Friday, 1 May 2015


This month’s creature is a titan compared to its modern day cousins, but compared to its predecessors it was a dwarf. Make no mistake, the titanoboa was huge - twice as long as the largest anaconda recorded. Unfortunately there is not a lot known about this snake but I will give you all the information I can find.

The titanoboa is estimated to have been 12.8m (42ft) long, 0.9m (3ft) diameter and weigh about 1135kg (2500lb), which is extremely heavy! This makes it the largest snake ever known, defeating the gigantophis for the title. It lived 60 to 58 million years ago in the Paleocene era, so after the last dinosaur extinction. It lived in a tropical warm area which is now South America.
The titanoboa may have been a snake but with that size it did not have to be as shy or scared as modern snakes are today. It is believed it hunted like a crocodile does, mostly under water near banks waiting for its prey and then striking, wrapping around the victim and constricting it. After it killed the prey it would begin the process of swallowing it whole like modern snakes do. Also like modern snakes it could open its jaw wide to swallow large prey. It would be able to swallow the largest crocodiles alive today with ease, the titanoboa would kill at an eating contest. It is also believed to have had a dirt brown colour for its skin to help camouflage itself to with water it hunted in.

This titan of a snake was no stranger to danger, it shared the waters with a super large snapping turtle called carbonemys (which weighed about the same as titanoboa) and it is believed that these two reptiles battled for territory. That is a ring match I would pay to see! It is debated a lot about who would win in a fight, but most people think the titanoboa could not crack its shell so in the end carbonemys would win by wearing out the opponent.
There has been an exhibit in Grand Central Station, New York about the titanoboa put on display by the Smithsonian Institute. The exhibit displayed a life size model in the station designed to “scare the hell out of people” and promote the Smithsonian TV special “Titanoboa: Monster Snake.” I know it would make me need to change my underwear if I came around the corner to be face to face with a titanoboa - and I really like snakes!

With the titanic size of this snake and the idea of it fighting a titan of a snapping turtle, I nominate the Titanoboa EPIC CREATURE OF THE MONTH! I really need a monster truck announcer for that.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Manta Ray

These gentle giants of the ocean are very interesting creatures. Not only are they intelligent, they are also the largest of all the rays with the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray being the biggest. They also have their very own cleaning service.
The Manta ray is a large eagle ray, with a flat body and sizes ranging from 5.5m (18ft 1in) to 7m (23ft) wide. The length is usually about half the width, and they can weigh as much as 1350kg (2980lb). They have triangular pectoral fins, broad heads and horn shaped fins (cephalic) on either side of their mouths. They also have a skinny tail which does not have skeletal support and is shorter than their body. They are usually a black or dark colour on the top of their body and white or pale colour with distinctive black markings on the underside; these marks are how they recognize each other. There is mucus that covers their body to protect them from infection. They look like stealth bombers of the sea!
Even though the manta ray is a cousin of the shark they are filter feeders and eat only zooplankton in the form of shrimp, krill and planktonic crab. In one week they eat about 13% of their weight in zooplankton ~ 175.5kg (378.4lb) which is a lot considering they are so small they are invisible to the naked eye. When hunting, the manta ray will swim slowly with its mouth open around its prey and make them form into a dense ball, then swim through the ball and swallow as much as it can. If it is particularly dense they will somersault through it. It is very enchanting to watch as it looks sort of like they are dancing. Manta rays are preyed upon as well by large sharks, killer whales and parasitic copepods. They have also been known to be bitten by the cookie cutter shark.
When it comes to the parasites they have a very cool way of dealing with them. In coral reefs they will swim very slowly so they appear to have stopped and smaller fish will get close to them, eat their parasites and dead skin, or clean out wounds. Different fish do different jobs. If there are multiple rays they will swim around each other and create a queue with the dominant rays in the front, similar to elementary school line ups. They will make multiple passes through the car wash or “ray wash” until they are happy with their services and maybe even tip! They have been known to visit the same reefs more than once giving the impression they keep cognitive maps of the ocean and where certain reefs are. I bet they are frugal and try to return to the cheapest reefs. There is a remora fish which has a flat sort of barbed head that acts like Velcro on the manta rays skin and they hitchhike on them, the gentle manta ray does not mind them.
The manta ray is also considered to be very intelligent; they have the largest brain to body size of any fish and we are still discovering the limit of their smarts. They can tell humans apart by their faces and will bond with certain people more than others. They do enjoy playing with us and will take you for rides when you hold on to their big fins. They have discovered this because some manta rays will get used to a diver and will be very friendly with them but if that same diver were to hide his face in the mask the manta ray will be shy or nervous around the “new” diver.
Manta rays have known to take as long as ten years to mature and when they mate they gestate for about one year ending in a live birth of one or two pups. The new born pup is ready to survive on its own and there is no more needed parental care. I guess they do not collect childcare bonuses then.
Manta rays used to be called devils of the seas and sailors used to consider them a bad sign if they saw one while at sea and an even worse sign if one jumped (or breached) into your boat. Although they have been known to jump in boats (we believe the breaching is a method to remove parasites) they have never been known to attack humans. They have only been known to curiously swim around us and playfully bump into us. They always remember that humans are friends not food. It also goes to show that just because something looks scary does not mean it is.
Manta rays are considered at risk and since 2011 are strictly protected in international waters. Over time more and more places are banning the fishing of them as people use them for food and many other things as well. In 2014 Indonesia put a ban on fishing them as studies show that purchasing a dead manta ray costs $40 but a live one for a tourist to swim with costs $500 and can bring one million dollars of tourism during their lifespan (which is around 50 years).
Manta rays are big, look like stealth bombers, are intelligent, have their own natural self-sustaining ray wash, and are big time money makers! Of course I would consider the manta ray to be an EPIC CREATURE OF THE MONTH!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Livyatan melvillei

This month’s creature has the largest known teeth of any known animal (not including tusks which could also be consider teeth). It is the Livyatan melvillei which is an extinct physteroid (which means it is part of the whale family) whale which lived 12 to 13 million years ago (in the Miocene era).
Let’s call it Livyatan for short. The fossils for Livyatan were first discovered in November 2008 just south of Ica, Peru and they only found a skull but that was enough to estimate the size of the animal. These fossils were dated to be 12 to 13 million years old. Researchers originally named the whale Leviathan dedicating the discovery to Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick) as they were fans of the book. It's scientific name is derived from that name and the authors name. Livyatan sounds like Leviathan and Melvillei is his last name with i at the end.
Livyatan is 13.5m to 17.5m (44ft to 57ft) long, there is not much else known about the size of this ancient whale other than it is about the size of an average adult sperm whale ( one of the largest known predators), putting it up there with Spinosaurus and Predator X. There are two reasons this creature is so epic: it's teeth size and skull size. Their teeth are 36cm (1.18ft) long (I guess you could say they are long in the tooth) and have them on both the upper and lower jaws while sperm whales only have them on the lower jaw. They are the largest teeth used for eating ever known so far. Sperm whales do not use their teeth for eating or capturing prey but it is believed that Livyatan did. They were used to grab their prey, kill it and then rip it apart to eating, very much like any other predator with large teeth would. With teeth like that, why not use it to your advantage? These whales could eat great white sharks for a snack, they give the amazing megalodon a run for its money.
Much like the sperm whale, Livyatan have large skulls - 3 m(9.8ft) long. It is believed that the large skull had a spermaceti organ which is an organ the sperm whale has in its skull as well. This organ is filled with fats and waxes called spermaceti which is used to receive the clicks from the echolocation the whale uses underwater. This organ allows the sound to travel almost twice as fast as it does in the oil in a dolphins head. It is believed that this organ may also help adjust buoyancy, allowing them to dive deeper than other whales. No one knows for sure what was in Livyatan large skulls but it is believed it hunted in relatively shallow water so maybe they used echo location and/or used their heads as a battering ram much like sperm whales do now. If you look at a the pictures of what Livyatan is believed to look like it looks like a giant submarine with huge teeth, imagine if that hit the Titanic instead of iceberg. I would pay to see that movie, it would be horrible but I would love it!
Not a lot is known about this epic creature as we only have a skull but once I saw it I had to share it. Because it has the largest teeth known and a huge battering ram skull, I nominate the Livyatan Melvillei as this month’s EPIC CREATURE OF THE MONTH! (I picture a deep announcer voice saying that.)


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Happy Valentine's

In honor of Valentine’s Day I thought I would do a mini post about the hearts of the animal world so here are some interesting facts:

Hummingbird hearts average 1000 beats per minute (bpm), which is six beats per second! The human heart has an average bpm of 60 to 100.

Cheetahs have a normal heart rate of 120 bpm but it can raise to 250 bpm when running.

Giraffes have the highest average blood pressure of any mammal (280/180mm mercury), also their heart weighs about 12Kg(26.5lbs). This all helps to combat gravity and push the blood all the way up their necks. I wonder if they have anxiety blood pressure spikes?

A blue whale has a heart the size of a car, it weighs 589.7Kg(1300lbs) and pumps 7 tons of blood. The arteries connected to the heart are so large a human baby could crawl through them! That is huge!

Octopuses have 3 hearts, which is why they are such good huggers! [Yes, octopuses is an acceptable plural of octopus. There are also octopi and octopodes.

Dogs have the largest heart to body mass ratio of all mammals which makes sense as dogs are so loveable.

Zebrafish can regenerate their hearts! It is hard to understand how they can go without the heart for it to regenerate, maybe I’ll have to do a full post on this one as it sounds so cool!

And of course, Timelords have two...

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Bobbit Worm

This month’s creature looks like some space monster with its sharp scissor-like teeth. The Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois) is an amazing but terrifying creature. Its name is a reference to the infamous John and Lorena Bobbitt incident in 1993. The name is inspired by the scissor like jaws and the common misbelief that the female Bobbit worm cuts off the male penis but that is false because they are broadcast spawners and they do not have penises.

Space Slug - Star Wars - Empire Strikes Back
We do not know a lot of information about the Bobbit worm but I will go over some of the stuff we do know. The worm grows to an average length of 1m (3ft, 3in) and an average diameter of 25mm (0.98in) but it is rumored to possible grow even larger than that. Growth like that reminds of the space slug that almost ate the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back. They like to live on the ocean floor in warm tropic waters at a depth of 46m (150ft) where they bury their long bodies into the ocean bed made up of either gravel, mud, or corals.

While buried they wait for their prey. They have five antennae that can sense movement close by. When something is sensed it will move at it with lighting speed and grab it with its sharp scissor teeth. It is known to cut the prey in half when it strikes. When it catches something it will then inject it with a narcotizing toxin so that it can then eat its catch in peace, this is especially helpful when the prey is larger than the worm. They will strike at anything and with teeth like that what is there for it be afraid of? I guess the Bobbit worm is the honey badger of the sea.

Little is known about the sexual habits of the Bobbit worm as it has not been completely observed. We know that are broadcast breeders which mean they spray the sperm and eggs into the water and let baby worms figure out everything for themselves. That may be why are so aggressive, pent up aggression for never having parents. It is believed that sexual reproduction happens earlier in their life, when they are about 100mm (3.9in) in length. We also do not know much about the life span of the worm but it is believed to live a long time which would explain how it can grow to such lengths.

The Bobbit worm was once accidentally introduced to an artificial environment. In October 2003 Maidenhead Aquatics in Woking, Surrey noticed their fish started going missing. They could not figure out what was happening. One day, a massive tank was leaking so they drained it and they discovered the sea monster that was eating their fish was a Bobbit worm. It was believed  to arrive as a stowaway in a rock ten years ago. Here is the link to the article:

With its terrifying teeth, its crazy length, and ability to cut stuff in half I nominate the Bobbit worm this months EPIC CREATURE.  Now go watch some happy cartoons so you don’t have nightmares.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Artic Fox

This month’s creature is small, furry, cute, and snuggly warm - considering where it lives. It is the arctic fox, also known as white fox, polar fox or snow fox. It may be a cute one but it is also a killer as it preys on small animals like lemmings, voles, ringed seal pups, fish and seabirds; do not underestimate it!

The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus meaning “true fox”) belongs to the Vulpes of the Vulpini tribe, which is part of the subfamily Caninae of Canidae. That is a whole bunch of biology talk basically saying it is related to dogs, wolves, jackals, coyotes, etc… They are about the size of your average fox. Average males being 55cm (22in) head and body where female are 52cm (20in). They both have about 30cm (12in) long tails and stand 25 to 30cm (9.8 to 11.8in). Males weigh about 3.5kg (7.7lb) and females 2.9kg (6.4lb): these measurements are important.
Now with all the science stuff out of the way, on to the cute and cool stuff. Arctic foxes live in some of the most extreme cold places on this planet and they have multiple adaptations to allow this. They have a multi-layered fur to provide extra insulation and a good supply of body fat. They have blood vessels in their paws that are a countercurrent system; this means there are two sets of blood vessels next to each other with blood running opposite directions, and they also have fur on the soles of their paws to keep them warm and help walk on ice. Because of their size they also have a low surface area to volume ratio (see, the measurements are relevant!) helping to prevent heat loss which means there is less body to cool off and lose heat. All this allows the fox to maintain a good core temperature.

Keeping warm is very important to the arctic fox as it does not hibernate. So unlike a brown bear where they would build up body fat and then sleep in a nice warm cave this fox continues to hunt and survive in the cold arctic winters. They still build up body fat and can gain as much of 50% extra fat to help survive when food is scarce. They have white fur in the winter, and grey-brown or dark brown in the summer to help camouflage and hunt. While hunting they do have a very funny looking trick to help them, since the arctic fox has a keen sense of hearing they can figure out where an animal is under snow and where they are moving toward. When the fox figures out where the prey is they jump into the air and dive head first into the snow in an attempt to catch the prey, it is comical to watch. Jeremy Clarkson (BBC’s Top Gear presenter) has a similar technique to test how deep the snow is.

Since arctic foxes are active all year round they live in large dens in frost free, raised ground. These dens will usually have multiple entrances and can exist for many decades and are used by multiple generations; they often use eskers (long ridges of sedimentary dirt left behind by glaciers). During the mating season they are monogamous and protect their dens. They breed in April and May and gestation lasts about 52 days. They usually have a litter of five super cute pups but can have up to twenty five (largest litter size of any Canivora, which means meat eating animal). Both the mother and father raise them, and they teach them to hunt and scavenge. They have been known to eat lemmings, voles, ringed baby seals pups, fish, seabirds and their eggs, berries and seaweed which makes them omnivores like us humans.
The arctic fox are not endangered but they are hunted for their white fur and some locations are losing their populations of them. They are the only land mammal native to Iceland. You can find the arctic fox in arctic tundra habitats in northern Europe, northern Asia and North America.
To be honest I just wanted to show you the funny video of them jumping into the snow at first but then I discovered its many adaptations for the extreme cold so for these reasons I nominate the arctic fox the EPIC CREATURE OF THE MONTH!

I leave you with some foxes jumping on a trampoline.

Friday, 19 December 2014

One of six known Northern White Rhinos has died!

I am doing a mini post to announce some bad news. Angalifu the Northern White Rhino has passed away; he was one of only six known northern white rhinos left. I am not going to explain how rhinos are epic creatures...even though they are natures battering rams.

Suni(left - deceased male) and Najin(right)
This is bad news for the rhino sub-species as the last confirmed one seen in the wild was in 2006 and is believed to be dead. The only known ones remaining are in captivity. It has never been confirmed, but on November 28th, 2009 two Russian helicopter pilots believed they spotted two rhinos in southern Sudan. One can only hope they are successfully hiding from us in the wild.

Angalifu died at the age of 44 in the San Diego Zoo, survived by Nola, an elderly female. The remaining northern white rhinos are: Sudan, a male in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and the only male left. Najin and Fatu, two females in Kenya with Sudan and an elderly female at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in Czech Republic.

Najin (Left) and Suni (Right)
Despite many efforts they have not managed to breed them and with only one male left it makes it harder as he is older. The only hope left for reproducing is "artificial reproduction techniques". The San Diego Zoo has preserved some of Angalifus testicular tissue and sperm to try in the future.

This is yet another example of how much we affect the wildlife on this planet; the northern white rhino is so close to extinction mainly because of poaching. In the 1970s to 1980s the population was reduced from 500 to 15! We managed to get them back up to 32 by 2003 but since then poaching got worse and we were left with 7 by 2007! Lets hope they are hiders and are staying safe from poachers!

The noble Sudan
Sorry to leave you on such a bad note but hopefully my December epic creature will cheer you up!