Monday, January 29, 2007

Animal of the Week January 29, 2007 -- Freaky freak shark sighting

Hooray, hooray, it's ANIMAL DAY!!

This week's animal is inspired by a rare sighting of a beast washed up from the briny depths: Chlamydoselachus anguineus (frilled shark), which was spotted in the Awashima marine park in Japan a week ago.

Fishermen reported having caught an eel-like creature with razor-sharp teeth, so rarely are these seen in surface waters they had no clue what it was. The shark died a few hours after being identified. Frilled sharks typically live at 120 m to 1280 m down and feed on squid, other sharks, and deep-sea fish. The individual sighted was likely ill, hence the death, and disoriented.
Their fierce looking W shaped teeth are, like those of all sharks, replaced from behind in a continuous conveyer belt of piscine death. Although at only 2 m in length (and at 120 m below the surface) humans have little to fear. Also like many other sharks, they are oviviparous—their eggs incubate and then hatch internally right before the pups are born, they have 2–12 pups at a time.

One of the oddities of the shark world, the one species of frilled shark (or possibly two if the advocates of the South African frilled shark as a species are correct) is in a family all of it's own, in a group comprising the most primitive sharks—the six-gill sharks. Although frilled sharks are that different from the others in this group that they may be even more isolated on the shark family tree.

And why is this cartilaginous monstrosity called a frilled shark? I hear you ask. Because it's gill tissue pokes out of the gill slits, like a herniated lung. Gross.

And look: more you tube

Monday, January 22, 2007

Animal of the Week January 22, 2007 -- Pull tiger tail

So sorry I'm late again. My zoological and Prisoner Cell Block H knowledge was needed in a pub quiz. Anyhooos, here I am finally embracing the multimedia revolution and sending you a link to a youtube video. Don't get used to it, mind.

Of course, as is the tendency with youtube videos, you have probably already all seen this. Please reply with the phrase "yawn head keeper, yawn" in the subject line if you have. Anyway, this week's animal of the week is a Hylobates lar (white handed gibbon, lar gibbon). Watch the video and you'll see why.

(the soundtrack is awful, I suggest you download something by jerky indie poseurs Pull Tiger Tail and make your own appropriate bed). Quite why the gibbon is behaving like this is a mystery to me. But it certainly looks to be having fun.

Worry not fact fans, the lesson endeth not here. One of 13 species, lar gibbons of Southeast Asia, China, and Indonesia, are pretty standard gibbons: about 5.5 kg, at home in the treetops, rarely on the ground, and monogamous. Although they typically mate for life, pairs sometimes divorce; and even more saucily, females in estrus sometimes sneak across to another pair's territory and have it away with a different male.

Cheeky gibbons!

Celebrity a-like: Andrew Marr 50% (it's in the arms)
Top speed: 10 mph
Tenacity: 4
Likelihood of hurting The Feeling: 35%
Aesthetically pleasing: 5
Violence: 3
Can be kept on a roof terrace: 1
Religiousity: 5
Special skill: Brachiating 80

Peter Hayward
Head Keeper
Animal of the Week

Monday, January 15, 2007

Animal of the Week, January 15, 2007 -- The early bee catches the erm... cold

While AOTW is vetoing birds, this week’s animal would be rather apposite, if only the sighting of two Bombus terrestris (buff-tailed bumble bees) in early January was not completely wrong! Get me the Bill on the phone.... no, not the police, Bill Oddie! For like frozen frogspawn in February or migrant martens in March, this is an early sign of Spring, which make the airing of the TV Springwatch in May rather redundant.

Clearly a sign of global warming and harbinger of impending extinction of polar bears, I shall not dwell on inevitable meteorological catastrophes. Instead, let us big up the bee! Buff-tailed bumble bees are the UK ’s largest bee, the queens (as they were that I saw) being about 2·5 cm in length (taller if you include the size 45 stilettos and Dusty Springfield bouffant wig -- queens see, boooom boooom).

Mated queens go into hibernation at the end of autumn when the frosts arrive, emerge in early spring (spring, not January… foolish bees), gather some pollen and nectar and start colony. Once she has bred a few worker daughters, the queen gives up foraging herself and becomes and egg laying machine, the colony grows throughout the early summer. Towards the end of the summer, the queen lays some unfertilised eggs that will develop into the males (drones) and some fertilised eggs that will become the new queens. As autumn ends, the breeding animals leave the nests and mate, then when the frosts arrive, all the workers, drones, and old queens die.

The queens and worker females have stings, but the drones don't. And if you leave bees alone, they are most unlikely to sting you.

If you spot any bees about over the next couple of weeks, call them silly bees and send them on their way, pitying their crazy buff tails, which will likely be frozen dead in a couple of weeks. Global warming, eh?

Number of legs: 6
Celebrity a-like: Bea Arthur 30 (queens score highly, others low)
Top speed: 10 mph
Tenacity: 4
Likelihood of hurting The Feeling: 65%
Aesthetically pleasing: 5
Violence: 2
Can be kept on a roof terrace: 30
Religiousity: 15
Special skill: Buzzing 80

Monday, January 08, 2007

Animal of the Week January 8, 2007 -- The slug it's ok to love

Belated Happy New Year,

Having pelted you with fowls in the extreme before Christmas, I made the sole new year's resolution of not touching any birds for the first few weeks of 2007, I am sure you can imagine how difficult that is going to be for me.

I must thank Doug for this week's animal of the week, he drew it to my attention some weeks back and, while I don't take requests, it is such a beautiful and crazy thing, that I really have no choice. When people ask me "What's your favourite animal?", I tend to reply "I like all the animals equally, except slugs, I don't really like slugs" (I am sure this would be to the horror of my niece, who, to the dismay of her mother, is well into slugs). But then, perhaps I should reconsider in the light of this week's animal, Glaucus atlanticus (blue sea slug).

This amazing looking creature isn't actually that closely related to land slugs, although it is a gastropod mollusc (like slugs, snails, limpits, that sort of thing) which is essentially a layer of organs sat atop one big long foot. Although in the case of the blue sea slug, the organs are not above the foot but below it, for this topsy turvy nudibranch floats upside down at the surface of the oceans with its beautifully patterned foot pointing to the sky. And what does this 4 cm long sci-fi-alike do there? Drifts around gobbling up Portuguese man-of-wars (definitely not jellyfish), one of the most stingy creatures in the sea.

While most animals are put off tackling Portuguese man-of-wars by their thirty foot long tentacles covered in some of the most vicious stings in the animal kingdom, blue sea slugs are immune to these defences and, in fact, assimilate the most potent stings into a special sack. Unwary beachgoers who happen upon one of these and choose to fiddle with it may find themselves being stung worse than if they rubbed a Portuguese man-of-war on themselves, because the slugs take on only the strongest stings.

Crikey blimey governors, I hope you agree that the upside down, floating, stinging, beast eating blue sea slug, is a most worthy first animal of the week for 2007.

Number of legs: 0
Celebrity a-like: A smurf 40
Top speed: 4 mph
Tenacity: 7
Likelihood of hurting James Blunt: 40%
Aesthetically pleasing: 10
Violence: 2
Can be kept on a roof terrace: 1
Religiousity: 5
Special skill: Stinging 80