Wednesday, August 5, 2009


The binturong, or Asian Bearcat, is neither bear nor cat, but shares ancestors with the cats. From Eastern Asia, these nocturnal tree-dwellers are at risk of poaching (for medicinal uses) and deforestation. So they're declining. You can find them in the rain forests of places like Laos, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

They are roughly 30 lbs., so think of a small wildcat, like a bobcat or lynx. And they eat eggs, shoots, that sort of thing.

Perhaps something relatively unique to them, they are one of about 100 mammals in the world that are capable of embryonic diapause, meaning that the egg doesn't develop right after fertilization. It enters a dormant state until the environmental conditions are good -- certainly an incredible survival technique.

Also, their tails are prehensile, meaning they use them like limbs and can hang from them or swing from them, which is obviously useful for living in trees.

Lastly, they are important for the strangler fig trees native to their regions. They are able to digest a tough outer layer of its seed, allowing it to grow after passing through a Binturong. Few other mammals perform this task for the fig, but certainly these are key players for these fig trees.

Whorl-Tooth Shark.

I'm making an exception, only because it's shark week.
This shark is actually extinct, so don't worry about crossing its path, unless you plan on getting in a time machine. I've debated whether or not to ever post extinct species, largely because of the forgotten diversity of things alive today, but I thought this would be a good one to post, if I ever broke that.

Very little is known about them -- they aren't really even sure what the shark looks like. Just know it is a shark and it has spiraled teeth. It may have looked nothing like a regular shark though, scientists are just guessing.
Their fossils are found in Utah, Idaho, and occasionally Wyoming and are about 280 million years old.

At first, scientists thought they were a tentacle of a sort for some strange animal, but then found several examples of this perfect form. Prompting them to believe it to be a structure. Under further investigation, turns out to be a row of shark teeth -- you might wonder, how are the inner teeth effective? They're just replacements. Only the top of the spiral is exposed, and when worn, the new teeth spiral in. Modern sharks have a similar mechanism, but rather than one spiral, the entire row of teeth swaps out (human teeth grow from under and push the others out, sharks rows of teeth rotate in).

What a bizarre shark.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hatchet fish.

yea, yea, yea, they're not the prettiest fish in the world. But I assure you, while they lack in looks, they are extremely impressive animals. Here's why:

Camoflauge. This deep sea fish has many predators, but only a few that can find it. Partly because its mostly dark, but largely because it has incredible mechanisms for blending in. It has 2 ways of doing this:

1. Reflecting light. As you can see from the last picture, it has shiny scales. When turned away from a predator, it mirrors whatever color is beside it, making it essentially disappear.

2. Photophores. They have bioluminescent spots (like glow in the dark, but made with light-emitting bacteria) that are on the bottom of the fish called photophores and work in a mechanism called 'counter-illumination'. These photophores not only produce light, but they match perfectly the color of water above them, making predators below them incapable of distinguishing them swimming above from the ocean.

Other information: They live about 3600 m. below the surface of the water, and have eyes permanently fixed looking upward, suggesting that they eat things based on the silhouettes they leave, since the little light that exists comes from above. And based on its life cycle, it seems that they don't live longer than a year, typically.

Watch them and their camouflaging genius (start at about 6 minutes):

Monday, August 3, 2009

Brazilian Tapir.

These mammals from S. America are related to horses and rhinos. They can actually get pretty large -- 6 to 8 feet and weigh up to 600 lbs. And as an herbivore, their biggest concern is blending in to avoid predators (anacondas / jaguars). Their nose is mobile, like an elephant shrew, and they tend to graze and swim quickly, despite its large size.

They don't attack people, with only a few exceptional cases. In those instances, they give pretty nasty bites, apparently.

Also, they're not social creatures -- makes it harder for them to hide. The only social interactions outside of breeding is when mother takes care of offspring.

If you're ever out in San Diego, they have some of these at their zoo.