If hell was the sea...

Vampyroteuthis infernalis. Image taken from http://l.yimg.com

All species get a latin name that in one way or the other are supposed to say something about the characteristics of the species in question. Now, imagine that you belong to a species that has been given the very humble suffix infernalis, which translates as "from hell". That would be a name to brag about! A squid has actually been blessed with this name, and as if this hellish surname wasn't enough, an additional horror-associated word has been put in its name Vampyroteuthis infernalis - "the vampire squid from hell". Extreamly sophisticated. 

Image taken from http://www.tolweb.org

This creature was first described in 1903, and it shares similarities with both octopuses and squids making it a tough cookie for phylogeny-people. It is only 15 cm in size, but has been found in sizes up to 30 cm, and is pigmented in variations from jet-black to pale-red, while the eyes are red or blue. The eye-to-body-size is actually the largest found among animals. Being a deep sea creature (living 600-900 m under the surface), it is capable of producing light, so that other animals down there can be temporarely disoriented by sudden flashes of light. In addition, the produces light can create illusional transparency when seen from below, making the vampire squid invisible for predators lurking even further down in the dark. When attacked, the squid places its arms with the tips glowing with light in a posture far away from the body, so that the attacker is drawn towards the body parts that are not as critical for survival as the body would be.

I can't find anything on why it has been given the name "the vampire squid from hell". In my world, such a name would be given to a creature with some diabolical quest in the deep dark sea, but from what I read, this seems to be a friendly creature (exept if you are a small shrimp or whatever it could be preying on), more suitable for a name such as "the pacifistic squid-like octopus from deep below" or "the colored yet transparent eight-armed squid/octopus" (I don't know how that would sound in latin though). Perhaps the name comes from its leathery apperance when it is looked upon in certain positions? Or perhaps it's name-giver had red too much Lovecraft? Either way, it's still swimming and are most likely not interested if we call it this or that. It just is, as we all are. 

A bit more like a vampirish appearence. Image taken from http://www.lifesci.icsb.edu


Daddy dino

I don't really know what the purpose of the following study actually was, but some paleontologists have unraveled that dinosaur males were good fathers, guarding the nest and looking out for the kids. This conclusion is drawn from the analysis of clutch sizes, where the volume of these were two/three times larger than expected from adult body size and the largest clutch sizes ought to have been cared for by males only. Now that's something to tell your chauvinist boss if he derides you for wanting to stay at home for a while with your newborn. 


Stinky pretty things

It's almost christmas. Now we are supposed to spend time with family, binge in on vulgar food and sing crappy music. And everything should be decorated with pretty, nice-smelling things such as pine, apples, cinnamon, oranges and so forth. (If we are those who believe that we are descendents of the apple-eating Adam and snake-loving Eve we may read a chapter or two in a book written by old men from an extinct culture, highly divergent from our own. Well, well. I'm not going to minimize theist in this post (although I might have done it already)). I'm going to write about what you would not like to have in your house in order to create a nice and relaxing atmophere, unless you're related to the residents of the Hardesty house (Texas chainsaw massacre), namely so called "carrion flowers". 

Carrion flowers are also known as stinking flowers, since they smell of rotten flesh. At a first sight, they often look pretty but their smell is awful, having evolved to attract beetles and flies for pollination purposes, and not humans for decoration purposes.

Rafflesia arnoldii.

The species with the largest individual flower (in the whole world actually) is Rafflesia arnoldii, being capable of growing into an impressive one metrer in diameter and weighing up to 11 kilograms. It can be found (although it's hard to find it unless it's floweing; then you can follow the scent) in the rainforests of southeast Asia, and since these forest are dissapearing day by day it is assumed that this facinating plant is greatly threatened. 

Then we have Titan arum, a carrion flower bragging as being the plant with the worlds largest unbranched inflorescence in the world being able to grow to a enormous 3 meters (!). This plant is also found in southeast Asia. 

Titan arum.

Titan arum.

Two other carrion flower species are Stapelia gigantea and Smilax herbacea, stinking up nature and being loved by carcass attracted insects around the world.

Stapelia gigantea. Image taken from http://anti-matter-3d-com/Stapeliads

Similax herbacea. Image taken from http://mrhyker.tripod.com/floraandfauna.

Parthogenesis before christmas

A friend at work recently gave me a couple of Extatosoma tiaratum eggs, which in plain english is a stick insect. The cool thing with stick insects is their reproductive behaviour, which has bended the rules that we might think ought to be universal. When the females have males around, they mate in the good old fashion lutheranian way, i.e. female get's down with male and have babies. Not very exiting. But when there's no suitable male in her territory, she's able to do what no human ever has or ever will be able to do; namely, to make babies herself. This is
known as parthogenesis, in which an egg continues to develop into a embryo and then you know the story... In short, no male gamete is needed! That seems to be a very flexible system.

Parthogenesis is not that uncommon. It's known to occur in insects and arthropods, and also in some reptiles, fish, birds and sharks. Since it's a egg that develops into the offspring, the offpring will be all female if the sex chromosome system is two like chromosomes determine the female sex (like our XY-system), or they will be all males if two like chromosomes determine the male sex (like the ZW-system in moths). The offpring will be able to reproduce in the same way as it's mother, or - if it's female - continue with the self-copying.

What makes parthogenesis even more cool than cloning is that here, all cellular material is of the same descendant, whereas in cloning, only the nucleus will be identical to it's "mother". So, once again; an example of the amazing world of nature. We can try to mimc and to understand but we will never ever be able to comprehend it all. And that's not necessary a bad thing.

(I actually had a dream once where parthogenesis was proven to occur in a deer. I didn't realize that it was a dream until I started talking about the subject with my fellow biology students, who started to laugh at my story. If they didn't laugh, then maybe I'd still believe that parthogenesis could occur in mammals. I mean, just count the number of individuals who believe that a 13 year old girl, who lived about 2000 years ago, gave birth to a kiddie without the help of a penis. At least I saw some empiric proof in my very, very realistic dream, *harr harr*.)


Bye bye to the world as we know it

Image source: http://www.wettropics.gov.au/

It seems like climate change has claimed it's first mammal extinction. I bet that when our generation is grey and old, our grandchildren will have a hard time believing all our stories of grandiose wild-life. But if they do believe us, they will surely think that we were idiots for letting it go this far.