Cover pic from Pixabay: Jumping Spider
What you never knew you wanted to know about animals – but you really do
Did you know that –
Can actually taste sunshine? Yes, I did say ‘taste’. They don’t have eyes. Which makes sense since they’re underground most of the time. But on the odd occasion they do pop up, they taste light with LITE-1, a protein from a family of taste-receptors. LITE-1 enables these little animals to taste light 50 times better than we humans can see it via light-receptors in our eyes. I wonder what it tastes like.
Can grow themselves a magnificent mane of fur, exactly like their mate, the King of Beasts? Five lionesses in Botswana are the living proof of this strange anomaly. One is even going around roaring like a male, and ahem, humping other females. The world has more than enough testosterone already thanks ladies.
‘Listen’ with the hairs on their legs? So, without ears, they can hear us talking from right across the other side of the room. That leg hair vibrates in response to sound waves from our voices, which in turn triggers neural signals to the eight-leggers’ brain. Fortunately, they can’t actually make out what we’re shrieking: ‘Get that spider out of here!’ To them it just sounds like a really bad phone connection. I never say that by the way. I’m a big fan.
Help make wine? It’s true! Yeast is the magic alchemy that turns grapes into wine. And where does the yeast comes from? Wasps’ guts, would you believe. Certain wasps store wild yeasts in their guts over winter. When the wasps feast on the following year’s grape harvest the yeasts are left behind on the fruit. No glass of velvety hints-of-citrus chardonnay without our winemaking friends the wasps.
Ratites (nothing to do with rats!)
the biggest birds in the world and flightless to boot, make for ‘stellar dads and unusual lovers’? The ratites are the emus, ostriches, cassowaries, kiwis and rheas.
All male ratites (except ostriches) are super-dads. They both incubate the eggs and take care of the chicks after they are hatched.
So now to the interesting bit, the big birds’ love life. Very unusually in birds, ratites have penises, “really dense, collagenous penises” that they push out of their body cavity to mate. Truly. What can I say?
A Never Before Seen Chinese Spider
Camouflages itself to look exactly like a leaf? And that’s not all. To make the disguise even more convincing, s/he picks dead leaves up off the ground, drags them up the tree to its chosen twig and attaches them there with spider silk. It’s a case of spot the one among many that isn’t actually a leaf. The creature was finally rumbled when an unusually sharp-eyed arachnologist noticed suspicious glints of silk apparently attaching leaves to a tree. On closer inspection and to his great surprise, one of the leaves turned out to be a very cunning creature, until that moment completely unknown to humans. And probably also to its prey until sadly it’s too late for them.
Can express opinions and tell us if they’re too hot, too cold, and if they want their blanket on or not? The only thing about this news hot off the press that I find surprising is the scientists’ wonderment at discovering what they never knew before – that equids have the ‘intelligence’ to communicate with us. I imagine the horses would be laughing up their sleeves, if they had sleeves to laugh up.
The leader of this particular piece of research told the BBC, “Horses are often considered to be not very intelligent but this shows that using the right methods they can actually communicate and express their opinions and they can take choices that seem sensible to us even.“ Oh, the arrogance of the human race vis a vis the nonhuman animal kingdom knows no bounds!
I think it says far more about humans’ clodhopping inability to understand other creatures than it does about the latter’s abilities, don’t you?
American Burying Beetles
Have some freaky mating fetishes? Yes, we’re back to That again. But this is courtship as you’ve never known it. The male beetle has a uniquely bizarre way of getting ready for love. No bunches of red roses for his beloved. What he likes to sniff out for her is a nicely rotting corpse. And why not. It seems he can smell a carcass (small mammal or bird) from miles away – well, at least two miles, which is still pretty impressive.
He uses the ‘scent’ to lure the female to the spot and together they go to town ripping fur (or feathers) from the cadaver. Then they roll what’s left into a ball, ‘seasoning’ it with their oral and anal secretions. Eek.
The next step is equally macabre. They bury the carcass ‘ball’ in a grave lined with its own fur or feathers. Once the task is completed, it’s ‘down to business’. Finally, the now fertilised eggs are deposited in a tunnel right next to the grave. When the baby burying beetles hatch there’s a tasty well-‘seasoned’ corpse right there for them to feast on. Go beetles!
And on that somewhat gruesome note we must end this episode of the weird and wonderful. I’m sure there will be more to come.
If you want to know more about worms loving the taste of sunshine, click here
If you want to know more about be-maned lionesses and see a photo of this oddity of nature, click here
If you want to know more about spiders’ hearing with their hairy legs, click here
If you want to know more about wasps and wine, click here
If you want to know more about ratite dads & lovers, click here
If you want to have a go yourself at spotting the cunning Chinese leaf spider, click here Update 13th December 2016 Scientists have now chosen the binomial Latin tag for this newly-discovered creature. They think it’s odd shape resembles the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and have named it after the hat’s original owner Godric Gryffindor. So it’s official. The trickster is called Eriovixia gryffindori. Eriovixia denotes its genus, and gryffindori this particular species. Click the link for some good pics.
If you want to know how the horsey ‘take my blanket off’ discovery was made, click here
If you want to know more about the corpse-sniffing American burying beetle, click here