Mystery Creature – June 2017

Mystery Creature – June 2017

We’re heading to the deep blue sea for this month’s Mystery Creature. Not the prettiest looking animal, and it certainly has some very unusual features; it’s a bit of a living fossil, do you know what it is?

Image credit:By Peter Southwood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As usual, feel free to ask questions, look for clues or leave comments below. Remember to check back at the end of the month for the big reveal.

 

 

Mystery creature revealed – the Resplendent Quetzal

Mystery creature revealed – the Resplendent Quetzal

How did you do with last month’s Mystery Creature? I know I am a bit (very) late posting this reveal, I’ve been busy in the background, despite the quiet status of the blog of late.

Rather than a long ramble, back to the task at hand, the reveal… last months Mystery Creature was the aptly named Resplendent Quetzal!

Image credit:By Supreet Sahoo - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58173977

The Resplendent Quetzal

The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) belongs to the Trogon family. There are two recognised subspecies… P. m. mocinno and P. m. costaricensis.

Here are five more facts about these amazing birds

1. These beautiful birds are found in mountainous rainforests of Central America. Their habitat stretches from Southern Mexico to Western Panama. They are particularly partial to cloud forests, hanging out near the top of the tall forest canopies, blending in with all the natural colour around them.

2. Resplendent Quetzal are not strong flyers. They prefer to take short flights or hop among the branches. They have an interesting toe configurations, with two toes facing forwards, two facing backwards. This facilitates good gripping in the branches in the forest canopies they prefer. They are not so good for walking though, which is why they are very rarely spotted down on the ground.

3. Resplendent Quetzal were much revered by ancient civilisations such as the Aztecs and the Mayans; They were considered sacred birds, not surprisingly, as they really do have a beautiful plumage of iridescent green/blue feathers with a red breasted front. Males tend to be a little more colourful than females. The males grow two very long tail feathers on reaching sexual maturity. These feathers can grow up to a metre in length and often featured in royal costume among the Aztecs and the Mayan people.

4. It is the national bird of Guatemala, visible on their flag and coat of arms. In fact their currency is called Quetzal too.

Image source: wiki commons

5. Male Resplendent Quetzal are not thought to reach sexual maturity for many years. This is when they grow those two impressive tail features, hoping to show themselves off and attract a mate. Males will also perform fairly lavish displays and dances, which an interested female may mimic. Mating pairs dig a nest out of rotten tree stumps or branches and both parents are involved in incubating the brood of two to three pale blue eggs that the female lays. The chicks are often ready to fly within three weeks of hatching but it can take a few months before they fully fly the nest. The mother will then be finished with her duty of care but it has been reported that the father will still supplement their diets for a year or more.

I’m sure you will agree, a very interesting and beautiful bird. Check back tomorrow for this month’s Mystery Creature, see if you can guess what it is.

 

Mystery Creature – May 2017

Mystery Creature – May 2017

Check out this beautiful bird as this month’s mystery creature; Do you know what it is?

Photo credit:D. Hatcher; Photo source: Wiki commons

This bird was thought of as a symbol of liberty and wealth by the ancient Mayans. It appears on a flag and inspires a currency; I think that’s enough clues for the moment… over to you now!

Remember, as always, you are free to ask me any questions, or make guesses. This could make a great research project for a classroom environment. I will reveal its name at the end of the month, along with some interesting facts about this stunning bird.

Want to know what it was? Check out the ‘reveal’ post here.

Mystery creature revealed – the ‘by the wind sailor’ (Velella velella)

Mystery creature revealed – the ‘by the wind sailor’ (Velella velella)

How did you do with April’s mystery creature? It was a bit deceptive because it looked like a jellyfish but it is not actually one… it is the Velella velella and here are five facts all about it!

Image credit: Wilson44691 - Own work, CC0

So good they named it twice

The Velella velella is the only known species in its genus, therefore it is often referred to as just velella. It goes by other names too, the most common one is ‘by the wind sailor’ but it is sometimes also called the ‘purple sail’ or ‘little sail’. I think we can agree that sailing is a common theme here! And it is no wonder, it looks quite like a mini sail boat. It is deep blue/purple in colour with a translucent stiff, ridged sail along the mid line.

Looks like a jellyfish but…

It is not a jellyfish – it is actually a hydroid colony; it is made up of hundreds of small organisms, each with their own different function. Each colony is considered all male or all female. They are only about 7cm in diameter.

At the mercy of the winds

There is no way for the velella to propel itself around in the open oceans in which it is found. Instead it is at the mercy of the winds, moving in whatever direction the prevailing wind takes it. This is why, under certain weather conditions, large numbers of these are washed ashore, particularly after stormy conditions and high winds.

 Image credit: Dan from United Kingdom - Flickr.com - image description page, CC BY 2.0, Link

Valella can be found all over the world but mostly in tropical or subtropical waters. They are pleuston – organisms that live partly in and partly above water.

Eat or be eaten

Velella are typically eaten by specialized gastropods (mollusks) such as certain nudibranches. They are carnivorous themselves, feeding on plankton. The short tentacles that reach into the water contain toxins to stun their prey.

Although that are not considered a threat to humans, these toxins could possibly cause some mild skin or eye irritation, if handled.

Division of labour

The various life forms that make up the colony have specialised functions; some are involved in defence, some feeding, others reproduction etc. Any nutrients ingested from feeding are distributed among all the life forms of the colony.

Reproduction is by asexual budding (meaning that tiny new organisms , called medusa, are formed from little nodes that bud from the adult; these buds grown and eventually break away. This process of reproduction can produce thousands of these tiny medusa, each only 1mm in diameter.

 

Check back tomorrow for another mystery creature for you to solve!

Love can be tough – especially if you are a spider (nuptial gifts in the animal world)

Love can be tough – especially if you are a spider (nuptial gifts in the animal world)

Life must be tough as a spider; you have to coordinate yourself as you move around on eight legs and you’d think that using all those sets of eyes at one time must cause some major visual overload, but all of that seems to pale in comparison to the intricacies of courtship.

The classic box of chocolates, arachnid style

In human courtship a nice box of chocolates can be a great starting point to winning a partner’s heart. Many spider species, like the neotropical spiders, Paratrechaleo ornata, offer enticing food parcels too, when trying to woo a mate. They choose some tasty morsels, wrap them in silk and may even cover them in pheromones. In spider terms, these parcels are fairly irresistible. It is a pretty serious business; if the spider can entice a female to accept his food parcel than he has a good chance of taking the relationship to the next level.

Photo credit: Jennifer Pallian via unsplashed.com

The problem is that many male spiders take short cuts. Collecting all that food can be a difficult and time consuming process. And what if you get too tempted with all that lovely food and eat it yourself? Since the parcel will be all covered up in that lovely silk, who is going to know what is inside, right?

When your life depends on the perfect gift

Some species present this kind of gift and then roll over and play dead until the female is distracted eating the food. Male nursery-web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis) take this approach. Once the female has started eating they suddenly come to life and start the mating process. It may sound like a very dramatic courting ritual, but if these males get their timing wrong, they will be eaten, instead of the silk-wrapped food they have prepared. Imagine the pressure of picking that gift?

Image source: pixabay.com

The ultimate sacrifice

There are few in the arachnid world though that can beat the Male redback spiders (Latrodectus hasselti) in their gift giving in the pursuit of love.  Once mating has begun the male will literally perform a somersault and present his abdomen to the much larger female. She will start feeding on him but he does not try to escape. Instead he uses himself as his parting gift, buying himself time in the hope that he will at least make a genetic contribution to the next generation. When mating is complete the female clasps him in tightly to her, in one last embrace, before consuming every last piece of him.

So the next time you complain about how difficult it is to find the right gift for your other half, be thankful you are not a spider!

Mystery Creature – April 2017

Mystery Creature – April 2017

Hard to believe that it is time for another Mystery Creature, the months are flying by. This one looks like some kind of mini alien.

Mystery Creature of the month on sciencewows.ie
Mystery Creature April 2017
Image credit: Jymm; Image source: Wiki commons

A couple of clues?

In keeping with the alien theme, they have been known to host their own invasions – baffling people as they suddenly turn up, en-masse, on seashores.

They are not much bigger than the top of your finger, but does that make them harmless?

Over to you

Friend or Foe, what do you think? Do you know what it is?

As always, feel free to leave comments; make predictions, maybe get your whole family or classroom in on the act. I will happily reply to any comments and I will post a full reveal about this creature at the end of the month.

 

Mystery Creature revealed – the Flannel Moth Caterpillar

Mystery Creature revealed – the Flannel Moth Caterpillar

It is hard to believe that March is over already and that it is time to reveal this month’s mystery creature already. Here is a little reminder…

Did you guess it? It is the…

Flannel Moth Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis), often referred to as the Trumpapillar, for, ahem, some very obvious reasons 😉

Here is another image, in case you need more convincing on the Donald Trump connection.

Photo credit: Andreas Kay

They are found in a range of colours, mainly yellows, greys and browns.

These cute and fluffy looking caterpillars are a lot more harmful that they appear. Those silky looking hairs that cover the body contain tiny spines capable of injecting toxins into any victim that come into the slightest contact with them. They say it is an experience you will not forget in a hurry. The immediate symptom is searing pain at the area of injection, where a number of dark red spots usually appear. Most victims don’t get away with just that though; other symptoms include headache, nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps, chest pains and, for some, serious respiratory distress or shock like symptoms. Although medical attention is needed in such cases there is no antidote to the toxin, the symptoms usually abate with time; the pain usually lasts for at least 12 hours.

A bit of mimicry

These caterpillars are so good at being bad that other try to mimic them, for their own safety, take a look at the video below for more on this amazing caterpillar and those that try to look just like it.

What about the adult moth?

Luckily, the venomous phase of this creatures life cycle is limited to its caterpillar state. The adults pose no threat at all and look like this…

Image credit: Patrick Coin

How common are the moths and where can they be found (or avoided)?

The inch long caterpillar is fond of feeding on many garden plants and common trees such as oak and elm. It can be found in many regions of the United States (primarily eastern and southern states), Mexico and parts of Central America. There are often two breeding species per year, making early Spring and early Autumn the most likely times to get stung. 

Have you ever come across a venomous creature? Or maybe one that reminds you of someone you know? If so, please let us and share your story in the comments below.

Remember to check back for another mystery creature next week!

Mystery Creature revealed – the Silkhenge spider

Mystery Creature revealed – the Silkhenge spider

How did you do with this week’s mystery creature (or more accurately… mystery structure). A few of you got it spot on, well done.

MysteryCreatureFeb17

Image credit:Phil Torres (with permission)

This stunning piece of architecture was built by…

The Silkhenge spider!

This tiny structure is made up of two parts, a central spire on the inside and an outer (round) fence like structure,  a little more than 0.5 cm in diameter. The entire structure is made of silk and there are threads attaching both the inner column and the outer ring.

This structure is amazing for so many reasons;

Firstly, it was only discovered as recently as 2013, by Troy Alexander, in the Tambopota Research Centre in the South Eastern Peruvian Amazon. Originally there was much speculation as to whether a spider was actually the creator at all. Some suggested it was the work of a caterpillar, others thought it was a fungal structure of some sort.

Secondly, no spider has ever actually been seen creating these structures! Researchers did finally observe small spiderlings that had hatched from the central structure. Usually there is just one solo spiderling , occasionally there are two. This is extremely rare for spiders, as you are much more likely to find tens, or even hundreds of eggs within the one egg sac. It is possible that the female spider that makes these structures, makes many, maybe there are better chances if survival of the eggs are dispersed over a wider area. A literal case of not putting all your eggs in one basket?

Check out this fantastic video by Phil Torres and Aaron Pomerantz as they capture the moment two spiderlings hatch (it really captures an exciting moment in the discovery process)…

Video Credit:Phil Torres

Thirdly, scientists are still unsure what purpose the structures serve. Do they have a protective role: a fence to keep out predators? Or do they act like a typical web, trapping insects and filling the nursery larder with a food supply for the hungry hatchling?

Finally, the most bizarre part of this story is that the adult spider, the skilled architect behind these constructions, is still unknown. As mentioned in the video above, DNA barcoding has not yielded any positive results. No doubt the answer will come soon, but in the meantime, it is still a case of speculation and wonder, often a very fun part of scientific research 🙂

I’ll be posting March’s mystery creature next Monday so remember to stop by! 

 

How do snails get their shells and can slime mend a broken heart?

How do snails get their shells and can slime mend a broken heart?

It is all about snails here this week; snail questions, bad weather and midterm break. I was planning a written blog in response to all his questions, but, spirits were high this morning (in the kids, not me!) so writing time was limited. Instead we went for something a little different and if you like it, I think it could become a regular feature.

We made a little video, the snail questioning one and I. So go get a cuppa and settle down for five minutes with us… it’s time to TAKE FIVE!

So what do you think? We hope you liked it, let us know what you think in the comments below and, if you have a question you’d like covered in a TAKE FIVE video, let us know!

Have a great weekend!