Sunday 15 January 2017

The Blues VI

Image: Bernard DUPONT
Corythaeola cristata
It's Blue Monday! Mathematically proven to be the most depressing day of the year by qualified PR professionals who believe the best way to defeat it is with a holiday package bought from their clients. But there's no defeating it. It looms. It impends. It soon comes to a dark night of the soul near YOU! And there are no holidays from one's own soul.

For instance, you might rush off to Africa's Great Lakes, trudge up a mountain, climb a tree and think to yourself, surely, here I'm safe? Nope. There's a blue eating a banana right in your face. RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!

Not just any blue, either. The Great Blue Turaco isn't just a member of Africa's Musophagidae family, a name which means 'banana eater', it reaches up to 75 cm (2 ft 6 in) long, making it the biggest Musophagid of them all.

Image: Garvie, Steve
Like other Turacos, the Great Blue is very much at home in the trees. They can even switch one of their toes from the boring forward position to the snazzy and exciting backward position favoured by parrots and chameleon. It's very useful for keeping a firm grip on those branches.

Great Blue Turaco spend almost all their time clambering about in the trees of humid forests across equatorial west and central Africa, from sea level to elevations of 2700 metres (8860 ft). They're not great flyers, but they are great climbers. They might be even better at eating, since they get so much practise. They spend all day munching on, yes, bananas, but also other fruit and the occasional leaf or flower.

They only descend from the trees when they really need to, which is for a drink of water or a bath. If someone nailed enough birdbaths to enough trees, Great Blue Turacos would never touch the ground again.

Great Blue Turaco are quite common and widespread, which is good because they're also rather gregarious. They usually live in pairs or groups of up to seven individuals. Sometimes, several groups gather together in a single, fruiting tree!

Image: Shorefishes of the tropical eastern Pacific online information system
Opistognathus rosenblatti
Blue-spotted Jawfish
Peek-a-boo, I see you!

Aren't I the lucky one. It's easy to overlook a jawfish. They're just so watchful, so wary. It isn't easy to sneak up on them. Maybe that's why Blue-spotted Jawfish weren't discovered until 1991? They were hiding in the Gulf of California.

Like other jawfish, the Blue-spotted is also a workaholic. They use the jaws they're named after to build themselves a burrow, picking up mouthfuls of sand and spitting it out until they have something deep enough to hide in.

Now they can... not relax, exactly. I don't think jawfish ever relax. But they can be in their homes, nibbling on anything edible that drifts close enough. They still have to do a little spring-cleaning pretty much every day, to ensure the burrow doesn't get filled up with sand. Then night falls and they dive in get some sleep, sealing up the entrance behind them. Next morning, they wake up and the first thing on their to-do list is to open up the burrow again. And I thought making the bed was bad enough!

Blue-spotted Jawfish are sort of gregarious, in their way. They live in colonies that can number in the hundreds, but each individual has its own burrow and a bit of space surrounding it. It's like a village where everyone twitches at the curtains to see what everyone else is doing, but there's nothing to see because everyone's twitching at the curtain.

Video: Zeorymer300

There's one time of year when things change. That's when frisky males start flashing the females. I'm not even confident in saying "not that kind of flashing." He darts out of his burrow, darkens his tail to show off those sexy blue spots, and dives back in again.

Any nearby females who likes what she sees will have to leave her own burrow to visit him. She gets up, gets out, gets down and gets dirty. Finally, something for those curtain-twitchers to talk about!

Image: Lammert Hilarides
Rosalia alpina
Rosalia Longicorn
This Longhorned Beetle is one blue that likes to keep things chill. They're pretty big at up to 4 cm (1.6 in) long and are found in Europe, from the Alps east to Poland and Slovakia.

Like other Longhorn Beetles, or Longicorns, they have extremely long antennae. In females they may be as long as the rest of her body. In males, it can be twice as long. And because a lot of Longhorns are weird like that, their antennae aren't so much striped as periodically covered in black hairs.

Image: David GENOUD
Adults are only around for three to six weeks starting from June to August, when they can be seen sipping sap and munching on leaves or pollen. They need to keep their strength up so they can lay those eggs. Males also need to fight to defend a small territory of suitable breeding substrate from other males. Basically, he's found a romantic spot for the enactment of 'friendship, maybe more' and the other guys want to take it off him.

Eventually, eggs are laid in dry, decaying wood, which is just what the larvae need to feed and grow big and strong enough to pupate. The larvae will be doing that for the next THREE YEARS! Turns out decaying wood isn't particularly nutritious!

When the adults emerge they can, if they want to, fly off and see a bit of the world. Search for those romantic spots. But they can just as well stay put. If there's adult food nearby they needn't go anywhere at all. They don't care what some PR agency says.

Image: Amadej Trnkoczy
Terana caerulea
Cobalt Crust Fungus
Look at that beautiful mould! Thick and luxurious and velvety. Wouldn't you just love to run your hands over it? If you used it as flooring, you'd never wear slippers again! Right?

It makes such a difference when it's not on an old sandwich.

The Cobalt Crust Fungus, also known as the Velvet Blue Spread, comes from warm, damp hardwood forests across the world. Which name seems most appropriate kind of depends on the conditions. If it dries out, it gets Cobalt Crust-y. If its nice and damp it becomes a lovely, soft Velvet-y Blue.

Image: Martin Bemmann
This fungus lives on fallen branches and logs. Tragically enough, it's usually on the underside. A real shrinking velvet, it seems.

The generic name, caerulea, comes from the Latin for 'dark blue', which is also where we get cerulean blue from. And, of course, Cobalt comes from cobalt blue. The Cobalt Crust Fungus is so utterly and unutterably BLUE, they named it three times!

Image: Chaloklum Diving
Haliclona sp.
Blue Haliclona Sponge
Encrusting sponges like this is probably as close as you can get to a marine fungus. It's basically a Cobalt Crust Fungus! With a few chimneys, of course.

I don't know which precise sponge this is, but it's clearly an encrusting one, which means that it grows low and clings to the substrate. It isn't one of those flamboyant ones with the massive barrels, arching tubes or general wibbly-wobbliness.

Do you know what it could be?

Image: Chaloklum Diving
It could be a certain species found near Florida and the Caribbean. A species called... Haliclona caerulea!

Yup. There's that cerulean blue again!

Image: Bernard DUPONT
Trimeresurus vogeli
Vogel's Pit Viper
This dapper chappy is a young pit viper from southeast Asia. The genus Trimeresurus is full of beautiful pit vipers who spend their time in the trees lunging at... anything, really. Birds, mammals, other reptiles. Whatever.

They're all slim-bodied ambush predators who use their prehensile tails to keep a grip on the branches while their potent venom sets to work. Vogel's Pit Vipers, like a lot of its relatives, are usually an extremely luscious, rainforest green colour. But then there are a lot of species and subspecies that are sometimes yellow, sometimes have red spots, sometimes have white stripes or are sometimes... BLUE!

This particular individual appears to have climbed a tree so high he's captured the sky. It's ever so cosmic.

Image: Frupus
Ethmostigmus trigonopodus
Blue Leg Centipede
You got blue legs. Blue legs!

Yup, blue legs. There's not a great deal of information to be had on these guys. They come from Africa - Kenya, Tanzania, maybe Zimbabwe - and it seems they're not all born equally blue. Some have blue rings instead of properly blue legs.

Aside from that, it's a great big centipede! It no doubt scurries about the place, waggling its antennae like a twitchy psycopath. And then it plunges its modified front legs into its prey to inject the venom.

You can do a lot with magic legs.

Image: WoRMS Editorial Board
Anoplodactylus evansi
Evan's Sea Spider
From something with lots of legs to something almost entirely composed of legs! Or straws. A lot of these shallow water sea spiders look so rickety and wobbly they appear to be made out of bendy straws.

Evan's Sea Spider comes from the east coast of Australia. Its body is about 1 cm (0.4 in) long and each leg is a fair bit longer still. And remember this is a sea spider. There are two important facts to bear in mind. Firstly, it isn't a spider. It isn't even an arachnid. They're in a class of their own. Literally, it's called Pycnogonida. Secondly, their bodies are so tiny their organs have to extend into their legs in order to fit it all in.

Despite all that, Evan's Sea Spider is actually a vicious predator. They feed on all sorts of small sea slugs. A lot of these sea slugs are full of poisons and venom acquired from their food, like sponges, corals and bryozoans, but it's all for nothing where Evan's Sea Spider is concerned. They tuck in regardless.

Image: DirkBlankenhaus
Caridina cf. cantonensis
Blue Tiger Shrimp
Tigers don't get less tiger-like than the Blue Tiger Shrimp! They're about 2 or 3 cm (an inch) long, they live in Chinese rivers, they eat algae and little crumbs of food they find drifting in the water, they're blue...

But they have stripes. Therefore, tiger.

I can imagine tigers getting pretty annoyed at that. "I'm more than just my stripes," they'd say. Bow ties may have stripes, but will they plunge their canines into your neck? Carpets may have stripes, but will they creep up behind you and sink their claws into your succulent flesh? Duvet covers may have stripes, but will they sit quietly on your bed and hang out with the dogs?

Blue Tiger Shrimp are actually a variant of the normal Caridina cantonensis, known as Bee Shrimp. I think 'Bee' makes more sense than 'Tiger'. At least it's approximately the same size. In the wild, they usually have black and white stripes over a transparent background. As far as I can make out, anyway. It's difficult to be sure because they're popular in the aquarium trade and now there are more or less a squillion varieties available.

Luckily, it looks like the Blue Tiger Shrimp is a natural, albeit comparatively rare, variant. They can be so light they're scarcely blue at all, so dark they're practically black or anything in between.

Ah, yes. That's the blues I know!


Unknown said...

Is the sea spider toxic? It looks toxic

Joseph JG said...

There's not much information on that!

Apparently some of them might have some kind of venom for use on their prey, but most sea spiders feed on things that can't really get away or fight back. If the sea spider can tolerate their poison and stings, then there's not much they can do.

I've not heard of a sea spider biting anything other than its prey, let alone a human. It seems they have poison in their legs, but there's barely anything that preys on adult sea spiders. They live in a strangely uneventful niche.