Why hop when you can fly? Meet Wallace’s flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus), a large, pretty species found in tropical jungles of Malaysia, Borneo and western Indonesia.
Just a bit smaller than the length of an iPhone, the species sports a bright, shiny green colouring with a yellow underbelly and black webbing between its yellow fingers and toes. It might be called a flying frog, but technically what it does is glide. Flying needs to be powered by something like regular wing movements or a motor, whereas gliding is more like… falling with style. Just as if it were parachuting, a gliding animal will make a slow descent to where it needs to be at an angle of no more than 45 degrees relative to the ground below.
Wallace’s flying frog is so good at this, it can glide as far forward as the distance it’s falling. This means that if one is launching itself from a height of 15 metres (49 feet), it’s capable of gliding at least 15 metres away from that spot, aided by some weird, aerodynamic skin flaps on its sides, and its enormous and extensively webbed feet and hands. These things are literally bigger than its head.
The thin black membrane that forms the webbing on a Wallace’s flying frog’s hands and feet stays folded up when the frog is at rest, and stretches out like a parachute when it launches itself into the air. When the frog is ready to land, its enlarged toe pads help it to grip instantly onto the surface of a tree, or will cushion its landing once it reaches the jungle floor.
Wallace’s flying frog was first discovered in 1855 and named by British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. At the time, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. In fact, the existence of a frog that had grown beyond leaping and into something far more effective helped Charles Darwin form the beginnings of his theory of evolution by natural selection. Poor old Wallace had been in the process of formulating his own very similar theory, but threw the towel in once Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Look at this animal. Just look at it. It’s glorious.
Found almost a kilometer below the surface of the ocean, this hazelnut-sized marine worm lives, breathes, and floats around looking exactly like a tiny, perfectly plump rear end.
The species was discovered floating freely through the ocean in 2006 by a remotely operated vehicle off the coast of California. This little submerged research robot scooped up a handful of pigbutt worms, and Karen Osborn, a marine biologist from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, got to analyze and name them. So she called them Chaetopterus pugaporcinus, which in Latin literally means “worm that looks like a pig’s rump”.
This otherworldly purplish bubble creature with its pink, puckered mouth is unlike any other species of worm ever found. In trying to figure out what the pigbutt worm’s deal is, Osborn compared her specimens to several other known species of marine worm. She was able to find some physical similarities between her pigbutt worms and the larvae – or young – of a large family of marine worms worms called Chaetopteridae, so perhaps, she thought, her pigbutt worms were in their juvenile form?
On 9 September 2007, a giant isopod was scooped from the waters of Baja California and transported to Toba Aquarium on Japan’s east coast. Home to some 25,000 sea creatures from 1,000 species, Toba Aquarium has a pretty extensive collection, but their new isopod made an instant impression. Named “No. 1″, this huge, pill bug-looking crustacean stretched almost a foot long, weighed over 2 pounds, and was the first of the aquarium’s eight giant isopods.
In the wild, giant isopods are enthusiastic and voracious scavengers, feeding off whale, fish and squid carcasses, and sometimes even slow-moving live prey, such as sponges and sea cucumbers, and even a sluggish fish or two, if they’re really lucky. Sometimes they’ll even have a go at an underwater cable, because when you’re a giant isopod, almost anything could potentially be a meal. In captivity, they’ve got things even easier, receiving hand-fed meals of horse mackerel.
No. 1 got pretty used to his cushy lifestyle at Toba Aquarium, and became a real hit with the public. But then, on 2 January 2009, something strange occurred. No. 1 nibbled on a hearty 50-gram chunk of mackerel before pushing the rest away and embarking on the world’s most bizarre hunger strike.
Look at this tiny little fighter pilot. This is the pygmy falcon, (Polihierax semitorquatus), Africa’s smallest raptor bird. Native to several regions in Africa, including southern Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, this compact killer only grows to about 20 centimeters long (a bit less than 8 inches), which makes it only slightly larger than a house sparrow. But don’t let this guy’s small stature and extreme fluff fool you – it doesn’t just hunt insects, lizards, snakes and mice, it also hunts other birds, striking them down in mid-air and ripping them from their nests.
And speaking of nests, the pygmy falcon sure knows how to live in style. They’re too busy dive-bombing the shit out of their prey to worry about domestic matters like building a nest, so they move into other species’ nests instead. In southern Africa, the pygmy falcon population lives and breeds in the enormous homes of the sociable weaver bird (Philetairus socius), the largest and arguably most elaborate structures built by any bird on the planet. Sometimes these nests will stretch 7 meters across and can easily weigh more than a ton. They basically look like someone threw a big, golden-brown haystack in a tree and it stuck. Sometimes they’re so big, they snap the branches and collapse all over the place.
Built like the bird equivalent of an apartment block, the sociable weaver’s nest can house hundreds of pairs of birds from several generations. They’re sectioned off like honeycomb with over 100 little chambers connected by a complex system of tunnels and entrances, and lined with plant matter, fur and cotton. They even have their own heating and cooling systems, with internal chambers retaining the heat to keep everyone warm at night, and the cooler rooms arranged around the edge of the structure to be used as a shady refuge during the day. These nests can be occupied for over a century before they start to decay.
Inside, the pygmy falcons can be quite sweet for the miniature assassins that they are, occasionally living in what’s known as polyandrous relationships, which means the chicks are cared for by three, sometimes four adults, including both parents. The reason for this congregation of babysitters could be for added defense, or maybe they just enjoy the warmth of all that collective fluff.
The pygmy falcons aren’t the only ones who take advantage of the hospitality of the aptly named sociable weavers – Kalahari tree skinks (Trachylepis spilogaster) also gather around their colossal nests, feeding, nesting, and basking in the sun. And a study conducted by Australian researchers earlier this year found that although lizards are one of the pygmy falcon’s absolute favorite foods, they appear to have absolutely no effect on the tree skinks’ population near the weaver nests. None. In fact, they report that, “We observed skinks on all trees with active pygmy falcon nests, while we observed no skinks on three trees without pygmy falcon nests.” WTF are you doing, lizards?
While it’s not clear why the pygmy falcons aren’t eating the Kalahari tree skinks to oblivion, it could be because they’re hunting and eating everything else, including the skinks’ other predators, so are inadvertently protecting them. If you’re going to be protected by something, it might as well be a communal-living puffball of death.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
“Like a piece of intestine with legs on it,” according to British naturalist and TV presenter Nick Barker, there’s nothing in the world quite like a Mexican mole lizard.
Neither mole nor lizard, the Mexican mole lizard (Bipes biporus) lives up to a third of its name by being a native of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico. Not a whole lot is known about this very secretive animal, but what we do know of the Mexican mole lizard is that everything you see here makes this little guy perfectly suited to a life lived in the dirt.
Mexican mole lizards live almost exclusively in a shallow underground environment made of loose or sandy soil, but can dig burrows up to 15 centimetres below the surface in search of food, a good place to mate, or just some valuable time away from all that desert heat. They belong to a lgenus called Bipes, which means “two legs”, and yep, all four species within this genus have them. These legs are extremely special adaptations – within a larger group of legless reptiles called Amphisbaenia, the four Bipes are the only species out of almost 200 close relatives to have ended up with them. At first glance, those rather disproportionately stumpy limbs might not look like much, but wait till you get a look at these very impressive digging claws.
Mexican mole lizards are so good at adapting, they once had two back legs, but got rid of them because they weren’t using them. We know this because when you X-ray a Mexican mole lizard, you can see the remnants of its missing legs poking out in its bone structure.
The tube-like body of the Mexican mole lizard tends to reach around 20 cm long and less than 1cm wide, and its scales are a rather pretty shade of pastel pink. And not only do these guys have scales on their bellies to help propel themselves through the soil the same way snakes do, but their bodies are highly segmented, which means they also move along just like earthworms.
If, like me, you think Mexican mole worms are adorable – just look at that face – then we have no problems, but if you think they’re creepy, let me put creepy in perspective for you. This is a caecilian, which basically looks like a Mexican mole lizard, except that it’s purple, has no legs, and looks like its face has been stuffed into a condom, nice and tight. Caecilians they move their segmented worm-like bodies around like, well, worms; they live their entire lives underground; and are only found in warm environments – all of which isn’t so different from the Mexican mole worm.
Except that when certain species of caecilians are born, they spend the first few weeks of their lives eating their mums alive. One newly discovered species of caecilian that engages in this practice has been named Microcaecilia dermatophaga (which literally means “little skin-feeding caecilian”), and investigations into the species’ behaviour in French Guiana last year revealed that the babies are born with little razer-sharp teeth, specifically designed to tear the flesh off their doting mother until they’re big enough to go out on their own and find less disgusting food. How great is our little Mexican friend looking now? All it eats is insects.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
Hey, nightmares are pretty bad, but how about two nightmares combined into one horrible amalgamation of terrifying animals whose entire existence revolves around hunting and killing? Meet the spider-tailed viper, a strange reptile found in the Arabian Desert.
In 1968, a group of scientists travelled to Iran to collect a bunch of native species for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Among the reptiles they collected was what looked like a strange mutated snake. All bottled up and preserved in alcohol, the specimen, named FMNH 170292, appeared to have a large camel spider attached to the end of its tail. Further examination revealed it to be a peculiar growth that looked exactly like a spider.
It was the only snake like this that had ever been found. It was impossible to say whether the mutation was genetic, or maybe it was a tumor, or perhaps a reaction to some sort of parasite.
Four decades came and went, until 2003, when zoologist Hamid Bostanchi collected a second snake with the exact same tail ornamentation. Having examined it and the museum specimen, Bostanchi declared the snake a new species and named it Pseudocerastes urarachnoides. ‘Pseudocerastes’ means ‘false horns’, these vipers have horn-like structures above their eyes that are formed by a build-up of small scales, and ‘urarachnoides’ means literally ‘a tail similar to a spider’. Rivaled only by the rattles employed by the venomous pit vipers of North America, the spider-tailed viper has the most elaborate tail embellishment ever seen in a species of snake.
The spider-tailed snake is a desert species, rarely seen but found in the North Arabian Desert from Sinai and southern Israel, Jordan, Iraq, southwestern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Oman. Only Bostanchi had seen one alive at this point, so there was no way of knowing what the tail was actually used for, but he suspected it worked like a fisherman’s lure to attract the birds that hunt camel spiders. Makes sense, he said, because he found the remains of a bird in the stomach of one of the specimens.
A few years later, biologist Behzad Fathinia from Razi University in Iran decided to test Bostanchi’s theory. With a group of colleagues, Fathinia caught a live snake and took it back to the lab. They put a chick in its enclosure to see what it would do. The snake moved its tail embellishment exactly like a spider. “We were able to observe and film the [tail] luring. It was very attractive and looked exactly like a spider moving rapidly,” they reported in 2009. “After approximately half an hour the chick went toward the tail and pecked the knob-like structure. The viper pulled the tail structure toward itself, struck and bit the chick in less than 0.5 seconds.”
They also put an ill-fated male sparrow in with their viper and when the viper saw it, it moved in the corner of the enclosure, formed a coil with its body and positioned its spider tail right in front of its mouth for easy striking. The team concluded that it was not only birds that were caught by the spider-tailed viper’s spider-lure, but also reptiles and even mammals such as shrews; all were the likely prey of these bizarre desert killing machines.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
What a cool name. I wish I could have a name as cool as the GoldenPalace.com Monkey. Even its more serious name, the Madidi titi is pretty great. One of just a handful of new primate species discovered over the past decade, this little monkey was found in 2004, deep in the tropical forests of the Madidi National Park of western Bolivia.
Located at the foot of the Andes, the Madidi National Park is a little-explored area of Bolivia that scientists are calling the most biologically diverse piece of protected land in the world. Some 900 species of birds have been registered here, despite entire areas having never been explored by biologists. Between 1999 and 2004, six sites in the Madidi were surveyed by a team of biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bolivia, and their search turned up two unidentified adult monkey specimens – a male and a female. The team also captured video footage of a number of these monkeys interacting in family groups, and through physical, genetic and molecular analyses, was able to classify them as a brand new species.
The most recognizable feature of these monkeys is their dense, gorgeous pelt. They wear a crown of yellow-gold fur, and the grey that covers much of their bodies gives way to a lovely rusty brown colour along their backs. Their beards, chests and bellies are an unmistakable bright orange, and their long, grey tails taper out to a white tip. Their arms, legs, feet and hands are a dark burgundy, and they have little black naked faces with round amber eyes.
Faced with a new species that needed immediate attention from conservation groups, the research team auctioned off the naming rights in 2004. And who’s got more money than anyone to burn on a killer PR campaign? Internet casinos. Specifically, the GoldenPalace.com Internet casino. They paid $650,000 to win the naming rights, and the GoldenPalace.com Monkey was born. And because they paid the big bucks, they got the scientific name too – Callicebus aureipalatii. “Aureipalatii” means “of the Golden Palace”.
While it needs to be said that this is the same Internet casino that paid $28,000 for a 10-year-old partly eaten grilled cheese sandwich with the face of the Virgin Mary on it – that same year, no less – their monkey bid wasn’t as gross as it sounds. One hundred percent of the funds were put towards protecting the Madidi National Park, including the specific areas that these monkeys were known to live and breed.
Like other titi monkeys, GoldenPalace.com Monkeys are monogamous, mating for life and setting themselves up in a territory that they’ll fiercely defend from other titis through loud and constant threatening calls. Once an infant is born, it’s the male’s job to carry it around on his back, teaching it the rules of survival as he patrols and gathers food.
While individuals are sometimes killed by local hunters and used as fishing bait, the GoldenPalace.com Monkey has done pretty well for itself, and so far there are no major threats to any of its populations. Which is just as well, because the CEO of GoldenPalace.com, Richard Rowe, is counting on their longevity – “This species will bear our name for as long as it exist. Hundreds, even thousands of years from now, the GoldenPalace.com Monkey will live to carry our name through the ages.”
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
Is anyone else feeling really uncomfortable right now? That moth looks like something you’d see hovering in the distance, and then you’d blink and it’s right there in front of your face, ready to crawl through your eye sockets to devour your soul.
Fortunately though, this is just a simple plume moth, and it doesn’t even know what souls are. Called the White Plume Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyl), this particular species hails from Europe and Central Asia, but members of the plume moth family Pterophoroidea are found all over the world. They all have those large shredded fairy wings, and when they’re not flying, they hold them high and perpendicular to the rest of their long, thin bodies. Sometimes they’ll fold them right up to create a perfect ’T’.
While the White Plume Moth only has a wingspan of up to 35 mm, it’s considered the largest plume moth in the world. They spend the winter months as caterpillars and transform into moths around May or June, and fly around gardens and grasslands in search of morning glory vines. They only come out at night, fluttering around with their feathery wing plumes, looking like tiny white ghosts. The ghosts of children perhaps?
In Romanian folklore, it’s believed that when someone dies, the soul lingers on Earth for at least 40 days before passing over to paradise. One version of the lore stipulates that the elderly remain for seven years, the young for five years, and children remain for three years. It’s thought that if you see a moth flying towards a lamp during the night, it’s carrying the soul of dead child, trying to return to the home it had when it was alive. To injure a moth means messing with a dead kid’s soul, so um, just don’t.
Unless of course it’s a Death’s-head Hawkmoth, which refers to all three species in the genus Acherontia – Acherontia atropos, Acherontia styx and Acherontia lachesis. Found in Europe and Asia, these moths are at the centre of another aspect of Romanian folklore that says they contain the soul of a vampire, who is trying to bring disease into your house. But the Romanians must be a forgiving people, and so advise that rather than killing a Deaths-head Hawkmoth, you should just gently put it outside to spread disease elsewhere, because no one deserves to die twice.
In a particular county in Romania, called Vâlcea, if a child has contracted some kind of “Deaths-head disease”, their parents will have to catch a moth, burn it, and make the child drink the gross moth ashes in water.
Moths have also found themselves at the centre of a more recent, and much less creepy mythology, surrounding the origins of that “bug” in your computer that needs to be “debugged”. Harvard computer programmer Grace Hopper once had to extract a moth from one of her team’s computer circuits, and 40 years later, was credited for coining the phrase. But neither moths nor Harvard scientists can match the greatness of “bug’s” true origin – it was none other than Thomas Edison, who complained of “bugs” holding up the progress of his great inventions.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
Odd Creatures is a recurring column about the World’s Weirdest Animals written by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, and illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen
Cartoons aren’t just for television. Sometimes they infiltrate the deep sea and turn serious sea creatures into bulgy-eyed, spiky-haired goofs. Meet Taonius borealis, a species of transparent glass squid that lives up to a kilometre below the surface of the North Pacific Ocean.
With a pair of soulful blue eyes and a cigar-shaped digestive gland visibly suspended in its bloated, sac-like body, the glass squid has got a real look going on. The species is often found with its mass of stumpy tentacles, or arms, floating above its head like a crest, so scientists have given it another great nickname – the cockatoo squid. There are many species of glass squid found all over the world; some have orange polka dots, others have iridescent moustaches, and many have googly eyes, but none look quite as weary and in desperate need of a vacation as T. borealis.
Don’t let those under-eye bags fool you though; T. borealis is as spry as the next guy. Those dark red eye bands are actually special light-emitting organs called oracular photophores, which help the squid to disguise itself from its predators. By projecting a steady beam of light beneath it as it moves through the ocean, T. borealis can conceal its shadow from anything lurking below. And for extra control over how and where this light is projected, T. borealis can shift its eyes and its photophores from the front of its face all the way around to sit on either side of it. Known as ‘counter-illumination’, this is one of the most popular camouflaging strategies in the deep sea.
Another camouflaging strategy T. borealis takes full advantage of is bright red pigmentation. The further you plunge into the depths of the ocean, the less sunlight you’ll encounter, and this affects how visible different colors become. The color blue is great at penetrating the deep sea, and so is green, so when sea creatures want to be seen, they’ll produce these colors. Exhibit A. Red, on the other hand, needs a lot of sunlight to be seen, so in the deep sea, if you’re red, you might as well be black. Like a ninja.
Glass squids range from tiny – some of the polka-dotted adults are just 10 cm long – to colossal. The aptly named colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can grow to three metres long, and that’s not including its arms. Add the arms on, and you’re looking at a length of around 14 m. With a body that’s around 60 cm long, T. borealis is pretty reasonably sized. It feeds on just about anything that it can catch using the hook-like teeth that run along its arms, including small crustaceans and fish.
Here’s a video of T. borealis’s close relative, T. pavo:
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
Odd Creatures is a recurring column about the World’s Weirdest Animals written by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, and illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen
Dinosaurs are birds and birds are dinosaurs, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Hoatzin, a mighty bird with claws on its wings, stomachs in its oesophagus, and the lingering scent of freshly laid cow manure.
Found in the swamps, marshy forests, and mangroves of South America, the Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) cuts a striking figure as it hops through the canopy. Its smoky black, chestnut, and gold plumage is capped off by an elaborate black-tipped crest, and its face is a featherless smear of bright blue flesh.
Growing to around 70 cm long and weighing half a kilo, these birds are about the size of an Archaeopteryx. But unlike their long-dead doppelgänger, Hoatzins are staunch vegetarians. They’ll occasionally eat flowers and fruit, but what they really love is leaves. More than eighty percent of their diet is made up of them, which means they’ve had to evolve a specialized digestive system to cope with all that noxious ruffage.
No vertebrate can produce the amount of enzymes needed to break down and digest large amounts of vegetation on their own. So heavy-duty herbivores like cows, sheep, sloths, and kangaroos house enlarged and highly modified chambers in their guts where scores of microbes accumulate and produce these enzymes for them. This form of digestion is known as ‘foregut fermentation’ and the Hoatzin is the only bird on Earth that can do it. It’s even got structures in its oesophagus that act as extra fermentation chambers.
Life in the wild is a relentless and all-consuming struggle to keep yourself safe and fed, so the ability to live off something as abundant and easily obtained as vegetation is a real boon for the Hoatzin. But it comes at a price. Because the Hoatzin’s chest area is filled with digestive organs, there’s little room for their wing muscles to develop, which means they’re pretty useless at flying. Plus all that fermenting activity makes them emit a strong, musky stench, which is how they got their nickname – the Stinkbird. It’s not very dignified by our standards, but being stinky has ended up being a blessing in disguise for these near-flightless birds – locals assume they taste as bad as they smell, so for the most part they leave them well alone.
Like many of the world’s herbivores, Hoatzins are highly social and tend to congregate in large groups. They can often be found in tight, noisy groups of up to 100 individuals, these breaking off into smaller family groups when it’s time to breed.
The Hoatzin might look badass as an adult, but it’s even more badass as a baby. Hoatzins breed during the rainy season, which means there’s a good chance their nests will be sitting directly above flooded rivers and creeks. To give them the best chance at survival, young Hoatzins hatch from their eggs with a pair of claws on each wing, which they use to keep a tight grip on their surroundings. Not that they can’t swim though – if Hoatzin nests are attacked, often by larger hawks and vultures, the chicks will drop into the water below and submerge themselves while their parents create a flappy diversion. Once the coast is clear the chicks will use their hooked wing-claws to climb back up to the safety of the nest.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
Odd Creatures is a recurring column about the World’s Weirdest Animals written by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, and illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen!
A paleontologist once told me there’s no way you can do his job without having a healthy sense of humor. You spend your life literally knee-deep in the bones of some of the strangest creatures to have ever walked the Earth – creatures that have also been dead for hundreds of millions of years – and meanwhile someone somewhere is performing a heart transplant on a nine-year-old girl. Not that paleontology isn’t important, of course it’s important, but you’re gonna have to be ready to laugh it off when someone asks you why you didn’t choose a more practical line of research.
People who research extant animals, with their boundless idiosyncrasies, weird body parts, and even weirder sex stuff, are often quick to admit that they’re working with some pretty funny material too. And sometimes the only way to get themselves in on the joke is through the naming rights, if they’re lucky enough to have discovered a new species.
Take Colon rectum, for instance. That’s the formally accepted scientific name of a little species of fungus beetle. First described in 1933 by University of Washington entomologist, Melville H. Hatch, C. rectum was soon joined by Colon forceps, Colon monstrosum, Colon grossum, and Colon horni in Hatch’s new Colon genus. Hatch was such a respected figure in the research community that even the most devout prudes had little option but to go with it.
Aha ha, Gelae donut and Kamera lens are all legit scientific animal names too.
Sometimes the joke is hidden in the translation. When you translate the Greek and Latin words that make up the name Osedax mucofloris – which is a tiny marine worm that feeds on whale carcasses – you get “snot-flower bone-eater”. Nice.
And that lovely looking fox-dog up there with the shady black eye mask? Its name is Otocyon megalotis, which means literally, “ear-dog large ears.”
So yeah, bat-eared fox from the African savannah has ridiculously large ears – they’re 13 cm long and its body is only 55 cm long. But the joke’s on us because while we have to work jobs and earn money to keep ourselves fed, all the bat-eared fox has to do is listen.
Imagine being able to pick up on the sound made by miniscule termites and beetle larvae as they move about under the ground. That’s what the bat-eared fox’s ears allow it to do. They can even locate a handful of termites based solely on the crunching noises they make as they feed. Around 80 to 90 percent of the bat-eared fox’s diet is made up of termites, and it will eat around 1.15 million of them every year.
Bat-eared foxes display extremely strong social bonds, and are usually found in extended family groups of around 15 individuals. More often than not, they mate for life, and when a litter of pups is born, the females will leave the den at night to find food while the males stay behind to guard the den and groom his progeny. When the pups are old enough to find mates of their own, they’ll run around their family’s territory and pee on a bunch of grass patches to advertise their scent. If a member of the opposite sex is interested, they’ll cover the scent mark up so their competition doesn’t get a whiff, and work on getting themselves acquainted.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
Continuing Lincoln Motor Company‘s evolution as a leader in the American luxury auto market, this summer sees the introduction of the first-ever MKC; a five-passenger, utility-minded crossover marked by a sculpted design and an athletic stance. As the latest—and most modest in size—Lincoln SUV to hit the streets, the all-new 2015 MKC aims to capture the attention of an ever-growing population of city dwellers who are keen to escape the urban landscape whenever possible. To do so, the MKC comes equipped with a range of impressive features—some flashy, some subdued and all worth noting.
While the MKC’s sleek exterior is enough to capture one’s attention, an exceptionally serene interior is sure to keep it. Designed especially with the driver’s comfort in mind, active noise control paired with padded wheel wells (which reduce road rumble while amplifying engine notes) creates a heightened overall cabin environment. The innovative engineering actually uses microphones to monitor the sound profile within the car, which is then replicated and inverted by a signal processor to cancel out the initial noise-waves, thus creating a pleasant atmosphere that makes the MKC’s cabin one of the quietest in its class. And, of course, an enhanced THX II Certified Audio System is there for when drivers want anything but silence.
We’re very excited to announce the latest addition to TWBE, a weekly column about the World’s Weirdest Animals by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen!
Glue-guns. Slime blankets. Mind-altering venom, flesh-rotting chemicals, and fountains of spit so powerful, they’ll knock you off your perch and into a pair of awaiting jaws. Better grab a raincoat, because nature is positively crawling with ingenious ways of dealing out death via some carefully aimed bodily fluids.
But it’s not all bad news, because those bodily fluids can also be incredibly helpful at keeping that head on your shoulders when you’ve got little else to defend yourself with than the art of camouflage. Someone who knows this all too well is the Texas horned lizard – a tough little reptile found all across the western United States, Canada and Mexico.
With a round face framed by a halo of large horns, and a stout, tank-like body covered in spines, the Texas horned lizard looks just like a tiny, armored dragon. And while this dragon doesn’t have any jets of red-hot fire to belch at its enemies, it does have something just as intimidating to launch in their direction: blood. Blood mixed with one of the most toxic substances found in nature that comes gushing out of its eye sockets, no less.
Expelled from the eye sockets thanks to a build-up of pressure in the Texas horned lizard’s head, each of these jets can travel for over a meter in the air and can contain up to 1.5 grams of blood. A particularly harassed individual can spurt more than 50 times out of a single eye and lose more than half of its total blood supply in the process.
Known as ‘autohaemorrhaging’, the practice of deliberately ejecting blood in response to a threat is very rarely encountered in nature. A handful of insects do it, plus three species of horned lizards and two species of snakes. The way the Texas horned lizard does it has been specifically designed to repel its least favorite guys ever – dogs. For a reason that’s still unclear to scientists, the blood that shoots out of the Texas horned lizard’s eye sockets elicits a particularly strong response from its canine predators, causing inflammation and gastric distress in foxes, coyotes and domestic dogs. Its non-canine predators, such as grasshopper mice and roadrunners, are spared the blood-jet treatment.
So what’s in this special blood-based dog repellent? Texas horned lizards have a very peculiar diet – they love harvester ants. But these ants happen to be incredibly venomous, with a sting that’s 20 times worse than a bee’s. In response, the Texas horned lizard has had to evolve a complex method for safely digesting these little ants, venom and all.
Scores of papillae – finger-like projections of flesh – line the backs of their tongues and run all the way down their throats. These papillae squeeze and bind the harvester ants in mucus strands as they’re swallowed, and once they reach the lizard’s oesophagus, the ants are met with more mucus-secreting skin folds that keep them incapacitated all the way down to the stomach. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how it works, but it’s been suggested that once the ant venom reaches the Texas horned lizard’s blood stream, defensive chemicals are added to ensure that the blood is ready for its journey to the head, through the eye sockets and into the face of the enemy.