Zoological Tidbits

Zoological Tidbits

· Here’s a good question for ichthyologists: why is it that most cave-dwelling species without eyes (or have reduced or covered organs), while most thorough-sea fishes, living in an equally black ecosystem, have huge eyes and their own lights?

· Chameleons are famous for being able to rotate each eye independently of the other. However, a great many other lizards can also do this, as can many fishes.

· The majority of lizard species that are active in the daylight have a third eye in the center of their skull. It cannot “see” but it is sensitive to ultraviolet light, and is used by the lizard to let it know when it’s time to get out of the sun. Pet lizards that are given a heat rock instead of a heat lamp may seriously burn themselves–or already die–because they do not respond to heat coming up by the belly. Geckos, burrowing lizards, and other nocturnal species do not have the third eye.

· Bats have incredibly sensitive sonar, and can safely fly by a dark room in which wire has been strung between floor and ceiling. However, that sonar is not very good for detecting a moving ceiling fan blade, and bats have been known to get conked by the devices.

· Octopus ink contains a variety of chemicals, including metallic ions. Not only is the ink poisonous, it also “shorts out” the electric detecting organs possessed by sharks and other predators.

· Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg did a great job making us afraid to go into the water, but Americans are 400,000 times more likely to be killed (accidentally, of course) by their physician than by a shark.

· The origin of the information “torpedo” goes back to ancient Greece. The local electric ray, a flat relative of sharks and stingrays, was called Torpedo and could give a strong enough electric jolt to a person who stepped on one to send him forcibly off his feet. The information later became associated with any object in the water that had similar impact.

· Bees don’t bite, and you will never get stung be a male honeybee. The bee’s sting is a alternation version of the egg-laying tube, which males without. Incidentally, while it is true that a honeybee can only sting once–and then die–other bees and wasps are capable of stinging repeatedly.

· Some tapeworms grow longer than a blue whale, but if you rolled the tapeworm up firmly, it would only take up about as much space as the whale’s eye.

· The blood of some Antarctic ice fish contains a natural antifreeze that keeps the blood super cooled. However, if the fish comes in contact with ice (which is warmer than the water), its blood begins crystallizing, killing the fish.

· Those really tall termite nests that are found in Africa and Australia are masterpieces of energy efficiency, maintaining an almost perfectly continued temperature, varying no more that one-tenth of a degree all day, every day. Solar strength, anyone?

· When learning about sex, forget about the birds and the bees. Bird sex is typically based on the female having two different types of sex chromosomes (called Z and W), while in us mammals it’s the male with the unmatched pair (called X and Y). As for bees… technically they have three sexes: drones (males), workers (sterile females), and queens (high females). You don’t want your kids thinking that if a bee stings them they’ll get pregnant.

· Hey, speaking of sex, be glad–real glad–you aren’t a squid. Large squid species, including the giant squid, don’t, uh, “do it” the way you’d think (if you ever thought about squid sex…). Males latch onto females, then rip openings in their skin. The male then takes a packet of sperm and pushes it into the cut in the female. When the female gets ready to lay eggs, perhaps months later, the sperm move by her body and fertilize the eggs. I don’t already want to contemplate what Dr. Ruth would have to say!

· The “Black Death” that killed about 33 percent of Europe’s population might not have been so harsh had the folks not killed off so many cats. At the time, cats (which killed the rats that carried the fleas that delivered the plague in the house that Jack built…) were believed to be associated with witches, and were destroyed in huge, indeed CATaclysmic numbers.

· Star Trek’s Captain Spock has green blood, but he’s, you know, fictional. On this planet, all but two kinds of creatures with a backbone have red blood. Arctic and Antarctic ice fishes live in sub-halting water. They keep the blood liquid with the addition of a glycerin-based antifreeze, and the blood is clear as water. The only land vertebrates without red blood are a few lizards. New Guinea’s green-blooded skinks have blood laced with huge quantities of bile pigments. That measure in just about any other critter would be extremely lethal, but some zoologists think the bile protects the lizards from malaria.

· The world’s smallest sharks–there are two species that tie for the title–are about the size of an adult man’s index finger. They are black on top, have greenish bioluminescent bellies, and tiny jaws that couldn’t already bit your finger.

· An extraterrestrial alien doing a biological survey of Earth would report that this planet is predominantly inhabited by beetles. Not only are there more species of beetles than all backboned animals combined, they make up nearly half of all animal species–including the rest of the insects.

· Vampire bats are real, and they do satisfy on blood. However, they only live in the tropics of South and Central America, and prefer to bite ankles instead of necks. Oh, and they don’t suck blood; they lick it.

· Dogs have a much better sense of smell than we humans, and it varies from about ten times better in some breeds to nearly 10,000 times better in bloodhounds. To put that in perspective: compared to us, it would be as if a bloodhound could see the period at the end of this sentence if it was displayed over 18,000 miles away. No surprise Ol’ Sparky knows you’ve got a biscuit in your pocket!

· Meanwhile, back at the tapeworm: while some may grow longer than a blue whale, there are three known dinosaurs that also grew longer than the cetacean. Seismosaurus, Ultrasaurus, and Supersaurus all grew in excess of 100 feet, with Seismosaurus estimated at hitting 120-140 feet! already so, the blubber-heavy blue whale almost certainly nevertheless holds the title of heaviest animal to have lived. But you can see how hard it is to answer the question of what the biggest animal is. It all depends on what your definition of big is…

· In one of the first gene transplant experiments, scientists took the genes that let fireflies glow and inserted them into tobacco plants. The consequence was tobacco that glowed (green) in the dark, without being lit. Now you can buy zebra fish that have been given the genes from bioluminescent algae. These glow-in-the-dark creatures are called GloFish.

· Not all female praying mantises are preying mantises. Some do eat their mates, but the strange thing is that the first observations that led to this knowledge was faulty. The researchers had failed to satisfy the insects for days, so when the male came a-mating, the female had him for dinner. Alas, that particular species rarely eats its mate! The study also showed that a) males are more interested in sex than food, and b) females are interested in food than in dumb males.

· Cute, cuddly, and stoned–that’s a short description of your typical koala. Chemicals in the eucalypt leaves that they eat both tranquilize the koalas and make them high. It also makes them reek of menthol. Though it doesn’t clear their heads, it will clear yours, already at a distance. By the way, “koala” is an Aboriginal information that method “doesn’t drink,” making them unpopular at pubs.

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