Thursday, 23 February 2017

Fingered Dragonet

Image: Nick Hobgood
Tiny dragons can do a lot with a finger or two!

And a bit of lipstick, apparently.

Image: Klaus Stiefel
Yellow lipstick!
Not all Fingered Dragonets have lipstick, but they do all have a pair of fingers.

They have to. It's right there in their name!

Image: Bernard DUPONT
The genus Dactylopus, which means 'finger foot,' contains just two species.

Only one of them is known as the Fingered Dragonet, and that's the one called Dactylopus dactylopus. Yup, it's so 'finger-footed' they named it twice.


Video: Bubblebloke

Having said that, Kuiter's Dragonet (D. kuiteri) is just as finger-footed. So, there's that.

Both species are widespread in the Indo-Pacific region and reach about 15 cm (6 in) long.

Image: prilfish
Like other Dragonets, they have a tall and extremely fetching dorsal fin.

Unlike other Dragonets, they also have two fingers, each one made out of a single spine of their pectoral fins.


Fingered Dragonets are very much bottom-dwellers who make their way over the sea floor, half swimming, half dragging themselves by the fingers.

They're also bottom-feeders... but they're the nicest bottom-feeders you could ever hope to meet. Honest. They vacuum up tiny copepods and the like by shooting out their small, downward-pointing mouths.

Image: Bernard DUPONT
While all that's going on, the Fingered Dragonet is covered in all the mottled colours it needs to go unseen on the sea floor. And if things get really bad and a predator comes prowling, the Fingered Dragonet can quickly bury itself in the sand to leave only a pair of wary eyes poking out.

It's only a very little dragon, after all!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Roughty-tufty Legs

Image: Aleksey Gnilenkov
Exoskeletons are pretty great; it's one of my favourite things about insects. Who can say no to your own custom-made suit of armour, precisely moulded to every contour of your body and available in a wide range of exciting colours to suit every taste?

There's just one problem: bulging muscles. Exoskeletons simply lack the flexibility to show off a rippling bicep to best effect. No matter. Some insects have found other options...



Video: Video Like
Aristobia approximator
Common Tuft-bearing Longhorn Beetle
OK, so those aren't roughty-toughty legs, but they're definitely tufty antennae. Which is close enough for something called A. approximator.

The Common Tuft-bearing Longhorn comes from Thailand and it's pretty big at some 3.5 cm (1.4) long. It's also gorgeous with that 'slowly cooling molten lava' look. And that's about all the information to be had! I'm not even sure what those tufts are for. Things like that are usually used by males to sniff out females but in this case, I don't even know if males are the only ones that have them.


Image: Gilles San Martin
Gomphocerus sibiricus
Siberian Grasshopper
Now, this is roughty-toughty! Look at the biceps on that!

Those aren't biceps are they?

Look at the... wrist blobs on that.

Siberian Grasshoppers like to keep things chill. They can indeed be found in Siberia, but they can also be found everywhere from Spain to parts of China. But they don't live in the hot parts of Spain or France or anywhere else. They live more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) up in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Carpathians and other mountain ranges.

Only the males have those Popeye wrists. Why? I have no idea! Maybe it's just to show how big and tough they are. They could have got themselves some warm, feathery tufts or a nice jumper. They got wrist blobs, instead. I, for one, am impressed.


Image: Katja Schulz
Platypalpus discifer
Platypalpus discifer
This tiny fly reaches a mere 2.6 millimetres (0.1 in) in length and comes from eastern North America. It belongs to the Hybotidae family, also known as Dance Flies.

They're called Dance Flies because some of them have a habit of running around in complex patterns on tree bark. Cute! Until they pounce on an even tinier fly and eat it. Do tiny dancing shoes help P. discifer dance even better? No idea!


Image: ron_n_beths pics
Ptilocnemus lemur
Feather-legged Assassin Bug
Ah, yes. Here comes the dark side of the tufted leg. The Feather-legged Assassin Bug is 1 cm (0.4 in) long and found in eastern Australia, where it's commonly found hanging out on eucalyptus trees. It's a specialised hunter of ants. Specialised... and dastardly.

It starts, as surely it must, with those extraordinary legs of theirs. That's right, they walk! Once they reach the edge of an industrious trail of ants, things get a little more sinister.


The Feather-legged Assassin waves its legs around, attracting the attention of nearby ants. Then it secretes a substance from certain glands on the underside of its abdomen. It quickly becomes clear that whatever that substance is, ants find it... fascinating.

Passing ants are intrigued, beguiled, bewitched by the smell of something delicious in the air. They lick their lips, or do whatever the insect equivalent is with their mandibles. They draw closer, and the Feather-legged Assassin obliges them by raising its body so they can get a good sniff of that intoxicating aroma. One ant can resist no more. It gives that delicious substance a taste and...

Is paralysed. Now the Assassin Bug can stab it in the head and suck out its innards. It's like an assassin's honey trap only with actual honey. Really, really delicious but also poisonous honey.


Image: Robert Whyte
Stephanopis barbipes
Brush-legged Crab Spider
We've gone through all the major insect appendages so here's a bonus spider! S. barbipes is a small Crab Spider from eastern Australia. Females are up to 0.7 cm long (0.3 in) and rather brown and drab. They're not exactly pretty, but they're well camouflaged as they rest on bark, their long, powerful, front four legs eager to grapple prey.

Males, by contrast, are about half the size, at least twice as colourful and have 'bearded legs,' which is what barbipes means. Why do they have bearded legs? No idea! They wave them around sometimes so maybe they use them to court females. And by 'court' I of course mean 'ask permission to get really close and not get eaten.'

That would make sense. All in all, however, I think I've discovered that most roughty-tufty legs are entirely mysterious. They look cool, though, and it gives me lots of ideas for when I get my own exoskeleton. Can't wait!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Chinese Lantern

Image: Isfugl
The Chinese Lantern is a hardy perennial that will provide you with all the natural, biodegradable paper lanterns you could ever want!

(Candles sold separately)

Image: Isfugl
It's also known by such delightful names as Winter Cherry and Strawberry Groundcherry, as well as less appealing names like Bladder Cherry. No-one seems to call it the Winter Tomato or the Groundtomato or the Hot Air Tomato or anything else to do with tomatoes. I guess tomatoes are less romantic and ice-creamy than cherries, but the Chinese Lantern is at least part of the nightshade family, just like the tomato.

It reaches up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall and can be found from the Caucasus just east of Europe, through to China. So at least they got (half) right.

Image: Jürgen Mangelsdorf
They bloom in the summer months, when lots of small, perfectly pentagonal flowers open. Then the sepals turn red and grow into that red, papery lantern.

The fruit develops within the plush shield, hidden from view and protected from pests. But then...

Image; flora cyclam
The lantern dries up. It turns white and crumbles away to leave a kind of leafy skeleton.

Suddenly the fruit is visible within an elaborate, gothic cage.

Image: Amadej Trnkoczy
And they look like tomatoes! They don't taste like them, though. And they don't taste like cherries either. They're edible, just not very nice.

Shame. It would have been so convenient if they were delicious fruit growing in their own paper, gift bags!

Image: Kevin Krebs
Also the gift bag is poisonous. It may not look like much, but that paper lantern is provides effective protection to those precious, seed-packed fruit.

And, of course, they look lovely! This, along with the fact that they're easy to care for, means that Chinese Lanterns are now found in gardens all over Europe and North America. All they need is a bit of light and not too much frost, and there's a good chance they'll do well. Maybe even too well.

Image: Christian S.
Chinese Lanterns have no respect for borders, least of all flower bed borders. They send out rhizomes which sprout into new plants that can easily take over the whole garden and beyond, becoming an invasive species in numerous countries. Suddenly that beautiful, ornamental plant that brightened up the corner of the garden is a weed - the right plant in the wrong place - an unstoppable nemesis clad in poison hearts and skeleton cages.

On the bright side, it's your very own Chinese lantern festival! Whether you like it or not.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Strawberry Squid

Histioteuthis heteropsis
You've seen werewolves versus vampires. You've marvelled at Alien versus Predator. You've wondered what on earth is going on at zombies versus Jane Austen. Now it's time to quake in your boots at the thought of...

Terminator versus Cthulhu!


"I'll be fhtagn."

Also a strawberry got involved somewhere along the way.


You don't need weird, robot eyes to see where the Strawberry Squid got its name from. It looks like a strawberry, what with that lovely rosy colour and a spattering of luminescent photophores that look just like strawberry seeds. But they're also part of the Histioteuthidae family, known as Cock-eyed Squid. You don't need weird, robot eyes to figure out how they got that name, either. It's because of their weird robot eye.

When not destroying their creators, breaking out of their programming, or teaching us all about the law of unintended consequences, robots tend mostly to be useful. The Strawberry Squid's robot eye is no exception.

This squid lives at depths between 200 and 1,000 metres (600 to 3000 feet), in what's known as the twilight zone. This realm is gloomy with the remnants of sunlight, intrepid photons that have managed to delve deep into the sea and escaped absorption by the water. It's not as bright as the sunny shallows above, but neither is it as dark as the bleak depths below.


The Strawberry Squid drifts through the ocean, tentacles down, but at a slight angle. The smaller, normal eye points down, seeking out the flash of light from bioluminescent creatures in the darkness below. Easy work if you can get it! Spotting a bit of light in a lot of darkness is pretty much Eyesight 101.

The robot eye has more difficult work to do, which is why it's up to twice the size of the normal one. It has the kind of amazing night vision we see in deep sea fish like the Pacific Barreleye. With it, the Strawberry Squid can discern the very slight shadows of fish, shrimp and other prey swimming overhead.

They can also keep an eye on things while old Cthulhu lounges about in R'lyeh for eons unending. Someone has to do it.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Poltys

Image: Bernard DUPONT
It's a leaf.

A perfectly honest, perfectly innocent leaf, shivering in the wind.

Image: Robert Whyte
Tree Stump Spider (Poltys illepidus)
It's a twig.

A perfectly honest... twig...

Image: Robert Whyte
With... legs?

It's a spider!

Image: Robert Whyte
A spider, swathed in the robes of deceit, the pose of lies, the legs of duplicity, and the weird pointy bit of treachery.

In other words... camouflage (dun dun DUHHHHNN)!

Image: Vijay Anand Ismavel
It's pretty good camouflage (or mimicry), too.

There are more than 40 spiders in the genus Poltys, found in sub-Saharan Africa and the entire region from India to Japan and down to Australia.


Video: 自然谷

They build orb webs of traditional style each night, hopefully catching a few moths to make it all worthwhile.

As morning dawns, it's time to rest up. But the world is a dangerous place for a small spider, so they hide from it. And where better to hide than in plain view? Plain view is huge! If you can hide there, they'll never find you.


Video: hetaenn

Poltys spiders hug their little wood-looking legs against their little wood-looking bodies and suddenly it's not a spider anymore. It's a little wood-looking thing.

Or leaf-looking, depending on colour, texture and the dimensions of the weird pointy bit. Usually. the weirdest, pointiest ones look exactly like a dried up leaf stem.

Image: Bernard DUPONT
Tailed Spider (Poltys mouhoti)
Next time you invite a house plant to your home...

Be careful! It might be covered in SPIDERS!

Image: Robert Whyte
Next time you go out tree-hugging...

Oh no! You're hugging SPIDERS!

Image: Patrick Randall
What eight legs you have, grandma.

All the better to actually be a SPIDER with!

Friday, 10 February 2017

Fish-scale Gecko


Image: Arthur Anker
Look at those scales! It's not a mere suit of armour, it's a suit of shields!
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