Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Triceratops


This week’s (very belated) epic creature goes out to a little buddy of mine. This is one of the most well known dinosaurs; if it were not for the title I would like to think that you made a few guesses. I am sure two other dinosaurs you thought of were Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Brontosaurus. There are two reasons this dinosaur is so epic (in my opinion) and those are its three horns and its head plate. The name triceratops actually means three horned face, a pretty accurate description if you ask me.

Triceratops’ were estimated to be about 7.9 to 9.0m (26 to 29.5ft) in length, 2.9 to 3m (9.5 to 9.8ft) in height and weighing around 6.1 to 12 tonnes (13,000 to 26,000lb). What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about triceratops? Most likely you think of the crest and 3 horns they have on the top of their skulls, which are among the largest of all animals. The triceratops had a large crest on the top of skull which could be almost a third the length of its body, the longest known is 2.5m (8.2ft). The triceratops had one horn above the nostril and two horns above each eye approximately 1m (3ft) in length. The crest was very solid with bone spikes along the end of it. Most recent theories suggest that since there are blood vessels present and as they got older holes developed in the crest that it is used for identification and courtship, much like antlers and horns of modern deer, mountain goats or rhinoceros beetles.

Though there is a lot of debate on the body structure of the triceratops, one thing scientists agree on is that it was a quadruped (meaning it walked on four legs), had hooves and a thick build. The triceratops also had a beak and rows of shearing teeth. What everyone debates is how the triceratops walked, some believe it was like the modern rhinoceros and others believe the front legs stood out at angles from the body in a sprawling stance to better support the massive head. I can go on more about the different arguments about body types but one thing we all know is that this is one epic creature.

It is believed that the triceratops was not a shy creature but it did not go out looking for fights. They were herbivores and preferred to be left alone so they could eat plants. When provoked it would defend itself - most likely it would face the threat and charge to scare off or injure the attacker. They may even have stampeded like the modern day wildebeest. Since there are no records available it is hard to know for sure just how they lived. 

I would bet money that the triceratops has made an appearance in every dinosaur movie or game. Triceratops’ are one of the most commonly known dinosaurs and a fan favourite. Triceratops lived along side of the T-Rex so I am sure they had some epic battles!

With one of the largest skulls of any known animal, those awesome horns and tank like body, this creature is one of the most epic of all dinosaurs!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Queen Bee


This is one amazing bee; she is the heart of every beehive and one tough lady! Everything the bees do is for the queen bee, they live only to serve her and her needs. They collect pollen, make honey, make the hive and produce royal jelly just for her! All the other creatures that benefit from bees are merely secondary to the queens needs.

The queen is born in a special cell called the royal brood where 10 to 20 special worker bees dedicated to the queen (current and future) will take an egg and put it in a cell with royal jelly. This jelly is magic (that is best way to explain it) and will cause any ordinary egg to hatch a queen bee. If more than one queen bee is born then the potential queens will fight to the death until only one is left, a bit more than a sexy pillow fight. If all the queen bees die than the workers will produce another queen bee as only one queen bee needs to hatch.
Royal Jelly

As the queen grows she will be much larger then all the other bees as her abdomen will house 1000 to 2000 eggs and lay eggs for 2 to 7 years. When the queen is ready she will fly out of the hive and mate with a drone seeking to fertilize a queen, she will then fly back and get ready to start laying eggs for the workers to take care of. Virgin and laying queens are not hard to spot in the hive, as they will run across the combs and over top of the drones/workers to get cover, the queen is most important after all! When it comes to the queen bee the needs of one bee out weigh the needs of many, that is why when you disturb a hive the bees will sting, knowing they will die to ward off the threat.

When the queen starts to get close to running out of eggs the bees will start making another queen. Also if the hive gets too large a group of bees will starting making another queen and then a fly off and start a new hive.
Nature never ceases to amaze me and the queen bee is epicly amazing and magical!  

Friday, 4 November 2011

Teratornithidae (Teratorns)

The word Teratorn comes from the Greek work Teratornis meaning monster bird and that was a pretty good suggestion from a reader for this week’s epic creature – The Teratorn was a species of huge birds, now extinct. Some of them may have looked like vultures but this species was birds of prey - big enough that some people believe this is the creature behind the myth of the Thunderbird.

Teratornithidae were the largest known flying birds with a wing span of up to 7m (23ft), standing up to 2m (6.6ft, that is much taller than me!), and could be as long as 3.5m(11.5ft) and weigh up to 78kg (172lb). That is a size that could rival the pterosaurs but they lived million of years apart. There are a few different species of the Teratornithidae that has been found, the largest being Argentavis but the best-known species found are Teratornis found in La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Over a hundred specimens of Teratornis have been found, the most common found stood about 75cm (29.5in), wing span of about 3.8m (12.5ft) and weight about 15kg (33lb) which is not much bigger than a condor but they are not small birds.

The larger Teratorns are believed to not be flying, but if there was a strong wind they could get some air and glide much like a modern albatross. In South America where they are believed to have lived in the late Miocene era (about 6 million years ago, very early man would of existed around this time as well) there would have been a lot of strong wind allowing the bird to be in the air a lot. The Teratorns are believed to be scavengers but their long and wide beaks suggest that they are birds of prey like the eagle. They might have been opportunistic scavengers as well as hunters and they most likely swallowed their food whole (swallowing animals as large as a hare). As they didn’t rely on scavenging, they most likely had completely feathered heads.

Teratorns are believed to still have been around at the same time as early man and it is believed to be the reason behind the myth of the thunderbird. The size of these birds would be reason enough for early man to fear it and/or worship it. I know I would find cover if this bird of prey was following me. The size alone is reason enough for this creature to be epic but that it caused legends to be passed down through the generations and survive to this day is what makes this week’s creature truly epic!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Kermode Bear (AKA Spirit Bear or Ursus Americanus Kermodei)

This is a white black bear; it is not a white bear, polar bear, albino bear or blond bear. This is a black bear with a recessive gene that causes it to have pale white fur, giving it a ghost-like appearance, hence its nickname Spirit Bear. Scientists know what causes the black bear to be born white just not why. The gene that causes the bear to be born white is called Kermodism and that is why it is named the kermode bear. It is estimated that there is a one in ten chance of a black bear being born white.

The spirit bear has the same physical appearance as the black bear, standing about 160cm (6ft) tall with males weighing in at 225Kg (500lb) and females weighing about 135kg (300lb). The spirit bear does have an advantage in fishing over the black bear as the fish have a hard time seeing the spirit bear so that gives them about 30% better chance of catching fish. At night the fish cannot see any difference in either bear so the advantage is gone.

National Geographic estimates that there are about 100-400 spirit bears in the wild ranging from Alaska to Vancouver Island. The spirit bear can thank the natives of their area for its survival from the fur trade. The Natives of British Columbia and Alaska believed the spirit bear to be sacred so they did not hunt them nor told the fur trappers about them.



There are many traditions and stories that surround the spirit bear. One of the stories starts ten thousand years ago and the world was frozen, covered with glaciers and snow. Raven descended from the heavens and created the green, he created man (they popped out of seed pods) and even after making everything he was not satisfied. Raven chose Black Bear, the keeper of dreams and memories to help him out. He did not have far to go as the Black Bear was always seen as a constellation of the stars in the night sky. Raven made a pact with Black Bear where Black Bear will live in peace for all time and every one of ten children of Black Bear will be turn white as a reminder for Raven of the misery of the great ice age before. These white bears to this day are still called Moksgm’ol (meaning white bear) by the Kitasoo and T’simshian people.

The traditions and respect people used to hold for the black bear and the spirit bear are still held to this day by native and non-native people. The stories are still passed down and ceremonies are still held to honour this unlikely but majestic creature.
 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Manul (Palla’s Cat)

I give credit to one of my good friends for finding this one for me. The creature actually surprised me, I had no idea this creature was alive. I always like to find out about new animals I never knew about.

This feline is one of the first modern day cats to evolve (from about twelve million years ago); the other was Martelli’s cat, which went extinct. Palla’s Cat is what early cats looked like; it is a paleontologist’s goldmine as they thought these were extinct as well. If only they could find early humans like they found this ancient cat, maybe that is what Bigfoot is.

The manul is about the size of an average domesticated cat, reaching about 66cm (26 inches), and a tail that’s an additional 30cm (11 inches) long. It weighs about 2.5 to 4.5 kilograms (5.5 to 9.9 pounds). With it’s stocky posture and thick long fur it appears stout and plushy, kind of what you would expect an ancient cat to look like. The manul has dark brown fur with strips of lighter black and brown throughout which make it’s fur look messy. The fur under its chin is white and then blends into a grey underbelly fur. The manul’s legs are shorter than that of the average cat, which makes it seem even stouter. The fur at its face is shortened which makes it appear to have a flattened face - I find that gives the manul a human like face but some people when they first see a manul think it is a small monkey.

Manuls mostly live in central Asian mountain steppe (high elevated grassland), grasslands and intermountain depressions in regions of Mongolia, China, Russia and the Tibetan Plateau as well as a few other remote locations. The manul was first seen when an individual manul was caught on film after being camera-trapped in Iran’s Khojir National Park. I imagine it was like looking back in time and they did not even need a TARDIS to do it.

Manuls mostly hunt birds and mice at dusk, they are not out during most of the day. During the day manuls tend to hide out in abandoned burrows or on occasion they are seen basking in the sun. Manuls are solitary cats and prefer to avoid any other company expect during mating season. During the mating season the males will quickly mate with a female then disappear and the females will have a litter of up to six kittens with a high mortality rate as they grow up. The kittens are expected by the mother to be hunting at eleven weeks old which is considered quick when there is a high mortality rate. The manul lifespan in the wild is unknown as they have not been studied much in the wild but they tend to live to be around eleven in captivity and do not breed well while in captivity.

Now for interesting facts, what is one thing you notice about the cat when you look at the picture? If you are a cat owner you may notice right away that its eyes have round pupils, not almond shaped (visual streaks). Manuls were the first feline without a pair of upper premolars so their teeth were even more designed for tearing meat instead of eating any vegetation.  When the manuls feel threatened they quiver their lower jaw to show off their canine teeth as to say “I will put a hole in you with these.”

The manul is a near endangered species as it is hunted for its thick, warm fur. Manuls are hunted to this day even though there are laws against it with various governments. Before there were any laws protecting the manul, hunters were killing thousands each year for their fur.

Just because something is considered extinct does not mean it actually is, there are hidden gems like the manul all over the world. There could be one in your backyard; you just need to look. It gives me hope that someday someone will discover a utopia of dinosaurs at the center of the earth.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

I am sorry for the delay in the post but I got busy with other things. I will hopefully be able to get right back on the post wagon and start doing it weekly again.

This is one creature that you will have to see with your own eyes to believe, I don’t think I can explain it well enough for you to completely comprehend. This is basically the physical counterpart to the lyre bird, it can mimic more than fifteen different sea creatures to deceive, intimidate, scare and catch other sea creatures.



All octopi and squid can change their colour and texture; they can even change the shape to be more flat and spread out or bloated to seem bigger. All octopi have eight tentacles that have suckers with ‘teeth’ and a large balloon like body in the center of the tentacles. Octopi have two eyes, two membrane coverings for ears, a beak on the bottom for a mouth and tubes which push water and are used for jet propulsion to move around in water. All octopi can release ink to make a cloud so they can make a swift retreat for a last ditch effort to get away. That is basically what an octopus looks like, now what makes this octopus epic is its mimicry ability.

Mimicking a Mantis Shrimp
The mimic octopus can mimic over 15 other sea creatures for its own advantage. For example, it can change its colour and shape by burying some tentacles, putting two in the air and two on the sand, forming its body to look like a suitable mate for a crab. Once it has tricked the crab into coming close enough it will eat it - it puts me in mind of a cheesy horror film with shapeshifters. Another example: if another fish is pestering a mimic octopus or trying to eat it, then it will bury most of its self, stick out two tentacles, point them in opposite directions and change its colour to look a sea snake and scare the predator off.

Mimicking a Gulper Eel
What the mimic octopus imitates mostly depends on what predators and prey are in the surrounding waters. Some of the creatures it has been known to mimic include sea snakes, lionfish, flatfish, brittle stars, giant crabs, seashells, stingrays, flounders, jellyfish, sea anemones, mantis shrimp, venomous sole and more. It is believed that some of the mimicry is done without ever seeing the creatures so the mimic octopus naturally knows how to mimic other creatures through genetic memory or maybe was taught to them from other mimic octopi, no one knows for sure. The mimic octopus would make a good impressionist that is for sure.

Mimicking a Jellyfish
This is enough of me explaining what it can do; you need to see it to truly understand. (Video below)


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Spinosaurus


You might remember this epic beast from the third installment of Jurassic Park as he was the antagonist in the movie. The Spinosaurus looks like an alligator that grew longer legs and arms, extended its neck and grew a huge sail on its back. Also, it grew to be even larger than the T.Rex! Spinosaurus compares to the T.Rex like an alligator compares to a komodo dragon. Spinosaurus (meaning "spine lizard") is a type of theropod (walking on two legs) dinosaur that lived in what is now North America and Egypt during the cretaceous period (145.5 to 65.5 million years ago), but closer to 112 to 97 million years ago.

Spinosaurus may be the largest known carnivore dinosaur to have lived, it is currently the largest that we know of. Spinosaurus was as long as 18 metres (59ft), up to 6.1 metres (20ft) tall without the sail, and 7.6 metres (25ft) with the sail! With all that height, it weighed as much as 20.9 tonnes (23 short tons). However, weight and description is speculated, as no one knows for sure what any dinosaur looks like since there is no written record for their appearance.  Fossils show us that the Spinosaurus was long and thin with a long narrow head like that of an alligator; this suggested that it mostly preyed on fish and sea creatures. Spinosaurus has two long arms, a huge sail on its back and a long tail. Spinosaurus is thought to have scales like that of a modern day lizard, it is as if an alligator had the same thing happen to it as Godzilla and became this huge epic monster.

Spinosaurus is thought to be a very fearsome predator and as I stated before mostly to prey on sea creatures but discoveries of fish scales, iguanodon bones and pterosaur bones in its stomach suggest that it would hunt and prey on other creatures as well. This makes it hunting style similar to that of a modern grizzly bear, mostly hunting fish but will prey on other food if available.
 
It is believed that the sail on the back of the Spinosaurus served three purposes but this is in debate, no one can agree for sure. First is believed to intimidate other threats as to make it appear bigger than it is, much like an elephant does with its ears. Second it is believed that there were blood vessels in the sail and this allowed it to warm itself up (by being in the sun) or cool itself off by being in the shade or some cool wind, again much like the ears of a elephant. Last it was believed to be used for courtship (aka to impress the ladies) - all in all a very useful tool to have.

Spinosaurus was introduced into Jurassic Park III because the T.Rex was overused as the antagonist so they brought in a bigger bad guy. In the movie the Spinosaurus had a better advantage where it was able to use its arms to snap the neck of the T.Rex (which I doubt is possible given the neck strength of the T.Rex) but with it's power and size Spinosaurus probably could win in a fight. Sadly, that fight could never have happened as they lived thousand of kilometers away from each other and did not exist during the same time period, T.Rex lived during 65 to 67 million years ago where the Spinosaurus lived at latest 97 million years ago.

It just goes to show what kind of power, strength, size and beauty this planet can create. It only makes me wonder what kind of creatures will evolve in the future!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Irish Elk


This week I’m bringing you another request, and apologizing for the delay in EPIC creatures. A death in the family kept me from my work for a few weeks, but it’s good to be back! This creature is actually a deer (the Irish Elk is also called Giant Deer) with the largest antlers (compared to its size) ever discovered, I guess you could say it has a nice rack! It once lived with early man, two common beliefs of why it went extinct is that we over-hunted it and that the antlers got so big that it was hard for the deer to adapt to its environment. No one really knows why it died out as records were not keep back then, all we have are fossils and cave drawings, the last known fossil of the species has been carbon dated to about 7700 years ago.

The Irish Elk is about 2.1 metres (6.9ft) tall and looks like your average deer. It ate grass, plants, fruits and tree bark, no different than deer nowadays. Most fossils are found in Irish bogs but scientists believe that they did not just live in Ireland.

What makes this creature so epic is the rack on their heads! They are the largest antlers of any known deer, living or extinct. The antlers were a maximum of 3.65 metres (12ft) from tip to tip and weighted up to 40kg (88lb), now that is a rack to display on your trophy wall! They were so big and required so much calcium to make/maintain that scientists believe that the Irish Elk developed a condition similar to osteoporosis.

It is also believed that the antlers got so large and heavy that as the Irish Elk aged it would eventually be unable lift its head. Once again the main purpose of the antlers was to impress the ladies, the buck with the largest antlers got his pick of the does. The antlers were also used in defense but not that often. The antlers got so large that it was hard for them to get around in the forested areas; when an animal develops a trait that hinders their ability to live like the Irish elk, it is call a maladaptation.

It just goes to show that bigger is not always better and even nature cannot make everything work.