By now I’ve met multiple people in my life who were unaware of any or all of the following and were delighted to learn them, so here is the master collection.
Scallops swim like they do in Spongebob
Scallops also have a bunch of googly eyes
Other mussels really do have big “tongues,” actually their “feet,” like on a snail or slug, which are basically their cousins
Every barnacle is an entire stationary crustacean, like a lobster or crab, and those are their legs
A sperm whale has a thin narrow little mouth and its lower jaw is basically a stick
Sea urchins walk around
Under the sea urchin is this mouth
Sand dollars are a type of sea urchin themselves and they just look like that
All sea anemones are meat eaters and mostly eat things about their own size
A starfish has a little eye on the end of each arm
Not only do octopuses have beaks but the bite of almost every octopus species is venomous, just in case shape-shifting, color changing, tentacles, suckers, ink and super intelligence weren’t enough super powers
plz comment with any you would like to add and also whether any were new or shocking to you
Ok so you know how sometimes evolution, and particularly sexual selection, leads to some really over-the-top traits in males? Like how male birds of paradise develop ridiculous plumage for mating that makes them more visible to predators and hinders their flying ability? Well, let me introduce you to Mesoplodon layardii, the strap-toothed whale.
Yes, those are tusks growing out of the male’s lower jaw. Tusks that can grow up to a foot in length, and curve back and over the jaw, eventually preventing the male from opening his jaw by about 50%.
The tusks aren’t used for feeding (they primarily eat squid, so no teeth necessary), but instead are used for fighting, similar to a narwhal’s tusks. Does it seem practical to partially fuse your jaw shut, severely limiting the variety of prey you can pursue, in order to fight for mates? No. Seems like really bad idea to me. But what do I know? I’m not a strap-toothed whale.
These whales are super rare to see (they live in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica), so there’s still a lot we don’t know about them. And their weird teeth is only one of the unusual things about them (they also have unusual countershading where they’re darker on the bottom and lighter on the top, unlike pretty much every other animal in the ocean). Anyways, I just found out this whale existed and I was fascinated. Hope you enjoy!
okay, I’d better stop before Nick L. O’deon tells me to cut it out. so here we go!
the Chambered Nautilus is an ancient deep-sea-dwelling mollusk, distant kin to both octopuses and those clams you had for lunch. they’re one of the oldest kinds of cephalopod on the planet, going all the way back to the Triassic. which, you know, 251 million years ago. (plus or minus a few million years.) they survived the extinction event that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, which also terminated their close cousin the Ammonites. these little shell dudes are true survivors.
since then, the Chambered Nautilus has bobbed its way into our collective consciousness. it inspired the very first fictional submarine, as well as an even more badass and actually-real-this-time submarine. its gorgeous shell can be found in nautical-themed restaurants worldwide. the Chambered Nautilus is a pretty big deal.
for a shellfish, anyway.
Chambered Nautilus grow to be about ten inches across the shell, which may not sound impressive but is actually an incredible feat of engineering. you’ve probably seen it before, but the Chambered Nautilus has a really trippy segmented spiral thing going on in their shell that a: makes for a great album cover, and b: creates a neutrally buoyant home that can stand the pressure of the deep sea! which is lucky, because that’s where the Chambered Nautilus lives.
these shelled little weirdos are found in the waters of the Indo-Pacific, where they live on the deep edges of coral reefs and sea canyon walls. but not below 2,600 feet, as their shells dramatically implode at that point! ha ha!
see, the nice thing about human houses? they don’t usually implode.
the Chambered Nautilus is sort of like a snail, except more complex and more backwards. (yes, I’m serious.) the soft gooey body of the Chambered Nautilus only fits in the first compartment of their shell, including their hearts, eyeballs, probable souls, various gross buoyancy organs and their roughly 90 tentacles and jet propulsion system.
yes, those last two things are totally real, I swear. let’s get into it!
I hope you like tentacles!
I’ll address the jet thing first. the Chambered Nautilus is similar to squid, in that they experience the world mostly backwards. they have a water intake valve called a hyponome which is basically a fancy tube that they keep somewhere in their tentacle zone. they use this weird pipe to draw water into an inner chamber inside their shell, and then violently squirt it right back out. this causes the Chambered Nautilus to lurch backwards at high speed like a startled raccoon.
but I didn’t even get to the best part! see, the Chambered Nautilus has very simple eyes and terrible vision. and they can’t even really see around that honkydonk badonkadonk shell anyway, so they lurch violently backwards and then bump comically into things. ALL THE TIME.
like, often enough for it to be a documented species trait. ADORABLE.
but you’ve been waiting patiently, and it’s time to get into the best part: those tentacles! and boy I sure hope you’re a fan, because the Chambered Nautilus has around 90 simple retractable tentacles called cirri. (make sure you write these down, as there will be a short quiz following this program.)
these cirri are covered in tiny ridges, like gross wet velcro spaghetti. this gives them a really absurd amount of grip, like REALLY absurd. apparently it’s easier to accidentally rip them right off the Nautilus than it is to get them off a scientist’s glove.
I’m sure that researcher felt REALLY bad afterwards.
this insane grip comes in handy (pun!) though, when the Chambered Nautilus is on the hunt. these voracious shellboys mostly eat fish, crabs and shrimp, but they aren’t above scavenging and will eat whatever is available.
once the Chambered Nautilus has spotted a likely meal, it splats itself onto it face-first like a goddam Looney Tunes character and grabs on. once they prey is snagged, it’s curtains for that particular shrimp. because like all cephalopods, the Chambered Nautilus has a razor-sharp nightmare beak hidden somewhere in all those tentacles. yum!
I mean, I’m not going to poke around in there and look so you’ll just have to trust me on this.
but the Chambered Nautilus isn’t doing so hot these days, and it’s all because of that lovely steampunk shell. its pearly luster and geometric intricacy make them prized by humans, who slaughter the Chambered Nautilus by the thousands to get them. fuck!
this shell-focused hunting has greatly decreased the Chambered Nautilus’s numbers in the past decade, and they’re almost certainly endangered now. efforts are underway to protect them, but in the meantime: DON’T BUY ANY NAUTILUS SHELLS. just get an Ammonite fossil, it’s basically the same thing but without the moral baggage or angry cephalopod ghosts.
the Chambered Nautilus survived the extinction that killed off the Ammonites and Dinosaurs, hopefully it will survive this one too.
ANGRY. CEPHALOPOD. GHOSTS.
thanks for reading! you can find the rest of the Weird Biology series on my tumblr here, or check out the official archive at weirdbiology.com!
and if you’d like to see exclusive Weird Biology content, check out my Patreon today!
img1- Monterey Bay Aquarium img2- Monterey Bay Aquarium img3- National Aquarium img4-
Monterey Bay Aquarium img5- NOAA Fisheries img6- Monterey Bay Aquarium
img7- Among the Reef img8- California Academy of Sciences
The other day, I noticed a small translucent crustacean swimming frantically around a small rock pool, apparently trapped after being washed there at high tide. At first I thought it was a shrimp, but it’s something weirder.
It’s a hyperiid amphipod- a member of a group related to sandhoppers and scuds, but all members are fully pelagic and marine.
Many hyperiids have giant, translucent eyes with a sort of multifaceted retina inside. This guys’ dome- shaped head with a darker patch visible within is all eye.
Most species feed on salps or jellyfish- you might recognize the deep- sea genus Phronima from an episode of bbc’s Blue Planet.
(not my photo)
A more obscure but very large and bizarre- looking deep sea hyperiid, Cystisoma, takes both translucency and giant eyes to the extreme. The red spot is the aforementioned retina, which shows you just how much of this thing’s head is devoted to the eyes.
(also not my photo)
The one I found (1st pic) appears to be a member of the genus Themisto, which are both very abundant in temperate waters and somewhat unusual among huperiids in that they prey on smaller crustaceans such as copepods rather than gelatinous animals. You can’t see it very clearly in my picture, but their longer pairs of legs are mantis- like raptorial limbs, lined with spikes suited for snatching copepods out of the water.
Hello everyone gather round, I’d like to introduce you to another favorite fish of mine. Meet Tetraodon miurus, the potato puffer!
The potato puffer, also called the congo puffer, is a freshwater puffer fish named for, well, looking like a potato with fins. Not to mention that the potato puffer is an ambush predator, unlike most other puffers, which are typically open water hunters. This means that our potato boy here is exceptionally lazy, spending much of it’s time with its awkward, clunk body buried in the substrate with only their eyes and mouth poking out.
They also have extraordinarily smooshy faces that conceal some gnarly fused teeth, resembling a beak! If you wanna see one of these fellas in action, I highly recommend checking out one of my favorite instagram accounts, @jackthepotatopuffer! It has some excellent content and lots of videos of Jack in action, including inhaling eating, and burrowing! Thanks for coming to my TED talk I hope you appreciate the potato boy as much as I do