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!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Cockroach Jewel Wasp

This month’s creature was something that may have been better suited for October as it goes very well with a Halloween theme. The cockroach jewel wasp is a very colourful and pretty looking wasp but deadly. Not lethal for humans, but they are the creatures of nightmares and spooky fireside stories for the cockroach. Get ready to gasp or say gross as this is not for the squeamish… they turn cockroaches into zombies and lay their eggs inside them. *Queue lighting and flashing lights!*

Let's begin with a brief description. The cockroach jewel wasp is solitary wasp of the Ampulicidae family. Since they use cockroaches for the reproductive process they are technically a parasitoid, which means that they spend a significant portion of their lives attached or within a single host organism. Unlike a true parasite, a parasitoid will sterilize, kill, or sometimes consume the host when it is done with it. Also since this wasp is a parasitoid on another insect it makes it part of the entomophagous parasites.

The wasp is like your typical wasp - it has two wings which it uses to fly, two antennae, a head, a thorax and an abdomen equipped with a stinger. One thing that is instantly noticeable about the Jewel Wasp is that it has a metallic blue-green body with red legs. The female is about 22mm (.87 inches) long. The male is much smaller and does not have a stinger, as usual with the insect kingdom the female is much more awesome then the male.

Now to the more interesting part… When the female wasp is ready to lay its eggs it finds a nice and tasty cockroach (or roach for short) and flies on top of it. With the precision and exactness of a surgeon it stings the roach directly into specific ganglia by its head and injects venom to mildly and reversibly paralyze the roach. (Ganglia are a cluster of nerve cells so it’s like getting a needle into your spine at your neck.) Then after the roach is paralyzed it stings another precise spot in the roaches head ganglia, basically its brain section that controls the escape reflex. Once this is done the roach will groom itself for a while and doesn't try to escape which is very unusual behaviour. Now the wasp has created a cockroach ZOMBIE!!! *queue evil laughter*

The wasp will now chew off half of each of the roaches antennae, this is believed to be done to replenish liquids or to regulate the amount of venom in the roach as too much will kill it and too little will let it recover before the larva has grown. The wasp is not able to carry the roach but will lead the roach to a burrow, dragging it by the remains of the antennae and then laying a 2mm long egg on the roaches abdomen. It will then bury the entrance with pebbles to protect the roach from predators and to keep it in. Makes you wonder if O’Bannon got his inspiration for the movie Alien from stuff like this.

After three days of the roach being blissfully unaware of what is happening the egg will hatch and the larva will live/feed on the roach for 4 to 5 days before burrowing into the abdomen of the roach. Once inside the roach the larva will eat the internal organs in a specific order that keeps it alive the longest - which I think is very smart. Once it reaches the pupal stage it forms a cocoon inside the roach’s body. After some time a full grown wasp will emerge from the roach’s dead body and begin the horrifying process all over again.
Hello there!
The cockroach jewel wasp is no Dr. Frankenstein nor are they going to start the likes of Walking Dead but it is kind of scary and awesome to know how such a thing could have evolved. It sort of makes you wonder how lucky we are as mammals and as humans to be the dominant species otherwise it could a much scarier place out there.

With the ability to zombify cockroaches, its gross reproduction process and how something so beautiful can be so deadly I nominate the Cockroach Jewel Wasp as my Epic Creature of the Month!

Friday, 24 October 2014


 This month’s epic creature is of epic size and epic weight. The Dreadnoughtus is a very recent discovery in the dinosaur world, first found just a few months ago. On September 4th 2014 a team of scientists led by Kenneth Lacovara unveiled the Dreadnoughtus schrani. Then on September 11th the Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus was re-discovered introducing some new information about it. (see my previous post for the Spinosaurus
The name derives from an English tern dreadnaught - a battleship from the early 20th century – that means fear nothing, “dread” (fear) + “nought” (nothing). The reason it fears nothing is because of its epic size: 6m (20ft) tall at the shoulders, 26m (85ft) long and weighing 59.3t (130 800lb). That is almost as big as a Boeing 737-900 and weighing almost as much as a M1 Abram tank. Not even the largest known carnivore (the Spinosaurus) could take it down. The Dreadnoughtus is the largest land animal ever known so far, though it is still not larger than the blue whale.
Dreadnoughtus is a genus of the giant “titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs” which are the heaviest creatures to ever walk the earth, and this one is the heaviest so far. These giant sauropods are recognisable by their long necks and long whip-like tails. With their size and their tails they have a wicked defence, they would either stomp you (which would crush just about any animal) or swing their backside around and whip you with their tail. This is no puppy-dogs tail, this tail is made of muscle and will destroy whatever it hits.
There is not a lot of info on this dinosaur yet as it is still a relatively new discovery. We know some of the basic facts that are true with the titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs like that they walked on four legs, had long necks, were vegetarians, had long whip tales and large air pockets in their bones, etc… Can you image something that big walking around today? They would be using skyscrapers as back scratchers!
With its size, weight and cool name I nominate the Dreadnoughtus the newest Epic Creature of the month
I only added this picture because there are not that many pictures of the Dreadnoughtus also because of how cool it is! A few certain people I know will love this.

Monday, 29 September 2014


It has been a while since I last posted here. Over the last few months I have been thinking of starting up again so here I am. I found doing a creature every week to be too much like work so now I am going to be doing it once a month so I enjoy it.

Since I am bringing back to life my dead blog I may as well follow suit with that theme so I present to you the Coelacanth (pronounced see-la-canth). The Coelacanth which is nicknamed “The Living Dinosaur” or “Living Fossil” is an ancient fish that was thought to be extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period (66 million years ago) but on December 22, 1938 it was discovered by museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer among the catch of the angler Captain Hendrick Goosen. The captain was angling off the Chalumna River on the east coast of Africa. This fish is the best example of a Lazarus Taxon which is a species thought to extinct for one or more periods of time only to be reappear much later. Maybe the Tasmanian Tiger or the Dodo bird or maybe even the Pinta Island Tortoise (Lonesome George) could someday become a Lazarus Taxon.

The Coelacanth is basically an ancient fish, mostly unchanged for millions of years. Since it was first discovered there have only been two species found; the first one being the West Indian Ocean Coelacanth that Marjorie found and the other being the Indonesian Coelacanth. The Indonesian Coelacanth was discovered on September 18, 1997 by a couple named Arnaz and Mark Erdmann on their honeymoon at a local market in Indonesia. Mark thought it was West Indian Ocean Coelacanth but it was brown instead of blue. An expert saw the pictures and identified it as a separate species. It just goes to show that because humans cannot find a species, it does not mean it is necessarily extinct.

The Coelacanth is a lobe-finned fish which is related to a lot of its characteristics. They are large, fat fish covered in cosmoid scales which act as amour. Cosmoid scales have four layers, with the first being dense bone, next being spongy bone, then one of dentine and then one of enamel. They have eight fins: two dorsal, two pectoral, two pelvic, one anal and one caudal fin. They can maneuver very efficiently because of this, they have been seen doing headstands and swimming belly up. They seem to like showing off. They generally do not swim much though, they prefer to drift with swells up and down in the water. They are usually about 1.8 meters (5 feet) long and weigh around 60kg (132lb) so they are heavy suckers! As you can see it does look like a prehistoric fish.

The cool thing about this fish is that it a close cousin of the lungfish meaning that it does have lungs. They have a “fatty lung” or a fat-filled single-lobed vestigial lung, similar to other fish’s swim bladder. So the coelacanth uses their lung like a swim bladder rather than breathing; they use their gills to breathe so that means the lung cannot breathe air.

Since they tend to live in deep sea they have evolved to see better in poor light environment. Theirs eyes are adapted to seeing low wavelengths and it has evolved to see blue better than any other colour. To hear it has a basilar papilla which is the same thing lizards use to hear so it feels vibrations rather than actually hearing anything the way you and I do. The coelacanth is the only fish alive today with ears like this. Hearing vibrations is better as sound does not travel well in water but vibrations carry just fine.

Animal Crossing for Wii
The first time I have ever heard of Coelacanth was when I played E.V.O. (a Super Nintendo Game where you play a creature that evolves over our fantasized prehistoric past). You run into them a few times throughout the game to show that they stuck around a long time. I then looked up what the coelfish in the game was a reference of and learned something new. Who ever said video games do not teach you anything? There is also a Pokemon based off them called Relicanth the Longevity Pokemon, you can catch it in Animal Crossing, and there is a Digimon based after it called Coelmon. I watched Digimon but did not know that was supposed to be a Coelacanth.

Evo for Super Nintendo - Coelacanth is the purple fish on the right.
I nominate the coelacanth an Epic Creature this month because it’s a Lazarus creature, has a cool cosmoid scale armor and has lungs – all pretty rare for a fish!

See you next month.