White Plume Moth

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Odd Creatures is a recurring column about the world’s weirdest species written by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, and illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen

 

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

Chicken Screen Tests

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Purebred = Inbred

Sad truths about purebred dogs

Richard Nixon, Panda Sex Ponderer

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Also, the story of how Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing became the first Pandas in America.
 
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Lunchtime Laughter

Jim Gaffigan on the sad lives of Whales

Taonius borealis

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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

Zoo Jeans

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“the only jeans on earth designed by dangerous animals.”

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Hoatzin

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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

Morning Dose of Chicken Monkey Duck

Wonder how many variations this went through before finally nailing it?

via, gm

A Car for Fish

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Designed by Studio diip, Fish on Wheels is a mobile aquarium that uses a camera and computer vision software to guide the tank in whatever direction the fish is swimming.
 
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Printables

sad-donkey

Zoo Animals and Their Discontents by Alex Halberstadt

Do donkeys get depressed? Are some aoudads anxious? And what can a zoo’s shrink do to help ease their minds?

Photo by Robin Schwartz for The New York Times

The Bat-Eared Fox

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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

This Girl…

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Kendall Jones, a gloating, big game hunting 19-year-old cheerleader from Texas Tech University who’s looking to host a tv show in January 2015.

Notes From The Animal Kingdom

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Some French cats managed to lock an American woman in her bedroom. She live-tweeted the ordeal.

Pixel (above), the smallest cat in the world measuring five inches tall from shoulder to paw, would not have been able to do that (tweet or imprison).

On the other side of the world, Pablo Escobar’s hippos are having the time of their lives in the Colombian countryside

The same can’t be said for Emperor Penguins in Antarctica, where less ice, means less penguins.

There’s also one less guinea pig in the world, after a Kestrel flew through a window into a Czech Republic home tore apart the caged pet.

Lunchtime Laughter

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Morning Dose of Feline Psychedelia

Lunchtime Laughter

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Morning Dose of Rufus the Hawk

The fiercest member of Wimbledon’s security team.

A great animal profile from Stella Artois and the Perfectionists.

Lunchtime Laughter

Triumph Watches The World Cup in Astoria, Queens

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