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 ants

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a truly frightening parasitic fungus, at least if you are an ant!

In short, it turns ants into zombies and makes them climb tall plants. Next, 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 more 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. However, it also parasitizes on numerous other, closely related ants, although with less reproductive success and a lessened 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 that it starts to produce certain compounds that affect the ant's brain and thus its behavioral patterns. We still don't know much about the exact mechanisms behind this behavioral 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.
- An investigation 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

A beautiful leafy sea dragon
Leafy Sea Dragon
Photo by Derek Ramsey
(CC BY-SA 2.5)
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Syngnathiformes
Family: Syngnathidae
Genus: Phycodurus
Species: Phycodurus eques
Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Common Name(s): Leafy Sea Dragon,Glauerts Seadragon, Leafies

Meet the leafy seadragon, a marine fish of the family Syngnathidae, which also includes seahorses. It is the sole representative of the genus Phycodurus. The leafy seadragon's name is derived from its resemblance to a mythical dragon covered with long, leaf-like protrusions.

Distribution and Habitat
The species occurs exclusively in the southern Australian waters, from Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria at the eastern end of its range, westward to Jurien Bay, 220 km (136 miles) north of Perth in Western Australia. In the past, individuals were believed to have very limited ranges, however, further research has shown that leafy sea dragons can travel several hundred meters from their habitual locations, returning to the same spot using a strong sense of direction.

The species prefers sand patches in waters up to 50 m (~ 164 ft) deep, around kelp-covered rocks and clumps of sea grass. Leafy seadragons are commonly sighted by scuba divers near Adelaide in South Australia, especially at Rapid Bay, Edithburgh, and Victor Harbor.

Map showing the range of the leafy sea dragon
Leafy Sea Dragon Distribution

As suggested by its common name, P. eques looks like a miniature dragon covered with long, leaf-like protrusions. Slightly larger than most seahorses, adults grow to be about 20 - 30 cm (~ 8 - 11 in) long.  They are yellowish-brown to green in color, depending on age, diet and location.

The leaf-like protrusions serve only as camouflage and have no other uses, e.g. in propulsion. They are lobes of skin and give P. eques the appearance of seaweed. To propel itself, the leafy seadragon uses a pectoral fin on the ridge of its neck and a dorsal fin on its back, closer to the tail end. Both these fins are very small, almost completely transparent and difficult to see as they undulate minutely to move the creature sedately through the water. This complements the seaweed illusion even during swimming. Interestingly, leafy sea dragons can also change their color to blend in, however this ability appears to depend on the seadragon's diet, age, location, and stress levels.

The species uses the fins along the side of its head in order to to steer and turn. However, its outer skin is fairly rigid, limiting mobility. Some seadragons have been observed remaining in one location for extended periods of time (up to 68 hours), but will sometimes move for lengthy periods. The tracking of one individual indicates that they can move up to 150 m (~492 ft) per hour.

Sexual maturity is reached at the age of two, when they are fully grown and ready to breed.

Beautiful green seadragon
Green Leafy SeaDragon
(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Photo by Arthur Chapman

Behavior & Reproduction
These strange animals usually live a solitary lifestyle except during the breeding season when the male courts the female and the two pair up to breed. The breeding season runs from October to March, and during this period males develop a 'brood patch' on the underside of the tail that consists of cups of blood-rich tissue.

The female produces up to 250, bright pink eggs. Similarly to seahorses, the male leafy seadragon incubates the eggs. The female deposits them onto the aforementioned brood patch (which supplies them with oxygen) with a long tube called ovipositor. Not all eggs are transferred, as the brood patch can hold around 120 of them. The eggs are then fertilized and carried by the male for about a month.

Hatchlings begin to emerge over the course of several days. They are only about 2 cm long and extremely vulnerable to predation, with only about 5% of hatchlings reaching adulthood.

Leafy sea dragon in Birch Aquarium
Leafy sea dragon in Birch Aquarium
By Antoine Taveneaux (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ]
via Wikimedia Commons

Leafy sea dragons feed by sucking up small prey items through their long snout, like amphipods, mysid shrimp, plankton, and larval fish

Threats and Conservation Status
Today, P. eques is listed by the IUCN as Near Threatened, with the main threats being habitat loss and degradation and incidental harvesting due commercial fishing. These two factors have greatly reduced the overall populations of the species.

Aquarium harvest is an additional problem although with a minor impact on their numbers.

Fortunately, many conservation efforts including diver education, research efforts, and habitat preservation are currently underway in Australia to protect the species from any further decline.

Leafy sea dragon at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Leafy sea dragon at Monterey Bay Aquarium

In Captivity
The species is protected by law and thus getting one as a pet is very expensive and possibly illegal. Furthermore, leafy seadragons are difficult to maintain in an aquaria, with most success belonging to the public aquarium sector, due to funding, knowledge and resources that are typically not available to the average aquarist. Attempts to breed the species in captivity have so far been unsuccessful.

Some aquariums in Australia exhibiting this beautiful creature include the Sydney Aquarium, the Melbourne Aquarium, and the Aquarium of Western Australia.

In Canada, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, Toronto displays the species along with the closely related weedy seadragon.

Finally, a large number of U.S. aquaria has leafy seadragon research programs or displays, including:
  • Adventure Aquarium in Camden New Jersey
  • Aquarium of the Pacific at Long Beach
  • Birch Aquarium at Scripps San Diego
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Dallas World Aquarium Texas
  • Minnesota Zoo
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium in California
  • New England Aquarium Boston
  • Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium 
  • Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma Washington
  • Sea World Orlando Florida
  • Shedd Aquarium Chicago
  • Tennessee Aquarium

Documentary showing the amazing camouflage abilities of the leafy sea dragon

Differences between Leafy Sea Dragons and Seahorses
Although closely related, the leafy sea dragon isn't a true sea horse. The two differ in appearance, form of locomotion, and the inability of seadragons to coil or grasp things with the tail. Furthermore, they do not have a pouch for rearing the young. As aforementioned, male seadragons carry the eggs fixed to the underside of the tail.

Other Interesting Facts About Leafy Seadragons
- The leafy sea dragon is the marine emblem of the state of South Australia and a focus for local marine conservation.
- The weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), is a closely related species that also grows weed-like fins, but is smaller in size.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Gigantic Japanese spider crab

Japanese Spider crab at the
Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka, Japan.
Credit: Teddy Yoshida
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Family: Inachidae
Genus: Macrocheira
Species: Macrocheira kaempferi
Conservation Status: Not assesed
Common Name(s): Japanese spider crab, Giant spider crab

Meet the Japanese spider crab, the Godzilla version of crabs! Or should I say...Crabzilla?

The Japanese spider crab is a gigantic marine crab and one of the world's largest arthropods, holding the record for largest leg span.

The heaviest ever reported specimen was 19 kg (~42 lb), making it also the second heaviest arthropod. The heaviest is the American lobster (Homarus americanus).

Distribution & Habitat
The species is primarily found off the southern coasts of the Japanese island of Honshū, from Tokyo Bay to Kagoshima Prefecture. Some populations have also been found in Iwate Prefecture and off Su-ao in Taiwan. Adults occur at depths ranging from 50 to 600 m (~165-1970 ft).

M. kaempferi seems to have a preference for vents and holes in the deeper parts of the waters it inhabits.

Man holding a large male Japanese spider crab
Man holding a large male Japanese spider crab
As aforementioned, the species holds the record for greatest leg span among arthropods. The largest recorded specimen reached an amazing 3.8 meters (~12.5 ft) from claw to claw. The heaviest ever reported specimen was 19 kg (42 lb).

The well-calcified body (carapace) is relatively small, with a maximum known size (width) of 40 cm (~16 in) and is covered by spiny and stubby tubercles (growths). The base of the well-developed antennae is fused with the epistome (the area just above the mouth).

The walking legs of the Japanese spider crab end in inwardly-curving dactyls (the movable part at the tip of a walking leg). These assist the animal in climbing and hooking onto rocks, but prevent it from picking up or grasping objects. Males have longer chelipeds (the legs that have pincers) than females do.

Individuals of both sexes are predominantly orange, with white spots along the legs.

Little is known about the longevity of the species. Many sources report that these arthropods may live to be at least 100 years old in the, but this may be a conjecture.

Giant japanese spider crabs at the Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka, Japan.
Japanese spider crabs at the Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka, Japan.
Credit: By Chris Gladis (MShades) from Kyoto, Japan (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons
M. kaempferi appears to have a gentle disposition, despite its ferocious appearance. Not much is known about how the species communicates. Actually, it seems like there is little communication between individuals, even in aquariums which are more...densely populated.

They appear to be solitary animals, at least when scavenging for food. .

They are omnivorous animals, consuming both plant matter (like algae) and other animals. Scavenging behavior (eating dead animals) has also been reported. Individuals are known to scrape the ocean floor for plants and algae while others prey open the shells of mollusks.

These gigantic crustaceans are not active hunters, but instead crawl along and pick slow moving organisms or any dead and decaying matter along the ocean floor.

Japanese spider crab at Manila Ocean Park
Tsarli at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons

The species mates once every year, during early spring, from January to March. During this period, individuals migrate to depths of around 50 m (~164 ft). We don't know much about their reproductive patterns in the wild, as mating behavior is rarely observed. Much of our knowledge comes from observations made in laboratories and aquariums.

Fertilization is internal. Males hold sperm in spermatophores, which are inserted into the female's abdomen using the first two chelipeds.

Females commonly lay up to 1.5 million eggs per season, but only a few survive. The eggs have a diameter of 6.3-8.5 cm (~2.5 - 3.3 in), with hatching occurring after about 10 days. During this whole time, females carry the eggs on their backs and lower bodies until they hatch. This allows the mother to stir the water with her back legs to oxygenate the eggs.

Hatclings are left alone to fend for themselves. The hatchlings look nothing like their parents. They are small and transparent, with a round, legless body and usually drift as plankton at the surface of the ocean. Development of the planktonic larvae is temperature-dependent and takes between 54 and 72 days at 12–15 °C (54–59 °F).

Giant spider crab at Osaka Aquarium,Osaka,Japan
Giant spider crab at Osaka Aquarium,Osaka,Japan

Conservation Status
As of 2014, the species was listed as "Not Evaluated" as there is insufficient data concerning its conservation status. The catch of this species has greatly declined in the last 40 years, possibly an indicator of a declining trend.

In Japan, laws prohibit fishermen from catching M. kaempferi during the breeding season (January to April) in order to help keep populations up and to give the species the opportunity to spawn without interference.

In Captivity
Individuals are for display in many Japanese aquariums, for example at the Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka and the Kamogawa SeaWorld. There are also some in display at the Weymouth Sealife Park in the UKs and the Shedd Aquarium, Chicago. Just use a search engine to find if an aquarium nearby has these weird aquatic animals for display.

Japanese spider crab at Kamogawa SeaWorld Aquarium 

Is it edible?
The species is considered a delicacy in many parts of Japan and other nearby areas.

Interesting Facts about the Japanese Spider Crab
- Apart from its outstanding size, the species differs from other crabs in a number of ways. For instance, the first pleopods (any of the small paired paddlelike abdominal appendages) of males are unusually twisted, and its larvae appear primitive.
- One study found that nearly three quarters of individuals are missing at least one leg, usually one of the first walking legs. This is probably because the limbs are long and poorly-jointed to the carapace, and tend to detach easily, due to predators, nets or other factors.
- Mariners used to tell tales and stories of these crabs dragging sailors underwater and feasting on their flesh. Although untrue, it is certainly plausible that a japanese spider crab would gladly feast upon the dead body of a sailor who had previously drowned.

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References & Further Reading
- Matsuda A, Kobayashi H, Itoh S, Kataoka K, & Tanaka J (2005). Immobilization of laminin peptide in molecularly aligned chitosan by covalent bonding. Biomaterials, 26 (15), 2273-9 PMID: 15585229
- Okamoto, K. (1993). Studies on the larval rearing of giant spider crab, Macrocheira kaempferi-III. Influence of Temperature on Survival and Growth of Larvae of the Giant Spider Crab Macrocheira kaempferi(Crustacea, Decapoda, Majidae). NIPPON SUISAN GAKKAISHI, 59 (3), 419-424 DOI: 10.2331/suisan.59.419
- The Japanese Giant Spider Crab - Macrocheira kaempferi - Taka-ahi-gani". Natural Art. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
- Baldwin, C. (2003). FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes. The living marine resources of the western central Pasific. Copeia, 2003 (1), 212-214 DOI: 10.1643/0045-8511(2001)003[0212:]2.0.CO;2
- Peter K. L. Ng, Danièle Guinot & Peter J. F. Davie (2008). "Systema Brachyurorum: Part I. An annotated checklist of extant Brachyuran crabs of the world" (PDF). Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 17: 1–286.
- Maurice Burton & Robert Burton (2002). "Spider crab". International Wildlife Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). Marshall Cavendish. pp. 2475–2476. ISBN 978-0-7614-7266-7.
- "Macrocheira kaempferi". Crabs of Japan. Marine Species Identification Portal.

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

Unfortunately ,the picture is neither fake nor photoshopped. This post is about 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 concluded that the story of Cy 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 amount of money given for Cy's remains.