Thursday, July 26, 2012

Solar Powered Sea Slugs

Latin Name: Elysia chlorotica

This animal had caused quite a stir in the scientific community when it was discovered that it ran on solar energy. Known as the "Solar Powered Sea Slug", this creature inhabits the Atlantic seaboard of the United States and has a green, gelatinous, leaf-shaped body. Scientists have quentioned how this sea slug can run on solar energy, but finally, Mary Rumpho of the Univerity of Maine has discovered the answer. According to her, this sea slug obtain chloroplasts, the organelles in plant cells that are responsible for photosynthesis, from the algae that it feeds on and then stores those stolen chloroplasts in the cells that line its gut. However, the main question Rumpho is facing is "how?".

<I>Elysia chlorotica</I>, the solar-powered sea slug, is about 3 cm long (Image: PNAS)
Elysia chlorotica

There are several possibilities. Rumpho had later discovered that the Solar Powered Sea Slug had vital genes essential to algae photosynthesis in its DNA. A possibility is that when the sea slug feeds on the algae, not only does it takes the chloroplasts, but it also takes some of its genes and incorporate them into its own DNA. Then, those "stolen" genes would produce proteins that would continue the photosynthesis process of the "stolen" chloroplasts. Discoveries have been made that these "stolen" genes can be passed down to the next generation.

From all this, one can fantasize when animals or even humans can obtain the ability of photosynthesis. Discoveries were made that young Solar Power Sea Slugs can survive for the rest of their year-long lives after eating algae for two weeks. If humans could do the same and live off the energy of the sun, it could solve a lot of problems involving food shortages and environmental concerns. Unfortunately, scientists have agreed that there is no possible way for humans to do the same with their own digestive systems.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Asian Giant Hornets

Latin Name: Vespa mandarinia

There are probably more insects in the world than any other type of animal. Among the 8.7 million species of insects, the Asian Giant Hornet is probably one you would like to stay away from. First of all, they are currently recorded as the biggest hornets in the world. On average, these hornets are 2 inches long and have a wingspan of 3 inches; just hornets thatare bigger than your thumb. Of course, if the hornets are enormous, so are their stingers. However, not only is their stinger 1/4 inch long, it sprays a potent, flesh-dissolving venom that one human victim has described as having "a hot nail driven into my leg". The danger is that if a person is stung by one of these hornets and do not recieve proper medication, that person might die from the venom. About 40 people die each year from being stung by these hornets.

Vespa mandarinia japonica

While the Asian Giant Hornet has claimed the lives of people each year, they will only attack when they feel threatened, like any other hornet. Instead, they prey on other insects, especially honey bees. Just one of these hornets can kill 40 honey bees in a minute, and a group of just forty of these hornets can massacre 30,000 European bees in a few hours. The reason why the European honey bees fail to fight off these huge hornets is because their stingers are unable to penatrate their thick armor, and these hornets can easily rip apart the bees with their enormous mandibles. After the slaughter, the hornets take all the honey bee larvae to feed ther own larvae.

File:Picture Vespa.jpg
Vespa mandarinia

While European honey bees fall easy victims to these monsters, the Asian honeybees have found a way to defend themselves. As shown in one National Geographic documentary, Asian honey bees have found a way to kill the Giant Hornet without using their stingers. When a scout Giant Hornet has found their hive, they lure the hornet closer by opening the entrance of their hive. Before the scout can release a chemical substance called a pheromone to call other the other hornets, the Asian honey bees suddenly attack, completely covering the scout. After the hornet is engulfed in a ball by hundred of bees, they all begin to violently vibrate. This causes the space inside to reach incredibly high temperature, reaching all the way to 115 degrees Farenheit. In addition, the exertion of the honey bees raise the level of carbon dioxide in the ball. This literally cooks the scout hornet, and the hornet dies before summoning reinforcements that could wipe out the entire colony.

File:Honeybee thermal defence01.jpg
The Defensive Ball Strategy of the Asian Honey Bees

The Asian Giant Hornet can be found anywhere in Eastern Asia from the southern region of Russia to Japan and India. They also have numerous names. In Taiwan, they are known as the "Tiger Head Bee", and Koreans recognize them as the "Commander Bee". In Japan, there is a subspecies of Giant Hornets known as the Japanese Giant Hornets (Vespa mandarinia japonica) where they are known as the "Sparrow Bee".

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Frilled Shark

Latin Name: Chlamydoselachus anguineus

The Frilled Shark is one of the strangest sharks in the world. Reaching up to 2 meters in length, this shark is known as a "living fossil" since they are a prehistoric species that has changed very little over millions of years. It has a single dorsal fin and has an almost eel-like appearance. Their name comes from the six pairs of "frilly" gill slits near their jaw, forming something like a collar. Frilled Sharks can be found in several places in waters up to 1,280 meters below the surface where they are specially adapted for. These places include the waters near Eastern United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and Japan. Even though some Frilled Sharks can even be found near the surface of the ocean, encounters with humans are incredibly rare. Their diet consists mostly of squids, other sharks, and bony fishes, and it is thought that they swiftly and aggressively attack their prey when it is injured or exhausted from spawning. While their bite is still deadly, scientists have observed that their bite is not as strong as the conventionally built sharks that we are most commonly associated with.

frill shark photo
Chlamydoselachus anguineus

frilled shark swimming
Chlamydoselachus anguineus
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Pistol Shrimp

Latin Name: Alpheus glaber

The Pistol Shrimp is a rather interesting creature. Ranging from half an inch to two inches long, they each have one or sometimes two oversized claws. What is fasinating about this shrimp is that when it snaps its huge claw shut, it forces out a powerful jet of bubbles that travels at an incredible rate of 60mph, and when these bubbles implode, they release a bright flash of light. Not only that, immense heat is released upon impact, and the temperature inside the bubbles reach over 5,000 degrees Kelvin, momentarily reaching the temperature of the sun. With this deadly attack, the Pistol Shrimp can easily stun prey like small fish, crabs, and other shrimps. These shrimps are also known as one of the loudest creatures on Earth; Its claw's snapping sound can reach up to 218 decibels; a human eardrum ruptures only at 150. The Pistol Shrimp also has a symbiotic relationship with species of the Goby fish. Since the Pistol Shrimp has poor vision, a Goby fish will warn it if danger is approaching by suddenly breaking contact from their antennae. In return, the shrimp builds a burrow for the Goby fish to live in. So far, Scientists have discovered over 500 species of Pistol Shrimps.

Alpheus glaber

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Candiru Catfish

Latin Name: Vandellia cirrhosa

The Candiru Catfish is perhaps one of the most deadly fishes in the world. They populate the Amazon River in Brazil and are feared by many people. This is not due to their size; on the contrary, most are 2 inches long. However, its small size and its translucency is what makes it dangerous. The Candiru is a deadly parasite with the nickname of "the vampire fish of Brazil". It is a smooth, slimy, eel-like fish with very sharp teeth. It preys on bigger fish by swimming in their gill cavities and latches onto an artery to feed on the blood of its prey. Once inside, it is difficult to take out due to its protruding spines. These catfishes are attracted to urine, which has caused incidents in the past where groups of these parasites had swam right into the penis or the vagina of the humans who were urinating in the river. This causes immense pain to the victims and removing the Candirus from such a tight spot often ends up in surgery.

Vandellia cirrhosa

There is also another type of Candiru Catfish known as the Candiru Asu (Latin name: Cetopsis candiru). This species of Candiru is also a deadly parasite known throughout Brazil. It has circular mouth filled with sharp teeth to bite through the flesh of bigger prey, leaving a wound that looks similar to that of a bullet hole. The Candiru Asu then proceeds to eats the prey from the inside out. Once a few of these Candirus have entered the body, chances of survival are extremely low since these fishes greatly damage internal organs. Human corpses have been discovered in the Amazon River filled with about 100 of these parasites inside. Scientists have concluded that the victims might have been alive or incapacitated when they were attacked.

Cetopsis candiru

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Malaysian Exploding Ant

Latin Name: Camponotus saundersi

The Malaysian Ant is a species of black and orange ants that are known for its rather explosive self-defense mechanism. Found on the forest floor of the country of Malaysia, the Malaysian Ant has the ability to self-explode when threatened. While this seems odd, these ants follow a rigorous rule where protecting the colony is its number one priority. In an instance when a predator attacks the colony, groups of these ants will march right up to the enemy. Once they are in range, they contract their abdomen, which causes its venom-filled glands to rupture, spraying deadly poison at the threat. These ants die in the process, but the venom is deadly enough to take down the predator.

Camponotus saundersi

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The Northern Shrike

Latin Name: Lanius excubitor 

The Northern Shrike is a songbird found in the tall trees and shrubs of the taiga and tundra of the Northern United States and Southern Canada. With the length of 9 inches and a wingspan of up to 13 inches, the Shrike can be distinguished by its grey back and its black mask. It is a predatory bird that feeds on insects, small mammals, small birds, and even reptiles. What is unique about this creature is its feeding style. After catching its prey with its beak or claws, it often impales the prey on thorns or barbed wire and tear away any wings, spines, or stingers with its beak. This bloody ritual is what gave the Shrike the nickname "the Butcher Bird". After impaling its prey, the Shrike either eats it immediately or leave it behind to eat later.

Lanius excubitor

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