Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Elephant (Part 2)

Elephants are very smart; they have the largest brain of a land animal weighing in at 5kg (11lb) but not the largest comparative to size. Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and they are thought to be on par with dolphins. One well-known example is that when an elephant travels somewhere once it will remember how to get there for the rest of its life. Sometimes young elephants that have never traveled to a certain place know the way there because their parents or grandparents knew the place - no one can explain why that is other than genetic memory. Scientists have done many tests/experiments with elephants where they need to do a challenge or solve a puzzle and then they get a treat. One such experiment requires one elephant to pull on a rope so that the other elephant can reach the treat and take it down. All the elephants tested figured out the puzzle and even when they would let one elephant out before the other, the first elephant would quickly realize it needed another elephant to get the prize so would wait for the other one. One or two of the elephants even figured out a way to cheat the challenge where they could do it by themselves. Elephants are also self aware - if you were to put an identifying mark on one, it can tell which is itself in a mirror. Not many animals are self aware.

Elephants are very social animals and communicate very efficiently together; they can hear very low and very high-pitched sounds and produce them as well. Elephants will use these sounds to find each other, find mates and warn each other. The Cow social life mostly deals with birth and raising their calf. The cow prefers the biggest, strongest and oldest bulls to have a calf with; this is a reproductive strategy which helps increase the offspring's chances of survival. After a twenty-two month pregnancy (holy smokes!) the cow gives birth to an 115kg (250lb) calf that is 75cm (2.5ft) tall. The calf is blind at first so it relies on its trunk to discover the world; the calves also have a long development period as is common with most intelligent creatures. New born calves gets all the attention of the herd and all the adults and young gather around it and caress it, the mother will usually select several full-time babysitters or "allomothers" from her group. An elephant can be an allomother when she cannot have a calf of her own, the more allomothers a calf has, then the better chance for its survival. All the elephants in a herd are usually related and are a very close community. A cow usually mates with a bull from another herd that is alone; they do not mate within the herd.

Elephant Chainmail
Humans have interacted with elephants for a very time in both a positive and negative way. We have used them as tools, as transportation, for war, as food, as hunting game, as decoration and worshipped them as gods (like the Indian god Ganesha). They were very useful in war because their skin is very tough, they can carry a lot, take down walls and buildings and even be a moving fortress (a fortress is build on top of their backs). They have been used for labour, and as big game hunting. Since we have been using them in such a negative way for so long they have been getting more and more aggressive towards humans over the years, especially since we are taking over their land more and more. When an elephant starts to act out of the norm and is very aggressive to humans it is called a rogue elephant - and once they go rogue they do not go back. Either it has to be killed it (or more preferably left alone) or it will kill any human it sees and there is just about nothing that can stop it. If an elephant remembers a human killing its family it has an increased chance of becoming rogue, herds will even teach their calves to be aggressive to humans. When elephants go rogue they have been known to crush vehicles with their heads or tear open vehicles with their tusks, tear down buildings and knock down trees to kill humans because it believes that if it does not kill the human, the human will kill it or its herd. A rogue elephant may not even warn you that its near - they can get as close as 1km in the bush without you being able to see them but if you see an elephant raise its trunk, spread its ears, take a few steps at you and/or trumpet at you, listen to it and back away until it is out of sight than run away.

Now that I made you scared of elephants, I want to point out that they are usually kind giants. Elephants prefer to avoid danger than encounter it, but they know how to defend themselves. They do not have many natural predators, mostly just packs of lions can take down an elephant and even still they will only take out the smallest and weakest. Elephants have worked with us positively longer than we have been using them negatively. They take to training very easily and can even bond with humans and other species; there is one elephant whose best friend is a dog (See the video in part one.) Elephants can actually live happily alongside humans in villages (although rare) if you do not mind them eating your crops. On rare occasions they have been reported as saving humans from threats such as lions.

Some ‘myths’ about elephants that have been busted or confirmed:
  •  Elephants are afraid of mice. Mythbusters have proven this to be true; they are not scared of them like you think though. They would rather avoid them than walk by/over them.
  • Elephants never forget. I have mentioned earlier that they never forget.
  • Elephants do not drink through their trunk like a straw; they blow the water they sucked up into their mouths.
  • Elephants are not too big and heavy to swim. They love to swim - they love playing in the water and it helps cool them off.
With the size, raw power and intelligence that the elephant has, it is truly a giant among beasts…and an epic example of how much more there can be to the animals you thought you already knew.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Elephant (Part 1)

This week’s creature is the largest living land animal on the planet and that description should be enough for most people to know what it is. They have one of the strongest olfactory senses in the wild and are one of the smartest animals. They are self-aware, can figure out puzzles and challenges more quickly than some people can and when they want to can be the friendliest creature or incredibly dangerous. They are feared, loved, respected, hated, considered sacred to some people and they like to get drunk sometimes. The elephant is an epicly wonderful creature and I will tell you why.
Being as well known as they are, there is not much need for description so I will just give you the basics. There are two main types of elephant, African and Asian. They are the largest land animal and can be up to 4 meters (13ft) tall, weighing up to 12000Kg (26000lb). They have very tough and wrinkly brown, grey or black skin, large thin fan-like ears, tusks, a small tail and the most famous feature of course is a long dexterous trunk (proboscis) which is also a nose, straw, snorkel and weapon. Elephants are herbivores; they eat leaves, grass, fruit, tree bark, and even sometimes tree branches. They have been known to knock over trees and let the tree sap or fruit ferment and then come back and eat/drink the booze created.

The trunk of an elephant is an amazing thing of nature (something that people try to recreate in the robot industry); it is the most important appendage for an elephant. The African elephant has two finger-like projections at the end of the trunk and the Asian elephant only has one. The trunk is delicate enough to pick up a single blade of grass and strong enough to push down a tree. They use their trunks to rip up their food and place it in their mouths, they will use their trunks to reach up high for food, shake and even knock the tree down to get at the food they want.

Elephants will suck up water (up to 14 litres (15 quarts)) and then blow it into their mouths to drink; they will also use their trunks to blow water, dirt and/or mud on them as a protective screen from the sun. Elephants even use their trunks as snorkels when swimming... yes, they can swim. Elephants have a highly developed sense of smell, they can stick their trunks in the air and swivel the tip from the side to side to locate friends, enemies and food sources. This is helpful if you’re trying to keep elephants out of the household because all you need to do is have fresh hot peppers about because the smell of them hurts the elephant’s nose.

The trunk is also used in social interactions; an elephant will entwine trunks as a handshake, will play wrestle with them, and caress other elephants in courtship or parent/child relationships. They will raise their trunks as a warning or threat, lower them to show submission, they can use them to fling off or grab enemies.

Elephants have two extruding upper incisors called tusks that continually grow; they can reach up to 3 meters (10ft) long and weigh up to 90kg (200lb). Both bull (or male) and cow (or female) African elephants grow large tusks but only the bull Asian elephant grows large tusks, while the cow grows very small ones or none at all. Much like how humans have a dominant hand, elephants have a dominant tusk that they use more which tends to be more rounded and worn down from use. Elephants use their tusks to dig for water and salt, to debark trees, to dig into trees for the pulp inside, move branches and trees to clear a path; they also use them as weapons and to mark territory. The tusks are mostly made of calcium phosphate (they are basically teeth), which we also call ivory, which is favored by sculptors for its softness when carving. That is why the elephant population is significantly smaller than it used to be. I think ivory is beautiful but I think keeping these epic creatures around is more beautiful!

One of the more unique parts of an elephant is the ear, they have huge fan like ears and African elephants have larger ones than the Asian elephants. They use these ears more for cooling themselves off than hearing. The elephant’s ears are filled with a rich network of blood vessels. When the elephants flap their ears it creates a cool breeze, this breeze cools off the blood and is then transferred throughout the body thus keeping the elephants cooled. Asian elephants live farther north in cooler climates so their ears are smaller as they need them less. Their ears are also used to show aggression - an elephant (most likely a bull during mating season) it will spread out its ears to intimidate the foe. If an elephant were to do this at you, get the heck out of dodge because the next thing that will happen is it will charge at you. One other thing male elephants use their ears for is during mating season the bull will produce a scent behind its ear, a musky smell and it will fan it around using its ears, this is used to attract a mate and can be smelled for miles around.

Elephants are very delicate with their feet when they want to be, there is an elephant that can pet a dog with it’s foot without crushing it; they are also very powerful tools when they want them to be as well. While an elephant walks their feet swell when they are on the ground, when they lift them up they shrink, this is helpful when more weight is applied to their backs and when walking through mud. Elephants cannot run because they have straight legs, they can walk fast which looks like a run but that is it. They can walk fast - up to 40km/h (25m/h). They have been known to charge and stampede when in herds, when they start doing that almost nothing can stop them, much like the juggernaut.

There was so much info on the elephant from my research that it was too large to do in one post so this one is a two parter, that is why it is so late as well. 

The following video is about two best friends, a dog and a elephant.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Hercules Beetle

This week’s creature is one of the biggest, baddest and most famous of its species…it has a wrestling move that no opponent can survive so don't enter a ring against this creature! The Hercules beetle has been in many card games, TV shows, made into toys, and probably even been in some movies. Growing up in the last few decades you’ve probably seen something on TV or read in some book or seen some toy that references the Hercules beetle but just haven’t noticed it or known what it was. After reading this hopefully you will, and teach the kids of the next generation what that crazy villain or superhero or toy is copying in the real world!

The Hercules Beetle is the largest of the rhinoceros’ beetle and third largest of all the beetles (following the Long-horned Beetle and the Titan Beetle) but this is only because of the horns on the male's forehead, the horns can sometimes be longer than their own body. Without that horn it would drop significantly in rank of size. The male Hercules Beetle can be up to 170mm (6.75inchs) long including the horn, it is very rare for them to get this big but it can. They can weigh up to 85g (3oz) and can lift with their horns up to 850 times it own weight which would be approximately 72.25kg (159lb)…Now that is strong and where it gets it's name from. If the average male could lift 850 times his weight (which is 86.6kg or 190.9lb, according to Wikipedia) he would be able to lift 73.610t (tonnes). You would be able to pick up a dozen cars in each hand and still be able to lift more. That strength makes it the strongest (comparative to its size) creature in the world, now that is Epic strong if you ask me!

Hercules beetles are very sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females look very different. The females do not have two horns like the males do, but the actual body of the female is larger than the male. The males have two horns, the top longer one comes out of the thorax (its body) and the bottom comes out of the cephalon (the head). They are used to fight other male Hercules beetles for defense and for mating rights; what the beetle will do is pick up the enemy in its horns, fly up and slam it down into the ground causing the enemy to break its neck. Not only is it strong but it can give you one heck of a body slam! They can be various sizes and various colours but the distinctive features of them are the numerous small black spots on it hard shell that covers it wings and the small hairs on the bottom of the thorax horn.

The lifecycle of the Hercules beetle is not unusual for an insect but is longer than most. Once hatched from its egg, the larva spends up to two years tunneling/eating rotting wood; the larva looks like a large white caterpillar. Once they have stored enough energy they will turn into a hard shell and morph into the beetle, when the beetle is ready to come out they will moult (shed) their shell and emerge an adult. As adults they will roam the forest floor for decaying fruit, mate and fight; that's not a bad life if you ask me.

With its size, horns, strength, special body slam and longevity no wonder it is so famous. These same reasons are why I am deeming this creature Epic!

PS - I was originally going to write about the Titan beetle because of its size and the fact that the adult male does not eat for the adult part of its life but I could just not find enough information to make a decent size post. Instead I opted for a favorite creature of mine, the Hercules beetle.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Amorphophallus Titanum

This week, we’ve got a super sized epic creature...The Amorphophallus Titanum has the largest unbranched inflorescence (or spadix) in the world; it can reach over three meters (or nearly 10 feet) long! The inflorescence happens to be the large stem in the middle of the flower... The Amorphophallus Titanum starts out as a large tuberous root called corm, which can weigh up to 200lbs. The corm grows and stores energy for up to ten years before it flowers. While developing, it can grow up to several inches a day, ultimately reaching up to nine feet and looking very similar to an ear of corn. When growth slows to one inch a day it is ready to bloom.
It blooms at night and becomes so hot from the process that it steams; a very unusual feature of this flower is that it heats itself. The spathe (flower petals) on the inside are deep purplish-red and the inflorescence is yellow. While blooming the smell this plant produces is akin to rotten egg, meat or fish, some people even say it smells like cheese. This smell is made to attract carcass-eating insects, as they crawl into the male flower the outer leaf closes on them. The male then discharges pollen on the insects then the leaves open up. Now when the insects investigate the female flowers they will fertilize them with the pollen stuck on them. To help prevent the bugs fertilizing other males, the females bloom after the males. After being fertilized the plant grows bright red fruit the size of olives then three days later the flower dies. However, the single leaf produced by the tuber grows into a tree-like plant that reaches up to 20ft tall and has a foliage spread of 15ft across, this allows the corm to begin storing energy again to be deployed years later.
The Amorphophallus Titanum is rarely seen flowering, but when it does it is announced by keepers and a showing is planned. There was a showing of a Amorphophallus Titanum on April 23rd 2011 at the Botanical Garden University of Basel and people held their noses closed as they watched this beautiful flower bloom! Another reason it is so rare is because it only grows in the Sumatra rainforest (Indonesia) on limestone hills and only if there is an opening in the bush for sun.

After seeing some pictures of this plant you may think “Geez that plant looks very phallic…” you are not the only one! Its scientific name “Amorphophallus Titanum” means “huge deformed penis”. Sir David Attenborough was aware of this and felt is was awkward calling it a huge deformed penis in Latin on his TV show “The Private Life of Plants” so he invented the nickname “Titan Arum”. In Indonesia the common name for it is “Bunga Bangkai” which roughly translates to “Corpse Plant” and that is where it gets its second common nickname.

The size, smell and lifespan of this flower are the reasons I deem this flower EPIC!

**You may also say “Hey isn't this an Epic Creature Blog, why is there a plant?” I would answer by quoting Wikipedia… “A creature is an organism [emphasis added]. The term is derived from the widespread historical belief that all such things were created, as by a deity or deities. The word is generally used to refer to non-human animals but does include humans.” Now that I cleared that up, in the future I may review creatures alive now, creatures from the past or even mythological creatures! **

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Honey Badger

This week’s late post is about the Honey Badger; this is one crazy, fearless creature. When a honey badger wants something, nothing will stop it - it fears nothing. Despite it’s name it does not closely resemble the badger species, it resembles the weasels more. It is classed as a species of “Least Concern” to study by the IUCD due to it extensive habitat (most of Africa and a good part of India) and general environmental adaptations. The Honey Badger has a long body that is distinctly thick set and broad across the back. The skin is very loose, this allows it to turn and twist very easily which is very helpful when in the clutches of the enemy. The skin is also very thick; it is 6mm (0.24inches) thick around it’s neck to protect from biting as most animals go for the neck when attacking. The head is flat (useful when digging) with a short muzzle; eyes are small and ears are little more than ridges. They have short but very powerfully built legs, all armed with sharp claws which are short on the hind legs but very long on the forelimbs. The tail is short with long hair, while the hair on the rest of the body is short. The legs, lower body and face are black when its upper body is mostly white with some black in it giving it a salt & pepper look.
Now that you know what the Honey Badger looks like you can try and stay out its way because it does not matter the size, if you are in its way it will take you out with crazy claws and teeth. Guinness World Records has named it the most fearless animal! They are fierce predators that are mostly carnivorous and like poultry a lot. Unlike the Tasmanian Tiger, they have actually been a huge problem for poultry farms. However, they aren’t too choosey - they will eat just about anything else at hand. They are also proficient diggers so animals cannot easily hide from them, as the honey badger will dig them out and have been known to dig up human bodies and eat them. Animals can not hide in the trees either as the honey badger can climb trees very well so there is nowhere you can go to hide from them if they have you in their sights. One of their favorite treats is honey (hence the name) and they will climb trees (like Winnie the Pooh!) and knock the beehive on the ground and then devour the honey and larvae - since they have thick skin the bees barely bother them.
When Honey Badgers attack they are tireless, attacking until they can fight no more, their tireless nature in combat can wear out even larger predators like small bears. They have been known for surplus killing when attacking prey like on poultry farms one badger has been reported for killing a total of 53 chickens. They are also very intelligent and been witnessed using tools. A Honey Badger rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher fledgling stuck on roots in the ceiling of an underground cave. Their fierceness is so well known in nature that it is theorized that Cheetah cubs evolved similar colouring in their fur to ward off predators.
When trapped or in the clutches of a predator (lets say a Human) the looseness of its skin allows it to be able to turn around and bite it’s attacker while still being grabbed. The thickness of its skin is so tough that it has been known to prevent darts, arrows, and small caliber bullets. To it make it even scarier it screams when it is attacked to scare the daylights out its attacker.
This is one Epic Creature that you would rather meet with your eyes rather than your hands … and maybe even use binoculars so you can keep your distance. I will leave you with a video about it's Guinness Record.