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)