The not so “Green” Moray Eel…


Photo Credit: Caitlin Kinnett

It was almost like a dream, finding this eel.  Where most often Morays are found hidden in crevices they call their home, I found this one wide out in the open, almost as if he were “frolicking through the fields”.  On top of that, he seemed to have found a friend.  A grouper, almost the size of me, had the most peculiar attachment with this eel.  While this group of scuba divers seemed to be no threat, the eel and the grouper danced together, spinning around each other as if they were on stage in Broadway.  It was a moment  I will never forget, the eel and the grouper, best friends forever.

Photo Credit: Caitlin Kinnett

The Green Moray Eel was one of the most peculiar creatures I have seen.  Bizarrely enough, the “green” Moray is actually brown!  It is the tint of the yellow mucus cover, and the dark background of its’ home, that gives off a bright green looking color.  This long slender eel is built perfectly for the water, as the muscular body is laterally compressed.  The thin connected fins from the  dorsal to anal fins aid in directing the eel, while the caudal (tail) fin allows even more control as it undulates through the water.

As this sea serpent looking eel looks threatening by displaying its large sharp teeth when opening and closing its mouth, in reality, the eel is simply taking in water to breathe.  This water passes through the mouth, over the gills, and exits through vent-like tubes located in the back of the head.

Photo Credit: Caitlin Kinnett

Being “sit and wait” predators, these eels hide out in their coral homes using their tube like nostrils to sense out their oblivious prey.  They feed mostly on crabs, octopus, squid, and fish that pass by.  There is a large range of size in diet, as these eels can reach up to 8 feet in length, weighing up to 65 lbs.  Though this particular eel was found in the reefs of Cozumel waters, Green Morays can be found in the Western Atlantic, the northern Gulf of Mexico, and southern parts of Brazil waters.

Those Sand Fleas Tickle…


Photo Credit: Christine Jun

It had been quite some time since I had set my feet into an actual ocean.  As I felt the inner child take over my body, I literally danced into the ocean waves at Santa Monica Beach of California.  But something was different.  The water that rushed over my feet didn’t feel like water, it felt like something was literally tickling the bottoms of my feet.  The Zoologist in me immediately became absorbed in figuring out what these little tickle monsters were.  I started by kicking up piles of sand, in which as much as 10 little crawling creatures briefly popped in the tops of the exposed sand piles, before quickly scurrying back into the pile in which they felt so secure.  I dug and dug, until I finally found my specimen big enough to examine.  Was it a shrimp? A crab?  What was this creature?

Photo Credit: Christine Jun

After my amused day at the beach, returning back to my perfect little airb&b room, I couldn’t wait to search for what this creature was.  Little did I know, that these adorable (in my eyes) creatures were known as Sand Fleas, or Mole Crabs.  Emerita Talpoidea is a crustacean that is commonly found in the “wash zone” section of the sand in which they are able to position themselves perfectly for filter feeding.  They burrow into the sands directly in between the dry area of the sand, and the rough parts of the waves.  Even though they were buried below the sands, it was easy to spot them, as the result of their filter feeding position created a V like shape directed towards the incoming waves.

Their bodies, which proved to have tough exoskeletons, and closely tucked in appendages allowed them to roll in the tidal currents without being harmed.  The antenna are feather like in nature, which provides it with the best filtration system for sorting out plankton and organic matter for feeding.  It was clear that they were easily adapted to burrowing, proving to burry themselves completely in under 2 seconds.  They have an anchoring carapace that allows them to quickly dig into the fluid like sand created by the waves, protecting them from predators, and being able to anchor themselves in the breaking waves for filter feeding.

These Sand Fleas, Mole Crabs, or whatever you want to call them, can be found all along the coasts in the United States.  They are obviously very common here in Santa Monica Beach of Californa.  They are also common in the northeast areas of Florida, the Atlantic coast of Africa, and a related genus can be found in Australia.  With only fish and seabirds being their only predators, this simple life cycled creature has a sublime life feeding in the crashing waves of tropical and subtropical beaches.  Tis’ the life.


 

Cry Me A River…. Of Blood?


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The Horned Lizard (Phyrnosoma) is a very interesting creature, with a very unique defensive strategy!  It is neither a toad, nor a frog, though often called a “horned toad/frog” due to it’s stout body.  This horned lizard is covered in modified scales which are now spiny-like.  The horns on their head, however, are composed of bone, and are not derived from the scales.

These are commonly found in North America, or parts of the United States, or even in the deserts of Mexico.  They do look similar to their relatives the Australian  thorny devil.  They both are sit-and-wait predators, their diet consisting mostly of ants.  However, one of the unique differences of these Horned Lizards in Texas, is they have a very interesting defensive mechanism! Blood.

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Though these lizards are capable of a wide range of predation avoidance, their most interesting one they have adapted to do,  is to literally bleed from their eyes!!!  At first threat, their instinct is to remain still and camouflage within the environment.  If the predator spots them, their next step is to run and stop in short burst, purposely trying to confuse their predator. They puff up as large as they can, trying to look unappetizing, and possibly too bulky to eat.  But the last straw, for four of the species of Horned Lizards, they are able to literally squirt blood from the corners of their eyes of a distance up to 5 feet!!

This is possible as they restrict the blood flow that leaves the head, which increases pressure on the vessels around the eyelids.  But why do this?  Well first of all, this a extremely confusing to the predator, but the blood is actually found to be foul tasting for canine and felines, reducing their predators immensly.  So watch out you feline predators, this lizard will cry you a river of rotten tasting blood!

Simply sublime.  Who thinks of these adaptations!?  Evolution is truly amazing.

Chameleons always at you fingertips!


Alright, so I am a huge sucker for baby chameleons… so when I heard a new species was found that didn’t reach more than an inch in length, I just had to share!!!

Brookesia Micra is a recently discovered species of chameleon which is native to the islet of Nosy Hara in Antsirana, Madagascar.  It is currently considered the smallest chameleon, the smallest reptile, and even the smallest amniote discovered!  As an adult, this small little reptile can only reach a length of 29mm (that’s right, measured in MILLIMETERS!)

Hmmm, what could you compare 29 mm to?  The end of a matchstick, the tip of a fingernail, the end of an eraser…. I think you get the picture…

What is that?  You don’t?  Let me show you:

Tip of finger nail!

Tip of matchstick!

Now that’s small!!!

The size of these adorable little reptiles is most likely linked to the evolution of reduction in size over each generation due to habitat limitations (insular dwarfism).  At the inland of Madagascar, these micro chameleons reside in the leaf litter by day, and climb high in the branches at night.

Unfortunately, these little chameleons are located in an area where much illegal logging occurs, leaving these helpless reptiles sensitive to habitat destruction.  This could be a huge conservation issue with this particular species of chameleon.

Oh man oh man oh man,  these chameleons adorable!!! Who can resist!!! How sublime!!

 

 

“A not so safe Magic Carpet Ride”


The Wobbegong Carpet sharks (Order: Orectolobiforms) are giant bottom dwelling sharks.   They have two dorsal fins (without the presence of spines).  Some are known to have barbels, and reduced gill slits.  Due to their bottom dwelling, the lower lobe of their caudal fin is highly reduced (to prevent from dragging along the seafloor).  Carpet sharks have been known to get up to 3 metres in length (though sharks generally do not have determinant growth).

 

These ancient creatures are known as Carpet sharks due to their highly developed camouflage patterns allowing them to blend in with the seafloor, as well as weed-like whiskers lobes that surround the jaws, almost like the tassels of a carpet.  These whisker like lobes are also used to entice small fish, which leads us to the Carpet sharks diet!

These amazing creatures have a huge variety in diet.  They generally have been found to prey on small fish, as they have an ambush-like predation type due to their camouflage abilities.  It has recently been discovered, though, that their diet is not limited to small fish.  In fact, it has been recorded that a Carpet shark off the coat of Australia, a Carpet shark was found swallowing a Bamboo shark whole.  Bamboo sharks can grow to the same size as these Carpet sharks, though this one was clearly not up to par with its consumer.  Such sublime creatures in this world!

But don’t worry, these sharks are generally not dangerous to humans, unless you decide to go for a “magic carpet ride”, in which the shark might feel slightly threatened…hint hint.  They are very flexible sharks, having the ability to reach their mouths all the way to their tails!  They do not possess teeth like that of the Great White sharks, but they do have small sharp teeth that are indeed worse than their bark!!! Check em’ out!!

What do you call a giraffe mixed with a flying insect? The Giraffe Weevil!!


This crazy looking insect is commonly known as the Giraffe Weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa).  They can be found in Madagascar, and also in another form in New Zealand.  I am sure you can imagine where these critters got their name, as they have an extended neck very similar to that of the common giraffe.

They have beautiful features, other than their long neck, and pitch black glossy coloring, they have a bright red protective coat of the wings (elytra).  Their long necks are adapted through evolution so that these insects are able to nest and fight.

 

These Weevils are sexually dimorphic (phenotypic differences between sexes), where the male will have a neck around 2 to 3 times the length of a female.  Females use their neck for nest building by making a tube out of a leaf by rolling in a leaf, laying only one egg in the made tube.  After this roll is made, she snips the roll from the rest of the leaf so that the nest will fall to the ground, and the egg will hatch.  Males use their necks to compete for these mates, protecting parasitic predators as the female makes her nest.

Honduran White Bats


Wouldn’t you just like to jump into a big pit filled with these little furry white bats?!

These adorable little creatures are known as the Honduran white bat (Ectophylla alba).  They can be found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and parts of western Panama.

These bats create a tent-like home by cutting the side veins of the large Heliconia leaves, which allows the leaves to fold them up into a fluffy taco.  This tent protects a colony of bats from rain and predators.

 Up to a dozen individuals make up a colony within each leaf, composed of one male and it’s harem of females.  This family relies on this leaf, as they will only flee if the base of their main stem is disturbed.  This leaf-tent provides a well designed camouflage for this group, even considering that they hang about 6 feet from the ground, which allows the sun to reflect a greenish hue off of their bright white coats, blending in with the environment.  These bats feed off of fruit, which leaves them fluffy and cute as ever. It is hard to believe anyone would be scared of these fluff balls.  Sublime

Video below!

 

Train your… sea slug?


A new case of How to train your dragon… or your sea slug.

This slug is commonly known as the Sea Swallow (Glaucus Atlanticus).  He is briliantly colored to warn off any dangerous enemies.  These crazy little guys pack a powerful punch, as they feed off of the poisonous Man of War Jellyfish, while collecting the toxins in oder to store them in their wavy little fingers.  Their ability to collect this poison, allows them to be even more powerful than the Man of War itself!  ouch!

These cool creatures live in the open ocean (pelagic zone) throughout the oceans of the world.  They can mostly be found where the Man of War Jellyfish live, in the Eastern and Southern Parts of South Africa.  They spend the majority of their life floating upside-down on the tops of the water.

These Sea Swallows tend to swallow prey that would appear to be dangerous and harmful.  They feed off of not only the venomous Portuguese Man of War, but also several other venomous species such as the by-the-wind-sailor, the blue button, and the violet snail.  They may even become cannibalistic at times.

Their fingerlike projections (cerata) are feathers of venomous nematocysts that the slug derives from it’s preys poisons.  It uses a gas filled sac in it’s stomach to rise to the surface, where they float dorsal side down.  They are countershaded, with magnificent blue on the dorsal surface, and silver grey on the ventral surface.  The blue protects the slugs from predators below, and the silver grey from the predators above.

It is not yet known on how they move, some say it is by wind, some believe they may actually use some sorts of body parts.  These slugs are hermaphroditic, able to carry both male and female reproductive organs, and produce egg strings after reproduction.

Sublime!

Enjoy the video!

Ahhhh A SNAKE????


AHHHHHhhhh A Snake!!!

No wait, that is a caterpillar.  Awwww a cute little creepy caterpillar…

This little guy is actually a species of caterpillar that likes to mimic snakes.  What a clever idea Mr. Caterpillar!!  It is truly an art that creatures have evolved to have the capabilities they do.  These caterpillars belong to the moth family of  Sphingidae, which is part of the sphinx moths.  Several of these genera actually mimic snakes (a few pictures provided below).  These moths tend to live in tropical areas, which would makes sense as that is where majority of their mimicked snakes live.

The picture above, is actually a species of Hemeroplanes, where the caterpillar literally sucks his head in, like a turtle, exposing the sides of his dorsal surface that mimics a snake.  Behind, is not as similar as a snake, as it briefly looks like a snake that got the rest of his body chopped off.  The bottom part of these caterpillars fold three pairs of true legs towards the ventral surface also when he is threatened.  And guess what, this species was even able to take it a step further, evolved with the ability to “blink” the eyes by opening and closing them with blood pressure)

AHHHHH…Not another one….

Yup, there are even more of these guys, each built with there own special adaptations.  This species above (and below) is known as Papilio bianor thrasymedes.  It may only be less than an inch long, but still has the ability to mimic the appearance of a snake.  This special adaptation is not the “blinking” eyes, but these caterpillars have adapted tiny tittle antennae that are able to mimic the tongue flick of a snake as well.  They are bright green, have red eyes, and a white stripe just underneath those evil like eyes.  They even immitate the blue skin underneath the snakes scales.  These caterpillars thought of everything!

Below is the general look of the Springtail Moth.  Isn’t it amazing that their larva form is so much different?  I mean, I always have been amazed at how intricately designed caterpillars and moths/butterflies were able to develop, but wow Mother Earth, you do know how to make this world go round with some attitude!  Sublime!

Check out some videos!!

It’s a fish, it’s a lip, it’s an egg sac?


Question:  How many fish do you think are in this photo below?

Answer: None!!!  The thing that looks like a fish, is actually the mouth parts to the Broken Ray freshwater mussel.  If you have the passion of fly fishing, you have nothing on these little guys.

Broken Rays Mussel (Lampsilis reeveiana) have evolved a special adaptation that allows their existence to be certain.  They have evolved with a built in fishing lure!  The thing is, this lure is not used for what you might think.  Most lures are used for catching their prey, but this lure is instead a parasitic sac filed with thousands of tiny Mussels.

What happens, is as the fish are lured in for a nibble, but as soon as the fish touch the sac, the mussel blasts the fish with it’s tiny parasitic offspring (glochidia), which will reside in the fish’s gills until fully developed.  The parasitic larva attach themselves to the gills.  They have the ability to develop a cyst on these blood-rich tissues, allowing them to be protected and nourished until they are developed, which can be anywhere from 10 to 30 days

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These mussels look like any average bivalve mollusc, but what defines them as this species, is this extended fleshy mantle that they are able to control it’s contractions in order to look more like a fish.  Obviously, the better the imitation of a fish, the better chances these Mussels will be able to continue it’s genetic line.

 (See attached video, it is truly sublime).