Golden Rumped Elephant Shrew

Meet the golden rumped elephant shrew, owner of one of the most magnificent bottoms in the animal kingdom, world champion skedaddler and he’s not even a shrew… in fact he’s more elephant than shrew.

Magnificent!

Despite looking just like a shrew this fellow, like the rest of the elephant shrews and indeed the tree shrews, is not related… they don’t even get a card from the shrews at Christmas… yes quite it is that fellow convergent evolution we keep on going on about. It seems likely that the elephant shrews are closely related to the elephants, armadillos and hyrax but even that is debated.

Of course the elephant shrews have been so-called not because of modern genetic cladistic analyses to postulate phylogenetic trees… but because they’ve got a bally big trunk on their face. It uses this great big nose to root around in the leaf litter looking for tasties; grasshoppers, beetles and the like. It’s a bit of a bother when it does actually manage to eat something, to eat a worm it has to hold it with its foot, chew it on the side of its face… big nose remember… and then flick bits of worm into his mouth. No you are right he is dreadful company to take out for supper… though he is quite delightful company in all other respects.

no dear it's very flattering

Though it’s not his lineage or his manners that make this chap a real corker in The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange… it’s that he has evolved more ways of getting away from persuants than the French.

First off, if the predator is far enough away, he legs it… and at quite a speed… up to 25kmh, incredibly fast for such a wee chap.

If the golden rumped tree shrew is unfortunate enough to be too close to the predator he does something rather unusual. Instead of keeping his head down and trying to hide, he does quite the opposite, in fact he goes absolutely stark raving bonkers. He causes a right hullabaloo, slapping the leaf litter to make a racket… the idea is to send a message to the predator… goading it not to waste time attacking him… which apparently works some of the time. An unusual method of predator avoidance this may be, but it has been demonstrated a number of times and it’s about a show of fitness. Skylarks when being chased by a bird of prey will often sing, the message to the predator is ‘not only can I outrun you but I can do it with a little ditty’ and remarkably it has been shown that Merlin and the like give up the chase much quicker when the Skylark is singing. I can’t resist one more example of this demonstration of fitness; a type of Anolis lizard when he spots a snake will start doing push ups… the message is simple… not only can I see you but I’m in tip top condition and ready for a ruck.

In the event this demonstration of fitness doesn’t work… it’s wonder bottom to the rescue, the elephant shrew’s golden rump attracts attention, and as he scurries off through the undergrowth… the cad that’s trying to eat him will more often than not strike at his bedazzling rear… his rump is rather tough and so helps to stave off any blows. What’s more this elephant shrew’s bottom is so beguiling it means that the predator will go for it rather than its head, thus he’s much more likely to live.

His final tactic to stop from being eaten is to maintain a number of nests so that predators can never associate their nests with food.

A real roister doister I’m sure you’ll agree!

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Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm  Comments (5)  

Tongue Eating Louse

WE’VE MOVED! COME AND SEE US HERE YOU BIG SMASHER!

The tongue-eating louse is the only example of a parasite that lives by crawling into another animal and after dispatching with a body part lives as a rather awkward replacement. It does so with relatively little harm to the poor bloody fish, though it is said the poor bloody fish rarely gets a smooch these days.

tongue-eating-louse

say aaaaah

He’s an unwanted guest, like some insufferable bugger from college who comes around and stays far too bloody long, at least he would be if that guest came in ate your chaise longue and quickly proceeded to decimate your wine cellar and didn’t leave until the day they died. The tongue-eating louse is quite possibly the most repugnant thing on the planet, worse than the Major’s wife and even a sniper wouldn’t take her out.

cymothoa

just a quick kiss... no no don't mind him

This louse is quite simply a monster, albeit a little one. The crustacean crawls into the gills of a fish, scrambles up to the mouth and stabs its claws either side of the fishes tongue. Despite its name it doesn’t actually eat the tongue, the organ atrophies as the parasite slurps the blood taking with it all the oxygen and nutrients and what not. There the louse sits for the rest of its life, why the blazes they never evolved to eat the tasty morsels the poor bloody fish is eating is anyone’s guess. One also wonders how they find this living-in-a-fishy mouth lifestyle satisfying.

tongueeater

... well on tuesdays i do Spanish classes... and on Thursdays I do salsa

So do we at The Proceedings wish we’d never mentioned the horrible buggers? Quite the opposite we think they are really rather grand! An incredible example of a pinnacle of evolution…. you see parasites rather obviously live off another animal to the hosts detriment. It’s a rather lazy, but devilishly clever survival technique that has arisen again and again independently throughout the course of evolution. It’s safe to say almost every single animal of any size has at least one. The really really clever, or more to the point the really well-evolved parasites, tap the hosts resources all the while leaving the host to live quite normally and hence as long as possible…. so that the parasite can tap more and more resources, and make more and more horrible little offspring. And we at The Proceedings can think of no other parasite that does it quite so well.

Indeed the closest we could think of is our own offspring, living off the nutrients of the blood of its mother, before popping out being a bit of a pain until you can eventually pack them off to a cripplingly expensive boarding school at the age of four. Which is at least some good news for the parents as they get back to smooching, a smooch that contains millions of micro-organisms, some of which are parasites.

Published in: on November 10, 2009 at 12:45 pm  Comments (23)  

Vampire Finch

Many moons ago a ship set sail around the world, it wasn’t to know it yet but it was going to change the course of history. It didn’t know this not least due to it being a boat it had a rather poorly developed sense of self. This boat was even less capable of clairvoyancy, a skill unproven in even the most sentient beings… it’s fair to say it really didn’t have the foggiest idea. Still it was so, the places it would visit, and the animals of those places would light the tinder for the greatest idea mankind has ever had… one such creature was the Vampire Finch.

vampireclose

Of course it just wouldn’t do for the ship’s Captain to speak to the scoundrels and hoi polloi of the crew and so it was standard practice at the time to bring a gentleman to drink sherry with them and to generally stop them from going stark raving bonkers. One rather affable fellow seemed perfect, all except for his nose thought Captain Fitzroy. The Captain was a keen phrenologist and being a scholarly and erudite chap he knew that there was no way that this fellow would make the gruelling journey around the globe with a nose that was shaped like that. Thankfully he took him anyway, what’s more he even gave him a book for the journey, a journal on how rocks metamorphose over large periods of time.

Fitzroy

Fitzroy

A couple of weeks in their conversation turned to slavery, the Captain a conservative and pious man thought it a splendid idea, whereas the young Charles Darwin quite rightly thought it an abomination, after that they didn’t get along quite as well. Thankfully this gave the young naturalist a bit of time to think. Incidentally Charles wasn’t the actual naturalist of the Beagle, that honour fell to Robert McCormick, who eventually quit after constantly being usurped by the affable country gent.

darwin

what's wrong with my nose?

When the Beagle hit South America young Charley was quite taken by the rhea. This large flightless bird was undoubtedly smashing, but why on earth would God feel the need to create it having already made the ostrich.

Upon reaching some volcanic islands miles out to sea from the Ecuadorian coast he met some really rather marvellous species. Enormous tortoises, hawks, aquatic lizards, blue footed boobies, an array of finches and some mockingbirds. Travelling onwards to Tahiti Darwin began to catalogue his finds from the Galapagos. It was the mockingbird that first grabbed his attention, they were all from the same species, yet from each island they displayed slight, yet noticeable differences. Back in Blighty it was the finches that would really get his cogs whirring.

Darwin’s finches as they became known are of course one of the most incredible examples of how an array of animals can come from one. Years before the Beagle’s arrival a single finch had made the islands its home. From this single finch they had adapted and evolved to fill all the different opportunities that the islands have.

vampirefinch

going anywhere nice this year sir?

The vampire finch is of course one of the more extreme examples, a subspecies of the sharp beaked ground finch it evolved on two of the smaller Galapagos Islands; Darwin and Wolf. These arid islands lacked freshwater and so the finch began to seek out moisture rich foods, it drank the nectar of the cacti it nibbles at, and rather ghoulishly it pecks at the backs of the blue footed boobie population. Strangely the blue footed boobies don’t seem to mind, it’s thought that they think it normal for small birds to come and peck them for parasites. It could of course be that they are insufferable imbeciles, the early Spanish explorers named them boobies after the Spanish for clown: Bobo.

bluefootedboobies

a vampire? pecking you? well show him you're cross... Ok... STOP PECKING ME YOU LITTLE BA...!

So it was born that Charles Darwin, after twelve years deliberating in his house in the garden of England finally published the Origin of the Species, and what’s more come up with the theory of evolution the single greatest idea mankind ever had. What became of Captain Fitzroy? A devout man, though exactly where all that ‘love thy neighbour’ business fitted in with his belief in slavery is anyone’s bloody guess. Fitzroy was deeply perturbed by the cataclysmic blow dealt to his religion by Darwin’s incredible idea. An idea that could only have been dreamt up if Darwin had been ferried around some odd corners of the globe, after reading a book on how rocks change over vast periods of time. Captain Fitzroy got up one morning and took his life.

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm  Comments (3)