Star Nosed Mole

Meet this marvellous chap and his rather splendid nose… said to be the most sensitive appendage in the entire animal kingdom.

star-nose

The star nosed mole lives in swamps in Northern America and swims through the sloshy mud. He’s a good swimmer and is often found skedaddling around the bottom of streams and ponds looking for some grub. This chaps magnificent hooter doesn’t really give anything a chance either that fleshy star will feel anything that wiggles by. What it doesn’t feel it will certainly smell… even underwater… incredibly the star nosed mole is in fact the only mammal that can smell underwater. It does this by blowing large bubbles out of its nose and quickly snuffling them back up along with any smelly smells. His eyes for the record are about as much use as Turkish cricket team… in fact they can only just perceive the difference between light and dark.

star-nose

He may be blind-as-a-bat-that-has-been-buried-in-a-swamp-with-a big-distracting-nose-in-front-of-its-next-to-useless-eyes… but this mole’s stupendous nose more than makes up for that. It has twenty-two wee pink fleshy tentacles, which grow as if a bud unfurling like a wibbly flower. His superb conk is covered in incredibly sensitive organs called eimer’s organs… 25,000 highly acute little nodules that relay information back to his brain. There are 100,000 nerves connecting his nose to his brain, six times as many as there between the human brain and the hand, which gives you an inkling as to just how much they can feel around a swamp. In fact it would be fair to say the star nosed mole’s nose is in fact its eyes… it even waves it around constantly much like we gaze around looking for food and mates and our pipe tobacco and what not.

One more thing on this terrific chap, it turns out he’s the fastest eater in the animal kingdom. In eight milliseconds it can figure out if something is food, and if it is indeed edible it will be slurped up within 120 milliseconds, three times faster than the blink of an eye. Of course only the Scots have been recorded eating faster, it’s just that no one in their right mind could define their cuisine as edible.

Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 7:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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Leopard Slug

Meet the positively peachy Leopard Slug, or in latin Limax maximus which means ‘Great Slug’!

Limax_maximus

These nocturnal spotty slimers are up to 25cm long, which makes them one of the largest land slugs in the world. Though it’s not their size that get these chaps into The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange… no… no… no.

Nor is it because they are one of the few carnivorous slugs, zipping around about four times faster than other slugs to gobble them up. It’s not because this slug has a shell… many slugs do hidden away in their body a tiny reminder of their evolutionary past. Or as Darwin exquisitely put it ‘rudimentary organs may be compared with the letters in a word, still retained in the spelling, but become useless in the pronunciation’.

Rather weird this slimy fellow is for many reasons, but there is one reason it has caused a right hullabaloo down at The Proceedings.

i say i'm looking for a certain type of lady

i say i'm looking for a certain type of lady

You see it turns out that the Leopard slug has a sex life that would make the Dutch blush. They court for hours, beginning by circling around each other slobbering all over their respective partner. After the hours of licky foreplay, the rather adventurous couple skedaddle up a tree, entwine around each other before lowering themselves down on a mucus string.

Once suspended in mid air…. actually while we’re here yes I do realize it does sound like I’ve hit the Claret pretty hard, but I swear this is all true… anyway… once in position, spinning around on their mucus string, a huge penis comes out of both of their heads, slugs of course being hermaphrodites.

racy stuff!

racy stuff!

(c) R Rosetta, Oregon State University

I know by now you think I’m actually having one of my opium flashbacks from my time in Kandahar, or even just had my fill of the laudanum I picked up in Harrods, still absolutely honestly this is what they do. They slide down their mucus string, and in mid air each with its enormous penis unsheathed from their head, their kilt-tilters tangle and wind around one another, much in the same way as the slugs themselves. The penises fan out into a rather smashing flower-like structure and they can at this stage exchange sperm. Sometimes the penises will become so entangled that apophallation is the only way to go… one will chew off the others penis. The de-tallywhackered slug will still be able to mate, just only as a lady. Usually, and indeed thankfully, it doesn’t always have to come to this. They will end mating by dropping down to the floor, and bimble off into the night to lay thousands of eggs.

So there it is Limax maximus… a really really great slug!

Published in: on August 18, 2009 at 10:55 am  Comments (6)  

Ocean Sunfish

The largest bony fish in the world is the incredible ocean sunfish, a bizarre circular fish that can reach more than 4M across, weighing up to 2,300 kg… about the same weight as an Asian bull elephant… which is a lot… but don’t tell him I told you so as that would be terrible manners.

snfish

This enormous bony fish gets its name from its behaviour of thermal recharging, basking his big flat body to catch the warmth of the sun’s rays, after deep dives into the depths of the chilly ocean. Lying flat like a mirror image of the sun. In fact it has a number of apt monickers, in many countries it is known as the moonfish, in Germany it’s “the swimming head”, in Poland the “head alone” and in China it’s the “toppled car” which makes absolutely no bloody sense whatsoever.

Mola_mola

Talking of talking sense, I’m a simple man who likes to keep things elementary; I call my dog “doggy”, Lady Gwendolene “darling” and a Frenchman a “stinking coward”. So I thought it pertinent to bring it to your attention that the very word ‘fish’ is probably misleading. There are 9 different classes of vertebrates; mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are a familiar and really rather nicely defined four, incredibly the other five are all different classes of fish. The Agnatha; weird eel-like fish like the hagfish and lamprey. The Acanthodii and Placodermi, who didn’t do frightfully well and went extinct. Then there are the Chondricythes, with their cartilaginous skeletons, like the sharks and rays. Finally there are the more ‘fishy’ fish, the Osteicythes, the bony fish like the tuna, the cod and our smashing ocean sunfish.

sunfish

Thankfully the ocean sunfish doesn’t care what you call him as he’s bally stupid, the most stupid animal in the sea, after a Giraffe of course. His brain is quite literally the size of a peanut, weighing in at 4g. He doesn’t really need it of course, nature is like that… terribly efficient, he happily bimbles around the ocean, eating jellyfish and well having a bit of lie down, eating another blobby thing… and that’s it really. He eats the easiest of prey; starfish, sponges what not… anything that can’t get away from the slow moving oaf to be perfectly honest… it’s fair to say that the ocean sunfishes prey have about as much chance as a biscuit in a fat man’s bed. So how did he get so big? Well quite simply by eating lots and lots. All the really big animals around the planet have access to tonnes and tonnes of food. The elephant chows down on the grasses and brows of Africa and Asia. The blue whale, who incidentally has a tongue the same length as an elephant, slurps up tonnes and tonnes of krill. The ocean sunfish, the largest bony fish in the world, eats jellyfish and sponges… lots and lots of them.

Published in: on August 11, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Comments (20)  

Proboscis Monkey

With a fat belly and a nose like a blind carpenter’s thumb, meet the rather lovely proboscis monkey.

0-587-15170-6

Locals refer to these splendid creatures as ‘Orang Belanda’ or the Dutch Monkey. Not that they are known for their mattress-dancing depravities or for a penchant for mind-bending substances. It’s the outsized conk and the fat pot-belly, that remind the Borneans of the early Dutch colonisers.

ProboscisMonkey

So what need for this stupendous sniffer? Well it seems the lady proboscis monkeys find it rather dashing; the bigger the better. On average the male’s conk is about seven inches long, the females considerably smaller, but still bally big. In fact if you were a male proboscis monkey your nose would be about the same size as your foot. Though what it would smell like is open to a number of punchlines. In fact they are so big it may be that the male needs to move his nose out of the way to take a chomp on some food. As if that wasn’t enough the noses swell and turn red when there is some sort of kerfuffle, a fact only aided by the way it acts as a resonating chamber to amplify shouting and generally causing a commotion.

... so you're saying it's not big enough?

... so you're saying it's not big enough?

The proboscis monkeys live in the swampy forests of tropical Borneo, and are really rather adept at living in the trees, wading around in water… they’re even proficient swimmers. It has even been reported that these monkeys have been picked up by fishing boats miles from the coast. They certainly seem to like splashing around in the water, and after a bit of a wade they will think nothing of having a bit of a wander around on its two back legs, one of the only non-human mammals to do so. Which brings us rather neatly to an insight into our own evolution.

This caused quite the brouhaha down at The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange, but there is the thought that we didn’t actually evolve on the African savannah… we are actually aquatic apes. This splendid theory could go at least part way in answering the question “why do we look so different from the other apes?” The others are hairy and favour walking around on four legs, while we prefer two… the only time when other animals will take a constant bipedal stance is in fact when they are wading. Another striking example of why we may be evolved from a swimming ape is that other aquatic mammals have more often than not lost all their hair; the dugongs, the hippos, the whales… etc. Like these aquatic mammals we have a fat layer to protect us from the cold, while other apes deposit fat around their organs. What’s more we are streamlined… imagine a gorilla trying to do the butterfly… he could barely get the trunks on I’d warrant. Finally we can control our breath, a prerequisite of speaking, the other apes can’t… but diving mammals certainly can.

i swear i'm not lying

i swear i'm not lying

It’s certainly a smashing idea… and the evidence is indeed compelling… as is the evidence that says it’s just a load of old cobblers… some may say that this is a crackpot theory… but I say pish and tosh to all you naysayers… come on in… the water is lovely… very nearly as lovely as the proboscis monkey.

Published in: on August 4, 2009 at 10:28 am  Comments (3)  

Jungle Fowl

Red and Grey Junglefowl are rather dashing tropical pheasants that dwell in the jungles of South East Asia. Though you might find them more recognizable when they are naked, sadly they are not a game filly, they are actually the direct ancestors of an altogether more familiar and rather intriguing old bird; the chicken.

I say there's no need for fowl language old boy

I say there's no need for fowl language old boy

The chook is a bundle of tastiness that was borne from the interbreeding of these two jungle birds. These red and grey jungle fowl may very well be the original chicken, but what came first the chicken or the egg? It’s a question that has foxed people with far too much time on their hands for millennia.

Nearly two and a half thousand years ago Aristotle clearly got confused by the question and concluded that both must always have existed. Over four hundred years later Plutarch neatly dodged the question and dribbled on about it being a bigger question… that of the creation of the world… nice try beardy. Stephen Hawking argues that the egg must come first, assuming the egg was either an egg in general or an egg that hatches into a chicken. If we rather illogically thought that the egg had to be laid by a chicken then we would have to ask ‘What came first the chicken or the chicken’s egg?’ Which is a silly question. So it has to be that the egg that came first! Hurrah! Though after all that cerebral straining I fear I’m about to find out what comes first the nosebleed or the large G & T… hopefully it’s the latter.

run that by me again?

run that by me again?

Now, enough philosophizing, what of this omnipresent former jungle fowl; the chicken. We’ve seen plenty of fat birds with the deliciousness gene eaten off the planet, from the dodo to the great auk via the passenger pigeon. Though sometimes it works the other way round, we like the species so much we domesticate it, look after it, and reproduce it in incredible numbers, 24 billion in the case of chickens, making it the most abundant bird on the planet… an incredible triumph in evolutionary terms. These delightful creatures also menstruate in handy little packages, and we find these little eggy periods absolutely delicious too! Sounds like something only a Scot would eat I know, but we manage to get through 69 billion a year… no not just us two… I meant mankind. I like to have mine boiled, with toast cut up into soldiers. Of course I think you, being a devilishly clever bunch, know by now what the difference between a slice of toast and the French is.

Of course the story of this scrumptious bird is woven intrinsically into the human story. The first pictures of chicken in Europe are on Corinthian pottery of the 7th Century, though it’s likely they arrived around 3000bc. Ancient Greeks spoke of their qualities of braveness and thought that even the lion was afraid of cocks.

poultry in motion

poultry in motion

One last thing, I’m sure you know by now that we at the Proceedings like to save the best ‘til last. It seems that the Chicken is the only animal described that managed to live without a head. Yes that’s right a Chicken once lived sans bonce.

Mike never became the head of a major corporation

Mike never became the head of a major corporation

Mike was his name, after a farmer in 1940’s Colorado botched lopping his noggin off, he lived through the usually rather fatal wound. The farmer had somehow chopped off the rather important bit of his anatomy while retaining a little bit of the brain stem. Feeling sorry for headless Mike the farmer’s family kept him alive, feeding him with an eyedropper full of milk. Mike became quite the star over his short 18 month life span, appearing in both Time and Life magazines… though it’s unlikely that even fame could get him a lot of chicks.

One final thing about these amazing ancestors of jungle fowl, and that’s the other age old problem ‘Why did the Chicken cross the road?’ Well it turns out that he was French and was simply retreating.

ever get the feeling you may never hear the end of something?

ever get the feeling you may never hear the end of something?

‘But what of that fabulous bird the jungle fowl! This is an article on chickens!’ I hear you cry, well the fowl are smashing creatures, but sadly they are really nothing to write home about. Though I can tell you they do taste a bit like chicken.

Published in: on July 28, 2009 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Narwhal

Since the dawn of time there has been stories of the magical beast the Unicorn. A single-horned Horse with a Billy Goat’s beard, a Lion’s tail and cloven hooves. Its horn was highly prized, worth more than gold… not surprising as it was said to bestow magical powers on its bearer. A chalice made of the bone was said to protect from poisoning. Only the richest gentries curiosity cabinet contained the Unicorn horn. Prince Elizabeth I was said to be particularly fond of her carved and bejewelled horn, of course this was pre-Freud, and it was said to be worth “the cost of a castle”. Now we know that these magical Unicorn horns are actually the tusks of Narwhals.

narwhal

Aaaaw I hear you cry, I know, but as smashing as it would be, the existence of a Unicorn is about as likely as the existence of a sober Scot, but bear with me dear reader for this Narwhal is a creature every bit as wonderous as the Unicorn.

In the seas above the Arctic circle these Sea Unicorns are found in pods of 10-100. The Narwhal gets its name from the old Norse word for corpse “Nar”, as its mottled skin is said to be reminiscent of a drowned sailor.

narwalswimming

All interesting stuff but it’s pretty obvious that what propels this creature straight into the Proceedings of the Ever so Strange is its magnificent prong. At an incredible two to three metres long, the male Narwhal’s tusk is actually a tooth, like the tusk of an Elephant. The tooth grows out in a spiral form, usually from the left hand side of the jaw, it is the only helix formed tooth known to man, and it is indeed the only straight tusk. In fact it’s the most bizarre teething arrangement on the planet… closely followed by the British upper class.

Though what is really interesting about this rather obvious appendage is that no one is entirely sure what it uses it for. The most widely accepted theory is that put forward by Charles Darwin. That this tooth has evolved as a sexually selected characteristic, similar to the mane of a Lion or the tail of a Peacock. That is to say that there is no real advantage to it, indeed it may put the creature at a disadvantage, but it is an example of healthiness to the female of the species and the more impressive it is the more likely she will allow herself to be ravished by him.

narwhal2

Other theories include that it uses it for jousting other males, which is very likely to be tish tosh. Though Narwhals do exhibit a tusking behaviour, where they rub them together at the surface, which is thought to be to establish who is the boss. They may use them as a probe to look for Crustacea and other bits of grub, it has even been suggested that they use them as a pick to break Arctic Ice.

Though recently some really rather interesting research showed that there was more to these mysterious tusks than meets the eye. Learned types took an electron micrograph of the enormous tootsy peg and found that it contained an incredibly amount of nerve endings, ten million to be precise. To put that into context the most sensitive part of the human body is the female clitoris which has eight thousand, men have half of that number in their tallywhacker, imagine those dipping in and out of the Arctic sea! They’d give you a read out of environmental information… I’d say!

I say... I detect it's that way

I say... I detect it's that way

So the Narwhal tusk is an incredibly sensitive device, one can only imagine what sort of information can be picked up by it, further research will hopefully soon tell us, whatever is discovered it’s bound to be rather special, a sense organ so sensitive it will defy belief, super-natural almost… one could even call it magical.

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 9:20 am  Comments (7)  

Wombat

Meet the Wombat; he’s Australian, slow and rather dim-witted. As if the three were separable! Hurrah!

Huzzah!

Huzzah!

He really is a smasher isn’t he? A lazy smasher at that! This affable chap likes to take things easy, he’ll spend about sixteen hours a day snoozing away. Wombats are grazers and have such an efficient digestive system they only need to eat about a third of the amount a sheep or similar grass-eater would chow down on, incredibly it will take 14 days for one meal to be fully digested. What’s more they need even less water, about 20% of a sheep’s requirement. This unbelievably slow metabolism is an adaptation to the arid, nutrient-low bush in which he lives, he also uses it as an excuse as to why he just can’t seem to fit into those britches anymore.

... and the winner of the ...

... and the winner of the ...

After this epic bit of digestion our dawdling chum will poo out a cube of dung… yes really… a cube. Wombat use their dung as a marker of their territory and it’s thought that he makes these rather angular plops so that they don’t roll away. Exactly how the Wombat does this incredible bit of bottom crafting even I don’t want to know.

Woot! It's a little known fact that it's a physical impossibility to have enough pictures of Wombats in a single essay.

Woot! It's a little known fact that it's a physical impossibility to have enough pictures of Wombats in a single essay.

There are three species of Wombat; the Common, the Southern Hairy Nosed and the incredibly scarce Northern Hairy Nosed… the latter is one of the rarest Mammals on the planet only living in a three square kilometre patch of protected land. Sadly the native grasses on which he barely gets a meal are being out-competed by invading species.

One last thing about this smasher his bum is tough as an old boot. If a Wombat comes across a predator such as a Dingo, he skedaddles to his nearest burrow. Indeed he can be there in a jiffy as he really can motor. Once the Wombat is in his burrow he is really rather fine and dandy. He blocks the end with his cartilaginous derriere as any predator will have difficulty getting a purchase on his rock-hard bot. Of course with his head in the sand and his arse in the air we can draw no parallels with him and the Australian Cricket Team. Hurrah!

Published in: on July 21, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (19)  

Tarantula Hawk

Tarantulas… big ugly bitey buggers… not ideal babysitting material in anyone’s book. Oddly the extraordinary tarantula hawk likes to leave junior with these evil sods… still she does take the precaution of paralyzing him first… a bit like leaving sherry with the nanny.

Tarantula_Hawk

Tarantula hawks are actually a type of wasp. A bally big wasp as you’d expect. They also possess an incredibly powerful sting, second in power only to the bullet ant. The tarantula hawk’s sting is described by our old mate Schmidt as “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.” Which sounds like one to be avoided.

The tarantula hawk sniffs out the tarantula, even going as far to head into their lair. Where it somehow entrances the big bloody spider. No one is really sure how this happens, the research being a tad thin on the ground. Most zoologists, being human, tend to avoid having to handle them and will go to great lengths to avoid publishing papers on ‘How the Stingiest Stinger you couldn’t even imagine interacts with the Spider from Hades’ presumably preferring to write papers on ‘Who prefers snuggles most? Penguins, Otters or Puppies” Though it is probably that this flying assassin is using some sort of pheromone.

and that's the story of the 'owl and the pussycat'... now sleep tight little Jessica

and that's the story of the 'owl and the pussycat'... now sleep tight little Jessica

The wasp then crawls over the tarantula checking he’s exactly the right species, when she’s sure he’s the right one she delivers a potent neurotoxin, drags it to the bottom of its burrow, lays a single egg and seals up the burrow with the spider. Eventually the larva hatches and sticks its mouth into the living tarantula’s abdomen to suck the spider dry. When the squidgy bits are gone, the rapidly growing larvae moves on to the paralysed spiders fresh essential organs. The spider of course dies, as it really could have quite done with those essential organs to live, which is why they were so bloody well essential in the first place. With the buffet slayed the wasp larvae builds a cocoon to metamorphose. To change into another tarantula bothering machine. Smashing stuff!

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 3:44 pm  Comments (11)  

Lyre Bird

This is the superb lyrebird… no that really is his name… they did toy around with calling him the smashing lyrebird and the ‘why isn’t he just delightful’ lyrebird … but superb lyrebird stuck. The only other species of lyrebird, the albert’s lyrebird is said to be really rather jealous of this grand moniker. He’s named of course after Prince Albert and when you think about the other things that are named after him I think we can allow this songbird a sulk.

Ta Daaaa!

Ta Daaaa!

They are pheasant-sized birds that skedaddle around the Australian rainforest floor. Any sign of danger and they will leg it, straight down the nearest wombat hole if they can find one.

Though it’s not his ability to scarper that has propelled these superb (yes I am including you under that heading Albert so do stop sulking) creatures into The Proceedings. In fact what is Ever so Strange about these chaps is their quite frankly incredible mating rituals.

great, so let me get this straight, he's 'superb' and i'm named after some bloke with genital piercings?

great, so let me get this straight, he's 'superb' and i'm named after some bloke with genital piercings?

The male lyrebird will begin his tomfoolery in the winter when he builds and maintains a mound to perform on. The lyrebirds have the most complicated syrinx, the voicebox for want of a better word, of the birds. Which means this incredible fellow can sing the most beautiful songs, what’s more they can mimic just about any sound they hear.

In the 30’s a lyrebird by the name of James formed a bond with another smasher, a certain Mrs Wilkinson. After feeding him over a number of years he returned the favour by performing his courtship dance in the garden, he’d even do it for Mrs Wilkinson’s guests… but only if she was present. The word dance of course is perhaps a misnomer, as it’s really the song that is the virtuoso performance. James was said to include in his song the sounds of…

… the laughing-song of the kookaburra, two kookaburras having a bit of a laugh together, an Australian magpie, and a young magpie begging for a bit of grub, a bellbird, an eastern whipbird… I say I like the sound of her… a yellow-tailed black-cockatoo, a gang-gang cockatoo, an eastern rosella, a pied butcherbird, a wattle-bird, a grey shrike-thrush, a thornbill, a white-browed scrubwren, a striated pardalote, a starling, a yellow robin, a golden whistler, a flock of parrots having a merry old time, the crimson rosella, several other birds who no-one could work out what they were, the faintissimo cheeps of thousands of honey-eaters… a rock pulveriser, a hydraulic ram and the tooting of motor car horns.

Really rather amazing isn’t it. Once a park ranger went bushwhacking to find out why the blazes someone was playing a merry ditty on a flute in the middle of the bush. Turns out that the culprit was a lyrebird who had learned the tunes from a nearby farm where they had a gramophone for shindigs.

One of course would be very happy to have gone on about this marvellous fellow, but I’m really the last person who should lecture on the subject of making good impressions.

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 9:53 am  Comments (3)  

Quahog Clam

You’re going to have to speak up he’s really rather old… no actually you’re really going to have to speak up as he lacks a sense of hearing… say hello, or don’t bally well bother wasting your time saying hello, to the oldest creature on the planet … the Quahog Clam.

Islandmuschel

To be brutally honest hearing isn’t the only faculty this really rather oblivious four hundred and five year old is amiss. He never knew that in his infancy Elizabeth I with her festering black teeth sat atop the throne, and a young William Shakespeare was just putting quill to parchment. He would have seen the pilgrims set sail to New England, if only he had the ability, to whom he would have presumably said a cordial how-do-you-do as they sailed past… if only he had a larynx. He was unaware when Nelson defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar, and at the ascension to the throne for Queen Victoria. He couldn’t give a hoot for a number of historic landmarks that he lived through to be perfectly honest… the invention of the telephone, penicillin, Darwinism, the atom bomb, the First and Second World Wars, even Margaret Thatcher’s dismantling of the welfare state was said to only rile him a tad.

Until, one day researchers from the University of Bangor, Wales… yes Welsh researchers… found him in the waters above Iceland he so fondly called home … there they counted the layers that he had laid down year by year… painstakingly over the centuries he had grown to just 3.4 inches across… and the researchers tallied 405 layers one for every year of his life… of course they killed the poor bugger in the process.

Published in: on July 16, 2009 at 8:29 am  Comments (5)  
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