Monday, 3 August 2015

Worm in a Wig?

We all know how dark and drab it is in the abyssal depths of the sea. All is inky blackness, with the bottom composed primarily of deserts of mud decorated with drab stones.

So it's wonderful when the denizens of the deep come forward to add a bit of colour and light to the place. From the myriad of luminescent organs to the pink corals and glowing sponges, everyone is trying to spruce up their surroundings a little.

Video: EVNautilus

Even the worms!

Apparently this is some kind of terebellid, or spaghetti worm. It looks somewhat chunkier than the ones found in shallow waters. More eye-catching too, with its clownish wig of bright yellow tentacles.

Spaghetti worms usually hide in burrows with only their tentacles emerging to catch food, but the deep sea is where the meek inherit the earth! So this guy appears comfortable just resting on the sea floor, hiding under his wig. He can also use it to swim away and escape the unwanted attentions of curious, robot arms.

Those robot arms have been getting way too curious, lately. Sometimes they're downright impolite!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Ladder Lichen

Image: Richard Droker
Cladonia verticillata
It's the very latest development in pixie architecture...


Image: Andrew K
As technology continues its indomitable ascent and the power of magic slowly wanes, many pixies have found their ability to teleport increasingly unreliable. Many a pixie has found themselves caught short and have had to fend off beetles and ants using nothing but a twig and a sturdy leaf.

The answer is ladders.

Image: Andrew K
Ladder Lichens are found all over the northern hemisphere, in parts of North America, Europe, north Africa and Asia.

Their proper name is Cladonia cervicornis subsp verticillata, because they're an extremely vertical subspecies of a a lichen which is usually a lot more shrubby and leafy.

Image: Richard Droker
This more vertical variety is formed of numerous towering tiers, each one growing out of the top of the last.

Not only does it make for a good ladder, the pixies even have little platforms so they can stop for a rest as they climb!

Image: Elizabeth Sellers
Man, I just love those pixie villages!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Jelly and Tadpoles are a Bad Mix

Image: UAF
You can't be too picky about what you eat when you live in the Arctic. If you insist on residing amid such bitter cold and ice, you better be prepared for that layer of blubber that clings to everything you eat. Perhaps that's why most Comb Jellies stick to warm, tropical climes.

Most, but not all!

Image: Elisabeth Calvert
Mertensia ovum
Like those other, sun-loving Comb Jellies, the ones that lurk beneath or near Arctic sea ice are basically gelatinous bags that swim around in search of prey. They swim using 8 rows of tiny cilia that look like regiments of eyelashes that fall like dominoes and then raise up again Mexican wave style. They catch their food using two, long tentacles each armed with numerous sticky cells that ensnare prey.

Usually copepods and shrimp make for good eating but... they can also catch other things. And eat them. Even though they're composed almost entirely of stuff they don't want to eat.

Video: Our Oceans
Dryodora gladiformis (?) eating and not eating

Enter the Larvacean. These tiny creatures look just like tadpoles and are related to sea squirts, who also look just like tadpoles, but only when they're young larvae. Sea squirts grow up into weird jug things attached to the sea floor, Larvaceans on the other hand always look like tadpoles.

Sounds like good eating! But there's a great, big, somewhat snotty problem. Larvaceans feed by building a huge structure out of mucus called a "house". The Larvacean lives inside it, carrying it along as it swims and using it to filter out plankton.

To get at the Larvacean, a hungry Comb Jelly has to eat the entire house along with its resident! And its no gingerbread house, either. It's mucus. And even Comb Jellies think that's a bit nasty. So the Comb Jelly opens wide (VERY wide! Because it's basically a gelatinous bag, remember?) and regurgitates the house whilst keeping hold of the Larvacean.

It makes me wonder what kind of strange, internal gymnastics the Comb Jelly might have done to achieve such a trick. Or did the Larvacean just wriggle out and the Comb Jelly was all "welcome to your new house. Sorry for the lack of amenities but not to worry, you shan't be staying long. Bwaaahahahahaaaa!"

I don't know if Comb Jellies do those kind of sinister quips but it's good to see that if you can't deal with the blubber yourself, indigestion will do it for you.


Big thanks to Will for bringing this most impressive gob to my attention!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Harlequin Shrimp

Image: Carmel Vernia
Hymenocera picta
Wow, what a beauty!

Shame it's just a pretty veneer surrounding a dark heart of sadistic evil...

Image: Steve Childs
I think by now we have all grown accustomed to the terrible truth of the depths of evil that lie behind the false smile of the clown. Behind those thick, blood-red lips are teeth - possibly sharpened to a point - that doubtless know the taste of human flesh.

But what of his brother in slapstick. the harlequin?

Image: Daniel Kwok
Obviously the sickening core of the harlequin - his maleficent essence - has, like that of the clown, been with us since time immemorial, lurking in shadow, nightmare and just beyond the corner of the human eye. However, his harlequin form dates back to late 16th century French and Italian theatre, where he was a masked acrobatic type in a chequered costume who jumped, tumbled and cartwheeled his way into the hearts of the viewing public.

The poor, benighted fools.

Video: Thechanhoyuen
Dancing the Devil's dance

His shrimp counterpart bears certain similarities.

They're found in warm coral reefs from Madagascar and the Red Sea all the way to Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands, via northern Australia and southeast Asia. They reach a mere 5 cm (2 in) long but that doesn't stop them catching the eye with their pearly white body and harlequin-like patches of bright, pastel colour.

Image: Steve Childs
If you dare to take a closer look you'll see they come armed with what appear to be utterly gigantic claws. The actual, snippy-snip pincers are quite small, or at least normal sized, but they have these huge, thin shields attached to them. They're like cheerfully costumed riot police ready for action... do they have undercover riot police at carnivals? Thumping their beautified shields to the music?

Between the claws is a collection of limbs that each end in a strange, flattened pad. When the shrimp holds them all together it looks something like a butterfly! Above that, between the eyes, are two long, petal-like antennae for sniffing out prey. It's all very pretty and dramatic. Not the least bit... sinister...

Image: Carmel Vernia
Harlequin Shrimp usually live in male/female pairs, females slightly larger than males. They seem to mate for life, and spend their days hidden away in crevices. As night falls the lovers emerge from their nest and seek out a romantic meal to share.

This is when the horror begins.

Image: Nemo's great uncle
Harlequins don't confine themselves to eating small things as befits their size. They turn their nose at plankton, detritus and other such fare that typically goes down well with morally upright shrimp. The Harlequin's refined palate won't even tolerate fish. No. Their delicacy of choice is starfish, big and small. They prowl the reefs until they find a promising victim and then they pick it up and drag it to their lair.

Back at home, the Harlequins turn the starfish on its back and use their pincers to snip off and eat its tube feet. The poor old starfish is almost helpless and only getting increasingly so as its tootsies are consumed.

Video: Earth Touch

Harlequins take their sweet time, as one should with a good meal, whispering sweet nothings in one another's ears as they tear off another piece of living star-flesh. They will also cut through its skin and feast on the softness within. They don't eat carrion, they like their food fresh, so they're careful to start at the extremities and make their way to the more vital organs of the central disk last of all.

Harlequins have even been seen feeding their victims to ensure they remain alive and tasty to the very end. It's an end that may take days to arrive. Days of agony. Eaten alive. Feet first. Who needs rosemary and thyme when you can season your food with suffering and agony?

Image: Tim Proffitt-White
Oh, but I couldn't eat a whole one
Perhaps I should mention that the word 'harlequin' seems to come from Hellequin, a giant who wielded a club and led a horde of demons in a chase after damned souls. In fact, the roots of harlequin are all rather mysterious and shrouded in the demonic, the pagan and the Wild.

The Harlequin Shrimp plays its part in a long tradition of evil...

Image: Chris Brown
Utter EVIL.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Bird of Paradise Fly

Image: ron_n_beths pics

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ambon Scorpionfish

Image: Steve Childs
Pteroidichthys amboinensis
I think the word we're looking for is "eyebrows"...
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