Naja naja

najanajaPop quiz! Does the Spectacled cobra aka Indian cobra (Naja naja) move to the sound of a snake charmer’s pipe because it can hear the music? Najo ma’am! While it can’t hear the music, it can follow the movement of the pipe with its eyes.1

Spectacled cobras live on the Indian subcontinent in jungles, grasslands, and urban areas where they feed on rodents, snakes, and other small critters. Like fellow member of the family Elapidae, the coral snake, the Indian cobra has a powerful neurotoxin in its potentially fatal venom. Although it has a scary reputation as one of the four snakes that cause the most snake bites in South Asia, it’s generally pretty chill and is probably just trying to eat the rats in your house or get out of the basket you stuck it in so it can go eat rats in your house. 1

Cobras look like pretty normal 3-6 foot snakes until they get into their defense posture. By raising the front of their bodies up and flaring long rib bones in their necks using specialized muscles, they transform themselves into the coolest, most magical looking snakes.2

Probably because they look so badass, cobras have a special place in Hindu mythology. Power myth! The story goes that there was this big venomous serpent with one hundred and ten hooded heads named Kaliya. Kaliya originally lived in the serpent world where serpents were supposed to live. In this world serpents had to pay tribute to the powerful bird humanoid named Garuda. Kaliya, having decided that he wasn’t going to pay tribute, was attacked by Garuda and had to jump into the Yamuna River to escape. Living in the Yamuna River afraid to leave, Kaliya couldn’t help but poison the waters with its venom. The water became so poisonous that it killed anything that touched it or even flew over it. Well, cowherders lived along the banks of the Yamuna River and liked to take their cows for a dip so this was a problem for them. One day the diety Krishna came around to help out the cowherders. He made himself really big and fought Kaliya and won, stepping on the hundred and ten heads of Kaliya with such force that it made the spectacle marks now seen on the back of the cobra’s hood.3

General Cobra Powerfacts! Although this cobra doesn’t spit, it’s fellow Najas the spitting cobras, when threatened, can spit a blinding venom at your eyes from a distance of 6 feet with near perfect aim!4 The king cobra, although not a member of Naja, is the longest venomous snake in the world at 18 feet. That means, when it raises the front of its body in a display, it can reach up to 6 feet tall!

  1. Wiki- Indian cobra
  2. Phys.org- Cobra hood flaring
  3. based on: Madrasmusings.com- The subjugation of Kaliya
  4. Nat Geo- Cobra spitting
  5. Wiki- King cobra

 

 

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Anableps anableps

anablepanablepsTo celebrate somebody finishing her Master’s research on a little, local, live-bearing fish this week, we present to you a fascinating not-so-little, not-so-local, live-bearing fish, Anableps anableps, the Largescale Foureyes.

First to get you in a relaxed state of mind, here’s maybe the best Euro fish video ever made, featuring the four-eyed fish:  Allwetterzoo!

Found mostly along the coastline of northern South America and Trinidad in brackish lagoons and mangroves, the foot-long, frog-faced foureyes gets its names from a unique adaptation to life at the surface of the water.Swimming along the water’s surface, foureyes can watch for predator and prey above and below the surface of the water at the same time using specialized eyes that are really two eyes each (two retinas, two irises, all that).2 Each eye has an above-water eye adapted to terrestrial light and a below-water eye adapted to the yellow light of the murky mangrove water.

Powerfact! These guys are part of a group of live-bearing one-sided maters who can only mate from one side! In live-bearing fish the male anal fin is modified to function as a penis. In one-sided maters, a male can only move its penis either to the left or to the right. So if he’s a lefty he has to approach a lady fish from the right and make sure he’s going for a complementary-sided female since the female genitalia is also one-sided.Tricky!

References:

  1. Fish base.org: Anableps anableps 
  2. Fish and tips!: Anableps anableps
  3. Owens et al. 2012. In the four-eyed fish (Anableps anableps), the regions of the retina exposed to aquatic and aerial light do not express the same set of opsin genes. Biology letters, 8(1), 86-89.
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Caretta caretta

carettacaretta

 

Caretta caretta, where you been so long?

     It’s April and we’re gearing up for one of the many wonders of the world, loggerhead sea turtle nesting season. Loggerheads are the largest shelled sea turtle around with adults reaching up to 3 feet in length and weighing in at 300 lbs.1  Here in the US, beaches along the Altlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida are home to up to 90,000 nests a year, contributing about 40% of the worlds’ loggerhead population.2 With females laying several nests each season with about a hundred eggs in each nest, you might think the Atlantic would be totally overrun with loggerheads. Unfortunately, these guys are threatened with extinction. Only about 1 in 4,000 baby sea turtles hatched in Florida make it to adulthood and being an adult comes with its own dangers.3

From about April to August females drag themselves out of the ocean onto beaches where they lay their eggs in a depression in the sand that they excavate with their flippers. After about 60 days of heating up under the sand, tiny 2-inch long loggerheads hatch out and make their way to the ocean2.

After loggerheads hit the ocean, they are out there for a long time and won’t return to the Atlantic coast for 6 to 12 years. Folks didn’t know where they went for so long but now we know a lot more about where they go and how they perform their amazing 8,000 mile long-distance migration across the Atlantic. Loggerheads travel across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back again using an inherited magnetic map to guide them along earth’s magnetic field and taking advantage of ocean currents like the Gulf Stream, which help them to travel faster and with less effort.3

Sea turtles have a lot of problems to deal with. Apart from being totally edible 2 in. turtles, tens of thousands of them are killed or injured by fishing lines and traps yearly. Also, nesting populations all along the Atlantic are in significant decline.4  Conservation efforts like wire cages placed over nests to keep predators away can also have a negative impact by messing with hatchling magnetic maps.3 These guys need our help! So have the TED talk with your local fisherpeople (Turtle Exclusion Device talk), take up sea turtle research, or volunteer at a nesting beach if you can.

Powerfact!: Hundreds of species of animals and 37 types of algae can live on the back of a single loggerhead! These guys are like mobile reefs supporting a community of organisms on their backs. Also, loggerheads can look like they are crying sometimes, but they’re just expelling excess salt from salt glands near their eyes.5

References:

1. Animal Diversity Web: Caretta caretta

2.  Oceana.org: Migration of sea turtle

3. Livescience: Loggerhead turtle migration

4. Oceana: Species at risk-Loggerhead sea turtle 

5. Wikipedia: Loggerhead

 

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Casuarius casuarius

casuariuscasuarius“The inner or second of the three toes is fitted with a long, straight, murderous nail which can sever an arm or eviscerate an abdomen with ease. There are many records of natives being killed by this bird.”-Thomas E. Gilliard, Living Birds of the World, 1958.2

Southern cassowaries, Casuarius casuarius, get a tough reputation. They are formidable birds for sure. At 5-6 feet tall and up to 187 lbs they are the 2nd heaviest and 3rd tallest bird in the world.1 And with 5-inch dagger sharp claws on each foot and an ability to jump up to 5 feet in the air, they can mess up a human if necessary.2

But the truth is these very shy, solitary, shaggy, bewattled, veloceraptor-meets ostrich-looking, flightless birds probably just want to be left alone in whatever rainforest habitat they have left in New Guinea, Indonesia, and northeastern Australia to eat some fruit, have some babies, and splash in a stream. And while they are capable of killing humans and their dogs, they seem to be injured and killed by humans and dogs far more often.  Habitat destruction and fragmentation have brought cassowaries into closer contact with people. Together habitat destruction, hunting, and road kills are putting so much hurt on the southern cassowary that it is endangered in its tiny range in Australia and vulnerable across the rest of its range.2

If you want to have a good cry I recommend the documentary “BBC Natural World-Cassowaries”. Maybe it’s those eyes, their human-like size, their charming, awkward movements, their sort of helpless, out-of-place presence in the Australian suburbs, whatever it is, you really feel for them.

It just seems hard to be a cassowary (from a human point of view). Besides the getting hunted and run over by cars and losing their habitat, their general life histories don’t sound like much fun.  They are solitary and violently territorial. Cassowaries will avoid other cassowaries or else engage in dominance fights. Females are bigger and tougher than males.  They mate with multiple males during the breeding season while the males build the nest, incubate the young, and raise the chicks (this part actually looks pretty nice minus the high chick mortality rate). If a male and his chicks, who hang out together for several months post-hatching, ever come across the mother of those chicks, they better run for it because that mother will attack all of them if they aren’t careful.3 And they do all this over an average lifespan of 40-50 years.2

POWERFACTS!: Cassowaries’ calls have the lowest frequency of any known bird call. We can barely hear it. One of the hypotheses for the function of the head casque (that thing on its head) is that it amplifies the deep bellowing sounds they make. Some other thoughts are that it helps them charge through thick forest vegetation (they can run up to 30 mph through dense tropical forest!!), that it is used as a weapon in disputes, or that it helps guard their head from falling fruit.2

  1. Wiki Southern cassowary
  2. Wiki Cassowaries
  3. BBC Natural World-Cassowaries (YouTube)
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Gulo gulo

gulogulo

Gulo gulo, the wolverine a.k.a. the glutton, skunk bear, or nasty cat is a gnarly looking beast. It lives in arctic and subarctic areas in North America, Europe, and Asia where there are vast expanses of snow and ice-covered wilderness. Wolverines are solitary animals in need of huge snowy ranges. A single male can hold a 250 square mile territory that only overlaps with the few females that he mates with.1

These feisty weasels are built for a hardscrabble, snowy existence.  Their stocky bodies sport huge paws with long claws that act simultaneously like snow shoes and crampons, allowing them to cover long distances across snow-covered mountains with their floppy gallop. They run all over the place, swim just fine, climb trees no problem, whatever they need to do to TCB.3

Gulo gulo means gluttonous glutton, named after its enthusiastic eating style which you would probably have too if food were as hard to come by as it is during those long icy winters up there.  Wolverines are wildly opportunistic taking down live prey both smaller and much larger than themselves (like moose!) and scavenging every bit of the deadest, frozenest animals (they eat teeth, you guys!). Even though they are only as big as a medium-sized dog they won’t hesitate to fight a grizzly bear for access to food. They will fight for it and then spray it with their anal scent glands deterring other animals from eating it.3 Also they don’t hibernate.  But they will dig into burrows and eat hibernating animals.4 They’re kinda the toughest.

Because they require huge snowy ranges they are threatened by climate change and habitat encroachment. Folks also trap them for their super thick, frost-resistant fur.1 Not too much is known about these guys so hopefully more research and recognition for how cool they are will help us learn more and help them stick around.

POWERFACT!: This nasty cat is the largest land-dwelling weasel. It is also really smart and has been known to set off fur traps with sticks and also to carry them off and bury them.5

References: 1. Wolverine Wikipedia  2. www.livescience.com 3. PBS Nature: Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom 4. National Geographic  5. ADW

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Tyrannus tyrannus

tyrannustyrannusI love a black and white bird. I’ve said it time and again. Especially one with a little flash of bright orange feathers on the crown of its head that it keeps hidden most of the time.

I also love flycatchers. With their gradations from light to dark and the way they are always flitting from a telephone wire to grab an insect and doubling back again. They are subtle and lovely.

I especially love Tyrannus tyrannus flycatchers (Eastern kingbirds) because they are a good mix of subtle and lovely and unchecked aggression and badassery. They’re all aggressive during breeding season in North America, barely controlling themselves long enough to tolerate a mate and some young’uns.  Then winter comes and they’re all chummy with other tyrants, migrating and snacking and hanging together in the Amazon.  Territorial males will attack each other in the air, locking feet, and pulling feathers while also performing delicate aerial partner displays with a mate.  They’ll sometimes lay eggs in other tyrants’ nests while being devoted parents to those in their own. They’ll daintily pluck insects out of the air while on the wing and then regurgitate wads of gnarly insect exoskeletons. They’ll artfully catch a frog and then beat it against a branch before swallowing it whole.

These tyrants may be beautiful but they aren’t messing around.

Powerfact!?!: Jules thinks that their great great great great grandfather must have been a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

References: All About Birds

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Cardinalis cardinalis

cardinalucardinalusYou probably know what a cardinal is. You’ve probably seen them a lot and heard them a lot. They are pretty, noisy, territorial, non-migrating, songbirds with thick seed-crackin beaks and bold crests. They look great in the snow in front of a spruce or something.

They live in woodlands, swamps, and yards in the eastern US and down through Mexico. There are four subspecies in the US, one of which, found in the eastern part of the cardinal’s range, is Cardinalis cardinalis cardinalis (!). They are monogamous with both males and females singing and sticking together year round.1

POWERFACT!: Folks have recorded sightings of rare half-male half-female cardinals (gynandromorphs). They look really cool.

References: National Geographic

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