Sunday 21 June 2015

REAL monstrosa

Image: Jakob Fahr
Everyone knows beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what about monstrousness? Surely monstrousness is far more substantial and objective than the wispy, nebulous beauty that exists nowhere but our own minds? It's all about the bulging body parts and too many legs. Even scientists can see that.

Thus we have monstrosa, Latin for monster.

So let's check out some scientifically confirmed (with real science and white lab coats) monsters. By their name we shall know them. Or their face.

Image: Stephen C Smith
Hypsignathus monstrosus, mother and child
Hammerhead Bat
If you see a female Hammerhead Bat you might think, "she's not so hammer-headed", and you'd be right. Females look bright-eyed and quite foxy. And if you do see her you'll probably be looking up at one, or several, roosting in a tree in a central African forest.

Image: Jakob Fahr
Male and female
You might see a male nearby and then you'll say, "oooohh. Now he looks like a hammer! But he needs a new hammer. A completely different face would be even better". Yeah. It's the males who have the real hammerhead. He'll be an example of the biggest bat in Africa, with a wingspan of up to 97 cm (3 ft 3 in) across.

He's a fair bit bigger than the females but his head is even bigger than proportion demands. It is hammer-shaped, but the weird flaps make it look like a hammer that's seen far too much use. The reason for it is so he can be as noisy as possible. The chunky snout and weird stuff around the lips and chin enable the Hammerhead to HONK with resonance and volume. He's really a megaphone-head!

Hammerhead Bats are nocturnal and spend the night feeding on fruit, usually figs. Females are not very fussy as to the quality of their food but males are willing to fly several miles to find the very best, gourmet fare. This is probably because of the male's larger size and metabolic requirements but I'm sure a face like that requires a whole lot of alone time, too.

Gotta love those chocolate eyes, though!

Cerataspis monstrosa
Cerataspis monstrosa
It was the great mystery of our age for almost 200 years!

Who is Cerataspis monstrosa?

Image: BeachBumAgg
This elusive creature earned its monstrosal name in 1828 for the thick armour and bizarre spines that cloak its body. It was clear that this was the larva of some kind of crustacean, but which?

What does a baby C. monstrosa grow into?

Image: BeachBumAgg
These armour-clad tiddlers were repeatedly dredged up from the deep seas in various parts of the world but almost always in the belly of a tuna, dolphin fish or some other predator. Alas, this was no Jonah and the Whale scenario either. These were the mangled corpses of once vital, optimistic suits of armour slain in their youth. Monstrosity upon monstrosity! How I weep for thee!

It also meant that DNA analysis was impossible even in modern times. That was until 2009, when scientists happened upon a fresh, undigested specimen which they could finally analyse to their categorising heart's content. To the laboratory!

And the answer is... dramatic pause... raise eyebrow... deep breath... raise finger... sip of water... Plesiopenaeus armatus!

It turns out our bizarre baby grows up into a rare, deep sea shrimp known as P. armatus. I have never thought of armour and spikes as "childish things", but this particular shrimp still sets them aside as it matures into adulthood.

Still, P. armatus acquired that name in 1881, more than 50 years after C. monstrosa. That means C. monstrosa is the proper, official name while P. armatus is but a synonym. +1 monstrosa!

Crustaceans don't really need any help in the monster department. Monstrilloida is an entire order of peculiar, little-known copepods found in oceans all over the world! They get the name from one of the genera within the order, Monstrilla, which means "little monster".

Adult Monstrilloids are usually just a couple millimetres long and are found swimming with the plankton. Females are fairly stout and have a couple spikes sticking out of their hind quarters for carrying eggs around. Males are more slender and have antennae that are modified for grasping the female during mating.

For the adults, that's it! Mate, carry eggs to new place, done. They don't even have the mouthparts or guts for feeding!

Larval Monstrilloids are quite the opposite. They burrow into the flesh of worms, snails and other soft, bottom dwelling creatures. There they can do nothing BUT eat until they're developed enough to burrow out and swim away.

You know what's really weird? I said these guys are little-known but I did find a mention of them in a 1910 article(pdf) by American politician, trade unionist, socialist editor and Marxist theoretician, Daniel De Leon. Gotta keep abreast of those ideological tendencies!

Image: Apophysis666
Xenesthis monstrosa
Colombian Black Tarantula
No collection of monsters is complete without a great, big spider so here's a great big spider!

There's not much information to be had on this BEAST but what else is there to say? It's a huge tarantula with a legspan of some 23 cm (9 in). It comes from Colombia and it's as dark as your nightmares and has about as many legs. It also has rather mild venom and prefers to defend itself by flicking bristly hairs into your tender, questioning face. They itch so much you might actually prefer the venom.

Video: wargwind
Chimaera monstrosa

Rabbit Fish
No collection of monsters is complete without a rabbit! Er...

This is THE Rabbit Fish. Also known as THE Rat Fish. It belongs to a group known as Rabbitfish, Ratfish, Spookfish, Ghost Sharks, who-knows-what-else or Chimaeras. I guess they're called Chimaeras because they look like a rabbit's head and a rat's tail connected to a shark's body. Or perhaps it's the ghost of one?

Chimaeras are deep sea fish most closely related to sharks, though they diverged from sharks so long ago they're not all that closely related to them, either. They live in cold, dark depths, swimming rather weakly by flapping their pectoral fins.

This particular Chimaera comes from the north-eastern Atlantic region, from Iceland down to northern Africa and parts of the Mediterranean. They prefer depths of 300 to 500 metres (980-1,640 ft), sometimes more.

This Rabbit Fish is THE Rabbitfish because they can be found in Norway, where in the cold, dark winter months they get to explore shallow depths and feel just as comfortable as they would deeper down. Divers can say hello face-to-face, so it's the most often encountered Chimaera. Those divers just have to be careful not to get mesmerized by those enormous, light-hungry eyes or stabbed by the venomous spike on the dorsal fin. In fact, with skills like that, Chimaeras would make fantastic assassins!

Don't make a fish angry. No-one wants to get murdered by a rabbit.

Image: Mathesont
Dracotettix monstrosus
Grey Dragon Lubber
Dragon Lubbers are orthopterans on the grasshopper side of things (rather than the cricket side). They come from dry, rocky areas of California and bear camouflaging colours to suit. They have a really cool crest of spines just behind the head and don't seem to be overly concerned about getting anywhere. Their wings are too small for flight, they're rather clumsy when it comes to walking around on the ground...

Image: icosahedron
And females are simply absurd. They trundle along with these giant, sausage bodies trailing behind them. This is one dragon who's spent far too much time in the cave ordering home delivery damsels.

Image: Brad Smith
Cyphoderris monstrosa
Great Grig
It's the greatest of all Grigs! Gotta love the Grigs! You grok? You dig? You grig?


Grigs are beefy orthopterans, this time on the cricket side of things. Like the Chimaeras they're pretty darn ancient. Their closest living relatives are katydids and bush crickets but they diverged from them more than 230 million years ago. Now Grigs are found only in North America, Asia and the fossil record.

The Great Grig is the biggest one in America at up to 3 cm (1.2 in) long. They reside in the north west, from Canada to northern California where they feed predominantly on flowers. Unlike katydids who have impressively long wings, female Great Grigs have no wings at all and males have only short, puny ones that are useless for flight.

Video: Kevin Judge

This is a cricket-type thing, though, so naturally there are other uses for a pair of wings. The male sits head down on a tree trunk and rubs his wings together to attract a female. She's attracted. They mate. And while they do so the male makes use of his second pair of wings. Or, I guess, she does. She eats them. There they are on the tree, making sweet, sweet insect love, and she's eating his fleshy, nutritious wings.

You grig?

After that's over with and she runs off leaving him partially eaten, he's up and raring to go again! He sings some more and females apparently can't tell the difference between a fresh, young virgin and one who's been literally consumed by passion. So she hops on, becomes outraged at the realisation that he's got no living flesh for her to feast upon and tries to leave. But she can't disentangle herself for quite a while because the male has a kind of TRAP in his genital area that looks a bit like the nail-pulling end of a hammer. The male gets to mate all over again before the unfortunate - and hungry - female can escape.

Man... I don't think I can grig...


TexWisGirl said...

i don't like those lubbers. we get a type or two here. yuck. glad i don't get those hammerheads, though. :)

Esther said...

I am always dissapointed when perfectly monstrous crustacean larvae grow up to become boring, prawn-shaped creatures.

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: I might not get to sleep at night with a face like that lurking around!

@Esther: Isn't it terrible? A lot of crustaceans seem to go through that kind of extravagant youth and give it all up for "maturity".

AfriBats said...

Hi there! You're welcome to use the photos from our project, but please add links to the respective pages, i.e.

Joseph JG said...

Whoops! Done so, sorry!

AfriBats said...

Thanks! Please add this link also to the 1st photo: