absurd creature of the week

2

Solenodon’s are venomous mammals. Sitting underneath the solenodon’s lower incisors are salivary glands that send venom along grooves in its teeth. All the solenodon has to do is break the victim’s skin—or cuticle, in the case of insects—for the venom to get in there and work its magic. 

Read more about this week’s Absurd Creature.

wired.com
Absurd Creature of the Week: This Oceanic ‘Nightmare’ Suffocates Foes With Clouds of Slime
This is the hagfish, a bizarre, eel-like critter that asphyxiates the fish and sharks foolish enough to attack it by clogging up their gills with massive releases of goo. But this is no simple snot. It’s a deceptively complex substance that could one day gift us the supermaterial of our dreams.
wired.com
Absurd Creature of the Week: The Beautiful Octopus Whose Sex Is All About Dismemberment
In Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the crew of the Nautilus takes a break from going for swims and pissing off native islanders to admire an armada of strange beasts floating along the surface, swimming backwards by blasting water out of their bodies. “Six of their eight tentacles were long, thin, and floated on the water, while the other two were rounded into palms and spread to the wind like light sails,” notes our trusty narrator. It’s an actual animal, alright, a rare and bizarre octopus that swims the open ocean: the argonaut. But those arms are no sails.
Absurd Creature of the Week: This Leech Feeds on Hippo Rectums

Via wired:

The year was 2003, and Mark Siddall, the curator of invertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History, was in South Africa a-hunting the elusive hippo butt leech. This was a good place to look, after all, on account of all the hippos, and on account of all those hippos having rectums—the flesh this particular leech, Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi, fancies. Happily, a local game officer had gotten wind of the American’s quest, and was more than willing to help.

Read the full story. 

2

Pseudoscorpions, the teeny-tiny arachnids on the leave, crawls under a harlequin beetle’s wing, latch on with their claws and strap in with silken seat belts. The dominant males among the pseudos shove other males off and get busy with a harem of females right on the back of the harlequin—itself a bizarre creature whose males tread on wildly elongated front legs.

Read more about this twofer Absurd Creature of the Week.

thescene

Look at the cuteness that is the Fennec Fox. Look at it. Underneath all the cuteness, the fennec fox is actually a remarkable little desert specialist.

MORE.  Absurd Creatures: The Fennec Fox Is So Cute I Think I Might Literally Die

2

Thirty Asian giant hornets, following a scent laid by their scout, descend on a hive of honey bees and get straight to the decapitations. The hornets snag the tiny bees and pop their heads right off using their enormous mandibles. Here a head, there a head. Desperately, the bees try to sting the hornets, yet they can’t puncture the giants’ armor.

One by one the bees fall, a single hornet taking down as many as 20 victims a minute. The remarkable Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, grows to almost two inches in length and can sting through a rain jacket. The hornet is formidable, to say the least, but the native honey bees it menaces have an ingenious defense: They form a ball around the scout hornet and vibrate to cook the invader to death.

Read more about this week’s Absurd Creature, a modern winged T. rex.

2

The beautiful bearded vulture feeds almost exclusively on skeletal fragments, swallowing bones whole when possible. What pieces it can’t swallow it takes into the air and drops onto rocks, shattering them into manageable pieces. That’s all kinds of clever. 

Like any other vulture, the bearded variety—which typically flies over mountainous regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe—provides an indispensable service to the ecosystem, checking the spread of disease by consuming corpses. But the bearded’s diet is 95 percent bone. It can wait for the other scavengers to strip the body clean, then stroll in at its leisure to take its fill.

Read more about this week’s Absurd Creature. 

2

The male great bowerbird constructs a beautiful tubular structure out of twigs, depositing bones and snail shells to make courts at either end. He arranges these in a very specific way. By deploying forced perspective, the male bowerbird actually makes his court look smaller and he does it to help him get laid.

This is the saga of bowerbird hanky-panky, a romance packed with more lies, illusions, and thievery than a soap opera—with none of the insufferable soft focus.

Read more about this week’s Absurd Creature

If Finding Nemo taught us anything, it’s that we may as well rename the clownfish “that Nemo fish.” Beyond that, it’s a great study in marine ecology: Nemo’s rescue party casts off from the safety of the reef into the perilous open ocean, where one must be fast, inconspicuous or untouchably enormous to survive. Our heroes are none of these, and thus hijinks ensue.

Millions of years ago a small fish embarked on its own Nemo-esque voyage, abandoning reefs in favor of open ocean. Over the millennia it lost its tail and grew absolutely immense; today it can reach more than 10 feet in length and 5,000 pounds, thus putting itself beyond threat of all but the mightiest predators.

The bizarre ocean sunfish is the world’s biggest bony fish. The Germans call it “the swimming head,” the Chinese “the toppled car fish,” and taxonomists Mola mola — which, ironically enough for something that floats, is Latin for “millstone.” And unlike Nemo’s compatriots, it is beautifully adapted to the high seas.

[MORE - Absurd Creature of the Week: ‘Pufferfish on Steroids’ Gets as Big as a Truck]

Before J. M. Barrie introduced us to the charmingly cranky and vindictive Tinker Bell, fairies had traditionally been cast as vicious scoundrels hell-bent on stealing your kids and tearing up that lawn you paid so much money for. Today the fairy is a decidedly more whimsical, endearing creature, and nowhere is it more legendary than in the deserts of Argentina.

Here dwells the remarkable pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus), a 5-inch-long, quarter-pound critter with a rosy shell atop silky white hair. This smallest of all armadillos spends almost its entire life burrowing through the earth, hunting various invertebrates and chewing up plant matter. It is a rarely seen, almost totally unstudied marvel — what you read here is pretty much all we’ve observed about the pink fairy armadillo.

So exactly how elusive are they? Conservation biologist Mariella Superina of Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council has been studying other armadillos in the pink fairy’s habitat for 13 years and has never once seen one in the wild. And locals can’t tell her how to track them. The only specimens she gets are injured ones found and brought in for rehabilitation or those confiscated from chuckleheads keeping them as pets.

External image

Unlike in all other armadillos, the pink fairy’s shell is not fully attached to its body, instead connecting with a membrane that runs along the spinal column. The thin carapace’s underlying blood vessels actually show through, giving it that beautiful hue that you’re now reconsidering being beautiful because it’s made of blood.

[MORE - Absurd Creature of the Week: Pink Fairy Armadillo Crawls Out of the Desert and Into Your Heart]

4

Absurd Creature of the Week: The Wasp That Enslaves Cockroaches With a Sting to the Brain

In the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, which my 10th grade history teacher showed us under the mistaken impression that it could teach us anything at all about history, an American war hero isbrainwashed by communists to assassinate a presidential nominee. It doesn’t work, because the reds went about the mind-control all wrong. They would have done well to take a lesson from the emerald cockroach wasp (aka the jewel wasp), which employs a very real and far more disturbing and effective method of brainwashing.

This parasitic marvel enslaves cockroaches by stinging their brains in ridiculously precise spots and injecting mind-controlling venom. The wasp then leads its zombified roach to a chamber, where it lays a single egg on its perfectly relaxed host and seals it inside with pebbles. Here the larva bores into the cockroach and feeds off its organs before killing it and emerging from its corpse into the light of day.

This is nature’s own Orkin Man — if the Orkin Man was psychologically imbalanced and just a little too excited about his job, and didn’t have all the wings and stuff. But just think of the evolution involved here. The jewel wasp has over millions of years not only developed a mind-control drug, but an astonishingly methodical brand of brain surgery to deliver it.

read more from Wired

When you’ve got a highly mobile anus, you build a poop shield on your back with it. That’s just what you do.

“It’s hard to deny the effectiveness of a poo stick in warding off attackers.” There’s no way I could provide a description of this week’s Absurd Creature of the Week that will possibly top, or in any necessary way contribute to, the fantastic brief treatise Matt Simon writes about the fascinating little creatures that build poop swords to protect them during their larval stage.

Favorite quotes include: 

“Using a highly elongated and mobile anus, they build a tower of poo on a special structure on their backs.” A tower of poo! 

Photo: Premaphotos/Alamy, courtesy Caroline Chaboo, University of Kansas

“So, the shit shields. They’re all built on top of a structure called the anal fork that the larva can manipulate to reach any part of its body.”

Photo: Kenji Nishida, courtesy Caroline Chaboo

“When threatened, even by something as simple as a scientist’s shadow passing over them, the larvae form up into a circle, pointing their butts and shields outward, as their mother charges around the perimeter.”

Keep reading. And don’t miss the hilarious photo captions. 

This toad isn’t eating a bug. The bug is eating it. One beetle has evolved to put amphibians in their place. The whole weird circus not only defies belief but bends the rules of nature. In only around 10 percent of cases is a predator smaller than its prey.

As larvae, beetles of the genus Epomis actually entice frogs and toads and salamanders to attack them, then whip around and sink their huge, hooked jaws into the attackers, slowly draining the life out of them. When the larvae transform into adult beetles, they dispatch amphibians even more brutally. What’s probably going on here Gil Wizen, an entomologist, reckons is the larva is secreting enzymes onto the toad to melt its flesh.

Read more about this week’s Absurd Creature.

wired.com
Absurd Creature of the Week: The Octopus That Does Incredible Impressions of Fish and Snakes
True to its name, the mimic octopus impersonates a variety of other animals on the fly, morphing from an octopus to a banded sole to a lionfish to a sea snake.

NO SCHOOLYARD INSULT is more dreaded, more cruel, more head-turning than calling someone a copycat. Copycatism is adolescent plagiarism, through and through, and potentially devastating to one’s social standing. But in the animal kingdom, natural selection loves a copycat. Being something you’re not could well keep you out of a stomach.

And no copycat is stranger or more accomplished than the mimic octopus. True to its name, it impersonates a variety of other animals on the fly, morphing from an octopus to a banded sole to a lionfish to a sea snake. But this is no random assemblage of impressions: All of these creatures are toxic or venomous. The mimic octopus isn’t just a copycat—it’s a copycat that’s evolved a strategy far more brilliant than would appear at first glance.

Continue Reading.