Thursday, 24 July 2014

Rosy-Lipped Batfish

Rosy-Lipped Batfish
Credit: Michael Poliza
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lophiiformes
Family: Ogcocephalidae
Genus: Ogcocephalus
Species: Ogcocephalus porrectus
Conservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)
Common name(s): Rosy-Lipped Batfish, Cocos batfish

A couple years ago, I made a post about the red-lipped batfish (Ogcocephalus Darwini), a weird looking fish that is best known for its bright red lips and for its highly adapted fins, that allow it to walk on the ocean floor.

Now, the time has come to examine a similarly looking and closely related species, the Rosy-Lipped Batfish. There is little research behind this strange creature, so this is gonna be a relatively short post.

Habitat
The Rosy-Lipped Batfish can be found in the waters surrounding the Cocos Island, off the shore of Costa Rica, hence the species other common name "Cocos batfish". It inhabits sand and rubble substrate and occurs in depths ranging from 35 to 150 m (114-494 ft).

Map of cocos island where the rosy lipped batfish can be found
Location of Cocos Island (inside red circle)
Click to enlarge

Description
Similarly to the red-lipped batfish, the bright red lips are the most distinctive characteristic of the rosy-lipped batfish.

The fish has a depressed head that is elevated above the disk-shaped body and a pointed snout, with a horn-like rostrum, projecting well forward between the eyes. The body is covered by leathery skin and features protruding bony spines on the back, unlike the red-lipped batfish that has a smooth back.

Individuals have an average length of about 15 cm (6 in.).

Like the red-lipped batfish, they have highly modified pectoral and pelvic fins, which allow them to walk on the ocean floor. When swimming, they are slow and clumsy. On a side note, the spotted handfish walks and swims in a similar fashion.





Diet
The Cocos batfish is carnivorous, with its eat diet consisting of benthic worms, crustaceans (like shrimps & crabs), gastropods and small fish.

Image of the rosy-lipped batfish
Rosy-Lipped Batfish,
Notice the distinctive spines on its back

Conservation Status & Threats
Currently, the species has no known major threats. Populations seem to be stable and in 2010 it was listed as of Least Concern by the IUCN. In addition, the Cocos Island is designated as a National Park and the species distribution falls entirely within the Marine Protected Area of Cocos Island. Finally, researchers believe that the species's populations are unlikely to be negatively impacted by future climate changes, due to the great depths it occurs .

Considering the above, the rosy-lipped batfish appears to have a bright feature, despite its very restricted range.


References
- Bussing, W. A. and Lopez, M. I. 2005. Fishes of Cocos Island and reef fishes of the pacific coast of lower Central America. Publicacion especial. , Source: Revista de Biologia Tropical, Vol. 53, Page: 1-192
- Bussing, W. A. and Lopez, M. I. 2005. Fishes of Cocos Island and reef fishes of the pacific coast of lower Central America. Publicacion especial. , Source: Revista de Biologia Tropical, Vol. 53, Page: 1-192
- Lea, B., Béarez, P. & McCosker, J. 2010. Ogcocephalus porrectus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>.

Monday, 21 July 2014

11 Strange and Bizzare Breeds of Chicken

Contrary to what many people think, not all chickens look more or less the same. Thanks to selective breeding, we have chickens that their differences extend way beyond a simple "This one is red", "This one's black" or a "This one is big".

Today, we have all kinds of chickens. Some are great egg-layers. Others are perfect for producing meat and some are excellent in both of those fields. And of course, we have some that are simply weird-looking!

So, let's check out some of weirdest looking chicken breeds, and learn a few things about them as well:

1. Onagadori
Onagadori is a breed originating from the Kōchi Prefecture of Japan. They come in a variety of colors, like Black Breasted Red, Black Breasted Silver, Black Breasted Golden and White. The leg color is willow in the Black-breasted variations and yellow or white in the White.

Onagatori rooster with a super long tail
Onagatori Cock

The roosters' remarkable tail feathers reach lengths ranging from 3.6 to 8.2 m (~12-27 ft), when kept clean and in good condition. If you’re looking for an easy-maintenance chicken then this breed isn't for you. Just imagine keeping their tails clean!


Onagadori rooster in Ueno zoo, Tokyo, Japan.


2. Silkie
Sometimes spelled "Silky," these chickens are named after their fluffy, silk-like plumage. In addition to their puffy plumage, the breed has several other strange qualities, such as black skin and bones, blue earlobes, and five toes on each foot, contrary to most breeds that only have four.

A white, super cute silkie hen
White Silkie hen

The exact origins of these weird chickens remain largely a mystery, however the most probable point of origin is ancient China. They come in a variety of colors, including black, blue, buff, grey, partridge and white.

They are docile animals, with a calm and friendly temperament, making them perfect for pets.

Video about silkies and how to raise them


3. Polish
The Polish (sometimes called the Poland) is a European breed, possibly originating from Netherlands, where the oldest accounts of these birds are tracked. This strange breed is easily distinguished by the fine crest that both hens and roosters sport on their heads.

Just a polish rooster
Polish cock

Polish chickens come in a variety of colors and are bred primarily as show birds. There are bearded, non-bearded and frizzle varieties. The feathered crests impair their vision, making them more susceptible to predators (e.g. foxes and hawks), as they can't see as well as other birds.





4. Phoenix
The Phoenix is one of many breeds that resulted from European selective breeding of the aforementioned Onagadori, from which this breed inherited its long, beautiful tail. Individuals vary in color and may be gold, black, and silver.

Image showing a Golden Phoenix hen and rooster
Golden Phoenix hen and rooster

The breed is not suitable for cold climates, and like the Onagadori is famous for its long tail. Interestingly, they molt every other year, unlike most breeds that molt every year.

5. Crèvecœur
The Crèvecœur (or Crevecoeur) is a rare breed of chicken originating from France, named after the town of Crèvecœur in Normandy. These strange chickens are one of the oldest French chicken breeds and are usually raised for poultry exhibition.

Crèvecœur flock, rooster on the foreground
Crèvecœur rooster

Crevecoeurs have a uniformly black plumage, a V-shaped comb and large crests, similar in this last to the Polish breed. Their legs are a dark blue-gray. They don't get very big and don't lay eggs as frequently as most other breeds.




6. Araucana
The Araucana, also known as the South American Rumpless, is a breed of chicken originating in Chile. Other than its strange look, the breed is known for laying blue eggs! This bizarre coloration is possibly the result of a DNA retrovirus that appeared sometime early during domestication.

Close up of a Araucana Hen
Araucana Hen
An Araucana egg with other eggs for comparison
Araucana egg (blue) with white and brown eggs for comparison.

This small-sized breed is rumpless and tufted. Individuals may be black, black-red, golden duckwing, silver duckwing and white. Araucanas are exceptionally rare, partly due to being difficult to breed because a high percentage of the chicks die in their shells.



Araucana chickens eating corn


7. Sultan
The Sultan is a rare Turkish breed, easily distinguished by its turbanlike head crest. Its English name is directly derived from the original Turkish language name "Serai-Tavuk", which translates to "fowls of the Sultan".

Three sultan chickens
Sultan chickens


Like the silkie, it's one of the few breeds featuring five toes on each feathered (!) foot. Sultans come in three varieties, black, blue, and white, the latter being the most popular. They are docile, friendly and calm animals, although a bit demanding to care.


Man petting a Sultan hen


8. Polverara
The Polverara is an ancient crested breed from the small city of Polverara in the province of Padova of north-eastern Italy. Also known as Schiatta or Sciata, this breed is known for its small and upward-facing crest and beard.

Polverara Hen in a cage
Polverara Hen

The breed had almost gone extinct in the early 1900s and again in 2000, down to 10 in both cases. Today, there are two varieties, black and white. These chickens do better out in the open, adapting very poorly in confined spaces.


Video showing a Polverara chicken


9. Modern Game
The Modern Game is a chicken breed originating from the U.K, tracing somewhere between 1850 and 1900. It is a purely exhibition bird, developed after the outlawing of cockfights in the U.K., in the mid 19th century. This is when many cockfighting enthusiasts turned to breeding for shows as an alternative poultry hobby. The breed was created using multiple lines of cockfighting breeds (game birds).

Tall modern game hen


These chickens are bred purely for exhibition and are neither good for laying eggs nor for meat production. They are are sleek, proud-postured, with their color varying from red to mulberry. The lack of meat makes them unsuitable for areas with very cold climates.



Kid feeds a young Modern Game chicken


10. Naked neck
Obviously, naked neck chickens take their name from the featherless neck and vent they feature. The breed originates from Transylvania, hence the other common name "Transylvanian Naked Neck". Sometimes also called the Turken, thanks to the false impression that the bird is a hybrid between a chicken and a turkey.

Two naked neck chickens
Naked neck chickens

The breed's unusual appearance is controlled by a dominant gene mutation that is easy to introduce to other chickens. Despite their weird looks, they are not bred for exhibition. However, they are good for egg and meat production. Recognized colors include black, white, cuckoo, buff, red, and blue.




11. Naked Chicken
The naked chicken takes the naked neck to the next level. Also known as the featherless chicken, this weird breed was created by a team of researchers, led by Avigdor Cahaner, at the genetics faculty of the Rehovot Agronomy Institute near Tel Aviv, Israel.

Two featherless (naked) chickens


The breed was created with purely commercial use in mind. Thanks to the total lack of feathers, these chickens grow faster with less food. Furthermore, they are ecofriendly, as no plucking is required, a process that often contaminates large quantities of water with feathers and fats.



Creator of the naked chicken, Prof. Avigdor Cahaner,
talks about the breed




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Friday, 18 July 2014

Scientists Create Alcohol-Resistant Worms That Might Cure Alcoholism

Image showing a sober and an intoxicated worm
Image showing the effects of alchohol in
Caenorhabditis elegans and..humans
Credit: Jon Pierce-Shimomura from
The University of Texas, Austin.
A couple of days ago, a team of neuroscientists from the University of Texas, Austin announced that they have created a new strain of mutant worms which is impervious to the intoxicating effects of alcohol!

To create the alcohol-immune worms, the researchers implanted a modified human alcohol target – a neuronal channel called the BK channel SLO-1 that binds alcohol to the brain – into the genome of Caenorhabditis elegans worms.

An alcohol target is any nerve cell molecule that binds with alcohol, whereas C. elegans is a free-living (non-parasitic), transparent nematode (roundworm), about 1 mm in length, that lives in temperate soil environments.

"This is the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal." said Jon Pierce-Shimomura, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor in the university's College of Natural Sciences and Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research.

One important aspect of this modified alcohol target is that the mutation only affects its response to alcohol. Normally, the BK channel regulates many other important functions including the activity of neurons, blood vessels, the respiratory tract and bladder. The alcohol-insensitive mutation does not disrupt these functions at all.

"We got pretty lucky and found a way to make the channel insensitive to alcohol without affecting its normal function." said Pierce-Shimomura.

The authors believe their study has potential applications for treating people addicted to alcohol:

"Our findings provide exciting evidence that future pharmaceuticals might aim at this portion of the alcohol target to prevent problems in alcohol abuse disorders. However, it remains to be seen which aspects of these disorders would benefit." said Pierce-Shimomura.

Unlike other drugs like cocaine, which have a specific target in the nervous system, the effects of alcohol on the body are complex, targeting numerous areas of the brain. Other aspects of alcohol addiction, like tolerance, cravings and withdrawal symptoms are probably influenced by different alcohol targets.

The worms used in this study are a good model for alcohol intoxication, which causes them to slow their crawling and reduce the wriggling from side to side. They also stop laying eggs, which accumulate in their bodies and can be easily counted.

Image showing how a healthy Caenorhabditis elegans crawls
Movement of sober Caenorhabditis elegans
Credit: "CrawlingCelegans" by Bob Goldstein

However, C. elegans is not an ideal model for alcohol addiction. Now, the team wants to take the research a step further. The modified human BK channel that was used in this study - which is based on a mutation discovered by lead author and graduate student Scott Davis - can be inserted into mice, which would allow them to examine if this alcohol target also affects tolerance, cravings and other alcohol-related symptoms.

Interestingly, Jon Pierce-Shimomura said that future pharmaceutical applications could include a "James Bond drug", which would enable a spy to drink his opponent under the table, without getting drunk himself. The same drug could also be used to treat alcoholics, since it would counteract the intoxicating and potentially addicting effects of alcohol.

Image of a Caenorhabditis elegans specimen
Caenorhabditis elegans


References
http://www.eurekalert.org
- Davis, S., Scott, L., Hu, K., & Pierce-Shimomura, J. (2014). Conserved Single Residue in the BK Potassium Channel Required for Activation by Alcohol and Intoxication in C. elegans Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (29), 9562-9573 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0838-14.2014

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Video: Massive Duck Stampede Swarms Road in Thailand

Ducks can be cute, but when thousands of them gather together and start swarming the streets, the end result is terrifying at least. The video you are about to see was first uploaded to Facebook on June 14 and two days later on YouTube, where it has garnered more than 600.000 views as of  today.

Interestingly, when you think the stampede is over, a second wave of crazy quackers comes rushing through:


What the duck?

The video was uploaded by a Thai resident named Jack Sarathat who was reportedly forced to step on the brakes of his car when the ducks flooded the street he was driving on.

"I'm not sure why these ducks are in revolt. You can see the great mass of ducks swarming on the road. They have now occupied the area entirely." says Sarathat to a passenger, as reported by the Bangkok Post.

No one seems to know where the crazy ducks were heading to or why they were on the road.

Surely, an interesting.. duck tale!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

12 Crazy and Unusual Animal Fights

The internet is full of bloody lists, showing wild animals fighting each other to the death. However, this list is a bit different, featuring some of the most crazy, strange and unusual animal fights.  Some are highly unlikely to occur, some are funny and some have a really unexpected ending. Be warned, some of these fights are not for the faint-hearted!

Feel free to add other strange battles to the comments, I would be happy to include them.

Now, prepare yourself for this list of unusual animal fights:

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Striped Pyjama Squid

Photo of the Striped Pyjamn Squid, scientifically described as Sepioloidea lineolata
Striped Pyjama Squid
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Cephalopoda
Order: Sepiida
Family: Sepioloidea
Genus: Sepioloidea
Species: Sepioloidea  lineolata
Conservation Status: Not yet assessed
Common name(s): Striped Pyjama Squid, Striped Dumpling Squid



Unlike other strange animals that have been previously featured on the site, it's pretty much obvious why the striped pyjama squid was named this way. Although technically a cuttlefish and not a squid, it does look like it’s wearing striped pyjamas.

Distribution and Habitat
The species occurs exclusively in the southern Indo-Pacific and can be found in eastern, southern and western Australia. Individuals usually hide on the sea floor, inside sand or mud, and amongst seagrass in waters of up to 20 meters (~60 feet) deep.

Description
It has a small and rounded body, with an average mantle length of 5 cm (~2.0 in), with the biggest ever recorded specimen being 7 cm (~2.5 in.) long. The body is covered by thin dark brown longitudinal stripes and has a creamish background while some individuals present with a mottled purple-brown color pattern. S. lineolata possess a pair of kidney-shaped fins on the mantle. The body has no shell.

It has 8 short, webbed arms that come with small suckers, each with a toothed horny rim and two retractable feeding tentacles, again each with a toothed horny rim. The protruding eyes have an orange upper lid and finger-like papillae over them.

Leaving their pyjama-like coloration aside, their body resembles a dumpling. This is why the species is also known as the Striped Dumpling Squid.

The underside of the head and body is covered by numerous small glands that secrete a slime-like substance (mucous).

Striped Dumpling Squid resting on the ocean floor
Credit: Marine Education Society of Australasia
 Matt Gibbs Rights: © MESA

Behavior
These little critters spend most of the day buried in the sand or mud, with only their eyes protruding. This allows them to hide from predators and to catch unsuspecting prey as well. They become more active during the night, leaving the bottom - swimming in short hops - to go for hunting.


A diver digs out a striped pyjama squid
Notice at 00:40 how quickly it hides itself again


Diet
They feed on small prey, like shrimp, fish and other mobile invertebrates.

Reproduction
During the mating period, the male grabs any passing female. The species mates face-to-face and then the male places sperm packets in a pouch below the female's mouth. If she has already mated, the male will use a special lower arm to scoop out the existing sperm.

Striped Pyjama Squid mating on the sand bottom
Striped Pyjama Squid
Credit: Mark Norman 

Females lay white spherical eggs in clumps, on rock crevices, under loose rubble or other objects like shells and tin cans, and stay with them until hatching occurs. The emerging hatchlings look like miniature-adults, possessing the characteristic pyjama-like pattern at birth. The newborns quickly hide into the sand.


Video showing striped pyjama squids.
Jump to 1:00 to see Sepioloidea lineolata eggs and babies

Conservation Status
The species conservation status is not assessed by the IUCN and there is little data on overall population size, threats and their potential impact. Fortunately, there seems to be no commercial or pet-trade demand for these beautiful creatures.

Interesting Facts about the Striped Pyjama Squid
- Interestingly, the dramatic coloration of the species may be a form of aposematism, a warning signal that the species is poisonous. There is data indicating that the mucous produced by the striped pyjama squid may be toxic, although this needs further clarification. If true, Sepioloidea lineolata is just one of the handful poisonous cephalopods we know.
- The type specimen of S. lineolata was collected in Jervis Bay, southeastern Australia. It is deposited at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.


Notice how it swims in short hops

References & Further Reading
- Reid, A. 2005. Family Sepiadariidae. In: P. Jereb & C.F.E. Roper, eds. Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of species known to date. Volume 1. Chambered nautiluses and sepioids (Nautilidae, Sepiidae, Sepiolidae, Sepiadariidae, Idiosepiidae and Spirulidae). FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes. No. 4, Vol. 1. Rome, FAO. pp. 204–207.
- Talbot, C., & Marshall, J. (2010). Polarization sensitivity and retinal topography of the striped pyjama squid (Sepioloidea lineolata - Quoy/Gaimard 1832) Journal of Experimental Biology, 213 (19), 3371-3377 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.048165
- Norman, M & A. Reid., (2000) A Guide to Squid, Cuttlefish and Octopuses of Australasia, CSIRO Publishing, Victoria (Collingwood)
- Jereb, P., & C.F.E Roper (eds) (2005) Cephalopods of the World: Chambered Nautiluses and Sepioids, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Catalogue for Fishery Purposes, Rome, No. 4, Vol. 1
Australian Museum, Striped Pyjama Squid – Sepioloidea lineolata (Quoy and Gaimard, 1832)
- International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (2010). www.iucn.org.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

New Species of Spider Wasp Uses Ant Corpses to Protect Its Nests

A newly discovered wasp species uses the corpses of dead ants as scarecrows, to protect its nest from predators, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Freiburg. Scientifically described as Deuteragenia ossarium and dubbed as the Bone-house wasp, the species uses the chemical cues from ant corpses to ward off predators, by stuffing them into the crevices of its home. The species was discovered in Jiangxi Province in south east China.

Wasps use a wide range of nest protection strategies, including digging holes or occupying pre-existing cavities such as in wood.  Previous studies have shown that the nests of cavity-nesting wasps contain several brood cells separated by thin walls of plant debris, resin, or soil. Once the females have finished the construction of the nest, they lay their eggs, store food and finally construct an outermost vestibular cell to seal the nest. Next, they abandon the brood and leave the offsprings to deal with the hardships of life all by themselves. This means that nest protection strategies play a detrimental role in the survival of the brood.

In this study, the researchers collected 829 nests of cavity-nesting wasps with 1929 brood cells belonging to 18 different species in South-East China. To their surprise, 73 of these nests had a vestibular cell filled with dead ants and belonged to an unknown species.

Image depicting the Bone-house wasp (Deuteragenia ossarium) and its nest protection system
The bone house' wasp and its nest-protection system

As far as scientists know, this strange practice is unique not only in wasps but also in the entire animal kingdom.
"It was a totally unexpected discovery." said Dr. Michael Staab, researcher at the University of Freiburg in Germany and leading author of the study.

The species was described in the same study as Deuteragenia ossarium and was nicknamed the "Bone-house Wasp". The Latin word "ossarium" means bone-house, an attribution to the historical ossuaries piled high with human skeletons found in monasteries or graveyards.

"An ‘ossarium’ is a covered site, where human remains are deposited. The species name is an allusion to the unusual nesting strategy of the new species, which closes the nest with a vestibular cell filled with dead ants. This reminds us of historical bone-houses in monasteries and graveyards, which over time were filled with piles of human bones." an excerpt from study.


Smelly Scarecrows
The researchers were initially puzzled by the presence of dead ants, until they considered the location and the species of the dead ants. The corpses were always placed in the outer vestibular cell, a chamber built by the female wasp to seal the nest after laying her eggs. The ants most commonly found in the crevices belonged to the Pachycondyla astuta species, an aggressive and large-bodied ant. This ant is quite common in the region and as a result, potential predators may have had previous contact with the species and therefore avoid the scent of the species.

In simple words, the wasps possibly use the dead ants as "smelly scarecrows", camouflaging their nests against scent-based predators.

"However, due to the very good condition of all ant specimens in the ant chambers, we assume that the wasp must actively hunt the ants and not collect dead ants from the refuse piles of ant colonies," commented Staab to Live Science, in an email on how the wasps collect the ants.

The researchers reported lower parasitism rates in the nests of the Bone-House wasp, compared to the nests of other cavity-nesting wasps, further supporting the aforementioned assumptions.

"Our discovery demonstrates in an impressive way, what fascinating strategies of offspring-protection have evolved in the animal kingdom." said Staab.


Other species of wasps also resort to other macabre practices to protect their youngs. For example, the parasitic Dinocampus coccinellae wasp turns ladybird bugs into temporary "zombies" that guard its youngs! 

Dinocampus coccinellae larva cocoon and zombified ladybug
Dinocampus coccinellae larva forming cocoon next to zombified ladybug


The paper is open and free to read by all, I highly suggest you to check it out. It is a very interesting read!

References
- Staab, M., Ohl, M., Zhu, C., & Klein, A. (2014). A Unique Nest-Protection Strategy in a New Species of Spider Wasp PLoS ONE, 9 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101592