Baiji

The baiji has made a terrible mistake, which to be honest has only endeared himself to The Proceedings. He spent tens of thousands of years evolving to live in a lovely river, only for someone to bugger up all his hard work in the space of a few decades… the baiji’s home has had such an extensive buggering he’s unfortunately one of the rarest animals on the planet… indeed if he is alive at all.

The baiji is one of four species of river dolphin that have evolved independently around the world. This one hails from the Yangtze river… hence its common name ‘the Yangtze river dolphin’… well I thought that was funny… its Latin name is Lipotes vexifillier which means “left behind flag bearer”… really lost on that one. Though perhaps this lovely dolphin’s oddest monicker is its nickname; “goddess of the river”. No, no I’m not saying the baiji isn’t enchanting… one is saying that this heavenly moniker seems a tad incongruous. In fact such a name can only really be relevant if it’s common practice for the Yangtze locals to deafen, poison and generally mistreat their goddesses… perhaps buggering about vengeful deities is the only way to explain why the river is so bloody awful in the first place.

baiji

Given the choice most animals wouldn’t have evolved in China, after millions of years of unadulterated bliss in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, suddenly they became assailed from every blooming direction. When they weren’t being poisoned from pollution, they were being eaten. When they weren’t being ground up into little placebos they were… actually that’s bally well enough. Of course the absolute worse place in China that an animal could choose to evolve in is the Yangtze.

Now a huge centre of commerce, the Yangtze is about as peaceful as a Beijing bell factory, and simply put the baiji is more out of place than a Scot at a charity fundraiser. Of course this lovely dolphin wasn’t always so incongruous. It evolved in a rather muddy river and so forewent the need for sight. While it gave up trying to squint its way through the sediment rich Yangtze it evolved a highly developed sense of hearing. Of course back in the day he was having a lovely time, because his hearing was so acute he was able to bimble around the great river quite happily… right up until the point that the motor engine was invented. Now the dolphin’s home has circular saws whizzing through it… circular saws that render the poor sod absolutely blind.

baiji3

What’s more the pollutants and other gubbins sloshing downriver have all added up to make sure that this river dolphin is done for. The Baiji is now so rare in fact that it’s been declared functionally extinct, despite someone thinking they might have seen one a couple of years back, it’s got no chance, without wanting to go into gene flow and population dynamics i hope you’ll be satisfied with me just saying the poor bugger is done for… even if there are a couple of dolphin goddesses left the chance of them even meeting each other in the Hades like depths of the Yangtze sadly seems really rather unlikely…

Published in: on August 27, 2009 at 9:08 pm  Comments (4)  

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)