Thursday, 14 July 2011

Komodo dragon

The largest of all living lizards is the Komodo dragon, part of the monitor lizard family and the only lizard alive that will stalk and (occasionally) kill humans. Komodo dragons are one of the most feared lizards and because of their size and power some people consider them to be living dinosaurs. The Komodo has a unique way of tracking its prey.

Komodo dragons are the largest predator on the Indonesian islands, they can be up to 3 meters (9.8ft) long and weigh around 70Kg (150lb) - the heaviest ever found in the wild was 166Kg (370lb). The Komodo dragon’s tail is as long as their body and is very powerful, it would knock you off your feet if you were hit by it. The reason for their size is a biological phenomenon called "island gigantism". This happens when there are no large predators on an island; birds and lizards will grow to be larger than normal so they are able to hunt all prey on the island without competition or have problems with larger prey.

Komodo dragons have powerful legs armed with incredibly sharp claws, which are used to harm prey and rip apart food. Komodo dragon skin is usually a green colour and they have yellow forked tongues. You would know if you saw one in the wild, as they are rather large and can be clumsy on their feet. Something that big and beefy, how could you not notice it?

Komodo dragons are generally solitary creatures and only meet to eat or breed but have been reported to hunt together once in a while. Males will fight each other for courtship rights, they sometimes vomit or defecate before the fight and the reason is unknown; maybe they are nervous. The victor pins the other male to the ground and once he has won the victor will mate with the female (after he courts her some more). Courting may involve rubbing chins together and hard scratching on the females back. The female is resistant to mating, she will fight the male so the male will pin her down to mate with her. Once pregnant the female will lay up to 20 eggs in a cut borrow on the side of the hill or in an Orange-footed Shrubfowl’s nesting mount. The eggs will incubate for seven to eight months and the hatchlings will crack the egg with an egg tooth that will fall off later like the echidna puggle does.
The hatchlings will live in tree tops to avoid larger prey and cannibalistic adults that will eat them, they take up to eight or nine years to mature and will stay in the trees until they are too large for their claws to lift them into the trees anymore. The claws then become used mostly for defense and attacking.

The diet of the Komodo basically includes any thing it can kill, including other komodo dragons. Something unique about the way they hunt is that they have over 57 different strands of bacteria in their saliva, a germaphobes worst nightmare. When a Komodo dragon eats it actually cuts up its gums so that blood sits in their saliva with raw meat left over from eating as well, this creates the ideal world for bacteria to grow. When a Komodo dragon bites you it will pass the bacteria into your would which can cause rapid swelling, localized disruption of blood clotting, shooting pain up to the elbow, muscle paralysis, hypothermia leading to shock, loss of consciousness and these effects will last for hours; Komodo dragons can also smell the saliva they left in your bite for miles so you can you not hide from them. It is unknown why these bacteria do not affect the Komodo dragon as it lives in their saliva. Recently scientists have discovered that Komodo dragons and other monitor lizards have two small venom glands in their lower jaw but it is in dispute whether they use them or not, some believe that the symptoms of their bite is caused by the venom and others believe it is from the bacteria only.

It is also believed that the Tyrannosaurs Rex (T. Rex) had a similar bacterial environment in their saliva to the Komodo dragon, not surprising as the Komodo dragon and the T. Rex are both epic creatures and are similar type apex predators (top predators) of their times.

The Komodo dragon just goes to show how little we actually know of the epic creatures we share this planet with and how easily we humans can become prey. They show us how we are just another creature on this planet abiding by natures rules of survival. They are also a good example of why you should brush your teeth unless you want the kiss of death.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Bees (Worker)

Bees are amazing little creatures; there are multiple types of bees from Italian bees to African Killer Bees. It is very unfortunate that bees have a bad reputation - when a bee flies into a room the first thing people do is scream and hide or try and kill it. All the bee wants to do is find some pollen and take it back to the nest, it will not sting you unless it feels threatened or you are a threat to the hive. Bees have a social structure in the hive; they make honey, wax and glue, build cells to grow larva and so much more. There is so much information about bees but I am just going to go over the main things I think are interesting which is still a lot!

Bees (like ants) are a specialized form of the wasp; they have two wings, six legs, a head, a thorax and abdomen. Bees are usually black with yellow stripes and covered in a yellowish hair; they can be all black and other variations as well. There are three main different kinds of bees in a hive, the worker, the drone and the queen. There are two different kinds of worker bees as well, one that stays at the hive and builds cells, makes honey, nurses the larva, and repairs the hive as needed. The other worker bees are the ones that go out and find pollen, which they will do all day long.

The worker bees will go out and collect pollen from multiple flowers, they collect until their honey stomachs (a specialized stomach for carrying pollen and honey) are full. They can still fit more pollen on their legs, which have hair that pollen will stick to. Bees can only see certain colours and one colour they cannot see is red but they can see ultra-violet light so if the red flower reflects ultra-violate light than the bee will find it.

Once the workers bring back the pollen they will fill up the cells with honey, which they make by mixing pollen in their honey stomach with enzymes. Worker bees that stay at the hive make wax that they produce from the inner sides of the sternites (plates on each side of the body), they then chew it to make it soft and easy to work with than make cells with it. Worker bees take larva, put it in the cell that is filled with honey and seal it off with wax. When the larva is grown it will chew its way out. Worker bees also produce something called propolis (or bee glue) which is used to stick the hive to branches or other things, they will take debris that fell on the hive and glue it down somewhere else so it will not harm the hive.

Bees have a very unique way of telling other bees information. If a worker bee needs to tell other worker bees where flower are, they dance. They buzz, shake their abdomen and walk in certain figures to inform other bees of their information. If the dancing bee is misinforming other bees and another bee is aware of this, the knowledgeable bee will head-butt the misinformed bee to tell it to stop, this is yet another unique behavior. One more interesting fact about worker bees that all of them are female, not a single male be will ever be a worker bee, males have their lives pretty easy and simple.

Without worker bees going about their business collecting pollen from one plant or another (pollination) it is believed that we would not have as much as 60% of our crops (ie corn, soy, potatoes, garlic, etc…) so these are very important creatures and should be treated with respect.