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.

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!!

The Bird Shit Spider


Yup, you read that right… this particular spider likes to mimic none other than that of some pigeon poo droppings.  It is truly an intelligent adaptation, because let’s face it, does anyone want to deal with bird crap?

The “bird dropping spider” (Celaenia excavata)  is a species of spider that can be found in  the eastern and southern coasts, such as Australia.

These spiders are sexually dimorphic (phenotypic differences) in that the males are almost 1/6 the size of the females. As females can be found with up to 13 egg sacs (200 eggs in each sac), their size makes a little more sense.

The way these unique spiders hunt, is by luring prey at night witha phermone that mimics the sex smells of female moths.  The spider has powerful front legs, allowing it to capture the moth as it flies close.

So, bird shit by day, high predators at night.  So Sublime.

Nope.  I wouldn’t want to mess with that.

Watch the video!

Mary River Turtle


The Mary River Turtle, or the “Penny Turtle”  (Elusor macrurus) can be found in the Mary River in South-East Queensland, Australia.  This mohawked  friend was once very popular in the 1960’s but are currently an endangered species.

This species of turtle is the last of it’s genus, decending from a very long line of ancestors of Australia.

These turtles have reached a length of 50 cm, are very elongated, and beautifully patterned.  An interesting fact is, that their irises can commonly be found to be blue. (see pic below)


 These turtles are amazing, as they use bimodal respiration, able to absorb oxygen through both the cloaca (posterior opening) or from the surface.  This feature allows the turtle to stay under water for longer rates of time.

Another unique feature of these turtles, is the fact that the tail can be founs almost 2/3 the length of the carapace (dorsal surface).  It has a feature that can not be found in any other modern turtles, haemal arches on the tail (unknown function, but interesting nonetheless).

You may also notice his cute little “goatees” hanging off his chin.  These barbels are used for searching for food, and act as taste buds in the water.

Not to mention, these cuties are considered to be one of the fastest swimmers, due to the smallest head in proportion to its large hind feet.

Efforts are being made in Australia, as they were listed in the Queenland’s Nature Conservation Act in 1992, and are currently beung protected under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, also since 1992.

So Sublime.

Watch the Video!

Kerengga Ant-like Jumping Spider


The Kerengga Ant-like Jumping spider (Myrmarachne Plataleides) is a very unique type of spider with some crazy cool adaptations.  This species of spider likes to mimic the Kerengga Weaver Ant (Oecophylla Smaragdina) on the accounts of both morphologies and behavior.  This particular spider can be found in India, China, Sri Lanka, and in Southeast Asia.

These ants are sexually dimorphic (have phenotypic differences).   The male ant looks like a large ant carrying a smaller one (pic above), whereas the females look like a single ant.  The males have the elongated chelicerae (mouthparts), which acts as the “smaller ant” that the “larger ant” is carrying.

These chelicerae are able to split, using this for secondary sexual characteristics and protection.  The males fight for their mate, which is quite a sight to see .

So why do they look like ants?  Really?  Wouldn’t you think that spiders are more threatening than ants? I would.  However, because the ants that they mimic are known for their powerful bites and terrible taste, these spiders like to live in range of the colonies of ants, within trees and bushes, in order to be provided with protection from predators.

But wait… this is a jumping spider… and ants don’t jump.  Again, these spiders mimic even the locomotion of their ant friends.  They only jump when they feel threatened.

Wow!  Aren’t these spiders incredible, who would have thought evolution could be so creative!  Simply SUBLIME!

The Dumbo Octopus


The Dumbo Octopus (Species: Grimpoteuthis) is know for it’s “Dumbo” like ears that protrude from their head-like bodies. (See images).  They can be found hovering the bottom floor of the ocean at depths up to 23,000 ft below sea level, making it one of the deepest living species known of octopus.  These small octopi have an internal shell and two fins on their “head” (suborder: Cirrate), unlike their sister suborder of Incirrina that live in the open ocean (pelagic).  Their diet consists of mollusks (bivalves) and crustaceans (Copepods) by consuming their prey whole, which is only done by this particular species.  The way they catch their prey, is they pulsate their arms in order to create a jet propulsion funnel by using their “Dumbo” like fins.

For reproduction, these Octopi are thought to have a constant breeding season, due to findings of eggs in almost all developments of their age.  The male Octopi have an enlarged segment on one the arms that transfers his spermatophores into the females during copulation.

The largest known Dumbo Octopus recorded was 6 ft long and 13 lbs in weight (about the size of an average size man and the weight of a very young infant).

So sublime… the Dumbo Octopus

Watch the Video!