After this informative animation you will.
After this informative animation you will.
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
“Insane in the Chromatophores”
Borderline Personality Disorder, humorously animated and explained by Ofir Sasson
Should You Fear the Pizzly Bear? by Moises Velasquez-Manoff
As climate change alters habitats, once-disparate animals are shacking up, creating hybrids that challenge our notion of what it means to be a species.
The potential date for the end of humanity, when Asteroid 1950 DA could possibly collide with the earth. Given that this is
867 866 years away, and the chance of strike is only .3 %, you shouldn’t really worry much about it unless you’re a vampire. In which case, sorry dude. You better hope the scientists working on a solution can sprinkle some sparkly dust around the asteroid to let your biggest enemy, the sun, push the doom rock off its trajectory.
All about Stephen Sillett and his study of Aerial ecosystems.
By grafting together branches from various stone fruit trees, Syracuse University art professor and artist Sam Van Aken has, over the course of 9 years, created a unique tree that produces over 40 different types of stone fruits including heirloom peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds.
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
Fueled by the ability to convert electric power into thrust by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container, the “impossible” EmDrive has the opportunity to change space travel forever.
Ebola: How the Virus Could Spread Beyond Africa
GZA and the genius of science.
Absorbing all but 0.035 percent of visual light, Vantablack is a coating made of carbon nanotubes that is “so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing.”
Save the date, we’re 365 days away from being 6,000 miles from Pluto
This video answers everything.
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
The NY Times takes a look at this baseball pitch on the verge of extinction