

While nobody has seen a Vampire Squid mate in the wild, it is assumed that the male slips the female a package of sperm, which is used to internally fertilise her eggs. While most squid and octopuses die, shortly after laying eggs, it appears that the Vampire Squid can lay multiple clutches, and possibly go through recovery periods between releasing clutches of eggs. Coupled with the slower growth of deep sea creatures, it is speculated that the Vampire Squid may live up to ten years, far longer than any other known species of cephalopod (3).

Five Fun Vampire Squid Facts

The Vampire Squid’s Latin name literally translates to ‘the Vampire Squid from Hell’, a name given to the species due to its otherworldly appearance when it was first discovered in 1903.

Like most cephalopods, the Vampire Squid can, if harassed too much by a predator, drop an arm to aid in its escape, as well as regrow it at a later date.

In addition, should these methods fail, the Vampire Squid can exude a bioluminescent mucus that glows blue and pulses with photophores for up to 10 minutes after being released (4). This defence is costly however, as it takes a long time to replace the mucus and its bioluminescent cells.

[4]
[4]

Despite being weak swimmers, a provoked Vampire Squid can swim at a speed of two body lengths per second, with an acceleration period of five seconds.

Recently the Vampire Squid has received some bad press due to its name being used to describe the investment banking firm Goldman and Sachs, despite the animal’s harmless nature.

Goldman and Sacs have a lot to answer for in the Vampire Squid Community [5]
Goldman and Sacs have a lot to answer for in the Vampire Squid Community [5]

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - Seibel, Brad A.; Chausson, Fabienne; Lallier, Francois H.; Zal, Franck; Childress, James J. (1999). "Vampire blood: respiratory physiology of the vampire squid (Cephalopoda: Vampyromorpha) in relation to the oxygen minimum layer". Experimental Biology Online. 4 (1): 1–1

3 - http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/04/unusual-sex-life-vampire-squid

4 - http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/01/100203-squid-vampire-threatened-video/

Picture References

1 - http://pmdvod.nationalgeographic.com/NG_Video/963/639/42343_1_1280x720_640x360_177499715655.jpg

2 - http://hoopmanscience.pbworks.com/f/1419015711/46249_580_360.jpg

3 - http://www.lazerhorse.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Vampire-Squid-feeding.jpg

4 - http://uhbiology.kahikai.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Lauren2_Vampiresquidglowingarmtips.png

5 - http://2014.extrememarine.org.uk/deepdave/files/2014/12/GraunSquids.jpg

Adorable, yes, I think we should all make some room in our heart for such a downtrodden and enigmatic creature. Next week we meet an animal with a boomerang for a head, but until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out some past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For another cute squid, click here to meet the adorable Hummingbird Bobtail Squid. Or for more deep-water dwellers, click here to see the equally downtrodden Blobfish.

41 Comments

Impurest's Guide to (not) Animals #171 - European Yew

Snow!! Snow in the southern UK in late April, when will summer finally turn up?! Hopefully very soon, and in that vein I’d like to wish everyone a happy Arbour Day! I’m pretty sure last week’s issue, the cruel Carnotaurus cares not one iota for trees unlike me and hopefully yew. Wait Yew? Yep we’re off the beaten track with an Impurest’s Guide to Not Animals. Hope you all enjoy.

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Issue #171 - European Yew

[1]
[1]

Kingdom – Plantae

Division – Pinophyta

Class – Pinopsida

Order – Pinales

Family – Taxaceae

Genus – Taxus

Species – baccata

Related Species - The European Yew is one of over twenty species in the genus Taxus (1).

Range - The native range of the European Yew covers the majority of Europe, Northwest Africa, Southern Asia and parts of Iran.

The Graveyard Tree

The European Yew is a medium sized evergreen tree that grows to an adult height of 10 to 20m in height, and can easily be recognised by the flaky brown bark and the bright red berries it produces in autumn. The leaves of this tree are flattened soft needle like structures that are dark green in colouration and are anywhere between 1 to 4cm in length. Relatively slow growing, the European Yew is hard to age due to its boughs and trunk hollowing with age, thus making ring counts impossible to accomplish in mature trees (2). That being said, an average lifespan of 400-600 years seems like a reasonable estimate, although there are many specimens that are potentially far older then this estimate, with the oldest specimen the Fortingall Yew from Fortingall, Perthshire in Scotland, being estimated at being over 2000 years old.

The flowers of the female Yew Tree [2]
The flowers of the female Yew Tree [2]

Yew trees, unlike the vast majority of plants, are dioecious and have defined genders in regards to their flowers. Male flowers are small pale green orb like structures, while those of female plants resemble small scaly buds (3). Only male Yew trees produce pollen, which is dispersed on the wind to the flowers found on female trees. From there the female tree produces bright red berry like structures known as arils, unlike many other conifers which produce cones, which are consumed and dispersed by birds.

[3]
[3]

The European Yew tree is a plant steeped in myth and folklore across Europe, featuring in Norse, Gallic, Germanic and Pre Christian British mythology, and would later play a big part in Christian iconography. Due to their toxicity, it was believed that Yew trees were deliberately planted in burial grounds to deter farmers and drovers from letting their animals graze in these sacred spaces. The Yew was also adopted by Christianity as a symbol of transcendence over death, and was commonly planted in graveyards. There is even some suggestions that Yggdrasil of Norse Mythologhy may not be an Ash Tree (Fraxus excelsior) but rather a Yew Tree from the translation of words related to it, such as barraskar and vetgrønster vida as ‘needle ash’ and ‘forever green tree’ respectively, names that support the World Tree being a Yew and not an Ash.

Terrors of Toxicology #6 - Taxine

[4]
[4]

An old man hangs from a European Yew Tree for a week, never moving yet alive, before finally overcoming his lethargically and moving. Said old man is Odin, and the tree is Yggdrasil, and is likely a reaction to the alkaloid Taxine, a chemical that, on warm days is exuded from the bark of tree and causes, among other things hallucinations and a lethargic state. This reaction is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Yew Tree, all parts with the exception of the aril are toxic, both in living specimens and dead wood. The poison is so potent that, during Ceaser’s invasion of Gaul, defeated chieftains would commit ritual suicide by chewing yew leaves rather then be taken prisoner, with only around 50g of material required to kill a healthy adult human.

Taxine is an alkaloid compound featuring a number of toxic compounds, all of whom attack the core cardiac and respiratory muscles by increasing the flow of ions through the calcium channels in the cardiac cells, effectively causing the heart to beat irregularly before eventually stalling it altogether (4). As mentioned above almost all parts of the European Yew are toxic, and even shavings of the bark accidently inhaled are enough to cause convulsions, as is contact with leaves that have dried up and smoke from wood gathered from trees many months previously.

For all its toxicity, mankind has long realised the danger this tree possess and as such deaths, despite no anti-toxin being available, are quite rare. In fact the compound Paclitaxel (5) found within the Taxine alkaloid may even save your life due to its ability to combat certain cancers when used in chemotherapy by binding to the compound Tubulin, the compound that when unbalanced causes rapid cell division. While first extracted from the bark of the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia), the European Yew’s more resistant nature towards harvesting provides a far more reliable source of this chemical, since unlike its American relative, the tree doesn’t need to be killed to obtain the bark and timber.

Bibliography

1 - www.arkive.org

2 - Kinmonth, F. (2006). Ageing the yew – no core, no curve? International Dendrology Society Yearbook 2005: 41–46.

3 - https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/yew/

4 - G. Barceloux, Donald (2008). Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals. p. 900

5 - https://www.drugs.com/monograph/paclitaxel.html

Picture References

1 - https://bigrab.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/000_0012.jpg

2 - http://gallery.nen.gov.uk/assets/0603/0000/0109/yew007_mid.jpg

3 -

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/credit/640x395/t/ta/taxus_baccata/taxus_baccata_1.jpg

4 - https://ofthegoodtree.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/odintree.jpg?w=665

So it seems what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. Next week we have an issue that is infernal and vampire in nature, but until then though make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary

Happy Arbour Day

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For another toxic creature, click here to see the dastardly Common Kingslayer. Or for more folklore, click here to bound along with the boxing Brown Hare.

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