More Zoological Tidbits

o Many species of lizards do not have moveable eyelids, but instead have a clear extent called a spectacle. A great many of those species keep the spectacle clean by licking it with their tongues. Think about it – would you be able to lick your eyes to clean them?

o Rattlesnakes and other pit vipers use special nerves in the confront to detect incredibly minor differences -as little as 1/100th of a degree – in heat between possible food animals and the background. already stranger, the nerves that are clustered in the pit are branched from the same root that forms the optic nerves, and bring signals to the part of the brain used for sight. consequently, pit vipers see hot prey in the dark, and have been doing so for millions of years before humans invented night vision goggles.

o Most venomous animals tend to be rather small. At a maximum known length of 18 feet, the king cobra of Asia is the largest venomous animal. After that, the number two venomous snake only reaches about 11 feet. Scorpion fishes grow to about 18 inches, blue-ring octopuses about 9 inches, and cone shells and scorpions up to six inches. Maybe bigger animals have other ways to defend themselves – like with teeth, claws, or stepping on bothersome humans!

o What, exactly, is the correct plural for “octopus”? Well, it is not “octopi.” The name octopus comes from two old Greek words that average “eight” and “feet,” while “pi” is both a Greek letter and the mathematical symbol for 3.14… clearly, the plural for an animal that is “the eight-foot” must be “the eight-footer,” or “octopuses.” Scientists also call octopuses “octopodids,” so “octopods” is also an permissible plural term.

o Fireflies do not make fire and are not flies, but are types of beetles with soft shells and the ability to create flashing light in the posterior portion of their bodies. Each species has a different light colour, or ordern for flashing the light, so that when a few species live in the same area they can recognize themselves from others. Well, usually: some fireflies are predators on other fireflies, and mimic they prey’s flash ordern to lure them into trapping range! Oh, and the “shell” of a beetle is called the elytra.

o Ever hear the story that “kangaroo” method “I don’t know”? presumably, when a European asked an Aborigine what the strange mammal was called, the Aborigine shrugged and said “Kang A Roo,” presumably meaning “I do not know.” Truth is, “kangaroo” was what members of that tribe called the critters, just like Americans call those long-eared critters “rabbits.”

o The red blood cells of all animals except mammals contain nuclei and a complete set of DNA. In mammals, though – and that includes us – our red blood cells lose the nucleus and DNA as part of their maturation course of action. This also makes our mammalian blood cells a whole lot smaller than red blood cells of other creatures.

o Termites eat wood. In fact, they eat a lot of wood and wood products including cardboard and paper. But they cannot digest it without the help of certain microorganisms in their guts. basically, the waste produced by the microbes is the form of cellulose that can then be digested by the termites.

o And on the subject of gut microbes: we humans cannot digest and absorb some forms of vitamin B and vitamin K (necessary for blood clotting) in our guts without the help of certain bacteria. Again, the bacterial “poop” is the chemical version of the vitamins that we can then absorb and use. Among the necessary bacteria is something called Escherichia coli. As long as it’s in our colon, that bacteria is our good friend, but if we get it into our mouth or eyes, that same E. coli can give us dangerous illness.

o I think most of us enjoy a good day at the beach, but for many species seawater is rapidly lethal. Only three or four species of amphibians can survive already fleeting exposure to salt water, and insects – without doubt the largest and most different group on animals on the planet – cannot live in the sea. Think about it: there are flies on beaches, but you won’t find insects out in the ocean. No fly-fishing off a tuna boat!

o If you could jump in addition as a leopard frog (the kind too many of us had to dissect in biology classes), you’d be able to jump from the fifty-yard line of a football field to the goal post. Just imagine the possibilities in basketball…

o Size does not matter, at the minimum not if you are an electric eel. Those scary South American fishes, which are not eels but relatives of the tetras we keep in aquariums, can release up to 750 volts per jolt, and that’s enough to knock a horse off its feet. And the size of the fish seems to determine how long it can release, not the voltage output.

o Many people in Asia and the Middle East believe that medicine made from powdered horn of rhinoceros can make them (ahem) more masculine. However, rhino horn is made from hair and waxy materials similar to the ear wax your ears produce. Sadly, rhinos are abundant because people kill them for the horns, which sell for ridiculously high prices. It would be just as useful (and gross) to make that medicine out of leftovers from your ear wax and haircut. Yuk!

o And finally, let’s look at anteaters. exceptional beasts, anteaters. They have long, tubular snouts, no teeth, and a tongue that is seemingly made of fly-paper. They look so harmless, too. To set the record straight, anteaters truly eat a lot more termites than ants. They get into the concrete-like termite mounds by using the six-inch razor-sharp claws on each hand. They can literally tear by the mounds like a knife going by ineffective cardboard. Just imaging what the six- to nine-foot critter could do to you if you got it upset. Lesson: Never shake hands with an anteater.

By Robert G. Sprackland, Ph.D.

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