Blister Beetles

Beetles are the most numerous species on the planet, nearly half of all the animal species described on the big wet rock we call home are incredibly beetloid…. in fact one in four living things described are… yes you got it beetles… there are millions of them. You could fill the biggest stadium in the world with beetles, hundreds of times over, which would prove nothing… and at best would result in a bloody awful mess and some rather miffed football fans. If you laid them end to end around the world they would undoubtedly go around many times, though it would be a phenomenal waste of time, and very likely be a bit of a bind, even with the aid of some sort of adhesive.

The blister beetle is a smashing example of our rather numerous chums. So called because he secretes a noxious liquid that causes blisters. What’s more he has a rather more racy past as one species is the famed Spanish fly who for the record is neither Spanish nor a fly.

It does however cause the male member to tumesce; to form a tallywhacker trouser tent as it were. Now before you mount an expedition for the Sudan to pick up some of the chaps we have to tell you the downsides. Unfortunately it is rather painful, the blistering effect of the beetle causes irritation of the mutton sword, and leads to priapism; a constant stiffy.

... or are you just pleased to see me?

The crushed beetle has been used in medicine since Hippocrates day. In later beardy times Livia, the scheming wife of Julius Caesar, slipped it into the food of her guests in the hope that it would cause some indiscretion so that she could blackmail. Henry IV was a fan, as was Marquis de Sade who was sentenced to death for sodomy and poisoning after he laced prostitutes with the stuff – though he was later reprieved. The blister beetles were fashionable in France in the eighteenth century, which is quite remarkable as these chaps are really rather poisonous. It was really rather fine poison in its day as the only way to detect was to cut out the deceased’s organs and rub them on a shaved bunny to see if they would cause blistering, of course cutting out someone’s organs and squishing them on depilated rodents is a fine way to check if they’ve been killed.

Though we human parents can only express cold-hearted indifference about what the nanny must have to go through at our kid’s terrible twos… and give a passing whince as their boarding school deals with their tumultuous teens. We should perhaps spare a thought to some blister beetle species parents as their offspring are truly horrific, though thankfully they too have found a way of offloading them on some other poor bugger. After hatching the blister beetle larvae form a ball… a very sexy ball, at least a very sexy ball if you are a passing male bee, as they take the rough shape, and presumably more importantly the smell of a female bee ready for rumpy pumpy. The male bee naturally thinks this a grand idea and dives straight in.

... sexy time!

At this point all the blister beetle larvae grab hold and don’t let go, transforming a once smashing looking bee into the sort of thing you see if you snooze after a particularly heavy stilton and port session when you get back from a talk at the classics society. Remarkably the male, who let’s not forget is festooned with thousands of hideous larvae, doesn’t have difficulty getting a new date and he promptly transfers the horrible buggers on to his new suitor.

... inexplicably this bee will find something to have nuptials with

They accompany her to the nest and gobble up all the nice eggs and food she has spent her busy life preparing… they don’t always eat the bee larvae and may simply behave like a Scotch house guest and eat all the host’s food. Though thankfully it is just a stage they are going through…

Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 4:04 pm  Comments (1)  

Monito Del Monte

The wee and really rather lovely monito del monte doesn’t go around the world proclaiming different types of fruit to be in tip top condition, nor is he “the little monkey of the mountain” as the natives like to call him. This chap could be the biggest case of a missing persons in the animal kingdom, indeed this little ex-patriot was thought to be extinct more than eleven million years ago, before popping up swanning around in South America.

...this is me with a stick

Forty six million years ago, when India was having a ding dong with Asia causing the Himalayas to buckle up out of the earth, mega-continent Gondwanaland was going through a rather messy divorce. While the Americas drifted away from Oceania the monito del monte and the Australian marsupials said Adieu. Leaving the rather marvellous Australian little mountain monkey behind.

... here's junior with a stick

There are of course South American marsupials, the mammals that have a handy little pouch in front to keep their young and pocket watches in… namely the opposums and the shrew opposums. However it seems the smashing monito del monte is naturally a lot more closely related to Australian marsupials. Not so long ago on a farm in Queensland, Australia there was a rather smashing find; a small pile of bones belonging to a tiny wee thing called Djarthia, which for all intents and purposes turned out to be a monito del monte. In fact Djarthia is the oldest marsupial from Australia, so it seems that all of Australia’s marsupials come from this wee gadabout, which means the little mountain monkey is a rather important formerly-extinct wee fellow.

Raaaawwwwrrrrr!

Many species seemingly go extinct, only to suddenly appear feeling right as rain in some hitherto unexplored part of the planet. Such “lazarus taxon” as they are known are perhaps inevitable as we know so little about the planet we live on. Incidentally sometimes they turn out to be impostors, new species that look like old species, these look-alikes are known as “elvis taxa”… yes really one isn’t making it up. Further there are fossils that appear to go extinct that are then found millions of year later in the record… these are called “zombie taxon”… now really one must protest one may be half way through a rather nice Chateau Latour… but yes one is telling the whole and absolute truth. Now where are we you impudent bunch… ah yes the rather gorgeous monito del monte.

here's me with a stick pointing at you...

The monito del monte lives in a very small corner of the Chilean Andes, where he makes his nest in the bamboo thickets that grow there. He covers the nest with moss to keep himself all warm and toasty and will hibernate when the weather turns too cold. They eat insects and fruit, in fact the local mistletoe is so dependent on the monito del monte for seed dispersal it would quite simply go extinct if anything untoward should happen to the little chap… and we wouldn’t want that to happen again.

Published in: on February 12, 2010 at 11:47 am  Comments (6)  

Gharial

The gharial is the strangest o’ the crocodilians, and let us face it they are a strange bunch… don’t believe me? Have some round for sherry… I assure you it will be an unforgettable evening.

Right… the gharial… smashing fellow… somehow these cads, along with the rest of the crocodiles, lived through the cataclysm that wiped the best part of the dinosaurs of the face of the earth. Which is smashing news as we still have this delightful chap around. Though we still don’t know how the dinosaurs were bundled off the face of the earth in the first place. Of course the most likely theory is that a huge lump of rock belted into the planet and indeed there is the evidence of a huge strike around Chixculub in Mexico… not to mention a load of asteroid gubbins found all round the planet in a layer at a certain point in time… so for sakes of argument we are sticking with this space rock chappy for now.

... i'd say!

This would make a lot of sense as to how we are lucky enough to have the rather smashing gharial with us these days. We do know that after said asteroid hit the planet virtually all plant life would have been put on hold as the Sun was blotted from the sky. This wouldn’t have boded too well for the herbivores either, who not surprisingly kicked the bucket. The predators would have been soon a goner after their vegetarian chums were wiped out. However animals that eat rotten and dead herbivores and predators would have thought it a rather smashing time to be an animal that eats rotten and dead stuff, they’d found it rather difficult to find a bistro to their tastin for a rather long time now… and so they all had a bit of a shindig. Similarly animals that live in streams and rivers wouldn’t have been as badly affected as they are more dependent on bits and bobs being washed downstream than anything else. Which two factors would have suited the crocodiles rather well, as they live in streams and would eat the scabs off a scabby donkey if they were even a trifle peckish.

Well most of them eat any old bobbins; the gharial has had plenty of time to evolve into something much more sophisticated since then. No he doesn’t have an impeccable knowledge of the wines of Bordeaux and he is said to be awful at the Charleston…. he has actually evolved into a remarkably sophisticated fish eater.

... i'll have the sauteed dover sole with the hollandaise sauce

Up to six and a half meters long, he is not a wee chap this most aquatic of the crocodilians… what’s more he is really rather suited to the wet stuff. Not surprising then he eats fish, too fast for most crocs, but not for the gharial. That is why he has this huge long thin snout, rammed full of razor sharp teeth. He lies in wait with these toothy swords ajar and when a fishy dishy pops by… snap! The gharial is much faster than his lunking great cousins too, helped by the thin snout which cuts through the water like an oar on its side. If his snappy trap isn’t working he’ll use his flat paddle like tail to slip through the streams, or to whack unsuspecting fish on to the riverbank to scrobble down on.

The male has a ‘pot’ or ‘ghara’ at the end of the snout which grows with maturity. It is used to make hissing noises and apparently is used to blow bubbles which the fillies find quite delightful.

one can even pop pipe tobacco in it...

Rather unusual I’m sure you’ll agree.

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 1:42 pm  Comments (2)