Sunday, 30 January 2011

9 Strange Inter-Species Adoptions (Videos)

Everyone has heard of cats adopting puppies or of dogs adopting kittens.  Today's post is in the same vein, although I believe the adoptions I have selected are way more strange and bizarre.

Surely, most of the videos will leave you wondering, “Why can’t humans just get along?”

First we have a tiger in Bangkok adopting a bunch of piglets..Hopefully, she doesn't wait for them to grow big enough for a bacon feast.

Next we have the case of a kitten being adopted by a monkey.

A cat from Mississippi adopts a squirrel that even learns to purr like a kitten. Time for the next lesson, how to meow.

After the previous video, a cat adopting a rabbit doesn't seem strange at all.

Now let's see two videos where the mom is a dog. Let's start with a dog adopting a monkey..

..and a dog adopting a lion cub!

A lioness adopts a baby antelope. A predator adopting its prey is at least..surprising. Sadly, the antelope was later eaten by a male lion.

A chicken adopts not one, but four kittens!

Finally, we have a cute little red panda that was rejected by its natural mother only to be later adopted by a caring cat that had recently given birth to four kittens.

Feel free to comment if you have any other strange inter-species adoptions to share!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The featherless chicken

Image showing a featherless rooster and hen
Featherless chickens
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Genus: Gallus
Species: Gallus Gallus
Common Name(s): Featherless chicken, Naked Chicken

The featherless chicken is a unique breed of chicken, created by a team of researchers, led by Avigdor Cahaner, at the genetics faculty of the Rehovot Agronomy Institute near Tel Aviv, Israel.

The naked chicken has not been genetically altered but instead is the result of selective breeding. According to the scientists behind it, the lack of feathers gives this breed several "advantages", over conventional chickens, including:
  • Faster growth
  • They are energy efficient and require less food 
  • They can adapt and survive better in hot climates 
  • They are ecofriendly, since the procedure of plucking contaminates large quantities of water with feathers and fats. This is not the case with the featherless chicken.

    Creator of the featherless chicken, Professor Avigdor Cahaner,
    talks about the breed 

On the other hand, not having feathers does come with certain drawbacks:
  • Males have a hard time mating since they can't flap their wings and do other wing-related mating rituals
  • They are susceptible to parasites, mosquitoes and sunburns
  • They can't survive in cool or cold climates
  • When pairing, the rooster may injure the hen with its nails and beak, as the hen has no feathers to protect itself. To prevent this, the nails of two of the rooster's fingers have to be cut off.

There are many opponents of the featherless chicken, considering it to be a prime result of "bad" science, solely created to benefit our consumption needs. What's your opinion on the matter?

You may also like

References & Further Reading
- Azoulay Y, Druyan S, Yadgary L, Hadad Y, & Cahaner A (2011). The viability and performance under hot conditions of featherless broilers versus fully feathered broilers. Poultry science, 90 (1), 19-29 PMID: 21177439
- Cahaner A, Ajuh JA, Siegmund-Schultze M, Azoulay Y, Druyan S, & Zárate AV (2008). Effects of the genetically reduced feather coverage in naked neck and featherless broilers on their performance under hot conditions. Poultry science, 87 (12), 2517-27 PMID: 19038808

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Animals eating things they aren't supposed to !

Today, we have a few strange videos in which everyday animals eat things they aren't supposed to! At least not to my knowledge.

First, we have a cow eating a baby chicken. The chicken's leg is tied and stands no chance of escaping this hungry cow that is willing to eat everything and anything to satisfy its appetite..

Poor pigeon..Just wanted to drink some water and then's turtle food! Surely, an embarrassing death! Maybe it’s just me, but I found the video hilarious :)

Pelicans usually eat fish. Usually..

It seems like cows aren't the only animals confusing that they are supposed to
be vegetarian! It's really heart-braking to see how the other birds miserably fail to discourage
the deer from eating their friend. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Frill-necked Lizard

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Squamata
Family: Agamidae
Genus: Chlamydosaurus
Species: Chlamydosaurus kingii
Common Name: Frill-necked lizard,frilled dragon,bicycle lizard

The frill-necked lizard ,which belongs to the agamid family,can be mainly found in northern Australia and southern New Guinea. Its name derives from the large frill surrounding its neck. The frill necked lizard stays folded for most of the time , however whenever this strange animal is in danger it opens up its mouth and the frill folds out. By doing this the lizard seems bigger and scarier to its potential predators. If this fail , the lizard has one more defense mechanism to empoy , its speed. The frilled dragon is exceptionally fast and can even "sprint" on its two hind legs. Actually the way it runs is very funny and is the reason this lizard is also called "bicycle lizard" .

The frill-necked lizard is one of the largest lizards in existence. The males can reach up to almost a metre in total length, with females being considerably smaller in size.

Frill-necked lizards are typically insectivorous, and their diet consists of cicadas, beetles, temites, butterflies and moths. They also eat spiders,other lizards and some times small mammalls.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis: Horrifying ant parasite

Ant infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (stroma visible)
Ant infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
The ball-like structure is the stroma,
the fruiting body of the fungus
Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Ascomycota
Class: Sordariomycetes
Order: Hypocreales
Family: Ophiocordycipitaceae
Genus: Ophiocordyceps
Species: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (Synonym: Cordyceps unilateralis)
Hosts: Camponotus leonardi and on lesser degree other closely- related ant species

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a truly frightening parasitic fungus, at least if you are ant! In short, it turns ants into zombies and makes them move to a high location.

Then, the zombified ant uses its mandible to affix itself on something, usually a leaf, and then dies. However, the fungus continues to grow inside it and eventually, the fruiting body of the fungus emerges from the back of its head to release new spores, capable of zombifying other ants!

The good news is that O. unilateralis affects only ants. Don't expect a O. unilateralis zombie-apocalypse anytime soon!

Video about Ophiocordyceps unilateralis from BBC documentary 'Planet Earth'

Life cycle & Hosts
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is an entomopathogenic fungus, with its main host being the Camponotus leonardi ant species. However, it also parasitizes on numerous other but closely related ant species, although with less reproductive success and limited host manipulation.

The fungus cycle begins once its spores attach to the external surface of an ant. There, they germinate and enter the body either through the tracheae or via breathing holes on the exoskeleton called spiracles. There the fungus starts to first consume the non-vital soft tissues. Next, it starts spreading all over the body. It is hypothesized that it is at this stage, when it starts to produce certain compounds that affect the ant's brain and its behavioral patterns. We still don't know much about the exact mechanisms behind this behavior alteration.

Now, the ant has lost control and has entered a "zombie-like" mode. It will leave its nest, climb to the top of a plant stem and use its mandibles to secure its place and die. On the other hand, the fungus is still alive and well, continuing to produce more and more mycelia, until some of them sprout out of the ants head! Finally, the fruiting bodies start to develop and the spores are released. With a bit of luck and some help from gravity and wind, some of the spores will find their place on new hosts.

Each cycle takes anywhere from 4 to 10 days to complete.

It's worth mentioning that the ants use abnormally strong force to secure their place, leaving characteristic dumbbell-shaped marks on the plants.This final grip is commonly known as "the death grip" and occurs in very precise locations, most commonly on the underside of leaves.

Image showing Ophiocordyceps unilateralis at the flowering stage

The fungus is visible during the latest stage of its lifecycle, when its reproductive structure has started to protrude from the back of the dead host’s head. This structure is comprised of a wiry yet pliant darkly pigmented stroma stalk, with the perithecia just below the tip.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis can be found in the tropical forests of Thailand and the rainforests of Brazil.

Medicinal and other Uses
Recent studies have shown that the fungus contains many known and untapped bioactive metabolites that may be used in the future as a source of making immunomodulatory, antitumor, hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolemic drugs.

The fungus also produces certain red naphthoquinone pigments, which may have cosmetic, food, and pharmaceutical applications in the manufacturing sector. Six of these bioactive naphthoquinone derivatives are:
  • rythrostominone
  • deoxyerythrostominone
  • 4-O-methyl erythrostominone
  • epierythrostominol
  • deoxyerythrostominol 
  • 3,5,8-trihydroxy-6-methoxy-2-(5-oxohexa-1,3-dienyl)-1,4-naphthoquinone

Defensive mechanisms
There are many reported cases in which the fungus has actually exterminated entire ant colonies. To combat this, the ants protect themselves by carefully grooming each other and by carrying infected members of the colony as far away as possible from their nests.

Anti-fungus.. fungus
Interestingly enoughO. unilateralis suffers from an unidentified fungal hyperparasite. Hyperparasites are parasites whose host are other parasites, in this case O. unilateralis. The still unidentified hyperparasite attacks O. unilateralis at the flowering stage, preventing the stalk from releasing its spores. According to research by David Hughes, only 6 to 7%% of the fungi’s spores remain viable, greatly limiting the damage O. unilateralis would otherwise inflict on ant colonies.

Cordyceps unilateralis neutralized by unidentified hyperparasite
This photo shows an ant infected by O. unilateralis. The fungus has been neutralized
by the still unidentified hyperparasite fungus
Credit: David Hughes, Penn State University

Other Interesting Facts about Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
- The fungus was first discovered by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1849.
- A search through plant fossil databases, led by Dr David P Hughes, revealed similar marks on a fossil leaf from the Messel Pit which is 48 million years old. It seems like the parasite has been working in the same way for a long, long time.

References & Further Reading
- Andersen, S., Gerritsma, S., Yusah, K., Mayntz, D., Hywel‐Jones, N., Billen, J., Boomsma, J., & Hughes, D. (2009). The Life of a Dead Ant: The Expression of an Adaptive Extended Phenotype The American Naturalist, 174 (3), 424-433 DOI: 10.1086/603640
Hughes, D., Wappler, T., & Labandeira, C. (2010). Ancient death-grip leaf scars reveal ant-fungal parasitism Biology Letters, 7 (1), 67-70 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0521
- Andersen, S., Ferrari, M., Evans, H., Elliot, S., Boomsma, J., & Hughes, D. (2012). Disease Dynamics in a Specialized Parasite of Ant Societies PLoS ONE, 7 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036352
- Wongsa, P., Tasanatai, K., Watts, P., & Hywel-Jones, N. (2005). Isolation and in vitro cultivation of the insect pathogenic fungus Cordyceps unilateralis Mycological Research, 109 (8), 936-940 DOI: 10.1017/S0953756205003321
- Kittakoop, P., Punya, J., Kongsaeree, P., Lertwerawat, Y., Jintasirikul, A., Tanticharoen, M., & Thebtaranonth, Y. (1999). Bioactive naphthoquinones from Cordyceps unilateralis Phytochemistry, 52 (3), 453-457 DOI: 10.1016/S0031-9422(99)00272-1
- Sung, G., Hywel-Jones, N., Sung, J., Luangsa-ard, J., Shrestha, B., & Spatafora, J. (2007). Phylogenetic classification of Cordyceps and the clavicipitaceous fungi Studies in Mycology, 57 (1), 5-59 DOI: 10.3114/sim.2007.57.01
- Hughes, D., Andersen, S., Hywel-Jones, N., Himaman, W., Billen, J., & Boomsma, J. (2011). Behavioral mechanisms and morphological symptoms of zombie ants dying from fungal infection BMC Ecology, 11 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1472-6785-11-13
- Evans HC, Elliot SL, & Hughes DP (2011). Ophiocordyceps unilateralis: A keystone species for unraveling ecosystem functioning and biodiversity of fungi in tropical forests? Communicative & integrative biology, 4 (5), 598-602 PMID: 22046474
- Andersen SB, Gerritsma S, Yusah KM, Mayntz D, Hywel-Jones NL, Billen J, Boomsma JJ, & Hughes DP (2009). The life of a dead ant: the expression of an adaptive extended phenotype. The American naturalist, 174 (3), 424-33 PMID: 19627240
- Evans, H., Elliot, S., & Hughes, D. (2011). Hidden Diversity Behind the Zombie-Ant Fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis: Four New Species Described from Carpenter Ants in Minas Gerais, Brazil PLoS ONE, 6 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017024
- "The Zombie-Ant Fungus Is Under Attack, Research Reveals". Pennsylvania State University. 2012-05-02. Retrieved 2013-03-04.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Goblin Shark: Prehistoric monster from the deep

Image showing a goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni)
Goblin Shark
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Lamniformes
Family: Mitsukurinidae
Genus: Mitsukurina
Species: Mitsukurina owstoni
Conservation Status: Least Concert (Not threatened)
Common Name(s): Goblin Shark, Elfin shark

The goblin shark is a hideous, strange-looking shark occurring in all three major oceans. First discovered in the waters of Japan more than a hundred years ago, it still remains a poorly understood species with many mysteries surrounding its existence.

It is the last surviving member of the family Mitsukurinidae, a lineage some 125 million years old. The species has been described as a "living fossil", thanks to its prehistoric appearance and its ancient lineage.

Specimens have been caught in all three major oceans, indicating a global distribution of the species. In the Atlantic, Goblin sharks have been observed from the northern Gulf of Mexico, Suriname, French Guiana, and southern Brazil in the west, and France, Portugal, Madeira, and Senegal in the east. Individuals have also been sighted in seamounts along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

In the Indo-Pacific and Oceania, it has been recorded off South Africa, Mozambique, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand whereas a single specimen was collected off southern California. Juveniles occur frequently at the submarine canyons off southern Japan at depths of 100–350 m (~328–1,150 ft),

Specimens have been collected or sighted at depths of up 1,300 m (~4,265 ft). On rare occasions, individuals have been spotted in inshore waters as shallow as 40 m (~131 ft). In general, adults are found in greater depths than immature goblin sharks do.

Finally, it should be noted that the species distribution is uneven; the majority of known specimens come from the bays of Japan.

Distribution map for goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni )
Distribution map for  Goblin Shark

Adults of this weird and fearsome looking shark species routinely grow to be 3-4 meters (10–13 ft) long and 160 kg (352 lbs) heavy. The biggest specimen ever caught was a female, with an estimated length of 5.4 to 6.2 m (18–20 ft) from the Gulf of Mexico, whereas the heaviest specimen was 210 kg (462 lbs) heavy and 3.8 m long. The limit of their size and weight remains a mystery.

The elongated, flattened, dagger-shaped snout is probably the most distinctive trait of the goblin shark. The snout is heavily pored on the underside. These pores are believed to be the external openings of the "ampullae of Lorenzini", special sensory organs, capable of detecting small electric fields produced by other animals. The proportional length of the snout decreases as they age. The snout is not hard or sharp enough to pin or kill prey.

It has very small eyes, five short gill-openings and a large, parabolic-shaped mouth. The mouth comes with protruding, nail-like frontal teeth and rear teeth that are accustomed for crushing. The eyes are black with bluish streaks in the iris and lack nictitating membranes; behind the eyes are spiracles. Their vision is presumed to be poor,  accounting the relatively small optic tectum in the shark's brain. Unlike most deep-sea sharks, the size of the pupils can change, indicating that sight may occasionally play an important role.

They have 35 to 53 upper and 31 to 62 lower tooth rows.

Similarly to most sharks, they have the typical semi-fusiform body which is soft and flabby. However, unlike most sharks, the fins aren't pointed but instead are low and rounded, with the anal and pelvic fins being larger than the dorsal.  The tail is heterocercal, with the upper lobe proportionately way longer to other shark species. The tail doesn't have a ventral lobe or precaudal pits.

The second most distinctive characteristic of the species is its pink coloration, the result of blood vessels located underneath the semi-transparent skin. Actually, it is the only known shark species colored this way. The fins' margins are translucent gray, or blueish.

Males reach sexual maturity at about 2.6 m (8.5 ft) long, while female maturation size is a mystery. There is no data on growth, aging, average and maximum lifespan.

Image showing a goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) head with the jaws extended
 Goblin shark head with jaws extended

The goblin shark is a bathydemersal deep-sea animal that prefers to stay just above the sea bottom. It usually stays at depths of  250 m (~820 ft), however, the deepest specimen ever caught was found at a depth of 1300 m (~4265ft). They can probably go even deeper, as a lodged tooth was once retrieved from an undersea cable, at a depth of 1.370 m (4,494 ft).

They usually inhabit the outer continental shelves and upper slopes and are found off seamounts. Very rarely, they will endeavor near  the surface or in shallow waters close to the sore.

Currently, there is almost no knowledge regarding other behavioral patterns, like reproduction as observations of living individuals are scant. Their anatomy suggests an inactive and sluggish lifestyle.

Since they are members of the Lamniformes order, it is assumed that they are ovoviviparous, meaning that the eggs hatch inside the mother's body, who then gives directly birth to young sharks. Mackerel sharks (as Lamniformes sharks are commonly known), are characterized by small litter sizes and embryos that grow during gestation, by eating the yolk of undeveloped eggs and  (a practise known as oophagy). The birth size is probably something close to 82 cm (~32.3 in) long, which is the length of the smallest specimen ever caught. A pregnant specimen has never been caught. Collecting and examining one would surely provide us with many answers.

Perhaps the only good quality footage showing a goblin shark.
This a young one, and the "biting" is staged.

Feeding & Diet
The goblin shark is not a good swimmer and is assumed to be an ambush predator. Its low-density flesh and large oily liver make it neutrally buoyant which helps it to drift towards prey with few motions, avoiding detection.

Similarly to other sharks, the goblin sharks sense their pray by using electro-sensitive organs in the rostrum. This electrosensory ability is exceptionally important to the goblin shark, due to the presence of very little light in the deep waters it inhabits and hunts.

The shark's jaws are highly specialized  and can instantly snap forward to catch prey. This jaw protrusion is assisted by two pairs of elastic ligaments, associated with the mandibular joint, which are pulled when the jaws are in their normal retracted position. When the goblin shark bites, the ligaments release their tension and essentially "catapult" the jaws forward. Furthermore, the shark has a well-developed basihyal (analogous to a tongue) that sucks the victim into the sharp frontal teeth.

Image showing the jaws of two different goblin shark specimens
In the past, differing jaw positions of preserved specimens led to several specimens erroneously
identified as different species

It primarily feeds on teleost fishes, like rattails and dragonfishes. It also consumes cephalopods and crustaceans, for instance decapods and isopods.  Its range of prey includes both bottom-dwelling species like the blackbelly rosefish (Helicolenus dactylopterus), and midwater species like the googly-eyed glass squid (Teuthowenia pellucida). This strongly suggests that the goblin shark hunts both near the sea floor and far above it.

A study on the stomachs of 148 specimens found teleost fishes, squids, decapods, isopods, digested food, and even human refuse! Surely, not a picky eater!

Image of a rattail which is common prey for goblin sharks
Rattails are common prey for goblin sharks

Natural Enemies
Goblin sharks perhaps may be hunted by the blue shark (Prionace glauca) and other large shark species, but there is no definite data on this. A study on a specimen collected off of Ulladulla, New South Wales, Australia and deposited at the Australian Museum in Sydney revealed that when alive, it was host to 4 different species of tapeworms, all recovered from the spiral intestine

Conservation Status
Although sightings of the the goblin shark are exceptionally rare, for the moment it is classified as of "least concern" by the IUCN. This, because the species has a wide distribution, with most populations believed to reside in areas with little to none fishing activities, as it is a very rare bycatch. Overall, the species doesn't seem to be immediately threatened by human related activities and their numbers seem to be stable.

The main human activities with some minor negative impact on the species are:
  • Fishing (although it is a rare practice)
  • Accidental fishing (bycatch)
  • Water Pollution 

Finally, there seems to be an interest for goblin shark jaws by collectors, with prices for jaws imported by Taiwan to the USA ranging from US$1,500?$4,000, depending on the quality, size and other factors.

Sightings and occurrences
Some worth-noting sightings are the following:
  • The first M. owstoni specimen was caught by a Japanese fisherman in the Kuroshio Current, off the coast of Yokohama, Japan in 1897. The specimen was later estimated to be a male, 3.5 ft long goblin shark. 
  • A goblin shark was discovered in waters off eastern Australia in 1985. In New Zealand, a specimen was caught three years later, in 1988.
  • A specimen was caught in waters off Tasmania in 2004 and was 4 meters long. The specimen was then taken to the national fish collection in Hobart.
  • During 2003, more than a hundred goblin sharks were caught off the northwest coast of Taiwan, an area in which they had never sighted before. These sharks were caught after a recent earthquake in the area
  • A goblin shark was held captive by the Tokai University,Japan, only to die a week later.
  • A 1.3 m long specimen was caught alive in Tokyo Bay, at a depth between 150 to 200 m (~500 - 650 ft) on January 25, 2007. It was transferred to the Tokyo Sea Life Park to be displayed, but died two days later.
  • In April 2007, a bunch of goblin sharks were reported swimming in shallow waters in the Japanese Sea and a live one was captured near the Tokyo Bay.
  • In August 2008, NHK filmed a live goblin shark in Japan. The shark was small, about 1.3 meters long.
  • Many specimens have been caught in the vicinity of New South Wales and Tasmania. These specimens are preserved at the Australian Museum.
  • In the Indian Ocean, a cable malfunction necessitated the raising of the cable. A nail-like tooth was found embedded in the wire covering. The tooth was later reported to belong  to a goblin shark.
  •  In April 2014, a shrimper in Key West, Florida, while fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, pulled out a goblin shark in a fishing net that was 600 m (~2000 feet) deep down. This is only the second goblin shark to have been caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

In captivity
The species doesn't do well in activity and dies shortly after. As aforementioned, the specimen in the Tokai University died a week later whereas the one at Tokyo Sea Life Park just two days later.

Are they dangerous?
Due to the predominantly deep oceanic levels they occupy, goblin shark pose little -if any- danger to humans. There have been no recorded attacks and therefore injuries to humans.

Comparison between an average human and a goblin shark
Comparison between an average adult goblin shark and a diver

The species was first described in 1898, by American ichthyologist David Starr Jordan (1851-1931), using an immature male as a basis. The specimen was 107 cm (~42 in) long. Jordan recognized the weird fish not only as a new species, but also as a new genus and family.

The young specimen was caught in Sagami Bay near Yokohama and had been acquired by shipmaster and amateur naturalist Alan Owston (1853–1915), who then gave it to Professor Kakichi Mitsukuri at the University of Tokyo. Mitsukuri then gave it to Jordan.  

Jordan named the newly discovered shark in honor of these two men.

Interesting Facts about Goblin sharks
After death, the pink coloration quickly fades and becomes a dull gray or brown.
- Females seem to be slightly larger than males.
Goblin shark is a translation of its old Japanese name "tenguzame". Tengu are a type of legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion, often depicted with a long nose and red face.

Image showing a tengu, from which goblin sharks are named after
A tengu shrine

Parsons, G., Ingram, G., & Havard, R. (2002). FIRST RECORD OF THE GOBLIN SHARK MITSUKURINA OWSTONI, JORDAN (FAMILY MITSUKURINIDAE) IN THE GULF OF MEXICO Southeastern Naturalist, 1 (2), 189-192 DOI: 10.1656/1528-7092(2002)001[0189:FROTGS]2.0.CO;2
- Duffy, C. (1997). Further records of the goblin shark, (Lamniformes: Mitsukurinidae), from New Zealand New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 24 (2), 167-171 DOI: 10.1080/03014223.1997.9518111
- Rincon, G., Vaske, T., & Gadig, O. (2012). Record of the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni (Chondrichthyes: Lamniformes: Mitsukurinidae) from the south-western Atlantic Marine Biodiversity Records, 5 DOI: 10.1017/S1755267211000923
- Yano, K., Miya, M., Aizawa, M., & Noichi, T. (2007). Some aspects of the biology of the goblin shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, collected from the Tokyo Submarine Canyon and adjacent waters, Japan Ichthyological Research, 54 (4), 388-398 DOI: 10.1007/s10228-007-0414-2
- Masai H, Sato Y, & Aoki M (1973). The brain of Mitsukurina owstoni. Journal fur Hirnforschung, 14 (6), 493-500 PMID: 4792175
- Caira, J., & Runkle, L. (1993). Two new tapeworms from the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni off Australia Systematic Parasitology, 26 (2), 81-90 DOI: 10.1007/BF00009215
- Jordan, D.S. (1898). "Description of a species of fish (Mitsukurina owstoni) from Japan, the type of a distinct family of lamnoid sharks". Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (Series 3) Zoology 1 (6): 199–204.
- Some aspects of the biology of the goblin shark, Mitsukurina owstoni, collected from the Tokyo Submarine Canyon and adjacent waters, Japan
-  Compagno, L.J.V. (2002). Sharks of the World: An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date (Volume 2). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. pp. 68–71. ISBN 92-5-104543-7.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Adult Cat with two faces

While writing the previous post about "two face" , I came across a video featuring an adult male cat - named Loui - with two faces. Unbelievable..

Loui has a condition called Diprosopus. Diprosopus (also known as craniofacial duplication) is an extremely rare congenital disorder whereby parts or all of the face are duplicated on the head. 

Most animals with Diprosopus die - or are euthanized - way before reaching adulthood. An adult animal with the condition is a truly rare sight!

Two Face, the kitten with two faces

Image of a kitten with two faces
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: Felis catus
Common Names: Two Face

About a week ago I posted about Cy, a one-eyed kitten that died soon after its birth.

Today's post is about "two face" , a poor kitten, born a few months ago in Charleston, West Virginia. As suggested by its name, Two Face was born with two faces. Each face was "complete", meaning that the kitten had 2 noses, 2 mouths and four eyes! According to the vet who examined the kitten, Dr. Erica Drake, Two Face had a condition known as diprosopus.

"Both mouths would meow independent of each other, and at the time, she — they, I'm not sure which — did drink from each mouth without any trouble." said Dr Drake.

Although the kitten seemed to do fine at start, after a couple of days it suddenly stopped moving and died. Noone knows the exact reason but it was most probably related to its condition.

Video about Two Face, the kitten with two faces

About Diprosopus
Diprosopus also known as craniofacial duplication is an extremely rare congenital disorder whereby parts (accessories) or all of the face are duplicated on the head. 

Image showing a chick with two beaks and three eyes
A chick with two beaks and three eyes

Friday, 7 January 2011

Leafy Sea Dragon

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Syngnathiformes
Family: Syngnathidae
Genus: Phycodurus
Species: Phycodurus eques
Common Names: Leafy Sea Dragon,Glauerts Seadragon

The leafy seadragon(or else known as Glauerts Seadragon ) is a seahorse belonging in the Syngnathidae family living along the southern and western coasts of Australia.
The name of this strange animal derives from its appearance, with long leaf-like protrusions coming from all over the body which are used as a means of camouflage giving it the appearance of floating seaweed. The leafy sea dragon even has the ability to change its skin colors in order to blend even better within its enviroment.

Leafy sea dragons  are slightly larger compared to most sea horses and they can grow to about 20–24 cm. They mainly eat plankton and small crustaceans using their long ,pile-like snout which bears a small terminal mouth.

Like all sea horses the leaf sea dragon is no exception and the male is the one who takes care of the eggs During the mating the female will produce up to 250 bright pink eggs which are then deposited on to the male's tail via a long tube..Unlike other seahorses the males dont have a pouch to store the eggs.Instead the eggs are deposited on a special brood patch that is. below the male's tail.In this patch the eggs are supplied with oxygen  and after a period of 4 to 6 weeks the male "gives birth". After that, the hatchlings are left alone. At first they will hunt and eat zooplankton and when they get older they will prey on mysids. Roughly only 5 % of them will manage to reach adulthood

As of now the Leafy sea dragon, is listed as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The leafy seadragon may be seriously threatened in the future due to human activity including:
  • Collectors and alternative medicine practitioners that try to catch them for their personal use
  • The increasing pollution that seems to be deteriorating the problem
Fortunately the seadragon is now protected by the Federal Goverment of Australia.

As of today only theTennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee breeds and sells these animals, however they can be obtained for a realy high price. Please note that keeping a leafy seadragon in your aquarium is a really difficult and compilcated task. And do you really want to keep such a beatiful animal in captivity ?I certainly don't.

In the video below you can see the exceptional camouflage abilities of this stunning, beautiful and strange animal. Enjoy !

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Japanese spider crab

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Family: Inachidae
Genus: Macrocheira
Species: Macrocheira kaempferi
Common Names: Japanese spider crab

The Japanese spider crab is a species of marine crab that can be found in the waters around Japanand it's the biggest arthropod in the world in overall size. The leg span of this animal , can reach up to 3,6 metres and it can weight up to 20 kg. Like all crabs it has 8 legs which are remarkably thin compared to the rest of its body.
Comparison of a woman and a Japanese Spider Crab
Japanese spider crabs are usually found off the southern coasts of the Japanese island of Honshū, from Tokyo Bay to Kagoshima Prefecture and some outlying populations have also been found in Iwate Prefecture and off Su-ao in Taiwan. The crabs can inhabit depths of 150- 800 meters, but they usually stay at a depth of about 200m.

The japanese spider crab mainly eats shellfish and animal carcasses, algae, plants, and mollusks ,using its giantic pincer to catch and tear its food. This animal has a very large life span and can live for up to 100 years.Although it  has a fierce and frightening appearance it is considered to be a calm animal.

Japanese spider crabs are on display  at the Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka, Japan.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Golden Snub-nosed Monkey

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Cercopithecidae
Genus: Rhinopithecus
Species: Rhinopithecus roxellana
Common Names: Golden Snub-nosed,Sichuan Golden Hair Monkey, Sichuan Snub-Nosed Monkey

The Golden Snub-nosed Monkey is a primate in the Cercopithecidae family. It is endemic to a small area of the central and south-western China living in the coniferous montane forests at altitudes of 1,800–2,700 metres (6,000–9,000 feet), where temperatures drop below the freezing point during the winter and rises only to about 25 °C (77 °F) in summer.
This adorable monkey is sexually dimorphic which means that the two sexes between the same species greatly vary. Adult males have large bodies which are covered with long,golen guard hairs.Females are about half the size when compared to males.These animals are very social creating groups of even up to 600 individuals. Usually when they create such large bands there are many smaller groups formed within the main group.

Golden Snub-nosed Monkey Video

This bluish faced primate can withstand cold better than most other primates and can withstand temperatures below the freezing point with ease.Its diet changes depending on the season but it's primarily a herbivore mainly eating lichens. Females are sexually mature at around 5 years old. For males sexual maturity is attained between the fifth and seventh year of their life. Breeding takes place between August and November.
The mating process is initiated by the female. She will first make eye contact with the male and then playfully run away a short distance from it. She will also lay on the floor with her genitalia pointed towards the male. If the male is interested he will mount her. Because ejaculation occurs in a small percentage of matings the female mates with many males. The female gives birth to only one offspring with the pregnancy lasting for about 7 months.

The Golden Snub-nosed Monkey is classified as endagered by the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) with their main threat being habitat loss.Actually over the past 3 generations (only40 years for this kind of species) the populations have decreased by at least 50 percent.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Cyclops,the one-eyed kitten

Picture of cy, the one-eyed kitten
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felis
Species: Felis catus
Common Names: Cy the one-eyed kitten

No ,this picture is neither fake nor photoshopped.

This is the true and sad story of Cy, a poor kitten born with holoprosencephaly. Cy, short for Cyclopes, was born with only one eye and no nose, as shown in the photo taken and provided by its owner in Redmond, Oregon, on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005.

Cy was a ragdoll breed kitten that died soon after its birth. Cy also had a sibling which was born normal and healthy. At first, many thought that Cy's story was a hoax, circulating from one email address to the other.

However, a vet later examined its corpse and determined that the story was real.

After its death, the corpse of Cy was sold to creationist and Lost World Museum owner, John Adolfi. The kitten's carcass is preserved in alcohol and toured around the U.S.

The owner of the kitten ,Traci Allen, said she sold Cy's remains to Adolfi because she found Adolfi to be "a genuine and sincere" guy.

She also said that she had previously turned down other offers, including one from "Ripley's Believe It or Not!". Reportedly, she rejected Ripley's offer because she "didn't want Cy becoming a joke."

Neither the seller nor the buyer said anything about the exact money given for Cy's corpse.

The Spotted Handfish, the Fish That Walks

Image of a spotted handfish adult
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lophiiformes
Family: Brachionichthyidae
Genus: Brachionichthys
Species: Brachionichthys hirsutus
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
Common Names: Spotted handfish, Prickly-skinned Handfish, Tortoiseshell Fish

The Spotted Handfish is a rare and endangered fish of the Brachionichthyidae family. The species occurs exclusively in south-eastern Australia, specifically in the lower Derwent River estuary, Frederick Henry Bay, D'Entrecasteaux Channel and the northern Storm Bay region.

This strange animal is best known for using its hand-like fins to "walk" on the sea bottom instead of...swimming!

In the map below, you can see the species distribution in Australia. The map is based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums.

Map showing the distribution of the spotted handfish
Spotted Handfish Distribution

Habitat & Description 
The spotted handfish is a benthic (living on the sea bottom) fish, usually found "walking" or resting in coarse to fine silt and sand, at depths ranging from 5 to 10 meters (~16 to 32 ft). However, there have been recorded sightings at depths of up to 30 meters (~98 ft).

The species has a small, pinkish to white, pear-shaped body that is covered by small spines and black, brown and orange spots with orange borders. These markings are different and unique from individual to individual. Adults have an average length of about 12 cm (~4.7 in).

This unusual fish has highly adapted pectoral fins that look like hands. The fins are used like limbs, enabling the fish to walk on the sea bottom. They are remarkably slow and can easily be approached by divers. This isn't the only walking fish we know, another notable example is Ogcocephalus Darwini,commonly known as the red-lipped batfish.

B. hirsutus is capable of swimming clumsily, using the tail and anal fins.

Beautiful picture showing a spotted handfish resting on the ocean floor

The species feeds by sucking in prey items. In the wild, they have been reported to eat crustaceans, polychaete worms and small shells. Captive specimens in aquaria have been observed to eat mysid shrimp, amphipods, and small live fish. Hatchlings do quite well on a diet based on small amphipods.

Credit: Rick Stuart-Smith / Reef Life Survey

Spawning takes place from September to October. Females lay an interconnected egg mass of 80–250 eggs, usually on vertical objects, like:
  • Sea grasses 
  • Sponges 
  • Stalked ascidians 
  • Macrophytic algae 
  • Polychaete worm tubes 

After laying the eggs, the female stays with them and guards them until they hatch, 7 to 8 weeks later. The spotted handfish lacks the larval stage and hatchlings arise as fully formed, miniature adults (6 to 7 mm long), which move straight to the sea floor. The newborns appear to remain in the vicinity of spawning throughout their lives.

As shown in the video, the species is easily approached and photographed

Conservation Status & Possible Threats & Conservation Measures
The species used to be a relatively common sight until the mid 1980s, especially in the lower Derwent River estuary. Since then, there has been a massive decline in their overall population. Today, the Spotted Handfish is classified as critically endangered, both by the IUCN and the ASFB Threatened Fishes Committee.

Notably, there were only two recorded sightings between 1990 and 1994. This catastrophic decline led to the formation of the Spotted Handfish Recovery Team in 1996, which consists of a number of government agencies that aim to protect this strange animal. The team's interests include research on current wild populations and breeding under captivity. The organization work is quite encouraging, having managed to breed the species multiple times in captivity. One of their ultimate goals is to sometime start reintroducing populations - bred under captivity - back to their natural environment.

It is believed that one of the main reasons behind the species dramatic decline is the introduction of the northern Pacific seastar (Asterias amurensis). These seastars are voracious predators of shellfish and data indicates that they eat the eggs of the spotted handfish or the sea squirt, on which the handfish many times attaches its eggs.

Image showing an adult Northern Pacific seastar (Asterias amurensis)
Northern Pacific seastar 

Some other factors that have probably contributed to the decline may be:
  • Predation and fishing 
  • Habitat modification and deterioration 
  • Heavy metal contamination 
  • Reduced numbers of benthic organisms which are suitable for egg mass attachment 
  • The increasing numbers of the Electroma georgiana oyster that attaches to its egg masses, largely destroying them in the process. 

The species is currently protected by Tasmanian law and the Common wealth's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Video showing a spotted handfish, slowly walking on the ocean floor

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Deer Resembling the Mythical Unicorn

With this post, I am starting a new category on the blog, "Strange Animal Deformities". This category will contain strange and unusual deformities occurring in the animal world.

The video below is about a deer born with only one horn. One horned deers are very rare, but what is really interesting and even more rare about this deer, is the center-positioning of the antler, making it look like a Unicorn!

The deer is currently being held at the Center for Natural Sciences, Pratoy, Italy. The guys over there nicknamed him "Unicorno", for obvious reasons. The deer has a twin, totally normal brother.

Enjoy the video

Video of Unicorno

Related Posts
  • Narwals: Perhaps the true origin of the unicorn myth

Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat: World's smallest bat and mammal

Man streching a Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai)
 Photo by Jeffrey A. McNeeley
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Chiroptera
Family: Craseonycteridae
Genus: Craseonycteris
Species: Craseonycteris thonglongyai
Conservation Status: Vulnerable (Threatened)
Common Name(s): Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat, Bumblebee bat

The small creature depicted on the image above is a Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat, the sole known representative of the family Craseonycteridae. The species is best known for being the world's smallest bat and mammal, with an average weight of only 2 g!

Distribution and Habitat
This little critter occurs exclusively in western Thailand and southeast Burma, occupying limestone caves along rivers, within dry evergreen or deciduous forests.

In Thailand, the species can only be found in a small region of the Tenasserim Hills in Sai Yok District, Kanchanaburi Province, within the drainage basin of the Khwae Noi River.

In Burna, the first Bumblebee bat specimen was collected in 2001. Since then, at least nine separate roost sites have been identified in the limestone outcrops of the Dawna and Karen Hills outside the Thanlwin, Ataran, and Gyaing Rivers of Kayin and Mon States.

Map showing the distribution of the Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat
Bumblebee Bat Distribution

Adults have an average weight of 2 g (0.071 oz) and are 2.9 to 3.3 cm (1.1 to 1.3 in) long, roughly the size of a large bumblebee, hence their second common name. This tiny bat is the world’s smallest bat and depending on how size is defined, the world's smallest mammal. If we define size by length, than the Bumblebee bat is the winner. However, if we define size by mass, then the winner is the Etruscan shrew (Suncus etruscus) which is lighter, with a weight ranging from 1.2 to 2.7 g (0.042 to 0.095 oz), although longer, measuring 3.6 to 5.3 cm (1.4 to 2.1 in) from head to tail.

Their body is covered by a reddish-brown or grayish coat that is paler on the underside. They have a distinctive, swollen and pig-like snout with thin and vertical nostrils. The ears are relatively large while the eyes are small and predominantly covered by fur.

The wings are large and darker in color, with long tips. These tips allow them to hover, much like a hummingbird does. The small feet are interconnected with a large piece of skin (called uropatagium) that is believed to assist them in flying and catching insects. The species has no tail bones or calcars for flight control.

The small mouth contains teeth that are typical for insectivorous bats. They have 28 teeth, with relatively large incisors. The lower incisors are long and narrow.

Males have a large swelling in the gland that is at the base of the throat.

Their lifespan is unknown but believed to be around 5 to 10 years, guessing from the lifespan of other closely related bats.

Close up of a Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat
Credit: Daniel Hargreaves

Bumblebee bats usually rest on the roof domes of caves in limestone hills, far away from the entrance and far apart from each other. The average population size per cave is about 100 individuals, however there have been recorded roosts containing only 10 to 15 bats and roosts containing up to 500 individuals.

The species is active for only a very brief period of the day, leaving their roost for 20 to 30 minutes in the evening and 10 to 20 minutes at dawn. However, these brief periods of activity are halted in days with heavy rain and/or cold temperatures outside. They go out to forage within fields of cassava and kapok or around the tops of bamboo clumps and teak trees, covering distances of up to one kilometer from their cave.

They are insectivorous animals that use echolocation when hunting. Their diet primarily consists of small flying insects, like flies, but they also eat some spiders. They are aerial feeders, meaning that they catch prey while flying.

The majority of prey is consumed in air, however some insects and spiders are trapped in their foliage as they fly, only to be consumed later after they return to their caves. They usually forage around the tops of teak trees and bamboo clumps
A man holds a Bumblebee bat in his fingers
Credit: Medhi Yokubol Faculty of Science,
Prince of Songkla University

Little is known about their reproductive patterns. We know that they mate at the end of winter and give birth late in the dry season (April) of each year, to a single offspring. During feeding, the youngs either stay in the roost or remain attached to the mother, at one of her two vestigial pubic nipples It takes several months for the youngs to be able to fly and hunt for themselves.

Conservation Status Threats and Measures
As of 2008, the species is listed by the IUCN as vulnerable, with their population having a declining trend. Since the species was first described in 1974, some roosting sites have been disturbed, thanks to tourism, scientific collection and research, and the collection and sale of individuals as souvenirs. However, the aforementioned factors are believed to have only a minor impact to the overall population. This, because most colonies exist in hard-to-access locations, and only a few major caves have been disturbed by direct human activity.

The greatest threat for the Thai population is habitat degradation, mainly due to the annual burning of forest areas, which is most prevalent during the bat's breeding season. Furthermore, the upcoming construction of a pipeline running from Burma to Thailand may pose a serious threat in the future. The threats affecting the Burmese populations are not studied and thus, largely unknown.

It is estimated that about 2,000 individuals remain in Thailand. The status of the population in Burma is unknown, but recent surveys give a number greater than 2,000.

Today, the Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat is protected under the Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act (WARPA) in Thailand. The 500 km² Sai Yok National Park was created in 1980 specifically to protect and conserve the species. The park covers most of the caves these strange animals reside in.

Interesting Facts about the Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat
- Although the Thai and Burmese populations are morphologically identical, their echolocation calls are distinct. Whether the two populations are reproductively isolated is yet to verified.
- The species' common and scientific names are in honor to its discoverer, Thai zoologist Kitti Thonglongya (1928-1974) . Thonglongya worked with a British partner, John E. Hill, in classifying bats of Thailand. After Thonglongya died suddenly in February 1974, Hill formally described the species they had discovered together in 1973, giving it the binomial name Craseonycteris thonglongyai in honor of his colleague.
Stuffed Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat specimen in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan.
Stuffed specimen in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan.

References & Further Reading
- Puechmaille, S., Soisook, P., Yokubol, M., Piyapan, P., Ar Gouilh, M., Mie Mie, K., Khin Kyaw, K., Mackie, I., Bumrungsri, S., Dejtaradol, A., Nwe, T., Hla Bu, S., Satasook, C., Bates, P., & Teeling, E. (2009). Population size, distribution, threats and conservation status of two endangered bat species Craseonycteris thonglongyai and Hipposideros turpis Endangered Species Research, 8, 15-23 DOI: 10.3354/esr00157
- Surlykke, A., Miller, L., Mhl, B., Andersen, B., Christensen-Dalsgaard, J., & Buhl Jrgensen, M. (1993). Echolocation in two very small bats from Thailand Craseonycteris thonglongyai and Myotis siligorensis Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 33 (1), 1-12 DOI: 10.1007/BF00164341
- Hulva, P., & Horáček, I. (2002). (Chiroptera: Craseonycteridae) is a Rhinolophoid: Molecular Evidence from Cytochrome Acta Chiropterologica, 4 (2), 107-120 DOI: 10.3161/001.004.0201
- Bates, P.J.J., Nwe, T., Swe, K.M. and Bu, S.S.H.. 2001. Further new records of bats from Myanmar (Burma), including Craseonycteris thonglongyai Hill 1974 (Chiroptera: Craseonycteridae). Acta Chiropterologica 3(1): 33-41.
- Chiroptera Specialist Group. 1996. Craseonycteris thonglongyai. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
- Bates, P.J.J., Nwe, T., Swe, K.M. and Bu, S.S.H.. 2001. Further new records of bats from Myanmar (Burma), including Craseonycteris thonglongyai Hill 1974 (Chiroptera: Craseonycteridae). Acta Chiropterologica 3(1): 33-41.