Sunday, 19 October 2014

Kama and Zorro, the surfing pigs

Meet Kama, short for Kamapua'a*, a pet pig that routinely surfs the beautiful waves of Hawaii along with his owner Kai Holt. Kama came into the hands of Kai’s life by accident, when Kai found him as an abandoned piglet on Bellows Beach in Oahu.

Soon after, another accident happened. Kama fell into the family pool and Kai saw that Kama could swim. This should not surprise us as most mammals instinctively know how to swim.

A while later, the two of them were heading to Sandy Beach and Kama was jumping on Holt's surf board.

"You know surfing is Hawaii’s gift to the world. It’s like true happiness, you know, that’s what this guy does. Everywhere he goes he just makes people smile and laugh. He just brings joy to the world." says Holt.

Interestingly, Kama is not the only surfing pig. A YouTube search for "surfing pig" also reveals Zorro, a pig in New Zealand that "shows surfers how its done".

Zorro is a mixture of kunekune and domestic pig, and possibly a little wild boar. He goes surfing with his owner Matthew Bell every morning on the beautiful beach of Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty.

However, unlike Kama, Zorro doesn't seem to enjoy big waves:
"He gets a bit scared when it's double overhead, and double overhead for a pig isn't very big." says Bell.

* In Hawaiian mythology, Kamapuaʻa ("hog child") is a hog-man fertility superhuman associated with Lono, the god of agriculture.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Platypus Loves Getting Tickled ! (Video)

Most people out-there have never had the chance to see, let alone interact with a platypus, one of the world's strangest mammals. However, in the video you are about to see, a lucky woman had the chance to handfeed, play and tickle with a platypus at Healesville Sanctuary, in Australia.

I especially love the part where the mammal flicks its feet in pure joy when she tickles him in the mid-section (1:09) ! Enjoy:

Are you jealous? Want to experience the opportunity to see these wonderful creatures and play with them in person? Then all you have to do is to make a booking at Healesville Sanctuary, in Australia and pay 195 $ in advance. It may sound a lot but I think that it's totally worth it. For more information please click here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

14 Beautiful and Amazing Nudibranchs

Nudibranchs are one of the most beautiful, amazing and diverse groups of animals found in oceans all over the world. These enchanting and colorful creatures are mollusks from the class Gastropoda.

These little critters are often noted for their extraordinary colors and striking forms. Here is a list of 14 of the weirdest and most amazing nudibranchs:

1. Glaucus atlanticus & Glaucus marginatus
Glaucus atlanticus, or blue glaucus,  is one of the two representatives of the family Glaucidae. Interestingly, it floats upside down at the surface of the sea, keeping afloat by swallowing air which is stored in the stomach. The species occurs in all major oceans and adults grow to be 5-8 cm long.
Blue glaucus (Glaucus atlanticus)
 Glaucus atlanticus
Photo by Taro Taylor from Sydney

Glaucus marginatus is the other representative of the family Glaucidae. It looks like a smaller version of Glaucus atlanticus. Another difference is that the cerata (saw teeth on the skin) are arranged in a single row in each arch.
Glaucus marginatus looks like glaucus atlanticus
Glaucus marginatus
Photo by Taro Taylor from Sydney, Australia

2. Berghia coerulescens
Berghia coerulescens is a species of marine nudibranch in the family Aeolidiidae. The species can be spotted in European waters, the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica, the Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone, and the Spanish Exclusive Economic Zone. Adults grow to a maximum length of 4 to 7 cm.

Beautiful photo of Berghia coerulescens
Berghia coerulescens

3. Nembrotha kubaryana
Nembrotha kubaryana, also known as the variable neon slug, is a colorful nudibranch of the family Polyceridae. It occurs in the tropical Indo-West Pacific. Adults can be at least 12 cm long. 

Amazing Nembrotha kubaryana photo
Nembrotha kubaryana
Photo By Chad Ordelheide (Own work)
4. Felimare picta
Felimare picta occurs throughout the Mediterranean Sea (Greece), European waters (Spain, Portugal), the Eastern North Atlantic Ocean (Azores) and the Gulf of Mexico. Adults grow to be about 20 cm long and feed on various sponges.

Purple Felimare picta with yellow stripes
 Felimare picta
5. Chromodoris lochiChromodoris lochi, commonly known as Loch's Chromodoris, is a colorful species that can be found in the tropical waters of the central Indo-Pacific region and is known to range from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines to the Fiji and the northern coast of Australia. Adults can be at least 4 cm long.

Chromodoris lochi nudibranch
Chromodoris lochi
Photo By Alexander R. Jenner (Own work)

6. Flabellina exoptata
Flabellina exoptata, commonly known as the much-desired flabellina or desirable flabellina. It occurs throughout the tropical waters of the Indo-West Pacific. Individuals can reach a length of 4.8 cm.

Purple Flabellina exoptata sea slug
Flabellina exoptata
By Chika Watanabe from Los Altos, USA

7. Goniobranchus annulatus
Goniobranchus annulatus is a large smooth pale-bodied nudibranch with many vivid yellow spots, though these may be absent in some individuals. Individuals can be 10 cm long and occur in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, from the East Coast of South Africa to Thailand and also in the Mediterranean Sea

White Goniobranchus annulatus with yellow spots
Goniobranchus annulatus
By Joi Ito
[CC-BY-2.0 ]

8. Goniobranchus geminus
Goniobranchus geminus, a nudibranch distinguished by its yellow body with four color bands around the mantle edge, the outermost which is white, followed by grayish-purple, and then bluish-white then yellow.

Goniobranchus geminus with purple spots
Goniobranchus geminus
By Steve Childs from Lancaster, UK (Flickr)

9. Doriprismatica atromarginata
Doriprismatica atromarginata occurs throughout the tropical and sub-tropical Indo-Pacific area. Their color ranges from creamy-white through yellow to pale brown and individuals can reach a length of at least 6 cm.

Amazing Doriprismatica atromarginata  picture
Doriprismatica atromarginata

10. Cuthona sibogae
Cuthona sibogae is a common sight in the tropical waters of the Indo-West Pacific region. It is a small sized nudibranch, reaching a maximum length of 3.5 cm.

Purple Cuthona sibogae
Cuthona sibogae
By [wj](Flickr)
[CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

11. Limacia cockerelli
Limacia cockerelli is found from the West coast of North America ranging from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada to Baja California. It has also been found in the Gulf of California at Bahía de los Ángeles.Adult reach lengths of 2.6 cm and have long dorsal papillae with white branchial plumes.

White-orange Limacia cockerelli
Limacia cockerelli
By Minette Layne from Seattle, Washington (Shake ya shimmy)

12. Chromodoris dianae
Chromodoris dianae occurs exclusively in the Philippines, Indonesia and Borneo and can reach a maximum length of 4 cm. The body is elongated with a foot which is distinct from the upper body by a skirt like mantle hiding partially the foot. 

Blue Chromodoris dianae
Chromodoris dianae
By Steve Childs from Lancaster, UK (Chromodoris dianae)

13. Hypselodoris apolegma
Hypselodoris apolegma occurs in the tropical Western Pacific Ocean. The species is easily distringuished by its predominantly bright red pink coloration.

Beautiful Hypselodoris apolegma pink pair !
Hypselodoris apolegma pair
By Alexander Vasenin (Own work)

Some quick and interesting facts about nudibranchs
- Today there are more than 3,000 described species of nudibranchs.
- Nudibranchs are casually called sea slugs, but many sea slugs belong to several taxonomic groups which are not related to nudibranchs. In simple words, all nudibranchs are sea slugs but not all sea slugs are nudibranchs.
- Many Nudibranchs eat prey with nematocysts (such as the Portuguese man-of-war ), the nematocysts are consumed but not discharged. Instead, they are stored in the nudibranch's cerata where they can be used to sting predators and enemies. One such example is Glaucus atlanticus. 
- Like most gastropods, Nudibranchs also have a shell but only during the larval stage, it disappears in the adult form.
- These beautiful creatures have a short lifespan. Some live up to a year whereas some only a few weeks.
- Nudibranchs have poor vision and only see the difference between light and dark.
- The word "nudibranch" derives from the Latin word nudus (naked) and the Greek work βραγχια (gills).
- Some nudibranchs can absorb the chloroplasts from the algae they eat into their cerata. This allows them to photosynthesize using the energy provided by the sun.

Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite nudibranchs!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Trip to the New Poznan Zoo, Poland

About a week ago I visited the new Poznan Zoo, in the city of Poznan, Poland. Overall, I can say the whole experience was great and well worth the time. Just getting to the zoo was exciting.

The new Poznan zoo is located near a beautiful artificial lake called Malta that was created back in  1952. To get to the zoo you first have to take a small train.

The ticket for the mini-train is 6 zloty or about 1.8 USD. There are alternatives means of transportation to the zoo, including the public bus. You can also walk, it will take you about 1 hour from the station. Just follow the railway (almost 4 km long).

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Andinobates Geminisae: New Fingernail Sized Poison Dart Frog from Panama

Andinobates geminisae dart frog holotype
This is the hololotype specimen that the researchers
used to describe the newly discovered
Andinobates geminisae
Credit: Cesar Jaramillo, STRI
A team of scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí in Panama, and the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia recently announced the discovery of a new bright orange poison dart frog.

The new species is so small that it can fit on a fingernail and was found in a rain forest near the Caribbean coast, Donoso, Panama.

The species was scientifically described as Andinobates geminisae after Geminis Vargas, "the beloved wife of Marcos Ponce [co-author], for her unconditional support of his studies of Panamanian herpetology."

The holotype [a single type specimen upon which the description and name of a new species is based] was collected in February 21, 2011, in the headwaters of the Rio Caño, in the district of Donoso, Colón Province, Panama, by Samuel Valdés, who was then the MWH Global Inc. environment office director, and his field assistant, Carlos de la Cruz. Additional specimens were collected between the Rio Coclé del Norte and the Rio Belen by biologists Marcos Ponce and Abel Batista, then a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí.

"Abel Batista and Marcos Ponce were the first to note the presence of this species. They've known it was there for several years. However, they were not sure if it was only a variety of another poison dart frog species, Oophaga pumilio, which exhibits tremendous color variation. Based on morphological characteristics of the adult and the tadpole, I thought it might be a new species of Andinobates." said Cesar Jaramillo, Smithsonian herpetologist.

Andrew Crawford, professor at Universidad de Los Andes and former STRI postdoctoral fellow, sequenced the DNA of the newly found frog and confirmed that it indeed belonged to a new Andinobates species.

Because Andinobates geminisae appears to occur in a limited area, the researchers have expressed fears that habitat loss and collection for the pet trade may pose a major threat to its survival and have recommended the formulation of special conservation plans.

"Andinobates geminisae occurs in Caribbean versant rainforest on the westernmost edge of the known distribution of A. minutus, and represents the fourth species within this genus in Panama. This is vulnerable to habitat loss and excessive harvesting and requires immediate conservation plans to preserve this species with a restricted geographic range." wrote the authors.
"It is important we save some of this frog’s tiny habitat to be able to study this unusual species more." said co-author Crawford to National Geographic.

Brief Description
Adults have an electric-orange color and a length of about 12.5 mm (~0.5 in). The new species looks nothing like its closest genetic relatives found in the region, by having a uniformly orange smooth skin and a distinctive male advertisement call. Furthermore, its much smaller than the area's other poison dart frogs.

Instead, Andinobates geminisae superficially looks much more like the strawberry poison dart frog(Oophaga pumilio).
"Perhaps A. geminisae had been observed previously but was confused with Oophaga." said Crawford to National Geographic.

The two frogs may also share the same orange warning signal to predators, an evolutionary trait known as Müllerian mimicry. Müllerian mimicry is a natural phenomenon in which two or more poisonous species, that may or may not be closely related and share one or more common predators, have come to mimic each other's warning signals. But Crawford says this is just a theory.

All in all, the species is a mystery and not much is known about it, including its behavioral and reproductive patterns. The discovery of an adult with a tadpole stuck to its back gives some clues, suggesting that it cares for its young. In other poison dart frogs of the same genus, the tadpoles hatch, adults piggyback them one by one to small pools of water, where they develop into froglets. The authors suspect that A. geminisae may also carry its youngs to water trapped in tree hollows or leaves.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Dendrobatidae
Subfamily: Dendrobatinae
Genus: Andinobates
Species: Andinobates geminisae

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- The specimens were deposited in the Museo de Vertebrados at the University of Panama, the Museo Herpetólogico de Chiriquí at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí and in the Círculo Herpetólogico de Panamá.
- Genetic information about the species is available in the Barcode of Life Data System and in GenBank
Andinobates geminisae is now included in the captive breeding program of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation project, a consortium of six zoos and research institutions dedicated to saving amphibians from the chytrid fungal disease, which is decimating amphibians worldwide, and habitat loss.

- BATISTA, A., JARAMILLO, C., PONCE, M., & CRAWFORD, A. (2014). A new species of Andinobates (Amphibia: Anura: Dendrobatidae) from west central Panama Zootaxa, 3866 (3) DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3866.3.2
- Owen, James. "Mysterious New Poison Dart Frog Found; Is Size of Fingernail." National Geographic. N.p., Sept.-Oct. 2014. Web.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Mirror spiders (Amazing Photos)

Thwaitesia sp (mirror spider), photo taken in singapore
Thwaitesia Sp. in Singapore
Credit: Nicky Bay
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Family: Theridiidae
Genus: Thwaitesia
Common Name(s): Mirror spider, sequined spider, twin-peaked Thwaitesia 

Spiders are one of the biggest and most diverse groups of arthropods. Some are small, some are big, some are harmless and some are deadly. Others are creepy and many are really beautiful.

Today's post is about a genus of spiders that is so beautiful, fascinating and unique that even arachnophobics will love it. The spiders I am talking about are commonly known as mirror spiders, and all belong to the Thwaitesia genus. Their most distinctive trait is the reflective silvery patches on their abdomen, hence the common name.

Thwaitesia spiders occur throughout the world and there are more than 20 described species at the moment. They are harmless to humans and relatively small, with adults being about 2 - 5 mm long, depending on the species and sex. Similarly to most spiders, female mirror spiders get larger than males. Mirror spiders are sometimes also reffered to as sequin, bling and jewel spiders.

There's not much info on the genus so I will leave you with some really amazing photos, I hope you enjoy them.

First, we have an awesome collection by Nicky Bayoriginally posted at his blog. All photos belong to the same specimen and were shot in Singapore:

What is very interesting with these photos is that as Bay mentions in his blog, the closer he gets to take the picture the more the silver plates expand (or maybe come close together?). In the last photo, Bay notes:

"This was the closest I got of the silver-plates at their largest. This Mirror Spider (Thwaitesia sp.) is indeed fascinating!"

Next we have some photos by Robert Whyte, originally posted at They belong to the species T. argentiopunctata and T. nigronodosa. Again, a suberb collection:

And finally, two photos taken from wikimedia commons:

Credit: "Thwaitesia Spider on White Beech leaf" by Poyt448 Peter Woodard - Own work.
Licensed under CC-by-SA 3.0
Credit: "Bling Spider - Neon Spider - Thwaitsia sp. from the NSW Central Coast (7)" by Doug Beckers from Macmasters Beach, Australia - Bling Spider - Neon Spider, Theridiidae > Thwaitesia
Licensed under CC-by-SA 2.0

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Monday, 15 September 2014

Turritopsis Dohrnii - Is It Really Immortal?

The "Immortal" Jellyfish
Credit: Peter Schuchert/The Hydrozoa Directory
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Anthoathecata
Family: Oceaniidae
Genus: Turritopsis
Species: Turritopsis dohrnii (formerly classified as T. nutricula.)
Common Name: The immortal jellyfish

Most of the animals featured on the site are chosen based on their unusual looks. However, this not the case with Turritopsis dohrnii, which seemingly has no notable morphological characteristics.

On the outside, it looks like yet another small, bell-shaped medusa. What's so unique about it is the fact that it exhibits a certain form of immortality, reminiscent of the life of Benjamin Button. T. dohrnii is able to cheat death at the very last minute, instead of dying it simply goes back in time and renews itself to become young again! Theoretically, some say this can go on indefinitely, effectively rendering the species biologically immortal. But how is this achieved and is the species truly immortal? Maybe "immortality" is just a poor choice of words?

The (theoretically) Never Ending Lifecycle of Turritopsis dohrnii
Like most other hydrozoans, a T. dohrnii individual begins its life as a tiny, free-swimming larvae called planula. A planula is a flattened, ciliated and bilaterally symmetric larvae that forms from fertilized eggs. In the case of the immortal jellyfish, the planula then settles down and gives rise to a colony of polyps that are attached to the seafloor.

Image showing a T. dohrnii polyp
T. dohrnii Polyp
Credit: Maria Pia Miglietta

These polyps then give rise to new T. dohrnii individuals by the method of budding. Budding is a form of asexual reproduction in which a new organism develops from the outgrowths of the polyp. All the jellyfish arising from the planula are genetically identical clones and eventually become sexually mature jellyfish that can reproduce sexually and lay new eggs.

Now, this is where things get interesting. If a T. dohrnii jellyfish is exposed to environmental stress, physical assault, sickness or simply gets too old, it has the capacity to revert back to the polyp stage, forming a new polyp. The polyp can then give rise to new medusas!

All stages of the medusa, from newly budded to fully matured individuals can revert back to the polyp form. During the transformation, the jellyfish first becomes a ball of tissue, the cells de-differentiate and then re-differentiate, and finally transforms into a hydroid, the previous stage of development.

Confused? Hopefully this will help:

The lifecycle of Turritopsis Dohrnii

Theoretically, this process can go on forever, and this is why some say T. Dohrni individuals effectively rendered biologically immortal. Research in laboratory conditions has revealed that 100% of specimens can revert to the polyp stage. However, out in the wild, life is not that easy and most individuals succumb to predation, disease and other life-threatening hazards, well-before they have the time to revert back to the polyp stage.

Today, Turritopsis dohrnii is the only known species in the animalia kingdom capable of reverting completely to a sexually immature, colonial stage, after having reached sexual maturity as a solitary stage.

A different opinion
The truth is that not all researchers agree on the theoretical immortality of T. dohrnii. For instance, Rebecca Helm has made a well-rounded post over DeepSeaNews, suggesting (based on other jellyfish species that reproduce in a similar manner) that over the course of time, mutations and other genetic junk may build up in T. dohrnii clonal populations. Eventually these population get “tired.” and produce clones that are more fragile, possibly becoming unable to revert to the polyp stage at some point. She concludes that:

 "While the “immortal” jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii may be able to turn back its life cycle, it may not escape the inevitable slowing down that comes with age. In other words, while reversing your fate and escaping death for a short while may be a neat trick, it doesn’t guarantee immortality." Source

Is "immortality" a poor choice of words?
First, I want to clarify that I am no expert in marine life, Cnidaria, jellyfish etc. Although related to biology, my field of expertise lies miles way. Having said that, I think that "immortal" [as many describe the species] is a really unfit word to describe T. dohrnii.  From what I perceive, a human version of T. dohrnii would be something like this. Just before dying, a human/T. dohrnii hybrid [let's call him "X"] would first revert to a polyp-like zygote. Then, this initial zygote would divide into further zygotes like in the case of identical twins, and then these zygotes would grow into new human babies, each with the same genetic material of X. Eventually, these babies would grow into adults and look exactly like X, excluding of course any acquired characteristics like scars.

I can hardly consider this as biological immortality. Natural cloning would probably be a better word I think. Less catchy, more precise. But again, this is just the opinion of a non-expert. Don't take it for granted.

Now let's see what Ferdinando Boero has to say on the matter. Boero is one of the authors of a 1996 paper [2] that examined the life cycle of the Turritopsis dohrnii, which back then was identified as Turritopsis nutricula. The excerpt you are about to read was initially posted here as a comment:

"We did not speak about immortality, in the paper. We spoke about ontogeny reversal. Ontogeny is the series of steps that start with a zygote and arrive to the mature adult. Usually adults reproduce and then, sooner or later, they die. The hdyrozoans, with which Paul Raeburn is not very familiar with, start their life as a planula larva that settles on the bottom and gives rise to a hydroid colony. The colony buds off tiny jellyfish that, in zoological jargon, are also called medusae. The medusae are either male or female, they reproduce and then die. Reproduction gives rise to a planula that then becomes another hydroid colony, and the cycle starts again. T. dohrnii medusae, if subjected to sublethal stress, become a ball of tissue, their cells de-differentiate and then re-differentiate, and they transform into a hydroid. The previous stage of development. As I say in the article, it is as if a butterfly (the jellyfish) can re-organize its cells and go back to a caterpillar stage (the hydroid). So, ontogeny is reversed. This can be produced in the laboratory all the times you want." 

Brief Description
The medusa form Turritopsis dohrnii is bell-shaped and very small, with a maximum diameter of about 4.5 mm (0.18 in) and is about as tall as it is wide. Adults are about as wide as a human pinky nail.

The jelly in the walls of the bell is uniformly thin, except for some thickening at the apex. The relatively large stomach is bright red and has a cruciform shape in cross section. Young individuals are 1 mm in diameter and have only eight tentacles evenly spaced whereas adult specimens have 80-90 tentacles.

Turritopsis dohrnii amazing photo

Turritopsis Nutricula Vs Turritopsis Dohrnii
Several different species of the genus Turritopsis were previously believed to be the same species and thus were all classified as T. nutricula, including the "immortal jellyfish" which is now classified as T. dohrnii. T. nutricula is endemic to the Atlantic whereas Turritopsis Dohrnii occurs in the Mediterranean sea.

Other Interesting Facts
- The Turritopsis dohrnii's cell development method of transdifferentiation has inspired researchers to find a way to make stem cells using this process for renewing damaged or dead tissue in humans.

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References & Further Reading
- WoRMS (2012). "Turritopsis dorhnii (Weissmann, 1883)". In P. Schuchert. World Hydrozoa database. World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
- Stefano Piraino, Ferdinando Boero, Brigitte Aeschbach and Volker Schmid (1996). Reversing the Life Cycle: Medusae Transforming into Polyps and Cell Transdifferentiation in Turritopsis nutricula (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa). Biological Bulletin , Vol. 190, No. 3 (Jun., 1996), pp. 302-312
- S Kubota (2011). "Repeating rejuvenation in Turritopsis, an immortal hydrozoan (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa)". Biogeography 13: 101–103. ISSN 1345-0662
- Martínez DE (1998). Mortality patterns suggest lack of senescence in hydra. Experimental gerontology, 33 (3), 217-25 PMID: 9615920
-  Bavestrello, Giorgio; Christian Sommer and Michele Sarà (1992). "Bi-directional conversion in Turritopsis nutricula (Hydrozoa)". Scientia Marina 56 (2–3): 137–140.
- Ker Than (January 29, 2009). ""Immortal" Jellyfish Swarm World's Oceans". National Geographic News.