Friday, 31 October 2014

Galathea Pilosa: World's Most Beautiful Lobster

Galathea pilosa, ridiculously beautiful lobster
Galathea Pilosa
Credit: © 2009 Moorea Biocode
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Family: Galatheidae
Genus: Galathea
Species: Galathea pilosa
Conservation Status: Not assessed

Would you ever imagine that there could be such a colorful lobster out there? Meet Galathea pilosa, the world's most beautiful lobster!

Galathea is one of the largest genera of squat lobsters, containing currently 70 recognized species; 17 in the Atlantic Ocean, 22 in the Indian Ocean and 43 in the Pacific Ocean. As for G. pilosa, it is a rare species that occurs exclusively in the shallow waters of French Polynesia. It lives among small pecies of coral or coral blocks, at depths ranging from 1 to 20 m.

Credit: © 2009 Moorea Biocode

Although first described more than 100 years ago in 1887, we still know very little about this amazing creature. It has a flat body and a tail that sits tucked underneath the thorax (the part of body where the head fuses with the abdomen), a typical trait for Galathea lobsters. The carapace is quite small, only 0.8 to 1.2 cm long. The arms can be several times the body length.

Undoubtedly, the complex patterns of bright blue, purple,yellow and red are the species' most distinctive trait.
Galathea Pilosa, world's most beautiful and amazing lobster
Credit: © 2009 Moorea Biocode

- All images property of the Moorea Biocode Project, shot in mid N coast, off Sheraton Hotel (Moorea, French Polynesia) and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Octogoat, the Goat with 8 Legs (Video)

Octogoat with its owner,
Zoran Paparic
It's been a long time since I last posted about a strangely deformed animal. So, today I want to present you the story of "Octogoat", a goat that as you have probably guessed was born with 8 legs.

The octogoat was born in May 2014, on a farm in Kutjevo, in northeast Croatia.

"I counted his legs and I thought I was seeing things. Then I called my neighbour to make sure that I am not crazy." said Zoran Paparic's, owner of the farm.

The poor creature not only had 8 legs but it also possessed both male and female reproductive organs. 

According to local veterinarians, the extra parts are most probably the remains of an underdeveloped conjoined twin.

"Everything is double with him. He is trying to stand on his feet, but lacks strength. Sarka, which I have had for three years, gave birth to a miracle of nature. This is her fourth time and she always has triplets." said Paparic.

In the video down below you can see both the octogoat and Mr. Paparic:

When the story first hit the news, the vets said that Octogoat was unlikely to survive for more than a few days. But Paparic said he would gladly keep the animal as a pet if it managed to survive.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been an update since then and the fate of Octogoat remains unknown...

The eight legged goat sleeping
The octogoat sleeps

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Friday, 24 October 2014

The Pig-like Aardvark

A young and an adult Aardvark
Adult and juvenile Aardvarks
Credit: By Scotto Bear from North Beach, MD, USA (aardvarks)
[CC-BY-SA-2.], via Wikimedia Commons
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Superorder: Afrotheria
Order: Tubulidentata
Family: Orycteropodidae
Genus: Orycteropus
Species: Orycteropus afer
Conservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)
Common Name(s): Aardvark, African antbear, Cape anteater

Meet the Aardvark, a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal from Africa and the sole living representative of the order Tubulidentata. "Aardvark" derives from South Africa's Afrikaans language and translates to "earth pigs".

As suggest by their common name, they look a bit like pigs, and also have rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo-like tail. Yet, they are not related to any of these animals. Recent genetic studies have placed aardvarks in a taxon called Afrotheria. Their closest surviving relatives are elephants, hyraxes, elephant-shrews, golden moles, and tenrecs.

Distribution & Habitat
Aardvarks live in Africa, in places with a suitable habitat, including savannas, grasslands, woodlands and bushland, and available prey items like ants and termites. The only type of habitat that they can't be found is swamp forest, as the high water table interferes with their digging. They also tend to avoid rocky terrain for the same reason. The species has been recorded in altitudes as high as 3,200 meters (~10,500 ft) in Ethiopia.

Aardvarks occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa all the way to South Africa with few exceptions, the coastal areas of Namibia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Madagascar. In short, they inhabit about 2/3 of Africa.

They often inhabit temporary holes that are a few meters in length, but are also found in complex and intricate burrows, which can have eight or more entrances and extend as much as 6 meters underground. The entrances are often plugged with a vent left at the top.

Map showing the distribution of Aardavarks
Aardvark Distribution Map

The aardvark has a pig-like appearance although the two are not closely related. The body is stout with a prominently arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. Adults usually have a weight ranging from 60 to 80 kilograms (132 to 176 lb) and are 105 to 130 cm (3.44–4.27 ft) long. Maximum length is about 2.2 m, when the thick tail (which can be up to 70 cm (28 in) long) is taken into consideration. Aardvarks stand 60 cm (24 in) tall at the shoulder, and have a girth of about 100 cm (40 in.). They have a pale yellowish-gray color that is often stained reddish-brown by the soil as they dig.

They have thin coat, tough skin and no fat layer. The hair is short on the head and tail but a bit longer on the legs. The hair on the most part of the body is grouped in clusters of 3-4 hairs. The hairs surrounding the nostrils are dense and help filter particulate matter out as these strange animals dig the soil.

The species has medium-sized legs, with the rear being longer than the front legs. The front feet have lost the pollex (the first digit of the forelimb), resulting in four toes, while the rear feet retain all five toes. Each toe comes with a large, robust nail which is somewhat flattened and shovel-like. Each nail ends up in a spade-like claw that helps them to dig with great speed and force.

An aardvark walks at the Detroit Zoo, US
An aardvark at Detroit Zoo
Photo By MontageMan
[CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

As you can see on the photos and videos, aardavarks have a greatly elongated head that is set on a short, thick neck. The snout resembles an elongated pig snout, and bears a disc, which houses the nostrils.

The tongue is long, thin and snakelike and can protrude as much as 30 cm (12 in) out of the mouth.

The rabbit-like ears are disproportionately large, about 20–25 cm (7.9–9.8 in) long. The species has a very keen sense of hearing.

The eyes are relatively small and contain only rod cells; cells in the retina that can function in less intense light than the other type of visual photoreceptor, cone cells. The species has relatively poor eyesight.

Aarvarks resting in the London Zoo

The mouth is small and tubular, something expected by an animal that primarily feeds on ants and termites. One of the most distinctive and unique traits of this creature is its dentition. Instead of having a pulp cavity, each tooth has a cluster of thin, hexagonal, upright, parallel tubes of vasodentin (a modified form of dentine), with individual pulp canals, held together by cementum. The number of columns is dependent on the size of the tooth, with the largest having about 1,500. The teeth have no enamel coating and are worn away and regrow continuously. Aardvarks are born with conventional incisors and canines at the front of the jaw, which fall out soon later, never to be renewed again.

The aardvark usually moves slowly, however, it can attain speeds of up to 40 km/h when running and dig 1 yard of tunnel in about 5 minutes. It is also an excellent swimmer, capable of swimming even in strong currents.

In the wild, aardvarks are known to live for up to 18 years, and up to 23 years in captivity. They reach sexually maturity approximately at the age of two years old.

Aardvark takes a walk out in the sun
Aardvark out in the sun
Photo By Louise Joubert (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Aardvarks are rather quiet animals making very few sounds. The species makes soft grunting sounds while foraging and loud grunts as it moves towards the tunnel entrance. It also makes a bleating sound when frightened or threatened by predators.

O. afer feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites (myrmecophagous). The only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber(Cucumis humofructus), Aardvarks eat the fruit for its water content and propagate the seeds through their feces, which are then buried by the animals. Due to the depth of the fruit, the seeds are unable to germinate without assistance, and rely on aardvarks for prepagation. Aardvarks eat the subterranean fruit, then defecate the seeds near the burrows, which then grow rapidly due to the loose soil and fertile nature of the area. The time spent in the intestine of the aardvark helps the fertility of the seed.

Individuals usually emerge from their burrows in the late afternoon or shortly after sunset, and forage over a considerable range, covering distances from 10 to 30 km (6.2 to 18.6 mi). While foraging for food, aardvarks keep their nose to the ground and the ears pointed forward. This suggests that both smell and hearing are involved in the search for food. They use a zig-zag-like movement when foraging. They tend not to repeat the same route for 5–8 days, probably to give ants and termites enough time to recuperate. .

The claws enable them to dig through the extremely hard crust of a termite or ant mound quickly and effortlessly. They avoid inhaling the produced dust by sealing their nostrils.

If ants or termites are detected, the aardvark will keep its long ears upright to listen for predators, and then take up a remarkable number of insects with its long, sticky tongue. Up to as many as 50,000 in one night have been recorded. All bites and stings by their prey are in vain, thanks to their tough skin.

Sometimes, termite and ant mounds alone don't provide enough energy, so they also look for termites on the move. Termites routinely form columns 10 - 40 meters (33–131 ft) long which are quick and easy targets.

Baby aardvark at Jambo Junction at Busch Gardens drinking a bottle of formula

Other than humans, their natural predators are lions, leopards, hunting dogs and pythons. They may not possess many teeth, however they still have a few tricks up their sleeves against them. As aforementioned, they can sprint quite quickly and they will return back to their burrow to elude enemies. When retreating, they use a zig-zag motion making their capture more difficult.

If escape is not an option, they will strike with all their might, using their claws, tail, shoulders and body weight to protect themselves. They will kick, slash and sometimes flip onto their backs lying motionless only to lash out with all four feet. They are capable of causing substantial damage to unprotected areas of a predator while their thick skin protects them from minor and intermediate attacks.

Sometimes they are hunted by humans for their edible flesh and their skin, which is used to make leather clothing and bracelets.

Baby aardvark in Berlin Zoo

Behavior & Reproduction
Aardvarks are solitary creatures that prefer to live alone and have never been found in large numbers. They spend their lives in solidarity, the only exceptions are during courtship and mothers accompanied by their cubs.

They are most active during the first part of the night time (20:00 to 24:00), however, they don't appear to prefer bright or dark nights over the other. During adverse weather or if disturbed (e.g. by a predator) they will retreat or stay inside their burrow systems. Due to their nocturnal lifestyle they are rarely seen out in the wild. Sometimes they come out during the day to sun themselves. When they sleep, they block the entrance of the burrow, leaving only a small opening at the top, and curl into a tight ball.

Little is known about their reproductive patterns in the wild, as most observations have been made on captive individuals. It is believed that they pair exclusively during the breeding season. After a gestation period of about seven months, the females gives birth to one cub weighing around 1.7–1.9 kg (3.7–4.2 lb), from May to July. On rare occasions, a female may give birth to two cubs.

The hairless newborn has flaccid ears, many wrinkles and will nurse off each breast in succession. Two weeks later, the folds of the skin disappear and after three weeks, the ears can be held upright. After 5 to 6 weeks, body hair starts growing.  The cub is able to leave the burrow and follow its mother after just two weeks, starts eating termites at 9 weeks and is weaned by the 16th week. At six months it can dig its own burrows, but it will often remain with the mother until the next mating season.

Aardvark coming out of its burrow
Aardvark in burrow at SanWild, Africa
By Louise Joubert [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In Captivity
Aardvarks handle captivity quite well, as you can see on the video down below they may become very friendly with their keepers:

Zookeepers at london zoo handfeed two aardvarks

The first zoo to exhibit this strange animal was the London Zoo, in 1869. Today, some zoos featuring aardavarks are the following:
  • London Zoo, London, UK
  • Colchester Zoo, Colchester, UK
  • Berlin Zoo, Berlin, Germany
  • Bronx Zoo, New York, U.S
  • Brookfield Zoo,  Illinois, U.S
  • Detroit Zoo, Detroit, U.S
  • Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, U.S

This is just a quick list I made. Please use google to check if a zoo or park near you has this beautiful animal for exhibition!

Conservation Status
Today, the species is listed under "Least Concern" by the IUCN, due to its abundant and widespread distribution. In southern Africa, there are no indications that the numbers are decreasing or increasing significantly. However, in eastern, central, and western Africa, their numbers have possibly declined as a result of the expansion of human populations, habitat-loss, and hunting for meat. There are no known major threats, except the aforementioned which only affect localized populations.

Other than for its meat, the aardavark is sometimes hunted and killed by humans for its body parts, such as claws and teeth, for charms and medicinal purposes.

The aardvark has seventeen poorly defined subspecies listed:
  • Orycteropus afer afer
  • O a adametzi Grote
  • O a aethiopicus Sundevall
  • O a angolensis Zukowsky & Haltenorth
  • O a erikssoni Lönnberg
  • O a faradjius Hatt
  • O a haussanus Matschie
  • O a kordofanicus Rothschild
  • O a lademanni Grote
  • O a leptodon Hirst
  • O a matschiei Grote
  • O a observandus Grote
  • O a ruvanensis Grote
  • O a senegalensis Lesson
  • O a somalicus Lydekker
  • O a wardi Lydekker
  • O a wertheri Matschie

The skull of an aardvark
Aardvark skull
Photo By Klaus Rassinger und Gerhard Cammerer, Museum Wiesbaden (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Other Interesting Facts about Aardvarks
- The genus name "Orycteropus" means burrowing foot and comes from the Greek word ορυκτερόπους (orykterópous) meaning "digging footed". The species name "afer" refers to Africa.
- Hausa magicians make a charm from the heart, skin, forehead, and nails of the aardvark, which they then proceed to pound together with the root of a certain tree. The Hausa are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. Wrapped in a piece of skin and worn on the chest, the charm is said to give the owner the ability to pass through walls or roofs at night. The charm is said to be used by burglars and those seeking to visit young girls without their parents' permission. Also, some tribes, such as the Margbetu, Ayanda, and Logo, will use the teeth of the aardvark to make bracelets that are regarded as good luck charms.
- The meat is edible and according to some, has a pork-like taste.
- The Egyptian god Seth appears to have the head of an aardvark.

The egyptian god Seth has the head of an aardvark
In Egyptian mythology, Seth appears to have the head of an aardvark

References & Further Reading
- Lehmann, T. (2009). Phylogeny and systematics of the Orycteropodidae (Mammalia, Tubulidentata) Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 155 (3), 649-702 DOI: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2008.00460.x
- Taylor, W., & Skinner, J. (2003). Activity patterns, home ranges and burrow use of aardvarks (Orycteropus afer) in the Karoo Journal of Zoology, 261 (3), 291-297 DOI: 10.1017/S0952836903004217
- Taylor, W., Lindsey, P., & Skinner, J. (2002). The feeding ecology of the aardvark Orycteropus afer Journal of Arid Environments, 50 (1), 135-152 DOI: 10.1006/jare.2001.0854
- Mutlow AG, & Mutlow H (2008). Caesarian section and neonatal care in the aardvark (Orycteropus afer). Journal of zoo and wildlife medicine : official publication of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, 39 (2), 260-2 PMID: 18634220
- Tabuce, R., Asher, R., & Lehmann, T. (2008). Afrotherian mammals: a review of current data mammalia, 72 (1) DOI: 10.1515/MAMM.2008.004
- White, J., Williams, G., Samour, J., Drury, P., & Cheeseman, P. (1985). The composition of milk from captive aardvark (Orycteropus afer) Zoo Biology, 4 (3), 245-251 DOI: 10.1002/zoo.1430040305
- Lindsey, P.; Cilliers, S.; Griffin, M.; Taylor, A.; Lehmann, T.; Rathbun, G. (2008). "Orycteropus afer". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Aardvark". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
- Schlitter, D. A. (2005). "Order Tubulidentata". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Four Solar-Powered Animals

Photosynthesis, a process used by plants and some bacteria to convert light from the sun into chemical energy which can be later released to fuel their activities. Animals on the other hand, have to consume other organisms in order to cover their energy needs. But every rule has an exception.

In recent years, researchers have discovered a small number of animals that much like plants have found a way to directly harness and feed off the Sun’s energy.

1# Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis)
Typically, wasps and hornets are most active during the early morning when they do the majority of their daily activities. However, this is not the case with the oriental hornet that is most active during the middle of the day. This social insect nests underground and the workers correlate their digging activity with the intensity of sunlight. It turns out there is actually a good reason why these insects love intense sunlight.

Oriental Hornet turns light into electricity
Oriental Hornet
Photo By MattiPaavola (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The species has an outer layer (cuticle) that allows it to harvest solar energy. The yellow parts of the body (in the head and abdomen) contain a pigment called Xanthopterin. Xanthopterin works as a light harvesting molecule, transforming light into electrical energy. Currently, it is assumed that part of this energy is transformed in a photo-biochemical process which aids the species with energy demanding activities, like flying and digging. The harvested energy appears to also provide enough energy to carry out some metabolic functions, as researchers have found that most of the metabolic activity occurs in the yellow pigment layer.

As for the brown tissues, although incapable of directly harnessing the sun's energy, they still play an important role in the whole process. Structural analysis has found that they are full of grooves that capture light by channeling rays into the tissues and breaking them apart into smaller rays. Essentially, the brown areas act as a light trap, only 1% of the light that strikes is reflected away.

2# Eastern Emerald Elysia (Elysia chlorotica)
Elysia chlorotica is a medium-sized green sea slug of the Plakobranchidae family. Elysia chlorotica is a partially solar-powered slug that sequesters and retains active chloroplasts from the Vaucheria litorea algae it eats. During the feeding process, it first punctures the algal cell wall with its radula. The slug then holds the algae firmly in its mouth and,sucks out the contents. Instead of digesting the entire cell it retains the algal chloroplasts, by storing them within its own cells throughout its digestive system.

Elysia chlorotica, a sea slug with chloroplasts
Elysia chlorotica Photo
By EOL Learning and Education Group
[CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The incorporation of chloroplasts within the cells of the slug allows it to capture energy directly from light, like most plants do, through photosynthesis. In periods where algae is not readily available as a food supply, the species may be able to survive for months on the sugars produced through the photosynthesis done by the incorporated chloroplasts.

Although E. chlorotica slugs are unable to synthesize their own chloroplasts, the ability to maintain the chloroplasts acquired from Vaucheria litorea in a functional state indicates that Elysia chlorotica must possess photosynthesis-supporting genes within its own nuclear genome, most likely acquired through horizontal gene transfer*.

3# Pea Aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum)
Pea aphids are notable for being the only so-far known animals to synthesize a carotenoid, Torulene. Carotenoids are pigments produced by plants, fungi and other microorganisms and play an important role in photosynthesis. A 2010 study on pea aphids found that they have gained the ability to synthesize torulene through horizontal gene transfer from fungi. Two years later, new research revealed that this carotenoid may be behind a photosynthetic-like ability.

Pea aphid, a bug that can photosynthesize
Pea aphids extracting sap from the stem and leaves of garden peas
Photo by Shipher Wu and Gee-way Lin (aphid provision), National Taiwan University
[CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The authors of the latest study examined three different types of the species: green aphids, which have the highest levels of carotenoids, orange aphids which produce intermediate levels of carotenoids and white aphids, which have little to no carotenoids. When researchers measured their ATP* levels, they found that the green aphids produced significantly more ATP than white aphids. What's more interesting is that the orange ones produced more ATP when exposed to sunlight than when moved into the dark. The researchers also crushed the orange aphids and purified their carotenoids to show that these extracts could absorb light and create energy.

The findings strongly suggest that the little critters can trap light and convert it into cellular energy. According to Maria Capovilla, co-author of the study, this ability could function as an emergency energy source that helps aphids survive their treks from plant to plant.

4# Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
Finally we have the Spotted Salamander, an animal that has long been suspected to be in a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae. Back in the distant 1888, biologist Henry Orr first reported that the species' eggs often contain a single-celled green algae called Oophila amblystomatis.

Spotted Salamander egg-mass, algae clearly visible
Spotted Salamander egg-mass with algae visible inside the eggs
Photo By Fredlyfish4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Today we know that the eggs are routinely colonized within a matter of hours. During this stage, the embryos release waste material, which the algae uses for food. In return the algae photosynthesizes and release oxygen for the developing embryos. In general, embryos that have more algae have a higher survival ratio and develop faster than the ones with few or none. But all this is old news..

In 2011, a study examining the species' eggs found that some of the algae was present within the embryos themselves, and in some cases invaded embryonic cells and tissues. This suggested that the embryos weren't just receiving oxygen but glucose too. In simple words, the algae inside their body generates fuel for the salamanders during the embryonic stage.

Spotted Salamanders have a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae
Spotted Salamander
Photo By Jared C. Benedict (French Wikipedia)
[GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Two years later, another study shed new light into this symbiotic relationship. The researchers incubated salamander eggs in water containing a radioactive carbon isotope, as a result the algae produced radioactive glucose. The embryos that developed in that water were also radioactive. But the ones incubated in darkness (where photosynthesis is impossible) where not.

In short, it appears that embryos are capable of alga-powered photosynthesis. Still, many questions remain. Does the algae invade the eggs, or is it passed down from the parents? Are there any other algae species involved? How important is the presence of algae during adulthood? Are there any other amphibians with similar symbioses out there?

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) refers to the transfer of genes between organisms in a manner other than traditional reproduction. Also termed lateral gene transfer (LGT), it contrasts with vertical transfer, the transmission of genes from the parental generation to offspring via sexual or asexual reproduction
** Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) are energy-bearing molecules found in all living cells. The energy in ATP is obtained from the breakdown of foods. Often dubbed as "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer.

Mujer CV, Andrews DL, Manhart JR, Pierce SK, & Rumpho ME (1996). Chloroplast genes are expressed during intracellular symbiotic association of Vaucheria litorea plastids with the sea slug Elysia chlorotica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 93 (22), 12333-8 PMID: 8901581
- Rumpho ME, Worful JM, Lee J, Kannan K, Tyler MS, Bhattacharya D, Moustafa A, & Manhart JR (2008). Horizontal gene transfer of the algal nuclear gene psbO to the photosynthetic sea slug Elysia chlorotica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105 (46), 17867-71 PMID: 19004808
- Plotkin M, Hod I, Zaban A, Boden SA, Bagnall DM, Galushko D, & Bergman DJ (2010). Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Die Naturwissenschaften, 97 (12), 1067-76 PMID: 21052618
- Moran, N., & Jarvik, T. (2010). Lateral Transfer of Genes from Fungi Underlies Carotenoid Production in Aphids Science, 328 (5978), 624-627 DOI: 10.1126/science.1187113
- Valmalette, J., Dombrovsky, A., Brat, P., Mertz, C., Capovilla, M., & Robichon, A. (2012). Light- induced electron transfer and ATP synthesis in a carotene synthesizing insect Scientific Reports, 2 DOI: 10.1038/srep00579
- Gilbert, P. (1942). Observations on the Eggs of Ambystoma Maculatum with Especial Reference to the Green Algae Found Within the Egg Envelopes Ecology, 23 (2) DOI: 10.2307/1931088
- Gilbert, P. (1944). The Alga-Egg Relationship in Ambystoma Maculatum, A Case of Symbiosis Ecology, 25 (3) DOI: 10.2307/1931284
- Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R., Heiss, A., Bishop, C., & Hall, B. (2011). Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (16), 6497-6502 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108
- Graham, E., Fay, S., Davey, A., & Sanders, R. (2014). Intracapsular algae provide fixed carbon to developing embryos of the salamander Ambystoma maculatum Journal of Experimental Biology, 217 (16), 2983-2983 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.111732

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Kama and Zorro, the surfing pigs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Platypus Loves Getting Tickled ! (Video)

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

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

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

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

14 Beautiful and Amazing Nudibranchs

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful photo of Berghia coerulescens
Berghia coerulescens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Doriprismatica atromarginata  picture
Doriprismatica atromarginata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite nudibranchs!