Do fish ever get thirsty?

Do fish ever get thirsty?

I was asked this question by my ever inquisitive seven year old. The same child who recently wanted to know about travelling at the speed of light and whether pigs dream; I’m always curious to see what his next big question is.

It’s a good question, fish live it water, they have it around them all their lives, but do they ever get that strong urge to drink, that urge we call thirst, or do they even drink at all? Read more

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!