Sunday, 10 December 2017

Iridescent Bark Mantis

Image: Frupus
Metallyticus splendidus
Iridescent Bark Mantis?

Or a cockroach dressed up for disco night?

Did you know that mantids are basically cockroaches who turned predatory and became extremely good at catching prey?

Image: Frupus
The cockroach's weapon of choice was a series of sturdy spikes on its forelegs, which gradually evolved into a set of raptorial appendages. Quite a few insects opted for the same weaponry, one of my favourites being the Ochtheran Mantis Fly. Cockroaches just happen to be among the most successful wielders of the raptorial blade.

Most mantids don't look all that much like roaches, what with their dignified poise and their head perched atop an elegant neck (which must work great for prey-spotting because it's something they share with Mantisflies. Great minds, dear boy. Great minds!). But there are some mantids that prefer to keep their nose to the ground or, in this case, the bark.

Several different species and genera are referred to as Bark Mantids because they scamper about on trees, hunting prey. Most of them rely on brown colours and barky patterns for camouflage...

The Iridescent Bark Mantis... not so much.

These guys strut their stuff in Southeast Asia, looking as bright and beautiful as a Tiger Beetle. But while Tiger Beetles put all their killing prowess into their formidable mandibles, Iridescent Bark Mantids put it all into their equally formidable forelegs.

It's all good! So long as there are some sharpened points with a bit of muscle behind them, those prey items will drop like flies.

Image: Frupus
Wingless nymph
Mantids are one of those insects that don't go through an enormous metamorphosis during their lifetime. No maggot or caterpillar stage for them, young mantids look almost exactly like wingless versions of their parents.

In Iridescent Bark Mantids, it turns out adults are relatively demure. Without wings to cover themselves up, nymphs are even more colourful with their red legs, yellow wingcases and a pair of spots near their tail.

You can almost imagine the arguments: "Where do you think you're going dressed like that?"
"But mum, it's disco night!"

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Liguus Tree Snail

Image: Rafy Rodriguez
Liguus virgineus
You don't have to take a dip in the ocean to be wowed by a beautiful gastropod.

Some of them are right there in the trees!

Image: Claude & Amandine EVANNO
Liguus vittatus
Liguus is a small genus containing five species of tropical snail.

Most are very particular about where they call home. L. flammellus. for example, is restricted to forests in the rocky Mogotes of Pinar del Rio, a province in western Cuba. Three other species have similarly tiny distributions in Cuba and another lives only in Hispaniola.

Image: Miguel Vieira
Florida Tree Snail (Liguus fasciatus)
Then there's the Florida Tree Snail. This is definitely the territorial winner, being found in both Cuba and Hispaniola, as well as southern Florida. That's as widespread as these snails get.

Regardless of their level of success in that regard, Luguus Tree Snails all have a lot in common. For one, they're all gorgeous! Take a gander at those smooth, shiny shells! It looks like someone painstakingly painted them with a tiny paintbrush but those stripes are all-natural, baby!

Image: Phil
Florida Tree Snail as a dollop of sunshine
They're not small, either, reaching some 7 cm (3 in) long.

While most people only recognise five species these days, there used to be a lot more.

Image: Claude & Amandine EVANNO
Varieties of Liguus fasciatus
The thing with the Florida Tree Snail in particular, is that it's incredibly variable. It may be just one species, but that shell can come in a bewildering array of colours and patterns. So many that this single species has been organized into over 100 subspecies.

Liguus Tree Snails certainly call attention to themselves with their appearance, but their lifestyle is quite the opposite. They spend their time hanging out on trees, grazing on moss, algae and lichen.

And they know how to keep the crowd asking for more. Liguus Tree Snails hide from the limelight during the dry season, roughly between November and May. That's when most of them avoid drying out by sealing up their shell with mucus and sleeping for about half a year.

Liguus Tree Snails have high standards. These glamourous snails won't get out of bed for less than a rainy season. Those divas with their outrageous demands!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Social Feather Duster Worm

Image: Nick Hobgood
Bispira brunnea
It's the cluster duster!

In my experience, feather dusters are often gregarious—I usually find them in packs of three or four, sometimes six—but the Social Feather Duster Worm puts those numbers to shame!

Image: James St. John
Social Feather Dusters are polychaete worms who have given up on the worming, squirming lifestyles typical of so many of their relatives. No crawling around or burrowing through the seabed for them, these guys are homeowners! They even build their house with their own two hands body in general.

There are lots of feather dusters and fanworms like the Coco Worm and the Red-spotted Horseshoe. The Social Feather Duster Worm differs from most others in that, well, it's social. They like to hang out with their friends, create a little community, play whist and bridge instead of freecell and solitaire.

Image: Sean Nash
Social Feather Dusters are found in the Caribbean, living in clumps of up to 100 individuals. Each worm constructs a tough, parchment-like tube out of mucusy secretions strengthened with grains of sand and bits of shell. These tubes are securely anchored to rocks on the seabed because while they own their own home, they still like to keep their feet body in general close to ground level.

An individual worm can reach 2 cm (0.8 in) long, not that you'll ever get to see that. Social Feather Dusters are real homebodies who are loath to leave their tubes. The most they'll do is peek through the door to show off their exquisite crowns to the world outside.

Image: jome jome
This crown is made up of numerous, feathery tentacles and, while they're certainly pretty, the Feather Duster isn't just showing off. That crown is great for funnelling tiny crumbs of food right into the worm's mouth.

Sure, those tentacles are basically cutlery but it's still a case of LOOK, DON'T TOUCH. Darken a Feather Duster's door with your threatening shadow and those beautiful feathers will disappear as the worm retreats, deep into its tube. One can never be too careful with one's crown jewels.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


Image: Bernard DUPONT
I hope you like legs...

Image: Bernard DUPONT
Because Thereuopods sure do!

Image: Bernard DUPONT
Thereuopoda is a small genus of centipedes containing just four species found in various parts of Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

They belong to the order Scutigeromorpha, the same as the infamous House Centipede, and they look nigh on identical. Only larger. Quite a lot larger. The body might be about 8 cm (3 in) long, but if you include the incredibly long antennae and back legs, a really big one might push 30 cm (a foot) in total length.

Image: Bernard DUPONT
No matter how big they get they're still House Centipede types, so they race around on fifteen pairs of legs, ducking and diving in dark, damp habitats under stones, among leaf litter or in caves. And if your bathroom or basement is a bit like a cave, well, I'm sure they'd be grateful.

Why not spread the love? Dump a compost heap in there and invite some earthworms along, you animal lover, you!


Thereuopods look incredibly fragile with all those dainty legs splayed out in all directions, but don't be deceived! Centipedes are ferocious predators and members of Thereuopoda are no different.

Few centipedes can cause any real harm to humans but they are venomous. They don't have a venomous bite, though. They have a venomous... stamp?

Image: Lopez Gutierrez B, MacLeod N, Edgecombe G
Stinger feet
Centipedes are so unbelievably blessed in the leg department that they can afford to repurpose a pair for uses other than walking. Yup, venomous legs! Now they can stamp their front feet to sting prey and deliver the venom.

Cute, curly grapple-legs!

Their other legs are useful for the hunt, too. Thereuopods use them to grapple with cockroaches and silverfish, pinning them down as the venom takes effect.

It is, in fact, truly horrifying. Be glad that centipedes like this aren't even bigger than they already are. Be very glad, indeed.

Image: Thomas Brown
Speaking of gratitude, Thereuopods and other Scutigeromorphs are probably more grateful for their legs than most centipedes. While adults have fifteen pairs, newly hatched youngsters have a mere seven. They add another pair of legs each time they moult until they finally reach their adult ensemble.

I guess you need to learn to walk (on seven pairs of legs) before you can run (on fifteen pairs of legs).

Friday, 17 November 2017

Cold Sea Balloon... OF DEATH!

It's a drawstring bag of death! It's a bin liner of doom!

No, it's... er...

Space Invaders 3D
We first saw this flimsy sack of alienage back in 2012, when people who had no idea what they were looking at suggested it might be a placenta of whale.

Thankfully, more knowledgeable folks stepped in to clarify. It was actually a Deepstaria. In other words, a jellyfish of deep sea.

Jellyfish are weird. Everyone knows that. They don't have a face. They don't have flippers or fins or anything like that, either but... no face! I mean... How...? Never mind. Jellyfish is as jellyfish does, and they do it with an abundance of tentacles and a pulsing bell.

So what can poor, deep sea jellies do to make themselves even weirder?

Here's one solution: ease up on the tentacles and max out the bell until you're essentially a gigantic bag. Sorted!

Video: EVNautilus

Deepstaria jellyfish can reach up to a metre (3.3 ft) across and have completely given up on trying to catch a tasty morsel at the end of a tentacle. Instead, their entire body is one enormous trap. Anything unfortunate enough to swim into that gigantic bell finds their world slowly shrinking into nothing as the bell closes around them like a drawstring bag.

Once successfully bagged, it's thought that the prey would try to escape and only succeed in bumping into stinging cells (of death) on the inner side of the bell. Once they're weak or paralyzed, the body could be conveyed by waving cilia to its final resting place: the mouth at the top of the jellyfish.

Deepstaria are covered in a kind of mesh made up of canals that convey nutrients throughout its vast body, and you know, I have to admit it looks quite attractive. If my bin liner could absorb banana peels and look good doing it, I don't think I'd complain.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Cloak of the Vampire Squid

All other vampires are jealous of the Vampire Squid's beautiful, silky cloak.

Look how it shines! Count Dracula may as well be wearing cardboard compared to this!

Video: EVNautilus

These exceptional cephalopods are the only species in an order all of their own: Vampyromorphida. Their closest relatives are the octopuses and they do indeed share a lot in common with deep sea cirrate octopods like the Dumbo and the Blind Octopus. One look and you can see the flappy ear fins and the eight, webbed arms each lined with strange spines, or cirri.

But! Take a closer look and you'll find they also have a tough, internal structure called a gladius or pen. These are common in squid but absent in octopods. And if you catch one having a meal you'll get to see a pair of bizarre filaments that may well be a fifth pair of highly modified arms and are completely unknown in squid and octopods.

Vampire Squids really are in a class of their own and if any octopus or squid can match them in shininess I'd love to see it!
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