Tenrec

Hurrah! We at The Proceedings doff our caps to this intriguing chap who is quite simply like no other… for starters he’s got no balls! No, he’s not French… he’s from Madagascar… what’s that you say… a former French colonial outpost… aah starting to make sense… apart from the bit where the French actually managed to conquer somewhere of course.

Tenrec

Grrrrrr....

He is really rather smashing isn’t he. Yes quite… he does look like a rather dapper hedgehog… and yes… you are forgiven for thinking that he’s some relative of a snail-eating creature with no road sense… no I told you not the blasted French… he’s not related to hedgehogs. His closest relatives are in fact the golden moles, elephants and hyraxes which causes a real kerfuffle when it comes to booking a venue for family get togethers.

This tenrec chap is quite amazing, there are 30 species of them dotted around Madagascar and South Africa. They inhabit a number of different ecological niches; some favour bobbing around in rivers, others scrabbling around in bushes, some are up trees and others are underground. Remarkably they’ve grown to look quite a lot like some rather more familiar species… some are the spitting image of hedgehogs…

tenrechedgehog

eeek

others are well adapted to water and look like otters…

tenrecotter

well hello

others bound around bearing a remarkable resemblance tree shrews…

tenrec3

hello

…and the lowland streaked tenrec appears to have evolved to look like a German transvestite.

streakedtenrec

Guten tag handsome

Time to talk balls, more so than usual, you see these chaps lack them. They have testes of course, but they are one of the few mammals that keep them inside their body. Testicles as you know produce sperm and hormones, for mating and producing “maleness” in the body… a number of factors including facial hair, libido and propensity for pipe smoking. As the testes don’t work very well in the hot temperatures inside the body, most animals have balls that hang out of the body. A few animals, such as the whales and dolphins, keep them inside their body and have adapted elaborate systems to keep them cool. The tenrecs however just have a cool body temperature.

There is another odd body feature about these chaps in that they have a single opening for all their weeing, pooing and hanky panky. Their bum and other bits are one and the same… one hole for all functions known as a cloaca… more commonly seen in birds, reptiles and amphibians.

So there it is quite remarkable isn’t it… no not that… that the French managed to conquer somewhere.

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Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 1:03 pm  Comments (5)  

Jumping Spiders

The jumping spiders are a rather charming bunch, one of the most numerous types of arachnid with about 5,000 species spanning the globe, though pour yourself a sherry and read on dear friend as they are far from common, and aren’t a bit like your run-of-the-mill eight-legged fiend.

don't look sad little one...

don't look sad little one...

These charming spiders don’t really fit in with their peers, of course this can only endear our band of bon vivants to our eight-legged chums… what with us being the scourge of the gentleman’s clubs of Soho… those clubs that would have us back anyway.

... that's better!

... that's better!

The jumpers are, put quite simply, not very spider like… instead of a terrifying lolloping blur of legs… beady little eyes… venomous gnashers… attributes that turn even the most ardent animal lover into a genocidal animapath… they are instead fluffy and doe-eyed and actually make you want to pick them up for a bit of a spidery snuggle.

jumpers

This sadly would be quite impossible as they tend to be about 5mm long, though these wee spiders do try and make up for their unsnugglable tiny stature by behaving in a rather precious manner. If you presented your pinkie to another type of spider it would presumably either start skedaddling towards it drooling at its gaping maw… or simply scuttle back to Hades (or the back of the refrigeration unit, whichever is nearer). The jumping spider reacts quite differently, inquisitively wondering what the blazes the big pink sausage is… and go and have an investigate.

These spiders move not surprisingly in a jerky jumping manner. Amazingly they don’t move by muscles clunking their hard shelly body around, but in fact use hydraulic action. Like a mechanical digger they utilize fluid, blood in the case of our adorable arachnid, which they pump around their system. The fluid pushes to move limbs, rather than pulls like a muscle. This rather marvellous adaption allows them to jump really rather high, up to eighty times their own height, without having to rely on big bulky muscles like the grasshopper.

jumpingspider

The jumping spiders also have incredible eyesight, it is ten times better than that of the dragonflies… patrons of by far the best peepers in the six-legged insect kingdom. The furry bounders use their remarkable vision to stalk their prey rather than putting up big and quite frankly frightful and unwelcoming webs everywhere. Though it did confuse learned types for some time as to exactly how something with such a tiny brain can use its eyes to hunt.

Predatory mammals such as cats and ourselves have evolved incredibly complex neural pathways to deal with the amount of information our eyes bring in. The information is sifted and sorted and we can make out what we need to make out, without going stark raving bonkers at the barrage of information we behold. The jumping spiders it turns out have evolved in a very different manner, they see a very small amount at a time. While they can see as clearly as a pigeon, they could only see a speck of something at a time, if they were presented with a pigeon they would not only be annoyed at your poor taste in presents but they quite simply wouldn’t be able to comprehend its magnitude… which is incidentally a philosophical argument as to why we cannot see Gods dilly dallying around the place, they are just too enormous for our tiny minds to compute… though whether pigeons are Gods to jumping spiders is anyone’s guess…

So that’s it, the rather delightful jumping spider. I’m sure you’ll agree that they aren’t a bit like those other ruffians, our fuzzy friend with big eyes rather than big fangs, inquisitive and bouncey rather than skulking and scampering. It has even been postulated by learned types that these charismatic inquisitive creatures shouldn’t really be called jumping spiders at all… and that perhaps a better moniker for these pouncing furballs would be ‘eight-legged cats’.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 11:25 am  Comments (6)  

Namibian fog-basking beetle

On a foggy morning you can find old Onymacris unguicularis standing on his head on top of a sand dune with his bottom in the air… no he hasn’t been drinking all night, quite the opposite, in fact he’s absolutely parched.

beetle2

Water, lovely stuff, wash with it, make tea with it… life started in it and it took quite some time for him to get out of it, I know how it feels, it’s awful getting out of the tub at times…

The wet stuff is flabbergasting in its omnipresent grandeur, lakes of incomprehensible dimensions, huge rivers coarse through the land slicing through granite mountains like an unimaginably slow paring knife. The oceans are so massive that we haven’t got the foggiest what lurks at the bottom of them. Water blankets the planet, our blue Earth, covering two thirds of it… in fact it never fails to surprise us down at the Proceedings that there is in fact absolutely bugger all of the stuff… don’t believe me? Take a look;

water

Told you… yes really, that’s it, that wee blue droplet is all the lakes, all the rivers, all the puddles, all the seas, all the ice and soda, even all the cup a soups… all that we have… thankfully we don’t treat it too badly… back in a mo’ just going for a… oh dear lordy what are we doing?

Which brings us back to our friend the Namibian fog-basking beetle. The local bushmen refer to him as the ‘tok-tokkie’ beetle, as they attract a mate by tapping the ground with their bottoms to make a noise. Though it’s not for their fine line in rectal morse-code chat up lines that makes this chap so splendid. He’s developed a rather nifty way of getting a drink. As a sea fog rolls in of a morning the beetle presents himself to it. This is where things get clever, his carapace is made up of a series of peaks and troughs. The peaks are very attractive to water and the fog settles on them, the troughs however are waxy and hydrophobic and the water rolls off the trough and begins to form droplets. The water naturally runs down the inverted beetles body and into his mouth, smashing!

namibia01

This gave the chaps down at the MoD an idea, they’ve made a series of fabrics using glass beads and waxy coatings to make huge and inexpensive fog catchers, so that the parched locals can get a glass of water. Of course getting a free drink at the best of times is obviously a good idea, but in Africa it could be a matter of life and death. While governments nowadays are happy to kick the hell out of some poor bloody country for the sake of oil… as the population crisis looms the next wars will be fought over a far more valuable fluid resource… actually I think I’ll have that drink after all.

Published in: on October 13, 2009 at 10:15 am  Comments (1)  

King of Herrings

We only really know a smidgeon about this most marvellous looking beastie, the king of herrings, a huge sword of sparkling silver resplendent with a crown… an oceanic majesty.

oar

What we can tell you is the king of herrings is the world’s longest fish, up to an incredible 12 metres long. It’s a type of oarfish and more than one researcher has said that it gives off electric shocks when touched. A group of frogmen recently reported that it moves by undulating its enormous fin along its back, keeping its body quite straight. And that’s about it… it’s fair to say we know bugger all about this beauty.

So when it came to an evening talk on this king of herrings we were rather stumped as to what to say down at The Proceedings. Many people, new ages types mainly, wag their finger at us men of science and point out that ‘we think we’ve got it all worked out’ well no we haven’t… it’s actually that we are rather fascinated about this wonderful and intriguing place we call home. This of course led us to chat about what we don’t know about, a subject that could fill the entire library of The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange thricefold.

oarfish

We don’t know about the universe, most of it appears to be missing for a start off, and the whole thing should be falling apart… but it isn’t. We haven’t got a clue if there is life out there… though according to the Drake equation there should be about 10,000 life forms in the universe who have the ability to communicate… and therefore countless others. We certainly don’t know if something was trying to communicate with us when a thirty-seven-second long signal came from Sagittarius in 1977, the so called Wow! signal after the astronomer on watch couldn’t help but scribble his excitement by the side of the feedout.

We don’t even know about our planet… what the weather will do from day to day or when a volcano will erupt or the ground will shake. We haven’t got the foggiest how many organisms there are, at best guess we think there is somewhere in the order of between 2 and 100 million… pretty accurate I’m sure you’ll agree. We don’t know about what is at the bottom of the ocean or what made a huge noise there in the summer of 1997… a noise that was heard by sensors 4,800 miles apart… a bloop that sounded organic in origin… a noise that could only have been made by something much much bigger than any living thing ever known.

We don’t know what causes ice ages every 100,000 years, indeed we are actually in an ice age now, an ice age that despite only seeing an average fall in temperatures of about two degrees it was enough to turn the Earth into a snowball. We certainly don’t know what will happen as the temperature will rise by four degrees in this century… though I’d warrant it’s not bally good news.

King Of Herrings

We’ve no idea why we sleep or pick our nose, we don’t know why we have pubic hair and speaking of hair sprouting up in funny places we have absolutely no idea what the point in teenagers is… when all other apes seem to quite sensibly move smoothly into adulthood. We don’t know why humans kiss, it’s certainly not genetic, there are theories that it dates from ancient times when a mother would mush up food for the wee ones in her mouth… but who could ever know. We don’t even know why we love…

Though we at The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange would love to know about love and whopping great fish and weather and aliens… what’s more we look forward to finding out just a smidgeon about them…

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 5:45 pm  Comments (4)