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  • April 4, 2015
  • 04:02 PM

5 Weird Animals Described in 2014

by beredim in Strange Animals

From pink blind fish to mushroom shaped animals to flic-flac jumping spiders, here is a pick of the weirdest animals described in 2014.

1. Hoosier cavefish (Amblyopsis hoosieri)

A live specimen of A. hoosieri, measuring 6.07 cm (2.39 in) long.

The Hoosier cavefish (Amblyopsis hoosieri) is a subterranean blind fish from southern Indiana, U.S.

First discovered during a 2013 study on ... Read more »

  • December 30, 2014
  • 11:21 AM

9 Weird and Interesting Facts about Caecilians

by beredim in Strange Animals

There are about 200 species of caecilians (pronounced ‘seh-SILL-yuns’) but it's highly unlikely you have or will ever encounter one.  Why? Because they live underground, burrowing through loose soil and ground litter with their long, snake-like bodies.

Read on to learn 9 weird and interesting facts about these unusual creatures.

Bombay caecilian (Ichthyophis bombayensis)
Credit - Wikicommons... Read more »

Kupfer, A., Müller, H., Antoniazzi, M., Jared, C., Greven, H., Nussbaum, R., & Wilkinson, M. (2006) Parental investment by skin feeding in a caecilian amphibian. Nature, 440(7086), 926-929. DOI: 10.1038/nature04403  

  • December 29, 2014
  • 01:10 PM

8 Weird Animal Penises

by beredim in Strange Animals

Penis, the primary sexual organ that male and hermaphrodite animals use to inseminate sexually receptive mates (usually females and hermaphrodites respectively) during sex. Almost all species use some variation of the organ to transfer sperm into females' eggs in order to create more offsprings.

However, thanks to evolution, some species have come up with some really remarkable and weird ... Read more »

  • December 26, 2014
  • 05:49 AM

Adorable Alien-like Bat Embryos

by beredim in Strange Animals

Credit: Dorit Hockman from the University of Cambridge

This cute alien-like thing is actually a bat embryo of the species Molossus rufus, the black mastiff bat. Adorable, ain't it?

The photo was taken by Dorit Hockman from the University of Cambridge during a study on the species' embryonic development. It was one of the finalists in the Nikon Small World 2012 photomicrography ... Read more »

Nolte, M., Hockman, D., Cretekos, C., Behringer, R., & Rasweiler, J. (2009) Embryonic Staging System for the Black Mastiff Bat,(Molossidae), Correlated With Structure-Function Relationships in the Adult. The Anatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology, 292(2), 155-168. DOI: 10.1002/ar.20835  

  • December 25, 2014
  • 05:57 AM

Flying Dragons Pretend to Be Leaves to Avoid Predation

by beredim in Strange Animals

Draco cornutus
Credit: Dr. Devi Stuart Fox

A new study by researchers at the University of Melbourne suggests that Draco Cornutus, a species of gliding lizard from Borneo, mimicks  the red and green colors of the falling leaves to avoid falling prey to birds whilst gliding.

According to the study, D. cornutus have evolved extendable gliding membranes, like wings, which closely match the ... Read more »

  • December 15, 2014
  • 08:00 AM

The Paradoxical Shrinking Frog

by beredim in Strange Animals

Pseudis paradoxa in a pond
Credit: Mauricio Rivera Correa

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Hylidae
Genus: Pseudis
Species: Pseudis paradoxa
Common Name(s): Paradoxical frog or Shrinking frog
Conservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)

Looks like a pretty much regular frog, doesn't it? Well.. it's not! Meet P. paradoxa, a frog that grows down ... Read more »

  • December 12, 2014
  • 03:58 AM

Researchers Discover Well-Endowed Bone Eating Worm

by beredim in Strange Animals

Male Osedax priapus
The entire body of males has evolved  as a tool for mating

Osedax is a genus of weird, deep-sea polychaetes worms, commonly known as boneworms, zombie worms, or bone-eating worms.

The story of these creatures began twelve years ago, when researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) first discovered them, using the submarine ROV Tiburon in ... Read more »

  • December 10, 2014
  • 09:59 AM

Pacific barreleye: Weird Fish with Transparent Head

by beredim in Strange Animals

Pacific barreleye fish
By Isa2014 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Argentiniformes
Family: Opisthoproctidae
Genus: Macropinna
Species: Macropinna microstoma
Common Name(s): Pacific barreleye

The Pacific barreleye fish is one the weirdest creatures lurking deep in the ocean. Named after its eyes that are ... Read more »

  • December 8, 2014
  • 05:46 PM

Electroreception in Mammals

by beredim in Strange Animals

The duck-billed platypis is one of the handful
mammals with the ability to sense electrical fields
By TwoWings, via Wikimedia Commons

Electroreception is the biological ability to perceive natural electrical stimuli or in simpler words, the ability to perceive the world via electricity.

Electroreception is quite common in aquatic or amphibious animals, since water is a much better conductor... Read more »

Scheich, H., Langner, G., Tidemann, C., Coles, R., & Guppy, A. (1986) Electroreception and electrolocation in platypus. Nature, 319(6052), 401-402. DOI: 10.1038/319401a0  

Pettigrew JD. (1999) Electroreception in monotremes. The Journal of experimental biology, 202(Pt 10), 1447-54. PMID: 10210685  

Czech-Damal NU, Liebschner A, Miersch L, Klauer G, Hanke FD, Marshall C, Dehnhardt G, & Hanke W. (2012) Electroreception in the Guiana dolphin (Sotalia guianensis). Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 279(1729), 663-8. PMID: 21795271  

  • December 4, 2014
  • 08:24 PM

Non-Echolocating Bats Actually Echolocate Using Wing Clicks

by beredim in Strange Animals

Spectacled flying fox (Pteropus conspicillatus)A non-echolocating speciesCredit: MnolfContrary to what most people think, bats are not blind. The truth is that all one-thousand something bat species can see. Most people also think that since bats are blind they rely on their echolocation to get around. Again a mistake, since many bats don't possess echolocation.For example, most species of Megabats [Suborder: Megachiroptera] have to rely exclusively on their vision. Or that's what we thought up to now..In a discovery that overturns conventional wisdom about bats, researchers have found that non-echolocating Old World fruit bats -another name for Megabats- actually do use a rudimentary form of echolocation.What is even more surprising is that they don't use vocalizations at all. Instead, the clicks they emit to produce the echoes that guide them through the darkness are produced by their wings, although the researchers don't yet know exactly they do it."I was surprised by the fact that all of the fruit bats we recorded clicked and by the fact that clicks are produced by the wings. Arjan and I still find that hard to believe." said Yossi Yovel of Tel Aviv University in Israel.Yovel and postdoctoral fellow Arjan Boonman received their first hint about the fruit bats from a friendly man on a bus in Indonesia who told them about a species of bat that clicked with its wings. As further confirmation, Boonman found a single old paper about a fruit bat with wings that clicked, but it wasn't clear whether those clicks were useful for anything.Rather than look for that one earlier-described species in particular, Yovel suggested something else: "Why not check other fruit bats?"They selected a total of 19 wild individuals representing three species of fruit bat and different parts of the evolutionary family tree to find that all of them did produce audible clicks with their wings."We did all we could to prove it wrong, including sealing the bats' mouths and anesthetizing their tongues, but nothing stopped them from clicking, except for when we interfered with their wing flaps." said Yovel.Further study showed that two of the three species increased their clicking rate by a factor of three to five or even more when placed in a dark tunnel, implying that the clicks are a natural behavior for the bats.Tests of the animals' ability to find their way in the dark showed that the fruit bats do have echolocation abilities, although they are poorer than those of other echolocating species. The fruit bats constantly crashed into thick cables, but they could readily learn to discriminate between larger objects: an acoustically reflective black board versus a similar-looking sheet of cloth.Even with large objects, however, the fruit bats didn't exactly come in for a smooth landing, suggesting that their ability is rather rudimentary in comparison to that of bats that rely on clicks produced from their larynxes.The findings are interesting in light of earlier suggestions that echolocation may have evolved initially for bats to identify and avoid crashing into large objects such as cave walls, Boonman and Yovel say.The new discovery in fruit bats offers insight into how this sophisticated ability in other bats may have evolved over time, although it is unlikely that the laryngeal clicks of those other bats evolved directly from fruit bats' wing clicks. In fact, Yovel says, it's possible that echolocation in bats has independently evolved many times."When we study extant species of echolocating bats, we see a developed sensory system that has been adapted and improved over millions of years of evolution. The rudimentary echolocation of the fruit bat is one example of how the first types of echolocation may have evolved." said Yovel.References- Boonman, A., Bumrungsri, S., & Yovel, Y. (2014). Nonecholocating Fruit Bats Produce Biosonar Clicks with Their Wings Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.077... Read more »

  • November 22, 2014
  • 11:32 AM

Hammerhead Slug: World's Largest Flatworm

by beredim in Strange Animals

Bipalium kewenseNotice the distinctive hammer-like headBy Ajaykuyiloor (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsKingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: PlatyhelminthesClass: TurbellariaOrder: TricladidaSuborder: ContinenticolaFamily: GeoplanidaeSubfamily: BipaliinaeGenus: BipaliumSpecies: Bipalium kewenseCommon Names: Hammerhead slug, Greenhouse PlanarianNicknamed as the "hammerhead slug" due to its half-moon shaped head, Bipalium kewense is not your everyday flat worm. Not only does it hold the record for world's largest flatworm but it's also one of the few flatworms that live on land. Oh, did I mention that it defecates from its mouth?Distribution & HabitatThe hammerhead slug is believed to originate from Southeast Asia. However, it appears that the species has become cosmopolitan with recordings coming from many different tropical and subtropical countries. It's especially common in greenhouses, thus its second common name, the "greenhouse planarian".The species has been found spanning the entire southern portion of North America. Verified recordings include: Encanto, California Jersey City, New Jersey Nashua, New Hampshire New Orleans & Baton Rouge, Louisiana Puerto Rico, near Silver Springs Savannah, Georgia Urbana, Ohio Washington DCBipalium kewense is also common in the Hawaiian Islands and in the tropical parts of South America. It has also been sighted in the UK, China, Japan, New Zealand and many other countries. This widespread occurrence is the result of horticultural practices, mainly the commercial dispersion of potted plants.Like earthworms, hammerhead slugs prefer to burrow in moist soil. DescriptionFully mature adults routinely reach 40 cm (10 in) in length, with the maximum recorded length being about 60 cm (23 in). The body is covered by a layer of mucus that prevents it from losing too much water to the environment. The mucus is also important for locomotion.They usually come in dark colors, like gray, brown and black and have two distinctive dorsal stripes that run the length of the body. One of the species' weirdest traits is the half-moon shaped head. The mouth is located mid-way down the body (on the ventral side) which also serves as the.. anus since they don't have one. Yum! They also have no respiratory and circulatory system, skeleton and legs.Hammerhead slug, crossing a road near Hilo, Hawaii.By Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada (Bipalium kewense, a Hammerhead Worm.) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsDietThe Hammerhead slug is predatory, primarily feeding on earthworms although it will turn to cannibalism when food is scarce. The species dietary patterns have not been extensively studied, and it possibly feeds on other organisms, like slugs and insect larvae.To eat, it will follow trails left behind by earthworms until it finds one. When prey is caught, it will lay atop of it, as the sticky slime helps to hold it down to the soil. Then it protrudes its pharynx and sucks out the body fluid of the earthworm. Surely, not a good way to die..Hammerhead slug attacking an earthwormReproductionBipalium kewense is hermaphroditic (like all Bipalium species) and capable of both asexual and sexual reproduction. However, the latter has rarely been observed and apparently fragmentation is the preffered form of reproduction. This is done by chipping off about 1cm of the tail. The tip first attaches itself to something in the soil, and then the parent worm pulls away. The new worm can move immediately and develops a head within 10 days. As for sexual reproduction, they lay eggs in a bright red cocoon. After one day the cocoon turns black and the eggs hatch about 20 days later, depending on temperature and moisture conditions.Is it dangerous?Over half of all known flatworm species (Platyhelminthes) are parasitic and some do enormous harm to humans and their livestock. However, this is not the case with the majority of the flatworms in the Turbellaria class, including B. kewense.Production of Tetrodotoxin  Tetrodotoxin (or TTX) is a potent neurotoxin that among others induces paralysis. Recent research revealed that Bipalium kewense and the closely related B. adventitium have small amounts of it in their body, most probably used during predation to subdue large prey items. As of 2014, they remain the only known terrestrial invertebrates capable of producing this toxin.Interesting and Weird Facts Sum-Up- Half-moon shaped head- Mouth also serves as anus- All individuals are hermaphroditic and capable of sexual and asexual reproduction. They usually reproduce by chipping a small part of the tail- It is considered a pest to farmers because they predate on earthworms- Non-parasitic, harmless to humans- Along with the closely related B adventitium, the only known terrestrial invertebrate to produce the Tetrodotoxin toxin- First described in 1878, from a greenhouse at Kew Botanical Gardens near London, England.You may also likeIllacme plenipes - World's leggiest creatureScientists Create Alcohol-Resistant Worms That Might Cure AlcoholismMexican Mole Lizard: Strange lizard-worm-snake Like CreatureReferences & Further Reading- L. Winsor (1981). The taxonomy, zoogeography and biology of Bipalium kewense Moseley, 1878 (Tricladida, Terricola) Hydrobiologia, 84 (1), 17-17 DOI: 10.1007/BF00026158- ... Read more »

  • November 10, 2014
  • 02:17 PM

The Dancing Kiwa Puravida (Yeti Crab)

by beredim in Strange Animals

Kiwa PuravidaCredit: Andrew ThurberKingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: ArthropodaSubphylum: CrustaceaClass: MalacostracaOrder: DecapodaInfraorder: AnomuraFamily: KiwaidaeGenus: KiwaSpecies: Kiwa puravidaConservation Status: Not assessedCommon Name: Yeti crabMeet Kiwa puravida, a recently discovered deep-sea dwelling decapod and one of three species informally known as "yeti crabs". The other two are kiwa hirsuta and a creature commonly known as the "Hoff crab" which has yet to be described.What is most interesting about this species is that individuals "dance" in unison to cultivate their own food! Wait...Whaaat? Keep on reading!DiscoveryThe species was discovered in June 2006, during a geological research cruise off the coast of Costa Rica, which aimed to study the ocean floor that belches out methane and hydrogen sulphide gas. Head of the expedition was Andrew Thurber, marine ecologist and now Assistant Professor at the Oregon State University.While exploring the ocean floor Gavin Eppard, pilot of the submarine, noticed dozens of smalls crabs rhythmically waving their claws over active methane seeps and decided to collect one. "He came up and just handed me this new species." said Thurber.The discovery was made on a depth of about 1.000 meters (~3.280 ft).The area where K. Puravida was discoveredDescriptionK. puravida and the other two yeti crab species are called this way due to the white, hair-like bristles that cover their claws and body. The bristles are full of symbiotic bacteria, which derive energy from the inorganic gases expelled by the seeps. The species is blind.The female specimens collected to date had a carapace length between 4.9 and 24.5 mm, whereas collected males had a carapace length ranging from 7.4 to 38.6 mm.Overall, K. puravida looks a lot like K. hirsuta, but differs in it at least ten anatomical features. The range of occurrence of the two species is about 6500 km away and the two occur in different habitats and depths. K. puravida was collected from a methane seep at 1000 meters deep whereas K. hirsuta was observed and collected at a greater depth (more than 2200 meters), next to a hydrothermal vent.Credit: Andrew ThurberDietK. Puravida  feeds on the symbiotic bacteria, using comb-like mouthparts to harvest them from its bristles. In turn, these bacteria metabolise the hydrogen sulfide and methane produced by the seeps to feed themselves."It looks like the bacteria may use the seeps as stepping stones, to create this global connected population that consumes the energy coming out of seeps and vents." said Thurber.Among other deep-sea creatures that make use of such symbionts, K. Puravida is unique in that it appears to actively wave its appendages over the vents in order to provide the bacteria with more nutrients. Actually, the crabs wave their claws in unison, in what seems to be a rhythmic dancing-like performance. This rhythmic movement stirs up the water around the bacteria, ensuring that fresh supplies of oxygen and sulphide wash over them and helping them to grow.You can see this rhythmic movement in the video down below:00:02 to 00:15, yeti crab feeds from the bacteria on its claws and body00:15 to 00:24 Kiwa puravida  demonstrating the rhythmic waiving of the chelipeds.00:24 to 00:32 Two individuals performing either a courtship or competitive displayCarbon isotopes and fatty acids in the body of K. Puravida match organisms that get their nourishment without the sun’s energy, rather than those that rely on photosynthesis. This suggests that K. puravida's feeds exclusively or primarily on seep bacteria, rather than surrounding photosynthesizing plankton."We clearly showed that this species isn’t using energy from the sun as its main food source. It’s using chemical energy from the sea floor." said Thurber.BehaviorVery little is known about the species' behavioral patterns. Thurber and his colleagues reported that the species demonstrates "intriguing intra-species interactions": "An individual that appeared to have recently molted due to its minimal bacterial covering, began grappling with a larger specimen that it approached. This ended in a dominance display where the challenged individual forced the challenging individual off the carbonate outcropping while both individuals had their chelipeds spread apart. As decapods commonly reproduce after molting, as has also been observed in the hydrothermal vent S. crosnieri, the individual that was forced off may have been inseminated during this display or this may have been a behavior demonstrating how this species competes for space in areas of active seepage." extract from the studyOther Interesting Facts about  Kiwa Puravida- Puravida derives from a Costa Rican Spanish saying (used to answer "How are you doing?" or to say "Thanks") and translates to "pure life". Thurber gave this name to pay homage to the place it was discovered.References & Further Reading- Thurber, A., Jones, W., & Schnabel, K. (2011). Dancing for Food in the Deep Sea: Bacterial Farming by a New Species of Yeti Crab PLoS ONE, 6 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026243- ... Read more »

  • November 9, 2014
  • 07:12 AM

Sunday's Nudibranch: Jorunna funebris

by beredim in Strange Animals

 Jorunna funebrisPhoto by © Mark Rosenstein  [CC BY-NC-SA 3.0]Kingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: MolluscaClass: GastropodaSuperfamily: DoridoideaFamily: DiscodorididaeGenus: JorunnaSpecies: Jorunna funebrisCommon Name: Dotted nudibranch, Polka DotWhen I was writing my "14 Most Amazing Nudibranchs" post I had a really hard time choosing which species to include and which not.This animal group is very diverse and full of beautiful, alien-like or simply weird looking creatures. One post can't make them enough justice.So, from now on, every Sunday I will introduce you to a different species of nudibranch. Usually there is little research on individual species and as a result the posts will be short in information but rich in photos and images. Hope you enjoy them.Today's nudibranch is Jorunna funebris which for some reason reminds me of Oreos.Distribution & HabitatThe Dotted nudibranch occurs in the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean along East Africa. It inhabits seagrass meadows, coral rubble, and coral reefs and can be found in depths ranging from 10 to at least 21 meters. DescriptionAdults have an oval body and are 2 to 6 cm long. They are easily identified by their white body and random black-brown spots, made of tiny tubercles which give them a fuzzy appearance. The six, black-brown branched gills form a complete circle around the anus.Credit: By Steve Childs from Lancaster, UK (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsDietThe species has been recorded to feed on blue sponges (Neopetrosia sp.).ReproductionThe Dotted nudibranch is a hermaphrodite that lays egg masses. .The genital openings lie on the right side of the body, so they have to position themselves side-by-side in opposite directions before mating. In captivity, the egg masses ranged from 17.1–48.0 cm in length, and between 0.4 cm and 0.7 cm in width. The density of egg capsules varied from 27–64 egg capsules/mm2 of egg mass with each egg capsule having 1 to 4 larvae inside.Mating Jorunna funebrisCredit: © Ria Tan, [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]More Photos and VideosCredit: By Katia Ferrer [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsPhoto taken in Jorunna Funebris, Shark Island, Ko Tao, ThailandCredit: By yeowatzup from Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Marine Life in the Koh Phangan vicinity, Thailand[CC BY 3.0]Credit: Nick Hobgood, Location: Lautem, East Timor[CC BY-NC 2.0]Credit: Nick Hobgood[CC BY-NC-SA 3.0]Video shot in Sailrock, ThailandLocation:  Seth's Point, Kapota Island, Wakatobi, South East Sulawesi, Indonesia... Read more »

Pattira Kasamesiri, Shettapong Meksumpun, and Charumas Meksumpun. (2012) Observations on Embryonic Development of Black-Spot Jorunna, Jorunna Funebris (Kelaart, 1859) (Gastropoda: Nudibranchia) . Journal of Shellfish Research, 33(2), 111-117. info:/

  • November 6, 2014
  • 05:04 PM

Researchers Design Cyborg Cockroaches for Search and Rescue Missions

by beredim in Strange Animals

Cyborg CockroachCredit: Eric Whitmire.Researchers at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) issued a press release today announcing that they have developed "cyborg" cockroaches with electronic circuit boards strapped to their backs. The cyborg cockroaches (or biobots) can be used to pick up sounds with their attached microphones and seek out their source.Hopefully, the technology will one day help emergency personnel to find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of disasters, like earthquakes."In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors." said Dr. Alper Bozkurt, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of two papers on the cyborg cockroaches.Bozkurt’s team has created two types of customized backpacks that use microphones. The first has a single microphone that can capture relatively high-resolution sounds from any direction to be wirelessly transmitted to first responders.The second cyborg cockroach is equipped with an array of three directional microphones to detect the direction of the sound. The research team has also developed algorithms that analyze the sound from the microphone array to localize the source of the sound and steer the biobot in that direction.“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter – like people calling for help – from sounds that don’t matter – like a leaking pipe. Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.” said Bozkurt.The system has already been tested and works well in laboratory tests. The video below is from a laboratory test on the microphone array system:"To help surviving victims buried under the rubble after natural disasters, biobots needs to localize them. The little backpack that biobot carries can detect where the sounds is coming from and autonomously steer the biobot towards the sound source. Note that the video is muted after 3 seconds otherwise the speaker plays the sound until biobot finds the source." Another research team from the same university, led by Dr. Edgar Lobaton, has previously shown that biobots can be used to map a disaster area.The long-term goal of the two teams is to combine their efforts to both map disaster areas and pinpoint survivors. The researchers are already working with collaborator Dr. Mihail Sichitiu, associate professor at NCSU, to develop the next generation of biobot networking and localization technology.Bozkurt’s team has also developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” that keeps the biobots close to the disaster area. This is important because it can be used to keep the biobots within range of each other so that they can be used as a reliable mobile wireless network. This technology could also be used to steer biobots to light sources, so that the miniaturized solar panels on biobot backpacks can be recharged.The video below shows the invisible fence technology in practice: "To establish a sensor network among the insect biobots they need to be kept at a certain distance with respect to each other. Also, the tiny solar panels they carry needs to be under a light source for an hour to be charged. We were able to achieve an invisible fence to have roachbot to make a u-turn when it gets out a boundary and stay inside. "Notes- The research of both Dr. Alper Bozkurt and Dr. Edgar Lobaton is funded by the National Science Foundation CyberPhysical Systems ProgramReferences- - North Carolina State University:"Cockroach cyborgs use microphones to detect, trace sounds."- Tahmid Latif, Eric Whitmire, Tristan Novak, and Alper Bozkurt (2014). Towards Fenceless Boundaries for Solar Powered Insect Biobots Aug. 28 at 36th Annual International IEEE EMBS Conference, Chicago, Illinois - Eric Whitmire, Tahmid Latif, and Alper Bozkurt (2014). Acoustic Sensors for Biobotic Search and Rescue Nov. 5 at IEEE Sensors 2014, Valencia, Spain... Read more »

Tahmid Latif, Eric Whitmire, Tristan Novak, and Alper Bozkurt. (2014) Towards Fenceless Boundaries for Solar Powered Insect Biobots. Aug. 28 at 36th Annual International IEEE EMBS Conference, Chicago, Illinois . info:/

  • November 6, 2014
  • 02:10 PM

Silky Anteater

by beredim in Strange Animals

Silky AnteaterCredit: Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad Costa Rica (INBio) (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)Kingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: ChordataClass: MammaliaSuperorder: XenarthraOrder: PilosaSuborder:  VermilinguaFamily: CyclopedidaeGenus: CyclopesSpecies: Cyclopes didactylusConservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)Common Name(s): Silky anteater, Pygmy anteater, Dwarf anteater, Two-toed anteaterThis cute, squirrel-sized critter is a silky anteater, the world’s smallest anteater. These creatures are rarely seen in their natural habitat due to their small size and their arboreal and nocturnal lifestyle.Distribution and HabitatSilky anteaters can be found in South America from southern Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia, including Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. The species has not been recorded in El Salvador and it's unclear if it is (or ever was) present there. Confused? The map down below can help:Silky Anteater Distribution MapThe species inhabits a range of different forest types, including semideciduous, tropical evergreen, and mangrove forests. Individuals have been sighted in altitudes ranging from sea level to 1,500 m (~4.921 ft).Today there are seven recognized subspecies:C. d. didactylus, found in the Guyanas, eastern Venezuela, Trinidad, Atlantic ForestC. d. catellus, found in northern Bolivia, southeastern Peru, western BrazilC. d. dorsalis, found in the southern Mexico, Central America, northern ColombiaC. d. eva, found in the western Ecuador, southwestern ColombiaC. d. ida, found in western Brazil, eastern Ecuador and PeruC. d. melini, found in northern Brazil, eastern ColombiaC. d. mexicanus, found in southern MexicoSilky anteater footage by Life on EarthDescriptionThe pugmy anteater is the smallest out of the 4 surviving anteaters (suborder:Vermilingua). Adults have a total length ranging from 36 to 45 cm (14 to 18 in.) including a prehensile (grasping) tail that is 17 to 24 cm (~6.7 to 9.5 in) long. Weight ranges from 175 to 400 g (6.2 to 14.1 oz). Overall, they are slightly larger than a human palm.Fur is dense and soft, with the color ranging from grey to yellowish, with a silvery sheen. Some subspecies have darker, often brownish, streaks, and paler underparts or limbs. A dark line runs down the head, neck and back. The soles of the feet are pink.The eyes are small and black and the species has an elongated tapered snout with a tubular mouth. The tongue is long and equipped with small spikes and mucus, making it perfect for capturing its prey, aroboreal ants. The silky anteater is the only anteater that doesn't possess any teeth. The ears are short and rounded.C. didactylus has long claws on its front feet, used for climbing and tearing open ant-nests. The claws are present on the second and third toes , with the latter being much larger. The fourth is very small and claw-less, whereas the other two are vestigial and not visible. The hind feet have four toes of equal length, each with long claws, and a vestigial hallux that is not visible. The ribs are broad and flat, overlapping to form an internal armored casing that protects the chest.The average lifespan in the wild has not been determined but it is less than two years. One specimen survived for 2.3 years in captivity. However, further research is required to determine the species' maximum longevity.Front clawsBy DuSantos [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsDietThe silky anteater is strictly insectivorous and feeds exclusively on arboreal ants, eating between 700 and 5,000 every day. According to some sources, it may occasionally also consume other insects, like termites and small coccinellid beetles.PredatorsThe silky anteater is an extremely slow animal that can easily fall prey to large, predatory birds when spotted. Prevention is always better, so camouflage is the first and main line of defense. They keep themselves out of sight during the day by curling themselves up into a perfect ball in the trees, about 20 m above the ground, atop a tightly packed nest of dry leaves. Individuals seem to prefer the tree Ceiba, which has large seed pods that contain masses of a silky silverish fiber. The sheen of the pods and the silky fur of the anteater are almost identical. .As a result, predators have a really hard time spotting them. This includes even predators with excellent vision like the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), the spectacled owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata). and other birds of prey.When cornered, the pugmy anteater will defend itself by standing on its hind legs and holding its fore feet close to its face, so it can strike with its sharp claws any hostile animal that tries to get close.Silky anteater sleeping, Damas Island, Costa RicaBy Michelle Reback (Own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsBehaviorSilky anteaters are very difficult to spot and as a result we know very little about their behavioral patterns in the wild. They are nocturnal and arboreal and very rarely descend to the ground. They typically stay alone, except when breeding and raising their youngs. They seldom show any signs of aggression. ... Read more »

  • November 1, 2014
  • 06:42 AM

Strange, Vampire-like Deer Still Alive in Afghanistan

by beredim in Strange Animals

Musk deers use their distinctive fungs tusks during the rutting season  to compete with other males.Photo shows a Siberian musk deer, a similar and closelyrelated species.Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCSIt's been more than 60 years after the last confirmed sighting of the Kashmir musk deer in Afganistan, a strange deer with vampire-like fangs native to Afghanistan, Republic of India, and Pakistan.Now, a new study appearing in the latest edition of the journal Oryx reveals that the Kashmir musk deer (Moschus cupreus) still persists in the rugged forested slopes of northeast Afghanistan. The research was led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which confirmed the species presence during recent surveys.M. cupreus is one of the seven similar, vampire-like deer found in Asia that make up Moschus, the only genus of the family Moschidae. The last documented sighting in Afghanistan was believed to have been made by a Danish survey team traversing the region in 1948.Today, the species is categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List for a variety of reasons, including restricted range, ongoing habitat loss and poaching. The latter is the greatest threat as the musk produced by the species is highly valued for its cosmetic and alleged pharmaceutical properties, and can fetch up to 45,000 USD per kilogram on the international market.The survey team reported five sightings, including a solitary male in the same area on three occasions, one female with a juvenile, and one solitary female, which may have been the same individual without her young. All sightings were in steep rocky outcrops interspersed with alpine meadows and scattered, dense high bushes of juniper and rhododendron. According to the team, the musk deer were discrete, cryptic, difficult to spot, and could not be photographed.The authors say that targeted conservation of the species and its habitat are required to ensure its survival in Afghanistan."Despite indications of unsustainable hunting, this Endangered species persists in Afghanistan and targeted conservation programmes are required to protect it and its forest habitat.", extract from the study.Although the deteriorating security conditions in Nuristan did not allow NGOs to remain in Nuristan after 2010, the Wildlife Conservation Society maintains contact with the local people it has trained and will pursue funding to continue ecosystem research and protection in Nuristan when the situation improves."Musk deer are one of Afghanistan’s living treasures. This rare species, along with better known wildlife such as snow leopards, are the natural heritage of this struggling nation. We hope that conditions will stabilize soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species." said co-author Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs.Notes- The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and currently works to conserve more than two million square miles of wild places around the world. - In total, there are 7 musk deer species, all of the family Moschidae:Moschus moschiferus (Siberian musk deer)Moschus anhuiensis (Anhui musk deer)Moschus berezovskii (Dwarf musk deer)Moschus fuscus (Black musk deer)Moschus chrysogaster (Alpine Musk Deer)Moschus cupreus (Kashmir Muskdeer)Moschus leucogaster  (Kashmir Muskdeer)References- Ostrowski, S., Rahmani, H., Ali, J., Ali, R., & Zahler, P. (2014). Musk deer Moschus cupreus persist in the eastern forests of Afghanistan Oryx, 1-6 DOI: 10.1017/S0030605314000611- Timmins, R.J. & Duckworth, J.W. (2008). "Moschus cupreus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature.- Read more »

  • October 24, 2014
  • 01:50 PM

The Pig-like Aardvark

by beredim in Strange Animals

Adult and juvenile AardvarksCredit: By Scotto Bear from North Beach, MD, USA (aardvarks) [CC-BY-SA-2.], via Wikimedia CommonsKingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: ChordataClass: MammaliaSuperorder: AfrotheriaOrder: TubulidentataFamily: OrycteropodidaeGenus: OrycteropusSpecies: Orycteropus aferConservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)Common Name(s): Aardvark, African antbear, Cape anteaterMeet the Aardvark, a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal from Africa and the sole living representative of the order Tubulidentata. "Aardvark" derives from South Africa's Afrikaans language and translates to "earth pigs".As suggest by their common name, they look a bit like pigs, and also have rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo-like tail. Yet, they are not related to any of these animals. Recent genetic studies have placed aardvarks in a taxon called Afrotheria. Their closest surviving relatives are elephants, hyraxes, elephant-shrews, golden moles, and tenrecs.Distribution & HabitatAardvarks live in Africa, in places with a suitable habitat, including savannas, grasslands, woodlands and bushland, and available prey items like ants and termites. The only type of habitat that they can't be found is swamp forest, as the high water table interferes with their digging. They also tend to avoid rocky terrain for the same reason. The species has been recorded in altitudes as high as 3,200 meters (~10,500 ft) in Ethiopia.Aardvarks occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa all the way to South Africa with few exceptions, the coastal areas of Namibia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Madagascar. In short, they inhabit about 2/3 of Africa.They often inhabit temporary holes that are a few meters in length, but are also found in complex and intricate burrows, which can have eight or more entrances and extend as much as 6 meters underground. The entrances are often plugged with a vent left at the top.Aardvark Distribution MapDescriptionThe aardvark has a pig-like appearance although the two are not closely related. The body is stout with a prominently arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. Adults usually have a weight ranging from 60 to 80 kilograms (132 to 176 lb) and are 105 to 130 cm (3.44–4.27 ft) long. Maximum length is about 2.2 m, when the thick tail (which can be up to 70 cm (28 in) long) is taken into consideration. Aardvarks stand 60 cm (24 in) tall at the shoulder, and have a girth of about 100 cm (40 in.). They have a pale yellowish-gray color that is often stained reddish-brown by the soil as they dig.They have thin coat, tough skin and no fat layer. The hair is short on the head and tail but a bit longer on the legs. The hair on the most part of the body is grouped in clusters of 3-4 hairs. The hairs surrounding the nostrils are dense and help filter particulate matter out as these strange animals dig the soil.The species has medium-sized legs, with the rear being longer than the front legs. The front feet have lost the pollex (the first digit of the forelimb), resulting in four toes, while the rear feet retain all five toes. Each toe comes with a large, robust nail which is somewhat flattened and shovel-like. Each nail ends up in a spade-like claw that helps them to dig with great speed and force.An aardvark at Detroit ZooPhoto By MontageMan [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia CommonsAs you can see on the photos and videos, aardavarks have a greatly elongated head that is set on a short, thick neck. The snout resembles an elongated pig snout, and bears a disc, which houses the nostrils.The tongue is long, thin and snakelike and can protrude as much as 30 cm (12 in) out of the mouth.The rabbit-like ears are disproportionately large, about 20–25 cm (7.9–9.8 in) long. The species has a very keen sense of hearing. The eyes are relatively small and contain only rod cells; cells in the retina that can function in less intense light than the other type of visual photoreceptor, cone cells. The species has relatively poor eyesight.Aarvarks resting in the London ZooThe mouth is small and tubular, something expected by an animal that primarily feeds on ants and termites. One of the most distinctive and unique traits of this creature is its dentition. Instead of having a pulp cavity, each tooth has a cluster of thin, hexagonal, upright, parallel tubes of vasodentin (a modified form of dentine), with individual pulp canals, held together by cementum. The number of columns is dependent on the size of the tooth, with the largest having about 1,500. The teeth have no enamel coating and are worn away and regrow continuously. Aardvarks are born with conventional incisors and canines at the front of the jaw, which fall out soon later, never to be renewed again.The aardvark usually moves slowly, however, it can attain speeds of up to 40 km/h when running and dig 1 yard of tunnel in about 5 minutes. It is also an excellent swimmer, capable of swimming even in strong currents.In the wild, aardvarks are known to live for up to 18 years, and up to 23 years in captivity. They reach sexually maturity approximately at the age of two years old.Aardvark out in the sunPhoto By Louise Joubert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsVocalizationAardvarks are rather quiet animals making very few sounds. The species makes soft grunting sounds while foraging and loud grunts as it moves towards the tunnel entrance. It also makes a bleating sound when frightened or threatened by predators. DietO. afer feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites (myrmecophagous). The only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber(Cucumis humofructus), Aardvarks eat the fruit for its water content and propagate the seeds through their feces, which are then buried by the animals. Due to the depth of the fruit, the seeds are unable to germinate without assistance, and rely on aardvarks for prepagation. Aardvarks eat the subterranean fruit, then defecate the seeds near the burrows, which then grow rapidly due to the loose soil and fertile nature of the area. The time spent in the intestine of the aardvark helps the fertility of the seed.Individuals usually emerge from their burrows in the late afternoon or shortly after sunset, and forage over a considerable... Read more »

Taylor, W., Lindsey, P., & Skinner, J. (2002) The feeding ecology of the aardvark Orycteropus afer. Journal of Arid Environments, 50(1), 135-152. DOI: 10.1006/jare.2001.0854  

Mutlow AG, & Mutlow H. (2008) Caesarian section and neonatal care in the aardvark (Orycteropus afer). Journal of zoo and wildlife medicine : official publication of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, 39(2), 260-2. PMID: 18634220  

Tabuce, R., Asher, R., & Lehmann, T. (2008) Afrotherian mammals: a review of current data. mammalia, 72(1). DOI: 10.1515/MAMM.2008.004  

White, J., Williams, G., Samour, J., Drury, P., & Cheeseman, P. (1985) The composition of milk from captive aardvark (Orycteropus afer). Zoo Biology, 4(3), 245-251. DOI: 10.1002/zoo.1430040305  

  • October 23, 2014
  • 08:38 AM

Four Solar-Powered Animals

by beredim in Strange Animals

Photosynthesis, a process used by plants and some bacteria to convert light from the sun into chemical energy which can be later released to fuel their activities. Animals on the other hand, have to consume other organisms in order to cover their energy needs. But every rule has an exception.In recent years, researchers have discovered a small number of animals that much like plants have found a way to directly harness and feed off the Sun’s energy.1# Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis)Typically, wasps and hornets are most active during the early morning when they do the majority of their daily activities. However, this is not the case with the oriental hornet that is most active during the middle of the day. This social insect nests underground and the workers correlate their digging activity with the intensity of sunlight. It turns out there is actually a good reason why these insects love intense sunlight.Oriental HornetPhoto By MattiPaavola (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsThe species has an outer layer (cuticle) that allows it to harvest solar energy. The yellow parts of the body (in the head and abdomen) contain a pigment called Xanthopterin. Xanthopterin works as a light harvesting molecule, transforming light into electrical energy. Currently, it is assumed that part of this energy is transformed in a photo-biochemical process which aids the species with energy demanding activities, like flying and digging. The harvested energy appears to also provide enough energy to carry out some metabolic functions, as researchers have found that most of the metabolic activity occurs in the yellow pigment layer.As for the brown tissues, although incapable of directly harnessing the sun's energy, they still play an important role in the whole process. Structural analysis has found that they are full of grooves that capture light by channeling rays into the tissues and breaking them apart into smaller rays. Essentially, the brown areas act as a light trap, only 1% of the light that strikes is reflected away.2# Eastern Emerald Elysia (Elysia chlorotica)Elysia chlorotica is a medium-sized green sea slug of the Plakobranchidae family. Elysia chlorotica is a partially solar-powered slug that sequesters and retains active chloroplasts from the Vaucheria litorea algae it eats. During the feeding process, it first punctures the algal cell wall with its radula. The slug then holds the algae firmly in its mouth and,sucks out the contents. Instead of digesting the entire cell it retains the algal chloroplasts, by storing them within its own cells throughout its digestive system.Elysia chloroticaPhoto By EOL Learning and Education Group[CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia CommonsThe incorporation of chloroplasts within the cells of the slug allows it to capture energy directly from light, like most plants do, through photosynthesis. In periods where algae is not readily available as a food supply, the species may be able to survive for months on the sugars produced through the photosynthesis done by the incorporated chloroplasts.Although E. chlorotica slugs are unable to synthesize their own chloroplasts, the ability to maintain the chloroplasts acquired from Vaucheria litorea in a functional state indicates that Elysia chlorotica must possess photosynthesis-supporting genes within its own nuclear genome, most likely acquired through horizontal gene transfer*.3# Pea Aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum)Pea aphids are notable for being the only so-far known animals to synthesize a carotenoid, Torulene. Carotenoids are pigments produced by plants, fungi and other microorganisms and play an important role in photosynthesis. A 2010 study on pea aphids found that they have gained the ability to synthesize torulene through horizontal gene transfer from fungi. Two years later, new research revealed that this carotenoid may be behind a photosynthetic-like ability.The authors of the latest study examined three different types of the species: green aphids, which have the highest levels of carotenoids, orange aphids which produce intermediate levels of carotenoids and white aphids, which have little to no carotenoids. When researchers measured their ATP* levels, they found that the green aphids produced significantly more ATP than white aphids. What's more interesting is that the orange ones produced more ATP when exposed to sunlight than when moved into the dark. The researchers also crushed the orange aphids and purified their carotenoids to show that these extracts could absorb light and create energy.The findings strongly suggest that the little critters can trap light and convert it into cellular energy. According to Maria Capovilla, co-author of the study, this ability could function as an emergency energy source that helps aphids survive their treks from plant to plant.4# Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)Finally we have the Spotted Salamander, an animal that has long been suspected to be in a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae. Back in the distant 1888, biologist Henry Orr first reported that the species' eggs often contain a single-celled green algae called Oophila amblystomatis.Spotted Salamander egg-mass with algae visible inside the eggsPhoto By Fredlyfish4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsToday we know that the eggs are routinely colonized within a matter of hours. During this stage, the embryos release waste material, which the algae uses for food. In return the algae photosynthesizes and release oxygen for the developing embryos. In general, embryos that have more algae have a higher survival ratio and develop faster than the ones with few or none. But all this is old news..In 2011, a study examining the species' eggs found that some of the algae was present within the embryos themselves, and in some cases invaded embryonic cells and tissues. This suggested that the embryos weren't just receiving oxygen but glucose too. In simple words, the algae inside their body generates fuel for the salamanders during the embryonic stage.... Read more »

Rumpho ME, Worful JM, Lee J, Kannan K, Tyler MS, Bhattacharya D, Moustafa A, & Manhart JR. (2008) Horizontal gene transfer of the algal nuclear gene psbO to the photosynthetic sea slug Elysia chlorotica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(46), 17867-71. PMID: 19004808  

Plotkin M, Hod I, Zaban A, Boden SA, Bagnall DM, Galushko D, & Bergman DJ. (2010) Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis). Die Naturwissenschaften, 97(12), 1067-76. PMID: 21052618  

Valmalette, J., Dombrovsky, A., Brat, P., Mertz, C., Capovilla, M., & Robichon, A. (2012) Light- induced electron transfer and ATP synthesis in a carotene synthesizing insect. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep00579  

Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R., Heiss, A., Bishop, C., & Hall, B. (2011) Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(16), 6497-6502. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108  

  • September 28, 2014
  • 05:54 AM

Andinobates Geminisae: New Fingernail Sized Poison Dart Frog from Panama

by beredim in Strange Animals

This is the hololotype specimen that the researchers used to describe the newly discovered Andinobates geminisaeCredit: Cesar Jaramillo, STRIA team of scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí in Panama, and the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia recently announced the discovery of a new bright orange poison dart frog. The new species is so small that it can fit on a fingernail and was found in a rain forest near the Caribbean coast, Donoso, Panama. The species was scientifically described as Andinobates geminisae after Geminis Vargas, "the beloved wife of Marcos Ponce [co-author], for her unconditional support of his studies of Panamanian herpetology."The holotype [a single type specimen upon which the description and name of a new species is based] was collected in February 21, 2011, in the headwaters of the Rio Caño, in the district of Donoso, Colón Province, Panama, by Samuel Valdés, who was then the MWH Global Inc. environment office director, and his field assistant, Carlos de la Cruz. Additional specimens were collected between the Rio Coclé del Norte and the Rio Belen by biologists Marcos Ponce and Abel Batista, then a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí."Abel Batista and Marcos Ponce were the first to note the presence of this species. They've known it was there for several years. However, they were not sure if it was only a variety of another poison dart frog species, Oophaga pumilio, which exhibits tremendous color variation. Based on morphological characteristics of the adult and the tadpole, I thought it might be a new species of Andinobates." said Cesar Jaramillo, Smithsonian herpetologist.Andrew Crawford, professor at Universidad de Los Andes and former STRI postdoctoral fellow, sequenced the DNA of the newly found frog and confirmed that it indeed belonged to a new Andinobates species.Because Andinobates geminisae appears to occur in a limited area, the researchers have expressed fears that habitat loss and collection for the pet trade may pose a major threat to its survival and have recommended the formulation of special conservation plans. "Andinobates geminisae occurs in Caribbean versant rainforest on the westernmost edge of the known distribution of A. minutus, and represents the fourth species within this genus in Panama. This is vulnerable to habitat loss and excessive harvesting and requires immediate conservation plans to preserve this species with a restricted geographic range." wrote the authors."It is important we save some of this frog’s tiny habitat to be able to study this unusual species more." said co-author Crawford to National Geographic.Brief DescriptionAdults have an electric-orange color and a length of about 12.5 mm (~0.5 in). The new species looks nothing like its closest genetic relatives found in the region, by having a uniformly orange smooth skin and a distinctive male advertisement call. Furthermore, its much smaller than the area's other poison dart frogs.Instead, Andinobates geminisae superficially looks much more like the strawberry poison dart frog(Oophaga pumilio)."Perhaps A. geminisae had been observed previously but was confused with Oophaga." said Crawford to National Geographic. The two frogs may also share the same orange warning signal to predators, an evolutionary trait known as Müllerian mimicry. Müllerian mimicry is a natural phenomenon in which two or more poisonous species, that may or may not be closely related and share one or more common predators, have come to mimic each other's warning signals. But Crawford says this is just a theory.All in all, the species is a mystery and not much is known about it, including its behavioral and reproductive patterns. The discovery of an adult with a tadpole stuck to its back gives some clues, suggesting that it cares for its young. In other poison dart frogs of the same genus, the tadpoles hatch, adults piggyback them one by one to small pools of water, where they develop into froglets. The authors suspect that A. geminisae may also carry its youngs to water trapped in tree hollows or leaves.TaxonomyKingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: ChordataClass: AmphibiaOrder: AnuraFamily: DendrobatidaeSubfamily: DendrobatinaeGenus: AndinobatesSpecies: Andinobates geminisaeYou may also likePaedophryne amauensis: Meet the world's smallest frog, barely 7 mm long!Indian Purple Frog: A bizarre frog with a plump, round body, a pointed, pig-like snout and a very strange call.Turtle Frog: An odd looking frog with a turtle-shaped body.Notes- The specimens were deposited in the Museo de Vertebrados at the University of Panama, the Museo Herpetólogico de Chiriquí at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí and in the Círculo Herpetólogico de Panamá. - Genetic information about the species is available in the Barcode of Life Data System and in GenBank- Andinobates geminisae is now included in the captive breeding program of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation project, a consortium of six zoos and research institutions dedicated to saving amphibians from the chytrid fungal disease, which is decimating amphibians worldwide, and habitat loss.References- BATISTA, A., JARAMILLO, C., PONCE, M., & CRAWFORD, A. (2014). A new species of Andinobates (Amphibia: Anura: Dendrobatidae) from west central Panama Zootaxa, 3866 (3) DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3866.3.2- Owen, James. "Mysterious New Poison Dart Frog Found; Is Size of Fingernail." National Geographic. N.p., Sept.-Oct. 2014. Web.... Read more »

  • September 15, 2014
  • 06:57 AM

Turritopsis Dohrnii - Is It Really Immortal?

by beredim in Strange Animals

The "Immortal" JellyfishCredit: Peter Schuchert/The Hydrozoa DirectoryKingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: CnidariaClass: HydrozoaOrder: AnthoathecataFamily: OceaniidaeGenus: TurritopsisSpecies: Turritopsis dohrnii (formerly classified as T. nutricula.)Common Name: The immortal jellyfishMost of the animals featured on the site are chosen based on their unusual looks. However, this not the case with Turritopsis dohrnii, which seemingly has no notable morphological characteristics. On the outside, it looks like yet another small, bell-shaped medusa. What's so unique about it is the fact that it exhibits a certain form of immortality, reminiscent of the life of Benjamin Button. T. dohrnii is able to cheat death at the very last minute, instead of dying it simply goes back in time and renews itself to become young again! Theoretically, some say this can go on indefinitely, effectively rendering the species biologically immortal. But how is this achieved and is the species truly immortal? Maybe "immortality" is just a poor choice of words?The (theoretically) Never Ending Lifecycle of Turritopsis dohrniiLike most other hydrozoans, a T. dohrnii individual begins its life as a tiny, free-swimming larvae called planula. A planula is a flattened, ciliated and bilaterally symmetric larvae that forms from fertilized eggs. In the case of the immortal jellyfish, the planula then settles down and gives rise to a colony of polyps that are attached to the seafloor.T. dohrnii PolypCredit: Maria Pia MigliettaThese polyps then give rise to new T. dohrnii individuals by the method of budding. Budding is a form of asexual reproduction in which a new organism develops from the outgrowths of the polyp. All the jellyfish arising from the planula are genetically identical clones and eventually become sexually mature jellyfish that can reproduce sexually and lay new eggs.Now, this is where things get interesting. If a T. dohrnii jellyfish is exposed to environmental stress, physical assault, sickness or simply gets too old, it has the capacity to revert back to the polyp stage, forming a new polyp. The polyp can then give rise to new medusas!All stages of the medusa, from newly budded to fully matured individuals can revert back to the polyp form. During the transformation, the jellyfish first becomes a ball of tissue, the cells de-differentiate and then re-differentiate, and finally transforms into a hydroid, the previous stage of development.Confused? Hopefully this will help:Theoretically, this process can go on forever, and this is why some say T. Dohrni individuals effectively rendered biologically immortal. Research in laboratory conditions has revealed that 100% of specimens can revert to the polyp stage. However, out in the wild, life is not that easy and most individuals succumb to predation, disease and other life-threatening hazards, well-before they have the time to revert back to the polyp stage.Today, Turritopsis dohrnii is the only known species in the animalia kingdom capable of reverting completely to a sexually immature, colonial stage, after having reached sexual maturity as a solitary stage.A different opinionThe truth is that not all researchers agree on the theoretical immortality of T. dohrnii. For instance, Rebecca Helm has made a well-rounded post over DeepSeaNews, suggesting (based on other jellyfish species that reproduce in a similar manner) that over the course of time, mutations and other genetic junk may build up in T. dohrnii clonal populations. Eventually these population get “tired.” and produce clones that are more fragile, possibly becoming unable to revert to the polyp stage at some point. She concludes that: "While the “immortal” jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii may be able to turn back its life cycle, it may not escape the inevitable slowing down that comes with age. In other words, while reversing your fate and escaping death for a short while may be a neat trick, it doesn’t guarantee immortality." SourceIs "immortality" a poor choice of words?First, I want to clarify that I am no expert in marine life, Cnidaria, jellyfish etc. Although related to biology, my field of expertise lies miles way. Having said that, I think that "immortal" [as many describe the species] is a really unfit word to describe T. dohrnii.  From what I perceive, a human version of T. dohrnii would be something like this. Just before dying, a human/T. dohrnii hybrid [let's call him "X"] would first revert to a polyp-like zygote. Then, this initial zygote would divide into further zygotes like in the case of identical twins, and then these zygotes would grow into new human babies, each with the same genetic material of X. Eventually, these babies would grow into adults and look exactly like X, excluding of course any acquired characteristics like scars.I can hardly consider this as biological immortality. Natural cloning would probably be a better word I think. Less catchy, more precise. But again, this is just the opinion of a non-expert. Don't take it for granted.Now let's see what Ferdinando Boero has to say on the matter. Boero is one of the authors of a 1996 paper [2] that examined the life cycle of the Turritopsis dohrnii, which back then was identified as Turritopsis nutricula. The excerpt you are about to read was initially posted here as a comment:"We did not speak about immortality, in the paper. We spoke about ontogeny reversal. Ontogeny is the series of steps that start with a zygote and arrive to the mature adult. Usually adults reproduce and then, sooner or later, they die. The hdyrozoans, with which Paul Raeburn is not very familiar with, start their life as a planula larva that settles on the bottom and gives rise to a hydroid colony. The colony buds off tiny jellyfish that, in zoological jargon, are also called medusae. The medusae are either male or female, they reproduce and then die. Reproduction gives rise to a planula that then becomes another hydroid colony, and the cycle starts again. T. dohrnii medusae, if subjected to sublethal stress, become a ball of tissue, their cells de-differentiate and then re-differentiate, and they transform into a hydroid. The previous stage of development. As I say in the article, it is as if a butterfly (the jellyfish) can re-organize its cells and go back to a caterpillar stage (the hydroid). So, ontogeny is reversed. This can be produced in the laboratory all the times you want." Brief DescriptionThe medusa form Turritopsis dohrnii is bell-shaped and very small, with a maximum diameter of about 4.5 mm (0.18 in) and is about as tall as it is wide. Adults are about as wide as a human pinky nail. The jelly in the walls of the bell is uniformly thin, except for some thickening at the apex. The relatively large stomach is bright red and has a cruciform shape in cross section. Youn... Read more »

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